Author: has written 1251 posts for this blog.

Lauren founded this blog in 2001.
Return to: Homepage | Blog Index

36 Responses

  1. Updike's ghost
    Updike's ghost February 6, 2009 at 11:18 pm |

    “I agree when David says that, as with other forms of bigotry, it’s the victims of that bigotry that should get to define what is and what is not anti-Semitism.”

    I’ve seen this claim repeated over the years, and, with all due respect, it’s bullshit. Whether the issue is sexism, racism, anti-semitism, etc., the proper definition should be debated based on its merits, not automatically ceded to any particular group.

  2. Morningstar
    Morningstar February 7, 2009 at 12:17 am |

    this was one of the best posts i have read on this subject.

    i feel like a zeitgest has sprung out of this gaza situation, where many americans are looking for new solutions to this mess.

    thanks for this

  3. Lauren O
    Lauren O February 7, 2009 at 12:22 am |

    Thank you for this. It’s one of the most balanced and nuanced accounts of the issue that I’ve read. I especially like your points about it not being a zero-sum game.

  4. Ben
    Ben February 7, 2009 at 7:17 am |

    moderators, if there’s a way to uncontribute both of my previous comments, I’d like to do that.

    Thanks,
    Ben

  5. Ariane
    Ariane February 7, 2009 at 8:11 am |

    Wow, what a post. Thanks for helping to give words to my feelings when I talk to Jewish people about this.

    There is no “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” there is only 2 eyes and 2 teeth. And what went before will never justify what we do today.

    Now if only we could create an online community to talk directly with Hamas…

  6. catsden
    catsden February 7, 2009 at 10:41 am |

    excellent, well-thought out, and thoughtfully presented post. Thank you.

  7. Maria P.
    Maria P. February 7, 2009 at 10:54 am |

    Great post. You’ve nailed it with the ‘Israel Republicanism’. Wish we saw more commentary like this in the mainstream.

  8. Morningstar
    Morningstar February 7, 2009 at 11:31 am |

    don’t apologize for your posts, ben.

  9. Ruchama
    Ruchama February 7, 2009 at 12:51 pm |

    Thanks for this post.

    An update of the banning of the Arab political parties — as expected, the Israeli Supreme Court overturned the Election Committee’s decision, and they will be in the election.

  10. Sivan
    Sivan February 7, 2009 at 1:35 pm |

    An intelligent, knowledgeable, well thought out post.
    Your reasoning is sound and logical. I enjoyed reading this very much.

    Sadly, as an Israeli, what I see around me is the Hamas’ actions moving more an Israelis towards the Likud, and even further right. At the same time Israel’s actions is making more Palestinians extremists too.

    I particularly liked your mention of compromises, for it seems that both the Israelis and the Palenstinians are each holding on to a certain fantasy that can never exist. We all need to realize that no ideal exists for either of our peoples. There are only compromises. Neither of us will ever get all that we wish to have.

    There is a saying in hebrew, loosely translated to: “There is the desired, and there is what exists”, refering to the vast difference between what we want and what we can get.

    I think this whole region needs a dose of reality. Is peace not worth giving up on fantasies that could never exist anyway?

    Yes, there is only shalom. It’s the only way.

  11. a lawyer
    a lawyer February 7, 2009 at 5:09 pm |

    So there would have to be limits on immigration. If these limits did not discriminate on the basis of religion or ethnicity – if they ended up keeping Jews out of the country – Israel would not be a Jewish state by definition #3. If they did, it would not be a democracy.

    Would such policies, without more, really make Israel a non-democracy? That’s an awfully cabined definition of “democracy.”

    Some democracies have jus sanguinis laws that go quite a ways back. Of course the policy in question is different, since it’s not “auto-citizenship for people with Israeli citizen ancestors n generations back,” but “auto-citizenship for Jews (as defined by Israeli law).”

  12. Maureen
    Maureen February 7, 2009 at 5:41 pm |

    @ a lawyer: The democracies with jus sanguinis laws tend to have a supermajority of the national/ethnic group in question. I can’t see Arab Muslims and Christians supporting the “right of return”.

  13. Maureen
    Maureen February 7, 2009 at 5:46 pm |

    So do you think free U2 concerts would help?

