jew on this

critical, progressive ideas from pondering jews

Category: decolonisation

“interstices we would normally eschew”

by tobybee

there’s a lot going on that’s kicking my ass at the moment, but here’s six and a half minutes of excellence that reminded me why i do what i do

(i thought it was better to share this tonight than an essay on why the liberal party’s announcement today that they are going to cut funding to anyone (with a particular focus on academics) who supports bds is utterly atrocious and terrifying (for it is an exemplary disciplinary measure to ensure that those of us who are political radicals, or simply stand for movements for justice, as well as academics are forced to compromise ourselves in some way). better that we should have some hope, a vision for a better world, than engaging with that tripe)

(hattip to C.F.)


the four…

by jewonthisguest

as said at a second night seder in melbourne by z.
hebrew via the interwebs.

בָּרוּךְ הַמָּקוֹם, בָּרוּךְ הוּא. בָּרוּךְ שֶׁנָּתַן תּוֹרָה לְעַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל, בָּרוּךְ הוּא. כְּנֶגֶד אַרְבָּעָה בָנִים דִּבְּרָה תּוֹרָה . אֶחָד חָכָם, וְאֶחָד רָשָׁע, וְאֶחָד תָּם, וְאֶחָד שֶׁאֵינוֹ יוֹדֵעַ לִשְׁאוֹל

חָכָם מָה הוּא אוֹמֵר? מַה הָעֵדוֹת וְהַחֻקִּים וְהַמִשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ אֶתְכֶם? וְאַף אַתָּה אֱמָר לוֹ כְּהִלְכוֹת הַפֶּסַח: אֵין מַפְטִירִין אַחַר הַפֶּסַח אֲפִיקוֹמָן

רָשָׁע מָה הוּא אוֹמֵר? מָה הָעֲבֹדָה הַזֹּאת לָכֶם? לָכֶם – וְלֹא לוֹ. וּלְפִי שֶׁהוֹצִיא אֶת עַצְמוֹ מִן הַכְּלָל כָּפַר בְּעִקָּר. וְאַף אַתָּה הַקְהֵה אֶת שִנָּיו וֶאֱמֹר לוֹ: בַּעֲבוּר זֶה עָשָׂה יי לִי בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרָיִם. לִי – וְלֹא לוֹ. אִילּוּ הָיָה שָׁם, לֹא הָיָה נִגְאָל

תָּם מָה הוּא אוֹמֵר? מַה זֹּאת? וְאָמַרְתָּ אֵלָיו: בְּחֹזֶק יָד הוֹצִיאָנוּ יי מִמִּצְרָיִם, מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים

וְשֶׁאֵינוֹ יוֹדֵעַ לִשְׁאוֹל – אַתְּ פְּתַח לוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ בַּיוֹם הַהוּא לֵאמֹר, בַּעֲבוּר זֶה עָשָׂה יי לִי בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרָיִם

Blessed is the blessing. Blessed that we can sit as friends, as family and as fucked-up individuals lashed together by empty ritual, tradition and blood and fill this with meaning. That we can build and destroy together.

The Torah speaks of Four Sons – not really, it doesn’t exist in that form – but the Rabbis, as men, thought that there were four sons worthy of inclusion and many invisible daughters who weren’t worth mentioning at all. They also didn’t mention animals, non-Jews and people who didn’t resemble themselves. Fuck that!

The Symbol of Wisdom – this symbol is the all-knowing, all powerful patriachal dictator that we internalise as we are socialised in our houses, our families and communities. he confuses the narrative with historical factoids and presents a slick retelling of the story as a totally reasonable history. and we internalise and adopt these stories as our own. to this, we must say, fuck us!

The Symbol of Wicked – this symbol is the land developer who talks about property prices and never about Indigenous people and their land, and the minor functionaries of capitalism who grease the wheels while complaining ironically about being functionaries of capitalism, and the csg volunteers who perpetuate and construct the siege mentality that zionism so loves in melbourne. to this, we must say, fuck us!

The Symbol of the Simple – this symbol is of the status quo, of those parts of us that think that rape culture isn’t a problem because it’s everywhere and that episode 9 of Girls was fine because it didn’t confront, call-out and reject the rape scene at the end between Adam and that random character. to this, we must say, fuck us!

