As A Jew, And The Grandchild Of Holocaust Survivors, I'm Ready To Speak Out

by Alicia Stein
May James/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

My dad was born and raised in Israel. His parents took refuge there to escape the Holocaust. I likely wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for the safety Israel provided for my grandparents. Even though I’ve only visited Israel a handful of times in my life, I’m actually officially an Israeli citizen. All children of Israelis automatically become citizens.

I still have family who live in Israel. Over the past few weeks, they’ve had to take shelter in their basement while this conflict plays out. They’ve sent me pictures of their shell-shocked faces. The terror that Israelis are experiencing — now, and for years — is real.

I know some amazing Israelis — Israelis who see the humanity in their Palestinian neighbors and who actively work toward peace. I know some Israelis who see every Palestinian as a terrorist. And everything in between.

And as a Jew, an Israeli, and the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, I think it’s time to speak out. I can’t sit by and watch hundreds of Palestinians — many of whom are children — get slaughtered every day and not say something.

People say this conflict is complicated, and there’s some truth to that. But when it comes down to it, one side is a developed nation with bombs that can decimate buildings and streets and homes, and the other side has rocks and rockets. Death on either side is not okay, especially civilian deaths. Especially children and families.

But one side has far more innocent people dying. That’s just a fact. One side is similar in military strength to most prominent Western powers — and gets military funding from the U.S. — and the other side are people who are basically treated like second-class citizens and have nothing.

Racism, anyone?

As a Jew, I find it hard to believe that we are still arguing over whose land is whose. These are arguments from decades — centuries — ago. Yes, we are talking about holy places and people have lots of feelings about that. Yes, many Jews found safety in Israel during and after the Holocaust (though it’s important to remember that they did so at the expense of Palestinians who had been living there for hundreds of years).

But at this point, it’s not about what happened years ago. It’s about the fact that everyone who lives in Israel deserves to have a safe place to live. Everyone who lives there deserves to have equal rights, equal opportunities, and basic care.

Again, I am not saying that Israel shouldn’t exist or that there shouldn’t be a safe haven for Jews, but it also seems like many Israelis are not willing to give an inch to Palestinians. I question a people who are willing to treat others the way Israel has treated Palestinians for decades — especially after years of racism and mistreatment themselves.

Shouldn’t a people who were rounded up and killed for their ethnicity and religion know better than to treat others similarly?

Saying #PalestinianLivesMatter is not saying that Israeli lives don’t also matter, or that Jewish people don’t deserve to lead safe and peaceful lives. It’s just that Israeli lives have been centered for far too long in the conversation. It’s just like the #blacklivesmatter movement. No one else’s life is being erased. It’s that we are trying to speak for a people whose basic human rights have long been violated and whose voices have been silenced.

I feel like many folks aren’t understanding this. I also think it’s important to acknowledge that antisemitism is real and worse than ever these days. In fact, antisemitic incidents rose 60% in 2017 alone. This is real to me: my family — my kids — have experienced some really scary incidents of antisemitism over the past few years.

But again, acknowledging the human rights of Palestinians is not antisemitic. I also think it’s great that we can begin having these conversations, however difficult as they may be, because they are very necessary and long overdue.

I want Israelis to be safe and I want Palestinians to be safe. But both sides are not the same in terms of power, and I think it’s important to acknowledge and understand that. This is a humanitarian crisis on all fronts. It’s sickening. I may lose friends by speaking out. That’s okay. As a Jew and an Israeli, I think it’s important to use my voice.