    (Hey, U2 made a difference in another situation where two closely-related populations with religious differences and strangely convergent cuisine kept killing one another for a bit of land.)

  14. Rebecca
    Rebecca February 7, 2009 at 9:41 pm |

    @Updike: I get what you’re saying – I think it’s more that people who don’t experience a particular manifestation of bigotry often have difficulty seeing why it is bigotry – for example, why a man might be less likely to realize that praising women’s “natural skill at caring and nurturing” is sexist because it’s part of a tradition of confining women to the home. Perhaps it’s not so much that the victims get to “define” it as that their opinion has more weight.

    @lawyer: what Maureen said, basically. That, and the fact that the conflation of Judaism as a religion or race with nationality, whether Israeli or just “foreign,” is exactly the cause of a great deal of anti-Semitism. (See: “When he speaks French, he thinks Jewish, and while he turns out German verses, in his life he only expresses the nature of his nationality” – “nationality” in context meaning “Jewishness.” That’s from Mein Kampf.)

    (Thanks to everyone else for the kind comments.)

  15. misstickle
    misstickle February 7, 2009 at 10:15 pm |

    “That is why there must be peace. Because war doesn’t accomplish anything”.
    Yeah just look what peace has done for the Tibetans.

  16. misstickle
    misstickle February 7, 2009 at 10:56 pm |

    by the way I didn’t mean that last comment as snark

  17. Airina
    Airina February 8, 2009 at 11:20 am |

    I’d like to join the chorus. Thank you for putting into words why I am so reluctant as a Jew to take part in conversations regarding Israel. Please post more on the subject.

  18. FreddyBak
    FreddyBak February 8, 2009 at 12:23 pm |

    “Obviously there is hate on both sides. But I haven’t seen from Arabs or Muslims the same level of “they hate us anyway, so it’s not worth negotiating with them” that I have from Jews.”

    Um, ok. I don’t know what that is supposed to mean. At all. Maybe it’s your experience specifically with personal interactions. I don’t know. But if you are somehow telling me that Jewish bigotry towards Arabs/Muslims is somehow worse than the inverse, I have a hard time discribing your view as something other than willfull blindness.

  19. chingona
    chingona February 8, 2009 at 12:30 pm |

    I liked this post and agreed with most of what you said, particularly the my country right-or-wrong aspect.

    I’m not entirely comfortable with this, though:

    You wrote:

    The fact that the conflation of Judaism as a religion or race with nationality, whether Israeli or just “foreign,” is exactly the cause of a great deal of anti-Semitism.

    This makes it sound as if antisemitism is caused by Jews, by their beliefs or their actions or their identification with other Jews. I don’t think that’s the case.

    Nationality here becomes a difficult word. I tend to think of nationality as citizenship. My nationality is American. My race is white. My ethnicity is Jewish. I understand not everyone breaks down the categories the same way, but let me just stick with these definitions for a paragraph or two.

    Bringing this back to Law of Return, I really don’t see it as problematic in the sense of conflating Jewishness with nationality. It may be problematic politically in some future version of Israel and there are other grounds to argue against it, but I just don’t buy this argument that it conflates things that must be separate or that its existence causes antisemitism. I’m not intimately familiar with the jus sanguinis laws in other countries. I don’t know how the Irish or German governments establish whether a person is Irish or German for immigration purposes. I’m under the impression that the German law applies to people of German ethnicity, regardless of whether their ancestors ever had citzenship in a German state (that may be incorrect, but that’s always been my impression). And I know people from Latin American countries who have obtained Spanish passports by having one Spanish grandparent. So if someone is a Venezuelan citizen, that’s their “nationality” – Venezuelan – but they may have, through their family, a Spanish “ethnicity” that would give them certain rights under Spanish law. So unless jus sanguinis laws are limited to people who have an actual parent of the actual citizenship of the country in question, if jus sanguinis laws are generally based on a broader sense of ethnic identity, I don’t see Israel’s Law of Return as more problematic on that level than any other ethnically based immigration preference.

    I do think there’s an argument to be made that having a Law of Return for Jews while Palestinian right of return remains unsettled is unjust or problematic. I tend to think that if there is a negotiated peace solution, it will be a two-state solution and Israel will remain majority Jewish. If there is a one-state settlement, Law of Return probably would go away, but I could also see it being preserved as a concession in exchange for resolving Palestinian land rights/restitution/whatever. The demographic implications are a lot less than they were because most Jews live either in the United States or Israel, and I don’t expect to see massive emigration of American Jews.

