“From Palestine to Mexico” is more than a chant

July 19, 2018

Lindsay Caesar and Meredith Luby write from North Carolina about a heated debate that came up in the streets during a protest about organizing for justice everywhere.

ON JUNE 30, hundreds of people marched in Greensboro, North Carolina, as part of a national day of protest against the Trump administration’s family separations policy. But as the day went on, we began to realize that some at the event didn’t believe the rally’s slogan — Families Belong Together — should be extended to the Palestinian people.

During the march, a fellow member of the International Socialist Organization, along with a member of the drum band Cakalak Thunder, began leading a chant of “From Palestine to Mexico, border walls have got to go.”

The crowd joined in, but Rabbi Andy Koren, from a local reform synagogue and a part of the Greensboro Faith Leaders Council, which organized the rally, told the two to stop the chant, because it was not part of the message of the rally.

Another man also demanded that the chant be stopped — he called it racist and said he was leaving if it wasn’t stopped.

As Jewish Americans, we are constantly frustrated by the conflation of Zionism and Judaism, as well as the idea that expressing support for a free Palestine is anti-Semitic. As Jews, we felt it was our responsibility to confront this disruption of our chanting.

Chicagoans march in solidarity with Palestine against the murderous Israeli assault on Gaza
Chicagoans march in solidarity with Palestine against the murderous Israeli assault on Gaza (Bob Simpson | SW)

We tried to be calm as we explained that as pro-Palestinian Jews, we know it isn’t racist or anti-Semitic to show support for Palestine in this way, and that the chant was intended to make a connection between struggles for freedom across the globe.

Koren countered by saying that what is happening at the southern border of the U.S. is very different than what is happening in Palestine. “Palestinian families are together,” he claimed.

We reminded him that Israel does, in fact, separate Palestine families and arrest children. The families who are together are trapped in an open-air prison. We said that these struggles are deeply connected, as are all global struggles of oppressed people against colonial and imperial powers.

Koren not only denied all this, but he questioned our Jewishness, asking how much of our families are Jewish, and whether we have family in Israel — implying that if we don’t have family there, we’re not entitled to have an opinion about it.

The Jewish people aren’t a monolith, and it is critically important that we acknowledge that Zionism does not equal Judaism.

An imam attempted to diffuse the situation, saying that the issue was “complicated” and imploring us to pick our battles. When one of us said: “I pick all of them,” he called us “free spirits.”

If being a free spirit means recognizing that the fight for freedom for oppressed peoples must be global, than we guess we are.

WE KNOW a great many Jews who engage deeply with social justice and the fight for freedom and liberation, here and abroad. And we know a great many who have a glaring blind spot when it comes to Israel.

We refuse to allow imperial powers to use our people to colonize another people. We don’t want that done in our name. We don’t know how any Jew can defend a state that systematically murders the Palestinian people that forces its citizens to serve in a brutal military, and that arrests and detains children.

If we believe in Tikkun Olam — the Jewish concept of repairing the world — then we must begin by supporting the Palestinian right of return, by rebuilding the villages bulldozed in 1948 and making reparations for the lives and land taken from Palestine in the 70 years that followed.

Do we want Jews around the world to have thriving communities and traditions? Of course. Do we want safety for the Jewish people? Absolutely.

But the safety of one population should never come at the expense of another population. Israel is one of the least safe places for a Jewish person, precisely because of the displacement of the Palestinian population.

The answer can’t be to continue to wall off an entire population in the name of Jewish safety. In the name of a Jewish state. Not our Judaism. Not in our name.

We see more and more people beginning to take up the slogan “Abolish ICE,” and this is incredible. This is a moment of possibility.

But in this moment of possibility, it is important to acknowledge that these global struggles are inextricably linked. Families aren’t just being separated at the U.S.-Mexico border — they are being separated all over the U.S. Families are being separated by imperialism and war. Families are being separated by racism and poverty, by mass incarceration.

This will only change if we make a genuine commitment to fight for what is right — not what is right everywhere except Palestine. We cannot pick and choose. Families belong together, all over the world. Not in cages, not in occupied lands. From Palestine to Mexico, families belong together, free.

Further Reading

From the archives