RAISING A VOICE, TO REACH A DEAF EAR

COMMENTARY ARCHIVES, 5 Mar 2009

Hannah Weitzer

A significant Jewish voice opposed “Operation Cast Lead”, a community not seen in the media: “The desire for coverage in the media isn’t just about vanity, or even solely about wanting to be heard. It is about the need for legitimacy, which can be fostered by growing awareness.”

Mainstream media sources – Israeli, Arab and international alike – can easily lead one to believe that all Israelis and Jews worldwide threw their full support behind Israel’s recent “Operation Cast Lead” against Hamas in Gaza as a necessary response to years of rocket-fire on southern Israel.

While it is true that a large majority of Jewish Israelis and Jews around the world supported this war from beginning to end, there is a little-covered, but significant anti-war movement within Israel and among world Jewry. The lack of media attention on this movement contributes to its isolation, and effectively discourages others from raising questions and seeking alternatives.

During the 23-day operation in Gaza there were many demonstrations, vigils, coalitions, blogs, humanitarian aid campaigns, petitions, joint meetings with Palestinians and other anti-war events organised by Israeli Jews. Throughout the three weeks of fighting, in which 1300 people in Gaza and 13 in southern Israel were killed, protests occurred almost daily in Tel Aviv and Jaffa, as well as in other major Israeli cities. The demonstrations drew mixed Jewish and Arab crowds, and have continued even after the ceasefire went into effect.

There are even voices from Sderot and other parts of southern Israel (www.othervoice.org, for example) who challenged the righteousness and inevitability of the Israeli operation. Despite enduring painful years of Hamas rockets aimed at their homes, they opposed the war vocally, and maintained contacts with their Gazan friends as much as possible throughout the fighting and in its wake.

Growing numbers of Jewish Israeli organisations and individuals are working to collect humanitarian aid to send to Gaza via the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the Red Cross, and there is no shortage of Israeli Jews who wish to donate. On 23 January a benefit concert at Levontine 7, a trendy club in the heart of Tel Aviv, raised over 22,000 NIS ($5,400) for Physicians for Human Rights to purchase medical equipment to send to Gaza.

Sadly, though, Jewish Israelis who opposed this war find themselves increasingly estranged from mainstream society, and are even thought of as part of a treacherous fifth column.

In a country that takes pride in being a democracy, it is disconcerting that some Israelis view opposition to the actions of their government or military as disloyalty. The trend of equating voices of dissent with subversion was epitomised by the popularity of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, which won 15 seats in the recent elections with the slogan "No citizenship without loyalty," a direct dig at Arab citizens of Israel and others who disagree with the policies of the government and military.

The fact that the Jewish/Israeli anti-war movement has not received more coverage in the local or international media isn’t just disheartening, it is distressing. The desire for coverage in the media isn’t just about vanity, or even solely about wanting to be heard. It is about the need for legitimacy, which can be fostered by growing awareness.

If coverage of these perspectives is lacking on the local Israeli level, it is nearly nonexistent in the international press. Disregarding the nuances within Jewish Israeli society perpetuates the black and white stereotypes of the conflict, which have long been pervasive around the world. Bolstering these Jewish voices of dissent would reinforce the reality that Jewish opinion is not homogeneous, and that Jews are not unanimously in support of the Israeli government’s actions. With more media coverage, and ensuing legitimacy, some of those who are currently silent, might be empowered to speak up.

It is never easy to raise an unpopular voice of opposition, but somewhat easier if you know that you are not the only one.

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Hannah Weitzer works at Windows-Channels for Communication, a non-profit, joint organization of Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians from the Occupied Palestinian Territories. She has a BA in Middle East Studies from Brown University and currently resides in Jaffa. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

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