The Symbol of the Blank – this symbol is of the uninformed, of those parts of us who think the Jewish News is a source of information, that Australian history begins in 1788, that Prisoner X and Zionism is totally fine, and that refugees who risk their lives on boats are queue jumping scum. to this, we must say, fuck us!


by tobybee

in an article addressing the ‘Ben Zygier affair’ (for want of a better label) entitled “Loyalty of Australian-Israelis shouldn’t be doubted” on the drum the other day, philip chester (the president of the zionist federation of australia) wrote, in part, that

Being loyal to Australia and to Israel is an easy fit. Australians and Israelis share common values.

Both nations pride themselves on their robust democracies, free speech and media, and independent legislature and judiciary. Both peoples share common interests – education and culture, sport and a love of each country’s natural geographic beauty.


Australia and Israel are strong allies, and relationships built on the battlegrounds of the two World Wars underscore the enduring nature of the friendship and shared values. In a geopolitical sense, despite the vast distances, Israel and Australia are close. Our abhorrence of terror and commitment to Western democracy make the alliance firm and natural.

Bilateral trade, partnerships in medical, scientific and environmental research among other examples underscore this historically strong relationship between the two nations.


We do not know the facts or details around Ben Zygier’s death or the circumstances leading to it. To suggest that this tragedy was brought on by inherent conflicts of loyalty and identity casts dangerous and unwarranted aspersions on the entire Jewish community.

There should be absolutely no doubt that the fundamental loyalties of Australian Jews and dual nationality Australian-Israelis to both homeland and birthplace remain solid, balanced and totally compatible.

there are many threads that one could pick up here, and by not discussing some, i don’t mean to suggest that they’re not important (for instance, i think a serious and informed conversation about the histories attached to the notion that jews are a people apart, or not loyal citizens, could be useful), but rather i want to pick up on one particular thread.

chester presents in his piece an interesting, and important, conception of what loyalty entails, and what a discourse of loyalty can do. what particularly grabbed my eye was this idea that one can be loyal to both australia and israel because they are, essentially, of the same quality: both are western democracies and abhor terror; they trade together, and believe in progress brought about through scientific venture.

the discourse of loyalty here functions as a tool of nation-building. remember people – australia and israel are the good countries! they are western! they are democratic! they treat people well! they are great places to live! if it’s said often enough, does that make it true? this is, after all, how it becomes possible to imagine nation-states as something that exists which one could be loyal to (as benedict anderson has shown us).

but of course merely saying it does not make it materially true. of course we know that the ways in which both of these countries are functional democracies is partial (in some similar ways, and some different ways to each other), etc etc. but chester makes these claims as a way of assisting both australian and israeli nation-building, but also, it would seem, as a way of demonstrating his personal loyalty to both nation-states. he belongs to both (or has the potential capacity to belong to both) because he knows these good things to be true about them.

in writing this piece chester furthers an argument that i’ve discussed and critiqued in conversations with a couple of friends over the last couple of weeks. chester assumes, and thereby helps to determine, that it is optimal that one be loyal to (at least one) nation-state. he assumes – like most others who have written on this topic since the news broke about Ben Zygier – that we all want to feel love for, or a connection with, or loyalty towards, a nation-state.

but this i reject. i want to make an argument here, then, that instead of embracing loyalty in its various possible permutations and affiliations, we should look to disloyalty.

instead of trying to evade the restrictions of nationalism by arguing for dual, or multiple, loyalties, we should open up the possibilities offered by declaring our disloyalty (to nations, to states, to communities). in this way we can potentially denaturalise the connection between nation and state, or the assumption that because one is born into a particular political community there is an automatic affiliation.

of course, this is something that the right does: hence we have terms such as ‘unaustralian’, or ‘jewish by birth’, or we can be called kapos for offering a divergence of opinion. but i’m not suggesting that there is anything politically useful in this formulation, which involves the denial of affiliation. instead, i am wondering about the possibility of a rejection of affiliation. the potential of making a demand that the state, the nation, or the community, be more precise with its language around what constitutes a member of a bounded community. in this way it would potentially become more difficult for people to say that there is an attachment between all jews and israel. we could choose – in a politicised, historically-informed, emotional decision – who we become attached to.

this is, i think, an idea that diasporism (jewish or otherwise) can offer to the discussion. a way of moving beyond the question of singular or dual loyalties. a way to cut through the idea that loyalty is inherently what is desired and good. it can remind us that one may never feel a loyalty to a state, but instead that a passport can be carried as merely a means of moving around the world (one which is, of course, a privilege to have).

