Mexie’s fiancé, Jacob, who is a Jewish anti-Zionist activist in Toronto, is taking over VV for this episode! He interviews Sheryl Nestel, an academic and activist who is on the executive committee of Independent Jewish Voices Canada, about the latest round of Israeli violence sparked by the incidents in Sheikh Jarrah. They discuss the brutality of the occupation, the harmful myths about Israel that are taught to Jews through various institutions, the cognitive dissonance associated with liberal Zionism, and much more. From Turtle Island to Palestine, occupation is a crime. Free Palestine!
Sources and Links
- Independent Jewish Voices Canada: http://ijvcanada.org/
- #NoIHRA: http://noihra.ca/
- Independent Jewish Voices: Solidarity in Uncertain Times: https://youtu.be/E5JO0mfKSEQ
- Suzanne Weiss Holocaust survivor – Toronto Al Quds Rally 2019: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DdrG1mrna00
- Vegan Vanguard, The Vegan-Washing of Israel Continues (Brand Israel, Palestine, and Occupation) w. Laura Schleifer: https://veganvanguardpodcast.com/11-the-vegan-washing-of-israel-continues-brand-israel-palestine-and-occupation/
- Vegan Vanguard, The Great March of Return and Palestinian Resistance with Abby Martin: https://veganvanguardpodcast.com/29-the-great-march-of-return-and-palestinian-resistance-with-abby-martin/
- Jewish Currents: https://jewishcurrents.org/
- My Happiness Bears No Resemblance to Happiness (Adina Hoffman): https://yalebooks.yale.edu/book/9780300164275/my-happiness-bears-no-relation-happiness
- Gate of the Sun (Elias Khoury): https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/234442/gate-of-the-sun-by-elias-khoury/
- The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917-2017 (Rashid Khalidi): https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781627798556
- The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (Benny Morris): https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/birth-of-the-palestinian-refugee-problem-revisited/8AE72A6813CEA7DDDE8F9386313F0D97#:~:text=Its%20startling%20revelations%20about%20how,part%20of%20a%20systematic%20plan.
- Journal of Palestinian studies: https://online.ucpress.edu/jps
- 10 Myths About Israel (Ilan Pappe): https://www.versobooks.com/books/2430-ten-myths-about-israel
- Why Racism Still Matters (Alana Lentin): https://www.wiley.com/en-us/Why+Race+Still+Matters-p-9781509535712
- Avi Shlaim books: https://www.thriftbooks.com/a/avi-shlaim/238890/
- Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundation of a Movement (Angela Davis): https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/780-freedom-is-a-constant-struggle
- The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation (Abram Leon): https://www.marxists.org/subject/jewish/leon/index.htm
- One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse (Ali Abunimah): https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780805086669
- Decolonizing Israel, Liberating Palestine: Zionism, Settler Colonialism, and the Case for One Democratic State (Jeff Halper): https://www.plutobooks.com/9780745343396/decolonizing-israel-liberating-palestine/
- 1913: Seeds of Conflict: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3e6CN9uMIU
- In Search of Palestine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ksTgAL-e9yo
- Sands of Sorrow: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQ6lIsl-pHU
- 1948: Creation and Catastrophe: https://www.kanopy.com/product/1948-creation-and-catastrophe
- Defamation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shx_l5LT0ro
- Censored Voices: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xixGcs2JDeI
- The Inner Tour: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGIoWNFcXPs&list=PLe-9KsBGTPbC_d1PU996F1hfVJWznlkiL
- Gaza Fights for Freedom: https://gazafightsforfreedom.com/
- Palestinian Youth Movement: https://palestinianyouthmovement.com/
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F1: [MUSIC] How can we not only discover more compassionate relations with human beings but how can we develop compassionate relations with the other creatures with whom we share this planet?
F2: There’s an us before the wound, there’s an us before oppression, and to me pleasure is the way that we tap down into that.
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MEXIE: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Vegan Vanguard. It is Mexie and today we have something different planned. My fiancé Jacob, who is a Jewish anti-Zionist activist here in Toronto and a member of Independent Jewish Voices Canada, is taking over control of VV. So, you will hear him interviewing Sheryl Nestel who is on the executive committee of IJV Canada and has been doing Palestinian solidarity work for decades. Sheryl lived in Israel for fifteen years and was very involved with the Israeli left, but had to leave when she just frankly couldn’t stand it anymore. The conversation that Jacob and Sheryl have is I think incredibly important, especially given everything that’s going on right now and how often the charge of antisemitism is weaponized to legitimize and apologize for colonial violence and ethnic cleansing.
They talk about the kind of propaganda fed to Jewish people through various institutions, the fallacies of liberal Zionism and much more. They’ve suggested various readings and films which we’ve included in the show notes. I’ve also included in the show notes a video of Suzanne Weiss who is an incredible Holocaust survivor and Palestinian solidarity activist here in Toronto who spoke at the Al-Quds Rally last year, emphasizing that never again means never again for anyone. She consistently bravely speaks on how the trauma that she and so many others suffered during the Holocaust — including people that are close to both Jacob and Sheryl — should in no way ever be used to justify committing unspeakable, traumatic violence on another group of people. That just should not be happening.
One book that Jacob actually read to me — I have chronic illness, so after work when I can’t really look at screens, sometimes he will read to me. But he read this fantastic book. It’s Abram Leon’s The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation, where he details the history of antisemitism and how it connects with class politics. It’s really fascinating, a fantastic and important work. Of course here at VV we stand firmly against antisemitism. We’ve also done a podcast about antisemitism in the vegan movement which I will also link below. But this is why it’s so pernicious to have criticisms of Israel labeled as antisemitism because it takes away from actually very problematic antisemitism that very much does exist and that we are fighting, that anti-fascists are out here actively fighting.
I also want to remind people that Marine interviewed the incredible Laura Schleifer who is another vegan, Jewish, anti-Zionist activist. So, I’ll link that below as well. It’s on the vegan-washing of Israel and how veganism has been used much like pinkwashing to basically sanitize and whitewash Israeli occupation and war crimes. We’ve also done an episode with Abby Martin on The Great March of Return and the history of Palestinian struggle and Israel’s ties with the US. Jacob and Sheryl also touch on this as well, the US propping up the IDF militarily to maintain a military outpost in the Middle East, the IDF training US police forces with the IDF’s suppressive tactics being used during the Ferguson riots against BLM protesters, and at Standing Rock.
Angela Davis, amazing goddess Angela Davis, talks about these ties in her work, Freedom Is A Constant Struggle. Even when Trump was building his border wall, he went to Netanyahu for advice because he said the Israelis know what they’re doing with their border walls. Come on; from Turtle Island to Palestine, colonial occupation is a crime. We stand for decolonial politics here and everywhere, and it’s time to stop allowing the most powerful people, neo-conservative actors, to perpetuate violence using our tax dollars. Luckily, it seems that the tide is turning. 5,000 people came out to a rally last Friday in Toronto for Palestinian liberation. Jacob and I were there and his friend as well, and they were holding up signs that read Jews Against Apartheid. They were honestly like celebrities.
