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  • Reverend James Squire

The Survival and Oppression Gene

There have been recent firings of professors for making antisemitic statements when the professors were actually speaking against Israel’s policy toward the Palestinian people. Some of the Pro Palestinians touched the third rail of making a case that what the Palestinians were experiencing is what the Jewish people endured during the Holocaust. There are certain events that if mentioned that have to be so carefully done because of the crimes against humanity that occurred during The Holocaust. It is a false equilibration.

However, there are policies developed by the Israeli government that have been oppressive to the Palestinian people including breaking international law and peppering the Palestinian communities with Israeli settlers so that they could not form a cohesive community.

I had the occasion to listen to the Chief Rabbi of Jews in America. He made a point that he was against all of the interfaith marriages because they dilute the Jewish population. It is helpful, in my opinion, that we become aware that there is a “survival” gene, so to speak, in Jewish people because for age after age they have had to struggle to just survive. It is like the people in our country that went through the Depression or other hard times. Those times still inform people who have had that experience. In a smaller way I know that is true for me. I use to try to get rid of it from my psyche and soul, but I found that it couldn’t be done and to sublimate it to change it from a negative to a positive drive in my life.

The Jewish people and Palestinian people are no different with their survival mentality. They are always on alert. It is ironic that many conservatives are against being woke in America, but when interviewed, including DeSantis, can’t even define the word. To be woke means to be aware. That is certainly true for both the Jewish people and the Palestinians.

We have the same dynamic going on between Jews and Palestinians as we do with those who oppose Critical Race Theory and Wokeness. Those who don’t want to acknowledge history and create their own that is a sanitized version of reality find support on the fringes of political groups. Israel, Palestine, Jew, and Palestinians are suffering the same kind of treatment in discussions as we have regarding race in this country and vice versa. For black people the third rail that was a crime against humanity is slavery.

The survival gene plays a role in both our country in black people and in the fragile nature of the Palestinian and Israeli dilemma.

There is a conflation of a view regarding racism and poverty in our country and the accusations of wokeness. Once again, it is the extremes that are the megaphone for this. Recently a politico from Minnesota didn’t want to vote for a law to help feed hungry people in the state because he had never seen a hungry child. Therefore, they don’t exist. That is obviously false right-wing logic.

I am deeply concerned about the rise of antisemitism in our country while at the same time I can’t support a good many of the policies of the far-right Israeli government.

Americans can better assess, for better or worse, the racism and unequal distribution of wealth because we can see it or read about it. They can’t do that with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

There is a conflation as well between being “woke” and being anti-American where we want to believe that everybody has got to where we are by virtue of hard work without any assistance from the structures that are embedded in our history to support some but not others.

I have been to Israel and Palestine and was fortunate enough to live in the Palestinian section of the divided city of Jerusalem so that I could see what was really going on. I became “woke” or aware of what it was like to be a Palestinian. The Israeli side of Jerusalem looks a great deal like a flourishing culture (outside the old city). The Palestinian section looks like an underserved area in our country.

The Jobs are in the Israeli section. When the Palestinians want to go to the Israeli side of the city from Bethlehem they must leave and return during specific times of the day. If late, you are jailed. The bus that I rode into Bethlehem was stopped to allow police with Uzi(s) on board to check that everyone on board was all right to come and go.

Just as we have had a rise in anger in our nation with the Black Lives Matter Movement, we have the same sort of anger in the Palestinian section of Israel. Both movements are present because they have awakened to feel a level of oppression that is hardwired into their conscious and everyday actions. When you walk the streets of America, you can feel it in underserved parts of our nation. When out for a run in the streets of the Palestinian section of Jerusalem, young teenagers began hurling bricks and bottles at me. When I returned to the hotel, I stood in the lobby and watched and heard young men in their twenties chastise the young people who had unsuccessfully attacked me. I couldn’t understand the language but the body language told the young people that I wasn’t the problem. Their anger was displaced.

Somehow, we must change our “genetic codes” in America and Israel to become woke which strictly means to be aware of how we have benefitted from institutions with built in prejudice that question our survival whether you are white or black. It is ironic that it is the opposite of “cancel culture.” It is a shared experience with survival and oppression linked together, for some more so than others. That will help us to thrive. It is not about producing guilt in someone who is “the other”, people different from us.

The same “genetic code” in Israel and Palestine can bring together the common “woke” moment where Jews and Palestinians can honor their common experience of “survival and oppression” that has been hardwired into their life experience. If that common experience is not recognized causing anger and fear, we will continue to think that survival and oppression applies only to one group and not the other. Otherwise, both groups will not only survive but thrive. This would need to start with not seeing the Palestinians conflation of policies against them by the Israeli government with antisemitism. Both Israelis and Palestinians should be encouraged to focus on a shared experience of survival and repression. They may discover that there is more than they share than they may realize. Once that change occurs, I believe that both the Israelis and Palestinians will thrive. Something similar needs to occur in our nation. It must start with voices in the middle who honor what black and white people who struggled have gone through. We have our own narrative of oppression and survival. Fear mongering on the fringe has caused this to happen later rather than sooner. It is a shared experience for many, but the third rail of slavery is something that the fringes don’t want to touch. It points to our human nature that has an exploitive component.

The metaphor of “genetic codes” is useful for genes point to the need for seeing survival and oppression as primary shapers of our appearance. It means having those two issues at the deepest part of our common humanity as an American from diverse heritages , Israeli, or Palestinian.

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