I had the pleasure and honor of participating in a panel discussion at the third annual conference of the Union of Progressive Zionists (UPZ) . Other panelists included Ameinu advocacy chair Judy Gelman, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom DC lobbyist Rob Levy, Professor Elliot Ratzman and Shana Taback, an American-Jewish activist who has worked with Betselem and other human rights groups fighting injustices of the occupation imposed upon Palestinians.
Ms. Taback is a wealth of wisdom and commitment in what she does, but she was not necessarily the best choice for that particular panel, meant to respond to questions from UPZ activists on how to respond to challenges from the left and the right. As it turns out, we were not questioned about such challenges from the right and the mainstream. UPZers exclusively asked about how to respond to left-wing critics.
Ms. Taback mentioned confronting “racism” in herself when she rode on a bus in Israel and reacted to an Arab-Muslim man reciting prayers by fleeing the bus in terror. It may have been a good thing that we didn’t engage in cross discussion, but I wanted to reassure her that she was not being a “racist” at that moment. She was experiencing legitimate fear.
This might have provided her with insight on what average Israelis have been going through these last few years in sustaining terrorist attacks that have cost nearly a thousand civilian lives. This doesn’t negate the fact that the Intifada has cost the Palestinians more lives, or excuse injustices perpetrated in the name of security, but it underscores how terrorism has all-but destroyed the Israeli peace camp. (I e-mailed her to this effect, but she did not respond.)
If one can only feel compassion toward Palestinians suffering under occupation, you’ve arbitrarily limited your most noble instincts. There is both room and necessity for peace activists to understand the legitimate fears and suffering of both Israelis and Palestinians.