one can feel connections though, i think, without feeling loyalty as such. and it’s in this gap between connection and loyalty that, maybe, the productive potential exists.

queering the doykeit

by tobybee

the internet has indeed (in my experience) been rad for building transnational communities of jewish diasporists. despite physical distance, we can connect over the lines, sharing ideas and building fledgling friendships. one such connection i’ve made has been to jenna brager, whose zine, doykeit, i discovered thanks to vlada. and so i’m loving the jewish ladies across the globe.

jenna’s just put out a new call out for submissions for a second edition of doykeit (doykeit, she writes in the first, “in a contemporary context implies a radical investment in the local communities that sustain us and an understanding that in a globalized society, solidarity politics must cross borders real and imagined), so, friends, get to it and submit something!:

Doykeit #2—“Diaspora”

The concept of ‘doykeit,’ Yiddish for ‘hereness,’ is taken from the pre-World War II Polish-Jewish group The Bund, which believed that Jews have both a right to live and a political commitment to work for change ‘here and now.’

Doykeit seeks to speak to the cross-sections of Jewish and queer/feminist identification and how these might inform an anti-Zionist or Palestinian solidarity politic.

For this issue of Doykeit, we ask for writing and art that considers one or more of the following topics: diaspora, home and “homeland,” galut, displacement, dispersal, remembrance, intergenerational relationships, borders, nationalism, and violence.

“The word ‘diaspora’ means dispersion. It originated in the Septuagint, one of the original Greek translations of the Bible: Deuteronomy 28:25: ‘thou shalt be a diaspora in all kingdoms of the earth.’…”

Some questions to consider:

–site(s) of diaspora and site(s) of “home”

–diaspora in a globalized society

–What does it mean to be a diaspora Jew (politically, spiritually etc.)?

–How is diaspora complicated/ take on different meaning in different Jewish communities (ethnic, geographic, denominational, etc.)?

–How do we build solidarity between/ within diasporic/ exilic communities?

Due May 1st

(untitled three)

by tobybee

a wise friend once wrote (to paraphrase broadly) about how he is in a process of decolonising himself from zionism. since reading that i’ve found it a really useful frame through which to think about my own relationship to zionism. it’s clear that i was once a zionist and that i am no longer. but that means one thing at the level of politics, ethics and identity, and another at an affective level.

i am very comfortable saying that i think that zionism is bad for palestinians, bad for israelis, and bad for jews (amongst other groups of people). it is important to me that i identify as a non-zionist (or an anti-zionist, or a post-zionist, depending on my mood): all of them indicate a relationship to zionism. that is, i think it’s important that i maintain a political and jewish identity that includes and articulates a statement about zionism. partly, this is because israel claims to act in my name, and even though i might disavow that claim, the claim still exists. and while (obviously) silence is not consent, there is something morally ambiguous, i think, to let that state claim exist out there in the world and not actively refute it. so perhaps my continued public articulation of my relationship serves to buttress that claim in some way (that is, i would only need to refute something because there is a claim being made that i fear on some level has some legitimacy). but i feel it’s important, for me personally in any case, that i deny it.

partly, it’s because while i maintain an affirmative identity position – that of diasporist – through which to name an alternative vision, it’s also important for me to name that reactive, negative position. i am anti-nationalist in general, but there’s also something importantly specific about a jew being anti-zionist (which is also why it annoys me when non-jews say that they’re specifically anti-zionist: if you’re a non-jew and oppose jewish nationalism, but not other nationalisms, then you should probably check yourself for antisemitism).

and partly, because it is still something i’m working through, an identity that had a powerful presence in my life for most of my history.

i’m in sydney this weekend, and so i went to the gaza solidarity rally held there today. it was profoundly moving at times: to see so many people, to hear the names read out of those palestinians who were murdered, to hear descriptions of what was done, to listen to people from various other different groups – indigenous, jewish, christian, union – make claims for solidarity and connection.

and there was much chanting, of course. one of the key chants that came up, and comes up at so many of these rallies, is ‘from the river to the sea, palestine will be free’. every time i hear it i shudder. it’s the one i don’t, i can’t, join in on.

and i stood there today trying to think about why (as i do whenever that chant comes up). i don’t know that i have it figured out. i think it might be that it’s reminiscent to me of israeli claims for control, or for the existence of the state of israel from the river to the sea. and those claims are always already genocidal, i feel. when it’s turned around, there’s something that sticks in my back, that makes me worried that it doesn’t lose its genocidal impulse from a mere reversal. i think that’s the closest i’ve come to understanding why. but that feeling in my back remains, and i’m not sure that my analysis of what the chant contains is at all fair.

