Naomi Klein On BDS

I’ve taken a long time to write about this because I wanted to make sure I had my thoughts on it sorted out. This article by Naomi Klein finally brought me around to the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) campaign against Israel. (Note: as you can probably tell, I’m very new to BDS, so this post is directed at other people who are new to it, too. I realize that many readers have been working on this for a long time.) This passage was what turned the lightbulb on for me:

Why single out Israel when the United States, Britain and other Western countries do the same things in Iraq and Afghanistan? Boycott is not a dogma; it is a tactic. The reason the BDS strategy should be tried against Israel is practical: in a country so small and trade-dependent, it could actually work. (Emphasis hers.)

The problem, up until I read the article, was that most of the calls for boycotts I read were the dogmatic kind. Boycott Israeli academics! Boycott Israeli artists! Boycott non-Israeli Jewish business owners! Why? Because we hate them, that’s why! Because Zionism is racism! Even the ones that didn’t come off as dogmatic – or that made passing references to tactics – failed to address Jews’ concerns about anti-Semitism, and that turned me off to them. Was that irrational of me? Yeah, sometimes. But Jews have good reason to be wary.

I know, of course, that BDS will continue to attract anti-Semites, and I still fear that anti-Semitism will drown out pragmatism. I don’t know how to solve that problem – but we can address it by emphasizing, as Klein does, that it’s a tactic, not a dogma. We’re doing it because it works. We’re doing it out of love (for Israelis, too!). And, as Klein says, we’re targeting “the Israeli economy but not Israelis.” Strategy, not punishment.

Do check out the whole article – she responded very effectively to almost every concern that I had.

The Global BDS Movement’s website is here.

Thoughts? (When you comment, please remember that this is a very sensitive and complicated subject. Rude or hostile comments will be deleted.)

(Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog.)

Ritual Purity vs. Human Beings

If there’s one thing the whole Agriprocessors scandal taught me, it’s that for many of the Orthodox or very Orthodox set, ritual purity must be upheld at all costs, even at the expense of other human beings.

With this in mind, while it’s very disheartening and very disappointing, it comes as no surprise that the Israeli Deputy Health Minister (a member of very rational Agudat Israel) wants the “swine flu” to be renamed the Mexican flu.

This reference to the flu maybe coming from a treif animal, of course, is very upsetting to the ultra-Orthodox constituency. If we have to propagate a meme that it’s being spread from illegal immigrants and further dehumanize them as carriers of plague in order to maintain sensibilities and ritual purity, then so be it. After all, it’s not like Jews have ever been accused wrongly of spreading disease and sickness ourselves.

Is this really how some of us think we should treat our fellow people, all created in God’s image? Again, in light of all the Agriprocessors scandals, I suppose I know the answer to that. I also know who ought to know better but apparently don’t.

CLEAN Carwashes!

We’re still at it!

Image description: Protesters in orange T-shirts reading PJA picket outside of a carwash.

Image description: Protesters in orange T-shirts reading "PJA" picket outside of a carwash.

This Sunday, May 3rd, the CLEAN Carwash Campaign and Progressive Jewish Alliance will be picketing the Vermont Hand Wash at 1666 N. Vermont Avenue from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Although no carwash in Los Angeles can be described as “good,” the owners of the Vermont Hand Wash in Los Feliz are among the worst in the industry. By protesting the Vermont Hand Wash, we hope to send a message to other carwashes throughout the city. For more information, visit

Please repost or link to this message on your blog, or forward this to any Los Angeles residents you might know.

Also, please leave a comment if you or someone you know plans to attend. Thanks!

From Jewish Voice for Peace

Let me cut down to the chase. We have just learned that a number of Israeli peace activists have had their computers confiscated, have been called for interrogations, and have only been released upon signing agreements not to contact their political friends for 30 days. We are asking you to contact the Israeli Attorney General to demand an immediate stop to this harassment.

The activists targeted are members of New Profile, a group of feminist women and men daring to suggest that Israel need not be a militarized society. They are being wrongfully accused of inciting young people–like the shministim–not to enlist in the army. The charge is not true. While New Profile does not tell youngsters not to enlist, they certainly support those who do not: pacifists, those who oppose the occupation, and others. New Profile informs them of their rights and gives them legal support when necessary. But Israel is a country that does not acknowledge the basic human right to conscientious objection.

The government’s accusation against New Profile is not new. It has been out there for some time, as a source of harassment. Today’s police actions tighten the screws considerably. We’ve seen how international pressure has helped get many shministim out of jail. Now it’s time to put as much pressure so that Israeli peace activists can do their work free of intimidation.

I leave you with a note from New Profile: “These recent acts confirm what we have been contending for many years: the militarism of society in Israel harms the sacred principles of democracy, freedom of expression and freedom of political association. One who believed that until now criminal files were conjured up “only” for Arab citizens of Israel saw this morning that none of us can be certain that s/he can freely express an opinion concerning the failures of society and rule in Israel.”

Here’s New Profile’s website.

Yes, yes, I heard, I heard.

Who fucking let Ahmadinejad out of his playpen?

