antisemitism

If you want to help in Israel/Palestine, acknowledge context and support local efforts

I see a lot of Western talk about Israel and Palestine, and not a lot of Western awareness of the context or the work of Israelis and Palestinians. People on both the right and the left often treat Israel/Palestine as a symbol and ignore the fact that it’s a real place, it has a real history, and real people live there.

One of many pieces of context that matters: Israeli Jews are mostly genocide victims and descendants of genocide victims who see Israel as the only reliable way to protect themselves. In their experience, most Jews who relied on non-Jews to protect them died. That context matters in any discussion of Israel, and it’s antisemitic to disregard it.

Another piece of context that matters: Israel is a mess. Israel is about as well-governed as you’d expect from a country run by people with PTSD in one of the most volatile regions in the world. In addition, Israel has from the beginning depended on less-than-stable compromises between different populations in the area, in a way that’s hard to imagine in the West.

I don’t know what would make things better in Israel and Palestine. The more I learn, the less I feel comfortable having a lot of opinions about policy. There are just too many pieces of game-changing context that I’m unfamiliar with.

One of the few things I’m sure of is that no one involved is suffering from a shortage of Western feelings. It’s not news to anyone who lives there that things are a mess. Israelis and Palestinians who live in Israel/Palestine have their own feelings about the situation.

Israelis and Palestinians also have their own opinions about what would help, and they’re doing their own work. There are Israelis and Palestinians all over the political spectrum, pursuing all kinds of attempts to make things better. (Some of which I’m inspired by; some of which I find horrifying.) I think Western conversations on all sides tend to erase the actual Israelis and Palestinians involved.

For instance, the Western left often erases the work of the Israeli left by pretending that only Americans and other Westerners have heard of justice and human rights). Similarly, the Western right often erases the work of Palestinians pursuing coexistence by speaking as though only people in the West have heard of peace.

If loud Western feelings and platitudes from afar could fix the situation in Israel and Palestine, the conflict would have been over decades ago. Palestinians and Israelis have heard it all before. It’s not helpful. Israelis and Palestinians already know about peace and justice, and many of them are working very hard to pursue both.

If you want to help make things better in Israel and Palestine, the best way to do that is by supporting the work being done by pro-justice/pro-peace Palestinians and Israelis who live there. Find Israel/Palestine-based organizations that share your values, and support their work. Foreigners can’t support political parties, but there are a lot of nonprofit organizations doing good work.

I don’t have an extensive knowledge of justice work in Israel and Palestine, but there are a few organizations I’m comfortable recommending:

The Jerusalem Open House For Pride and Tolerance. Hebrew home page; Facebook page  (They used to have an English page as well. In any case, you can use the Hebrew page to find contact emails). 

JOH is an LGBTQ center located in Jerusalem. (In Hebrew, the word for “gay” is a pun on the word for “pride”.) They provide services in Hebrew, Arabic, English, and I think Russian as well. They also organize the Jerusalem LGBT pride parade.

A Wider Bridge (an organization I’m *not* personally familiar with) has an English summary and links to English-language news articles about the Jerusalem Open House. 

Bizchut: The Israel Human Rights Center for People With Disabilities.

Bizchut works for disability rights in Israel, and has information in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. They work on a number of issues, including alternatives to guardianship, inclusive education, voting rights, and communication access for people with disabilities in the legal system.

Yad b’Yad/Hand In Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel  runs joint schools for Jewish Israeli children and Arab Israeli children. The Yad b’Yad schools teach in Hebrew/Arabic/English, and are educationally progressive in other ways as well. (Eg: The Jerusalem Yad b’Yad school has physically disabled students in regular classrooms, which is unusual in Israel.)

There are many other good organizations doing important work on the ground in Israel/Palestine — these are just the ones I’m personally familiar with. Whatever justice issue you care about, there are Israelis and Palestinians who care about it too. If you want to help, support them.

Tl;dr Neither idealization nor contextless criticism will make things better in Israel/Palestine. Palestinians and Israelis are not suffering from a shortage of Western feelings. Israelis and Palestinians already know about justice, peace, and human rights. If you want to help, support local efforts led by Israelis and/or Palestinians who live there.

