Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Allies? What allies?

There's a section from April Rosenblum's "The Past Didn't Go Anywhere":
Our political decisions are also affected. Historical attitudes toward Jews taught us to believe our own struggle was not worthwhile. Gentile European intellectuals, including thinkers who heavily influenced the Left, like Hegel, taught that Jews were a people ‘outside’ of history; prominent theories held that because Jews had no land of our own, we were a deformed group without a role to play in history and revolution. In addition, much developing revolutionary theory saw the groups that mattered in creating social change as the industrial laborers or peasants. But European Jews, having been excluded from many traditional trades, often didn’t fit neatly into those categories. From both directions, Jews learned we didn’t matter; our only meaningful role in
changing the world would be supporting other peoples’ struggles; in making ourselves useful. All this has compounded the biggest piece of internalized antisemitism: After centuries of experiencing other people not coming to our defense when we were targeted by violence and persecution, Jews have internalized the idea that there’s no hope of getting other people to stand with us. For Jews who struggle for social justice, that means we often stay quiet about anti-Jewish oppression: We learn to fight in support of other groups without requesting the solidarity we, ourselves, need. For Jewish communities, it means we lose sight of building a strategy for our liberation  by finding allies in other grassroots communities. Instead, we depend on those in power, hoping that if we are useful to them, they will protect us. At times that leads us to cooperate in the oppression of others.
Well, leftists are still defining oppression to exclude anti-Jewish oppression. Has any anti-racist group, blog, or individual of note talked about Glenn Beck's "expose" on George Soros, "The Puppermaster"? Because, that would be the sort of prominent, classically conspiracist, right-wing antisemitism that I would think would make an easy target for anyone who cared about antisemitism even just a little. But while I've seen plenty about it from Jewish groups and individuals (all the way from the ADL to Jewish Funds for Justice), I've seen nothing from the anti-racist discourse I follow most closely. Am I missing something?

For that matter, nothing about Howard Jacobson winning the Man Booker Prize for The Finkler Question. Of course, nothing on Ahmadinejad saying that Wikileaks was a Zionist conspiracy. Frankly, nothing at all, except when Jews are being criticized for not being white or for not being good enough allies to other people. If it were one story here or there, it would be one thing, but it's terribly consistent, and the failure to even mention Beck's antisemitism just really highlights how completely Jews are ignored by so many "anti-oppression" activists. A lot of anti-racists seem to see no problem with completely erasing Jews. If there's a criticism of Rosenblum I'd make here, it's that the lack of hope for real, consistent allies isn't so much a bit of internalized antisemitism so much as an honest assessment of continuing realities.

(And if anyone wonders why some Jews might turn to "Christian Zionists" for support, stop wondering.)


Unknown said...

Ooooh, I remember reading this quite a while ago from someone who I think was trying to convince me that hey, look, someone cares!

It's.. problematic though. And starts off from the get-go with a big no-no. "Several other groups are in more imminent danger". Oppression olympics are usually a big faux pas on the left, yet here, once again... Isn't that kind of the issue? Isn't language like that why we DON'T talk about what you have listed in the first place?

And of course said pamphlet goes on to talk about the that "real oppression".*

"If there's a criticism of Rosenblum I'd make here, it's that the lack of hope for real, consistent allies isn't so much a bit of internalized antisemitism so much as an honest assessment of continuing realities." That "internalized antisemitism" sounds an awful lot like "self-hating Jew" no?

It's why the concept of solidarity seems like such a joke. Support the people who are suffering! Except if they happen to be yours then you're being selfish. And of course only a Jew would care about Jewish oppression in the first place. (probably because we are selfish)

*Please, can't we have just one of these handy pamphlets that doesn't go on about how Israel is such a big bad and it's "understandable" that people get confused and pissed off at Jews instead? I rather think these pamphlets are part of the problem.

Matt said...

Well, I do think several other groups are in more imminent danger. Although I think lots of people, even those who usually are good at avoiding Oppression Olympics, can't help but say that Jews aren't really so very oppressed, saying one danger is more imminent is not the same as saying 'greater danger.'

And, for the most part, even though there are other problems (and disagreements) I do have with Rosenblum in other places (like me being a Zionist), I think the pamphlet is mostly a reasonable way to talk to Radicals.

She was part of a workshop on fighting antisemitism "within the movement" that I attended several years ago. One thing I found really heartening at the end was one co-panelist said that, although he's an anarchist and opposed to the existence of Israel, it's a problem that a lot of people are "anarchists" but only really with respect to Israel.

But, of course, Rosenblum is Jewish (and a Yiddishist, to boot), so using her as evidence that someone cares kind of misses the point about having allies. And while some individuals are sometimes solid allies, individuals do die fairly quickly, so the solidity of any particular individual doesn't really mean anything about movements Jews could ally with.

Unknown said...

Fair enough, you seem to know a lot more about her than I do--though weirdly I think I may have known someone who went to that same panel.

One of the things that comes up a lot in drug reform (what I mostly work on) is after a conference having the yes we are all geared up and ready to go now let's actually do these things we've been talking about.

Whereas with these panels and pamphlets regarding Left anti-Semitism there's a big to-do and then folks seem to be thinking, well I'm glad that's over with. At least that's been my experience in the notably er, hotheaded debates found in Iowa City (when anti-war existed there) and the Campus Anti-War Network. I'd be curious to know if that's been your experience.

The anarchist you mention, well that seems to be the problem that the pro-Israel camp has no? The whole question of why are folks so gung-ho about Israel and silent on other issues. Or worse when we go to work in some activism that one would think 100% divorced from Israel and suddenly, Jewishness becomes and issue which somehow magically leads back to Israel. It's like we're not allowed to be allies even if the issue has nothing to do with Israel.

Done rambling. Sorry hard to be concise when it comes to Left+Jew.

Matt said...

On these points, I agree with you entirely. And I think nearly every non-Jewish, anti-racist I've ever interacted with (in person or online) needs to take an "anti-oppression 101 course, with special emphasis on applying the same shit to antisemitism."

Yes, the anarchist was referring to something most anti-Israel folks don't think is a problem, the singling out of Israel. I don't know if he'd be opposed merely to singling out Israel in some ways, but he was certainly opposed to singling it out as a state that just has to go.

On that, I stand with Ellen Willis. Lots of people have peculiar reasons for singling out their particular issues, that resonate with them for whatever reason. If an Israeli anarchist singles out Israel, I might have to take them more seriously than someone who desecrates a Jewish cemetery in Poland with Anarchy symbols. If only they would admit that they do single out Israel, rather than claiming that Israel is really the worst whatever, then at least we could perhaps discuss how it's a problem to demonize minorities for convenience. The UN has NO valid reason to single out one member state. An individual might, but that would put their exaggeration and demonization in a completely different category where it's more easily seen to be problematic.

I think the points that Jews lack allies and that this is tied into the history and identity of Leftism remains. It's not a failure of Jews, as if that could even make sense -- do minorities need to live up to some standard to be worthy of allies? But most Leftists are content to ignore everything their 101 training has ever said to them.

יונה said...

I'm really glad for this post. I remember that when the Glen Beck thing happened, I looked on my favourite anti-racist blogs (such as racialicious) looking for coverage, and... nothing. And recently on feministe there's a post on Charlie Sheen's antisemitism - to the effect that while it's bad, it's not as bad as the real problem, which is his abuse of women. That wouldn't be a terrible thing to post but there's really nothing about anti-Jewish oppression outside of Jewish blogs at all, except to say "It's not as bad as _____" or "understandable given_____."

And I find that truly depressing...