They must have had their picture taken about a hundred times. Everybody wanted a selfie. But the energy was just electric, and leaving that rally, it was honestly like the Raptors had just won the playoffs. Every car down the streets were honking. They were leaning out of their cars with Palestinian flags, people were playing drums. It was beautiful. It was so hopeful. So, with that, before we get into the episode, I’d like to graciously thank our new supporters Lucia Whitaker or Lucia Whitaker, and Jane Doe. Thank you so much. This is a donor-funded show and we rely on your generous donations to keep going. If you would like to become a sustaining member and get access to the Total Liberation Discord server that I co-host with Mad Blender and Kathrin, head over to patreon.com/veganvanguard.
We hold community chats on the Discord twice per month. It’s a great time. You can also give us a one-time donation via PayPal on our website, veganvanguardpodcast.com, and please, please, please, give us a kind rating or review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to us. It helps us tremendously. So, without further ado, please enjoy this VV takeover episode and maybe leave us a comment on social media to let Jacob know that he did a great job.
JACOB: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Vegan Vanguard. I am Jacob, Mexie’s fiancé as of a few weeks ago. I am Jewish, I am an anti-Zionist activist in Toronto, and I’m a member of Independent Jewish Voices Canada. I have with us today Sheryl Nestel, our fearless leader who’s on the executive committee of Independent Jewish Voices Canada who’s agreed to be with us today, and I’m really excited about it. So, to start us off, Sheryl, could you introduce yourself and talk a bit about your work in IJV?
SHERYL: Sure. I have been in IJV since its inception which is now twelve years ago. I’ve been on the steering committee for the last ten years which is a really long time, and I’m a retired sociologist. I taught at U of T for many years. The work that we’re doing has been — we’ve been building up to this moment. We started small and we are now I think the largest Palestine solidarity organization, certainly the largest Jewish one, in Canada. We are influential even beyond Canadian borders. We are known internationally as the most successful anti-IHRA organization in the world because we have managed to prevent the IHRA, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, Working Definition of Antisemitism from being adopted in several places and we seem to be holding it at bay at this point. We have a phenomenal website and we’ve been very, very active around that.
That’s been our main campaign for the last couple of years. We work on many fronts. We have grown. We now have four employees where once we had none. We have chapters all across Canada and on several campuses that are very active. I’m not sure what else to tell you. We’ve been involved now in lobbying politicians. We have a pro-Palestine lobby on Parliament Hill that is trying to compete with the Zionist lobby on Parliament Hill which is a real challenge, but that’s happening. Every year, we expand and every year we expand our influence. We have now — it’s gotten to the point where most of — many press outlets will come to us to ask for a comment when things are going on. We just had Lia Tarachansky who’s an active member on the CBC.
JACOB: A good friend of mine.
SHERYL: Yeah, she’s great. Yeah, so we — our influence is continuing to spread. Sometimes it surprises even us how influential we’ve become.
JACOB: That’s fantastic to hear. I didn’t even know the extent of that expansion, so that’s wonderful. For our American listeners, could you describe briefly the relationship between Independent Jewish Voices and Jewish Voices for Peace?
SHERYL: Sure. People like to say we’re the Canadian version of Jewish Voices for Peace. That’s sort of true, although we don’t have a formal relationship; we have a very, very good working relationship with JVP. We recently issued a joint statement around the Jerusalem Declaration Against Antisemitism which came out as competition for the IHRA definition. We incorporated into it our critique of the JDA as well as our support for the intention of the JDA, but that was a joint IJV, JVP project and we — our continuous conversation with them. We see our goals as absolutely identical.
JACOB: Fantastic. You wouldn’t happen to have the next — the new definition of antisemitism on hand, would you? If not, I can just insert it here.
SHERYL: Yeah, I — well, the JDA is a very long document, so I…
JACOB: I see.
SHERYL: Yeah, I don’t have it memorized. But yeah, just to sum it up really quickly, it is — whereas the IHRA definition talks about — I’ll sum it up; that anti-Zionism is antisemitism. The Jerusalem Declaration Against Anti — about antisemitism does not do that. It explicitly says that criticism, even strong criticism, of the Israeli government and of the state is in no way antisemitic. Signed by two hundred of the highest-level Holocaust and Jewish studies scholars around the world. Yeah, so it’s starting to make its rounds and we’ll see how it gets utilized. But I think as an intervention, it’s been quite brilliant and really important.
JACOB: That’s fantastic. I believe recently dozens of rabbinical students signed a similar document saying that anti — that criticism of the state of Israel is not antisemitic. So, with that, let’s move onto what’s happening in Israel right now, or in occupied Palestine. All eyes are on Sheikh Jarrah at the moment which is serving as a jumping-off point for activists to shed light on the nature of Israeli occupation of Palestine more broadly. For those who haven’t been following, could you explain the sequence of events in Jerusalem that led to this latest round of state violence against Palestinians?
SHERYL: Okay, I’ll try and — I’ll do my best.
JACOB: I know, it’s a big one.
SHERYL: It’s a big one. Well, Sheikh Jarrah, the area there, was actually purchased late in the 19th century by Jewish groups. They never built on that land. After 1948, Jordan took over the management of that area and built housing for Palestinian refugees, so 700,000 Palestinian refugees who were forced out of what became the state of Israel after 1948. In the early 70s with the advent of the settler movement which started in the late 60s — but as it grew there arose a movement to reclaim that land as Jewish land. It has been in the courts on and off for a very long time. What’s ironic about it is that so many homes in West Jerusalem were banned and that had been owned by Arabs, including the home of Edward Said, the very famous literary critic and Palestine advocate, himself a Palestinian.
While Jews were entitled to reclaim land that had been recovered, let’s say, in 1948, the Palestinians were never offered access to their abandoned homes, many of which are palatial. I mean, really amazing and beautiful places. Part of that is the — it was the Israeli policy of actually taking over and appropriating for the state any land that was not occupied in 1948. So, when Palestinians abandoned — were forced out of their homes, any properties that were not occupied at the time became the property of the Israeli state. Of course, there is no — there was no reciprocal arrangement for Palestinians in the way that there was for Jews who could reclaim their property. So, you have this — so, there’s been an increasing amount of number of protests around Sheikh Jarrah.
People see it as a — as emblematic of ethnic cleansing and the move to Judaicize Jerusalem which is what you heard from the slogans of the ultra-orthodox right-wingers who were celebrating Jerusalem Day near the Wailing Wall. That is the intention, is to ethnically cleanse Jerusalem of Palestinians and make Jerusalem an all-Jewish city. As you probably know, Jerusalem is holy to three religions, three Abrahamic religions. This is an enormous threat, an enormous insult. Certainly the Palestinians, for whom the third-largest site in Islam is the Dome of the Rock there, the mosque there. So, you’ve got that going on in the background. That issue had really gotten a lot of attention in the weeks before these hostilities broke out.
People were demonstrating there, Palestinians and Israeli Jews who were pro-Palestinian were demonstrating against the eviction of residents from Sheikh Jarrah. So, you’ve got that going on and then you have in late April — and of course, this is Ramadan, the holiday where Muslims fast and then in the evenings there is eating and celebration. It’s a very holy month. It’s a celebratory month. One of the traditions in Jerusalem is that you sit on the — people come after the fast is over to sit on the steps; in East Jerusalem, the steps of the Damascus Gate. Police were every evening evicting people from the steps, brutalizing people, moving them out of the area, which was infuriating for many Palestinians for whom that was a regular tradition.