Responding to a question about Jews and race

Anonymous said to realsocialskills:

I really don’t want to be rude but can you explain to me why there is some sort of line between being Jewish and white? I keep hearing this sentiment that people should not compare the two because of religion and culture but that to me is like Russian people saying they aren’t white because of religions and culture. I don’t mean to hurt feelings but I’m black and Native and I’ve face discrimination based on my looks but I’ve never been able to tell when a person was Jewish just by looking them. Help?

Also I know that there are Jewish people of color but this goes back to my ask of what do people see on them, their Jewishness or their skin color because unless Jewishness is a part of color then we would call them mixed instead of Jewish poc because that skin and lineage mixes with another skin and lineage and produces someone with a dual identity. If I’m out of place, sorry but I’m confused cause I’ve never thought anyone was Jewish from looking at them unless they had a religious identifier.

Realsocialskills said:

The very short version: All Jews are affected by anti-Jewish racism. Some Jews, in some contexts, also have white privilege. Both of these things matter.

White supremacists don’t think that Jews are white. And other ideologies of racism have intensely targeted Jews. (Including Nazism, but not limited to Nazism.)

Most living Jews are very closely related to Jews who were murdered by anti-Jewish racists. (Grandparents, parents, great-grandparents brothers, sisters, spouses, cousins, etc.)

Many living Jews are first-generation refugees from anti-Jewish racial persecution, (or closely related to people who are). Jews have been repeatedly expelled from many, many places.

There are a lot of towns in Europe in which every Jewish resident was murdered. And a lot of Jews who were the sole survivors of those places, and who lost their entire families.

(There are few speakers of Yiddish today because so many Yiddish speakers were murdered by racists. The National Yiddish Book Center is dedicated to preserving as much literature as possible).

This isn’t just about culture and ethnicity. Converting to another religion did not save Jews from racial persecution. Neither did assimilating and acting like everyone else. And this isn’t a new thing, throughout history, Jews have been seen as racially suspect even if they convert to Christianity or another religion, regardless of actual behavior

Race and color are not the same thing. Color is a physical fact. Race is a social construct. And it’s socially constructed in different ways in different times and places. In the US, race mostly gets defined in terms of color. It’s defined differently in different times and places. In Europe, demographic forms have often listed “Jewish” as a race.

It’s also true that in the United States, light-skinned Jews have a degree of white privilege. Especially in liberal cities. Especially in comparison to black people and Native people. Jews are far less likely to face employment discrimination, and far less likely to face police violence. (It happens to Jews too, but it happens to black and Native people a lot more.) And any number of things.

But Jews are only seen as white some of the time. There are physical racialized characteristics associated with Jews. For instance, big noses.  There is also an antisemitic belief that Jews have horns, which used to be commonly believed in the US. It used to be fairly common for Jewish women to get nose jobs to escape from that racial characterization. For most white people, being seen as white has not required body modification.

When people look at skin color, they will probably see a white person. When they know that someone is a Jew, they may not see a white person anymore. It’s not about religious beliefs — Jews are seen as less white regardless of behavior and regardless of belief. (Jews who practice Judaism are often more *visible* as Jews, but anti-Jewish racism can’t be reduced to religious differences.) The novel/movie Gentleman’s Agreement is a good depiction of this issue. (It’s on Netflix, and your public library likely has a copy of the book.)

Related to this, white supremacists don’t think that Jews are white. As you know, white supremacy is still significant in the United States. Steve Bannon’s role in the Trump administration is causing Jews to fear for their own safety. People who are consistently seen as white are mostly not asking themselves “Do I need to flee the country?” (Unless they’re also gay or lesbian or trans or disabled or otherwise marginalized.)

There are significant numbers of antisemitic hate crimes in the United States. They’re reported as religious bias crimes, but that’s somewhat misleading. Eg: This article has an image of anti-semitic graffiti with a swastika and the words “Make America White again”  

Tl;dr The answer to “Are Jews white?” is “sometimes, and it depends on what you mean by white”. If you mean ‘light skinned people who have privilege over black and Native people in the US’, then yes, light-skinned Jews are white. If you mean ‘people who are safe from racialized persecution in the US and worldwide’, then no, Jews aren’t white even when they have light skin.

