CHICAGO—Despite a major storm that delivered six inches of snow and sub-freezing temperatures, several hundred people attended a two-day “Emergency Summit for Gaza” at Rainbow PUSH headquarters Jan. 12-13.
The diverse and cross-generational audience heard from activists, scholars, and clergy who denounced the bombings of Gaza by Israeli forces and the resulting humanitarian crisis. The gathering occurred as the 100th day approached of the assault on Gaza in retaliation for an Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants that killed more than 1,200 Israeli citizens and took 240 hostages.
Despite the initial outpouring of empathy and support to bring those who committed the atrocity to justice, the subsequent killing of more than 23,000 Palestinians—mostly women and children—has sparked global protests against Israeli actions.
South Africa has petitioned the International Court of Justice to classify Israel’s actions as genocide.
“All of us are stunned by what we’ve seen since October 7,” said moderator James Zogby, founder of the Arab American Institute (AAI). “There’s no doubt that what happened on that day was horrific and caused tremendous trauma in the Jewish community worldwide. We have to understand the pain on all sides. There must be an end to the killing before we can have accountability.”
Mr. Zogby reported a recent AAI-Rainbow PUSH poll of 1,000 people about their views on the Israeli-Hamas war. Among the findings:
- Fifty percent of Americans believe Biden Administration policy favors Israel;
- Fifty-seven percent believe the U.S. should, instead, be an honest broker between Israelis and Palestinians;
- By a two-to-one margin, respondents say they are more inclined to support a member of Congress who supports a ceasefire.
The 11 sponsoring groups demand an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza and the release of all Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners; for the U.S. to facilitate UN-supervised humanitarian aid in Gaza; and for the U.S. to impose on Israel conditions for funding based on Israel’s adherence to U.S. law.
What is the moral reality that we are endeavoring to create, asked Rev. Wesley Grandberg-Michaelson, a board member of Sojourners, an ecumenical Christian advocacy organization. He said the theological issues and debates are complex and difficult, “but the most flagrant misuse is the claim that the establishment of the state of Israel and its territorial conquests are divinely ordained.”
“Those claims have been cynically manipulated by successive Israeli governmental factions to solidify political support of groups in the U.S. But God is not a real estate agent. The response to bad religion is not no religion, it’s true religion,” he said.
“We’re in a moment of realignment and transition in the Jewish community,” added Rabbi Brant Rosen of Jewish Voices for Peace. “The fault line is around the issue of Zionism. Zionism isn’t Judaism. [Judaism] didn’t advocate mass settlements in the Holy Land with the purpose of creating a sovereign Jewish state. What we’re seeing in Gaza is ethnic cleansing. Its origin is in settler colonialism.”
Attorney Vivian Khalaf of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund reported that amputations of limbs are being performed “as a method of first resort” and without anesthesia. She said 10 children a day lose a limb, and some lose multiple limbs.
The event was held on the weekend of the Dr. Martin Luther King holiday celebration. Former Ohio state senator Nina Turner said many people quoting Dr. King would not follow him in calling out American injustice abroad.
Evoking Micah 6:8 from the Bible, she said, “What does the Lord require of us? To act justly, to love mercy and walk humbly with God. You can’t do that in this country and say it’s ok what’s happening in Gaza. It’s immoral. We have a moral obligation to do something about it.”
PUSH founder Rev. Jesse L. Jackson has picked up Dr. King’s baton and proposed solutions to international problems and conflicts, said Rainbow PUSH president Rev. Frederick D. Haynes III. He called on Black clergy to be vocal about Israel’s occupation and referenced the biblical Jesus as the “dark-skinned Palestinian Jew.” Many Black preachers have been silent because they were baptized in a White evangelical theology, he said.
“That’s a dangerous theology, it’s a toxic theology, it’s a demonic theology,” he said, adding the Black church has deviated from its liberation theology.
“That is the danger, my beloved Black church,” he concluded. “Jesus wants to know where we stand, and are we more concerned with being nonprophetic, so we get funded in our nonprofits?”
Attorney Tarek Khalil, a board member for American Muslims for Palestine, said media narratives have conversations about Palestine starting in the wrong place. Collective punishment of Palestinians has been occurring decades before the Oct. 7 response from Hamas.
It’s been “policy after policy for 75 years. You can’t ignore that and talk about the last 90-plus days as though that can be discussed in a vacuum properly, honestly and intellectually. The H word is irrelevant to the core problem,” he said, referring to Hamas.
Congressman Jonathan Jackson (D-Ill.) expressed dismay that the U.S. can call for reconciliation in Rwanda and South Africa but won’t call for Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation. He said legislators who have called for a ceasefire have received death threats.
He visited Gaza in September 2023 and questioned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about why he wouldn’t abide by the Reciprocal Waiver Program, a U.S. policy that allows American Palestinians to visit Gaza and the West Bank. He didn’t get an answer, and he noted the U.S. did not have an ambassador to Israel when the Hamas attack occurred.
“We have to get to the intelligence failure. That lies on the desk of Prime Minister Netanyahu,” he said.
Activist scholar Dr. Cornel West explained that an arrogant United States “empire” could be writing its own epithet.
“Most empires begin to decay and decline when there is military overreach. Special operations in 100 countries, what one nation needs that unless you are obsessed with total dominance of the world,” he asked? “All that arrogance and indifference to the least of these. It’s hard to talk morality and spirituality in the moment of such overwhelming barbarity. Barbarity blinds you.”
For Eva Borgward of ifNotNow, a Jewish group supporting Palestinian rights, the parallels of the struggle of Palestinian youths and Black American youths crystallized in the summer of 2014 with the killing of teenager Mike Brown by a Ferguson, Mo., police officer. That year, there were assaults in Gaza by the Israeli Defense Forces and “signs of Palestinian liberation were held up” in the Mike Brown protests, she said.
“None of these uprisings came out of nowhere,” she said. “I decided to educate my Jewish community. The parallels were clear. The Black Lives Matter movement is the Civil Rights issue of our time.”
Eleven-year-old Zoe Williams, a student at the University of Chicago Lab School who attended with members of the Jack and Jill Club of Chicago, said she is aware of the bombings and that a lot more Palestinians are dying than Israeli citizens.
“Now I know that Gaza is almost completely destroyed. Since America is funding Israel and they’re an ally, I feel what Israel is doing in Gaza is related to what’s happening here. I feel bad for the children in Gaza.”
Her brother, Xavier Williams, 13, added, there are many Jewish students at Chicago Lab School, and their views are different than others, “but even there, I feel some of them are saying the war was wrong. I learned that Gaza is in worse shape than I thought it was.”