Are Israelis Jews? Returning to Jewish minority life

Israel has erased the Jewish people and destroyed the possibilities for Jews to live in Palestine as non-colonizers. “Israeli” is a colonial identity we should renounce, because it harms both Palestinians and Jews.

Neturei Karta members hold placards during an annual demonstration in memory of the 1994 Ibrahimi Mosque massacre, near a gate leading to Hebron’s main al-Shuhada street, Feb. 25, 2022

It is hard to find words for the horrors in Palestine now. I am haunted by images of rubble and crowded hospitals filled with the wounded and maimed, and by all the stories brought to us by heroic journalists in Gaza. I am haunted by videos of parents in Gaza holding their children, refusing to believe that they are dead. A friend said that even watching this from afar feels like your bloodstream is swimming with ashes. That’s how I feel, too.

Israel is committing genocide in Gaza, assaulting Palestinians in the West Bank, intensifying its torture of Palestinian prisoners, and increasing its harassment and policing of Palestinians inside 1948 Palestine. Over 10,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed by relentless Israeli bombardment since October 7, 2023. Entire families have been exterminated; whole neighborhoods obliterated; hospitals, water infrastructure, mosques, and universities damaged or destroyed; and about 1.5 million Gazans displaced from their homes, made into refugees once again. Meanwhile, leaders of the “West” back Israel. The U.S. sent more weapons. President Joe Biden declared himself “a Zionist,” saying there will be “no red lines” for Israel. He is only now hinting that maybe Israel should consider holding back.

Sadly, this is nothing compared to the support for genocide within Israeli society. Anyone wishing to understand how the Holocaust was possible, how people who may be warm and kind in their personal lives could support the murder of an entire population deemed subhuman, should examine Israeli society. Israelis are overwhelmingly calling to destroy Gaza — to turn it into a “parking lot” and bring it “back to the stone age.” Israeli “defense” minister Yoav Gallant, sounding like a Nazi, said Israel is “fighting human animals.” Israeli media shouted that Israel shouldn’t let “even half a spoonful of water” into Gaza.

Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, which began on October 7, was a rude awakening. Many Israelis seem to have only learned then that Palestinians exist and that they are fed up with being colonized, dispossessed, murdered, and policed. Israeli politicians suddenly acknowledged the Nakba of 1948 by calling for its repeat — after first criminalizing its commemoration.

Israelis clap for the murder of Palestinians anywhere and everywhere. Pictures of dead Palestinian children and pulverized neighborhoods in Gaza circulate on Israeli social media channels, where they are tagged with smiley and “thumbs up” emojis. Israeli society desires Palestinian death. Yet in late October, Israeli delegates to the United Nations wore yellow stars with the words “Never Again” — is it surprising that much of the world won’t show compassion for Israeli suffering now? And the tiny number of Israelis who express even minor dissent from Israel’s murderous plan are bullied, threatened with death, and sometimes arrested.

None of this is new. Israel’s existence has been premised on genocidal violence against Palestinians, which Israelis are programmed to support from a young age.

But in seeing the latest catastrophe created by Israel, I’ve been wondering again: Are Israelis Jews?

I didn’t come up with this question. It has been asked before by others who recognize that the zionist project, culminating in Israel, is profoundly contrary to Jewish traditions and to the historical existence of Jews as minority communities. The creation of Israel has suppressed these Jewish traditions and ways of living while hijacking parts of them when convenient. In Palestine specifically, Israel has basically destroyed the possibilities for Jews to live as non-colonizers in the land where Jews have lived as a minority for ages.

For all these reasons, the dismantling of Israel and the liberation of Palestine must also be a Jewish struggle — a struggle that should go far beyond Jews showing solidarity for Palestinians or simply not wanting to be oppressors. “Israeli” is a colonial identity that should be renounced, not just because it harms Palestinians but also because it is deeply anti-Jewish. And while Jewish life cannot revolve around anti-zionism, in our times, to be a Jewish institution should mean being anti-zionist. For the sake of Palestinians, but also for the sake of Jews.

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