Reading the comments on this post analyzing the structure of anti-semitism in Western dialogue makes me want to give up and hide.
I spent a lot of time in college immersed in dialogues about Israel and Palestine. I nevertheless consider myself extremely uninformed on the subject. Every time I learned a little, I felt it only exposed how much I didn’t know about the history and subtleties of the conflict.
At the college I went to my freshman year, a pro-Palestinian group led by a very charismatic woman from Lebanon put up posters sneering at the right of return, and suggesting that Jews should not be permitted to go to Israel. This school was located about 15 minutes away from the world trade center, and a large portion of the people on the campus had relatives and friends who were directly affected (if not killed) by the 9/11 attacks. On 9/11, the administration set up a meeting for the students to share their stress and grief, and the very charismatic woman from Lebanon stood up that evening and told the grieving collection of students that the U.S. was to blame for the attacks because of their policies in the middle east and support of Israel.
A friend of mine wanted to establish a counter group — which she did. The intent was, originally, to be a moderate group, neither pro-Palestine nor pro-Israel, expressing disdain for settlements and violence. After I left the school at the beginning of our sophomore year, the group became something else again – an extremist voice that could rightly be called anti-Palestine.
At the college I transferred to, I joined the staff of a Jewish newspaper which, again, had been described to me as attempting a moderate voice. I quickly found they weren’t moderate for me. The newspaper printed articles defending the existence of Israeli settlements, but refused to print any articles criticizing the existence of the Israeli state.
In my experience, discussion about Israel and Palestine is a license for people to act like jackasses.
So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the thread at Feministe is full of people acting like jackasses. I shouldn’t be surprised that people are saying anti-semitism is not a fit topic for discussion, or that people are randomly attacking David Shraub for talking fast and glibly (based on, as far as I can tell, absolutely no information whatsoever).
I get really, really sick of reading people attacking Jewish speakers for things that the attacker is just clearly uninformed about. Yes, anti-semitism means anti-Jewish. Attack etymology if you want, but for heaven’s sake, you come across as – yes – a jackass when you imply that someone using the word in its proper context is showing their racist colors. And, yup, it turns out that Jewish identity is fraught and complicated, and includes both ethnicity and religion. No kidding.
I want to be able to complain about the behavior of pro-Israel people in that thread, but frankly, they weren’t acting as jackassy — this time. Though someone did tell another person that she couldn’t really understand the emotionality of Israel because she’s not a Jew, and I don’t really find that argument persuasive. (I find that, on Alas, we tend to end up with more pro-Israel jackassery than pro-Palestinian jackassery. For instance, we had people on here defending Israel’s poisoning of Palestinian wells. What the fuck?)
Thank heavens for Holly, and for Julie (The Girl Detective), and for David Shraub, and for a few other people.
But really, what the hell?
Debate about Israel and Palestine is plugging into something really, really weird. We don’t seem to get this level of emotionality and jackassery on other foreign policy issues, even ones that involve equivalent levels of death and suffering.
Maybe part of it is anti-semitism, as I’m sure some Jewish people would suggest — certainly, a strange hostility toward Jews does sometime arise in progressive American conversation about Israel. In certain conversations, including a few that have taken place on Feministe, I feel that liberal Jews who oppose Israel’s current actions — like The Girl Detective — are treated with suspicion and berated for arrogance for reasons that seem as though they can only be related to our ethnic identification.
And the right of return is probably part of America’s emotional connection to the issue, too, since a lot of American Jews do feel a connection with Israel. And, of course, America as a nation has a strange level of investment in Israel — historically, and in terms of our providing weaponry to Israel for bizarre reasons that suit Christians who believe in the apocalypse. Certainly, these things give our national discourse plenty of reasons to be fraught with emotion — investment and entanglement, both positive and negative.
But is that all? It feels like there’s something else, something which sings a siren call to jackassery.
It makes me sad, and uncomfortable, and it makes me want to weep. It makes me feel like I can’t be part of a conversation on this issue unless I’m willing to endorse well-poisoning on one side, or to mention my Jewish identity only when I’m using it as part of an argument against Israel (“I am a Jew, but…”).
I don’t know about other Jews, but in my case, it often means I just shut down when I see conversation about Israel and Palestine. I am not wanted there. Either my voice is too progressive, or too Jewish. Such conversations will just make me sad and upset. So I pass.