Two quotes from the Free Gaza movement

Many of you probably know that the passengers aboard the latest Free Gaza ship, the “Spirit of Humanity,” were kidnapped in international waters and sent to an Israeli jail to await deportation. During an interview from her cell, Adie Mormech gave this very salient quote:

Have you had access to a lawyer yet?

We have, and at the moment we’re discussing what to do about our deportation. They’ve taken our personal items – laptops, cameras, phones and many other valuables, and we want to find out where these are. They obviously want to deport us as quickly as possible, but some of us are thinking about fighting the deportation. Firstly on the basis that if we get deported we won’t be allowed into the occupied West Bank or Israel for another 10 years, but also, because we didn’t intend to come here to Israel – we intended to go to Gaza, and went directly from international waters into Palestinian waters. There is nothing legal about what Israel has done to us grabbing us like this. We’re considering fighting the deportation on the grounds that we shouldn’t accept and legitimize this barbaric military blockade of Gaza. (Emphasis mine.)

The only way to end the occupation and blockade is to strip it of its perceived legitimacy – and in that, I think Free Gaza is doing an admirable job. The Israeli administration is trying to juggle two contradictory narratives at once: 1) that the occupation of Gaza is over and Gazans are free to do what they like, and 2) only the Israeli military has the right to decide who or what enters and exits Gaza. Activists’ best strategy is to push against these narratives until one, and then the other, collapses.

But then a couple of days ago, I received an email from Free Gaza, linking to a video detailing conditions in Gaza, that included this line:

Israel outdoes the U.S. in torture, imprisonment and brutality. Where do you think the U.S. learned how to torture?

Reading this, I finally decided to unsubscribe myself from their updates.

As I and others have written numerous times before, claiming that the U.S. – the world’s most powerful nation with the world’s most powerful military – is taking orders from or being controlled by a small (albeit belligerent) nation like Israel is nothing but the current incarnation of the myth of Jewish domination. Shifting blame for the U.S.’s crimes (torture, imprisonment, brutality) onto Jews, or claiming that whatever white Americans do, Jews do it worse, is nothing but the current incarnation of the myth of Jewish evil. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then please go away and come back after you’ve educated yourself.) What stopped the author of this email from simply writing, “Israel is engaging in torture, unjustifiable imprisonment*, and brutality?” Why the need to compare? Which is worse: the imprisonment of civilians in Gaza, or the imprisonment of immigrant families and nonviolent drug offenders in the U.S.? Which is worse: Israeli assaults on Palestinians or American assaults on Iraqis? Which is worse? Which is worse? We need to decide which one’s worse – and fast! Your cause or my cause? Your country’s oppressor class or my country’s oppressor class? Why does it matter!? What in the world is gained by such a comparison, besides excusing that which is familiar in order to highlight that which is alien?

I suspect that it’s precisely anti-Semitic – yes, this is anti-Semitic – statements like these, made over and over again and never challenged, that turn many Jewish activists off from Palestinian liberation movements and make us decide to focus our energies elsewhere**. It’s the difference between building an inclusive movement that awakens in us a sense of responsibility for what’s being done ostensibly in our name, and working to alienate us by strengthening our preexisting internalized shame and self-hatred (shame not for what Jews in another country are doing at this moment in history, but rather for one’s own irrevocable Jewishness). It leads to very real physical consequences – although it’s pathetic that so many people think mental and cultural consequences don’t matter.

And for those of you who might be thinking, “who cares about some line that offended you when there’s genocide going on?” Well, first off, that kind of reasoning is often used as an excuse to avoid acknowledging problematic behavior. Will we only be allowed to call out anti-Semitism after Israel has fully retreated from the occupied territories and granted all Palestinian refugees their right of return to pre-1948 land? Assuming that that’s never going to happen, are Jews simply never allowed to call out anti-Semitism again? (And how do you feel when you hear that your ethnic/religious group is required to accept its oppression because some of its members have committed crimes?) Secondly, if one line isn’t that big a deal, then it must not be a big deal to refrain from saying it, right? To tell someone else not to say it? How much energy does it take to just say, “Hey, cool it, that’s not helpful?” If you feel uncomfortable saying that, then examine why. Are you afraid of getting in the way? Well, getting in the way of what, exactly? Sympathizing with “the enemy?” Who is the enemy, and who is being affected by such a statement? Benjamin Netanyahu? The U.S. and AIPAC? Boeing and Caterpillar? Or that woman in the yarmulke over there whom everyone is suddenly staring at?

Acting in solidarity with Jews, Israeli or Diaspora, is no more difficult than acting in solidarity with Palestinians. So where are our allies? Where are you?

* I hope readers who are prison abolitionists know what I mean here.

