Why I’ve Stopped Talking About Gaza

Short answer: because I can’t think of anything to say.

A few days ago, I came across this video on Jewschool:

There’s a midrash on the Jacob story that Avraham Burg mentions in his new book. According to the story, Jacob was “anxious and distressed” as he went to fight his brother Esau. He was anxious, the Talmud explains, because he knew he might die – but he was distressed because he knew he might kill.

Even if the attack on Gaza were 100% justified – even if there was absolutely no other action Israel could have taken – don’t these people care about how un-Jewish it is to celebrate killing people? Even if you believe this had to be done, what about it makes you want to dance a horah? Even if you believe that every single Palestinian who has died deserved to die, why would the task of ending someone’s life make you happy?

I meant to write about that video days ago, but I was distracted by the slew of anti-Semitic comments on, ironically, two parts of an essay about anti-Semitism. If we can wrap our heads around the idea that one can do something racist without hating POC, then surely we can fathom that, say, denying the existence of Gentile privilege is anti-Semitic even if some of one’s best friends are Jewish. I want Gaza to be centered in anti-racist, anti-capitalist work right now simply because at the moment, their situation is one of the most desperate and time-sensitive. But I can’t stand it when non-Arab, non-Jewish Americans shriek that even mentioning global violence against Jews is somehow hurting Gazans, and then develop a fucking martyr complex when a Jew angrily points out that decrying Jewish liberation work is anti-Semitic. (I also can’t stand it when the rhetoric in a “discussion” becomes so angry and inflammatory that anti-Zionist Jews are accused of being self-hating and are basically forced to leave. Fuck. That. Shit.)

If you seriously can’t believe that we can work on dismantling anti-Semitism without advocating the deaths of Palestinians, then I doubt I can work with you. If you’re itching to leave a comment along the lines of, “Jewish liberation?! That means ZIONISM,* right!? You must be a Zionist, right!? Because only Zionists care about Jewish liberation!!” then for God’s sake, read a book or two before you accuse me of being a racist anti-Palestine warmongerer because I don’t like it when flaming cars are driven into synogogues.

(On the anti-Semitic attacks in Europe – you wouldn’t believe the number of people I’ve seen saying, “Well, those Israelis have to learn somehow.” If you can’t figure out the distinction between a European Jew and an Israeli, and if you can’t figure out that violence against any ol’ Jewish person probably isn’t stemming from a sincere desire to help Palestinians, then I say it again: I doubt I can work with you.)

I think Mandolin’s post is right on.

I saw Waltz With Bashir the other night. I’d planned on writing a very nice, eloquent review of it, but really it would have all boiled down to this: it helped me stay human. Please see this movie and stay human. Now if only Palestinian filmmakers could enjoy international exposure.

By the way, how do I personally feel about Zionism? Do I identify as a Zionist, an anti-Zionist, a non-Zionist, or a post-Zionist? I honestly don’t know. If we accept that Zionism has come to mean a Jewish state in Palestine, then I’m an anti-Zionist. If we were to consider a Zionism that meant a Jewish state anywhere, then, depending on how much violence or alienation I was personally experiencing, I would be either a Zionist or a non-Zionist (someone who supports a Jewish state but doesn’t plan on moving there). But I feel like the whole question of whether there should be a Jewish state is moot; the fact is, there is one, and it’s not going anywhere. So does that make me a post-Zionist? Not quite; that term means something slightly different. What about the question of keeping Israel Jewish? What will happen when/if Arab births outnumber Jewish births, and the ratio begins to change? More ethnic cleansing is unacceptable (even having to write that seems to diminish its truth) – but if Israelis let their national character change, do they risk violence against Jews? Why is addressing root causes always out of the question?

Why do I feel like any time I write something that’s not explicitly condemning the actions of Jews, readers are combing over my sentences, looking for anti-Palestinian oppression? Why can’t anyone accept that it’s harmful when so many liberal and radical Jews feel like our Jewish identities have to revolve around feeling ashamed of Israel? I’ve literally seen people – Jews! – claiming that Zionism is the sum total of Jewish identity. That doesn’t make any fucking sense! Maybe sometimes I want to read my great-grandmother’s letters or take my Yiddish classes without thinking about Israel!