What happened then was the convergence of a bunch of things; you’ve got Ramadan going on, then you have Jerusalem Day which has been for the last several years an opportunity for right-wing ethnonationalists to parade through East Jerusalem shouting slogans, flying Israeli flags. The police always had Palestinian shops closed at that time to avoid the inevitable violence. You have this looming; you have — so, one of the thing — in the meantime there are of course prayers going on in the al-Aqsa mosque. There is certainly dissatisfaction with what’s going on in Sheikh Jarrah. So, what happens is that the protests — police start to enter the area around the mosque to quell the protests in advance of Jerusalem Day. Of course, this is — and there were hundreds of injuries of Palestinians.
Of course, the symbolic meaning of attacking the third-holiest place in Islam is not lost on anybody. This is when the rockets start to fly from Gaza. So, that’s where we are right now. It’s a series of events. Of course, the background to all of this is the 73-year occupation, the 14-year blockade of Gaza, and the position of Palestinians as people without citizenship, without mobility, without recognition. So, this is kind of a perfect storm in a lot of ways. A lot of things converged together to cause things to spin out of control into the way they are right now.
JACOB: Yeah, thank you for that very holistic answer. We’ve all seen — anyone who’s been engaging with this topic online has seen the counterpoint of oh, this started with the rockets, but this couldn’t — obviously couldn’t be any further from the truth. When I saw the marches of the far-right Zionists through East Jerusalem, it brought a few things to mind. Most recently, the 2016 Charlottesville tiki torch march. Going further back, it reminded me of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. These similarities to me are palpable. Is this something that occurs every Jerusalem Day?
SHERYL: It has been for quite a while. I can’t give you an exact date when it was started, but it’s something that has happened every year for many years now. It’s a bit of a — it’s a free for all, right? It’s a hate fest. It is a demonstration of colonial power at its worst. People fear for their lives during this time. It’s quite shocking, actually.
JACOB: Okay, so you had been living — wait, I’m sorry, are you from Israel or you had just moved in?
SHERYL: I wasn’t born in Israel.
SHERYL: But I lived in Israel for fifteen years. I lived there between 1973 and 1988. So, I left very soon after the first intifada started. That was the reason I left. I guess in those days you could have characterized me as a radical Zionist or a liberal Zionist and — ‘cause, you know, while I was aware of many contradictions and anti-occupation, and we’ve all gone — many of us have gone from anti-occupation to Palestine solidarity over the last several decades, but thinking that we could change things. When I went in 1973, it was only six years since the ‘67 war. The occupation was only six years old and everybody always said from the beginning — I mean, the left always said from the beginning this won’t last, Israel will pull back, they will — and here we are fifty-three years later, fifty-four years later, at the worst point possible. It was a bit of an illusion but at the time it seemed feasible. I lived there for fifteen years. I was very active on the Israeli left. But there came a point at which I realized that I was living a delusional life. I used to say I’m — I can no longer be the boss of a million Arabs. This is not working.
SHERYL: I left. Yeah.
JACOB: Yeah. The occupation obviously damages Palestinians immensely, but I think that something that’s overlooked is the fact that it damages Jews as well. It damages their souls, in a way. When you perpetrate violence, it harms not only the recipient of the violence but the attacker themselves for having debased themselves. It’s just heartbreaking. On the topic of the occupation having lasted much longer than anticipated, it seems to me that that’s a product of US support and US imperialism. The IDF is funded by the US government to the tune of 3.8 billion dollars per year. What accounts for that funding? What is the United State’s interest in perpetuating the occupation and supporting Israel no matter what war crimes they commit?
SHERYL: I’ll do my best. I can give you some kind of bad answers. I’m not a political scientist so I’m not gonna give you anything really complex, I mean other than to say that both countries are involved in settler colonial projects. They identify with one another. The idea of the US having a power base in the Middle East when it was in conflict with so many of the Arab states in the area makes perfect sense, absolute perfect sense. I think it’s — the world is divided at this point. There are those who are on the side of colonial settlement and imperial conquest, and those who are not. Certainly Israel — US sees in Israel a — the mirror image of itself, right? It sees it as a Western — a bastion of Western values and thought. Therefore, an ally that can be depended on. I don’t know what Biden is up to. That is a real mystery to me.
JACOB: Well, there’s resurfaced footage of — from — I’m sorry to interrupt. There’s resurfaced footage from him about — it looks to be about maybe thirty years ago of him speaking to I assume Congress, say — justifying the United State’s support of Israel, saying that if Israel didn’t exist, the United States would have to create it as a bastion to uphold their interests in the Middle East.
SHERYL: Yeah. No, no, that makes — yeah. That’s exactly what I was saying. The good news on that front, and it really is surprising and it’s very welcome, is what’s going on in Congress now with folks who are opposing Israeli violence and the continued occupation. So, obviously led by people like AOC and Rashida Tlaib and…
JACOB: Ilhan Omar.
SHERYL: Ilhan Omar, but many others as well. There seems to be a real turnaround going on which is really an excellent development because we have not seen this before. You gotta credit this squad for really bringing that to the fore.
JACOB: Absolutely, and Bernie, too.
SHERYL: Really positive, really — and Bernie, yes, Bernie.
SHERYL: Bernie. We love Bernie.
JACOB: He has his issues but critical support for our friend Bernie.
SHERYL: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. I’m trying to think of other reasons I might say why — I mean, it’s the strategic ally, et cetera, et cetera. Again, so many confluences there…
JACOB: Israel also…
SHERYL: …of political intent.
JACOB: …carries out covert and overt operations that help uphold American imperialism in the Middle East. We saw recently the assassination of the Iranian nuclear scientist. That was a more overt operation, but they’ve been conducting covert operations for decades and decades as well. There was an official who worked under — I think it was Nixon. I’ll have to look this up, who said that — who characterized Israel as America’s aircraft carrier in the Middle East.
SHERYL: That sounds — that’s — I like that. That’s very good. I’m not giving you a very sophisticated answer. People who are more attuned to diplomatic relations, et cetera, could give you a better answer for that. But in general, you just can see the confluence of interest. But it’s also the — I’m thinking about things like the technology spyware, surveillance technology that Israelis are so good at developing, that are — they’re brilliant at developing it. The US has taken those on and warmed to them and uses them in their own surveillance activities. There are all kinds of things. Everybody knows about the training of police, US police in Israel, in crowd control, et cetera, et cetera. It’s not just that there’s some kind of ideological agreement, ideological identification, but there are — it’s like, one hand washes the other. We are both invested in keeping the natives, so to speak, down, and we can share these technologies and we love that Israel develops these technologies. Those are other things. I think there are many, many layers of that that, you know, it’s hard to go into all at once.
JACOB: One of the things that I deal with constantly when — that we deal with constantly when talking to our own community is this idea that Israel is the only thing that stands between Jews and a second Holocaust. How do you answer that? I have my own answer, but yours is probably better than mine.
SHERYL: Okay, that’s a very good question.
