Women’s March and the movement for justice/Defining the right to exist

Palestine Update 210

Women’s March and the movement for justice/Defining the right to exist
In this issue of Palestine Updates, we bring you excerpts of two challenging articles by activist-thinkers/analysts. The first (The Women’s March represents the new movement for social justice – and I’m proud to be marching with them) is from the Jewish Voice for Peace and relates the Women’s March held on January 19th 2019 to the wider Movement for Social Justice. The article is full of optimism about newness in outlook. It is about the evolution of issues that are intertwined and require togetherness based on mutual support and mobilization: fairness, equality, dignity, and hope for the future. Today, Movements for Justice call to be built around inter-sectionality because oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc. are all ones that cannot be examined separately from one another. About JVP

Jewish Voice for Peace is a national, grassroots organization inspired by Jewish tradition to work for a just and lasting peace according to principles of human rights, equality, and international law for all the people of Israel and Palestine.

The second article “Does Israel Have a Right to Exist’ Is a Trick Question” is from a thinker-analyst in the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Yousef Munayyer. He writes this in the The Forward – a periodical which provides incisive coverage of the issues, ideas and institutions that matter to American Jews. It denies the very legitimacy of the question calling it “intellectually dishonest and intended, almost always, to silence critics and criticism of Israeli policies”. It argues that no state has a “right to exist” … and that states exist “only because certain groups of people amassed enough political and material power to make territorial claims and establish governments, sometimes with the consent of those already living there and, oftentimes, at their expense”.

These are articles that must be read as excerpts or in full. But they surface the questions we must all address in our times. How we understand the thoughts that stem from these two think-pieces, can provide those among us who have joined the struggles for justice and integrity of human communities, with directions for how we integrate our agendas with others in similar struggles. It is a way of building unity among the oppressed and creating a wider front of resistance against oppression.

Do read and disseminate.

Ranjan Solomon 
The Women’s March represents the new movement for social justice – and I’m proud to be marching with them
Excerpts from a statement from Rebecca Vilkomerson, Executive Director, Jewish Voice for Peace

“Angela Davis, on finding out that her award from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute was being rescinded because of her outspoken support for Palestinian rights, said, in part, that this is “not primarily an attack against me, but rather against the spirit of the indivisibility of justice.” That phrase eloquently sums up the animating spirit of left and progressive politics in this moment. It is a time of political activation like none I’ve seen in my lifetime.  From striking teachers in LA, to abolishing ICE, to the green new deal, to street protests measured in the tens and hundreds of thousands – we are in the fight for our lives, and we all know it.

This era was largely set off by the first Women’s March the day after Trump’s inauguration in 2017… One of the guiding principles of this time is not just the growth of each of these movements, but the ways we recognize that all these issues have a connective tissue that demands mutual support and mobilization: fairness, equality, dignity, and hope for the future. We’re also witnessing the dynamic leadership of people who have long been marginalized in every aspect of our society, particularly women of color.  From the Women’s March to the most recent class elected to Congress, leaders look different, sound different, and have different core constituencies than many white people are accustomed to – and that is an essential development.

(A) feature of this moment is the visceral fears engendered by the Trump era of open white nationalism that is now directed at Jews – along with the Black, immigrant, indigenous and Muslim communities that have always been its target. Especially since Pittsburgh, Jewish lives and safety feel at risk. That doesn’t, however, justify using accusations of anti-Semitism to shut down essential conversations both about Israel and about the varying degrees of power and privilege that white Jews in particular have in relation to other communities facing structural oppression. As a result, we’re also seeing renewed rifts between mostly white Jewish progressives and leaders of color. The Jewish conversation about the links among  antisemitism, racism, power and positionality – and underneath it all, how these conversations relate to Israel – has boiled over in the last few weeks, after decades at a low simmer…

Anti-Semitism cannot be tolerated in any movement for justice. But in this new era of multiracial movement building and strong leadership by people of color, the pain and oppression that many communities face needs equal understanding and attention with Jewish concerns. The sense of vulnerability that many of us are experiencing for the first time must be tempered with the reality that many of our siblings in other movements have to face every moment of every day of their lives. And we still need to be able to grapple honestly about the differing levels of risk that we face from ongoing structural oppression.

Jewish Voice for Peace has been going through our own racial justice transformation process, prompted by our Jews of Color Mizrahi and Sephardi Caucus. One of the things we are learning over and over, especially those of us in leadership positions who are white, is that we all have blind spots – things that we simply don’t see because of where we sit.  We need to open ourselves and train ourselves to look beyond what we see from our own perspective to what others are seeing and experiencing, in order to address structural change. Otherwise, we end up making demands of others that we don’t make of ourselves, and using our own fears functionally to maintain the status quo – where we have more power.

That is what is happening to the Women’s March leadership. The outpouring of racism and Islamophobia toward Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour, all in service to the demand that they respond to anti-Semitism, which they have done repeatedly, illustrates these blind spots. All of us in our own communities have complicated relationships to navigate. The level of demand and vitriol directed at Women’s March leaders, for behavior that we tolerate among ourselves, should at the least give us pause. In fact, their vibrant committed leadership, not just to their own communities but to all of ours, should be celebrated.