I wanted this post to be about Gaza, but the truth is, I don’t know anything about Gaza. I’m sitting here in California with palm trees swaying outside my spacious apartment and I have no fucking clue.

I think I’m going to start using this blog, in part, to rediscover and examine Yiddish culture. Partly it’s because I suck at timely commentary. Partly it’s because a Youtube search reveals a wealth of Yiddish theater, music, and dance. Partly it’s because the introspective styles of writers like BFP, Joan Kelly, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, and Little Light have taught me more about activist work than even the best political commentary. Maybe, by developing a firmer idea of where I came from, I can stop defining myself against the people celebrating the deaths of Gazans. Maybe if we remember how vibrant Jewish cultures can be, we can funnel our energy into art and writing and dance instead of wars. Maybe we can do the same for American cultures, maybe even for white cultures. Please, please, please, someone tell me you’re with me on this.

(Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog.)

* I’m not even getting into the problem with the “Zionism=murderous bloodthirsty racism” mentality… maybe in another post. I know I can’t hope for people to just look it up themselves, or ever believe that early twentieth century European Jews could possibly have sensible reasons for wanting a state. I know it’s too troublesome and complicated to accept that, while the decision to “buy” Palestinian land was obviously racist and unjust, the desire to escape violence by forming autonomous territory was understandable.


9 Responses

  1. Well said. I also don’t feel wise enough to sort this out but echo your sentiments. Instead I wrote a midrash on Samson & Delilah (which occurred in Gaza).

  2. Yes. I’m so with you.

    I think this:

    “I can stop defining myself against the people celebrating the deaths of Gazans.”

    speaks to something even larger, the imperative that we stop defining ourselves *against* another, or many others, or something else. To seek and create and enable and nurture identities that are affirmative rather than negative seems, to me, like a fundamental step to liberation. Shouldn’t we define who we *are,* not just who we *are not*?

  3. […] Why I’ve Stopped Talking About Gaza << Modern Mitzvot (tags: antisemitism israel palestine religion:judaism) […]

  4. There is, I think, a more famous — and still pertinent — mishnah, having to do with God lambasting the angels who celebrated the drowning of the Egyptian army. “The works of my hands are drowning in the sea, and you wish to sing praises?!?” (Talmud Tractate Megillah 10b). Your interpretation of the Jewish position on this subject has deep roots in our theology, and it is sick to me how many putative Jews ignore it.

    You can celebrate Jews surviving in the wake of conflict — that’s always legitimate (and indeed, that is the meaning of the chant at the beginning: Am Yisrael Chai). You can’t celebrate others dying.

  5. This is such a fantastic post!

    I’d say more, but I can’t think of anything else to say right now.

  6. Thanks, everyone.

    David – yeah, Lilian mentioned the Red Sea mishnah on Alas. It just breaks my heart to see them celebrating the conflict when it was so clearly lopsided, you know? Especially since the operation had just started. It was clear that they weren’t celebrating surviving – they were celebrating attacking.

  7. […] meant justice for them, too – but it’s been bothering me for days. Indeed, looking over my last post on the subject, I’m reminded that I mentioned it there, too. I didn’t think for a […]

  8. “Jewish liberation?! That means ZIONISM,”

    That is not the claim of anti-Semitic anti-Zionists. That is the whole basis of the classical Herzlian Zionist movement, pushed by its adherents. Yes, the Establishment has put forth this frame that the only way for Jews to be free is to have their own state. No, this isn’t backed up by reality, but don’t pretend it was anyone but “us” who pushes this narrative.

  9. B.BarNavi,

    You raise a good point about Herzl’s ideology, but your claim that I’m “pretending” that non-Jews take that stance is borderline ad hominem and inappropriate.

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