    In the United States, we don’t generally have corporate rights or rights as members of a group. We only have rights as individuals, and I think that’s appropriate in an American context. But I think in some situations, in some iterations, in countries with a different political history than the United States, there can be a role for corporate rights in a democratic context. Corporate rights probably deserve a much higher level of scrutiny because there’s a lot of dangers therein, but I don’t think they are always and in every situation inherently undemocratic.

  20. chingona
    chingona February 8, 2009 at 12:54 pm |

    1. By “anti-Semitism” I would like to specify that I mean, here and in the rest of the post, the hatred of Jews. It is true that Arabs are also a Semitic people, but getting bogged down in this kind of quibble when the word has been used for centuries to mean hatred of Jews isn’t conducive to anything.

    The other day I was reading about that concentration camp “doctor” who had been thought to be still alive in Latin America somewhere but who now is known to have been living in Egypt until his death in 1992. In addition to a few other pursuits, he spent his retirement working on a book whose aim was to prove the Nazi regime was not anti-Semitic because the Jews aren’t actually Semites. Um, okay.

  21. Rebecca
    Rebecca February 8, 2009 at 2:05 pm |

    @Freddy: Not at all. Both are equally bad. But I’m referring to a particular specimen of bigotry, one which I have seen from Jews more often than from Arabs or Muslims: that of attributing bigotry to the other side and using it to dismiss them. The example I used in the post was of Jews speculating on why Palestinians elected Hamas – we know that many voted for Hamas because they provide basic social services and Fatah is thoroughly corrupt, but it’s so much simpler to think that they did so because they hate Jews.

  22. Julie
    Julie February 8, 2009 at 2:30 pm |

    However. Criticism of Israel’s actions is not, in and of itself, anti-Semitic. Period.

    I could be misreading you, but I’m confused by this point. Was David saying otherwise? And what sensible reader of Feministe doesn’t already know this?

    Also, I’ll admit that the sarcasm throughout the post (for example, “the right of Jews to have a little state of their very own”) makes me very uncomfortable. I know how frustrating it is to deal with fellow Jews who support Israel’s actions unconditionally, but I also know how frustrating it is to deal with non-Jews who view Jewish people as dim, privileged hypocrites when support for Israel may be coming from a history of violence, and I think we need to make it a priority to open up a space between those two extremes.

  23. Rebecca
    Rebecca February 8, 2009 at 3:52 pm |

    @Julie: You’re right, I probably should have been more clear. David talked in his post about how “We have the right to name our own reality, and when Jews claim anti-Semitism, that can’t be brushed aside so easily.” Many Jews (please understand that when I say “many Jews” I am referring to my mother, my family, and my childhood friends) believe that any criticism of Israel is indeed anti-Semitic. That’s what I’m addressing/analyzing.

    Your point about opening a space between the two extremes is one of the things I hope to accomplish with a post like this – to show how it’s possible to actively support a Jewish state without wanting to oppress Palestinians. I think that shaking up that Israel-Republican cohesiveness would greatly benefit Jews, since the partly-consequent automatic association of Jews with unconditional support for Israel causes problems for Jews regardless of whether they do support Israel’s action unconditionally (see: the Venezuela story you recently covered). I apologize for my dismissive treatment of a reason Jews might want a Jewish state.

  24. GallingGalla
    GallingGalla February 8, 2009 at 3:52 pm |

    I could be misreading you, but I’m confused by this point. Was David saying otherwise? And what sensible reader of Feministe doesn’t already know this?

    Yes, David was saying otherwise. When he states that those of us who critique israel’s policies wrt the Palestinians are stating views that are supposedly inimical to the survival of israel and calls us “fatally misguided”, he is quite clearly stating that criticism of israel, in and of itself, is antisemitism.

  25. Rebecca
    Rebecca February 8, 2009 at 5:00 pm |

    @chingona: The problem I’m talking about there is when people think that because someone is a Jew, “Jewish” rather than “German” is their nationality as well as their ethnicity or religion, because a “real German” is Nordic and Christian. Rather than Jews associating with each other being the cause, it’s an unwillingness to believe that a Jew can be a German. Which is one of the reasons that ethnic/religious nation-states are sketchy.

