The March for Israel should not be an echo chamber

I will be attending Tuesday’s march in Washington conflicted. As a Zionist and Jew, I need to show solidarity for Israel’s right to exist and defend itself, and to free the hostages. But, as a Zionist and a Jew, I also cannot be silent about my fear and disagreement with the Israeli government, whose flag I will be marching under on Tuesday.

Judaism teaches the importance of both Jewish solidarity and individuality. On one hand, Torah teaches we cannot stand idly by the blood of our brothers and sisters who were so brutally massacred on October 7, the hostages who are enslaved as we speak, and the Israelis who are terrorized and under fire now from enemies who over and over, have voiced the desire to commit more attacks like the one on October 7. On the other hand, Judaism also encourages us to speak up as individuals as well. Sanhedrin teaches man was created as an individual, alone, for the sake of peace, so people cannot say to each other “my ancestor was more righteous than yours.” Rather, we are all created “from the dust of the earth.” We learn from this that speaking out as individuals, distinct from the group, is important and can promote peace.

In this time of increasing polarization and identity politics, people have retreated to their collective identity groups, reinforcing polarization and extremism. Within this construct, the idea has taken hold that every conflict is a zero-sum game: there is the oppressed, and the oppressor; there will be one winner, and one loser. This is a dangerous construct for Jews, as is the tendency of people with less strident views to be quiet. I appreciate the Arab and pro-Palestinian individuals who have spoken out to separate themselves from the extreme masses. Some I agree with completely; some I do not. But they give me the ability to see their humanity.

I started this blog so I can go to Washington on Tuesday knowing that I have made my single voice heard, even if it is not strident enough for some. I am marching on Tuesday, consistent with the stated reasons for the march, to: (i) support Israel, a democratic, soulful, beautiful, vibrant, tech-savvy, artistic, LGBTQ+ friendly, country; (ii) call for freeing the hostages; and (iii) condemn antisemitism. Like every Jew I know personally, I do not delight in the suffering of Palestinians.

First principles: I believe anti-Zionism is antisemitism. I believe Israel has the right to defend itself as much as any other country, and it has an even greater need than every other country. Israel’s neighbors have both the stated goal and demonstrated wherewithal to eliminate Israel, and that would mean another Jewish genocide. Hamas uses its civilians as human shields; Hamas bears responsibility for their deaths as a result; Israel did not start this war; and referring to Israel as a “colonial” state is inaccurate, as Jews are indigenous to the land and have nowhere to “return.” “From the river to the sea” is a call to eliminate Israel except by those too ignorant to know what they are saying, which is a whole other problem. And, as a child of a Holocaust survivor, I know that never again is now.

So much criticism of Israel is fueled by antisemitism it has led people like me not to criticize in the past. Do these protestors know—or do they just not care—that, in just the last month, Turkey and Azerbajan have forced 120,000 Armenians to flee their homeland? That China’s treatment of its Muslim Uyghur population in Xinjiang has been widely considered ethnocide for years? That President Assad’s Russia-backed regime is responsible for more than 300,000 murdered Syrian civilians in the past decade, 6.8 million internally-displaced Syrians, and more than 5.3 million asylum-seekers abroad? Why are these protestors not calling for Turkey, China, or Syria to lose their nationhood? Why is there no harassment on college campuses of students affiliated with those countries, like there is harassment of Jewish students (including my kids) because of their connection to Israel?

Having said all of that, I am terribly afraid that the world will not understand why I and most others I know are marching. That is because Israeli leadership gives the world reason to believe Israel is not just acting to protect itself from the existential threat that is Hamas—which I do support—but that it is acting to pursue colonialism and ethnic cleansing instead. Examples are hard to miss.

  • Prime Minister Netanyahu vowed to turn densely-populated Gazan cities “to rubble” and announced that the campaign in Gaza is to “remember Amalek,” which refers to the Book of Samuel and King Saul’s religious pursuit of revenge by way of collective punishment on the women and children in our enemy’s camp.
  • Defense Minister Yoav Gallant promised on October 9 that Israel’s actions will be premised on the view that “we are fighting human animals.”
  • Israeli settlers reportedly have been unleashing violence on Palestinians (including children) in the West Bank (the ones not responsible for October 7) with increasing frequency and brutality, with only a late-coming condemnation from Prime Minister Netanyahu last week, reportedly issued under pressure from the United States government.
  • Although he has since been vague about it, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced plans last week to retain control of Gaza. As Tom Friedman explained a few days ago, based on data kept by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, that would mean Israel’s 7 million Jews would indefinitely control the lives of 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

I understand why Israel argues against a cease fire with Hamas—terrorist who have no intention of ceasing fire in return, who hold hostages, and who promise more October 7’s as soon as it can get around to it. We all know Israel did not want this war or start this war. But Israel is responsible for how it fights this war. And while I will forever support Israel’s right to defend itself militarily, I do not march to support it attacking Palestinians with intent to ethnically cleanse, which is what I worry the rhetoric above suggests.

A just-released poll indicates Israelis strongly support their military’s response to October 7, but they strongly oppose their government’s performance during this war. Many Israel supporters say that war is not the time to change Israel’s leadership. It does not look that way to me. I have no vote because I am not Israeli. But I am answering the call to march on Tuesday and, as Jewish tradition teaches, I do have a voice.

I want an Israel that is strong and secure, and whose government is just in its cause and clear in its purpose. I am heartbroken that Israel’s leadership did not protect its people on October 7. That was its first and most important job. And I do not want the beautiful people that were slaughtered that day to have died in vain, which is what will happen if their deaths lead to a less safe Israel and a less safe world for Jews. We in America, especially those of us with kids on college campuses, are painfully aware that Israel’s legitimacy and security impacts us, because antisemitism will not go away. It is understandable that Israelis are enraged. We are too. But its leaders need to lead, with morality. War puts too many lives at risk—Israeli lives, Palestinian lives, and even American lives—for them to be motivated by emotion and vengeance. Thousands of Palestinian civilians, including children, are dying. Israel should not continue this campaign if it is not making Israel safer in the long term, and it needs to have better leadership for any of us to have confidence that is the case.

Readers on the right may argue I am weak—”supporters like you are not what Israel needs now.” To them, I say, I disagree, and Jewish tradition disagrees. Readers on the left may also argue I am naïve and weak—why would I march for Israel after the dehumanizing rhetoric of Israel’s leaders and Palestinian suffering we have witnessed? To them, I repeat what I said above. I will march because I love Israel, hate antisemitism, the hostages need to come home, and Israel has a right to exist and defend itself. To both the left and right, I say that I don’t care to be in either of your echo chambers.

I hated writing this. But I worry that if people like me do not speak up to say “yes—we love Israel, support its right to defend itself, hate the pervasive antisemitism motivating criticism of Israel, and want the hostages home; but no—we do not agree with much of what Israel’s leadership is now saying and doing,” the world will misunderstand what the march is about, and Israelis and Israel’s government will misunderstand as well. I hope to always march, and always want to march, for Israel every chance I get. Am Yisrael chai.

About the Author
Jane J. Felton is an attorney, mom, and wife from South Orange, New Jersey. She has devoted tireless efforts to ensuring that the secular US legal system protects the rights of agunot. She is also a proud Zionist, daughter of a Holocaust survivor, and mom of college students who staunchly supports Israel and—like many—struggles to reconcile that support with her belief that Israel's current government’s policies are inconsistent with her Jewish values.