10 DEI lessons we seem to have forgotten and need to remind ourselves of as we talk about Israel and Palestine

[Three young children amidst rubble from a building. In the foreground is a child standing near a red blanket, one finger in their mouth, starting pensively to our right. Behind them are two smaller children resting in the shade. Image by badwanart0 on pixabay]

Hi everyone. Over the past few weeks I’ve been getting messages regarding my two posts on Israel and Gaza. Most of them have been kind and encouraging. Some have been thoughtful in their disagreement. And some have not been so thoughtful, such as the colleague who called me a Nazi because I support a ceasefire and an end to the genocide and ethnic cleansing that Israel is committing against Palestinians in Gaza.

I have lost many followers and some work because of my stance, but it doesn’t matter. What I and others calling for a ceasefire have been experiencing cannot compare to the profound pain and suffering Palestinians are experiencing right now and have been over 75 years of Israeli occupation.

I also want to acknowledge that many of us are affected by trauma, including intergenerational traumas from horrific injustices in history. What our parents and grandparents endured lingers in our souls. Everyone is understandably on edge, and the horrific atrocities committed by Hamas against Israeli civilians on October 7th and the horrific atrocities being committed by Israel against Palestinians in retaliation deeply affect us.

Still, I am saddened and frustrated that after so many years of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, Belonging, and Justice (DEI, or JEDI, or whatever) trainings, after so many workshops and summits and white papers and online discussions, many of us have forgotten the key lessons we learned and desperately need to apply to what is happening now. I’d like to go through them, mainly as a reminder to myself, and also in hopes that they may be helpful to you as you navigate the current injustice:

1.We must have an analysis of the power dynamics: We learned that racism requires a combination of prejudice plus systemic power. This is why most of us can see why concepts like “reverse racism, racism against white people” are ridiculous, because Black, Indigenous, Latine, and AANHPI people do not have systemic power that white people do in the US. In the case of Israel and Palestine, these are not two equal forces moving against each other. Israel is vastly more powerful (the fourth most powerful military on earth) and backed and financed by some of the most powerful forces (especially the US) while Palestine has weakened infrastructure, no military, and significantly less support. To treat this as a battle between equals misses the vital analysis that is necessary for us to fully understand the context.

2.We must use the active voice when calling out injustice: This is a lesson we all should have learned because of the works of leaders like k. kennedy Whiters of (un)Redact The Facts. Instead of saying “a Black man dies in traffic stop incident with police,” we must say, “police officer kills a Black man during routine traffic stop.” This active voice helps with accountability. What is happening now is not “over 11,000 people, including over 4,000 children, have died in in Gaza.” Let’s be clear: “Israel, backed by the US and other western powers, has killed over 11,000 Palestinians, including over 4,000 children, in Gaza.”

3.We must not “both-sides” inequity and injustice: People saying there are multiple sides, and that when we speak up for Palestinians’ rights, we are only presenting one “side.” There are no “sides” to genocide. The horrific atrocities Hamas committed against Israeli civilians do not justify the genocide that Israel is committing against Palestinians now nor the occupation and oppression it has committed over decades.

4.We must use precise terms and concepts and not euphemisms: I know some of you do not agree with the usage of the word “genocide.” But that is precisely what is happening, according to human rights experts and according to many Jewish leaders, including many survivors of the Holocaust. To refuse to name it is to deny that it is happening. It is not simply a “conflict.” It is genocide, it is ethnic cleansing, and if we aim to stop it, we must not be in denial about that. As a reminder, for a long time, and even occasionally now, many people in our sector could not say words like “white supremacy” or “anti-Blackness” or even “race.” But we cannot address systemic injustice when we refuse to name things as they are.

5.We must call for justice, not simply a “negative peace”: In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. King mentioned the white moderate “who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” I’ve been seeing colleagues calling for peace, which is a first step. But that is a negative peace unless it is followed up with a call for the liberation of and justice for Palestinians. Otherwise, we will have a return to status quo, one in which Palestinians have endured over seven decades of oppression under Israeli rule.

6.We must not water down terms and concepts: Calling for a ceasefire, criticizing the Israeli state, sharing news articles about the hospitals that Israel has bombed or the patients Israeli forces have murdered, and using the term “genocide” have been called antisemitic. The accusations of antisemitism are bewildering when so many Jewish people are speaking out against Israel’s actions and are being beaten and arrested for it. When there has been a significant rise in antisemitism globally, those who call everything they disagree with antisemitic weaken the term, which does not help in the fight against antisemitism.

7.We don’t pit one form of violence and oppression against another: When we talk about missing and murdered Indigenous women, we focus on that issue because it deserves our full attention. When we talk about rising anti-Asian hate crimes, we focus on that issue because it deserves our full attention. None of us should go into a discussion on missing and murdered Indigenous women and say, “Well what about the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes?!” Let’s carry this lesson over. There has been a rise in antisemitism. We can call it out without trying to divert attention when people are trying to stop a genocide.

8.We must not impose conditions when calling for justice: A lesson we should have learned is that it doesn’t matter if a person is drunk or argumentative or is a formerly incarcerated individual, the police is not justified in killing them. Or what a woman wears does not justify sexual assault. The arguments some people are giving when arguing against a ceasefire often include things like “LGBTQIA people don’t have rights in Gaza” or other criticisms of Palestine. None of these things, whether they are true or not, justify Israel’s murder of civilians, including thousands of children.

9.We do not condemn entire communities based on the actions of individuals or groups of individuals: We learned that white people are treated as individuals, whereas people of color must bear the burden of always reflecting their entire community. So it is disturbing to see people not understanding that Palestinians are not Hamas. To assume that all Palestinians support Hamas by default unless they explicitly condemn Hamas’s actions, and to condone Israel’s collective punishment of Palestinian civilians for the war crimes committed by Hamas, is racist.

10.We must center justice over civility: Over the past few weeks, as I follow discussions and as I field angry messages sent my way, it seems some people are more upset at the word “genocide” being used than they are at the actual genocide that Israel is committing. Some are concerned about my tone. This mirrors previous instances where people more value “civility” and “decorum” than they do addressing injustice. We need to worry more about the massacre of civilians than about the word choices and tone people are using to call it out.

There are more lessons, but I’ll stop here for now. Please, I am begging many of you: Before you write angry messages and comments, take a moment to reflect on all the lessons we’ve been trying to learn together over the past several years, across multiple forms of injustice. I do not care if I get angry messages; I’m used to it. But I do care that you are using up your energy in all the wrong ways—on civility, on both-siding, on justifying injustice—when we need your energy to call elected officials and take other actions to stop a genocide that’s happening on our watch.