Last month, I was speaking with an educator of Jewish teens in Metro Detroit. He described to me the confusion and pain his teens were experiencing during the recent war in Israel/Palestine. As they watched social media force a wedge between #FreePalestine and #FightAntiSemitism, they struggled to understand the facts on the ground, to process their grief, to respond to pressures to speak up on either side.
This felt all too familiar.
As a Jewish teen in suburban Detroit, I was taught that criticism of the State of Israel was a risk to the security of Jews everywhere. When I gained exposure to the realities of Palestinians living under daily threat of violence and displacement in the Occupied Territories, I felt hurt and torn apart. How could my growing distaste and grief at Israel’s actions exist alongside my deep-seated fear for the safety of Jews in Israel and at home?
Earlier this year, in an all-too prescient community conversation about antisemitism and Israel/Palestine, Congressman Andy Levin offered a clear answer:
...Unless Palestinian human rights are respected, we cannot fight antisemitism.
In other words, our safety and security are bound together — one cannot exist without the other.
Whether channeling his own experiences of antisemitism, his times visiting Israel/Palestine, or his human rights advocacy over the past 30 years, for Andy, this isn’t just a vague idealistic vision. It’s a roadmap to lasting peace.
In the past two months, we have borne witness to the ways in which Jewish and Palestinian safety are tied together, at home and abroad. While some leaders are working to pit us against each other, Andy’s voice has helped me understand just how crucial our connection is.
“‘Meaningful progress’ to ensure this coexistence [in Israel/Palestine] will not happen on its own. We must choose to pursue it.” — May 14, 2021
The increasingly aggressive actions of the Israeli government and military against Palestinian people — while made in the name of protecting Jews — do not make Jews safer, in Israel or abroad. When calling on President Biden to broker a ceasefire, Andy reminded us that if we do not address the daily harm Palestinians experience under Israeli occupation, “then we have chosen the status quo, and while the horrors unfolding before our eyes may cease, it will only be a matter of time until they erupt again.”
“Legitimate criticism of Israel, backed up by respected human rights orgs, is not antisemitic—that’s how we build a just and peaceful world.” — June 16, 2021
The lasting peace we all want can only be achieved by building multiracial and interfaith coalitions. When we try to fight antisemitism in a vacuum, we ignore the ways in which false claims of antisemitism are often weaponized to discredit and attack Muslims and women of color in Congress. That’s why I’m so inspired by Andy’s consistent defense of Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar when they fairly critique Israel’s actions. Our fights against antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of oppression are interconnected — and we can’t do it alone.
“Attacking Jews as a way to express criticism of Israel is antisemitic, period.” — June 2, 2021
When Andy offers much needed clarity in Congress on what antisemitism is and what it is not, I feel safer. As Jews, we understand that antisemitism will always resurface when the actions of Jewish people are on display. We know that society is conditioned to blame and ostracize Jewish people when things get tough. Andy has fought antisemitism time and time again, but his example is clear: there is a crucial difference between Palestinian rights movements criticizing Israel as a nation-state, and bigoted individuals using this moment as a reason to attack Jewish people. When we recognize this distinction, we make Jews safer.
Growing up in the Reform movement, I learned that tikkun olam, interfaith partnerships and investing in future generations were ways to express my Judaism. So when I find a leader whose Jewish roots motivate him to speak thoughtfully and clearly — not only on Israel/Palestine and antisemitism, but also on climate change, labor rights and human rights worldwide — I’m going to hustle with everything I have to keep him representing us.
Thanks to the hard work of Michigan voters overturning gerrymandering, we’re heading into our first election with independently drawn districts this fall. We don’t yet know how these districts will be drawn, but nearly every possible scenario places Congressman Levin in a highly competitive election. Ultimately, Andy wants to change campaign finance laws so money doesn't play such an outsized role in politics, but in the meantime, I’m volunteering to get Jews involved early in Andy’s race to help build a campaign infrastructure that can withstand the opposition.
As a Jewish progressive who rejects the false choice that my safety must come at another’s expense — and who believes in the inherently Jewish work of acting to manifest a future in which everyone is safe — I see my values reflected in Congressman Andy Levin’s leadership. In this moment more than ever, his voice is too important to lose.
This piece was originally written for the Washtenaw Jewish News.