Op-Ed: Another Jewish Voice Against Israeli Apartheid

Written by Ian Chinich

As Israeli Apartheid Week nears yet again and Israel seems hell bent on assaulting Iran, I began to reflect on how my Jewish upbringing led me towards solidarity activism with the Palestinians:

I didn’t grow up in a radical commune or with Yiddish Anarchist parents.  Instead, I spent my youth in relative ignorance about the Israeli occupation of Palestine.  That is not to say that I wasn’t fed a large amount of propaganda; I was raised in a relatively normal reform Jewish household, attended Hebrew school, and had a Bar Mitzvah.  My early memories about the situation were the Oslo Accords, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by a maniac settler, and the growing realization that the “peace accords” were actually not working.  When people talked about the situation, it was usually my Hebrew school teachers blaming “The Arabs” (an amorphous population who I was told hated Jews as some sort of primordial part of their being).

In contrast to my education about Israel, I was brought up by liberal parents who told me about the anti-Vietnam war movement and other social movements.  A consequence of  this liberal Jewish framework was my involvement in protests against the US invasion and later occupation of Iraq.  The contrast between my anti war and human rights organizing and  Israel’s occupation of Lebanon and its history of noticeable oppression of the Palestinians was stark, yet I didn’t do anything about it.  I was even so naive as to go on Birthright in 2004, at the height of the second Intifada.  The disdain with which the trip leaders and accompanying soldiers treated “The Arabs” was very eye opening – there was so much racism and militaristic pride that I left rather disgusted.  As a result, I began to read everything I could and learned about just how utterly oppressive Israel was, later seeing for myself during a summer of intense activism in the occupied territories.

The horror I witnessed reminded me of stories I heard when I traveled through South Africa (In 2006, while I was in Cape Town, Israel began bombing Lebanon) and met with victims of the Apartheid government.  Later, in my travels through East Jerusalem and the West Bank I saw checkpoints with racist Israeli guards, a massive wall stealing the most arable farm land, and dramatic water shortages.  I experienced settlers taunting little girls in Sheikh Jarrah, helped lift rubble and possessions out of a bulldozed home in Silwan, cleaned up the destroyed olive trees from burned out farmland and watched a mother weep after her 16 year old son was brutalized and taken away by armed soldiers.  In fact, I saw 30 youths taken away in one village over the course of 2 months.

These arrests were a constant feature of Palestinian life.  Almost every man I met over the age of 30 had been in an Israeli jail at one point or another for the crime of “organizing illegal protests” or throwing a stone at a military jeep, which carries the penalty of 2 years in prison.  Some of those I met had been in jail for years without any charges at all.  My good friend Ashraf (whose brother and sister were both killed at demonstrations) is currently in administrative detention – prison without charge or trial – where he has been for held for 5 long months already and could remain indefinitely for no other reason except his participation in demonstrations.

If the extreme nature of oppression wasn’t bad enough I saw the graves of numerous Palestinians killed during non-violent protests against the wall.  Bassem Abu Rahma was killed by a high velocity tear gas shell. Yousef Aqel Srour was shot dead by live ammo at a demo in Nil’in the week I arrived. These were only a few among the many who have been killed non-violently fighting the theft of their land.  Considering the sacrifices many make daily,  I was most impressed by the resiliency of the Palestinian population who, like the American Indians, resisted steadfastly on their land against settler-colonial encroachment.

My mind was totally blown with these experiences.  I, as an American Jew, had an enormous amount of privilege.  I could literally step off the plane in Tel Aviv and become a citizen on the spot. I could leave at any time, without the fear of being permanently detained.  Passing through the airport and certain army checkpoints was a breeze and I rarely thought I could be shot or beaten.  In the US, I never had to worry that an occupying army would cut my neighborhood off from the world, that water would run out or be poisoned by settlers (like they did in the Beduin village of Susya) or that I would be taken away in the dead of night.

Knowing what I know and seeing what I have seen, I honestly don’t think there is a choice for Americans (and particularly for American Jews).  You can’t be silent when these crimes are being carried out with the support of your tax dollars.  You can’t be silent when students on campus are arguing that Israel’s technology or its usage of stolen water resources justifies their oppression of the Palestinians.  You can’t allow the present oppressive course to continue.  Apartheid in South Africa fell, segregation in the south fell, and Israeli Apartheid will also fall, but only if you make it happen.

Ian Chinich is a third-year PhD candidate in Political Science. His views do not necessarily represent the views of The Quad or its writers. BU Students for Israel was asked to present an alternate viewpoint but at time of publication had not done so.  We accept Op-Ed submissions at buquad.com

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21 thoughts on “Op-Ed: Another Jewish Voice Against Israeli Apartheid

  • February 27, 2012 at 12:23 am
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    COuld you make sure Ian Chinich sees this comment. I was wondering if you’re related to David Chinich, who I attended Camp Ramah & Leaders Training Fellowship with some decades ago. I remember him and his wonderful guitar playing fondly. If you know him, please send my regards.

