Smogland Radio is a news podcast by and for LA from Los Angeles Public Press. Twice a month, we’ll have reporting that holds powerful people accountable, advice on how to thrive in Los Angeles, and in-depth stories about the issues that affect all of us. We’re hard on this city, because we want it to be better. We may be one of the smoggiest counties in the country, but we don’t have to be.
This week, we’re spending the show with two Los Angeles-area organizers on the fight for Palestinians in the wake of Israel’s relentless bombing campaign that has now killed more than 11,000 Gazans.
Noa Kattler-Kupetz grew up in the conservative Jewish movement in Los Angeles, but now organizes with If Not Now and is calling for a ceasefire and an end to Israel’s apartheid system.
And Rida Hamida is a Palestinian-American Muslim organizer who has long been doing intersectional work to unite communities in the struggle for liberation. She’s the founder of an organization called Latino Muslim Unity and started a community initiative called Taco Trucks at Every Mosque.
This week, we’re spending the show with two Los Angeles-area organizers on the fight for Palestinians in the wake of Israel’s relentless bombing campaign that has now killed more than 11,000 Gazans. Noa Kattler-Kupetz grew up in the conservative Jewish movement in Los Angeles, but now organizes with IfNotNow and is calling for a ceasefire and an end to Israel’s apartheid system. And Rida Hamida is a Palestinian-American Muslim organizer who has long been doing intersectional work to unite communities in the struggle for liberation. She’s the founder of an organization called Latino Muslim Unity and started a community initiative called Taco Trucks at Every Mosque.
Nancy: You’re listening to Smogland Radio.
Broadcasting from the community garden, solidarity mosque and the vice president’s mansion in Los Angeles.
I’m your host, Nancy Meza.
Welcome to a new episode of Smogland Radio, a production of LA Public Press. Each episode, we’re gonna be going on a little journey across LA together.
Remember that this is your news podcast about the city we all hate to love and loooooove to hate.
But first… Smogland Radio is made possible by our amaaazing donors and supporters. If you haven’t done so yet, you can become a supporter at lapublicpress.org/donate.
Today on the show… we’re talking — Israel and Palestine.
We’re going to be talking to Palestinian American organizer Rida Hamida later in the episode.
Rida Hamida: We had a vigil, we had our taco truck, we served tacos, but we also like had a healing circle, and we heard everyone’s grief about how this genocide is impacting them.
Nancy: But first…
Nancy: Jewish activists and allies have been organizing actions all over the country. Speaking out against Israel’s relentless bombing of Gaza after the Hamas attacks on October 7.
Their activism hasn’t been without consequence. At a massive rally in New York City’s Grand Central Station a few weeks ago — 400 were arrested including rabbis. And in the larger Jewish community, it’s still taboo to speak out against the Israeli government. Some people say that any criticism of Israel is antisemitic… and the reasons for that are complicated.
Noa Kattler-Kupetz: In the past week and a half, I have felt deep despair. I have felt, and I’ve seen in my family and in my Jewish community, people really, really taking sides. And these sides are it’s like the wrong sides, Israel or Palestine, Israel or Hamas. These are not the sides. The side is violence or liberation for all.
Nancy: This is Noa Kattler-Kupetz — the west coast organizer with IfNotNow – a national movement of Jewish Americans committed to “ending US support for Israel’s apartheid system and the occupation of Gaza.” Los Angeles Public Press contributor Steph Brown brings us this story of how Noa has navigated this taboo.
Steph: Over the past month, ever since October 7th, Noa has been having a lot of hard conversations with her family and friends…Because Noa grew up fully immersed in the LA Jewish community.
Noa: I was in Jewish school from kindergarten through 12th grade. I went to Jewish summer camp. I played in Jewish soccer leagues and basketball leagues.
Steph: Noa’s parents raised her in the conservative Jewish movement. In school her day was split by studying ritual and tradition for one half and secular subjects for the other. Noa tells me that besides ritual, she was also taught to have a real allegiance to the state of Israel.
Noa: I was taught that caring about Israel and protecting Israel was my duty as a Jewish person. And that Israel was a safe haven for me. So, if anyone were to threaten the state of Israel, including just criticize an Israeli government policy, uh, that was a threat to my safety
Steph: Growing up, this message of unquestioned support for Israel extended further than just lectures at synagogue or school. Noa also went on multiple trips to Israel – a few of them fully funded by her synagogue. On one of these trips she was immersed into the Israeli military – Israel Defense Forces or IDF. Noa told me her group spent a night on a base, wore IDF uniforms and learned how to shoot a gun.
Noa: As a fifteen year old, it was fun to be wearing a uniform and to be pretending to be an Israeli soldier.
