In Ohio, pro-Palestinian Jews take lead in organizing anti-Israel conference

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columbus (jta) | Pro-Palestinian activists from around the country will flock to Ohio State University this weekend for the Third National Conference on the Palestine Solidarity Movement.

And the man who helped bring them here is a Jew. In fact, Joseph Levine, faculty adviser to the Committee for Justice in Palestine, the local group hosting the event, says he grew up steeped in Judaism as a yeshiva student in Los Angeles. Levine nearly immigrated to Israel in the early 1970s.

But after reading more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Levine says he came to feel that the Israel he had learned about as a child was “mythology.”

Today he is an atheist and a professor of philosophy at Ohio State.

“We have a hard time seeing ourselves as the white men” oppressing supposedly indigenous Arabs, Levine says.

Levine shares that feeling with other Jews mobilizing on behalf of the Palestinians. Ora Wise, 22, head of the New York-based Jews Against the Occupation, worked with Levine to create the Committee for Justice when she was an Ohio State student.

The daughter of a Cleveland rabbi and a Jewish educator, Wise says her community and, at times, her family, accused her of being a “traitor or self-hating or brainwashed” when she “started extending my concept of social justice to include Palestinians and to hold our state accountable for its actions.”

According to Wayne Firestone, director of the Israel on Campus Coalition, an umbrella group for 26 Jewish organizations, there’s a clear difference between Levine and people who criticize Israeli policy but still support the Jewish state.

“Anyone who is a critic whose intention is to legitimately strengthen an Israel living in secure and recognized boundaries is a legitimate critic,” Firestone says. “The problem with the position taken by a lot of these organizations is that they only seek to condemn Israel.”