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When I feel you have my back. From an antizionist Jew to the left on challenging antisemitism

March 30, 2017 2 comments

17436035_1218953451550743_7199866630498237987_oOn challenging antisemitism by the left. What it means to me as a Jew with progressive values when Jackie Walker and Gilad Atzmon are being hosted in Glasgow this week.

Couple of things have happened in past few days in Glasgow to prompt this post. I actually found out about these in reverse order, but I’m starting with the easiest one to write about, Gilad Atzmon. My discussion and feelings about Jackie Walker being hosted by SPSC are down below.

Last night Gilad Atzmon played a gig at Tchai Ovna : a hippy/lefty tea shop in Glasgow. A friend casually mentioned it, after the gig had started. I was pretty wtf?! But by this time there was nothing to be done. So I’ve informed the venue of Gilad’s antisemitism and am, until told otherwise, assuming that they didn’t know of this beforehand. However they know now and if they book him again I will be more active against it.

I have only met Atzmon once – I went with a friend to a gig as he’s a really good saxophonist. My friend introduced me to him afterwards, and I was initially very happy about this, not just because the gig had been great. I like to meet other antizionist Jews as it can be a lonely path. At most Jewish cultural/religious events I avoid talk of Israel as I won’t lie, but also I hate confrontation and turning a spiritual occasion into a heated political argument. Jewish practise nurtures and calms me. Like doing yoga or whatever works for you. I feel at peace and nourished at this deep down level. I don’t know why it has this effect, but I don’t need to understand it to value it in my life, as it harms no-one else. I tend to have a separation between my different hobbies, interests, and choices. Those who also straddle intersections I often feel a connection and bond with as its exciting and useful for me to be able to discuss issues that relate to our shared intersections and I find helps me understand whats going on for me.

However the initial joy at being invited by Atzmon to sit and chat with him turned to confusion and then revulsion as he began denouncing what he sees as typical Jewish tribalism, as a superiority complex of being Jewish, and how Jews have brought centuries of persecution onto ourselves. After arguing for a short while (I have confrontation and find heated/aggressive verbal dialogue deeply unpleasant) I left. Subsequently I’ve discovered how antisemitic he is. To find examples I had a quick look at his blog and here are some recent examples:

an  arrogant yeshiva boy is subject to a historical continuum of harassment. Seemingly, Alliel didn’t bother to ask himself why is he chased and abused time after time by so many people in so many places.

Source: http://www.gilad.co.uk/writings/2017/3/16/alliel-a-window-into-tribal-arrogance

“If I were a Jew,” [David Irving] said, “I would ask myself why it always happens to us?” At the time, I was a still Jew but I took up Irving’s challenge. I looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw so I decided to leave the tribe and I stopped being a Jew.

Source : http://www.gilad.co.uk/writings/2017/2/16/exactly-who-is-it-that-is-in-denial

Although discovering that this alternative/lefty venue is hosting him shocked me, I don’t feel utterly powerless to challenge it. And that’s because over the years I have felt that many within the left will have my back when it comes to challenging antisemitism. It’s really moving to me to feel this. That especially within the Palestine solidarity movement but in the wider left I am not alone facing those prejudiced against me. It gives me a safety, and a courage. It gives me strength to fight alongside others against their oppressions knowing that they also have my back when it comes to antisemitism. It feels like we really can stand all together and be strong and united and beautiful and really bring about meaningful change to a world where all are liberated and free and safe.

So I feel deeply inside that if Atzmon again is booked to play this venue, that if I ask of it, others, not just Jews, will join me in publicly condemning them for giving this racist a stage. I feel secure in that and its incredibly moving to have that surety. Its just so beautiful and affirming and powerful and empowering.

Jackie Walker

[EDITED TO ADD : I have been told that she actually said she hadn’t heard a definition of anti-semitism she agreed with in the context of a particular workshop which was stating that criticism of israel was anti-semitic. Will update the text within this post when I know more but wanted to clarify that this is in contention as early as possible]

Sometimes antizionism is labelled antisemitism. Jewdas have a really cool primer on how to criticise Israel without being antisemitic and a longer piece discussing what antisemitism is and isn’t.

Last year Jackie Walker was in the media for being expelled and then reaccepted into the Labour Party on the basis of several comments she has made, in different formats, that many (including me) find problematic about Jewish people (which she identifies as also)

I consider “no platforming” an extreme tactic that should be kept for extreme cases where it is likely that a speech by someone will cause harm to another. In the case of Jackie Walker I disagree with her on very many things, and I do feel a bit threatened by her assertion (originally from known antisemites Louis Farrakan’s Nation of Islam) that “many Jews (my ancestors too) were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade” (source: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/anti-semitism-row-momentum-organiser-jackie-walker-readmitted-to-labour-party-following-racism-a7053966.html ) as this is the kind of language that supports and promotes anti-semitism. However I am not calling for her to be no platformed.

For a wider discussion of things she’s said try hope not hate. In brief she has joined predominantly antisemitic calls for Holocaust memorial day to focus on other genocides, however it already does. Antisemites seek to minimise the Nazi holocaust and so she stands in particularly bad company, as well as being ill-informed in making this call. She has also said she can’t find a definition of antisemitism she can work with, which again is kinda weird – jewdas have a couple of good ones (linked above) and its really just a basic antiracist stance with basic knowledge of the historical and current slurs, smears and falsehoods used against Jews.

