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Haviva Ner-David
post-denominational inter-spiritual rabbi, mikveh specialist, spiritual counselor, author
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The woke tweets of war

Posting bigoted rhetoric from the safety of America, a self-appointed anti-colonialist with no grasp of our lived reality hurts Palestinians and Israelis

I thought there must be a mistake when last week my spouse showed me tweets by Anna Rajagopal, who had been hired by the US-based Jewish social justice organization Avodah to assist in social media. Here are some tweets that were shared with Rajagopal’s large following on Twitter and TikTok and presumably led Avodah to reverse its hiring decision:

“Zionists are genocidal freaks. If there’s ever a circus show for ugly, sunburnt, violent outcasts, that’s where you’ll see them,” or, “Sometimes I sit here and just wonder why Zionists are so physically unattractive. It’s very interesting to me how every Zionist is just extremely ugly, like actually very unpleasant looking. It’s like you have to be horrifically grotesque to be a part of the genocide club.”

These tweets coming from someone who claims to be fighting bigotry and discrimination are shocking. They only hurt the Palestinian cause by making it look ridiculous. But this other tweet hit me hardest because it felt most directed at people like me:

“Israel/Palestine is such a red flag. Either say occupied Palestine or Palestine. Don’t give legitimacy to an ethnostate in any form. Liberal Zionist bs.”

 I am not on Twitter, but I did join Facebook when my novel Hope Valley came out. The book is about the friendship between a Palestinian and a Jewish woman in Galilee (where I live), and it is told from their alternating points of view. Among other things, I post about the shared society work in which I am involved. 

Haviva with Hope Valley at a recent partnership conference in Kufr Manda, courtesy of Baruch Veleman

I was not surprised to see bigoted comments on my posts from people to my political right, but I was shocked to see them from people to my political left who live in the US. Apparently, while people here in Israel consider me pretty far left, I am not “woke” enough for these firebrands, perhaps because they are not peace activists, but rather fomenters of war and violence. For me, this was an awakening.

Bigoted simplistic rhetoric like this puts people like me and those who do much more than I do working for justice and peace in this place where we live in a terrible position. We whose lives depend on creating a sustainable and just society on this land must be able to criticize our government in good faith. We must be able to do our social action work. We must be able to stand with our Palestinian neighbors and friends and speak up for their rights. We must be able to look at the history of this country with honesty and demand transparency from our political leaders. 

And we must be able to do this all without having to worry that people who claim to care but have no inkling of the nuances of this land’s past or present will undermine our work and fuel the flames of hatred by posting simplistic distorted tweets about a highly complex situation.

Even if I disagree with those to my political right, I do not demonize them. As in my novel, I am careful to give a balanced portrayal of the situation here. I present both the Palestinian and Zionist narratives as legitimate stories of suffering and longing. Rajagopal’s brand of uninformed bigoted rhetoric – the likes of which I do not hear even my Palestinian activist friends using, as they are intelligent people who want to live in peace – undermines the work of Palestinians and Jews trying together to find a solution to this unbearable bloody conflict by building understanding and compassion. Because, yes, the Zionist narrative and the Palestinian narrative are both built on generations of trauma that need healing in order to move forward. 

There are real human beings who live here on this land who work tirelessly to create a better reality for everyone living here, Palestinians and Jews alike (and even those who identify as neither). Two weeks ago, I was at an Arab-Jewish partnership conference, organized by seven joint Palestinian-Jewish social action organizations at Kufr Manda, the Palestinian village across from my kibbutz.  Kufr Manda has a history of anti-Zionist activity, yet the mayor of the village opened the conference by saying, “We all live here. Neither of us are going anywhere. It is time we learn to live together in peace.”

Mayor Ali Zidan (in the fore with black suit and maroon shirt) at the Partnership Arab-Jewish conference in the village two weeks ago. Courtesy of Einat Lichtinger.

The week before, I watched kids from the Arab village of Basmat Tabun and the Jewish town of Kiryat Tivon perform together – an initiative of both communities, with both mayors speaking enthusiastically about the program, echoing the mayor of Kufr Manda’s words. This week, I will bring a group of Jewish teens to meet with teens from Kufr Manda; and I’ll join the organization Min el Bahar, which brings Palestinians from the West Bank for a day at the beach in Tel Aviv.

The situation here is so complex, it cannot be summed up in a tweet. Especially not one that makes the Palestinian cause look like mere anti-Semitic venom and encourages the kind of bigotry the woke community claims to be combating. Unless bigotry is forbidden against everyone except Zionists, and unless nationalism is fine for everyone except Jews.

I have no illusions about Zionist history. Some colonialist elements were involved and Zionists did take action to secure a Jewish majority in Israel once they won the war (that was started by the Palestinians and surrounding Arab countries instead of accepting Partition). But lumping Zionism in with colonialism is a distortion of history

Without giving a detailed history lesson, suffice it to say both sides are at fault for the mess in which we now find ourselves. The Jews won in 1948 (and again in 1967, a war also started by surrounding Arab countries) so now Israel has more power and therefore more responsibility to create a more equitable society here. But to solve this conflict, both sides must take responsibility for their own culpability and acknowledge the humanity and legitimacy of the other.

Since being fired, Rajagopal (who identifies as a Jew of Color) is now tweeting that she was targeted by “those white male Jewish leaders” and unjustly smeared by groups combating anti-Semitism because of her pro-Palestine stance. I, too, am pro-Palestine, as well as being pro-Israel. Like my Palestinian counterparts, I believe in the right of all of us to live on this land in security and equality. 

Figuring out how that will look is part of the work we are doing by living it day by day. Clearly ending the occupation and abolishing the ‘Jewish Nation-State’ law is on the agenda. But handing Israel over to Palestine is not an answer any of us contemplate or desire. And I am certain Rajagopal or anyone who advocates for equal human rights (take LGBTQ+ or women’s rights) would not want to live in today’s Palestine either. 

People who have much more at stake than the people who write this kind of rhetoric are dedicating their lives to solving this conflict, not exacerbating it. The US has enough very serious problems for those living there to address, rather than stick their tweets where they don’t belong.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Haviva Ner-David is a rabbi and writer. She is the rabbinic founder of Shmaya: A Mikveh for Mind, Body, and Soul, the only mikveh in Israel open to all to immerse as they choose. She is the author of three spiritual journey memoirs: Chanah's Voice: A Rabbi Wrestles with Gender, Commandment, and the Women's Rituals of Baking, Bathing, and Brightening, and Life on the Fringes: A Feminist Journey Towards Traditional Rabbinic Ordination, which was a runner up for the National Jewish Book Council Awards. Ordained as both a rabbi and an inter-faith minister, certified as a spiritual companion (with a specialty in dream work), and with a doctorate on mikveh from Bar Ilan University, she offers mikveh guidance and spiritual counseling for individuals and couples, and mikveh workshops and talks for groups. Her debut novel, Hope Valley, is available at: https://www.amazon.com/Hope-Valley-Haviva-Ner-David/dp/194929059X/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1638266281&sr=8-1. The newly released Dreaming Against the Current: A Rabbi's Soul Journey, is available at: https://www.amazon.com/Dreaming-Against-Current-Rabbis-Journey/dp/1949290751/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Dreaming+Against+the+Current+Haviva+Ner-David&qid=1638295562&sr=8-1. Getting (and Staying) Married Jewishly: Preparing for your Life Together with Ancient and Modern Wisdom, is slated for publication in 2022. She lives on Kibbutz Hannaton with her husband and seven children.

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