    The conflation of religion and nationality is problematic because one can convert to Judaism yet have no particular allegiance to Israel, but it would be silly to suggest that anyone becomes a naturalized Israeli citizen and has no allegiance at all to Israel. (And it is religion, not ethnicity – I believe the High Court ruled that converts could not avail themselves of the Law of Return.) Too, there’s the issue of Palestinian right of return – a Palestinian refugee surely has much more of a claim than any given Jew of my acquaintance whose family lived in Europe for the past thousand years, yet the latter can come to Israel and the former cannot.

  26. Julie
    Julie February 8, 2009 at 5:21 pm |

    Rebecca and GallingGalla – thanks for the clarification wrt David’s point. I don’t think it was his intention to accuse people of anti-Semitism (maybe this isn’t under dispute), but I can see how he ended up doing it.

  27. Sailorman
    Sailorman February 8, 2009 at 6:08 pm |

    # Rebecca says:
    February 8th, 2009 at 2:05 pm – Edit

    @Freddy: Not at all. Both are equally bad. But I’m referring to a particular specimen of bigotry, one which I have seen from Jews more often than from Arabs or Muslims: that of attributing bigotry to the other side and using it to dismiss them. The example I used in the post was of Jews speculating on why Palestinians elected Hamas – we know that many voted for Hamas because they provide basic social services and Fatah is thoroughly corrupt, but it’s so much simpler to think that they did so because they hate Jews.

    this is an excellent post. But both of those explanations are overly simplistic.

    It is certainly the case that people can and do vote for a person or party without therefore endorsing all of their platform. (my recent Democratic vote is a great example.) But generally speaking you have to endorse or at least be OK with the MAJOR aspects of their platform, and/or include them in your balancing act.

    The unfortunate reality of palestinian politics is that there are not so many aspects of the platform, because so many major problems exist. Understandably “food” and “electricity” were big issues. So was, presumably, “war,” cprruption, etc. (the fact that we actually get to care about our candidate’s stance on the Kyoto accords is a luxury.

    At the time of the hamas/fatah vote, Fatah was corrupt. Still is. That would be part of any balancing act. But Hamas’ existing and predicted future relationship with Israel was widely known. That would–should–be part of a balancing act as well.

    So why only look at one? It may not be that folks who voted for Hamas did so with the destruction of israel as a priority. But every intelligent person who voted for hamas declined to veto hamas as an option, because at some level they declined to prioritize selecting a party without that in their charter. Generally speaking, you can probably conclude something from that, don’t you think?

    It’s the exact same logic which applies to Democrats, Republicans, Likud members, and Labor members. It’s the same logic which gets applied here–correctly–to note that if people vote without giving much “negative weight” to anti-women views held by politicians, they can be presumed to have some sort of anti-women views. It’s the same logic that gets used to suggest that electing a really “green” KKK member to politics might not be a good idea.

    As applied to israeli jews, for example, you could suggest that anyone who supports the parties that have announced a predisposition to return to war are in some way supportive of a war. Right? I don’t know why on earth you would classify that conclusion as bigotry so long as it is generally applied.

  28. chingona
    chingona February 8, 2009 at 8:09 pm |

    Rather than Jews associating with each other being the cause, it’s an unwillingness to believe that a Jew can be a German. Which is one of the reasons that ethnic/religious nation-states are sketchy.

    Okay. I agree with all of that. But I do get frustrated when, in discussion of the law of return, someone makes a comparison to another country with similar laws, and they are met with “But Jewish isn’t a nationality!” I think that response, while technically true if you define nationality as citizenship as opposed to ethnicity or race, is very dismissive of the sense that many Jewish people have of themselves as part of “a people.” It’s a weird thing for me because my own identity is very American. One, I think I’m very aware of being American from living in other countries for many years – it made my culture visible to me in a way I don’t think it always is to people who have never left the United States – and two, I think even my Jewish identity is a very American type of Jewish identity. But at the same time, I’m really hesitant to tell someone else who prioritizes their various identities in a different way than I do that they’re just wrong, that they shouldn’t put their Jewishness first.

