jew on this

critical, progressive ideas from pondering jews

“nothing adverse”

by tobybee

“Outside the government’s immigration planning, [Arthur] Calwell [the Australian Minister for Immigration] informed Parliament, in March 1946, that ‘as an act of humanity’ he had granted permission for 2000 landing permits to be issued to persons who had close relatives in Australia ‘provided that the Europeans who were to be admitted had been in such prison camps as Belsen and Buchenwald, in slave labour gangs, or were now in dispossessed family camps, or were otherwise homeless or destitute in Europe’. Calwell pointed out that none of these holders of landing permits would be able to obtain shipping until Australian service personnel had returned from Europe. Finally, he explained that the persons within this quota would have to satisfy four requirements (a) they had to be in good health; (b) they had to be of good character; (c) the British security service should know nothing adverse in relation to them; and (d) their sponsors had to undertake to ensure that these immigrants would not become a burden on the state for at least five years.”

Michael Blakeney, “The Australian Jewish community and postwar mass immigration from Europe,” 1987, p. 323-4.

In other words, Australian governments have always been suspicious of persecuted racial others on boats, have always tried their hardest to alienate them, and have never allowed any more in than they absolutely have to.



by tobybee

At a talk last night on Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique (this year is the 50th anniversary of its publication), both of the speakers mentioned Friedan’s anti-lesbian stances, and the problems that it caused. One of the speakers, when he mentioned it, said in an offhand way that it was probably a result of her Jewishness.

Friedan, who was born Bettye Naomi Goldstein, published under the surname of Friedan for the first time with the publication of this book. Prior to that she had been a writer for unions and in the communist presses, had been active in radical Jewish circles, and had published as Betty Goldstein.

In The Feminine Mystique Friedan referred to suburban homes as “comfortable concentration camps” and wrote that “”the women who ‘adjust’ as housewives, who grow up wanting to be ‘just a housewife,’ are in as much danger as the millions who walked to their own death in the concentration camps” (p. 294).

Both of those are actual, interesting, provocative, points about the impact of Friedan’s Jewishness on her writing in The Feminine Mystique. Tracing her homophobia to her Jewishness is lazy and antisemitic.

(And so I spent the rest of last night kicking myself for not saying anything during question time. If only I’d been quicker, and had more guts.)

footnotes of history: the joys of jewish communal politics

by tobybee

“When I got to university I became the secretary of the Jewish Students Society. Isi Leibler came up to me and said, ‘We Zionists have to get rid of the communists on the Jewish students committee’. I remember it so clearly, it sounded so exciting and conspiratorial.
Isi, of course, went on to serve three terms as president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) and is now the chairman of the Governing Body of the World Jewish Congress and I’m now the president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.”

Diane Shteinman, quoted in Neer Korn, Shades of Belonging: Conversations with Australian Jews, 1999, p. 54

anthropologising: “Scenes of Jewish Life in Kerala, India (1937)”

by tobybee

“Documentary footage made by anthropologist David Mandelbaum in September, 1937.

David Goodman Mandelbaum (1911-1987), who taught at the University of California, Berkeley from 1946 until his retirement in 1978, was one of the first cultural anthropologists to undertake ethnographic research in India. In 1937, he visited Kerala during the High Holy Days, and spent two weeks with the Jewish community there, documenting many of their customs, taking photographs and a short film, and collecting materials he published in “The Jewish Way of Life in Cochin” (Jewish Social Studies 1/1939) and in several later articles. Mandelbaum served in the U.S. Army in India and Burma during the Second World War, and taught at the University of Minnesota before coming to U.C. Berkeley. His many publications included the authoritative two-volume “Society in India” (1970). His analysis of the social structure of the Kerala Jews had a significant influence on subsequent scholarship about them.”

from the David G. Mandelbaum collection, The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life
via Bint Battuta

But, also, “Life at Jew Street today is much quieter.” (this community has mostly moved to Israel. a reminder that we lose something when people leave a space.)


by tobybee

Tony Abbott has announced his new cabinet today, and it includes a new title for the handling of the immigration portfolio. That position is now to be known as the “Minister for Immigration and Border Protection”. Under Howard, from 2001, the position was known as the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. Or as I called it then, the Minister for Racial Others.

