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Op−Ed | In response to ‘settler colonialism’

Published: Thursday, December 6, 2012

Updated: Thursday, December 6, 2012 08:12

While perusing the Tufts Daily in the run−up to Thanksgiving break, I stumbled upon an op−ed that I found troubling, entitled “Mashed potatoes, hummus and settler colonialism.” This piece offended me both as an American, and as a Jew, as not only did the author call into question the morality of Thanksgiving, but he then proceeded to reject the right of Jewish self−determination. Unwelcomed in the United States, and accused of crimes against humanity in Israel, I felt marginalized. I felt vulnerable. I felt more like the “wandering Jew” than I ever have before.

Allow me to elaborate. Growing up, there were two holidays in my parents’ house that warranted the greatest celebration. Twice a year, friends and relatives from hundreds of miles away gathered and reveled in each other’s company. These two holidays were Thanksgiving and Passover, and to me, they were the most important days of the year. They both celebrate the values of freedom, community and, above all, gratitude and appreciation for the good in our lives. In my home, we sit around the Thanksgiving table and extend thanks to all those who have enriched our lives. At Passover we sit around the same table and sing “Dayenu,” a Jewish anthem for giving thanks for all the miracles God bestowed upon us when liberating us from Egypt and delivering us to the land of Israel.

Matt Parsons, the author of the op−ed “Mashed potatoes, hummus and settler colonialism” published Nov. 19, dismisses the positive values espoused at Thanksgiving celebrations across the nation as promulgations of “settler colonialism,” implying that all individuals reveling in Thanksgiving Day festivities are perpetuating the crimes of their colonial ancestors. The author goes on to warn of a pernicious plot by Israel and her supporters to commit the identical crime today, in the heart of the Middle East. His evidence? Tufts Friends of Israel’s (FOI) “A Taste of Israel” event.

FOI’s event was exactly as it sounds — a tour of Israel’s ethnic and cultural diversity, experienced through the various foods found within the small Middle Eastern state. It was in no way exclusionary. FOI did not claim that the delectable foods offered at the event were the sole property of Israelis, nor that they do not exist in neighboring lands. In fact, the fliers advertising the event and signs placed next to each dish at the event explicitly stated the countries and cultures of origin, listing dishes such as “Moroccan salad,” “Yemenite jachnun” and “Bedouin baklava.”

In his piece, Parsons does not once mention Israeli settlements in the West Bank, or other incursions across the Green Line — impediments to peace that need to be addressed and overcome. Instead he implies that “settler colonialism” extends to the entirety of the State of Israel and to the dream of Jewish self−determination itself. To transform an event intended to promote understanding and cultural awareness into a vehicle for rejecting the legitimacy of a state that millions call home is a cruel perversion of the very liberal values that Thanksgiving and Passover embody.

I find it curious that Parsons bequeaths North America to the Native Americans, yet makes no mention of any historical Jewish connection to the land of Israel. For two thousand years, Jews the world over would end their Seders with the refrain “next year in Jerusalem.” At my Seder you will hear the same. This is not the call of settler colonialists. The British do not end their meals with cries of “next year in New Delhi.” This is the call of an ancient people desiring nothing more than the right to gather and give thanks in peace in their ancestral homeland. Does the fact that Roman “settler colonialists” exiled us two thousand years ago alter the moral paradigm within which we operate? Is there a period of exile after which a people lose their right to their historic home?

While I do not agree with every policy of the state of Israel, much as I disagree with many of the policies of the United States, I do not deny either country’s right to exist. A label of “settler colonialism” is tantamount to a stamp of illegitimacy. The views expressed in Parsons’ op−ed fly in the face of a century of international recognition of the Jewish ancestral connection to the land of Israel. Israelis don’t need hummus or pita to feel like Israel is their home. The vast majority were born there, hold no other citizenships and have no ties to other lands. They are the living, breathing realization of a two−thousand−year−old dream. They carry that heritage with them every day of their lives. I shudder to think compassionate, well−meaning individuals wish to deny either Israelis or Palestinians the right to self−determination in the form of two states for two peoples, living side by side in peace and security.

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Jonathan Levinson is a senior majoring in international relations. He can be reached at Jonathan.Levinson@tufts.edu

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