I’m gonna be real with you — I was excited that J Street invited me to their founding conference. Excited to be part of the conversation of progressive, peace-seeking Jewish Americans that had found a new, stronger voice in Washington. Excited to push conference attendees towards language and policies of real justice and human rights for Palestinians, not just a ‘peace process’ that perpetuates Israeli supremacy. And excited to be pushed back; to challenge and debate about how best to change American foreign policy, how to build multi-ethnic coalitions, how the hell we can resolve this conflict before we’ve all lost what humanity we have left.
So when J Street capitulated to a right-wing smear campaign and dis-invited me and my fellow poets because we wholesale MLB jerseys had poems questioning the moral purity of Israel, I was disappointed. But not surprised. The more I learned about J Street, the more I realized that their leaders was more conservative than their own energized members, whom had been wooed with promises of “hope” and “change.” Sound familiar?
Now, I voted for Obama, but I also didn’t expect him to usher in of any transformative era unless independent social movements maintained strong, vocal pressure. So when J Street kicked us out, Kevin Coval (the other poet, who has a long, illustrious record of being censored for his solidarity with Palestine) and I wrote a public response and decided to do our event anyway, now open to the community. Organized in three days, the place was packed: artists, activists, youth, elders, Jews, Palestinians, and a number of de J Street conference attendees who left the official gathering to join the planned-then-banned dialogue.
The event itself was brilliant. Laila Al-Arian, the amazing Palestinian journalist and organizer whose father became a political prisoner after 9/11, moderated and brought a much-needed perspective to the space. I did my set, followed by Kevin, who came hard. During the Q&A, an Israeli army veteran offered his support and encouraged solidarity with the Refuseniks who won’t serve in the occupation. A Palestinian woman urged us to write more about Palestinians as diverse, complex individuals rather than a uniform ‘Palestine.’ Medea Benjamin of Code Pink made a call to action for the The Gaza Freedom March this December. For all these calls, there was response. There was respectful, lively debate. “Culture as a Tool for Social Change” was the title of the original event. Yes! This is what we do!
The most prescient moment for me was with a young Jewish student in town for J Street. He’d been in sessions all day talking about the Mideast, in en a very policy-wonkish way. Hearing our poems, he told us, was the first time he’d ever cried in a conversation about Israel/Palestine. “I’m not sure what that means,” he said. “But I think it’s a good thing.”
Going on, he asked us, since our voices had been removed from the conference, what message did we want him to take back to those activists gathered down the block? Now that was a great question. I told him what my own plan is: to support J Street when they’re right and criticize them when they’re wrong. To build with other critical supporters, because we are stronger as a bloc, and leaders will always try to marginalize dissent. And to build coalitions with other organizations and communities who we need if we are going to really move towards peace and reconciliation.
As for the actual J Street conference, I followed some of it online, and it was interesting to see their next public controversy unfold. Apparently the student caucus, dubbed J Street U, decided to take the “pro-Israel” out of their official slogan, so they were just “pro-Peace.” I totally understand their reasoning: to call yourself “pro-Israel” (especially if you don’t add “pro-Palestine”) on a college campus these days is political, and ethical, suicide for any proud progressive. And this is the challenge: how to build the movement in Wisconsin and New York, in cheap NBA jerseys Ramallah and Tel Aviv, rather than just in a fancy hotel in Washington.
Roberto Rivera, a hip-hop educator and friend of mine, likes to tell progressive activists, “We don’t need <i to reinvent the wheel…we just need to put some spinners on it.” Translation: rather than acting in a vacuum and constantly starting organizations that end up repeating the same mistakes, let’s recognize there is good work already going on, and we should improve off (and yes, critique) that work in new, creative ways. This is where I’m at when it comes to the the Mideast. I’m down for fresh dialogues and tactics: Free speech debates inside Hillels nationwide. Israelis and Palestinians fasting outside checkpoints on Yom Kippur. And yes, a strategic campaign of Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions.
If that work is being done in J Street, or Jewish Voice for Peace, or the International Solidarity Movement, or all of the above, then let’s roll. If not, then how can we make und it happen? Either way, we – and more importantly the people of Palestine and Israel – can’t afford to spin our wheels aimlessly any longer. The status quo is the wholesale NBA jerseys displacement and disenfranchisement of millions of women, men, and children. Let us stand for justice for all the people of Jerusalem. And let us put some spinners on our wheels, and get moving.