Not in Our Name – Taking Back Judaism from Israel

I don’t have the words. My chest aches in physical pain. I pain as a mother, a daughter and as a Jew. I am not alone in this pain, people around the world are horrified at the terror Israel is inflicting on the people of Gaza.

Horrors happen in the world, and we struggle to explain them and fight to stop them. I learned this from my Jewish parents – to seek justice. But horrors happening in the name of those who have been historically oppressed, murdering people who have nothing – but absolutely nothing – to do with that historical oppression, but yet using it as an excuse for murder – this is grotesque. We – the world – will no longer permit this lie. It must stop. This has zero to do with seeking justice, or Judaism for that matter. The world is imploring you Israel. The world is demanding of you Israel. Stop. Stop the horror. Stop using our historical oppression to explain the horrors. We, as Jews, organizing around the world, no longer permit you to use our name, our identity as Jews, our historical oppression, as a rational for your warring and torture.

We hereby take back the Jewish identity – you cannot speak or act in our name.

I am sick every day. I fear the news, and the images … I am so pained I have trouble turning it into anger. Is that the intention behind the horror? That humanity is immobilized with shock? Celebrating the murder of babies, defending the murder of pregnant women– leaving them with nowhere to run when the bombs fall. Shutting off people’s water and electricity, hoping what, they all starve or dehydrate? Who does that? It is so shocking that it makes one pause. Is it the pause that is desired? That we, all over the world, just look on with our mouths open and chests in constant contractions? If that is the intention it has been a success, our collective mouths are agape in horror. Immobility however, has not occurred – quite the opposite. Millions of people around the world are in the streets and all over the internet crying, demanding and screaming for Israel to stop. One of the most increasingly vocal groups are Jews, organized as Jews. Demanding an end to the massacre, taking back Judaism from Israel.

I do not base my political organizing on my identity, not as a woman, mother, daughter or Jew, or, at least I did not used to do this. Now I feel I must. I am not alone. Hundreds of groups, identified as Jews against the occupation and war, have sprung up over the past few weeks, all around the world, demanding that Israel not use our identity to wage murder. Demanding that Israel stop. Many Jews feel that Israel is taking their Judaism and refuse to allow this. Many others, like myself, feel forced to identify as Jewish, taking back an identity, rather than allowing it to be used in the name of war, torture and murder.

This public identification as Jewish, in such massive numbers in political action against the Israeli occupation of Palestine is new. There have always been Jewish social justice groups, and many of them have been opposed to the occupation and repression of Palestinians. Never has there been so many as right now however. Many famous Jewish writers and scholars have come out quite publicly and aggressively against the occupation, such as Norman Finkelstein, Judith Butler, Naomi Wolf and Naomi Klein. And many others, even political friends and colleagues I never knew were Jewish are “coming out” as such, writing things on facebook such as, “So much for never again. So much for never again. We said never again and then let our own people become the murderers, we’ve let our own people become the monsters, we’ve become the bystanders wringing our hands but not speaking up for the Palestinians because we are not Palestinians. We’ve heard this one before. And we said never again. So much for never again.” When I wrote to her asking if I could use this passage and what I was writing, she replied, “, I have never been much for Identifying as Jewish before now, now it suddenly feels important.” And another facebook friend writes, “At this difficult moment, I’m so heartened to be in action with a community of Jews standing up for liberation, instead of occupation. It is time for all Palestinians and Israelis to be free.”

Many are not only speaking out and going to protests and rallies, but are getting arrested blocking traffic and sitting in front of the Israeli Embassy in New York City and other locations around the US.  Putting their bodies on the line to make Israel stop. They are doing this as part of newly formed Jewish organizations, networks and affinity groups. Other academic colleagues, many of whom identified as Jewish but were never politically active before, have become outspoken against the occupation, in support of the boycott of Israeli goods and some have also been getting arrested, again, identifying as politically active Jews. Their sense of moral outrage at the war Israel is waging has compelled them into activity, and activity as Jews.