Jewish people have an opportunity to be part of building a vibrant, multiracial, powerful movement at a moment when it is needed more than I can ever remember. There’s a vital role for all of us – let’s not squander it”.

Read full text on https://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/womens-march-social-justice/

 ‘Does Israel Have a Right to Exist’ Is A Trick Question
Excerpts from article by Yousef Munayyer, The Forward Yousef Munayyer,  is Executive Director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights.

The question “Does Israel have the right to exist?” is intellectually dishonest and intended, almost always, to silence critics and criticism of Israeli policies. Anyone who does not answer with a resounding ‘Yes’ is guaranteed the label “anti-Semite.”

“The truth is that no state has a “right to exist” – not Israel, not Palestine, not the United States. Neither does Zimbabwe, Chile, North Korea, Saudi Arabia or Luxembourg have a “right to exist.”

States do exist; there are about 200 in our world today, even though there are thousands of ethno-religious or ethno-linguistic groups. And these states don’t exist because they have a “right” to. They exist because certain groups of people amassed enough political and material power to make territorial claims and establish governments, sometimes with the consent of those already living there and, oftentimes, at their expense.

Most people understand this. I’ve never heard anyone demand to know whether Switzerland, or even the United States, has “a right to exist.” States come and go over time; borders can change, names can change, regimes can change and yes, discriminatory systems underpinning regimes can change, too. But one state demands to be beyond reproach through a mythical “right to exist”: Israel.

Can you imagine asking indigenous Americans and indigenous rights activists — fighting for the rights of a population whose languages, societies, culture and possessions were categorically decimated in the process of erecting the United States — whether the United States has a “right to exist”? That you can’t imagine this is testimony to the disingenuousness of the question. For this question is asked — almost always of critics of Israel’s policies — not for the purposes of debate and discourse, but rather, to create a gotcha moment, to undermine the credibility of the person questioned. It is intellectually dishonest and intended, almost always, to silence critics and criticism of Israeli policies.

Worse, factors like the unfortunate though all-too-often-commonplace conflation of the State of Israel with Judaism and world Jewry, coupled with the awful history of persecution Jews have faced, mean that anyone who doesn’t answer the question about Israel’s right to exist with an unequivocal “yes” risks being portrayed as an eliminationist radical worthy of labels like “anti-Semite” and otherwise marginalized. In other words, it’s a set-up.

Criticizing Israel’s policies toward the Palestinian people, including during its establishment and since, in the form of discriminatory policies against refugee repatriation should never be conflated with eliminationism. The policies of all states should be open to criticism…it is humans, not states that have a right to exist. This includes all people: those who identify as Israelis and Palestinians alike, along with seven billion others. People also have a whole set of other rights – human rights, which states cannot deny. These include the right to free movement, the right to consent to being governed, and the right to enter and exit their country, the right not to be tortured or collectively punished, and so on. It is by guaranteeing these rights and only by guaranteeing them that states derive their moral legitimacy; it is not from some mythical “right to exist” or even the historical need of their people, but rather from the extent to which their policies respect the rights of people.

The question should not be “Does Israel have a right to exist” but rather, “Is the way in which Israel exists right?” And for us Palestinians at least, the answer is clearly no. For Palestinians, the establishment of the state of Israel had very real and horrific consequences. It meant the vast majority of our people were forced from their land, separated from their families, possessions and property. It meant their villages, hundreds of them, were destroyed so they wouldn’t have homes to return to.

It meant they might die in a refugee camp, longing to return to farm their ancestral fields. It meant they would live as second-class citizens, seen as a “demographic threat” to the state. And it meant that if they objected to this, or even just tried to walk home, they could be killed or imprisoned. Does that sound right to you? Does that sound like something a state should have a “right” to do? Since the establishment of the state of Israel involved these horrors for Palestinians, asking supporters of Palestinian rights if “Israel has a right to exist” is effectively asking them to accept that Israel had a right to treat Palestinians in this way.

Could Apartheid South Africa have defended its policies behind a claim that the regime had a “right to exist”? Could Jim Crow Alabama have claimed a “right to exist” to defend its separate and unequal policies? …What no longer exists are the overt and systemic policies of Apartheid and Jim Crow and, even though much work remains to achieve real equality in both places…

Israel can continue to try to deny the rights of Palestinians for some time, but it will only become harder to do with each passing day. Attempting to hide behind dishonest rhetorical devices is not going to cut it anymore.


Don’t befriend me for a day, and leave me a month. Don’t get close to me if you’re going to leave. Don’t say what you don’t do. Be close or get away.

 لا تصاحبني يوماً .. لتهجرني شهراً ولا تقربني .. لتبعدني .. لا تقل ما لا تفعل كُن قريباً .. أو ابتعد.

Mahmoud Darwish.