In the past weeks I’ve seen one resounding feeling coming from Israeli influencers, family and friends, of all political walks of life:
“They hate us, they really fucking hate us.”
It was the celebration of the deaths in Israel. The questioning and second-guessing of the horrors and the silence about the gender-based violence of the October 7 Hamas attack. It was the demonstrations where Israeli flags were burned and chants against a Jewish state were heard. It was the tearing down of posters of the hostages. It was the antisemitic hate crimes. All these actions felt like a slap in the face to a grieving nation, a rubbing of salt on open wounds that are still bleeding five weeks later, as Israel still identifies and buries its dead and fights for the release of its hostages.
Yes, it’s clear that the American government and the global establishment has been supportive of Israel’s right to a military retaliation, a retaliation that feels very much in line with the U.S. country’s reliably hawkish foreign policy — and a retaliation that has taken the life of over 10,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Ministry of Health. And yet it’s equally clear that crowds protesting against the war and for the liberation of Palestinian people around the world have among them people with hate and disdain for the entirety of the Jewish state and the people for whom it is their only home. Many Jews are marching against Israel, wanting to disengage themselves from a state that they feel wrongfully tied to. To many Israelis, that rejection feels even more personal. (Jewish people, including Israelis, are also marching for a ceasefire, and for the protection of Palestinian lives and statehood, and still believe in Israel’s right to exist.)
That’s why the march yesterday in Washington D.C., that drew an estimated 290,000 Jewish people and allies, felt so heartening. It showed the people of Israel that at the heart of America, there are, after all, hundreds of thousands of people who do not hate them at all. It was a vision of Jewish Americans that affirmed we are tied to each other in our Judaism.
Emily Tamkin in the Forward made some salient points about what the march was hoping to accomplish, politically speaking. It was clear, even on Tuesday, that the political goals of the attendees were varied and at times contradictory. While most, if not all, of the crowd called for the return of the hostages, there were calls for both ceasefire and no ceasefire. There were representations of every fragment of Jewish political activism, from T’ruah, an organization of rabbis for human rights, to the extremely right wing Zionist Organization of America. There were also Christians for Israel, who sometimes support the state for reasons that have nothing to do with a love for Jews, and extreme voices like Pastor John Hagee. I am certain that not everyone was comfortable with everyone else’s politics, (in fact, T’ruah made their discomfort very clear), and yet they all showed up out of a joint love or support for Israel, whatever that may mean to them.
I was reminded of going to the protests against Israel’s judicial reform and extreme right wing government this summer while visiting my homeland with my two children. It was a way to share with them the new routines of their grandparents and uncles, who had been attending these marches and rallies for months and months. My mother weaved through the crowds and got each one of my boys an Israeli flag to wave. I didn’t expect my throat to catch the way it did, unable to croak out simple calls of “demokratia” — democracy — through tears. In the streets, I saw people donning shirts with calls to end the occupation, from groups like Doctors for Democracy and Achim Laneshek, a veteran IDF organization, and proud right-wingers. It felt like every type of Israeli from every place in the political spectrum was there. And while they had one stated political goal, to end the judicial reform and fight an extremist government, all their visions for what Israel should look like were oh-so-different.
I have never been the kind of person to wave a flag. My relationship with patriotism is a complex one. I am an Israeli American; I got my U.S. citizenship in 2019, during the Trump presidency, at a time when so many Americans felt despair about the direction of their country. And still, when I got that tiny flag at my naturalization ceremony, I was moved.
I love being American. I love being Israeli. For different, complex reasons. I think of that moment, waving the tiny flag with my toddler in my arms. I think of my now older kid waving the flag of Israel so seriously in a Tel Aviv street full of chants for democracy. And I think of the march on Washington, too. I think that waving and wrapping ourselves in flags doesn’t always mean blanketing these countries’ governments with unconditional approval. Sometimes, a flag represents an ideal of the country we believe in —an America that can be better for minorities and immigrants; an Israel that returns to the ideals it should stand for.
I feel that questions about what the political goal of the march was miss the forest for the trees. For Israelis, seeing this march helped them feel like there was a sea of people who stand with them. Who care for their heartbreak, their crisis, their hostages, perhaps even more than their government does. Marches of solidarity and vigils don’t always have a united political goal, and that is OK. For my family and friends, its symbolism had a real psychological effect.
An undeniable number of Jews in this country, the majority of them, in fact, still feel a connection with Israel. Still feel like it has a place in their Judaism. A lot of them are critical of Israel, and show how you can do so while still believing in its right to exist. We can grieve with people we disagree with, and march through the streets as one, despite our political differences. We are a people that argue and differ on so many things, and yet we are a people, after all.