Jews for Palestine: In conversation with Naama Carlin
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Israeli-born writer and academic Naama Carlin explains how her relationship with Zionism and Palestine has changed.
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Jews for Palestine: In conversation with Naama Carlin

by Daniel Sleiman See Profile
Sydney NSW, Australia
17th Jun 2019
Jews for Palestine: In conversation with Naama Carlin

‘Are you Palestinian?’, Naama asks me as we settle down at a café table at the end of Newtown’s King Street. It’s Sunday afternoon and she tells me it’s too early for a beer. I order a pale ale and she opts for a coke zero. ‘No, I’m Lebanese’, I tell her while I set up for our interview. It’s the first time we are meeting after exchanging some messages and emails. We end up talking for about an hour about racism, Israeli society, Jewish identity and even at one-point digressing to male circumcision, the subject of her PhD thesis. Naama lived in Israel until the age of 20 before moving to Australia and agreed to share her views on Israel and the plight of the Palestinians. After our drinks arrive, we get straight into it.

Tell me about your relationship with Zionism and how your view on Palestine has changed.

I definitely grew up as a Zionist, I have a complex relationship with the word Zionism. My understanding has changed. But I can say that during my time growing up in Israel during the First Intifada, I was in Jerusalem and I remember the explosions, the fear. There was a very deep-seated sense that you have an enemy that is out to get you. And for a very long time, I couldn’t see the broader picture and had no understanding of what was happening to Palestinians in Palestine.

This is not to say that my parents educated me this way. Societies are geared towards certain truths and in Israel that truth is that you have an enemy out to get you. And you see that reflected in news media and everywhere. I wasn’t very understanding of Palestine. I was left leaning on everything but on Israel, I was on the right. I had this sense that no one really knew what it was like there, no one really knows what it's like to be really hated, all the Palestinians want to throw you in the sea. Of course, we say the same things about the Palestinians, let’s just throw them all in the sea. This is not uncommon and it’s deeply racist.

Did you serve in the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF)?

I joined the IDF, but not for an idealistic notion that I would go and defend the country, it was compulsory. Everyone had to do it. I regret it now. I was discharged after three months. They didn’t want me. Now I would be a conscientious objector. Back then I had no sense of what was happening in Palestine or what we were doing. It wasn’t until I was able to come to Australia and see the broader situation there, that I realised I was only being taught half a truth.

What about in the media, weren’t these truths written about? Papers like Haaretz have columnists who write about the occupation and the suffering of Palestinians.

I only started reading Haaretz recently, as I got older. Haaretz was like this lefty newspaper that no one read. The two main newspapers were Yedioth Ahronoth and Maariv. Now I am able to recognise more of the left movements, it’s becoming more prominent, you hear more stories of conscientious objectors who refuse to serve in the military. Growing up I don’t remember the criticism of Israel being so pronounced.

Do you think maybe because at that age you didn’t care that much?

If I did care it was because all of our friends were about to go to the army in a few years or you have older siblings in the army. So, you hear them coming home and you hear their stories and that gets you more galvanised towards nationalism.

“I think people can boycott Israel. BDS is a non-violent form of resistance to the occupation and I think it is valid.”

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minster, has been in power for some time now and has a staunch right-wing base, does this indicate the kind of prevalent mentality in Israel?

Unfortunately, Netanyahu didn’t have much of an opposition, even the opposition party are war criminals. It’s a bit scary. What’s encouraging right now is seeing that there are more vocal, left grassroots movements like Breaking The Silence or Combatants for Peace that pushes back against the occupation. Breaking the Silence is a group of former soldiers who served in occupied territories and realised how messed up it is and saw the violence of the military occupation. They take people to places like Hebron, one the biggest Palestinian cities, which is occupied and show them just how violent and aggressive the occupation is. The government has pretty much framed them as traitors and persona non grata in Israel.

Has your support for Palestine impacted upon you socially?

I have had friends cut me out of their lives, one of my best friends that I went to high school with and I had known the longest time of my life as a person just one day unfriended me. I made an ironic Facebook post and she took it quite literally. Another friend from high school also unfriended me.

How did that make you feel?