** Which isn’t to say that we don’t have plenty of reasons to focus our energies elsewhere. Diaspora Jews are not obligated to center Israel over other issues simply because we share a religion or ethnicity with Israelis.

Two examples of horizontal hostility

1) A feminist deciding that the main focus of her activism will be attacking women who she thinks are doing feminism wrong.

2) A Jew deciding that because anti-Semitism wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Israel, he or she will end anti-Semitism by attacking other Jews.

There’s a reason some targets are so easy.

These are the kinds of posts I write when lots of little things add up.

Sometimes I get very tired

of non-Jews assuming – in fact, never even thinking to question – that they know more about Zionism than Jews do.

This sense of entitlement to what’s in our heads is part of what led to the Jewish nationalist movement in the first place. And you all still don’t fucking get it.


This is genocide:

CROW AGENCY, Mont. – Ta’Shon Rain Little Light, a happy little girl who loved to dance and dress up in traditional American Indian clothes, had stopped eating and walking. She complained constantly to her mother that her stomach hurt.

When Stephanie Little Light took her daughter to the Indian Health Service clinic in this wind-swept and remote corner of Montana, they told her the 5-year-old was depressed.

Ta’Shon’s pain rapidly worsened and she visited the clinic about 10 more times over several months before her lung collapsed and she was airlifted to a children’s hospital in Denver. There she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, confirming the suspicions of family members.

A few weeks later, a charity sent the whole family to Disney World so Ta’Shon could see Cinderella’s Castle, her biggest dream. She never got to see the castle, though. She died in her hotel bed soon after the family arrived in Florida.

“Maybe it would have been treatable,” says her great-aunt, Ada White, as she stoically recounts the last few months of Ta’Shon’s short life. Stephanie Little Light cries as she recalls how she once forced her daughter to walk when she was in pain because the doctors told her it was all in the little girl’s head.

American Indians have an infant death rate that is 40 percent higher than the rate for whites. They are twice as likely to die from diabetes, 60 percent more likely to have a stroke, 30 percent more likely to have high blood pressure and 20 percent more likely to have heart disease.

American Indians have disproportionately high death rates from unintentional injuries and suicide, and a high prevalence of risk factors for obesity, substance abuse, sudden infant death syndrome, teenage pregnancy, liver disease and hepatitis.

While campaigning on Indian reservations, presidential candidate Barack Obama cited this statistic: After Haiti, men on the impoverished Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations in South Dakota have the lowest life expectancy in the Western Hemisphere.

This leads to genocide

Four Muslim men also pleaded their innocence before a judge in a White Plains, N.Y., courthouse after being accused of plotting to blow up a pair of synagogues and down military aircraft with a shoulder-fired missile. The feds had been keeping tabs on the men for a year and sold them the missile and explosives, which had been deactivated. The four were reportedly angered over the deaths of Muslims in Afghanistan at the hands of U.S. forces.

A note on the second one – this is not an example of Muslims being evil. This is an example of oppressed groups being encouraged to scapegoat Jews for what those who are actually in power are doing. In other words, this is how anti-Semitism works.

(Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog.)

Erasing Jewish Women

Bea Arthur was born Bernice Frankel. I didn’t find that out until the day she died.

Kirsten Fermaglich writes, “Had Maude been labeled ‘a Jewish mother,’ her courage and fiery independence probably would have been caricatured as insignificant nagging. The decision to make Maude a WASP allowed her to be a “prototypical woman” and thus an icon of the women’s movement.” Cole at JVoices responds: “Fermaglich outlining that to be an ‘icon’ meant erasing race and ethnicity, requires that we ask the question, if the character ‘had to be a WASP,’ whose women’s movement then were they really talking about and portraying?!”

The eternal question.

Lately I’ve been researching female Ashkenazi writers. Anna Margolin, Fradel Stock, Elza Frydrych Shatzkin. Margolin died a recluse who requested that her tombstone say that she’d “wasted her life/On trash, on nothing;”* Stock was institutionalized and died in a sanatorium; Shatzkin killed herself at age 25. Meanwhile, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Sholem Aleichem (and then Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, Michael Chabon, Jonathan Safran Foer…) enjoyed immense and lasting acclaim. I read Stock’s “The Shorn Head” and found it exquisitely sad – it’s about a young Jewish widow trying, unsuccessfully, to grow against rigid gender roles. The character isn’t plucky or resilient; the psychic toll of oppression is evident throughout the story. Margolin, whose work explored the silencing of women, wrote about “pressure in her throat, obstruction; imagining growths, tumors.”* I’ve felt that – tightness in my solar plexus and my chest. Actual pain in my throat. Stress and emotions are physical. The body responds to the mind responds to the body.