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  • February 27, 2012 at 12:52 am
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    The worst type of anti-semite is a Jewish anti-semite.

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  • February 27, 2012 at 7:16 am
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    Strange that Ian Chinich failed to mention the joint struggle of the activists of the Israeli anarchists initiative with the popular grass root commities. He surely met us in Bil’in if he met Ashraf there.

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    • February 27, 2012 at 11:07 am
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      Sorry about not mentioning the Israeli activists. I only had limited space for the op/ed, and definitely the Anarchists against the wall and tayoush play a big role in the demonstrations (which I also didn’t mention).

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  • February 27, 2012 at 9:16 am
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    Ian, Despite your seemingly wide “education” you strike me as having little regard to the fact that your very existence as a Jew was probably because your ancestors saw fit to leave Europe before the Holocaust where, as a result of anti-semitism (the extent of which was shocking but strangely has been surpassed by what is happening today) led to one of the greatest tragedies of the modern world. I would suggest, if you haven’t done so already to visit Yad Vashem and when you are back in the US the Holocaust Museum in Washington and also, perhaps as a PHD you should research some of the sites that tell the truth about Israel and Palestine not the ones that distort the truth

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    • February 27, 2012 at 11:08 am
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      I have been to yad vashem and the holocaust memorial and a large amount of my family WAS wiped out in the holocaust and its exactly because I care about human suffering for ALL people that I do what I do.

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      • March 1, 2012 at 11:22 pm
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        Right on.

  • February 27, 2012 at 11:13 am
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    Mr. Chinich is a prime example of an “as-a-Jew:” a person of Jewish heritage whose sole connection to the Jewish community is his insistence that he belongs to it when he criticizes Israel, “as a Jew.” I would bet untold amounts of money that Mr. Chinch hasn’t seen the inside of a shul in years, doesn’t keep kosher, doesn’t participate in any Jewish groups, and could not quote a single passage of Torah to support his view on Israel. The only time he does anything “Jewish” is when he whips out his circumcision in an attempt to bolster the strength of his position. This article is entitled “Another Jewish Voice Against Israeli Apartheid,” but there is nothing specifically Jewish about his position, and the narrative of Mr. Chinich’s Jewish life ends at his Bar Mitzvah (probably a dozen years ago now).

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    • February 27, 2012 at 12:42 pm
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      bryan, if you weren’t an adult convert to judaism you might know that Jewish culture extends far beyond religious ritual. it’s an ethnicity.

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    • February 27, 2012 at 1:01 pm
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      Bryan,
      Frankly, unless you know Mr. Chinich and his habits personally, it is impossible for you to make conjectures on whether or not he attends Shul, keeps Kosher, or involves himself in your idea of a “Jewish” lifestyle.
      In truth, it is slightly off-putting that you believe in such a pure ideal of Judaism. In this day and age, Judaism takes many forms. As an example, I rarely attend Shul (because I disagree with many practices of the one I belong to). However, I take care to keep Kosher-style even with a dining hall menu. My family is Zionist; I am doubtful. And if you claim that I am not a “Jew,” I will tell you that you don’t know what Judaism means. Judaism is ethnic, religious, and moral. To claim that only the religious piece of Judaism is important is a gross misrepresentation of the spirit of Judaism.
      I urge you to stop making blanket accusation, jumping to conclusions, and condemning someone without any personal knowledge of them. My Shul-going may have stopped after my Bar-Mitzvah, but I will never stop being Jewish. “As a Jew,” I think you should read the article, not the author.

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      • February 27, 2012 at 3:23 pm
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        My point was not religious: my point was that it is disingenuous to claim membership in a communal identity when you willingly do not participate in the communal life of that group. Mr. Chinich could be completely secular and still be active in Jewish groups, even in synagogues; as long as he participated in communal Jewish life, no one would be able to claim that he was being disingenuous when he claimed to represent Jewry. But I suspect he does not, so I maintain that his representation of himself is less than honest. There is nothing in his article that indicates that his voice is any more “Jewish” than any other anti-Israel American.

        The sole fact that Mr. Chinich is Jewish by ethnicity should not give his opinion on Israel any more weight than any other American’s. I have ancestors from France, Sweden, Poland, England, and a host of other places in Europe, but I don’t prefix pontificatory lectures on the state of France with “as a Frenchman,” or statements on Polish affairs with “as a Pole,” with the expectation that lineage grants my opinion any greater legitimacy.

    • February 28, 2012 at 1:52 am
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      guess you arent getting an invitation to the next family pesach seder 😛

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  • February 27, 2012 at 12:42 pm
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    To Bryan ^^

    I am a Jew who went to shul this past Shabbos, and though I don’t keep Kosher all the time, I know many Jews who are, and who hold the same beliefs as Mr. Chinich. Do not be so quick to dismiss. I urge you to explore the following site. There is an organization called Orthodox Jews United Against Zionism, whose mission is grounded in the Torah. I have met many members of this group in activist work, and they are some of the most insightful and intelligent Jews I have ever met.