This seems to me to be a shift in emphasis in the Liberal party approach: from incorporation (which is accompanied by both assimilation and multiculturalism, or different forms of attempted erasure) to exclusion (a refusal to allow entry in the first place, and a rejection of people).

The position changed names under the ALP as well: it is given changed names to signify different things and these names are clearly produced by the historical moments in which they are exist. Naming the portfolio and department in this way is useful: it makes clear the terms of engagement.

governing object choice

by tobybee

In her book Epistemology of the Closet, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick provides this account of the role of object choice (that is, the focus of one’s desire) in determining sexual orientation:

It is a rather amazing fact that, of the very many dimensions along which the genital activity of one person can be differentiated from that of another (dimensions that include preference for certain acts, certain zones or sensations, certain physical types, a certain frequency, certain symbolic investments, certain relations of age or power, a certain species, a certain number of participants, and so on) precisely one, the gender of the object choice, emerged from the turn of the century, and has remained, as THE dimension denoted by the now ubiquitous category of ‘sexual orientation.

I was thinking about this famous quote yesterday in relation to the construction of Jewish sexualities, and wondering if it could perhaps be troubled a bit. That is, it seems to me that – at certain moments and in certain places – for Jews the direction of one’s object choice towards Jews, and away from non-Jews, is/was seen as the first definer of (sexual) identity. Or if not a definer, the first way in which one’s choice is named. That is, the priority is to name whether one marries or couples “in” or “out”, rather than the gender of the person with whom the couple is made.

And then today I came across this article, which describes a regime of attempted control reinforces that idea (although I would think that any form of homosexual or queer sexuality is invisible or denied to the people who run this hotline):

Hotline lets callers inform on Jewish-Arab couples

Lehava group steps up campaign to stop intermarriage and ‘save the daughters of Israel’ from their non-Jewish suitors


A right-wing, anti-assimilation organization that campaigns to prevent Arab men from dating Jewish women has opened a hotline enabling members of the public to inform on women so that they can be persuaded to end the relationship.

When called, a recording on the Lehava hotline says the service is meant to “save the daughters of Israel.” In addition to offering support for women, the line also provides the names and telephone numbers of Arab men that the organization suspects of dating Jewish women.

Callers to the hotline, which can be reached at 054-8497687, are given a number of choices from a menu in which a recorded voice refers to a non-Jewish man as a “goy,” a derogatory term for a non-Jew.

“If you are in contact with a goy and need assistance, press 1,” is the first option offered by the service, which continues by asking callers if they wish to inform on others.

“If you know a girl who is involved with a goy and you want to help her, press 2,” the voice recording says.

The service then asks for information about non-Jewish men who are in relationships with Jews.

“If you know of a goy who masquerades as a Jew or is harassing Jewish women, or of locations where there is an assimilation problem, press 3.”

“The purpose is to submit immediate reports about girls who are going out with Arabs, and about Arabs who are pretending to be Jews in order to catch Jewish girls in their net,” the chairman of the Lehava organization, Bentzi Gupstein, told Walla, claiming that each report was acted on immediately, as a matter of life and death.

“We approach the girl in question and tell her about the life that awaits her with the selfsame Ahmed who at the moment is calling himself Yossi,” he explained.

Examples such as this expose the worst excesses of Jewishness, Judaism, and Zionism. They perpetuate the creation of a relationship between the enacting of sexual attraction or desire and assimilation, as well as encouraging both anti-Palestinian and anti-woman sentiments. They distill for us a problematic that exists in more subtle, less overtly racist and sexist ways, in Jewish communities across the world.


by tobybee

“ The Torah reading for the first day of Rosh Hashana begins with the sentence “And God remembered Sarah” (Genesis 21:1). …

What does it mean that God remembered Sarah? First of all, it means that God had forgotten her. …

This “forgetting” will happen again and again, throughout the Bible and throughout history. Sarah’s daughters won’t be remembered. Her granddaughters and great-granddaughters will be totally forgotten.

Thus I want to suggest a reading of this first sentence that sees in it a promise not to be fulfilled in the text, but to be fulfilled in the studying and interpreting of the text by women in the future, women today. In this sentence God is taking responsibility for having forgotten Sarah and is promising to remember her. This promise will take centuries to complete. God has done a lot of forgetting of women. But if we can hear in these words God’s intention to do teshuva with women, then we can be freed to see our struggles with the text and our interpretation of it as holy work. By daring to imagine God’s teshuva, we elevate the importance of our work in recovering the untold stories of Jewish women.”