JACOB: ‘Cause this is the main thing that they always come back to, and they assume that if you’re — if you oppose Israel, you somehow support a second Holocaust. This is the accusation that we have to deal with.
SHERYL: Right. Obviously you cannot transpose one historical situation onto another. People who say things like that see antisemitism as a transhistorical phenomenon. In other words, it exists like some kind of virus and it’s often called a virus in the air that emerges, comes out of its slumber every so often, but it is inevitable. It defies history. There’s certainly — I think what people don’t understand is that certainly in the academic world and among intellectuals there has been a long-term fight against this notion. This is a notion I think that’s rooted in ethnonationalism, in an overly-pessimistic view in general of the world. But I think every single historical epic where antisemitism has arisen has its own particular elements that have made it so. It’s non-identical.
So, to say that at any moment it can erupt, at any moment it can erupt in a genocidal way, is really to have a very narrow view of how history works and how the world works. I think there are a couple of things. I think that it’s become almost impossible to say that antisemitism needs to be looked at in historical context, that there’s — I like to say people — one of the things you said you were gonna ask me was about community trauma or historical trauma or inherited trauma. My answer to that is always — to my mind, I mean, apart from actual Holocaust survivors or — I mean, there aren’t any pogrom survivors around right now. I’m the grandchild of pogrom survivors. But the actual inherited trauma to me is a real problematic concept. I think that this is a produced response.
If you look at Jewish educational systems, if you look at the educational events that happened within the institutional Jewish community, if you look at certain kinds of texts that are circulated and what goes on during Holocaust Commemoration Week, this trauma is inculcated in people. They’re made to believe that this threat hangs over them at all times and that some — I mean, there’s a notion floating around which I think drives me a little batty, of epigenetic transmission of trauma. In other words, people are so — people are traumatized — Jews; let’s talk about Jews ‘cause I think there are other groups that this may be more applicable to, but that — in other words, if my mother was a Holocaust survivor, which she is not, but I had — my family, my husband’s family are Holocaust survivors, my children and grandchildren are Holocaust survivors, I’ve lived in this family for forty-five years.
I know what that’s about. But the fact is that this notion of epigenetic transmission is that the original victim who is traumatized by the Holocaust passes on genetic information that lives in the offspring and actually makes the offspring — or creates an experience or a deficit in the offspring because of that experience. This is very contentious of course, but there are now third generation folks who are saying that they are the victims of epigenetic transmission of trauma through the Holocaust. These are such problematic notions. But, so you have that kind of discourse going on, but also the way Jewish education and Jewish communal life transmits notions of the Holocaust on what they mean for today.
There are two camps, basically; there are those — and this will be familiar to you, but never again and never again for anyone. This has been going on for — as far as I know — for sixty years. These are camps within the Jewish community as well, within the scholarly community, and it’s — there hasn’t been any resolution of this at all, and I think it’s gotten even stronger now. So, you have young Jews who have values and commitments beyond their own ethnic group who say yes, we can learn from the Holocaust, definitely, and it’s our responsibility to counter fascism and ethnocentricity and racism wherever it arises so that no one has to suffer this again, as opposed to the inward-looking, insulated notion that Jews within the institutional community have, that you — were only out to protect their own, that it’s never again for Jews.
We have to fight antisemitism wherever we see it. We have to expand our notions of antisemitism to the endth degree and utilize that in order to draw other people into that concept. I think there’s a real internal battle but it’s a battle that’s happening at many levels. It’s happening at the level of young people who are committed to social justice, but it’s happening also in the intellectual world as well. Yeah, that’s my long answer about that, and I think we have to be really clear about what we are led to believe and how that influences how people think and how they think about their own relationship to the Holocaust. That’s a very difficult thing ‘cause the Holocaust is a really taboo subject.
I think, just to get back to the question about the US and one of the things I didn’t mention is that I think all of the Western world, right, harbors this enormous guilt about what happened in the Holocaust and their inability to step up and actually do anything that would have helped Jews before the Holocaust and after the Holocaust. I think that the over-identification with Israel, the over-concern with antisemitism that we’re seeing now, which is not to say that there isn’t a tremendous amount of antisemitism, but — and that it has grown, but the obsession with it is part of a process by which the current, the contemporary forms of antisemitism — of racism, sorry, which are so evident in so much of Europe and in the US and in Canada, are kind of pushed away through this concern with Jews and antisemitism.
It’s what Max Haiven calls the Get Out of Racism Free card. In other words, if we step up and show that we’re against — this is what this IHRA — the adoption of the IHRA by many governments; we’re anti-racists, we’re the good guys, we don’t abide by this and we’re going to demonstrate that by showing how much we oppose antisemitism and how strong we’re going to be on antisemitism while ignoring other forms of racism like anti-indigenous racism, anti-black racism, many others that I could mention. I just want to mention for those of you who are listening who are interested in this, the work of Alana Lentin, Why Racism Still Matters, a book that came out very recently, where she takes this up. The chapter on Jews, Good Jews, Bad Jews, is really spectacular. I think that analysis is one that I’m hearing more and more lately about how the state — the influence of the state, the impact of the state in creating this anti-antisemitism really shields the state from critiques around the racism that it enacts against other groups.
JACOB: Yeah, absolutely. So, getting back to Jewish education and the ways — the things that are taught particularly to young Jewish people; having lived in — well, I — a bit of — something about myself; I was — I didn’t grow up in these institutions, right? I didn’t go to Hebrew school. I didn’t go to Jewish summer camp. I was never exposed to these arguments until much later, after the point at which I had developed critical thinking skills. Because of that, they didn’t really have much of an effect on me. So, having lived in Israel, how would you describe the ways in which Palestinians and the occupation are discussed among Jewish Israelis and particularly within these institutions?
SHERYL: Well, I have to say, number one; I also didn’t grow up like this. I like to say that Vladimir Ilyich Lenin made me a Zionist because I was a student radical in the 60s and we studied Marxism and Leninism. Lenin’s line was that you have to go through the national process, the process of nationalization before you could get to workers’ liberation. I mean, I don’t abide by that so much anymore, but as somebody who was trying to rationally understand what would make Jewish life better or what would contribute to the growth of Jewish culture and living a Jewish life, that made sense to me and therefore on a theoretical basis, I adopted Zionism as my own. I did not grow up like — I grew up the same way you did. I like to say I don’t even remember the Six-Day War. I was seventeen.
I should by all rights remember. Almost everybody else I know remembers it, but I have no recollection. That’s how attuned I was to things. Just to get to your actual question, so I haven’t lived in Israel for a very long time. I actually have not been back to Israel since 1988. Yeah. I almost went this — actually, last summer I was supposed to go to work on the Jerusalem Declaration. I was involved in the development of the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism. I was supposed to go — I didn’t want to go, but I thought this was too important; I’m going to go. But I was dreading it, absolutely dreading it. Then covid hit, so I didn’t go. But I haven’t been back. It’s hard for me to comment. I could tell you about what I felt when I lived there.
