JJ the Inquisitive

Anti-oppression, post-Zionist, activist Jewish girl. "God grant me the strength to change what I can, the mettle to try to change even what I cannot, and the wisdom to know never to stop fighting."

Friday, December 29, 2006

Why the Bush administration isn't fit to lead an ant colony

Lovely bit from Yahoo this morning:

CRAWFORD, United States (AFP) - The White House expects ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to be executed perhaps as early as Saturday, a senior official said on condition of anonymity.

The official cited information from US authorities in Baghdad that "it's not going to be tonight our time, or tomorrow their time, it's going to be maybe another day."

"It's the government of Iraq's decision," the official said, as US President George W. Bush and top national security aides mulled an overhaul of his Iraq war-fighting strategy.

Asked whether the execution could spark violence by lingering Saddam loyalists, the official replied that "they start violence for any reason they can come up with."

Yeah, that's gotta be it. Those crazy people in Iraq aren't fighting because they're angry at how American imperialism has destroyed their country. They're not fighting against a foreign occupier. They're fighting because they like to fight. Because they're inherently violent people.

Nice bit of projection there, hey?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

American internment camps... in 2006.

First, to get it out of the way: happy holidays to all of you. I hope you had a better holiday season than these people did. (I can't seem to get to the original XicanoPwr link, so I'm linking Brownfemipower's post; this is via both of them.)

Back in April, I wrote that Texas was becoming home of the new American concentration camp because Williamson County’s T. Don Hutto Correctional Residential Center, a private detention facility in Taylor, Texas, became the newest facility for Homeland Security that would house “immigrants not from Mexico, but caught in Texas.”

While we sit in our home, enjoying our family time this Christmas, just know that 400 immigrants - 200 are children - are being housed in the T. Don Hutto Residential Center. Greg Moses writes:

Immigration attorney John Wheat Gibson represents two families that include a pregnant woman and children ages 2, 3, 5, 12, 14, and 17. The families have been incarcerated since their midnight arrests in early November by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“The children, imprisoned with their mothers, have never been accused of any wrongdoing. Neither have their mothers,” says Gibson. “All are Palestinian refugees who entered the U.S. legally, but have been denied asylum.”

Maybe if Israel weren't oppressing the hell out of the Palestinians, these families wouldn't have needed to seek asylum in the US, they would have been happily at home in Palestine. Instead, they're in a dingy American internment camp, with no foreseeable way out, for the terrible crime of being brown, poor and from the Middle East. They are stuck between a place where they're being bombed and a place where they're locked up - both of which have a vested interest in dehumanizing them.

Not that I have any illusions left about Israel, but this is another in a long line of disillusionments. Instead of being a "light among the nations", as it so often presents itself to be and is so often presented in Zionist discourse, it is a place from where people are fleeing for their lives.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"Chosen" people?

This'll be short because I have a whole lot to do this morning.

First of all, I really appreciate all the comments I got on my last post, and thank you very much, BFP and Yolanda for taking the discussion sparked by my post into your own spaces. Yolanda, I promise I will jump into the discussion at your blog later today, because it's awesome.

I also want to make a distinction that wasn't clear in my last post, mostly because I hadn't thought about it yet. There is a difference, a big one, between the anti-Semitism (I use the term in its colloquial sense, but I recognize that it is not strictly accurate as Arabs are also Semites) of the oppressor and the anti-Semitism of the oppressed. As I posted at BFP's blog, while I don't especially like when my Palestinian allies make comments about what "the Jews" are doing, I understand and respect that their feelings stem from their oppression by Israel, and often from the disdain that even non-Israeli Jews have for them. I respect that their "anti-Semitism" is part of their process of resistance. Just as my family who fled the Holocaust sometimes speak bitterly of "the Germans" and not just "the Nazis". Just as most of the Black people I know, both in America and here in the UK, sometimes speak bitterly of white people.

The anti-Semitism that I've realized I was really writing about in my last post is that which comes from educated, bourgeois white folks, especially those who claim to be lefties - and there's a lot of it. And usually, it's "true" anti-Semitism, as opposed to reactionary anti-Semitism. They haven't been oppressed by Jews; they just don't like us, because we're Other, and they use Israel as an excuse for some hand-wringing outrage that they then do nothing to stop or help. But because of the long European historical precedent of shifting blame onto the Jews, and using us as a human shield for absolutely everything that's wrong with the world, we get it from all sides.

So, yes. On to today's topic: Jews as Chosen People.

I'll put it right out there. Anyone who, in all seriousness, claims to be God's Favourite is either a cult leader, an idiot or someone with an ego too big for the room they're sitting in.