    Too, there’s the issue of Palestinian right of return – a Palestinian refugee surely has much more of a claim than any given Jew of my acquaintance whose family lived in Europe for the past thousand years, yet the latter can come to Israel and the former cannot.

    Personally, I find this a much more persuasive argument against the law of return than arguments based on what Jewishness is and isn’t.

    As for David, I think I saw his argument more the way Julie did, but I also understand why some people reacted very strongly against what he was saying.

  29. chingona
    chingona February 8, 2009 at 8:18 pm |

    Folks might find this post from Jewschool interesting. It’s about a recent talk given by an American-born Israeli historian and journalist on “What we talk about when we talk about Israel.” It covers a lot of psychological issues for American Jews that I could really relate to, as well as some interesting points more directly related to the political situation in Israel.

  30. chingona
    chingona February 8, 2009 at 8:24 pm |

    As for the Arab parties, my understanding is that the law that was used to ban them – before the Supreme Court overturned that decision – was originally pushed through by leftists to ban the Kahanist parties. I think the question there has as much to do with limits on offensive speech/beliefs/actions in a democratic society as it does with the connection between an ethnically/religiously based state and democracy.

  31. Ruchama
    Ruchama February 8, 2009 at 10:17 pm |

    As for the Arab parties, my understanding is that the law that was used to ban them – before the Supreme Court overturned that decision – was originally pushed through by leftists to ban the Kahanist parties. I think the question there has as much to do with limits on offensive speech/beliefs/actions in a democratic society as it does with the connection between an ethnically/religiously based state and democracy.

    Yeah. IIRC, the Kahanist party is the only one that’s ever been successfully banned under that law. They’ve tried banning Arab parties and maybe a few others before, and the Supreme Court has always over turned it, except in the case of Kahan’s party.

  32. Matt
    Matt February 8, 2009 at 11:58 pm |

    Chingona, if you’re talking about Gershom Gorenberg, I saw him here in NY, and I’m really glad I did. I’d also recommend his blog, SouthJerusalem.com.

    Aslo, I read David’s comment the same way chingona and Julie did. I think it’s important to say that “Israel shouldn’t exist” is not a critique of Israeli policy. I think David was responding to something more (though maybe not intended to be more) than just a criticism of policy.

  33. Rebecca
    Rebecca February 9, 2009 at 9:15 pm |

    @Sailorman: I would classify it as bigotry for several reasons, but mainly because other factors (including, again, basic daily needs) are never, ever considered. And you are absolutely right about the very ability to consider things like environmentalism being a luxury.

    @chingona: Oh, I’m not criticizing someone for putting her Jewishness above her nationality if she so chooses (likewise any other religious or political or social belief or whatever). What I am criticizing is others thinking it’s their prerogative to do so because she is a Jew. Whether they’re anti-Semites or pro-Semites, as it were. Richard Jeffrey Newman put it quite well in a comment to another post: “I have to say that I find this highly presumptuous and almost objectionable…It is one thing for me to decide to claim Israel as ‘my’ Jewish homeland (which I don’t); but it is quite something else for Israel…to claim me in [that] way.”

    Thank you very much for the link.

    (I realize I was fatally ambiguous in my last comment to you; it is converts from Judaism who cannot avail themselves of the Law.)

    @Ruchama, chingona: That is correct. Kach was banned under an amendment to the Elections Law which prohibited parties that denied Israel’s character as (1) a Jewish state or (2) a democracy, or (3) incited racism. They fell under #3. Unfortunately it’s increasingly difficult for a Israel to be both Jewish and democratic, and the existing governments seem to be erring on the side of Jewish. (I’d love to see if anyone files to ban Yisrael Beitenu, who are clearly racist. Unfortunately, they’re also looking to do really well in the election tomorrow.)

    @Matt: I found David’s comment problematic just because it gives credence to attitudes like my mother’s, who supported wholeheartedly the invasion of Gaza and considered any other position anti-Semitic. “Israel shouldn’t exist” is another matter – maybe it should not have been founded the way it was founded, but one can’t erase that and start over; one can only build on that foundation and work to be better. (Jamal Zahalka of Balad, one of the parties recently unbanned, has said that he and his party will never recognize Zionism, but that of course they recognize the state of Israel.)

