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Being Jewish Is Not the Same As Being Zionist!
Artist: Lisa Kokin (U.S.)
Dimensions: 17” x 17”
Publisher: Jewish Alliance Against Zionism (San Francisco, California)

Depicted here is one of the earliest Palestine solidarity posters ever created by an American artist. The printed graphic is derived from an original batik of the same size and composition. The caption reads:

Being Jewish is not the same as being Zionist! Our own history of persecution as Jews helps us to understand and support the struggle of the Palestinians to determine their own destiny.


Two women — so similar in appearance that they could be sisters — are holding each other’s hand and looking eye to eye. One woman wears a bandolier of bullets and carries a rifle, symbolizing the armed struggle in which the Palestinians are engaged. The other woman is unarmed, symbolizing the search for dialogue sought by Jewish women in the U.S. and elsewhere.

The poster’s text message is remarkable for its audacity and simplicity. In just thirty-two words, it exhorts Jewish Americans to think honestly and compassionately about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It argues that:

1) Judaism and Zionism are different things: one is a religion and the other is an ideology. The blurring of these identities -— along with the conflation of the terms anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism -— remains a prime stumbling block to a wider public discourse on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. (For an extended essay on this dilemma, see Antonym/Synonym.)

2) The Palestinian struggle is about self-determination, not about antagonism toward Jewish people.

3) The struggles of the Jewish people throughout history should make them empathetic to the Palestinians.

The bottom-line argument made by this poster is that the fulfillment of the Zionist sense of Jewish destiny cannot come at the price of legitimate Palestinian efforts to achieve self-determination.

This is a uniquely American graphic and text. It does not mention Israel. It does not trap the viewer in a bewilderingly esoteric analysis of contemporary Middle East history. Instead, it encourages a direct, person-to-person communication among Jewish Americans about their religious identity and between Jewish Americans and Palestinians about their commonalities. It is the first and, in all probability remains, the only poster that speaks to American Jewish communities about the way they speak to and about Palestinians.

Kokin created this poster in 1978, nearly a decade prior to the first intifadah (Arabic: uprising) of December 1987. It demonstrates that the concept of mutual recognition and understanding is not new.

Being Jewish would not be of particular note in Israel, yet it is seminal in the American context, because it lifts the curtain on a discussion that has been the near-exclusive province of the Jewish community. It amplifies the debate within Judaism over the questions of Jewish identity and the relationship between Zionism and Judaism. By the fact that this poster is displayed in public, it opens that dialogue to the public. It takes a special interest discourse and renders it authentically democratic.

Nonetheless, more than twenty years after this poster was published, the rich and vocal debate about Zionism that has long been a fixture of liberal and progressive American Jewish life remains consistently absent from the processes that create and execute official U.S. policy towards the state of Israel and the Palestinians. There are many strands of Zionism, but the only kind that the mainstream public — including Congress — seems to hear of is the militant, hard-line, confrontational Zionism represented by Israel’s governments.

Being Jewish openly draws from the well of Jewish humanistic thought that considers dissent a moral obligation. Kokin has taken the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam (Hebrew: repairing or perfecting the state of human affairs via the promotion of social justice) and focused its beam on her own community.

By so doing, she illuminates a path to peace in the larger world.

© 2003 Liberation Graphics. All Rights Reserved.

Questions for A New
Democratic Discussion

1) What opportunities are there today for person-to-person dialogue between Palestinian and Jewish American women?

2) What mechanisms might extend the rich, thoughtful, and critical discourse about Zionism and anti-Semitism that occurs within the Jewish community, outward to the general population?

3) Being Jewish is an important poster in the U.S. owing to the fact that it raises long-proscribed cultural and political issues around Zionism and Judaism. Had this poster been published in Israel, where these issues are more openly debated, it would not have been so radical. What does this say about the difference between the political cultures of Israel and the U.S.? Are those differences narrowing or widening?

4) Are the efforts to combat domestic American anti-Semitism, carried out by such organizations as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), enhanced or impaired by this poster?


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