Our "Chosen-ness" has had lots of different functions throughout our history. In Biblical times, it was the justification for taking all the land from the Canaanites, Ammonites and other tribes that were living in the land that God supposedly gave to Moses. During the Middle Ages, the Jewish discourse of "chosen-ness" meant that we kept ourselves as completely apart from society as possible; this combined with the Catholic doctrine of us being Jesus-murderers and our forced position as moneylenders to create a scenario where Jews were either kicked out or killed or forced to convert. (This is a huge simplification and please correct me if I'm wrong, but this is the very very basics.) Then, after the Holocaust, we were "chosen" to suffer, because God was testing us. We were His People and He was apparently playing some obscene mind game with us whereby He would see exactly how far He could get without us losing belief in Him. Sort of like an abusive husband.

Of course, not all Jews think like this. Most don't. But there's this undercurrent in a lot of Jewish thought, this idea of uniqueness, this simultaneous arrogance and martyrdom, that I really dislike.

Because if we're the Chosen People, then that means that other people are un-Chosen. That God somehow doesn't like them as much, or doesn't care about them as much. And that sort of thinking, as we've seen so many times, is the top of the very slippery slope down towards theocracy, towards oppression of others because you believe you have the Supreme Being on your side. Towards what Israel is doing now, because people in power believe that God gave them that land and they're more than happy to kill any Canaa... er, Palestinian on it!

Now, a lot of Jews I know think of it in the opposite way. That Jews have more responsibility than anyone else to change the world, to help it, to make it better. And on the surface, this is laudable thinking. But the implications are awful. To suggest that Jews have more responsibility than anyone else, just because we're Jews, suggests that we also have more power, more agency. That we're inherently better suited to take care of things. And this is the top of the very slippery slope towards colonialism, supremacism and racist hierarchies.

I've got to go off and start my day now, but basically: the idea of Jews as Chosen People is worse than useless. If we're going to really have an effect on the world, we can't rely on God to choose us. We have to choose, ourselves, to do what we can to change things, within the paradigms that we have access to. And we also have to leave others alone when we need to, to let others make their own choices.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Why I don't feel safe on either side.

Also: why I haven't been blogging much.

(Warning: this post will be more emotional than reasoned, I'm afraid.)

Being Jewish is possibly one of the most politically tricky things to be. Despite the fact that 1/3 of our global population was wiped out during the Holocaust, we've been doing extremely well since then, so we're not considered downtrodden enough for liberals to care about us. But we're still The Jews, one of the traditional hot-button trigger groups for rightwing assholes, and hey, we apparently killed Jesus. So we're considered second-class citizens by conservatives, too.

And through it all, we still, apparently, run the world.

This is a common trope on the conservative side. But more and more, I feel like my loyalties to the radical side of things, the place where I feel most comfortable in every other way, are being sorely tested by anti-Semitism that some don't see and others deny exists. "You're just overreacting," they say. "We don't really mean it. It's hyperbole." Or, "Well, Israel is a Jewish state, you have to take some responsibility for it!" As if I have a vote there, or a voice other than a remote cry of protest from way over here. As if I, as a non-Israeli Jew, have any more power to change Israeli policies - or responsibility for them - than a fourth-generation British Muslim has for the policies in Pakistan.

Like the guy over at Brownfemipower's place who, on a thread about Israel, said something derogatory about Jews - NOT Israel, but Jews - in Spanish. I don't speak Spanish, so I don't know exactly what it was he said, but it was something bad enough to get him a chastising. (Even though BFP wasn't the one who chastised him in this case, she often does, and that's why I do feel safe over at her place - she doesn't allow this sort of crap on her blog.) EDIT: The person who made the comment has apologized both at BFP's blog and my own and I have accepted the apology, so if you're reading this for the first time, keep that in mind!

Like the commenter on Digby's blog, a major liberal blog, who made a lot of good points about the way the Republicans are fucking up America and the rest of the world, and then said something about "their AIPAC masters".

MASTERS? Do you honestly think that Israel, the tiny little possibly-failing nation-state that does a whole lot of supremely shitty things to its occupied subjects but is nevertheless a tiny little country, is pulling the marionette strings of the UNITED STATES? Or that that America-Israel Political Action Committee is a more powerful lobby in Washington than the Christian right, the pharmaceutical companies, the bloody OIL COMPANIES? AIPAC is a powerful lobby group, but it is most definitely not the primary motivation of the American powers that be in terms of their screwing up of the Middle East.

The elision of Israel and "the Jews" is already a problem - a major one. And it's becoming more of a problem, because of things like this. The old myths of the Elders of Zion are being once-removed from their source and foisted upon Israel, which is put in the same position as Jews are now: not strong enough on its own to stand up to a real challenge to its power, but SEEN as this shadowy strongman behind all things, pulling the strings and controlling everything.

