We speak to Rabbi Alissa Wise, an organizer with Rabbis for Ceasefire and the founding co-chair of Jewish Voice for Peace’s Rabbinical Council, about Tuesday’s “March for Israel” in Washington, D.C., that was covered widely by the mainstream media and platformed antisemitic Christian Zionists. Wise sees a deep connection between Jewish religious principles and anti-Zionist activism and says accusations that anti-Zionists are antisemitic are a cynical strategy used to “shield Israel from accountability.” She says Israel cannot be uniquely exempt from political and humanitarian critique. “Israel is not a Jewish person. Israel is a state. God forbid we should not be able to cry out when states are committing horrific genocidal violence in the name of Jewish people.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
This week has been dubbed the Jews for a Ceasefire Week of Action by groups including IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace. In Chicago, hundreds of Jews and allies blocked the entrance to the Israeli Consulate Monday.
PROTESTER: Ceasefire means ending the genocide, the invasion, the siege. It means hostage release now. It means no more escalation to further war, violence and death. And it means creating a space for a true diplomatic solution that addresses the root causes of occupation and apartheid.
AMY GOODMAN: Around the country, Jews calling for a ceasefire also held sit-ins in the offices of congressmembers. In Washington, D.C., Monday, dozens of rabbis with Rabbis for Ceasefire were joined by spiritual leaders and hundreds of others for a morning prayer and reading of the Torah in front of the U.S. Capitol to call for a ceasefire in Gaza.
RABBI: [reading Torah] Sound the great shofar for all people’s freedom.
AMY GOODMAN: After the special Shacharit service, rabbis and supporters marched to congressional offices, where they met with elected officials. This is Congressmember Cori Bush.
REP. CORI BUSH: We are rabbis. We are pastors. We are congressmembers. We are surviving family members. We are human beings. And we are bound by our faith to demand a ceasefire now, to demand an end to the violence now, to demand that love and peace and justice and humanity reigns and is at the center of all of our work now — not tomorrow, not next week, not in a month, not in a year. Now. Ceasefire now! Ceasefire now! Ceasefire now!
AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by Rabbi Alissa Wise, organizer with Rabbis for Ceasefire, former co-executive director of the organization Jewish Voice for Peace, where she was also the founding co-chair of JVP’s Rabbinical Council.
So, we’re seeing all of this opposition around the country. Can you describe what happened in Washington? We just saw Cori Bush. I think AOC, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, a number of other congressmembers were there for your prayer service. Talk about the support you’re getting.
RABBI ALISSA WISE: We’re getting tremendous support from the signers of the Ceasefire Now Resolution. And on Monday, when we brought our message to D.C., we were buoyed by the embrace of these members of Congress, but actually the embrace went both ways. It was clear that our presence there in D.C. was a balm for their souls. They are being run through the mud for their voice of humanity and their voice of justice. And likewise, we need support, too. We are Rabbis for Ceasefire. We are, as rabbis, responsible to serve the Jewish people’s spiritual, cultural, communal health. And as part of that, our obligation as rabbis is to ensure that Jewish people are part of the most profound and sacred obligation in Jewish tradition, which is saving lives. And that is the root of our call for ceasefire.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Rabbi, I’m wondering if you could talk about your experience and work within the Palestinian solidarity movement. And how do you counter claims that critique of Israeli policies and of the occupation is inherently antisemitic?
RABBI ALISSA WISE: You know, there has been an effort over the past number of years to conflate critique of Israel with antisemitism. This is a deliberate strategy by those who seek to shield Israel from accountability. The truth is, Judaism is a beautiful, evolving religious civilization that has been part of the world for thousands of years. Zionism and the Jewish state has a far shorter history. Zionism is just over 125 years old, and the state just 75 years. There is nothing inherent in critiquing the Israeli state as antisemitic. The thing that we have to remember is that states must be held accountable when they violate human rights. And the cynical strategy by legacy Jewish institutions to shield Israel from accountability, through claims that Israel is a Jew or Israel is the Jew of the world — Israel is not a Jewish person. Israel is a state. God forbid we should not be able to cry out when states are committing horrific genocidal violence in the name of Jewish people.
When American Jews around the world, rabbis and our congregants alike, are saying, “Not in our name,” they are enacting their obligation as Jewish people to protect life, to say every life is sacred and to make no distinction between Israeli life and Palestinian life. As Representative Rashida Tlaib said, the cries of Israeli and Palestinian children don’t sound different to her. They don’t sound different to us. When you seek to stop critique of a nation-state that is committing such horrific genocidal violence with claims of antisemitism, you are lending credence to that violence.
You know, yesterday in D.C. at the pro-Israel rally, I was horrified to see that the most powerful antisemite in our country was given a headline spot. Shame on them! Shame on them for allowing Pastor John Hagee, who believes that Israel needs to be supported by Christian Zionists in order to hasten the second coming of the Messiah, at which point Jews must either convert en masse or burn. There is nothing more antisemitic than that. And shame on them for putting Jewish lives at risk, for playing Russian roulette with Jewish safety to protect Israel and to shield them from accountability for this horrific violence. When the crowd started shouting “No ceasefire,” I was humiliated. I was horrified. I was brought up in a tradition that teaches life is sacred. I prayed on Monday with my fellow rabbis in front of the Capitol that we are guided by an ahava rabbah, an unending love. And that unending love is not finite. It extends to all people. And it must. I think about my children, my Jewish children that I’m raising, and the peril that these Jewish organizations are putting them in when they cynically seek to conflate critique of Israel and antisemitism and create a stage for those who joyfully claim that Jews must convert or be burned at the coming of a second Messiah, and that is their reason why they support Israel. Shame on them.
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