American human rights activist and feminist
Dorothy "Dottie" Miller Zellner (born in 1938) is an American human rights activist, feminist, editor, lecturer, and writer. A veteran of the 1960s civil rights movement, she served as a recruiter for the Freedom Summer project and was co-editor of Student Voice, the student newsletter of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She is active in the Palestinian solidarity movement.
- As a veteran of the 1960s civil rights movement, I hope this year's Martin Luther King Day will be more than the usual constant repetition of his “I have a dream” speech. This has flattened the very essence of the movement, which was the vastness and the vibrancy of hundreds of thousands of “ordinary” people who wouldn’t and couldn’t stand for any more indignities and any more insults. I know because I was in Georgia, Virginia and Mississippi as a staffer of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; I spent two years in Atlanta. This great movement of African-American civilians and their white allies lacked an army or air force, yet we imprinted our freedom demands on the national consciousness for the following decades and presumably, for decades to come...It may surprise people to know that Palestinians read Dr. King's words and call his name and study the American civil rights movement, among other histories of other peoples, for ways to bring to the attention of the world the fact that little by little, their land is disappearing along with their rights.
- I take issue with the Jewish Currents editorial, “Supporting the Black Lives Matter Platform, Its Slander of Israel Notwithstanding” (Autumn, 2016), in which the magazine unfortunately joined the pack of the hands-in-the-air-I’m–shocked-and-horrified Zionist groups that condemned the Movement for Black Lives — a very large coalition of which Black Lives Matter is one organization — for using the words “genocide” and “apartheid” in relation to Israel’s policies toward the Palestinian people...Echoing Dr. Joy James, if the situation of the Palestinians under Israeli control is not genocide, what is it?
- What propelled me into the civil rights movement in the first place as a young woman was the exhortation I had received from my secular Jewish progressive parents: that it is unethical to stand idly by while people are oppressed and suffering.
- What SNCC taught me was that I needed to act in my own community. It took me some time to put all of this together but finally, eleven years ago, I went to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza for the first time. Based on what I saw with my own eyes and the anguish I felt in my own heart I became a Jewish activist against Israeli governmental policies of injustice and inequality.
- For me, the events in Ferguson and the events halfway around the world are linked. I am not saying they are the same. I am not even saying there are many parallels, but there are some similar lessons.
- In 1969, Ella Baker, SNCC’s great mentor, pointed us in the direction of meaningful action when she said, “In order for us as poor and oppressed people to become a part of a society that is meaningful, the system under which we now exist has to be radically changed.” This means that we are going to have to learn to think in radical terms. I use the term radical in its original meaning – getting down to and understanding the root cause. Baker continued, “It means facing a system that does not lend itself to your needs and devising means by which you change that system.”
- what, in my opinion, is the “root cause” of all the death and destruction in the Middle East? It isn’t Hamas, it isn’t who sent the rockets first, who killed which teenager first, and it isn’t who broke which ceasefire first. The underlying cause flows from the injustice of one group controlling the lives and future of another group. As long as Israel occupies Palestine, and as long as Palestinians resist (which, according to International human rights law, they have the right to do), confrontations and death will result. The root cause is the occupation, which itself flows from the previous dispossession of Palestinians from the land they inhabited for generations.
- somehow or other we will all have to follow Miss Baker’s teaching: to look deeply, beyond the horror of the moment and our particular loyalties. Because once we understand that there are root causes, we will be able to make effective efforts to change them.
- BDS [Boycott Divestment Sanctions] is turning out to be very very strong, and obviously successful, more successful than we even thought...It’s not only in dollars and cents, but in the consciousness. The consciousness about BDS is totally different from two years ago. It’s now considered to be a serious way for people to register their feelings about the occupation.
- what’s going on in the campuses is truly amazing to me. I think I realized that we were going to win when the first Open Hillel was created on campus [at Swarthmore last December]. Because this is a sea change: the Israeli government policy is built on relying on the Jews in the Diaspora to be either completely convinced of the efficacy of the Jewish state or else bludgeoned into supporting the Jewish state as it exists now...what these students did this was earthshaking because it means that they want to think. They don’t want anyone else to think for them anymore, and they know about the abuse they will get, and they are willing to take the abuse, it’s not going to come as a shock to them.
- I have yet to meet one single human being who has been to Israel and Palestine, who has not had their entire life changed, and they can call you all kinds of names, anti-Semite and self-hating Jews. But we have actually seen the Israeli policies and in some cases we have been the victims of them. We have seen Palestinians herded like cattle through these institutionalized checkpoints, that are like mini prisons. I am totally confident that people understanding the facts will change their behavior.
- there has been interest on the part of black intellectuals. I know that several trips to the West Bank (you can’t go to Gaza) have taken place with leading black intellectuals who have decided to make common cause with this issue...It’s like Archbishop Tutu– when he goes to the West Bank and he looks around at what’s happening and says, This is worse than apartheid, well he speaks with the kind of moral leadership that no one can dispute.
- When I was in the south in the 60s, the white people didn’t really curse you out, they just tried to kill you.