I do follow the Israeli press and often read it in Hebrew for things that I would really want to know about. I have one memory that I will dredge up and that — when we first went to Israel, we went to Jordan, to a kibbutz. But first we went to training on an older kibbutz. It was right after the ‘73 war and everybody was very demoralized. It was not a good time. So, I’m walking — I was working in the grape vineyards and I was walking to breakfast with an old — very older — much older kibbutz member. He said to me — and I was so — you know, I’m — this is naivety. Said to me, you know who’s a good Arab? I’m like yeah, who? A dead Arab. Yeah, so the answer was a dead Arab, which I’ll never forget it as long as I live, and this is a left wing kibbutz, right? I mean, theoretically left wing labor movement.
So, that’s the kind of thing that I would encounter. The anti-Palestinian racism which has not abated since those days was very strong. I didn’t dare — when I lived there, I didn’t dare tell my neighbors what I did politically. There’s another funny story about how in the elections when the Likud came to power in 1977, which was of course a huge shock for everybody, I was working — I headed the office of Sheli which is one of the left wing parties in Rehovot where I lived. So, when we went to check — I actually wasn’t living in Rehovot; I was working in Rehovot but we lived in a very small town called Gedera. When I went to check the newspaper to see what the vote was in our town, there was one vote for my party, for Sheli. My husband voted for a different party. That kind of sums it up, right?
JACOB: Was that your vote?
SHERYL: That was my vote. It was my vote, yeah. So, that was interesting. But really, you kept very quiet. We used to go out — we didn’t — we used to do interesting things, like we would go and build sandcastles on the beach and — on Saturday and say we were building castles for peace. We would get all kinds of abuse, incredible abuse. To be a leftist there then — I mean, it was much better than it is now. The left is decimated now. The left has moved right, so you have somebody like Gantz who was supposed to be…
JACOB: The so-called opposition leader who is ordering the airstrikes on Gaza as we speak.
SHERYL: Exactly, or we’re gonna turn — we’re gonna take Gaza back into the Stone Age. You have that shift of the left way to the right and you have the left, the real, the hard left practically nonexistent, practically nonexistent.
JACOB: Well, many left, right? Including yourself.
SHERYL: Well, that’s what I wanted to say, is that what’s interesting to me as an academic is the number of left academics who have left Israel in the last twenty years, some of the most important — I mean, Ilan Pappé is the most obvious ones but there’s Neve Gordon. I could go on and name them one after the other. So, any intellectual opposition with any force has really abandoned the place because it has become impossible to be a leftist there. There are laws against, for example, Nakba commemoration. There are laws against — you cannot be a BDS supporter. It’s against the law to be a BDS supporter. There’s one professor that I had worked with on the JDA who — he’s so cautious. He has to be so cautious about what he says because he can’t ever be seen to be supporting BDS. He will lose his ability to influence his own discipline, right? He will not be accepted in his discipline.
JACOB: But wait; I thought Israel was the only democracy in the Middle East. What are you saying?
SHERYL: I know, I know, I know. Yeah, well, that’s not democratic by any stretch of the imagination. Yeah, people will say look how democratic Israel is; you can say anything there. There are all kinds of opinions, blah, blah, blah. Of course there are, but to say that you can’t — it is illegal to speak of the Nakba, to commemorate the Nakba, it is illegal to support BDS; these are very intimidating things and it can really ruin your life to be outed as someone who has those beliefs. So, I mean, I think the decimation of the academic community in terms of those who have a critical understanding of what goes on there is very, very saddening to me. I find it really — it’s a real benchmark of how bad things have gotten, that people have felt they need to leave in order to say what they need to say, to research what they need to research. That is a very sad commentary.
JACOB: Yeah, it really is. So, actually, along those lines, the charge of antisemitism has long been weaponized to stifle any critique of Israel’s human rights violations or war crimes. What are the implications for equating Judaism and Zionism for Jews in the diaspora? What I’m really interested in is how can non-Jews navigate this when advocating for Palestinian liberation?
SHERYL: Wow, that’s a complicated question. I think that it — we have to fight back and I think we have been doing a pretty good job of it, to show that anti-Zion — criticism of Israel for sure, but even opposition to a Jewish ethnostate is not antisemitic. It is not a condemnation of Jews. It’s a condemnation of an ideological and practical stance that oppresses other people. Jews who are anti — most Jews were anti-Zionist or at least not interested in Zionism before the establishment of the state. I mean, if you look at the history of the Zionist movement in the US, it was very, very slow to catch on.
JACOB: Mm-hm. It was a fringe ideology. Most people don’t know that. It was — 100 to 80 years ago, it was like, your weird uncle at the dinner table was a Zionist. The dominant — one of the dominant ideologies was socialism and working-class solidarity, proletarian internationalism, and to a lesser extent, liberal assimilationism.
SHERYL: Yeah, I mean, one of the things that — maybe this is off-topic, but one of the things that accelerated assimilation in general in the US and in — Canada has a different trajectory but in the US was the ‘67 war, that Jews were slowly making their way into places where they had not been accepted before, after World War II. But there was something about the victory in 1967…
JACOB: Particularly a victory over non-white peoples.
SHERYL: Yeah, but the creation of the Jew as the muscle Jew which was something that Zionism put forward in a very strong way, that the — trying to conquer this notion that Jews were — they were scholarly, they were pale — and this is a very male image, I might point out, that Jews, because they weren’t working the land and doing — and didn’t have their own state, they were a sub-par race. People have compared this very central notion of Zionism to actual antisemitic discourse from non-Jews, right?
JACOB: Yes, absolutely.
SHERYL: It’s true and it’s sad and it is what it is, but I’m saying that as — ‘67 was a real turning point in that Jews were able to see themselves as empowered somehow, as strong, as masculine, and overcoming the, if you will, schlemiel notion of who Jews were; weak, underdeveloped physically, that kind of thing.
JACOB: Which is of course based in absolute lies. Jews had been fighting in the Bund, they fought in the Red Army, they — the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. We never took our abuse lying down.
SHERYL: Right, right. But I think that there’s an over-investment in that notion now where the more damage we do, the more powerful we are or the more masculine we are. Of course, being able to identify with a nation and a powerful nation, a militaristic nation, imbued in Jews after that point, this pride. I can tell you just because I’m old enough that when I was growing up, there was a lot of Zionist stuff. I did occasionally interact with the Jewish community, but I watched — after 1967 — Israeli culture take over Jewish cultural life in the United States. This is a very much-documented — ‘cause I’m originally from the states, right? This is an actual doc — this is quite — these are very interesting books that people have written about this.
But what this really did was to hamper any kind of grassroots development of alternatives ‘cause Jewish life was sort of — I mean, the assimilation was held out as a good alternative, a good possibility. People were being able to assimilate. All of a sudden there is a way of invigorating the Jewish community, and that is an injection of Zionism. They have things like — I remember my friends used to want me to go to Israeli dancing which I never was interested in. There are all these Israeli-based things and the celebration of Israeli holidays and many other manifestations of Israeli culture that are imported into North America and other Jewish communities which really, I think, give people more loyalty to the Jewish state than they might have had otherwise. It takes over, it fills a void.
