May 2021 SURJ SF Statement on Zionism and the Occupation of Palestine
SURJ SF opposes the Israeli government’s apartheid regime and its ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. We see critical connections between this oppression abroad and systems of white supremacy here in the U.S., which support these injustices both financially and politically. We invite our San Francisco community to join us in standing with the people of Palestine and to work toward real, systemic change and justice.
This position paper on the Palestinian occupation was written by members of SURJ San Francisco following a request by accountability partners to clarify our position on Zionism. After a thoughtful process of education and reflection, the SURJ SF coordinating committee has approved the following statement. We ask readers to read all the way through, even if it is uncomfortable. We invite white people to join us as we learn and move into action, including but not limited to participating in a three-part political education series with our local partners.
Our process was started before the COVID-19 outbreak. It is clear to us that privilege shapes how people are impacted by the pandemic here, in Palestine, and in refugee camps around the world. We thus feel an urgency to release this statement. We are deeply concerned at the news that Zoom, Facebook, and YouTube all censored a conversation about the occupation of Palestine with Leila Khaled and prevented it from streaming on their platforms in a virtual class at SF State University. While many tech companies profess their progressive values, pulling public conversations like these from their platforms is an extension of the Zionist practice of preventing conversations about the occupation of Palestine from happening in public spaces in San Francisco and beyond.
We are mostly (but not all) white people. Some of us are Jewish, some are not. For some of us, this work involves taking responsibility to learn about a situation we have been told is too complicated to look at closely or not “in our lane.” For others of us, it has meant challenging deeply held ideas, fond stories, or the very ideas about safety that we’ve grown up with.
We have come to a decision to make a position statement for a few reasons. In the same way that we oppose settler colonialism in the U.S., we must also oppose U.S. participation in and funding of settler colonialism in other parts of the world. Additionally, we understand that military and police in the U.S. and Israel develop and share tactics of militarization and surveillance that are used to violate the human rights of people of Color in the U.S. and Palestinians abroad.
In using the word “Zionism” we acknowledge that it has different connotations and denotations for different people, all of them charged with deep emotional meaning. In this statement, our definiton of Zionism is “the idea that Israel has a fundamental right to exist as a Jewish state that overrides Palestinian civil, political, economic, and human rights.” Our use of “Zionism” here refers to the settler-colonial reality in the regions currently referred to as Israel and Palestine. Federal U.S. foreign policy has supported Zionism for decades, silencing both Bay Area and broader American support for Palestinian human rights.
SURJ SF opposes settler-colonialism and imperialism, especially when perpetrated or supported by the United States government. Just as the U.S. government has engaged in historical and ongoing genocide of the Native people and destructive exploitation of their land at home, it has funded similar practices abroad -- in particular, sending billions of taxpayer dollars annually to support the Israeli military and government’s ongoing theft of the land of Palestine.
We oppose the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people by the State of Israel. We oppose the apartheid regime of the Israeli government enforced in Israel and Palestine, and we oppose the continuing destruction of the land itself. Further, we oppose any annexation of Palestinian land, whether de facto or de jure, as has been threatened by both the U.S. and Israeli governments.
We follow the leadership of Palestinian Civil Society, which in 2005, issued the following demands of the State of Israel:
1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall [built on occupied Palestinian territory]
2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194 (1948)
Their Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS) urges “people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era” and to pressure their goverments to “impose embargoes and sanctions against Israel” until Israel recognizes “the Palestinian people's inalienable right to self-determination” and “fully complies with the precepts of international law” by meeting the three demands above.
SURJ SF wholeheartedly supports these demands, the BDS movement, and other tactics of resistance. In doing so, we follow the leadership of anti-racist activists and organizations such as Nick Estes, Movement for Black Lives, and Angela Davis, who have been targeted for their support of BDS.
Oppression Abroad, Oppression at Home
Global repressive, racist forces often work together. The police and private security forces at Standing Rock, the Israeli Defense Forces in Gaza, the prison-industrial complex, and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement on the U.S.-Mexico border all share goals, strategies, equipment, and investments.
In the words of the Movement for Black Lives’ 2018 statement in solidarity with the people of Palestine, “We know that the United States government sends the same weapons to Tel Aviv as it sends to Ferguson and hundreds of other cities across the country. We know that police officers in the United States learn the tactics of war from Israeli police forces, who come annually to train U.S. officers in methods of oppression, surveillance, and murder.” These systems further white supremacy and all of its harms, to the detriment of all people globally, especially impacting People of Color and Indigenous people.
SURJ SF affirms its solidarity with the people of Palestine, just as we recognize the long tradition of Palestinian soldiarity with anti-racist and social justice movements in the United States, including the Palestinian Youth Movement’s support of the NoDAPL movement in Standing Rock, North Dakota, and of the Movement for Black Lives.
Zionism and Anti-Semitism in the U.S.
SURJ SF also understands that the harm of Zionism is not isolated to the land of Israel-Palestine. In particular, we reject the state of Israel targeting and minimizing Palestinian thought and resistance in U.S. colleges and universities, in the BDS movement, and in online forums.
We reject the notion that anti-Zionism — along with support for Palestine or BDS — is the same as anti-Semitism. To equate the Jewish identity with the state of Israel undermines the meaningful and historic expressions of Jewish identity that exist independently of the Israeli government. True opposition to anti-Semitism, we believe, demands enthusiastic alliance with all communities targeted by hate, oppression, and violence. We understand that the same police, military, surveillance, and other tactics of state violence that harm People of Color, have, throughout history, been turned against the Jewish people. We follow the leadership of generations of Jews, in Israel and the Diaspora, who have resisted in solidarity with Palestinians and other oppressed people.
We caution against confusing the United States government’s support of Israel with humanitarian support of Jews. A closer examination of that support often reveals self-interest as the motivator. While Israel sees itself as an outpost of White European civilization within a turbulent and uncivilized Middle East, by aligning itself with Israel, the U.S. in turn gains a strategic foothold at the crossroads of Europe, Africa, and Asia. Moreover, by contributing more than $3 billion per year to the Israeli military, for example, the U.S. creates the exploitative conditions necessary for its corporations to extract natural resources from the region. This makes the United States the largest international financial supporter of the Israeli military — creating an even stronger moral imperative for those who pay taxes to the U.S. government to resist its agenda there.
Wherever you are in your journey toward racial justice, please join us in educating ourselves and our community, in exploring the tension that these conversations can bring up, and in moving towards action for systemic change. We ask you to explore any discomfort that came up for you and follow it to its roots in community with others working toward racial justice. If you find yourself in agreement, we encourage you to put your values into action - calling in your family members and others in community when it might be easier to be silent or to lash out, speaking up when you hear advocates for Palestinian rights being silenced in the Bay Area. If you’ve been taking action on a personal level, we ask you to join efforts towards systemic change.
Those of us who strive for racial justice and equity must act in solidarity with the people of Palestine. In the same way SURJ values call on us to work against imperialism and racism in the U.S., we must vocally and persistently oppose imperialist and colonialist policies and practices in Israel and Palestine, in favor of a more just and equitable future that respects the inalienable human rights of all.
Resources for additional information
BDS Movement’s Summary of Israeli Settler-Colonialism and Apartheid
The Movement for Black Lives statement in solidarity with the Palestinian people
Critical Resistance issues a statement that Zionism is not compatible with prison abolition or reform
AROC’s statement on Anti-Repression, Anti-Racism and Anti-Militarism
“The Arab-Israeli conflict in 10 points” from The Irish Times