- When I was in the south in the 60s, the white people didn’t really curse you out, they just tried to kill you. And this abuse is nothing compared to that...On the other hand, I have not seen this level of hysteria before. I haven’t. Ever since I got involved 12 years ago, it has been increasing. And it hasn’t leveled off. Even some of the attack dogs are being attacked. Did you see them going after Dershowitz? It’s very unusual for him, to get some of his medicine back. He was bitten and he was kind of shocked.
- Remember, it’s not because of our failure that we’re being attacked, but because of our success.
- White people who opposed segregation publicly were shut down or arrested or threatened and so forth.
- The incident that to me typifies my emotional reaction occurred on my first trip in the winter of 2002-2003 several months after the horrible Israeli invasion in the second intifada. I was in the Deheisheh refugee camp in front of the Ibda’a House and I was talking to people and right across the way I could see the wall, the barbed wire on the wall, and the guard tower on top of the wall, and all these images flooded back to me from World War II, and I thought of my father, how relieved I was that he was dead and didn’t have to see this because flying over the guard tower was the flag with the Jewish star on it, and I completely broke down. I just sobbed, and during that trip I cried every day. My traveling companions were so annoyed with me, I was over the top. But I don’t have to explain to you the significance of those images.
- Standing there on 96th St with Jews Say No is a really interesting experience. We stand there with signs, and this is a neighborhood that is heavily Jewish, and we give out leaflets, but we usually try not to engage with opponents, because there’s no point in the screaming matches. What happens– and here I’m trying not to cater to my native pessimism– is that for every person who has a thumbs up going by there are two thumbs down. The thumbs up are interesting. This is what they say. ‘How great that you’re out here, how brave you are.’ This gets on my nerves. I say, ‘We’re not so brave, we’re standing here on the street, come and join us.’ ‘Oh no, I can’t, but it’s really great that you’re doing this.’ And other people say, ‘You’re absolutely right. You’re right.’ These are people who wouldn’t have said that five years ago. We get a surprising amount of support. But the abuse is really ugly. Most of the time it’s not reasoned. ‘I’m horrified you’re here, you ugly bitch.’ Or it’s that two-word sentence that substitutes for a political conversation: fuck you, fuck you, and fuck you. Or, ‘you’re an anti-Semite. So it has now boiled down to personal epithets or “You’re an anti-semite.” Pure hysteria, people who are screaming and turning red.
- I didn’t define myself then and I often don’t now as an anti-Zionist or a non-Zionist. I define myself as a person who has spent her life working with civil rights and human rights, and I was being told by the government of Israel that they spoke for me, and I had actually seen with my own eyes the oppression of the Palestinians. And relying on Jewish tradition, I felt that I could not stand idly by.
- I was seven years old when World War II ended...The lesson was horrible things happen when people stand around watching and no one does anything. That is what impelled me into the civil rights movement.
- it is our tradition: we were slaves in Egypt, we were victims, we learned the hard way what happens when you stand around doing nothing. At least half of the lawyers who went south during the civil rights movement were Jewish. At least half of the Americans who went to Spain to fight were Jewish. That comes out of a deeply held social justice movement.
- When I grew up, the great heroes of my teenage life were the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, and I used to– as a young teenager, I imagined what would happen if the Nazis were marching up Second Avenue? Would I go on the roof and be a sniper? Well that’s romantic. But I thought, What’s wrong with that? But if you’re challenging me on this social justice tradition, and saying that’s just romanticism, you’re exaggerating it, I say no, I’m not exaggerating it. It was real. I don’t feel that’s romantic.
- I am a critic of Zionism. The more I read about it the more critical I am of it.
- I do not think that states that privilege one group over another are viable states. And this comes from my intensive schooling as a civil rights activist. I could not– 50 years ago, I could not work to make sure that black people in Mississippi had the right to vote and then turn around and be supportive of a state where every citizen does not have equal rights before the law.
- one big thing I learned is, you can’t predict what will happen. The week before the sit-ins started on February 1, 1960, if you had asked people whether in a week, a huge movement was about to start, people would have looked at you like you were nuts. These things had been brewing a long time, but nobody predicted it, and even when it happened, no one predicted it would spread like wildfire. Within weeks there were 100s and 100s of students in every southern state sitting in and demonstrating, and thousands and thousands of local people participating. All over the south.
- It’s the struggle that counts. You have to be willing to struggle.
- That’s the lesson of the civil rights movement. All the earlier struggles, the Montgomery bus movement, the Brown v Board of Education decision led up to it. And what we see in the history books is a pallid imitation of what it was really like.
- We had a sign up saying, End the occupation, and someone came up and said, “I don’t respect you, I don’t respect you.’ I said, ‘Let’s have a conversation, stop screaming and we’ll talk.’ She said, ‘You should be out there talking about our boys.’ All you have to say is “our boys,” and that’s the end of any argument. My response was “bye bye.” That infuriated her. But I believe people go home and no matter what we say or what they say, they have a picture in their minds of some Jews who don’t agree with Israel. Somewhere along the line, someone will remember, we were out there, and we refused to go along. Maybe we will have planted a seed and someone will realize we are right. That gives me intense satisfaction. I look in the mirror and say you did a mitzvah today...We acted like mensches. We were human beings, and we refused to be stampeded by so-called group loyalty or blindness to Israel. We acted the way people should have acted toward us.