— Tamara R. Cohen, “Returning to Sarah” in Beginning Anew: A Woman’s Companion to the High Holy Days (1997), edited by Gail Twersky Reimer and Judith A. Kates. pp. 78-9.

(from vladislava)

music break

by tobybee

when I’m working I tend to need to listen to music to be able to get anything done. alas, my computer in my office isn’t mine, and doesn’t have my music on it. and so I daily turn to youtube, and today found this gem to get me through the morning. listen and watch some Fela Kuti from Berlin, 1978, for great music and amazing fashions

(and because there should always be an explicitly Jewish connection, I’ll draw your attention to this rad project combining the music of Fela Kuti and Shlomo Carlebach)

tear the whole thing down (some rushed thoughts)

by tobybee

With this latest news I despair.

Because framing the ‘problem’ of the arrival of refugees as a reinstitution of the ‘White Australia Policy’ is too crude, too obvious in its racism, the political parties frame it as a law and order issue. Thereby making it a ‘problem’, rather than an opportunity to help (because, really, we could take all who come by boat, and there’s no reason why those who come by boat should affect the numbers of people we take in the offshore humanitarian program. It’s a false calculus, designed to demonise). As though the problem Australia faces is people breaking the law in order to come here (which isn’t even true – there is no law against seeking asylum), and that makes them always and forever unworthy of being allowed to stay, much less becoming citizens, much less have their families come to join them. And then because people who come here seeking safety are obviously inherently bad and lazy, they must be put together with that other group of demonised folk, the unemployed, and forced to work for the dole for the rest of their time here.

I wonder when refugees would stop having to prove that it is unsafe to go back to where they came from. Would their children also have to prove that they ‘need’ to stay? Their grandchildren? Should I have to prove that it is unsafe for me to go live in Poland to be allowed to stay in Melbourne?

My facebook and twitter timelines are filled with news from the killings in Egypt and news of the latest attacks on asylum seekers in Australia; scattered with messages about the Russian government, the horrors of Guantanamo Bay, and on and on. It’s clear that we’re facing a transnational attack, being reinforced at every turn, but also that each instance of this is particular to the conditions in which it exists. It’s overwhelming. The temptation to hide is strong. (As I’m drafting this post, Ghassan Hage just described this on facebook too, writing “I apologise for the silly updates but waking up to a massacre in Egypt, a murderous bomb in Beirut, the symbolic violence of the ‘peace negotiations’ in Palestine, and the macabre competitive inhumanity of Australian politics has made this morning a bit hard to negotiate”.)

I’m currently helping to put together a course called ‘A History of Violence’, and in my reading this morning I read this from Saree Makdisi in his book Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation (p. xvi):
“What draws me to Palestine, then, is neither nationalism nor patriotism, but my sense of justice, my refusal to remain silent in the face of injustice, my unwillingness to just go on living my life — and enjoying the privileges of a tenured university professor — while trying to block out and ignore what Wordsworth once called the still, sad music of humanity.”

I like this phrasing. I wonder how to productively refuse to remain silent (or, more precisely, I wonder how to productively make enough noise to tear the whole thing done).

jews in harlem

by tobybee



this photo was taken by James Van Der Zee in 1929 in Harlem. “Born on June 29, 1886 in Lenox, Massachusetts, James Van Der Zee became the most sought after photographer during the Harlem Renaissance period.  James Van Der Zee moved to Harlem in 1906.  He held a series jobs which included developing photos at Gertz Department store.  Van Der Zee also played in the John Wanamker orchestra and Fletcher Henderson’s band.

James’s parents John and Elizabeth Van Der Zee worked for President Ulysses S. Grant.  James played several musical instruments, but the camera became his claim to fame.  James Van Der Zee took more than 75,000 photographers of Black American life during the Harlem Renaissance.  The great migration of Black America to Harlem began in 1915.  Black people moved to Harlem from the southern states and some came from the West Indies.  The Van Der Zee photo collection is the most extensive depicting every day life in Harlem, New York.”

via here and here