Dear Non-Jewish Activists:

I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to say this for a few days now, but I’ve finally decided to just point you toward Amp’s How Not to Be Insane When Accused of Racism. Replace “racism” with “anti-Semitism” and “white person” with “non-Jew” as you read it. Cheers! (I’m refraining from linking to individual conversations because I don’t want to make this about individual people.)

Now, sadly, in most instances I’ve seen, the only people calling out problematic statements are the anti-Palestine hawks who drop into leftist discussions just to make trouble. Nevertheless, amidst their snarling, I’m seeing legitimate points. It’s fair to ask why, if anti-Semitism on the left is a real problem, more Jewish liberals and radicals aren’t speaking up. Explanation #1 is that anti-Semitism is not a real problem, and that every accusation is a cynical ploy to squelch debate. Explanation #2, which I think is more likely, is that many Jewish liberals are reading problematic statements, getting that knot in their stomachs, and then – fearing the usual chorus of “every time anyone tries to criticize Israel they’re accused of anti-Semitism OH WHY can’t we have a debate without being accused of anti-Semitism?!” – either shutting up or rationalizing it away.

Because yes, there are people out there equating any criticism of Israel’s policies with a desire to see Jews killed. As other writers have pointed out, it’s the same cowardly tactic as the Bush administration’s assertions that liberals hate America. But the “ah HA!” response above has become thoroughly knee-jerk. Please, just listen for one second. To paraphrase Jay Smooth, it’s what you said, not what you are.


Meanwhile, I’ve also been trying to figure out what to say about the ground invasion.

I was talking to my husband’s family a few days ago, and his father said that he didn’t think he’d see peace between Israel and Palestine within his lifetime. He’s about thirty years older than I am, but I realized then that I don’t think I’ll see peace within my lifetime, either.

Because this invasion isn’t about the rocket attacks, just like the settlement expansion isn’t about… well, whatever people think that’s about. This invasion isn’t about Hamas; it isn’t about defense; it isn’t about the welfare of Israel’s citizens. (Where, for example, is Gilad Shalit? Dead, I’m guessing. Heckuva job, Ehud.) In 1846, the murder of a US soldier served as justification for the Mexican-American war, which led to the annexation of what’s now the southwestern United States. In 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor served as justification for an escalation of antagonistic acts against Japan that the US had already been engaging in for some time. In 2001, the attack on the World Trade Center served as (an especially shaky) justification for invading Iraq. And now, in 2008, the rocket attacks will have served as justification to install a compliant government in Gaza and possibly reoccupy it. (Matthew Yglesias compares Israel’s ideal version of Gaza to an Indian reservation – semi-autonomous, but economically handicapped and politically powerless.) Should the Japanese have killed US civilians? No. Should Mexican guerrillas have killed Colonel Cross? No (if that’s what really happened). Should Al-Qaeda have attacked the twin towers? Do I even need to answer that? And should Hamas be killing civilians? Of course not. But anyone who claims this invasion is nothing but an act of defense must think the Israeli government is profoundly stupid.

(Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog.)

6 Responses

  1. I really appreciate reading your posts on this subject. When it comes to the subject of Israel/Palestine, I just shut down completely. Part of it is from enduring too many conversations at too many family gatherings talking about how all the liberals at Berkley and Harvard hate Jews; the world hates Jews; disagree with Israel ever and you’re a self-loathing Jew; liberals wouldn’t criticize Israel if it weren’t Jewish (all this coming from a bunch of otherwise very liberal people of course, although one dear family friend of mine actually became politically conservative JUST because of the Israel issue. He’s kinda a black and white kind of guy.)… I’m sure you’ve heard it all before. Part of it is my Hebrew school once-a-week for every week since I was little education, complete with an entire year of Israeli history. Part of it is just not knowing who to believe any more and realizing that “believing” anyone is settling for a less-nuanced explanation for complex hate and violence. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve asked my non-Jewish friends not to discuss Gaza around me because I just can’t handle it, which is actually really cowardly of me.