  34. David Schraub
    David Schraub February 10, 2009 at 12:03 am |

    I can’t speak to how it was interpreted, obviously, but my position is not that Israel can’t be criticized without it being anti-Semitic. I don’t think criticism of Israel is inherently anti-Semitic, and I think some criticisms of Israel are, in fact, anti-Semitic (or informed by it). I don’t think anybody here disagrees with those two goalposts — the question is where things fall in between them.

    My point specifically, though, was how any given claim by a Jew that a criticism is anti-Semitic is treated by listeners. Do some folks automatically knee-jerk any critique as anti-Semitic? I suppose — I suspect folks of the Mort Klein persuasion tend to make that move. I, too, have family members whom I think can fall into this camp, at least sometimes.

    But in general, I’m leery of the assumption that when a Jew says that something feels anti-Semitic, that statement is one made without any sort of critical thought or analysis — made completely out of blind ignorance or loyalty. I think our default assumption should be that when a Jew tells us that something in the current discourse makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe as a Jew, that they are not behaving frivolously, but are saying something serious, meaningful, and often difficult, and we should respond accordingly.

    There are lots of reasons why a given critique — even one you might facially agree with — might set off one’s anti-Semitism radar. The rhetoric might seem out of proportion to the alleged offense, or it might evoke tropes that have classically been used to justify violence and discrimination against Jews. The speaker might be linked with groups whose criticisms are more legitimately problematic — or the listener might simply be primed to associate them with that based on other experiences they’ve had. If the speaker doesn’t have a history of engagement with Jews, then there might be suspicion that even reasonable critiques are a facade for more radical attitudes (lack of trust). Or any other number of things in the presentation, rhetoric, framing, or posture of the speaker which causes the listener to question whether — in the course of their analysis — they are actually committed to making the world a safe and just place for Jews.

    None of which is to say that the fact that X Jew has any of these thoughts means that we have to automatically defer to their evaluation. We shouldn’t. But we should take the claim seriously, and be very wary of grouping and dismissing a whole class of complaints as an irrational, instinctive response.* Hence, my language: “brushed aside so easily.” For the most part, I think that Jews are leveling these anti-Semitic charges for a reason — not just as a random discursive power-play.

    * I’m not saying that’s what the poster was doing here. I’m merely expressing my belief that pressing too hard on the “criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic” line risks making it impossible for people who genuinely feel that X criticism is actually anti-Semitic to bring the claim up without being summarily dismissed as “playing the anti-Semitism card”. We have to find a balance.

  35. Rebecca
    Rebecca February 11, 2009 at 1:16 am |

    @David: That’s what I was trying to get at with my comment above to Updike – that a comment might ping a Jew as anti-Semitic when a gentile wouldn’t pick up on it. That’s not really what I’m addressing. Clearly, though, there are a good number of people who feel that all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic (again, my mother thinks that to want peace in Gaza is anti-Semitic, so I’m coming from somewhere close to home here), which claim should not be taken seriously. I wouldn’t say that it’s intentionally playing the anti-Semitism card to close discussion; I think many really don’t give it any critical thought. But whatever the intention, that attitude makes it really difficult to discuss any kind of viable solution.

    Thank you for clarifying, though.

  36. links for 2009-02-23 « Embololalia
    links for 2009-02-23 « Embololalia February 23, 2009 at 1:05 pm |

    [...] Feministe » Justice, Justice You Shall Pursue In the Bible, the land of Israel is promised to the Hebrews, etc. etc. etc. This has no actual relevance, of course. But even people who aren’t that religious sometimes buy into the belief that Jews have a right to that patch of desert that supersedes others’ right to it, because their ancestors lived and worshiped there, or that the haven for Jews all over the world has to be right there. (Somewhat unsurprisingly, the same people are distinctly unwilling to give their houses to descendants of Native Americans.)…Because “pro-Israel” is nearly as bullshit a phrase as “pro-America.” Does being “pro-Israel” mean you support Israel’s right to exist? Sure, why not. Does it mean you support its right to exist if it has to ban non-Jewish political parties and discriminate against non-Jewish immigrants in order to do so? Less black-and-white. (tags: politics israel ethics antisemitism palestine usa hamas) [...]

Comments are closed.

The commenting period has expired for this post. If you wish to re-open the discussion, please do so in the latest Open Thread.