so i come back to this idea of decolonising my mind and my soul from zionism.

i recognise also that at an affective level, those tears that well up when i hear spoken plainly what israel does are mostly brought by a sadness and anger for palestinians, but (if i am honest) are tears also for my former self (i fear how i would have responded to these latest attacks had i witnessed them 10 years ago). at an affective and deeply embarrassing level, zionism’s hold still has some purchase.

and so the project of decolonising myself from zionism continues. it’s hard to undo most of a lifetime of feeling.

Suheir Hammad, 2009

by roadsideservice

1. Gaza

2. Rafah

3. Tel al-Hawa

4. Jabalya

5. Zaytoun

(untitled 2)

by tobybee

i often find that when things like this happen – when israel becomes more ridiculous, kills more people, becomes more upsetting – that i don’t write a post. i figure that the people who read this blog regularly are probably somewhat well informed, and don’t come here for the basic factual information, so they’ll/you’ll get the information elsewhere. i figure that there’s so much to say, that people are better off looking elsewhere. i figure i don’t know what to say, where to begin, where to end.

so i don’t know. as i start to write this, i don’t know where it will end. wait, this is too self-indulgent. it’s not about me.

i want to encourage you to read, and think, and read and think some more. it seems so clear – from spending so much time yesterday looking incessantly online – that what israel is doing to the palestinians living in gaza (as well as the increased surveillance and life interruption in jerusalem and the west bank) is not about increased safety or security or moving towards peace, but is instead about ensuring the very opposite.

Gershon Baskin, who negotiated the release of Gilad Shalit and who has worked to negotiate potential ceasefires, has written a piece explaining that Ahmed Jaabari, the commander of Ezedin al Qassam, the military wing of Hamas, the man whose assassination marked the beginning of this latest onslaught, was reading a ceasefire proposal the night before he was murdered. Baskin writes “The assassination of Jaabari was a pre-emptive strike against the possibility of a long term ceasefire. Netanyahu has acted with extreme irresponsibility. He has endangered the people of Israel and struck a real blow against the few important more pragmatic elements within Hamas. He has given another victory to those who seek our destruction, rather than strengthen those who are seeking to find a possibility to live side-by-side, not in peace, but in quiet.”
You should read his article.

You should read this post by Liam Getreu, and think carefully about the links that he points to.

You should follow Shahd Abusalama and Gaza Youth Break Out on twitter: they are amazing and inspiring and seem to be tweeting this war in real time, which is a shocking thing to witness.

You should watch Antony Lowenstein on abc news 24 from last night, where he gives a decent explanation of the context and critique of Israeli government/military pr.

You should read this writing by Michal Vasser, who lives in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, and who is being bombed from Gaza, and who says “don’t defend me like this”: “If you are interested in stopping the hostile actions from the other side – open your ears and start listening. If we are important to you – please stop defending us by means of missiles, “pinpoints” and “aeronautical components.” Instead of Operation Pillar of Defense embark on Operation Hope for the Future. This is more complicated, you need more patience and it is less popular – but it is the only way out.”

There’s so much more to read – these are just a few offerings.

You should understand the context – that Israel is headed towards an election that Netanyahu wants to win – and the larger context still – that Israel is an occupying power that is able to bomb Gazans from land, air and sea.

I grieve for all those who are being killed and injured – Palestinian and Israeli. Inevitably, most of those who do the dying are not those with the power to determine the situation in the present or future (although that’s perhaps a bit too simplistic, and responsibility for what a government and an army does must in some way rest with those citizens who do not challenge their government). Gazans are trapped (and Egypt must take responsibility for this too), and the Israelis who live close to the border are generally poor and black, hence left there as cannon fodder (as Joseph Dana pointed out on twitter, if the Israeli government wanted to save Israeli lives, they would evacuate everyone from the border areas. But they don’t).

I am angry and I am devastated. It seems clearer than ever that collectively, we need to find a way to challenge our fury and sadness into strategic political action. change needs to come. i am far from hopeful.



by tobybee

if you’re looking for somewhere to get some beautiful candles from for chanukah (or, indeed, any jewish ritual candles) you should very much think about ordering them from jonah at narrow bridge candles. we used them last year for occupy chanukah at occupy melbourne and they were absolutely beautiful.

what’s the idea behind them? jonah explains:

When my father died, I wanted to honor his memory and my grief through the traditional ritual of lighting a Shiva candle. The only Shiva candle available to me was made in Israel. In that moment, Israel’s monopoly on Judaica broke my heart, adding the tremendous weight of participation in Palestinian genocide to my already overwhelming loss.

