(A shorter version of this piece appeared on Cleveland.com and in the July 26th edition of The Plain Dealer.)

Rabbi Joseph Raksin was walking to temple in the Miami area three weeks ago when two strangers walked up and shot him down. All over the world in the last couple weeks, people have engaged in anti-Semitic attacks. Of course, unfortunately, that’s not particularly unusual. Jews have faced discrimination and unprovoked attacks throughout the last two thousand years. In countries the world over, scores of generations of Jews have lived and died with that fact of life always looming near. In fact, The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that there are hundreds of anti-Semitic attacks every year, right here in this country.
It’s been over twenty years now, since the program director of a local radio station called me into his office to tell me that as long as he was there, I would never be allowed on the air again. As a substitute talk show host I had to come up with controversial topics to get listeners to call the show. On that day I’d elected to ask the question, Should we consider withholding part of our foreign aid to Israel until they agree to negotiate with the Palestinian Liberation Organization?
I thought I had a unique perspective, having been denied my Jewish heritage as a result of the virulent anti-Semitism led by American hero Henry Ford earlier in the century. My mother and her siblings spent their formative years living with their ailing Jewish immigrant mother and their Italian immigrant father in Detroit during the time that Mr. Ford funded The Dearborn Independent, a scurrilous weekly rag that spewed anti-Jewish rhetoric. The fear and shame generated in my family by the anti-Semitism was so poweful, that when their mother died at an early age, my mother and her siblings buried our Jewish heritage along with my grandmother. Thirty plus years later, when, as a child, I asked my mother what nationality we were, she replied, “I’ll tell you what my mother told me. You tell them you’re American.”
I didn’t learn of my Jewish heritage until, as an adult, I did genealogical research. Even then, the fear and self-hatred was so deeply imbedded that my mother’s youngest brother refused to accept that he had been born Jewish. Given this history, I believed I could manage a thoughtful discussion about Israel’s safety, anti-Semitism, and fairness for the Palestinians. I guess my boss didn’t think so. It was just a year or so later that the Israelis did finally agree to negotiate with the Palestinians’ chosen representatives.
Now here we are over two decades later and still Israel occupies Palestinian lands. A strong right wing movement has grown up in Israel that believes all of Palestine should belong to an exclusively Jewish state. Tens of thousands of Israelis have moved into the territory and established “settlements,” using all kinds of legal bureaucratic mechanisms to claim land and water. Successive Israeli governments have supported the settler (colonizing) movement, while officially paying lip service to a two state solution, which the movement opposes.
There was a time, during about the first thirty-five years of Israel’s existence, when Israelis genuinely had to worry about invasion from multiple Arab armies, and the total extinction of the nation. In fact, along with many other Americans, before the Six Days War, I was willing to go help Israel defend itself. Now, objective observers agree, there is no current government in the Arab or Muslim world that would seriously consider invading Israel. Why? At least partially because the heavily militarized Israel would easily destroy their armies, their economies, and their cities. Would Egypt invade? Saudi Arabia? Syria? Iraq? Iran? Don’t bet on it. It is the military-industrial complex of Israel and right wing politicians, along with American politicians of all stripes, which keeps this paranoia of invasion as the op-erating principle behind most Israeli policy. This aura of fear shapes the worldview of the majority of the Israeli public, and makes it possible to justify the actions of their government.
So, once more as some shortsighted Palestinian militants use violence to justifiably fight for their independence and statehood, Israel uses its overwhelming firepow-er to not only attack the militants, but to kill hundreds of innocent civilians. At this writing, the Israeli army has shelled hospitals, schools, countless neighborhoods, and the main power station supplying electricity and clean water to most Gaza residents. Approximately two thousand non-combatant, innocent men, women, and children have been murdered by the bombs and guns of our closest ally. This asymmetrical battle is a repeat of a battle from a few years ago when the Israeli military killed over one thousand innocent civilians. Fewer than one in five of the casualties in that fight were armed fighters. It looks like Israeli guns have produced an even worse result this time around. There have been about nineteen innocent lives snuffed out for every confirmed armed fighter killed. Under no standards of war is this anywhere near an acceptable rate of civilian casualties.
So, what is the context for all this mayhem? To understand the dynamics at work here, we must acknowledge history. The Jewish people have been a targeted group in Euro-based cultures in nations around the world in century after century. There are still many people alive who witnessed or experienced the holocaust, a systematic effort to exterminate the whole people. This took place while many people around the world stood by, not lifting a hand to stop the slaughter, some even blaming the Jews for the genocide.
Immediately after Israel was established as a Jewish state, against the will of the majority of the population of Palestine, a half dozen Arab nations attacked Israel, with the goal of wiping it out. Less than three years after the holocaust ended, this reinforced the Jewish nation’s perception that they were in an eternal fight for the very existence of their people. Although Israel was the aggressor in the 1956 war, The Six Days War in 1967, when again a half dozen Arab countries initiated hostilities with the declaration to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, reinforced the deep fear of extermination, and the rationale for all kinds of outrageous Israeli government actions against the Palestinian people. It is a painful fact that a sickening anti-Semitism is still rampant throughout the world as I write this. There regularly seems to be an anti-Jewish slur ready, just below the surface of almost any conversation. So, it is understandable that a half century after the last serious military threat, the majority of the Israeli public and a like majority of Jews around the world live in a distorted state of fear, not reflected in current reality. To support that perception, selective history is presented, out of context reports, and outrageous claims are put forward by the Israeli war machine. All the while, the Palestinian people live the simple, harsh reality that they are an occupied people, seemingly paying the price for the unremitting anti-Semitism that feeds Israeli paranoia.
Israel has been in violation of international law for over half a century, since the occupation began. International human rights organizations have time and again found their occupation forces guilty of torturing imprisoned (often illegally) Pales-tinians. Rather than leading the UN Security Council in condemning Israel’s behaviors, our government provides justification for the invasion and inevitable results.
Isn’t it about time we change the rules of our relationship with our dear friends? Can we continue to accept them doing things that we would not accept from any other nation? It’s one thing to accept a democratic Israel defending its citizens within the approximate 1967 borders, and to commit our lives and our fortune protecting our trusted ally’s right to exist, free from the aggression of any other nation. It’s another, to continue to support Israel as an occupying military power that withholds the same freedoms its people cherish, from Palestinian families. And it’s still another to accept the needless slaughter of those families, as Israel’s military commits war crimes, and then blames the people they are trying to kill for somehow causing the Israeli war crimes.
The question remains, will The United States government begin to challenge our friends when they are wrong, and stand for freedom and democracy for all, everywhere, or only where it’s convenient? The occupation must end now. And we must continue to fight anti-Semitism wherever we find it. The hearts of free people everywhere demand both.

River Smith is a social justice educator/activist, psychologist, author, and co-producer of the public access cable TV shows Liberation Brew and The Love and Justice Report.