Steph: A couple years later in high school Noa moved to Israel for four months. She went to a boarding school outside of Tel Aviv – where she says she was taught the history of the Jewish people.
Noa: I developed a really fond connection to Israel, to my classmates, to Israeli culture. And I definitely left those four months feeling connected to Israel… I, I journaled, if I wasn’t so selfish, I would join the IDF.
Steph: Noa found this journal entry she wrote in in college, the first time she was in a community of people who weren’t Jewish. She was making wonderful new friends who were also drawn to activism…
Noa: I was trying to, you know, be an ally to the Black Lives Matter movement, to show up to protests on campus, and my new friends were calling me in and asking me to take a look at my politics around Israel and examine them.
Steph: It was the first time Noa met people from Palestine. Before this, she had never learned about Palestinian history or thought about the conflict from the Palestinian perspective. She remembers her critical approaches in class freshman year in particular. She was learning about privilege and power structures and one day her TA challenged her to bring Israelis and Palestinians into her thinking –
Noa: and I freaked out. I had been taught to think that any questioning of my stance towards Israel was someone being antisemitic towards me.
Steph: And so Noa did what she had been taught to do whenever she needs guidance – she called her Rabbi.
Noa: He was like a big macher, like a big guy. The source of wisdom. Um and he heard me out, and then my rabbi told me to stop, to stop going down the path I was going down of questioning Israel … And I remember feeling like so confused and isolated after that, and it gave me a lot of clarity, like it, it, something shattered. and it was almost like I didn’t have anything to lose. And I was like, okay, I need to see what’s actually going on.
Steph: Noa continued to take classes and meet friends that challenged her and drew her to activism. Later in college, these friends brought her to her first IfNotNow training
Noa: And it was the first time I was ever in a space where Jews were openly talking about Palestinians and I just, like, remember feeling relief in my body and feeling like I, I don’t need to be alone in this.
Steph: Now, six years later, Noa has continued to organize with IfNotNow. And that activism has ramped up ever since Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7th left about 1,200 Israeli’s dead and 200 (including several Israeli-Americans) – taken hostage.
Since then, Israel has bombed Gaza indiscriminately, and as of the time we’re recording this – killed more than 11,500 Palestinians and displaced as many as 1.5 million people. Noa and other organizers have been incredibly vocal about their demand for a ceasefire, a release of the hostages, and an end to the occupation.
But for Noa – and many Jewish activists right now — it hasn’t been easy.
Noa and others have seen how their advocacy puts them on the other side of an invisible line dividing many Jewish families.
Noa told me that recently her Grandma emailed her and the entire family and told them that her Grandpa would be ashamed of Noa for her views. Her Grandma wrote that when people ask her about Noa at synagogue she says she does not support her and she is distancing herself from her.
Noa: And It was so painful to just be like, my grandma cannot understand the work that I’m doing. My grandma cannot see how much I care deeply about Jewish people, about my people who were killed by Hamas, because I also care about Palestinian civilians
Steph: Noa’s grandmother is not alone in this reaction. In fact, it mirrors a lot of messaging from major Jewish American institutions right now….
Mari Cohen: After IfNotNow and JVP held some pretty historic protests in Washington, DC. The Anti Defamation League basically accused those protesters of not representing the Jewish community and of propagating anti-Zionism, which is antisemitic.
Steph: That’s Mari Cohen. She is the associate editor for Jewish Currents and she covers American Jewish institutional politics in the United States. The Anti Defamation League or the ADL is a US organization whose stated mission is to fight all forms of antisemitism and bigotry. The ADL has been around for 100 years, receives millions of dollars in donations yearly and is the leading American institution for antisemitism hate crime data. Mari told me, it’s not a surprise to her that the ADL is publicly calling these Jewish activists antisemitic…
Mari Cohen: Since around May 2022, they’ve adopted an explicit policy of saying that left wing Pro Palestine organizations are antisemitic and should be considered equally antisemitic to right wing white supremacist organizations. and saying explicitly that anti-Zionism is antisemitism.
Steph: The ADL is careful to say that criticism of Israel’s policies is not inherently antisemitic. Anti-Zionism is QUOTE “the explicit or implicit rejection of the status of the Jewish people as a nation” and the right to self-determination. And thus – the ADL AND Prime Minister Netanyahu say anti-Zionism is antisemitic.
Mari Cohen: And so Israel has often really doubled down on this idea that Israel is equated with Jewishness writ large, and that Jews around the world should see themselves in Israel
Steph: Israeli legislation from 2019 officially defined the country as a nation state and homeland for the Jewish people. In effect, the Israeli government and the ADL are collapsing the two separate identities — of being Jewish and being Israeli — into one.
Mari Cohen: And that’s also something that’s politically convenient for Israel to do because if Israel becomes equated with all Jews, then any criticism of Israel can be equated with antisemitism or anti Jewish sentiment.