Yeah, it’s sad. I think there are two things, one is they say you don’t live here and you don’t know what it’s like but I lived there for a long time, and my family still lives there and I go back once a year. I see it. I see and read the news. But also, it’s kind of hypocritical, because if you don’t live there and are supportive of Israel, they are happy to take your support. You’re happy to take endorsements from people who don’t live there but not criticism from Jews who don’t.

Is it because the Israeli establishment is such a fragile one that any criticism of Israel exposes that fragility?

That’s a really interesting question. I think it ties in with Jewish identity when you’re in Israel Zionism and Judaism conflate. Netanyahu, the current Prime Minister, has made it a point to conflate both Zionism and Judaism. He’s joining with quite anti-Semitic governments in Poland and Brazil because they are pro-Israel. They are an ethno-nationalistic state. So, in their supremacy, or in their racism, they are supportive of the ethno-nationalist state.

What about the claim that anti-Semitism is being used to stifle criticism of Israel?

I am allergic to that. I think that claim is in itself anti-Semitic because you’re saying that anyone who is Jewish must, therefore, support Israel and support Israeli actions. It’s erasing difference and also saying that Judaism is Zionism and Judaism is being Israeli.

Did you interact with Palestinians in Israel?

That’s an interesting question, and it’s one that I was thinking about because we didn’t call them Palestinians. We called them Israeli Arabs. Palestinian to me was an ‘other’. Of course, now I realise yeah, I interacted with Palestinians. But we wouldn’t say the P word. The erasure of Palestinians as an identity happens constantly on a regular basis.

“For me to travel it’s so quick but for a Palestinian, they have to apply for permits and go through checkpoints.”

What is the extent of racism faced by Arabs in Israel and the occupied territories? I have heard that there are Jewish only roads.

That is the racism that Palestinians face who live within Palestine let’s say. But even in Israel, you have about 67 laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens in Israel. So even if you’re a citizen, and you’re meant to have equal rights, because you’re Palestinian you don’t. Adalah is a Palestinian legal organisation and it tracks all these laws.

There is a sense that the situation in Israel and Palestine is ‘complicated’. Some people say it isn’t complicated, but simply that there is an occupation that has been going on for decades and an occupied people. Do you think the conflict is rendered ‘complicated’ to confuse people?

Maybe, I think some parts of it, because it’s about identity, and because it’s about sovereignty and rights, those are always complicated things. But at the crux of it is that people deny the occupation, they say it’s not really an occupation. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to deny because as you said if you go to occupied territories there are roads for only Jews and Israeli settlers. The complicated part is bureaucracy, it’s a chess game, the Israeli army is like the queen it can go in any direction, so even area A, which is under Palestinian jurisdiction, the Israeli military can always go there, raid homes and do whatever they want. They’re the queen in this chess game. For me to travel it’s so quick but for a Palestinian, they have to apply for permits and go through checkpoints.

Why do you think it’s important for Jewish people to raise their voices on the Palestine issue?

Because this is all being done in our name because Israel is a state for Jews.

What do you think of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement? Is it effective to boycott Israel but not the United States where Israel gets its primary source of political, financial and military support?

I wrote an article for the ABC about why BDS is not anti-Semitic. It can be effective, but it has also provided some people with fuel to say that nowhere is safe for us and to draw links with Nazi Germany. I think people can boycott Israel. BDS is a non-violent form of resistance to the occupation and I think it is valid. Boycotting products from settlements is also valid. I do try not to buy things from settlements when I go to visit my mum. When we go shopping, we do look at where things are made and this is something that my parents have started doing to support my political position, which is really nice. But I think people could also support Palestinian businesses.

Do you ever get labeled a self-hating Jew because of your criticism of Israel?

Oh yeah. But I hate everyone equally. I hate myself. That’s my joke to people when people say I am self-hating. I’m like sure but I hate everyone so it doesn’t matter.

Find out more about Breaking The Silence and Adalah.

Breaking The Silence Adalah
Daniel Sleiman

About Daniel Sleiman

Daniel is a freelance writer and content producer who is passionate about giving a voice to the voiceless and those in our society who have been marginalised. He has a strong interest in social justice and loves to tell stories. For Daniel, stories can be powerful, hard-hitting, and a call for change.

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Power & Policy
Sydney NSW, Australia
17th June 2019

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