Anyone with an MFA knows about the attrition rate after grad school – writers who go back out into the real world and fail to get published (enough), or gradually give up on “becoming” writers, or both. They get other jobs. They stop writing. They make themselves stop caring.

Any woman with an MFA knows that those who stop writing are disproportionately female. And here I am with one unpublished novel (which I still think is good, although I’m embarrassed to admit it to those who ask), plans to change careers, and a knot under my ribs. No 500 pounds a month, no room of my own. But this isn’t about me – it’s about all of us. It scares me that if I want to be a Jewish artist, Margolin and Stock and Shatzkin are my role models.


You won’t find a Wikipedia entry for Bertha Pappenheim, German Jewish feminist and activist. A search will, however, redirect you to the entry for Anna O., Freud’s famous patient. Anna O. did stuff besides suffer from hysteria! Who knew? But the work of Jewish German feminists isn’t noteworthy – at least, not as noteworthy as their use to the work of men.


Gertrude Berg was once as well known as Eleanor Roosevelt. The show that she wrote and starred in paved the way for The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy, and all the sitcoms that came after. How many people today have heard of Gertrude Berg?


From Lital Levy’s “How the Camel Found Its Wings” (in The Flying Camel, a collection of essays by Mizrahi women):

When I told the professor of Hebrew literature in my department that I wanted to write my undergraduate honors thesis on the poetry of Anton Shammas and Na’im ‘Araide (two Palestinian-Israeli writers of both Hebrew and Arabic), she refused to work with me, offering flimsy excuses.

After a few weeks of trying to meet with her and getting nowhere, I asked her bluntly: “I know there’s another reason behind this. Would you tell me what the real problem is?” She paused, made a face, and then answered me in Hebrew. “I feel you’re neglecting your Hebrew because of this Arabic business. But I understand your attraction to Arabic – it seems more exotic to you.”

…Did this young, female, ostensibly progressive professor know that my father and his entire family were born in Iraq, that Arabic was their mother tongue, that Arabic was the language in which my grandmother expressed her love for me and my sister on our all-too-brief visits to Israel? She did.

Jewish women erasing other Jewish women – deliberately, forcefully, frantically.


Jewish women are stereotyped as loud and pushy. Many of us want to reclaim this; we want to celebrate our strength! But I want there to be room for quiet, sensitive Jewish women, too. I want my identity to have room for me.


If I were to go to the Western Wall to pray, I would have to do it silently. I could be arrested for singing.


And do I even need to mention the lack of women in visual representations of Jewishness? When you see typical pictures of Jews praying, which Jews are they?


I know this is all complicated. I know that Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath and countless writers I haven’t heard of met bad ends, too. I know that Jonathan Lebowitz would never enjoy the same popularity as Jon Stewart, even though he’s openly Jewish. I know about Ayelet Waldman, Adrienne Rich, Cynthia Ozick. I know the term “erasure” makes it sound like I’m putting a name change or an unkind remark on the same level as murder, colonization, genocide – but I don’t know what else to call it. I know women have been talking about erasure for a long time.

And I know there’s hope.

I’m just saying that I can’t separate my erasure as a Jew and my erasure as a woman. I’m just saying we have losses to mourn.

* From The Tribe of Dina, edited by Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz and Irene Klepfisz.

Bernie Madoff and anti-Semitism

The Boston Review issued a survey recently, and surprise, many blame the Jews for the financial crisis:

In order to assess explicit prejudice toward Jews, we directly asked respondents “How much to blame were the Jews for the financial crisis?” with responses falling under five categories: a great deal, a lot, a moderate amount, a little, not at all. Among non-Jewish respondents, a strikingly high 24.6 percent of Americans blamed “the Jews” a moderate amount or more, and 38.4 percent attributed at least some level of blame to the group.

While the article seems to mostly discuss Bernie Madoff and his standing among non-Jews, there is something here we can’t ignore: when something goes wrong economically in a country, it’s Jews who are to blame. The media going to lengths to point out Madoff’s being one of us, with all the baggage that carries, is not actually helping us at all.

I have to confess that I was not surprised about the breakdown between Democrats and Republicans; Republicans and especially the Christian Zionists are certainly not friends of ours, and Democrats may not actually be left-wing, but it’s not surprising to me that at least those nominally left-wing surveyed tended to blame us.

Anyway, the bottom line here is this: in the United States we have enjoyed mostly benevolent interactions unprecedented in our history, but even here when things go bad it could be bad for us. It can and does happen anywhere.

What do we do? We get punished from people when we don’t engage with them and stick to ourselves, and leave ourselves vulnerable when we do and things like this happen.

While I’m going to find a cite for this later, along these lines, 2008 was an all-time high for the province of Alberta in reported anti-Semitic incidents.

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.