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The Tide Is Turning: New Yorkers Are Speaking Out for Palestinian Liberation

The city’s anti-Zionist movement is speaking out for Palestinian liberation. Attitudes in the city’s Jewish community are shifting rapidly.

Ana Orozco

February 23, 2024
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Photo: Daniel Efram

Never have I seen so many mass mobilizations in the United States in support of Palestinian sovereignty and liberation, as I have in the last five months. New York City, in particular, has seen actions and demonstrations almost daily since October. As someone who grew up in New York, I never could have imagined witnessing this massive outpouring of support for Palestinian liberation and demonstrations against the atrocities carried out by the State of Israel against Palestinians. Even though New York is home to many radical political movements and has historically been home to some of the country’s leading thinkers and organizers from the Left, including many vocal anti-Zionist Jews. But the city is also known as a Zionist stronghold, which is why it was so difficult to imagine such highly visible demonstrations taking place almost daily in New York — demonstrations calling for not just a ceasefire but for a liberated Palestine. I do not mean to imply that there has not always been a presence of pro-Palestinian liberation activists, organizers, and organizations in New York. But the strength and power of the Zionist movement, in this city in particular, has always been very successful at dismissing, discrediting, and silencing us with its campaign to conflate anti-Zionism with antisemitism.

The success of this campaign not only palpable in New York City, but it has successfully marginalized any criticism and questioning of the Zionist State of Israel on an international scale. The Zionist campaign to (falsely) define Zionism as protection and defense of the Jewish people responds directly to the criticism it has received, particularly from anti-Zionist Jews. The Left Voice podcast episode “A Brief History of Anti-Zionist Jews” offers a concise history of Zionism and the Jewish socialist opposition to the ideology since its beginnings. The Zionist state declared that criticism of Israel is antisemitic and a threat to Jews worldwide, with terrible consequences for people who oppose the violent atrocities carried out by the Israeli military, foreign settlers, and the Israeli government against Palestinians.

We have all heard the stories by now of people losing their jobs, having their social media platforms shut down, and being publicly shamed because of their stance in solidarity with the people of Palestine, and for calling for a free Palestine, or even for a ceasefire. Just last week, the New York–based Palestinian organization responsible for organizing massive weekly demonstrations, Within Our Lifetime, had its Instagram account shut down without the possibility of appeal, as did one of the leaders of the organization, Nerdeen Kiswani.

Silencing Anti-Zionist Voices

Vocal and visible criticism of Zionism and the State of Israel and their violence against Palestinians has long been controversial in the United States, Israel’s most powerful ally. The United States has geopolitical interests in the Middle East, and Israel is its closest ally in the region, by design. Therefore, U.S. politicians would rather repress and alienate their constituents who are outraged by the ongoing genocide being carried out with our tax dollars, than to call for a ceasefire or withdraw military and financial support for Israel.

As long as the political ideology of Zionism has existed, there have been Jews who have questioned and challenged it, and who have even called out Zionism as a dangerous ideology. This truth, this parallel history, is the Achilles’ heel of Zionism. It unravels the lie that Zionism is about Jewish liberation and right to self-determination, or that Zionism is rooted in the religious values and principles of Judaism. Growing up in New York City, I have had the privilege of knowing and being in community with anti-Zionist Jews as well as the misfortune of encountering and experiencing firsthand the venom of Zionists who aim to silence opposition by accusing us of antisemitism.

On Wednesday, February 7, President Biden paid a fundraising visit to New York City. True to form, New Yorkers against genocide organized actions at all of the president’s designated stops that day. But one action in particular stood out, not only as an important message to President Biden, calling for an end to military support to Israel, but as an important disruption of the Zionist narrative being supported and amplified by mainstream media on an international scale. The New York chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVPNY) blocked Fifth Avenue, in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where the president was scheduled to appear. For context, the Upper East Side is home to some of the wealthiest people in New York City, which is significant, considering that the city is one of the wealthiest in the world. The Upper East Side is also the bastion of Zionism in New York State and, arguably, in the country.

The Tide Is Turning

The many actions organized by anti-Zionist Jewish organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace, If Not Now, and others since October 7 clearly distinguish between Zionism and Judaism: Zionism is a political ideology that is fundamentally about superiority, power, and domination. Conversely, Judaism is a religion rooted in values of justice, liberation, and love. To witness Jewish Voice for Peace block Fifth Avenue chanting “Not in our name,” “Ceasefire now,” and the most poignant chant of all, “Free, free Palestine! Stop the genocide!” — this was something I never could have imagined possible on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, considering the power that Zionism holds in this very location. It was awe inspiring, given that the residential buildings that line Fifth Avenue, and are home to so many Zionists, were overlooking hundreds of Jews and allies, including Palestinians, blocking the streets below, calling out Zionists, including President Biden, for what they are: supporters and financiers of genocide, ethnic cleansing, and settler colonialism.

These protests, alongside the actions of Jewish people all over the country and all over the world against the genocide, obliterate the false narrative that a stance against Israel is antisemitic. It is important now more than ever, as more and more people are paying attention to the conflict for the first time in their lives and becoming politicized, to call out the Zionist agenda and to ensure that newly politicized people do not fall prey to real antisemitism. It is quite telling that the Zionist movement includes antisemitic Christians around the world, but especially here in the United States. The March for Israel, which took place on November 14 in Washington, DC, featured John Hagee, a televangelist pastor who once blamed Jews for the Holocaust.

The protests against Biden are proof that the tide is turning. Support for a free Palestine can no longer be framed as antisemitic. It is easy to despair, especially as the violence keeps escalating, and we learn almost daily of new ground and airstrikes against Gazans, and the death toll continues to rise. But despair is the tool of the oppressor. Hope is radical and an essential ingredient for organized resistance against systemic violence and repression. There are moments that breathe new hope into our movements. All of JVP’s actions, as well as the ongoing organizing and direct actions led by Palestinian autonomous groups and allies, have given me the hope necessary to keep up the momentum, to remember that there are more of us than there are of them. With this in mind, our numbers will remain insignificant if anti-Zionist resistance sectors remain divided. Unraveling the lie that Zionism has anything to do with Judaism is a key strategy to ending international support of Israel and its military. The more people understand that there is nothing antisemitic about criticizing Israel and defending Palestinian liberation and sovereignty, the more people will join the international movement for Palestinian liberation. Those of us in the belly of the imperialist beast have a responsibility to organize against the U.S.-backed the Israeli genocide of Palestinians.

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