A group that was organized over these past weeks, If Not Now When, based on the phrase from the ancient Jewish philosopher Hillel, has organized direct actions and protests as Jews, and see as one of their targets Jewish organizations who are not coming out against the war. Their first act, and one that has now caught on in dozens of locations, was to say the Mouners Kaddish for those killed in Gaza. They announce on their facebook page, “Today is the first day of the Jewish month of Av, a time when Jews mourn the destruction wrought upon our people. It is thus a fitting time that today we also mourned the destruction we have wrought upon others, and upon ourselves in turn. We lifted up our own tradition to reclaim hope that out of the ruins of occupation our liberation will one day return.” This is an incredibly powerful statement and call for organizing. It is saying that the acts of Israel must be not only mourned, but that Jews will not be free until the occupation ends. It is making the claim that Jews cannot be free as long as they are oppressing others.

Israel does not speak for the Jews. We will not let it. Yotam, a young Israeli born, now New York City based activist, and one of the initiators of If Not Now When commented, “We have to stop the war on Gaza, end the occupation, and win real freedom and dignity for all peoples. I know that in my bones, because our people have always been fighters for justice. I’m not in the movement in spite of my people, I’m in the movement because of what they have always taught me.”



  1. Jack Aytin August 5, 2014 7:41 am 

    Ironies of ironies: Muslims (Egypt, Pres. Obama) supported, or at least condoned “Operation Protective Edge”

  2. David Dobereiner August 4, 2014 7:57 pm 

    Very fine sentiments with which I and of course the vast majority of non-Jews like me wholeheartedly agree.
    What I cannot understand is how the right wing Zionist lies put out by the Israeli government has apparently been bought into by the majority of the Jewish citizens of Israel.
    Is this true? How could this happen?

  3. avatar
    Sanda Aronson August 4, 2014 1:41 pm 

    I am very happy to see this blog entry. Listening to the NYC media, I often feel like I am in an alternate universe. I have been doing art of protest, as a NYC American Jew (atheist Jew, but Jew), against my government’s support of Israel’s policy towards Palestinians for several years. The premise of this entry from Marina Sitrin is good. Some of us, however, protest as individuals out of tradition and necessity.
    It’s nice to see outlined some of the things I have been saying, by Marina Sitrin.

    Two points: today’s DemocracyNow had me in tears, again. I don’t know how to explain, as a Jew, 74, having been a child of an Orthodox Bubbie of Borough Park Brooklyn, NYC, during WWII, from whom I got my sense of justice, based on her view of 5000 years of Judaism. It is why I remain a Jew
    (one can be an atheist and a Jew. It is where my identity was formed.) I don’t have to explain why so many Jews supported/support Israel, misguided, for so long – because of the Holocaust and because Jews are a minority: Jews have kept quiet or just not paying attention (much of my family and a good friend’s family, Holocaust survivors, are in denial and she is very distraught).

    My art of protest of Israeli gov’t policy and my US gov’t policy support of Israel goes back several years, as I said. My art of protest is online and there are now four pieces of art on my Flickr public photostram page in protest re Gaza: newest is Aug. 3, 2014 of the total of 41 pieces: oldest is the art of Jan.3, 2009 listing four places I link in history: Guernica, Warsaw, Fallujah and I added Gaza to the list. Right now it looks more and more like the re-enactment of the Warsaw ghetto destruction, as well as repeat of the Warsaw Jewish ghetto of the 1940s, in Gaza.

    That piece is the first art, on the bottom of the Flickr public photostream page.

    The other point is one made by Rabbi Henry Siegman on Democracy Now in two interviews starting July 28, 2014 http://www.democracynow.org for transcript and video of the two parts of interviews.
    Rabbi Siegman, former head of two large establishment Jewish organizations in the U.S. with a history of born in 1930, one of 6 kids, whose businesman father was the leader of Zionism in Europe, who fled Germany, always one step ahead of the Nazis in the occupied countries they escaped to, before coming here.
    To paraphrase what he said,
    “The lesson of the Holocaust is not that people do bad things; the majority of people are good people. The lesson of the Holocaust is when good people do nothing..” He talks of his disappointment with the people of Israel who are “doing nothing” and not protesting their government’s policies towards Gaza and Palestinians.
    So, thanks for this blog entry.

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