Saturday, September 6, 2014

Zionists Are Grasping At Straws These Days

So I spent last evening and this morning asking people on the street for the First Friday Art Walk and at the Farmer's Market to sign a petition calling on Maine's congressional delegation to hold Israel accountable for its bombing of civilians in Gaza, and to halt military aid until the blockade of Gaza and the occupation of Palestine come to an end. (Note that 1,000 acres of land owned by Palestinians in the West Bank were annexed by Israel just last week.)

It has been extremely illuminating to open a public space for conversations with all kinds of people.

For one thing, it is only slightly possible to predict who will sign the petition based on their appearance.

Wealthy older white couples appear to be hermetically sealed into a bubble that prevents them from even considering the option.

Hipsters don't usually consider it either, or even acknowledge that you asked them, "Do you want to sign our petition?"A 20-something family member once said disparagingly of Portland hipsters: "They think they are cool because they are vaguely artsy, but they don't believe in anything."

Portland's many immigrants appear to mostly consider our poster, but mostly do not sign the petition. Exceptions were a man from Congo who said he had lived with "war all my life" and a woman from Iran who worries about being targeted for being, well, Iranian.

Baby boomers wearing -- ok, I'll admit it -- "artsy" type clothing are the most likely to sign. They are also likely to have background knowledge. They are among several groups including young parents and art student types who appear to have a pent up desire to do something about their tax support of Israel's aggression.

Everyone else is about 50% likely to say, "I don't know enough about it to sign a petition." A good percentage of these people are interested in taking literature with more information. We had many good conversations with people who took a few minutes to share their views, their dilemmas and their questions.

Older white males and females are the most likely to repeat corporate media sound bites about Hamas, tunnels, rockets and that the conflict is a war where the two sides are evenly matched.

One interesting response from a woman of about 60 was, "Don't even ask me!" I said thank you, which I say to everyone who responds to me whether they sign or not. Her reply: "Well, you're taking that chance when you come out here!" As she walked away she turned and added, "They want to kill everyone."

As an English teacher I reflected on how using an indefinite pronoun (they) without a clear reference led to a murky message. As she was standing next to a poster that said HOLD ISRAEL ACCOUNTABLE at the time, passersby might have been excused for thinking she was referring to Israel. Also a bit confusing was "that chance" -- that someone might disagree with me in public? It kind of seemed as if she was actually talking to herself

A middle aged man who told us his grandfather had been in the Warsaw ghetto said he thought Israel was violating many, many scriptures and began crying. This made my Codepink associate Pat tear up also. He was immaculately dressed in all white and a Panama hat.

A young Jewish mother with two small children in a stroller stopped and expressed relief at being able to sign something. We invited her to a talk that night by Dr. Alice Rothchild and she looked wistful. Just about then the littlest child got bonked by the sun shade of the double stroller and started crying so she moved on.

And then there were the Zionists. There are fewer and fewer of them. I'd say of people who spoke up enough to be identified as such, they were less than 5% of total people we interacted with.

They were by far the most aggressive in terms of hostile language, body posture and challenging our right to disseminate information. Here is a sampling of their responses:

"How dare you ask me that? See this beak?" demanded an older man pointing to his large, prominent nose.

Many people told us we should be ashamed of ourselves.

"Hamas is firing rockets. Where's your petition to stop that?" If they were still listening and not just walking away after straightening us out I would point out that the U.S. isn't sending $3.1 billion a year to buy those rockets. (In light of the U.S. -- along with Israel -- helping to create and fund ISIS, though, do I really know that?)

"What if you lived in Rhode Island and people from Maine started shooting rockets into your yard? What would you do?" Pat pointed out that this was not a useful analogy since she does not live in an open air prison. "What if I cut your head off?" he escalated. At this point I said that his language was getting too violent and asked him to leave us alone. As he walked away he asked, "Do you even have a permit to be here?"

Me: "Yes, the Bill of Rights, first amendment." A teenager who was selling wooden craft products on the art walk and listening to every word of this exchange got a kick out of that.

Education work is interesting to me. When people are shifting their paradigm it's emotionally stressful for them. They have been exposed to hundreds of hours of misinformation based on the false dichotomy of either you support everything Israel does or else you're supporting "terrorists."

Sometimes you can see their cognitive dissonance as a facial expression or body posture. Sometimes it comes out in words that seem to reject new information.

What I could have been doing today was working on promised drafts of educational materials on BDS targeting SodaStream for the upcoming gigantic annual event, the Common Ground Fair. There I'll be helping to table in a venue that reaches tens of thousands of mostly liberal, poorly informed citizens.

But background education about the map of Israel and what's left of Palestine is really an important foundation to understand BDS, its necessity and its immense potential.

I love doing this work. I don't mind if Zionist believers get mad at me. I am challenging their world view, and they are grasping at straws to hold onto it these days.

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