The Risk of Opposing Israel in the US
The Risk of Opposing Israel in the US
By Ruth Fowler /

We all know the stigma, but we cannot remain silent

Growing up in the United Kingdom in an agnostic family that had Jewish and Christian members, I was free to have an opinion about the continual clashes between Israel and Palestine. It reminded me of Britain’s relationship with Northern Ireland. While I never endorsed violence or supported the Irish Republican Army, I sympathized with the occupied rather than the occupier and recognized the occupied’s right to resist occupation.

Back then, even when my opinion differed from my friends’ and colleagues’, I felt secure that I would not lose work or friends or opportunities or sleep because I recognized that the state of Israel used unnecessary and criminal violence against the Palestinian people in order to further its Zionist ideals.

Today, as a white woman living in the United States, I do not feel free to express an opinion about the conflict without facing opposition or abuse. Only two days ago a woman who asked me to refer pregnant women to her acupuncturist business page, posted a Golda Meir quote online: “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.” I had to do a double take. Who, exactly, was I supposed to refer to this woman? Was I meant to be racially selecting clientele for her, or did she honestly think a woman of color — any color — would find the insinuation that race dictates how much one loves one child an acceptable statement to make as a small-business owner specializing in birth and pregnancy?

I chose to confront this woman in a private online forum consisting of 40 women who all trained together as doulas. I asked her why she thought her racist personal views were acceptable and appropriate for a birth professional. I was summarily removed from the forum by three white women, who as far as I know see no conflict between this woman’s Zionist-derived racism and her personal career tending to pregnant women.

I was, of course, told that I was anti-Semitic for confronting her. I’m sure that, having grown up swallowing Zionist propaganda about the promised land, this woman is absolutely incapable of extricating her religion from any criticism of the extremely unfortunate and unpleasant ideologies that are used to justify Israeli violence.

Whenever I address Israeli violence publicly, I prepare for the loss of Jewish friends and for messages such as ‘You will never work in Hollywood again’ and ‘Now I know that you hate our people, I will not employ you.’ (Yes, these are actual quotes.)

My opinion about Israel and Zionism was forged over the years from conversations with Israeli and Palestinian friends, Muslims, Christians and Jews and from a fine blend of personal anecdote, fact and the study of history. I have no particular affiliation with either the Palestinians or the Israelis, Judaism or Islam. I espouse no religion and worship no god, nor do I have strong feelings against anyone else’s religion or god(s). I do, however, have an ongoing academic interest in postcolonial studies and a strong feeling about my role in history as a white-skinned woman of European descent. I believe it my responsibility as a privileged, educated, white, Welsh woman who has rarely felt oppression not only to oppose oppression but also to support oppressed people everywhere and recognize their right to resist occupation.

The Palestinians are an oppressed people. Unlike the U.S.-funded Israelis, they are a people without an army, without a navy, without an air force, without free movement within, into and out of their own land. They are often denied access to basic requirements of well-being such as education, employment and medical attention because of their race and religion. While the United States channels roughly $3.1 billion of military aid to Israel every year, the Palestinians get little, though their needs are great. Despite this situation, they are people for whom, if you wish to prosper in the U.S., you cannot publicly be seen to support in any way — especially when it concerns speaking out against their continued oppression.

Whenever I address Israeli violence publicly — whether to express disgust at the deliberate targeting of civilians or the rampant system of apartheid and oppression maintained by Israel — I prepare for the loss of Jewish friends and for messages such as “You will never work in Hollywood again” and “Now I know that you hate our people, I will not employ you.” (Yes, these are actual quotes.) The people who voiced these opinions feel in a position of control over my destiny and suggest that their more privileged position as someone who can employ me and have some influence over my career and income should be used to punish me for not supporting the actions of the state of Israel.

To be sure, those who threaten me can exert some control over aspects of my journalism and screenwriting career, but because I am not marked by brown skin or a Muslim name, the boycott rarely runs deep enough to result in losses great enough to harm my livelihood. This obviously hints at the oppression of Palestinians in the West Bank and of their supporters, particularly their Arab supporters, in the West. As a white, educated woman with Christian and Jewish blood running in my family, it’s easier, though not inconsequential, for me to shrug off the accusations of anti-Semitism and continue about my life than it is for my Muslim friends. Nevertheless, the fear of being tagged as anti-Semitic is why many white Americans — including “progressives” such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren who continue to vote for pro-Israeli policies even when they say weakly that they do not support Israeli violence — stay silent. They cannot afford to be ostracized socially, politically and economically because of their views.

Because of this silence, the pariah status of being one who opposes Israeli violence and supports Palestine’s right to exist remains unspoken in the United States. We pretend it doesn’t happen. We carefully couch our opinions in phrases like “Well, both sides are at fault.” “Both sides have a point,” we say, holding our chins. We nod when someone tells us that Israel must destroy Palestine because Hamas hates all Jews and wants them dead, that Hamas uses children as human shields and parades them as martyrs. We remain silent because we do not want to upset friends. It’s a messy, complicated history. Vast religious differences come into play as well as colonialism and treaties and guilt, perhaps, about our roles and our ancestors’ collusion in a brutal history of anti-Semitism. But silence now, as before, is complicity. Silence was complicity during the civil rights movement, during apartheid, during Nazi Germany. The consequences for those who speak out vary widely, depending on the race, religion, nationality, gender, education and social and economic status of the speaker. Even Jews who speak out are targeted as traitors to their religion and people. For those of us who risk only a lost friend, a lost employer, a missed opportunity from something as simple as a Facebook status update, a marginal decrease in our income, as opposed to losing our entire family, home and livelihood, we have no excuse.

The only moral choice for Americans is to oppose Israeli violence; participate in the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement; and explain, tirelessly and lovingly, to confused Jewish friends supporting Israel and claiming victimhood that opposing Zionism, oppression, genocide, apartheid and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s deliberate attempts to foil the two-state solution is not the same as anti-Semitism.

Let us not espouse the same tired and evasive exhortations to pray, hope and trust in peace. Let us take action and speak out so that right will eventually prevail before another thousand Palestinians are slaughtered.

Ruth Fowler is a British journalist and screenwriter living in the U.S.

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The Risk of Opposing Israel in the US