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Being Israeli, Jewish and Left-wing post-7/10

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I blinked and it seems that I am now a citizen of a pariah state à la North Korea, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Syria, Myanmar, Kosovo, etc. etc. It’s not what I planned, and I’m pretty sure that my values don’t align with Kim Jong Un, Assad or Afwerki, but by nature of where I choose to live, I’m persona non grata to many around the world for being an Israeli. I don’t know whether I now see through the socialized demonization of the common folk of the aforementioned countries and maybe I should be relating to them differently, or whether I see more clearly the hypocrisy of those demanding Israel cease to exist for being beyond the pale – since many of these critics could be generously described as living off a murky colonial past and present themselves. Either way, it’s a weird place to be in.

* * *

A perusal at my biography, and it would be pretty clear that I identify pretty strongly with the Jewish people, our history, culture, language and country. I have spent a significant amount of my life this far both learning and teaching about our experiences, values and actions. If you would have asked me on Oct 6th what binds the Jewish People around the world throughout the generations, I might have said the words community, mutual aid and Tikkun Olam, and talked about a value system. Another of my answers could have been “the People of the book”, referring to us as a people spending inordinate amounts of our intellectual bandwidth interpreting and reinterpreting the written word, with one book in particular subject to obsessive analysis. Israel might have been another answer – sovereignty is a status which the Jewish people have aspired to for time immemorial. It’s also highly likely that I would have added to the list “trauma”. While the professors argue amongst themselves about whether they think there is such a thing as inter-generational trauma, the Jews are simply amazed by the futility of the question since we know that there is such a thing.

Why am I saying all this? Because one of things that strikes me personally post Oct 7th is that no matter how many times I have visited the concentration camps in Poland (several times), or how many times I have experienced air raid sirens and run into bomb shelters, or heard suicide bombers blowing up buses in my neighbourhoud, or taught students about the Kishinev or Odessa pogroms, I didn’t feel Jewish trauma in my bones like I do now. The atrocities carried out in the South of Israel on that Black Saturday, and the physical and mental torture that the hostages are experiencing in Gaza, are as visceral as anything I’ve ever felt by being a Jew on this planet. It’s powerful and frightening and humbling and sickening all at the same time.

* * *

There is nothing more valuable than human life. In Judaism, we say that one life is an entire world. The hostages in Gaza have been abandoned, men, women, the elderly, babies. This is unforgivable. What sort of country doesn’t do everything in its powers to save lives of citizens that it failed to protect in the first place? No war, no prisoners, no killing of terrorists, no geo-political considerations, no government or the desire to hold onto political power at all costs is more important than extricating the dwindling number of living captives. It’s unfathomable that for seven long months they haven’t been the priority for the very government that are obligated to ensure their safety and basic right to return home.

* * *

I’m finding it hard to find the words to accurately describe my feelings towards the current Government of Israel. I’ve felt disenfranchised for many years, under successive governments, many of them having been led by the very same man. I’ve lived under a Tory government in the UK, and I lived in the US under Trump’s presidency, listening to what Americans had to say about him, and I even remember the pure hatred of those living in Thatcher’s Britain, but I still find it inconceivable how little this government gives a shit about its own citizens, never mind anyone else. It feels that this government is unaware that it has a responsibility to anyone but themselves, whereas in reality it’s worse than that – they are actually choosing to regard the citizens of Israel with downright disdain.

* * *

From a concerted dismantling of the Welfare State, to the erosion of Israeli democracy, Bibi has taken many things away that I see as vital, and yet there is something else, more personal, that he has robbed me of: Bibi has stripped me of my empathy too.

His (mis) management of the conflict has significant repercussions on so many national and international levels, but it also has implications for me and my worldview.

I consider myself a leftist – I still believe that there is no military solution to this conflict, I still believe that there needs to be territorial compromise, I still believe that not all Palestinians are terrorists, I still believe in the equal value of human life, I still believe in the need for a Palestinian State, I still believe that the settlements are an obstacle to peace and I still believe that Israel has not been a partner for peace for the Palestinians for a very, very long time.

And yet, these past 7 months I’ve fallen into the dangerous hole of being less able to identify with the pain of the other side. Without a peace plan, or even a horizon that peace is a distant desire, Bibi has radicalized a whole generation of Israelis and Palestinians into believing that Oct 6th is as good as it gets. Unfortunately, we all are paying the price for his lazy belief that Oct 6th is also as bad as it can get.

I can’t blame it all on Bibi, because there have been ample accounts of barbaric Nazism committed by Gazans that have shocked me to the core.

The sexual violence committed on the 7th Oct, and subsequently to the hostages under the Gaza Strip is abhorrent and indefensible.

There are other gruesome testimonies from that day, without going into detail here, which are simply shocking and depraved.

The recordings of the Gazan excitedly calling his parents and subsequently being praised by them for killing 10 Jews is gut-wrenchingly disturbing.

But the moment that really got me questioning the role of Gazan society as a whole is the story of Roni Kriboy who was abducted from the Nova music festival, managed to escape when the building he was kept in collapsed, but was then returned to his captors by regular Gazans who came across him amongst the rubble. Now, I’m not expecting everyone to be a Raoul Wallenberg or an Irena Sendler, and maybe those stories will come to light years down the line, but I’m waiting in anticipation.

* * *

Apart from the devastating blow that we suffered here in Israel on that fateful day, the reverberations are still being felt in all four corners of the Jewish world. And that is why, for me, this perfect storm of distress has touched pretty much everything that I hold dear, and it sometimes feels overwhelming.

I’m assuming that there isn’t a Jewish person on the planet, regardless of politics, religiosity, geography, age, colour, sexuality or gender, who isn’t feeling bad right now.  Who isn’t feeling judged, who isn’t feeling that the world is a less safe place to be a Jew in, who isn’t feeling both attacked and defensive, who isn’t feeling heartbroken.

And that makes me sad. Since when have we had to justify our existence and our beliefs in such a public fashion?

And then there’s the Jew hatred. So, so many have been emboldened to express their anti-Semitic beliefs in broad daylight, with little or no ramifications. Jews as the scapegoat for all the ills of society is alive and well in 2024. From celebrities to college professors, from broadsheet newspapers to the guy in the pub, the Jews are the subject of racism, whilst at the same time being told that it’s only anti-Zionism, or that there is no such thing as racism against Jews or that we deserve it as a privileged class or that it’s a politically motivated smear campaign, or that taking offense is a way to silence critics of Israel’s actions. There seem to be endless reasons to justify anti-Semitism (albeit some being more outrageous than others) but at the end of the day the outcome is the same – Jews feeling less safe. But it never stops at the Jews. While the Jews are often the first group to feel the fall-out from a fractured and oppressed society, it always, always widens to include more and more populations.

About the Author
Anton Marks is a British-born Israeli and a founder member of the largest urban kibbutz in Israel. He has been an informal educator for the last 25 years, and his passion for Zionist education, Tikkun Olam, peace activism, Jewish history, identity and culture are a recipe for engaging and challenging articles.
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