Just a few notes:

1. Holocaust denial is racist. Our word for this type of racism happens to be “anti-Semitism,” since Jews are multiracial, but the sentiment comes from the same place as racism, and the differences are so minuscule as to be insignificant.
2. Putting on a conference dedicated to Holocaust denial is severely racist, and should probably bar you from speaking at an anti-racist conference.
3. Ahmadinejad’s main priority is Jew-hating, not Palestinian self-determination. That should be pretty obvious by now. Non-Jewish non-Arabs should take note of what he says in order to learn what doesn’t contribute to healthy debate.
4. Every time bigoted people hijack a discussion of racism in order to spew their bigotry (always under the guise of weeding out the “real” racists, of course), real issues related to racism are mowed over and forgotten. I would be surprised if much of anything useful were accomplished at Durban II.
5. With Ahmadinejad stealing the spotlight, other offensive acts surrounding Durban II haven’t received much press. Check out JVFP’s Muzzlewatch Blog to read about Avigdor Lieberman’s condemnation of the conference (yes, this is the guy who publicly supports ethnically cleansing Palestine), and Palestinian NGOs being banned from side events. There are also radical settlers comparing the UN to the Nazis, claiming that it wants to “finish what Hitler started.” The UN does contain anti-Semitic elements – see items 1 and 2 – but see what happens when we let the Right take over the issue?
6. Durban II reminds me of some of the worst comment threads I’ve ever been sucked into.

They’re More Jewish Than We Are, Mommy ~ by Jay

Just a few days before Julie wrote her elegy in search of community, Sam and I took Eve to Target to buy some jeans. You know that thing kids do when all of sudden everything they’re wearing is too small? Saturday afternoon, after dance class and lunch, we headed off to the shopping center. We drove up our street and passed a family walking home from the Orthodox shul.

Mommy, where are they going? They’re wearing kipot. Are they Jewish?

Yes, they are. They’re going home for lunch after services.

How come they’re walking? It’s cold out.

Some people don’t drive their cars on Shabbat.

We drive our car.

Yes, we do. Every family and every community makes their own decision about how to observe Shabbat.

So they’re more Jewish than we are.

No, they’re not. We’re all Jewish, and we’re just as Jewish as anybody else.

And I pray that she believes me. I don’t want her to feel what I felt. I don’t want her to stand on the fringes of Judaism, feeling inauthentic, fraudulent, uneducated. Between the English lit degree and the years of singing choral music, I found myself at 35 more comfortable in a church service – almost any Protestant service in the US – than in a synagogue that didn’t use the Union Prayer Book of my youth. I tell Eve that everyone who is Jewish counts the same, but I sure didn’t feel that way.

My parents never seemed to question their authenticity as Jews. My mother had to stop competing in figure skating because Jews weren’t allowed in the state finals. My father was admitted to an Ivy League school in the days of an overt Jewish quota, and his father went to medical school because Jews weren’t admitted to the PhD program in biology at Johns Hopkins. If that didn’t make you authentic, well, what did?

I needed more, and I found it. I learned to read Hebrew and lead services. I started using the lit crit skills I’d developed to swim in Torah. I replaced the Missa Solemnis in my head with four different tunes to Mah Tovu. I want to save my daughter from the sense of inauthenticity that set my feet on that path, but I know that it is the journey – for I am still traveling – that makes my life deeper and richer. I have claimed my own Judaism. If I had learned as a child everything I feel I missed, I would still have had to dive into something unknown to make it mine. That is who I am.

Eve will have to claim hers. I don’t know yet what it will look like; neither does she. She will have the education I lacked, but she doesn’t have a biological connection to Judaism. She tells us now that she will become Christian (it’s all one religion to her) when she’s a grownup, so she can have Christmas trees and Easter candy, and perhaps she will. All I can do is hold my belief that she is Jewish; she is authentically Jewish; we are all diferent, but we are all really Jews.

Easter in Orange County

Last Sunday, sitting on the steps next to my container garden outside my Long Beach apartment, I heard a group of people singing in the next building. I thought of the seder I’d had a couple of nights before; my friends and I had sung the Ma Nishtana, which I only learned a few years ago and forget every year. Only two of the guests remembered the melody at first, but it only took a line or two for it to come back to the rest of us. I wondered if the neighbors could hear us. I’ve never had an anti-Semitic incident in this neighborhood, so I thought it’d be kind of cool if on the other side of our open windows, people were listening to us sing.

I watched families walking in and out of apartments, carrying children, greeting relatives. I smiled as I listened to the singing. Then I realized it wasn’t a hymn or some other Easter song – they were all singing a pop song. Blink 182 or something.

Oh. Well, it was still nice to hear singing. Yellow jackets buzzed around my bacopas. My bean seedlings were just starting to twine around the railing, and my lavender was blooming like the world was going to end.


According to the Slingshot Collective, “the modern world is the ugliest, saddest, dirtiest, and most stressful and dangerous place humans have ever created.” I don’t know if it’s the ugliest, the saddest, or the est of any of those other things, but many parts of it certainly are ugly and sad. I was thinking about that quote, along with various discussions I’ve witnessed about the “lack” of white American culture – whiteness as negative space – and white Americans’ need to appropriate more exotic cultures, when I tested a theory out on my husband: that the United States has one of the shallowest national cultures on the planet. Continue reading