raised eyebrow to the jewish news part deux

by tobybee

In the Jewish News letters section this week there is a particularly crappy one from Daniel Lewis from NSW. He writes:
“Philip Mendes referred to groups formerly written off as self-hating Jews (AJN 12/06). I believe it is inappropriate that this term continue to be applied to people like Antony Loewenstein and his fellow travellers. Given how important they believe their fringe views are, it is clear they love themselves way too much. I prefer Melanie Phillips’ title for them: Jews for Genocide.”

This letter is just the latest in a series which takes aim at Jews who are not Zionist and who are critical of Zionism and Israel’s actions and ideologies directed against Palestinians, marginalised Jews and Jews in the Diaspora. These Jews have been variously called ‘self-hating’, ‘Jewish born individuals’ (implying that they are not really Jewish), and antisemitic. There are a number of common threads which run through most of these letters and articles. The two most significant ideas are, I believe, that these are people who are motivated by hatred and who are ignorant. Both of these ideas work for Zionists because they locate Zionist thinking on the positive side of these two binaries: if non/anti-Zionists are motivated by hatred, then Zionists are motivated by love; if non/anti-Zionists are ignorant, then Zionists are educated. And so it goes.

Something that interests me is that most of my Jewish friends who are not Zionists were once Zionists. We went to Zionist Jewish schools, some went to Zionist youth groups, and we grew up unquestioning of Zionism. It wasn’t until quite recently that I met a Jew who wasn’t a Zionist. What changed most of our minds was not ignorance, but the very opposite: we read things and talked to people. We read critiques of Zionism and Israel’s actions from Jews like Ella Shohat; we read reports of what Israel does to Palestinians from Israeli organisations like New Profile and B’tselem. It’s not ignorance that motivates the vast majority of Jews who aren’t Zionists, but rather a great abundance of knowledge and critical thinking.

But it’s not particularly useful to participate in these arguments: in the end, approaching it like this only reinforces the binaries. And binaries work to limit ideas and knowledge. If we think in binaries then the language we can use is limited: we can only think on this axis of right/wrong.

More usefully, I think we can critique the ways in which this type of thinking works and what it works to obscure. Lewis above asserts that these Jews should be known as “Jews for Genocide”. Genocide against whom? The unstated group is, one must presume, other Jews, not Palestinians. When the argument is about whether or not non-Zionist Jews are ignorant and motivated by hatred towards Jews, the conversation remains about Jews. Palestinians are made, once again, absent. It’s a closed, circular discussion. The argument is reinforced as being about Jews’ attitudes towards other Jews, not about what Zionism or Israel does to Palestinians. In this way, ideas and languages are limited and limiting, and Palestinians are pushed outside the conversation. This is, of course, easier. Israel’s actions and Zionist ideologies are much easier to defend if you don’t have think about the Palestinians who are victimised by these actions, ideologies and languages. By not talking about them—by making the discussion purely about Jews—they don’t need to be thought about.

The most necessary response in the face of this is, I think, more different talk.