Published in the Richmond Times Dispatch, May 28th 2021
By Ellen Renee Adams and Daniel Staffenberg
Richmond’s Jewish community has watched the situation in Israel and Gaza with sadness, empathy and trepidation. The suffering of innocent Israelis and Palestinians is unacceptable. We remain hopeful that the fragile cease-fire holds and that peace through negotiation can prevail.
Attacks on Jews in the United States and throughout Europe, however, are increasing and are fueled in part by the ways this conflict is being misunderstood and mischaracterized by far too many. The public discourse attacking Israel is distorted.
They share false narratives and the mistaken belief that blame for the current hostilities can be laid squarely on Israel. This has led to increased hatred and attacks on Jews here at home — to an unprecedented degree.
These falsehoods occur here in Richmond as evidenced by RTD columnist Michael Paul Williams’ recent piece, “History bonds BLM and Palestinians,” in the pages of this newspaper. He repeats falsehoods and longstanding canards that don’t reflect the realities on the ground and diminish the plight of both Palestinians and Israelis. Additionally, he works to undo decades of strong, collaborative connections between the Jewish and Black communities in Richmond.
This complex geopolitical conflict, in which long-simmering grievances have festered on both sides for decades, cannot be reduced to a blanket indictment of the Israelis. This is no time for one-sided condemnation and there certainly never is a time for antisemitic harassment and violence.
Attacks on Jews have occurred far too often over the past weeks and days. It is impossible to advance the cause of peace by being confrontational, one-sided and by sharing a reckless disregard for the truth.
The truth is that Hamas, a terrorist group wholly focused on the destruction of Israel, carried out attacks on Israel with more than 4,000 rockets, through terror tunnels into Israel, fire kites, knife attacks and more.
These rockets deliberately are fired at Israel’s civilians — and are fired from and stored in Palestinian civilian areas like homes, schools and hospitals — to discourage retaliation by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), which Hamas knows is under strict orders to avoid civilian casualties.
By contrast, the IDF issues warnings in Arabic when planning a response, so that civilians have time to evacuate.
The narrative, spread on these pages, online and through media worldwide, is one of misinformation and historical revisionism that ignores the thousands of years of history that connect Jews to the land of Israel.
You cannot ignore the constant Jewish presence in the land and how the dream of re-establishing Israel came from the longing of an Indigenous people who were exiled — but always dreamed to return.
In fact, many did return when it was clear that the Jewish people needed a sanctuary from a legacy of global persecution. Israel once again was a refuge for Jews from all over the world — countries from Africa to Europe and the Middle East, many fleeing expulsion or violence.
This is an issue of two peoples’ claim to the same land. At its inception, the Jewish claim was refuted by many Arab nations, who attacked the fledgling country. Had Israel’s right to exist not been rejected then, and many times since, and had negotiations that the U.S. had helped broker proceeded further, there would be a Palestinian State alongside a Jewish State today.
The refrain echoed in Williams’ column is that this is an issue of white versus Black. The Jewish community locally, and especially in Israel, includes many Jews of color. In fact, it is estimated that only 30% of Israel’s citizens are white Ashkenazi Jews of European descent.
To imply that Black and Jewish communities must be at odds shows a complete lack of understanding of the Jewish community and its diversity.
It also ignores the decades of shared work done by our communities to combat racism, white supremacy and work toward shared prosperity. Unfortunately, the generalization that all Jews look alike goes hand in hand with bias that is at the root of prejudice and antisemitism.
Israeli and Palestinian civilians undeniably have the right to live in peace and safety. We in the U.S. must do all we can to support the cause of peace. Indeed, it is gratifying that President Joe Biden has affirmed our nation’s support for Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorist attacks.
We are grateful that peace has returned and that both Israelis and Palestinians can resume their daily lives free from fear. There is only one route to a lasting peace: an end to terrorist attacks and the resumption of a political process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. May that come speedily and in our day.