In a recent issue of his excellent publication, Heart of a Nation Committee Member Steve Sheffey addressed the claims that, because Israel’s creation involved displacement of Palestinians, sometimes intentionally, sometimes violently, Israel is not a legitimate state. He did so by consulting Oren Jacobson, the co-founder of Project Shema, which focuses on engaging the progressive movement on difficult topics. Steve’s thoughts appear immediately below, followed by excerpts from Oren’s reply:

Steve provides this context: “On some college campuses and among some young adults, Jewish and non-Jewish, the Israel debate is not about 1967 and the occupation but 1949 and whether Israel should exist at all. Some young adults are unprepared for this debate because the Israel they learned about before college was a simplistic, sanitized version of Israel’s history that their parents and teachers did not recognize as myth…”

“The debate about how to talk about Israel’s history parallels the debate about critical race theory in the United States…”

“Some people would prefer that we whitewash American history and do not realize that we cannot understand what is happening today without understanding how we got here. Similarly, one cannot understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without understanding the history of the conflict, including wrongdoing by both sides. American history is different from Israeli history. The parallel I’m drawing is not between the two histories, but between the reluctance of some supporters of both countries to teach truths that contradict the myths they think are crucial to the national narrative…”

“The question then becomes how to address claims that because Israel’s creation involved displacement of Palestinians, sometimes intentionally, sometimes violently, Israel is not a legitimate state…

Oren provides this superb response: “Can we deny or minimize the violence the creation and evolution of Israel has brought onto the Palestinian people? Not if we want to be honest with ourselves or credible advocates for Israel. We should acknowledge the full scope of harm to the Palestinian people and work to repair that damage. But if we’re going to discuss violence we cannot deny, or let others erase, the inextricable violence against Jews that is central to this entire conflict.”

“We cannot erase the colonial violence which drove Jews from the land in the first place. Or the endless violence to Jews wherever we tried to find refuge over centuries, including in the Arab world before and after 1948. Or the violent efforts to end the Jewish state since 1948. Or the endless terrorism the Israeli people endure. Or the endless attacks Jews continue to face globally. We can claim that none of this violence justifies violence toward another, but we’re lying to ourselves if we don’t think this violence, and the intergenerational trauma and understandable fear it has created, isn’t a part of this situation. No progressive would dismiss the trauma to any other marginalized group and how that impacts people’s actions, and we shouldn’t let anyone dismiss ours.”

“Yes, let’s criticize all of Israel’s harmful policies. Yes, let’s advocate for a different future for the Palestinian people, for an end to the occupation, for a form of restorative justice, and for their national self-determination. Our progressive values demand that we fight for a different future for the Palestinian people, but there is nothing progressive about working to erase Israel and put Jews back into a position of total systemic powerlessness. There is nothing progressive about sentencing Jews to the endless cycle of violence of our past, living in constant fear of the next attack as permanent minorities in a world that has always been hostile to us and unwilling to ensure our safety.”

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