I am sometimes asked, “How can you do what you do when your name is Rothschild?” Or I get a facebook comment: “Never trust a Rothschild, they’re all Zionists…”
Some background: The Rothschild family was a powerful banking dynasty that started in the 1700s in Germany and became immensely wealthy, powerful, and politically influential in Europe. Some of the family were ardent Zionists, supported the Balfour Declaration, eastern European settlers in Palestine, bought thousands of acres of Ottoman land, and funded the infrastructure of the early state. You will find their names on street signs, buildings, and parks all over Israel. Hence the “never trust a….”
Well, sorry to disappoint, I come from the other side of the tracks. I hail from some tiny shtetl in Eastern Europe, my grandparents came to the Goldene Medina in steerage in the early 1900s, they lost the “s” at Ellis Island in the process of Americanization. My grandfather ran a tiny corner store in Williamsburg where he sold tobacco products; my other grandfather worked in a sweatshop. No money in anyone’s pockets. They lived in tenements a la the film Hester Street amongst the poorest immigrants and chaos of New York.
So my early Zionism and love of Israel did not come from my name, it came from growing up just post Nazi Holocaust in a family that bought the myth of the “light unto the nations,” kvelled at the early socialist leaning kibbutzim, and the uncritical idea that creating a place (that was essentially empty but for a few backward Bedouins) where Jews could finally be safe was a really good idea. Add seven years of Hebrew school, a Bat Mitzvah steeped in love of Israel, and a magical family trip when I was 14 and the deal was emotionally sealed.
But it gradually became clear to me that because I value the commitment in Judaism to justice and fighting for the oppressed, and because I was involved in other struggles against US military intervention and for women’s rights and health care reform, I began to question the pernicious roles of colonialism, imperialism, militarism, and racism. I began to understand that this “homeland” was far from empty, to see and grapple with the ongoing Palestinian Nakba; ultimately I could no longer support the policies of the State of Israel. Thus it is my responsibility to speak out against a state that claims to speak in my name, (however it is spelled), and because I am a citizen of the country that funds and politically supports much of that oppression.
So, even though I have an archetypal “Jewish name,” I do not have an archetypal Zionist Jewish brain. I make a major distinction between Judaism the religion and Zionism the political national movement and Israel the country. I now understand that the Zionism of Herzl and Ben Gurion and Jabotinsky and everyone who followed in their boots, is the fundamental problem; that there can be no justice and no safety when Jews are privileged and empowered over indigenous Palestinians who are equally deserving human beings. The victims have become the victimizers. I also do not act alone; I am part of a growing international community that is engaged in speaking out, supporting each other, and taking our cues from Palestinian civil society activists and the Israeli Jews who support them.