I was involved in the 60s and 70s in the alternative Jewish radical movement which was trying to build an alternative Jewish culture in the United States, including — the Havurah Movement is an outgrowth of that. So many; the Sabian freedom savior is an outgrowth of that. All these things that we take for granted today, things that we try to build up as sort of — these were our — responding to our local situations on the ground and creating new cultural forms. This isn’t very well-know, unfortunately, but that gets overwhelmed by the Zionist cultural forms that are brought in by embassaries who — this becomes a thing where the Israeli state sent embassaries to all the Jewish communities, to the Jewish summer camps. This was a real source of turning Jewish culture into Israeli culture. You’ve got a lot of interesting processes going on. So, if you ask me why are Jews so invested in Israel, there are many, many, many reasons. But I think this is one of them. This is definitely one of them. This is the sociologist in me speaking.
JACOB: Yeah, yeah, that’s fair. So, can I ask you to comment on liberal Zionism and how to reach not even necessarily the Jewish people here, but people who believe that they’re being fair and progressive and balanced when they say — when they characterize the occupation as a conflict between two equal sides who have equal claims and ultimately support still a two-state solution? Is the two-state solution viable? Was it ever? I don’t think it was. Has Israel ever really been committed to the peace process?
SHERYL: Okay, I’ll start with the first, the liberal Zionist question, which is such a vexing question, shall we say. I think that one of the problems is the complete lack of understanding of the historical narrative in its most respectable forms. I think that the advent of the new historians in the 80s, in Israel — I mean, one of the things when I think back about my own experience; why did I go here in the first place? If I would have known then what I know now, I would have never have gone. But our access in English, I think, to the historical narrative, an accurate historical narrative, was severely limited. There were a few historians — certainly Palestinians and Palestinian historians had written about it, but these weren’t necessarily stories that we had access to.
There were a few early Israeli scholars and others who did write about this, but they weren’t available to us in the way that today we have access to Benny Morris, who is — I mean, I won’t sing his praises because he’s turned around, but documented absolutely the Palestinian refugee problem in great historical detail. Ilan Pappé, Avi Shlaim. I could go on and on. But we now have this massive historical record that is really incontrovertible. I think that there’s an incredible ignorance around that on the part of a lot of liberal Zionists. Maybe not the really committed ones, but the people who just have that position. I think there’s a real need for education, a serious need for education.
I’ve been teaching a course in my living room for the last ten years, Critical Perspectives on Israel and Zionism, and oftentimes we have people who are really knowledgeable but they don’t realize what they don’t know. If these people who want to come out and study that don’t know a lot, you can only imagine the people who stick to the liberal Zionist position. I really think that you can’t solve everything with education, but I think there’s a real — certainly the Palestinian narrative has been suppressed over and over again. It does not make its way into educational materials within the Jewish community. It barely makes it into the public record. Probably your listeners understand that the mainstream press is almost always pretty much silent on Palestine.
I was really happy yesterday to read a petition signed by 200 journalists and others in Canada urging the mainstream media outlets to stop suppressing news about Palestine and the voices of Palestinians. It’s way past time for that. So, you have that. You have a society and a culture that does not — that is really profoundly imbued with anti-Palestinian racism. Therefore, we do not get to hear these stories. They are not made public. They are not heard in the Jewish community. They are not heard in the Jewish educational institutions. So, there’s an ability to have a smug position that says I know what’s right when there’s not much engagement with the other side, shall we say. That’s a huge, huge problem.
The other thing is that I just — I get so frustrated seeing these liberal Zionists and Jewish organizations that are doing stuff for indigenous rights in Canada and supporting Black Lives Matter and other anti-racist initiatives, having Muslim-Jewish dialogue, when they can apply the same principles that they seem to take to these issues to the issue of Palestine. It is an absolute — it is willful blindness. It’s a contradiction. It’s willful ignorance, cognitive dissonance, whatever you want to call it. It is an inability to make that shift. I think that people hold onto these loyalties for their lives. I mean that, actually. I do mean that because I think that once you allow these notions in, you have to — your whole sense of self changes.
You have to change your sense of self because if you’ve been feeling victimized, if you’ve been taught that Jews are victims, they are constantly victims, they will always be victims, when you let your consciousness embrace the notion that Jews have been victimizers, your innocence is — disappears in a puff of smoke. I think for many of us, we cling to our innocence with incredible strength. I think this is a real problem. It sounds kind of psychological and it is, in a lot of ways. One of the things that I’ve found really interesting, really helpful is that looking at it from sort of a psychoanalytic perspective and seeing here what is it that disallows people to let these notions in? Why can’t people do battle emotionally and cognitively with these ideas? I think it’s because they do offer such a threat to one’s sense of self.
I think in this struggle, we have to look to every possible resource to understand it. I think for me, that’s one really important place to look. I was really astounded when I researched stuff that the psychoanalytic academic community is very focused on Palestine. There’s a lot, a lot, a lot of writing ‘cause I think that that has been such a challenge to understand; why these — why people dig their heels in, why Jews dig their heels in around this has been a real challenge to understand, and it’s certainly a challenge for me. I don’t claim to understand it any better after having thought about it for such a long time. But yeah, these are — I’m kinda throwing that out there as something to think about. It’s not just that people are evil or unwilling; it’s that their whole sense of self is at stake in doing this. We have to offer them something else in place of that if we’re going to succeed in changing minds.
JACOB: What do you offer? I believe the narrative of the two-state solution is firmly dead. There are holdouts of course, but if the two-state solution is not viable and it’s really looking like that’s the case, I’d have to pierce some very convincing arguments to think otherwise but even if I did, I don’t support that solution to begin with. It seems that the two options now are the status quo of continuing genocide and displacement and oppression, or a one-state solution, something that upholds the rights and freedoms and dignity of the entire population, Jews and Palestinians included. Do you agree with that?
SHERYL: I agree with you, certainly, that the two-state solution is a dead letter at this point. There was a time at which that was radical to say — to refer to the state solution; it was radical. Today it’s not at all radical. It’s very — it’s amazing how accepted it is in a lot of places. Obviously, the facts on the ground disallow two-state solution. We have 700,000 Israeli [inaudible] Jewish settlers living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. How on earth are you gonna put in a — have a Palestinian state there other than evicting them which seems like a very, very bad idea and almost impossible? You have the Bantustanization of Palestinian communities. Everything is cut off from everything else. There’s no access to Jerusalem which is a — this is the main cultural, political capital of Palestine.
Again, I’m not a political scientist so I’m not gonna be perfect on this, but obviously the facts on the ground are such that getting to a Palestinian state seems absolutely mythical at this point. But there are people on the other side who say well, a one-state solution is sort of mythical as well. But what gives me — I think what’s changed — not changed my mind ‘cause I think I always believed that, but looking at some of the work that people are doing like Jeff Halper and people that he works — Palestinian that he has been working with to come up with models that are actually — and Ali Abunimah has a really interesting book where he sets out some practical — a practical vision for what this might look like. People are so — they adhere so strongly to the notion that — either that Palestinians just want to kill us all which is, I think, really very, very far from the truth…
SHERYL: …and on the other side, Jews just want to take over our lives which is more closer to the truth. But the fact — I mean, I don’t — surely it would be a process, right? Surely it would be — it would take a lot of effort and a lot of — all kinds of — a process that would — of reconciliation and a process of truth-finding, but certainly not in what’s — nothing is impossible, right? South Africa; we thought — South Africa; I mean, not that South Africa is in great shape right now, but at least the worst of it has been put aside. It’s a process there as well. It’s not — certainly not perfect. But you know, you have to have a vision of something and this is not — the two-state solution is — and when I hear groups like JSpace in Canada which is sort of like — it’s not — it’s much further right — to the right than J Street in the US.
