Naomi Tamura
Naomi Tamura

Will We Talk about 50 Years of Occupation this Pesach?

Tonight, many American Jews will gather around the Seder table with family and friends. We’ll read from a haggadah, eat matzah, dip our fingers in wine, and partake in other familiar Pesach traditions, not just to remember our own peoples’ liberation from slavery in Mitzraim, but to recognize that many communities here and abroad, including our own, are still encumbered by oppression. Together, as we sing Dayenu, many of us will aim to rededicate ourselves to tikkun olam, repairing the world, and the pursuit of tzedek, justice, knowing that we cannot fully rejoice in our ancestors’ freedom unless we continue to work towards justice for others too.

For many American Jews, the themes of freedom and liberation are no longer just unique to Pesach. As a community who is majority politically progressive, having voted 70% in favor of Hilary Clinton and thus defeating Trump by a near three-to-one margin, we were subsequently devastated when he took office and began signing executive orders antithetical to the Jewish values of freedom, dignity, and justice. We proudly showed up to the Women’s March, protested Trump’s immigrant and travel bans of 7 Muslim-majority countries, and called on our Senators to oppose Steve Bannon, Betsy DeVos, Scott Pruitt, Jeff Sessions, and yes — even David Friedman as U.S. Ambassador to Israel. ‘For you were strangers in a land of Egypt’ (Exodus 22:21) and tzedek, tzedek tirdof, meaning ‘justice, justice you shall pursue’ (Deuteronomy 16:20), have since emerged with even greater relevance as our community continues to resist the hatred and intolerance emboldened by the Trump administration.

And yet while I am proud that our community has shown brave resistance to Trump and his discriminatory policies, I wonder, where is the bold resistance to Netanyahu when his policies are built on the same culture of hate, fear, and injustice? Why does our community turn a blind eye to the injustice that Palestinians face every day while living under the Israeli Occupation? Time and time again, the majority of our community claims to support a two-state solution, yet does so without denouncing the Occupation, a chief impediment to peace. If our community truly wishes to rededicate ourselves to tikkun olam, repairing the world by fighting for tzedek, but we fail to include the Palestinian people in our pursuit, we are subjecting ourselves to a dangerous hypocrisy. If we continue to unabashedly support our community’s institutions like AIPAC, who has chosen to harness their power by espousing pro-Israel-at-any-cost policies, given a platform to hardline religious conservatives like John Hagee, and who most recently gave $60,000 to the anti-Muslim organization, the Center for Security Policy, we are effectively misrepresenting our Jewish values by filling them hostile and Islamophobic sentiments.

There is no such thing as pick-and-choose tzedek. We can no longer operate under the assumption that it is morally just to fight for the liberation and equal rights of Jews and other marginalized folks, while neglecting to acknowledge that Palestinians deserve the same freedoms and dignities. Palestinian rights do not come at the expense of our community’s safety, opposing the Occupation does not jeopardize Israel’s security, and it is entirely possible to fight against anti-semitism while simultaneously fighting against Islamophobia. So if we believe we bear a responsibility to pursue justice as American Jews under this administration — fighting for ourselves and for others — let this year’s Pesach serve as bold reminder that we hold a responsibility to pursue justice for Palestinians too.

When we gather around the Seder table to remember our own liberation from Mitzraim and sing Dayenu to express our gratitude, let us ask ourselves a fifth question: will we talk about 50 years of Occupation? It’s time for our Jewish community to make a clear choice. We can either stand on the side of tzedek and freedom for all, or stand on the side of complacency in the face of injustice.

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