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I’m a Jew who wants to boycott Israel.

Boycott Israel

To be fair, I’m really an atheist. My grandmother was Methodist, my mother a Presbyterian, I attended a Baptist high school, and then I spent two years as a full-time Mormon missionary in Rome. But after being excommunicated for being gay, I eventually discovered Reform Judaism. I took an Intro to Judaism class and officially converted, even immersing myself in the mikvah. I studied Hebrew, my prayers, and my Torah portion, becoming an adult bar mitzvah with a lovely collection of kipot and mezuzot.

Over my next several “actively Jewish” years, I read over 200 books, both fiction and non-fiction, about various Jewish sects. As a non-Jew, I’d thought Judaism was monolithic. You were either a Jew or you weren’t. I was surprised to find variations as great as the difference between a Pentecostal snake handler and a “no Christmas” Jehovah’s Witness, a polygamous Mormon and a celibate Shaker, a pro-education Jesuit and an Amish farmer.

Most Jews, though, even the Lubavitchers, supported Israel. (But don’t ask a Satmar!)

I confess that it took me quite a while to realize how thoroughly unacceptable Israeli (not Jewish) policies toward Palestinians are.

So I confess that it took me quite a while to realize how thoroughly unacceptable Israeli (not Jewish) policies toward Palestinians are. One of my coworkers in a university physiology lab years ago was Palestinian. Our boss was Jewish, technically affiliated with the congregation I attended though I never saw him there. The day after Schindler’s List aired on television, I was curious to see how my coworker viewed HaShoah.

“I watched Schindler’s List last night,” I said as we made electrodes.

“Did you cry?” my coworker replied without missing a beat, his tone dripping with sarcasm. I was stunned into silence, but he continued. “Jews always complain about Nazis when what they do to Palestinians is just as bad.”

I didn’t respond but thought, “I’m pretty sure Israel hasn’t killed millions of Palestinians.” It was easy to assume my coworker was prejudiced. After all, I’d heard him say several disparaging things about our boss, even laughing at him behind his back.

“He thinks he’s so good for hiring a Palestinian,” my coworker said, with just a little bit of a sneer. He also talked often of bedding Jewish women. “They all like being fucked by a Palestinian. They think it makes them a righteous Jew.” A comparison, of course, to Yad Vashem in Israel.

I soon moved on to another job and let the one Palestinian I’d ever met fade into memory. In my study of Judaism, however, life in Israel was by far the most boring aspect. I was much more interested in reading about Italian Jews in 1730, or German Jews in 1850, or shtetl Jews in 1910. The little I did read suggested that even if Israel agreed to a two-state solution, Palestinians—and Middle Eastern Muslims in general—would still not be satisfied until Israel no longer existed at all.

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Most Reform Jews are dedicated to social justice, so I knew things needed to improve in Israel, but frankly, there were so many other human rights abuses around the world that I could place treatment of Palestinians in the back of my mind. Israeli treatment of Ethiopian Jews was another huge issue in and of itself. It was easy to think, “Jews relocated from Europe to Israel to find peace. Why can’t Palestinians relocate? Muslims have two dozen countries where they are the majority and make the rules. Why can’t Jews have just one?”

Then, after getting involved with a feminist organization and one of the socialist parties in my area, I couldn’t escape the constant barrage of articles and films and classes showing the truly horrific abuses the Israeli government perpetrates against other human beings in their country. Perhaps the Gaza ghetto isn’t quite as bad as the Warsaw ghetto, but that’s like saying, “I’m not a bad guy. I only cut off two of your fingers. Most guys would cut off your entire hand.”

Thanks, I guess.

The political movement in the U.S. to ban and even criminalize boycotting Israel is frightening. As a gay man who committed hundreds of felonies before oral sex was decriminalized in my state, as a socialist with friends who faced blacklisting across the country, as a Mormon whose people faced an extermination order in Missouri, as a Jew who worshipped with a Holocaust survivor in my congregation, I understand the disaster that criminalizing other viewpoints brings.

For so many U.S. politicians and those who elect them, supporting Israel isn’t a matter of being pro-Jewish or anti-Muslim or being strategic about oil or Russia or anything else. It’s a way to push the world toward Armageddon, without which Jesus can’t return. What’s a little human rights abuse of minority Palestinians when your ultimate goal is to bring about a global war even worse than the last two combined?

I identify as a Jew. I identify as a Mormon. I identify as a non-observant Jew. I identify as an ex-Mormon. I identify as gay. I identify as a liberal Democrat. I identify as a Democratic Socialist. I identify as a Socialist.

Yes, I’m perfectly aware that many of those are conflicting identities. So, yes, I identify as a conflicted thinker.

I also identify as a writer, a quilter, a movie buff, a reader.

But mostly, I identify as human.

Thousands of human rights abuses around the world compete for our attention daily. But stopping the abuse of Palestinians, affecting millions now and with the potential to ignite worldwide catastrophe, must be one of our priorities.

Johnny Townsend

Johnny Townsend