Light skinned Jews have some degree of white privilege in the US, but it only goes so far. Other white people can count on being seen as white. Jews can’t. Even in situations in white Jews are safe, Jews carry the effects of generational trauma from racial persecution, recent and ancient. The ways in which light skinned Jews have white privilege matter, and the ways in which light skinned Jews do not have white privilege also matter. In most contexts, both of these things are important, and both need to be acknowledged.

Do you think it’s okay to have friends that you disagree with about political issues? I have a close friend that’s much more conservative than me; most of the time we avoid talking about politics, but he listens respectfully when I call him out on something, and even though I’m gay, Jewish, and non-gender conforming I feel very safe around him. Sometimes, though, I feel like I shouldn’t be friends with him, because I would be supporting his problematic views. Thoughts?
realsocialskills said:
 
Yes, It’s absolutely ok to be friends with people you disagree with about important things.
The only alternative would be to be friends only with perfect people. Which isn’t a realistic option. Everyone is wrong about something important, and it’s not necessary to demand perfection as a precondition for legitimate friendship.
  
You get to decide what’s dealbreaking for you and what isn’t. You’ve decided that your friend’s views aren’t dealbreaking for you. That’s a decision you get to make; no one else gets to decide that for you.
 
You’re not supporting his views by being his friend. You’re supporting the idea that, despite his views, you like him, and that he is worthy of your friendship. That is not the same thing. 
 
Other people also get to decide what’s dealbreaking for them and what isn’t, and it’s important to respect that. (Eg: It’s probably not a good idea to invite this guy to come along to something like Nehirim where most people there are there specifically to be in a space that has a positive outlook on gay people and Jews.)
 
It’s also important not to pressure friends for whom some aspects of his worldview are dealbreaking to be like “he’s a great guy, really! You should hang out with us some time!”.
 
It’s also not ok to lecture them on the virtues of tolerance and imply that there’s something wrong with them considering his views dealbreaking. They get to decide they don’t want to be around people with certain views. You have every right to be his friend; they have every right not to.
tl;dr It’s ok to be friends with people who are wrong about important things. It’s ok to decide what’s dealbreaking for you and what isn’t. So do other people. Don’t pressure people to spend time around your friends whose views are dealbreaking for them.

Denigrating "The Old Testament God" can be antisemitic

In Christian culture and secular-ish culture in English-speaking majority-Christian countries, it’s popular to talk about how awful the “Old Testament God” is.

This can amount to casual antisemitism, even if it’s not intended. Because this kind of talk is often a coded way of claiming that Christianity is loving and good, but Judaism is backward and violent.

What Christians call the “Old Testament” is what Jews call “The Bible”. So “The Old Testament God” is the God that Jews believe in. It’s not so cool to claim that Christians believe in a loving God but that Jews believe in a violent and vengeful God. It’s not accurate, and it’s a claim that has been used to justify a lot of horrific violence.

The Old Testament God, according to both Jews and Christians, created the world and gave humanity the Ten Commandments. Christians base a lot of their theology on things found in the OT. Christians do not really reject everything done by the Old Testament God. Denigrating the “Old Testament God”, more often than not, is an implied rejection of Jews.

It’s true that the OT depicts God doing some fairly troubling and violent things. But that’s also true of the Gospels. For instance, the Gospels depict a lake of fire in which certain types of sinners are tortured forever. That doesn’t mean that Christians believe in a bad God who likes torturing people. It means that ancient religious texts are complicated and that it’s up to religious people to interpret them in a way compatible with human dignity and human rights.

Christians who believe that the New Testament is a new revelation are entirely capable of doing this. So are Jews who do not believe this. Members of both faiths can be religious in a respectful and good way.

Most people who invoke these claims about the Old Testament God don’t mean any harm, but it is part of an antisemitic tradition that hurts people. There are other ways of opposing the brutality done in the name of religion. It’s counterproductive to invoke the antisemitic trope of denigrating the Old Testament God.