Steph: And so Noa’s call for a ceasefire and critique of the Israeli military response to October 7th gets filed under this definition of antisemitism…
And being a Jewish organizer accused of antisemitism feels especially charged right now, when actual antisemitic violence is on the rise.
Professor Brian Levin, from CSU’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism reports that both antisemitic and Islamophobic hate crimes have increased to historic highs in LA since October 7th.
Noa told me it is really painful being caught in the middle…
Noa: Um, it’s hard to just have like, a lot of hate tossed back at us from strangers and from community members I grew up with. And, you know, for my grandma, it’s hard.
Steph: In the context of increased hate crimes, calling someone antisemitic is a powerful accusation. So, it’s effective at shutting down debate when it gets levied against organizers like Noa, calling for a ceasefire…
Noa: One of, like, the roots of Jewish tradition is the Talmud, it’s like our rabbinic literature text, and the Talmud is composed of layers and layers of rabbis, um, in conversation with each other, adding on to each other’s comments, it’s like a text that is centered on debate. So when I think about Jewish religion, it’s like central to our religion to be in debate with each other, to be in conversation with each other. And it just like, does not make sense to me. It does not feel… Jewish to shut down conversation around Israel, Palestine.
Steph: For many synagogues and Jewish communities across the country, critiquing Israel and its policies is a non-starter. And it provokes real fear. People are scared right now. Mari Cohen even told me that for some dissent around Israel is less tolerated than dissent around religious practice — even the belief in God.
Steph: And yet, organizers like Noa are demanding that this fear is not used as a justification for more violence — AND that it actually is their faith that brings them back to this work…
Noa: I was taught the value of pikuach nefesh, the value of saving a life. This is like the highest Jewish value. And I know that Israeli lives are not the only lives that matter. I know that all human life matters and deserves to be protected. Everyone deserves to be safe and that this includes Palestinians and Israelis.
Steph: For LAPP, I am Steph Brown
Nancy: That was Steph Brown… reporting on Jewish American activists speaking out against the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians… in the midst of opposition from their own community.
Next up… I want to introduce you to Rida Hamida.
She is a Palestinian American activist fighting for her people’s liberation. And she builds bridges with other communities to fight for a common cause.
She has organized a sanctuary mosque offering protection to immigrants targeted by ICE. She also has a project called “A Taco Truck At Every Mosque.” Inviting people to come together in solidarity with Palestinians over halal tacos.
Our audience director Mariah Castañeda sat down with Rida to talk about what it’s like organizing for Palestinian liberation at this point in time.
Rida: The Taco Trucks at Every Mosque movement was established before, like, the non profit Latino Muslim Unity and actually Latino Muslim Unity was just a hash. It was a hashtag at the time when we were establishing this project that was a community building project to counter the narrative that Latinos and Muslims are constantly being demonized, um, where we wanted to be proud of ourselves.
We wanted to bring light to our community in a time of darkness. We wanted to make sure that nobody felt like they had to feel like a second class citizen, that they were guilty. Um, it wasn’t a crime to be Muslim. It wasn’t a crime to be Latino. And we wanted to create a space, um, during Ramadan in June of 2017 to bring these communities together because they were going to these protests at the airport with no ban, no wall, we’re going to the border to, you know, fight for justice for families that were being separated.
But there wasn’t a time where people were just like feeling connected to one another like you would go to these protests, but you didn’t get to know one another. You were in the Latino community, you’d see the diversity of folks that would show up.
You were in the Muslim community, you’d see the diversity of folks that would show up to the airport, but they’re like, they don’t even know me. So we wanted to create that space where people actually knew their neighbors.
Despite everything that was happening outside of that space, it was a reprieve. It was a moment to just like reset and really appreciate and value humanity and value your neighbors, um, and value just community.
And so I think that we now started to feel that we need everyone.
And now we’re creating that space again.
Every day is an action day. There is one day where we have an opportunity to present a resolution at a city council to humanize Palestinians. Another day, it’s a mass protest. We were able to bring 1,500 people in Anaheim together and shut down the streets and people were longing for that last weekend, to creating a safe space where people shut down the streets, together collectively as a powerful force against genocide for a ceasefire in Los Angeles.
Those are the spaces that we’re creating right now, they’re very different. We’ve also hosted spaces where it’s collective healing, collective care, we had a vigil, we had our taco truck, we served tacos, but we also like had a healing circle, and we heard everyone’s grief about how this genocide is impacting them, and no one should feel regulated during a genocide.
No one should feel safe during the genocide. No one should feel okay, and healthy and vibrant and thriving when you’re watching babies being blown up and you’re seeing their lifeless bodies on these videos, that, that does something to your heart and your soul and your mind.
