SURJ ROC is often asked about its positions on various issues, and since the subject of Palestine/Israel is so historical and complex we believe a longer statement with more depth of understanding is needed.
As a chapter of the national SURJ organization, SURJ ROC’s purpose is to support the missions of BIPOC-led racial justice groups in the Rochester area in their fight against oppression and inequality. As a white-led group we work together to create increasing numbers of supportive and informed white people by educating about privilege and white supremacy, using our value of calling-in versus calling-out, and emphasizing the mutual interest of creating a racially just society. As white people, we have experienced oppression in other identities, which doesn’t exempt us from acknowledging how we have been socialized into oppressor roles.
Our work focuses not only on whiteness but also on our role as Americans. We see our responsibility as naming and working to eradicate US racist policies and practices, both at home and around the world.
We strongly condemn the harms being done to and the ongoing oppression of Palestinians, who are People of Color, being policed and living under military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza. We as white people are called to hear their voices and learn the history of the ways they have been targeted by the State of Israel. Over time, the current form of Zionism used to establish and maintain the State of Israel has been used to justify a dominator approach which targets, displaces, and dehumanizes Palestinians.
We encourage white people in the US to learn more and to speak out against US policies that support state-sponsored violence and human rights violations of Palestinians, much like we encourage people to speak out against the policing of Black and Brown people in the US.
When it comes to discussions of Palestine/Israel, we acknowledge we have much to learn. Still, we recognize that the following components can be considered:
- The current harms experienced by the Palestinian people are often on the periphery of white people’s minds due to the years of a pro-State of Israel narrative of the US government and much of the media, so we know relatively little about the harms compared to other issues we see more directly in front of us.
- Many Palestinians advocate for the Right of Return and full liberation of their homeland. Just as Indigenous Peoples “fight and organize to reclaim land here on Turtle Island,” Palestinians “fight and organize to return to the land and for the land to return to the people.”
- Zionism, the 19th century movement originating within the European Jewish community, is the Jewish nationalist movement which has as its goal the creation and support of a Jewish national state in Palestine. Codified in the 1917 Balfour Declaration, a statement of British support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” the movement was strengthened following waves of antisemitism in Europe, culminating in the Holocaust during World War II. In 1948, when the British mandate of Palestine ended and the state of Israel was established, over 700,000 Palestinian refugees were forced out of the region, an event known by Palestinians as the Naqba (“the catastrophe”). Palestinians continue to experience human rights abuses in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, which Amnesty International and other organizations have characterized as apartheid.
- While there are diverse opinions within the Jewish community on what counts as antisemitism, it is essential to separate out criticism of the State of Israel, or criticism of Zionism as a movement, from antisemitism. It is not antisemitic to be an ally to Palestinians or to speak out against Israeli policies. When this criticism becomes focused on the Jewish people, or of individuals or groups solely based on Jewish identity, then this is antisemitic.
- Black-Palestinian solidarity in the US has a long history. It can serve to empower Palestinians because it affirms their shared experiences under systemic racism and gives the Palestinian cause greater attention.
SURJ ROC encourages white people to serve as allies regarding Palestine/Israel in the following ways:
- Advocate for U.S. policies that support human rights for Palestinians and Palestinian Americans. For example,
- Share the letter signed by 15 Members of Congress and supported by SURJ National and 59 other organizations urging the Biden Administration to take immediate steps to halt the Israeli government’s forced removal of Palestinian families from the West Bank.
- Support sanctions on the State of Israel for its human rights violations.
- Urge the US to condition any aid to Israel on honoring Palestinian human rights and its actions in Gaza and the West Bank.
- Learn to distinguish when the charge of “antisemitism” is being weaponized versus when we see anti-Jewish oppression playing out. Uphold the distinction between antisemitism vs. criticism of the state of Israel or of Zionism as a political movement. When antisemitism is occurring, encourage dialogue in which the subjugated experiences of the Jewish community are heard and elevated.
- Honor Black-Palestinian solidarity and see it as a reminder to acknowledge your race privilege and the impact of white settler colonialism on BIPOC.
- Recognize that there are diverse perspectives within each group, and no one person or organization can speak for an entire community.
- Understand that people who experience subjugation can also experience white privilege and thus perpetuate racial harm. Similar to the history of Italian Americans, European Jewish Americans have been redefined as white in this country, within the dominant paradigm where whiteness bestows privileges and can lead to silencing of BIPOC voices.
- Elevate the voices of people who have been historically marginalized and silenced. In US discourse around Israel/Palestine, it has historically been the Palestinian community and their allies who have been silenced.
- Align yourself with the principles of a partnership culture, and work to end dominator systems in all their forms and how they intersect with each other.
SURJ ROC commits to:
- Hosting a panel discussion with a local Palestinian and Palestinian allies for our community to learn more about the Palestinian experience and what white people can do to be an ally to Palestinians.
- Educating white people about the intersecting systems of oppression, including creating a larger framework for looking at the intersection of multiple oppressions simultaneously and working on the complexity of identities and how domination and exclusion are within all of us.