    There is something seriously wrong with oppressing one ethnic group on behalf of the salvation of another.

    http://www.jewsagainstzionism.com/index.cfm

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    • February 27, 2012 at 3:32 pm
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      whitney:

      People like Orthodox Jews United Against Zionism are the opposite of As-a-Jews: they are fully observant Jews, steeped in Jewish tradition, who cite Jewish tradition and Jewish thinking in their opposition to Zionism. Although I disagree with them vehemently, I don’t deny that their opposition to Israel is supported *by Jewish tradition:* I just disagree with their interpretation of Jewish tradition.

      Mr. Chinich, however, did not cite Torah, nor Rambam, nor any contemporary Jewish thinker in his article. There was nothing *specifically Jewish* in his article, so I consider the title inappropriate.

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  • February 27, 2012 at 12:42 pm
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    Well done, Ian. I think the saddest part of racism is that it is cloaked under the veil of religion, yet I do not know of any religion that condones it.
    “At the heart of racism is the religious assertion that God made a creative mistake when He brought some people into being” Friedrich Otto Hertz
    The problem is that everyone thinks the other side is the mistake, but the blood shed from one side or the other is still the same.

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  • February 27, 2012 at 5:41 pm
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    I love how those who criticize Israel’s treatment of Palestinians are immediately labeled as anti-semites and/or holocaust sympathizers. What a shallow and weak argument. Many of my closest friends are jews, and I can assure you that I believe the holocaust was one of the greatest tragedies in human history. Yet I am critical of many actions carried out by Israel as a state, feel the situation is not without instigators on both sides, and hope that it has a resolution. In my situation, my personal religion has nothing to do with my opinion, and my beliefs do not reflect my impression of Jews or Muslims.
    If you keep on blindly taking sides, fueled by your emotions and loyalties, this conflict will never get anywhere. Oh wait, that’s exactly what’s happening already.

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  • February 27, 2012 at 7:00 pm
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    No wonder this kid goes to BU.

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  • February 28, 2012 at 12:19 am
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    I think that most of the people that have posted here, at the end of the day, know little of what they are talking about. None of you have lived in the middle east- whether it be Israel or Palestine. We can sit here in America and try to say what we think the best solution is but we have never had to live in a country where ever second of every day we have to live in fear that at any moment lives could be taken. While religion should not take a part in the solution, each side needs to openly admit that religion is at the heart of the problem and that old hatreds need to die before each side can find peace with each other. Logistically Israel cannot defend itself if it looses any more land and its funny how this author comments about a Birthright trip…. you think thats a realistic view of Israeli life? Step into the shoes of an Israeli fighter who chooses to defend his country because he wants to know that his family can sleep safely every night even though every country around him hates his very existence. Now Israeli’s aren’t perfect, no one is. American’s caused some of the same hardships to Muslims in the Middle East, so why isn’t this article about the Americans treating Muslims poorly? I hate the the suffering of man kind. Not just one religion.

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  • March 16, 2012 at 8:54 am
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    I read the comments of Ian Chinich with interest. I have just returned to Israel from South Africa. While I was there the “Hate Israel” campaign was in full swing with the “Israel Apartheid Week.” There no apartheid in Israel against anyone despite Ian’s use of words such as “racist guards” and “settlers taunting little girls” to flower his article.
    I can tell him where there is absolute apartheid against the palestinians he professes to support. He will find it in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, where they are kept in refugee camps rather than integrated into the indigenous society. They are also kept stateless and not allowed to work in professions or in government employment. But don’t expect people like Ian to mention this in their week of apartheid issues.
    Let me also tell Ian where I did see apartheid practiced. It was in South Africa as I stopped to photograph and film the horrendous conditions of hopelessness that I witnesses in the townships. You may have given these people the vote but I saw the Apartheid of Poverty that makes the condition of the Palestinian middle class by comparison. No Palestinian Arab lives in a tin shack with no sanitation or electricity. Yet Ian has no words or time for the humanitarian crisis in his own country. I wonder why? If anyone thinks a Jew cannot be anti-Semitic please read his article which is full of lies, half truths, and omissions.

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  • May 25, 2012 at 6:51 pm
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    “Ian Chinich is a third-year PhD candidate in Political Science”
    Such a rant from a PhD candidate?
    Opinions aplenty, but,
    Where are statistics?
    Where are facts?
    Chinich article would qualify as necessary reading for psychology PhD candidate – not Political Science candidates

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  • May 25, 2012 at 8:48 pm
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    Here is some adjacent statistics to my earlier comment:
    The word ‘I’, appears 31 times in Mr. Chinich 56 line article.
    Ask any psychologist of the significance of often using this word – in speech or writing.
    Indeed, Mr. Chinich article should be a required reading for psychology PhD candidates – not political science PhD candidates

    Reply

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