And it just doesn’t feel right to just move on and have business as usual. So that’s, that’s basically what we’ve been doing is responding to that cry for support, creating that space for action, creating that space for safety, creating that space for interconnectedness, for peer support.
We’re trying to stay hopeful. We’re trying to keep the faith in a time where we’re just constantly reacting.
We’ve had a great amount of attacks on even our movement right now, um, because we’ve transitioned a lot of our messaging based on the urgency of the human rights issue with genocide, we’re now even like getting defunded by some nonprofit that was an interfaith national nonprofit that said, like, we are not even supposed to mention one side of this narrative, which is the Palestinian narrative that alienates their members.
Even when we say free Palestine, it’s considered antisemitic. Um, people are losing their jobs, people are losing their livelihood, um, we’ve lost because we put Free Palestine in our messaging.
I’m Palestinian. It’s very personal for me. I have family in the West Bank. My parents have a home there. I have about 300 relatives that still live there. My family, my sister, my nieces, my nephews, my grandmother living in the house currently, and it’s been really tough just hearing the day to day, even hearing the bombing in the background when I speak to them.
And understanding, like, we’re all feeling so terrified of what could potentially happen next, and the only thing we can do is, like, support one another right now, create spaces for us to feel heard, and just make sure that we’re taken care of and feeling safe.
Now there’s 10,000 plus people, human beings that have been killed in Gaza. And we’re hearing this narrative, well, they have the right to defend themselves. Israel has a right to defend itself, but. It is not defense when you’re bombing schools, it is not defense when you’re bombing hospitals with families that have already been bombed in other spaces.
It’s not self defense when you’re bombing refugee camps and they’re gaslighting us constantly, making the oppressed feel like the oppressor, um, by saying that they’re human shields. And. We’ve seen this in many communities. We’ve seen this with the indigenous community when they resisted, they were called terrorists.
We’ve seen those, the Black community, when they resisted against apartheid, they were called terrorists and they want us to shut up and just take the hits, take the massacres and be polite and say, thank you.
Occupation, to Palestinians, feels like every day you’re holding your breath. And for 75 years, that’s a lifetime, right? We are thinking of the assaults. Like the last 27, 28, 30 days, but that’s not how it is. It’s been 75 years of this 75 years of explaining and over explaining the rights of Palestinians and the right to exist and the right to human rights and the right to basic necessities, like control over our electricity, control over our bodies, control over our roads.
Control over our water, control over our ability to receive social welfare or health care.
I mean, 750,000 people were displaced in 1948 in the establishment of the state of Israel. Palestinians, those were Palestinian homes that left, fled their homes because there were massacres like this. Exactly like this, they fled their homes with keys in their pockets and boiling pots still on the stove top.
And those homes have now been occupied by other people, by settlers, by, by even immigrants that come from other countries. And so we’re afraid that this is the new stage of history where we’re going to see that displacement. They want to displace a million citizens So, I mean, there’s just all of these unknowns and there’s all of these fears and wait for what’s, you know, what everybody has been doing is just glooming their faces to their phones and it’s…
We watch CNN, we watch MSNBC. They’re just gaslighting us. I mean they give the platform all to the Israeli government to decide how the narrative is going to be spinned. And so, like, we have to use Instagram and look at Khaled Beydoun’s page and, like, EDR’s page and Motaz and Wizard for just the reality of the situation.
And collectively, everyone has access to this. And… That is why there’s an uprising. We’re just shocked that our government sees this worldwide effort to stand up in solidarity with Palestine, but our government is putting that to the side.
It doesn’t even feel healthy anymore. I mean, I don’t like feeling like it’s a whirlwind. I’m definitely on autopilot. I feel like my body is operating on its own because my mind is just not even there.
There’s so much trauma and everyone’s experiencing so much trauma right now that basic things are so hard to do. And I would say that like, even to some extent, like we’re experiencing depression. We’re experiencing post traumatic stress, we’re experiencing anxiety, um, a fear of the unknown.
Nancy: That was organizer Rida Hamida sharing her experience fighting for her people’s liberation.
Smogland Radio is produced by Phoenix Tso and Carla Green. I’m your host, Nancy Meza. We’re a production of LA Public Press, a non-profit newsroom for Los Angeles.
Eduardo Arenas made our music, and Jaime Zacarias made our show art. Special thanks to the Robinson Space where we record this podcast! And to our audience director Mariah Castañeda.
Additional music by Epidemic Sound.
Also – we’re a newsroom funded entirely by donations!
If you like the work that we do, you can support us by becoming a member at lapublicpress.org slash donate.
You can also support us by leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts, or following us on social media. We’re on all platforms at LA Public Press.
Thank you so much for listening.
We’ll see you right back here in a couple weeks for our next episode.