It’s really not — despite the names being similar, there’s not much else that’s similar about them. But you know, when I see anyone saying oh no, we stand — even the Canadian government; we support the two-state solution. Well, how do you think that’s gonna work given what’s gone on? I think it’s just a talking point at this point. It just doesn’t have any meaning. It doesn’t seem to have any real political meaning at this point.
SHERYL: Did I miss anything in that question?
JACOB: Oh, the last part was has Israel ever really been committed to the peace process? I’m not even sure what the peace process even means at this point.
SHERYL: Well, certainly not from the beginning. If you understand what Ben-Gurion developed, as Plan Dalet did about ethnically cleansing much of Palestine, the Nakba was not any commitment to a peace plan. There was nothing going on there. Oslo was a dismal failure. Even if you look at the Canadian polls that we have done with the Canadian public, even with Jews; Jews themselves in Canada do not believe that the Israeli government is committed to the peace process. This is a delusion that the institutional Jewish community tries to sell, is that Jews are of one voice about this. Nothing could be further from the truth. But yeah, no, I don’t think Israel is serious about a peace process. Every piece of evidence shows it to be untrue.
JACOB: Yeah. It seems to be a non-starter, really. Zionism and a peace process; they’re antithetical to each other. They cancel each other out. So, in being a public — would you call yourself a public figure?
SHERYL: I don’t feel like I am one. I mean, I am an outspoken Jewish Palestine solidarity activist in Canada. I do some public speaking and writing and stuff.
JACOB: So, surely you’ve had the accusation of being a so-called self-hating Jew levied at you like I have on occasion.
SHERYL: Absolutely. All the time. No, I kinda let it try and roll off my back.
JACOB: Yeah. I’ll give you my interpretation of this accusation and I’d like to know your thoughts. Basically, I see it as no different from being called an n-word lover or a race traitor or an Arab-lover. It’s so obvious to me that these are the unspoken words behind this accusation. These are the same words that were cast at white people who supported the civil rights movement in the 60s. What do you think of that interpretation?
SHERYL: I think that’s a very good — I’ve never heard anybody say that but I think that’s a very good interpretation, absolutely. I think there’s a way — it’s interesting; I just — over the years I’ve gotten various harassing phone calls and e-mails and things like that. So, I just got one recently.
JACOB: Oh yeah?
SHERYL: I was on a webinar and I won’t go into the details, but I was on a webinar and obviously I said something someone didn’t like, so I — the next day I opened up my e-mail and it was really one of the most vile things you’ve ever seen. It was just vile. It’s interesting — and I’m also doing research now on the suppression of speech about Palestine. We’re doing a — IJV is doing a research project. We’re interviewing people, a lot of academics and students but also activists about how their speech and teaching, et cetera, have been suppressed. One of the things we’re finding is that people are often — and this is what happened in this e-mail that I got; their — homophobic and sexist slurs are thrown at them.
So, I think the idea is to say you’re so non-normative, like, your ideas are so non-normative that we’re gonna throw these other non-normative things at you. You must be non-normative in other ways if you’re not — because you’re so non-normative about Jewish identity and Jewish loyalty. It’s interesting that people mobilize those kinds of things to — and that’s not the first time it’s happened — to slam you. There’s something about the viciousness of it and the hatred of it and the desire to push people like you and me out of the realm of normalcy or moral life that I find really disgusting. It is something that’s a Jewish — the institutional Jewish community takes up in the same way that groups like the Jewish Defense League do as well.
They’re the worst offenders but somebody like B’nai Brith Canada is almost as bad in things that they’ve done as well. So, there’s a way — there’s a desire to show us as aberrant, as completely aberrant, and therefore people should not pay any attention to us ‘cause we’re not reliable on any level. That’s a strategy that they use, and we have to push back at it.
JACOB: Yeah, absolutely. I’d like to think I’m playing some small part. I’ve only been accused of being a so-called self-hating Jew once in person, and I — the first thing that came to my mind was just to retort with well, I actually happen to love being Jewish, thank you very much. But does being a Zionist offer you some sort of psychic powers where you can peer into my mind and see what I think of myself? But really, the flip side is they’re saying that if you don’t hate the people I hate, you must hate yourself, or something like that. Whenever I go to Palestine solidarity rallies, I have run-ins with Jewish Defense League and their supporters who instead — you know, they yell through loudspeakers and they try to pick fights and stuff like that and get in arguments with people.
But instead of offering geopolitical talking points or historical talking points or anything like that, they just launch into anti-Muslim, anti-Arab racist diatribes. They’ll scream about the prophet Muhammad. They’ll scream about stereotypes, just vile, racist stereotypes of Muslims and then accuse Jewish people of supporting Palestinians of being self-hating Jews. But really, this whole ordeal, this dynamic reveals a motivation just based on fear and hatred. They see Jews that don’t share in that fear of hatred as race traitors, in another way. Yeah.
SHERYL: Yeah, agreed.
JACOB: So, one of the things I like saying now is just saying yeah, I am a race traitor. Usually their jaws just drop and that’s the end of that. So, to — yeah. That’s something that we could use, maybe.
JACOB: So, thanks to the tireless activism of Palestinian rights and human rights organizations, public discourse especially right now seems to be shifting. There have been instances where that’s happened before but I mean, now it seems like the narrative — the Zionist narrative is really breaking down. It’s to the point where it’s a PR disaster for Israel and I’m not sure if they can recover from this. Are you hopeful that we’ll see Palestinian liberation in our lifetimes?
SHERYL: I’m never gonna — I agree with you. I’ve been saying for the last week this is the turning point. I feel it in my bones and I’ve been doing this work long enough that I think I have a good instinct developed around it. I really feel like this is gonna be a turning point for us. Obviously there are lots of things that are happening at once, including the critiques of the US government from inside, and those are very important. But I really do think we have to keep our eyes on it. I think people are sick of this and people — you can’t compare — I don’t know what the number is up to now but it was around 150 deaths in Gaza with quite a number of children, maybe 25% of those being children, as opposed to — and this is not a contest, right?
But the impact — if the same terror were enacted on Jews in Israel, there would be 500 or 600 dead at this point and it would be — there would be a huge outcry. But because of the devaluation of Palestinian life, people aren’t paying attention to that at all. It’s just like yeah, another dead Palestinian. That’s very, very disturbing. Are we gonna…? You know what, I don’t know. I don’t know. I have to say that in my fifty-plus years of activism on this, what’s happening now was inconceivable even ten years ago. I like to think that we’re making progress. I think that the Palestinian steadfastness is a huge factor, that Palestinians are not backing down. What’s going on now is such evidence of that. There’s nothing to lose here, right? There’s no more to lose, so there’s no holding back.
