For about 10 young protesters outside the convention halls of the Jewish Federations of North America’s 2018 General Assembly in Tel Aviv this week, the conference, which hosted leaders of the Diaspora and Israeli Jewish communities, was sorely incomplete.
Though the symposium’s theme — “Let’s Talk” — was aimed at confronting the widening chasm between Israeli and Diaspora Jews, the subject that the protesters believed was most responsible for this trend was nowhere to be heard: the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank.
As conference participants came and left over three days, the activists from All That’s Left held up signs such as, “Federation dollars are funding activist blacklists.” It was recently revealed that at least two Jewish Federations in America donated money to Canary Mission — a secretive right-wing website that maintains a list of alleged anti-Israel activists. This list was subsequently used by Israeli authorities at the border.
Playing on the conference theme, activists asked the conference attendees if they “want to talk about the occupation,” and handed out informational pamphlets offering “a very brief introduction to the occupation” which were put together by T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights for the conference before their sponsorship — and the right to include their own material in the conference goodie bag — was denied.
Founded in 2013, All That’s Left is not an organization, but a loose collective of Diaspora-born activists living in Israel. There are no official leaders or top-down hierarchy, with no unifying ideology besides a one-sentence mission statement declaring their commitment to employ a “Diaspora angle of resistance” to the Israeli military occupation.
In practice, All That’s Left serves as a hub for transitory Jews of the Diaspora living in Israel to pool their anti-occupation activism. With people frequently coming in and out of the country, most activists within All That’s Left stay no more than a year or two in Israel at a time. At this week’s protest, several All That’s Left activists wore shirts from their home countries emblazoned with the logos of IfNotNow and Na’amod, a British anti-occupation organization.
“They just mobilize so quickly, and they’re really inclusive and helpful in getting people who just got to Israel involved in social justice work and activism here,” said Olivia Morris, a Los Angeles-born and raised Jew that recently arrived in Israel and began working with All That’s Left.
With an estimated 100 active members at any time — and a few hundred others popping in and out of the region — All That’s Left greatly overlaps in membership with the several other organizations such as the five-month social justice program Achvat Amim, that comprise the relatively tiny but vocal leftist Jews of the Diaspora doing activist work in Israel.
Like her activist counterparts in the Diaspora, All That’s Left member Rebecca Lederkramer cited the values of her Jewish-American education such as “tzedek tzedek tirdof” — “justice, justice, you shall pursue” — as driving her activist efforts in Israel.
“There seems to be a reality gap between how I was raised Jewishly and the way Israel was painted to me in America as this place that fights for justice,” said Lederkramer. “That’s an oversimplification where it’s not 100 percent not true, but it’s also definitely not 100% true.”
Feeling displaced both by Israeli policies and Jewish-American institutions’ support for them, Morris wondered about raising her own children in the spaces she was brought up in.
“I see myself potentially raising a family in the States and them being a part of Jewish communities and institutions there, which automatically links them to Jewish Federations, whether or not I give them money,” said Morris, who was among those wearing an IfNotNow shirt at this week’s protest. “So I think it’s important that if you want me and liberal Jews in America to invest in our Jewish institutions, you need to include this information about the occupation.”
There was minimal friction between the protesters and conference attendees, though there were some minor incidents. At one point, when an All That’s Left activist asked one older participant if he wanted to talk about the occupation, the participant shouted, “It’s all a load of fake news!” and walked away.
Security allowed the activists to remain outside the convention, only moving them further away from the entrance and asking them questions a couple times. In the past, some All That’s Left members have been detained at the border for their activism, most notably Julie Weinberg-Connors, who was detained last month. During the protests at the conference, Israeli security took pictures and recorded video of the All That’s Left members.
Several times, the activists played games of Jewish geography with conference participants from North America, and old friends from Jewish day school or summer camp ran into each other. But for the most part, conference participants kept a distance from the activists.
Some conference participants from across the Jewish political spectrum did engage with the protesters, a few agreeing that “soul searching” must be done while others pushed back against the protesters’ narrative that Israel was primarily to blame.
However, the young protesters’ tactics drew criticism from even some of the conference’s more sympathetic participants.
Rabbi Shaul Judelman, a leader of Roots, an organization that follows the teachings of the late peace activist Rabbi Menachem Froman and brings together Palestinians and Israelis based on a mutual recognition of each other’s connection to the land, felt that the conference failed to sufficiently include discussions about why the conflict is causing North American Jews to increasingly feel distant from Israel.
However, at the same time, “When you stand outside with the banner, ‘We need to talk about the occupation,’ it doesn’t leave a lot of room for your target to move,” said Judelman.
“It’s accusatory, and the phrasing of ‘occupation’ comes off as blaming one side… if your goal is to open a conversation, then that’s a very bad tactic,” he said.
Judelman believed that the majority of the conference participants agreed there were issues regarding Palestinian treatment, “but throwing out the word ‘occupation’ is generally a shut-down for those conversations and feeds into the polemical nature of our Pro-Israel/Pro-Palestine discourse,” he said. “They fell into the same mistake as the conference — instead of ‘Let’s Talk,’ it should be, ‘Let’s Listen.’”
Nevertheless, as is the case with similar far-left Diaspora organizations such as IfNotNow, All That’s Left is gaining notoriety in progressive Jewish circles, said Professor Oren Kroll-Zeldin, Assistant Director of the Swig Program in Jewish Studies and Social Justice at the University of San Francisco.
Kroll-Zeldin called the timing of All That’s Left’s action at the JFNA General Assembly “critical” in the wake of a report released by IfNotNow called “Beyond Talk.”
“By showing up at the GA, these activists are calling into question why the Federations are keeping the occupation off the agenda,” said Kroll-Zeldin. “Why not talk about the occupation? What do the Federations have to hide?”