  2. […] I’m an American Jew, and when I state that fact, I invite a wealth of assumptions, not all of them anti-Semitic in nature. Renee Martin recently addressed the conflation of criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, so I don’t have to (though I would like to note that Modern Mitzvot has a very good point too). […]

  3. Another thing, on my blog for instance, is the instant dismissal of anything “religious”–as in “Oh, they’re all fighting over religion again!”–accompanied by the superior atheist/agnostic eye-roll. As you know, this reduces a complex political situation to a simple religious dispute, and whose God is the biggest. Any time you try to discuss Northern Ireland, you get the same dismissal. This way, people don’t have to engage the subject and make a judgment call. They don’t want to make a judgment call because they might be on a “side” unfamiliar to them… they might actually decide the Irish Catholics or Palestinian (mostly) Muslims are correct–and they have significant prejudice against both groups… progressives instinctively want to join the side they think is religiously more progressive and forward-thinking, not reminiscent of the religious “old guard”… but in these instances, since we are talking about colonialism, the “old guard” is the one being mowed down because they are the original inhabitants of the disputed areas, not because of their religion, per se. (example–there are Palestinian and Israeli Christians getting killed too, nobody is stopping to ask people’s religions before lobbing the bombs…)

    So, many atheist and agnostic progressives are all mixed up; they aren’t used to divorcing the religion of the protagonists from their analysis of these situations. And I think that accounts for so much of the confused silence.

    If that makes sense? (hope so)

    What do you think?

  4. Yeah, I tend to shut down, too. I’m trying to get over it, because the subject is too important, but, yeah.

    Over on feministe, there’s some insufferable guy who’s writing a -seven part- epic to say (I -think-) what you’ve just said here, in the first half. And, along the way, some really offensive and problematic shit as well, and that’s -before- the comments start…

    In some ways I think maybe a -very- rough parallel might be Northern Ireland–nominally it’s about religion, and it is, but it’s mainly about nationalism, territory, tribalism, and of course land.

  5. Daisy – I’ve been thinking about your comment for a few days, and my only thought is that I agree. 🙂

    Belledame – David is a friend of mine, and I agree with many of the points he’s making. I also disagree with some points and can see why people are offended, but it’s a complicated and raw subject for both Zionists and anti-Zionists, and I think there are a few commenters who are saying things that are just as offensive.

    Northern Ireland… yeah. Interesting.

  6. Erk. Well. Erm. Yeah. That was…tactful…ah, well, in it again.

    Yeah, sorry, and I know it’s a heated subject; I’m sure the Internets don’t help either. Just, rubbed me the wrong way for a bunch of reasons. Some of what Steph is saying resonates, that’s one thing, although thankfully not my immediate family. Anyway, I do like this post.

    I guess for me the answer wrt not speaking up–maybe I’m just not in those circles so much. I think framing it very specifically as being about intranecine U.S. leftist/progressive stuff makes sense (how that translates to what’s actually going on on the ground in Palestine or Israel, I couldn’t say).

    The thing is–as a relatively comfortable/assimilated Jew, I don’t feel that immediately threatened, haven’t done, -specifically- by the anti-Semitism I’ve encountered. Maybe I’m just lucky; for sure I’m lucky to not be in a lot of other places, in a lot of other times.

    This isn’t to say it’s no big deal or that it’s not worth calling out.

    It’s, well, and also, the times when I’ve seen anti-Semitism as -overt- as the kind of casual Moslem and/or Arab bashing that’s going on all over the place–yeah, even in a lot of putatively Democratic/ progressive circles–well, it’s been rare. I think, you know, maybe…the more involved you are in anti-war circles in particular, the more likely you are to run into this? perhaps? All I know is that most (not all) of the most militantly pro-Palestine people I’ve known have been Jewish. And the one guy I knew who wasn’t was regularly heckled as anti-Semitic (with some justification, in his case, I would argue, although mostly your run of the mill stereotyping/Freudian slip shit, nothing eliminationist or anything like that) in the context of a very liberal/progressive space, overall.

    I mean, I think the story on Italy in your sidebar is a great example of, yeah, here’s using supposed anti-Zionism as a cover for good ol’fashioned anti-Jewish discrimination/bashing.

    But…I don’t know. In the case of the U.S. left…how much of it is really structural, and how much of it is fringe conspiracists doing their thing? (David Icke would be an extreme example. If you even want to call that “left”).

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