Yeah, I think that’s a huge factor, and that gives me hope. But I think people are waking up to — I mean, the manipulative way that Israel is behaving on the world scene is very evident to a lot of people. More in as we see — I’ll just give you an example; a publication like Jewish Currents has recently devoted itself to a deep dive into the institutional Jewish community, its connections to Israel and to propaganda efforts, and to all these things. It’s unearthing things that are really, really significant that people are not willing to live with, that liberal Jews are not willing to live with and others aren’t, either. I think there’s an unveiling of some of these kinda covert relations and processes that is turning people around. One of the thing — again, what IJV — another project that I’m involved in with IJV is looking at who the Jewish community is funding, and this is a project that was done in the states too where they found that several Islamophobic Jewish organizations were being funded by Jewish communal money.
JACOB: I assume evangelical money is going into that, too.
SHERYL: Oh yeah, for sure. But you know, we just — what’s available to us we can see where the UJA and others are giving money. I have a bunch of little people — little people — a bunch of people working on this right now looking at every single organization that UJA gives money to and seeing who they are, what their political roots are, who they have connections to, settler organizations, Islamophobic groups, and trying to mobilize that liberal Jewish middle to say to them, is this what — do they represent you? Is this where your money should be going? It’s time to put an end to this kind of thing and hold the community accountable.
JACOB: So, I know you’re an avid reader. Your home’s, like many Jewish homes, is full of books, like my own. I was wondering if you could provide a reading list for people who are interested in the history of the Palestinian struggle, the history of the occupation, and anything else you think would be prudent.
SHERYL: Okay, I’m gonna — there — I just was reading — back to Jewish Currents; this — Jewish Currents every week — every Thursday has a Shabbat reading list that they put out. This week’s was really impressive. Each of their editors gives a list of books to read, and of course it was related to what’s going on right now, and it’s excellent. If you go to the Jewish Currents website, you should be able to find it. But I think there are many important — gosh, I can talk about this forever — things that should be read.
JACOB: Okay, let me — I’m sorry, let me reframe the question. If you were to make a Top 5 reading list, what must you include on that list?
SHERYL: Oh, boy. Okay, I’m gonna say a couple of things. I think that — and I’d like to really focus on the Palestinian side of things.
SHERYL: My number one book, and it’s not a political science book; it’s called My Happiness Bears No Resemblance to Happiness by Adina Hoffman. So, it’s a Jewish author but it’s her ten years of research with a Palestinian poet Muhammad Ali Taha. It is the story of his dispossession and his experience in ‘48 and what happened to him afterwards. He’s a phenomenal poet. He’s dead now, but it really just touched me to the core. There is also — the other thing I would say — I mean, this is from the emotional point. If you want to try and make some kind of transition emotionally from being either pro-Israel or in that sort of camp, the other thing is read Gate of the Sun by Elias Khoury which is the Palestinian novel even though the author is Lebanese. But certainly the — I’m trying to think of any of the straight historical stuff.
JACOB: Yeah, you mean like non-fiction by a Palestinian author, maybe?
SHERYL: Well, any — Rashid Khalidi’s most recent book — and I can’t remember the name of it; I think it’s called A Hundred Years — it’s basically the last hundred years of Palestinian history and it’s very personal. So, he’s…
JACOB: Oh, it’s 1917 to 2017, A Hundred Years of…
JACOB: I think that’s the one.
SHERYL: He is the premiere Palestinian historian in the United States.
JACOB: His name one more time?
SHERYL: Rashid Khalidi.
JACOB: Thank you.
SHERYL: He’s at Columbia University and it’s — this is history but it’s very personalized as well. There’s certainly many, many films that I would recommend that I think that are excellent.
JACOB: Do you want to name a few?
SHERYL: I’m trying to think.
JACOB: I’m a big film buff, so this is what I’m really interested in.
SHERYL: It’s one of the things that we’re trying to do in IJV too, is create a bibliography and a filmography for people to look at. There are lots of things. You know what, I’m bad on recall lately. I’d have to send you the list if you wanted, ‘cause I’m not…
JACOB: We can put it in the show notes if you send us a list.
SHERYL: Okay, I’ll send you a list.
SHERYL: Yeah, but there are many and most of them are on YouTube and are free. They’re very good. If you want to sit down and watch with your relatives or whoever who are skeptical, these are good ways of doing it. I also think that some of the more solid pieces of work like Benny Morrison’s The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem and he has another volume after that, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited. These are required reading. They’re very important. The work of Avi Shlaim is very important. These are the Jewish historians. I could go on and on. I have shelves and shelves of books.
But I think people need to make sure they’re reading Palestinian historians as well as new historians, even though the Jewish historians have gotten more notoriety over their interventions as the new historians. But the Palestinian work is extremely important and they said it first, so that’s really important to remember. The first book I mentioned, I found profoundly moving. I read it when I already knew all this stuff, but there was something about the intimate encounter with someone’s Nakba experience that just took me to a different level. There’s some other very interesting things in there, like the author — we have — Paha’s description of — is the — of the destruction of his village Sefuria in 1948, and then the author goes to the Zionist archives and finds the narratives that are deposited there by those who actually enacted the evictions and the destruction, including Dunkelman, the Canadian hero of the war of 1948, Ben Dunkelman.
Dunkelman swears up and down, for example, that Sefuria was never strafed by — or bombed by airplanes, whereas Taha says excuse me, but I was there and I know. So, these processes of explicit forgetting or denial, these are very important things to confront. So, I would say that’s a — to me, that was a very, very important book. But all the straight historian history stuff — and also, people had access to the Journal of Palestine Studies. Some public libraries will allow you access. Just looking over the work that’s in that journal is extremely important as well. It’s a really important repository and has been for fifty years of work by both — by Jews, by Palestinians, by others on the history and politics of Palestine.
JACOB: Well, thank you for that list. Yeah, that’s incredible. Again, a great resource, and we’ll be sure to put some recommended reading and film-watching in the show notes. I just want to thank you so much for spending the time and coming on here. I know you’re with your family right now and I’m sorry to take you away from them, but please go back to them and have a great time. Can you just let people know where IJV’s work can be found and if people are interested, how they can reach out and support and that sort of thing?
SHERYL: www.ijvcanada.org. For those of you who are interested in the fight against the IHRA, it’s www.noihra.ca. Yeah, send us a message; we’ll write back. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. We’re there; we’re everywhere. Yeah, and we hope more people will join us ‘cause we are growing and we — even if you’re not Jewish, we welcome your membership as a supporter. Yeah, donations are always welcome, and yeah, follow along with us and join us. Yeah.
JACOB: Great. On the topic of donations real quick, is there a Palestinian or Palestinian-Canadian organization you would recommend donating to as well if people would want to do that?
SHERYL: I’m a big fan of the Palestinian Youth Movement. You can look them up. They are really brave, really innovative, a whole different ballgame. I really — we work very closely with them. I have great respect for them and I think they’re — if you want to have some hope, look to the PYM because they’re — they have a very new outlook on things and working with them has been nothing but a pleasure.
JACOB: Wonderful. Very, very last thing, I swear; can — before you go, can I get a free Palestine?
SHERYL: Free Palestine now.
JACOB: Thank you so much.
JACOB: Thank you again. Take care. Bye.
SHERYL: You too.
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