I want to tell a story in which Jews are not bound to a nation built on oppression, or the building of a nation at all, but kindle our traditions of radicalism and justice wherever we are. Through Narrow Bridge Candles, I seek to create more space for ritual with integrity and liberatory potential.

For those of us acting in solidarity with Palestine, there is much work to be done. Palestinian Civil Society has put forth a clear and unified call for Boycotting, Divesting from, and Sanctioning Israel (BDS). Boycotting Israeli goods by itself will not be enough to decolonize Palestine. However, BDS can be, perhaps, a narrow bridge; a clear and sturdy path forward.

Narrow Bridge Candles currently offers Hanukah, Shabbat and Havdalah candles. Im still working on Yahrtzeit and Shiva candles. All candles are made from 100% beeswax from hives in Oakland and Berkeley from the Bee Healthy Honey Shop in Oakland. There is no added dye or fragrance.
All candles are hand dipped with love.
Profits of Narrow Bridge Candles go to support the Stop the JNF Campaign.

to get them by chanukah you need to order them by november 16th – which is super soon! so get on it!

“Jewish not through blood or ancestry but through similarity in mind, culture, common history and unity of fate”

by tobybee

i don’t know what exactly this is, but i love it. there’s a movement to build a ‘medinat weimar‘, or a jewish state in Thuringia, Germany, with the city of Weimar as its capital.

The Unternationale greet Medinat Weimar

Psoy Korolenko and Danik Redlick (AKA Daniel Kahn) of The Unternationale send their greeting to The Movement for a Jewish State in Thuringia, Germany.

Und ist die Zeit is an old Bund freedom song written by Avrom Reisen in Yiddish, Heinz Kahlau translated the song into German in the fifties for a GDR folk song book. Radical Yiddish-Punk-Cabaret musician Daniel Kahn recommended this song as the anthem for the movement.

(all via vladislava)

the jews and the movies

by tobybee

good jews of melbourne! what are you up to on thursday eve? thinking that you’d like to gather together with a group of progressive jews living on the northside and watch a movie and then have an interesting/challenging/insightful/wonderful discussion about it? well – you’re in luck!

a group of us came up with the idea to organise a northside progressive jewish film club, and the first gathering is this thursday. here are the details (also available on facebook, where you can let us know if you’re coming):

Inaugural Gathering of the Northside Progressive Jewish Film Club!!

date: Thursday 1 November
time: 8pm
venue: Longplay, 318 St Georges Rd, Fitzroy North (just south of Holden St)

Come together for a film and discussion: we’ll watch ‘Arna’s Children’, a film about a theatre group in the West Bank, and talk about the many issues raised.

We’re hoping that this will become a regular film/discussion event. Come join us for the first one!

All welcome

About the movie:

ARNA’S CHILDREN tells the story of a theatre group established by Arna Mer Khamis. Arna was a jewish political and human rights activist from a Zionist family who in the 1950s married a Palestinian Arab, Saliba Khamis.

In the 1980’s Arna founded an alternative education system in Jenin for children whose regular life was disrupted by the Israeli occupation. In order to help the children express their everyday frustrations, anger, bitterness and fear Arna began a theatre group, which became an important part of many children’s lives.

Arna’s son Juliano, the director of this film, was also one of the directors of Jenin’s theatre. With his camera, he filmed the children during rehearsal periods from 1989 to 1996. In the film, Juliano goes back to Jenin in 2002/3 to see what happened to them in the midst of intense violence of the second intifada. Yussef had committed a suicide attack in Hadera in 2001, Ashraf was killed in the battle of Jenin (‘Operation Defensive Shield’) and Alla leads a resistance group.

Juliano, who was one of the leading actors in the region, looks back in time in Jenin, trying to understand the choices made by the children he loved and worked with. Eight years earlier, the theatre was closed and life became static and paralysed. Shifting back and forth in time, the film reveals the tragedy and horror of lives trapped by the circumstances of the Israeli occupation.

The film won “Best Documentary Feature” in the 2004 Tribeca Film Festival.

More info about the film here