I've written before about how Jews are in a losing paradox: we're doing too well to be considered disadvantaged, but we're still Other, and therefore seen as dangerous and overpowerful. We are powerful and powerless at the same time, and we get all the crap that comes from each, but none of the benefits. And this bullshit that's becoming more and more prevalent on the Left, this ascribing to Israel all the shadowy, scary powers that used to be ascribed to the Jews - sorry, I'm not buying it.

If you want to criticize Israel for its legitimate failings - which are legion, and absolutely worthy of criticism, and which need to be criticized - then be my guest. I welcome such criticism, and I engage in it myself, because injustice needs to be brought to light and needs to be exterminated. If you want to criticise AIPAC itself, and its doings in Washington, that's legitimate too.

But if you start using all that old rhetoric of Israel being the shadow-power behind all that's wrong with the world when a) it's, um, NOT; there are a whole lot of shitty things about it, but it's hardly the ultimate vortex of evil in the world today, and b) you really mean the Jews, or if you start talking about how "The Jews" are doing horrible things when what you really mean is the state of Israel, then you are NOT MY ALLY and you are NOT MY FRIEND. What you are is an anti-Semite and you should be ashamed of yourself.

And the rising prevalence of this sort of rhetoric in the work of those who I otherwise respect is starting to make me despair, because I don't know who to trust or believe anymore.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

My nose is a political act

I know, in the abstract, that the personal is political. Hell, I know concretely that the personal is political: I do activist work (not as much this semester, unfortunately, due to a confluence of due dates) and I do my best to live my life according to my politics. Often, I fail, but I try.

However, perhaps my most personal political act is to embrace my nose.

Let's be clear here: my nose is big. Like, Barbra Streisand-big. And it's curved, not radically, but enough to make it distinctively Jewish. It's the most significant physical ethnic marker that I have. It's what makes me "look Jewish".

My nose has also been the physical feature that people have picked on, when they did pick on me. I'm fairly conventional-looking otherwise, due to my Ashkenazi ancestry: blonde hair, blue eyes, medium height, medium weight. There's nothing else about me that's really outside of Western norms. But my nose... well, my nose is its own story. My nose has been carried along with my family's genes for the centuries since my ancestors left the Middle East. My nose is the physical site of my difference.

Naturally, it's also been considered the site of my ugliness, whatever ugliness I have.


I've read a lot of blog posts by Black bloggers about hair: its political significance, the hours and hours spent with hot combs and other instruments to make it lie down, stay straight, not make such a fuss, not stand out from one's head so exuberantly. How natural Black hair is often considered inappropriate in Western society, is wrongly considered ugly and in need of fixing.

I wonder if Jewish noses function in a similar - though of course not identical - way.

I know a whole lot of Jews. Like, a whole lot of Jews. I know that the plural of anecdote is not data, but on the other hand, I know at least twenty women who have "gotten their noses fixed". In fact, I'd say that I know more Jewish women who have had rhinoplasty than Jewish women who have not.

Overwhelmingly, there have been two reasons. The first reason has been that their original noses were "ugly". They were too big, too prominent. They were unladylike. Women should have delicate features, should be delicate creatures, here in the good ol' West. Women should not have anything that stands out from their faces, makes a statement, deviates from the tiny-featured norm.

The second reason is that their noses were unmistakable markers of their ethnicity. And even though these women usually had light skin, their noses functioned as physical evidence of their ethnicity, marking them as non-White. They changed their noses to become more White. To fit in better with White society, because no matter how many people declare that anti-Semitism is over and is no longer a problem, those of us who still experience it know that it still exists and is still strong, even if it has become more subtle and more underground. And some of us are so affected by this subtle anti-Semitism, which is part of the widely held view that physical features that mark one as non-White are bad and wrong and ugly, that we go to surgeons and pay them money to break our noses for us.


I still hate my nose sometimes. By the norms of Western society, it is unattractive, and having grown up in this society that demands unmarred beauty from each one of its women and has normalized plastic surgery as the solution, I have internalized the message that perhaps it would be better if I just got my nose "fixed".

But you know what? Fuck that.

I've learned to appreciate my nose, even if it's not what White people consider perfect-looking. Especially because it's not, actually. By wearing it proudly, by refusing to change it in the face of White anti-Semitism, by cherishing the path that my nose has taken, genetically, from ancient Israel to 21st-century England, I take back my ethnic identity from those who want me to erase it.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Back! Longer post to come.

Between teaching my classes, writing the eight hundred million journal articles and book chapters I've had due for this month (read: three, but still), and actually spending a little bit of time with my husband, I haven't had time to blog. But I've decided that I'm going to anyway, papers be damned! Ahahaha!

Will be back soonish with a longer post.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Rosh Hashanah

I'm a few days late because I've been visiting family and haven't had access to a computer. But I wanted to wish everyone, Jew and non-Jew both, Shanah Tova. May the next twelve months be better and more peaceful than the last.