Wallace Shawn walks down the street, holding a sign that says "Jews say: ceasefire now."

Wallace Shawn, Other Jews Speak Out Against Weaponization of Jewish Grief

Across the U.S., Jews are mobilizing to stop Israel from weaponizing Jewish grief into the slaughter of Palestinians—and Wallace Shawn, of The Princess Bride and My Dinner with Andre, has joined their ranks.

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On October 7, the militant group Hamas attacked Israeli towns surrounding Gaza, murdering almost 1,400 people, the vast majority of them civilians. Predictably, the Israeli government, led by far-right prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has retaliated with an all-out siege on Gaza. The current death toll among Palestinians is at least 2,600 people, with over 9,700 wounded and half a million displaced. With Israel preparing a ground invasion, those numbers will certainly continue to rise in the coming days.

Reactions to both Hamas and Israel’s actions have also been predictable. Those who support the blockade of Gaza and occupation of the West Bank feverishly celebrate the bombing of children. Some on the left gloss over or even justify Israeli deaths, repurposing social justice jargon to argue that Jewish corpses are liberatory. Both Palestinians and Israelis seem to exist only as talking points, instead of actual human beings.

It’s within that toxic landscape that IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace, American Jewish organizations working to end the occupation, are working to stop Israeli violence while still honoring Jewish lives. On Monday, the two organizations began a series of joint protests at the White House to call for a ceasefire. Wallace Shawn made an appearance at the first action on Monday, and addressed those gathered.

“I don’t believe in massacring any innocent people,” Shawn told attendees. “Obviously anyone who’s Jewish. Millions of my relatives have been massacred. You would think that would teach everybody from that background that this is a tragedy that should be avoided, and that hatred against a particular group is wrong. Many people don’t seem to pick that up.”

Protests continued on Wednesday, when, according to IfNotNow’s Instagram feed, hundreds of protesters were arrested at the Capitol. The organizations are currently planning more actions in the coming weeks to demand a ceasefire.

“Our grief is not a weapon”

Shawn and others are voices of reason in a media landscape that’s rife with racism, antisemitism, and hawkishness.

On October 13, IfNotNow released a statement in response to Israel’s order to over a million Palestinians to evacuate their homes. “We are still mourning — but our grief is not a weapon, our pain is not an excuse. We refuse to let our grief be used to justify the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. We must act to stop a second Nakba. Our leaders must step up — stop the war and demand de-escalation now.”

Other Jewish writers, rabbis, and thinkers have also spoken out against the murder of both Israelis and Palestinians. Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, author of On Repentance and Repair, writes that “we can refuse to root for the safety and lives and rights of human beings like they are sports teams …. It is in both Netanyahu and Hamas’ interests for you to take extreme positions. The path to Palestinian freedom, and to peace and safety for everyone, requires seeing everyone’s humanity and rooting for everyone’s liberation. That’s the way out. That’s the only way through.”

Like Ruttenberg, author Naomi Klein points out that the more people indulge in antisemitism, the more militant Zionism and its resulting war crimes enjoy mainstream acceptance. “The Israeli state’s current murderous leveling of Gaza is the latest, unspeakably horrific manifestation of this ideology,” she writes, “and there will be more in the coming days. The responsibility for these crimes of collective punishment rests solely with their perpetrators and their financial and military backers abroad. But we all have to figure out how to make it stop.

“What could lessen its power, drain it of some of that fuel?” Klein asks. “True solidarity. Humanism that unites people across ethnic and religious lines. Fierce opposition to all forms of identity-based hatred, including antisemitism. An international left rooted in values that side with the child over the gun every single time, no matter whose gun and no matter whose child.”

(featured image: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

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Julia Glassman
Julia Glassman (she/her) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and has been covering feminism and media since 2007. As a staff writer for The Mary Sue, Julia covers Marvel movies, folk horror, sci fi and fantasy, film and TV, comics, and all things witchy. Under the pen name Asa West, she's the author of the popular zine 'Five Principles of Green Witchcraft' (Gods & Radicals Press). You can check out more of her writing at <a href="https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/">https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/.</a>

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