Again, to be super clear, despite this I am not calling for her to be no platformed.

I do find it hard to swallow though that the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) are hosting her in Glasgow tonight. They claim she is “Accused of anti-Semitism for her anti-Zionist position” (source : https://www.facebook.com/events/376828286014487/ ) Which is just the inverse of zionist claims that all criticisms of israel are antisemitic. I am not in any way against her anti-zionism. Dismissing objections to her as coming purely from a Zionist standpoint is ridiculous and hurtful.

There are hundreds of excellent speakers about Palestine in the UK who are not tarred with her associations with antisemitism. It was not necessary of the SPSC to host her. It is provocative and divisive.

I have had over a decade within the anti-occupation, Palestine solidarity movement and I know that antisemitism and dismissal of such is a minority view. As I stated above I have felt that people have had my back. But what about someone new to challenging the Israeli occupation of Palestine? What if this is what they see – that being anti-occupation means supporting someone who has said what Jackie Walker has said only last year? She has not meaningfully retracted any of it, as far as I can tell, and I did go to look.

If this was more than an occasional one-off event I don’t know how welcome or comfortable I would feel within progressive movements. This kind of behaviour reinforces zionists’ narrative that we need a strong nation state because nobody else will be there for us. It chases Jews back into the hands of Jewish nationalism. Plenty of Palestinians are ready to condemn antisemitism and the movement purporting to support them should do the same.

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Hanukkah and finding hope at end of 2016

December 31, 2016 Leave a comment

I like it when Hanukkah coincides with Christmas, as it did this year. I tend to do ALL THE HOLIDAYS, especially given how grim 2016 has felt, and coming into the misery of winter (I do try and look for the positives, but when its grey, rainy, cold and dark outside so much of what I do to cheer myself up and enjoy life – spontaneous bike rides into the mountains or seaside, hillwalking, wild camping, exploring highlands and islands – is less available/fun (Scotland is rainy rather than snowy so far) and so I need to work harder at keeping the glums at bay) I go fullout tinsel, pretty lights, christmas foods (3 batches of homemade mince pies this year!) and annual trip to the forest to fetch in an evergreen tree to decorate for solstice. Plus Hanukkah – my spiritual practice reflects my dual roots of family heritage and geographical home; from the latter I take christmas, hogmanay and solstice.

Last year for Hanukkah I focused each night on inspirations that lit up the darkness and spread hope and possibility for change. This year I didn’t feel that so much. So I read some  mainstream Hanukkah reflections and this particularly touched me:

“[W]hat was the miracle of the first night? The light that should have lasted one day lasted eight. But that means there was something miraculous about days 2 to 8; but nothing miraculous about the first day.

Perhaps the miracle was this, that the Maccabees found one cruse of oil with its seal intact, undefiled. There was no reason to suppose that anything would have survived the systematic desecration the Greeks and their supporters did to the Temple. Yet the Maccabees searched and found that one jar. Why did they search? Because they had faith that from the worst tragedy something would survive. The miracle of the first night was that of faith itself, the faith that something would remain with which to begin again.

(from http://www.rabbisacks.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/8-Short-Thoughts-for-8-Chanukah-Nights.pdf )

And so it is with the spirit of resistance, the spirit of  that is one of the things I mean when I speak of G-d in prayers.

What did I hear again and again following brexit and then again after Trump was elected? “Lets get to work” I’m sure you all did too. An *upsurge* in people looking to respond to darkness with action. People did not give up, despite all the racism and nationalism… no, *because* of the racism and nationalism. I have witnessed more and more people, previously unwilling to take action, now wanting to stand up and be counted, to pin their colours to a progressive mast and to counteract this apparent rightwing lurch. Just a quick example because I have it to hand – neveragain.tech.

“We have hope. Rebellions are built on hope!”

There was no reason to believe that any hope would have survived the systematic desecration Trump, BoJo, Farage and their supporters did to ordinary people. And yet I did not have to search at all to hear hope and inspiration pouring from all sides.

In many ways progressive movements are almost in a stronger position now than at the start of the year. In no way am I happy that Trump/Brexit happened – I grieve for the lives already affected by the emboldenment of racists, by those fearing their lives will be uprooted due to national borders, to the set back climate change action is already seeing. But all this is in a context of an existing white supremacist society. #BlackLivesMatter arose in response to racist attacks during the Obama years. The Paris climate accords that Trump is about to rip up were never enough anyway. Inequality, injustice, poverty, oppression, inhumane treatment of refugees – these are rampant and have been for years. Our political and economic systems continue to prove how unsuited they are to providing for safe, meaningful and sustainable lives and communities; given that they were never designed to do this, perhaps not so surprising.

But now, now with the dual shocks of brexit and trump demonstrating that business as usual is not just shit, but full on accelerating full-pelt to hell catastrophic, I see, unexpectedly, candle flames of hope, resistance and solidarity lighting up one after another wherever I look.

***

Hanukkah is also this slow build up. Its not a one day thing – you have to keep lighting night after night for 8 days. And so it is with creating a better world – you start by lighting the one candle, finding that one flame of hope, but you need to keep going; day after day, month after month, year after year, generation after generation we need to keep lighting new candles from the ones already burning.

And just as the Hanukkah story is that a meagre amount of oil lasted far longer than was expected, so too must we sustain and nourish the hope we see around us to last us through the upcoming dark days through to the light ahead.

***

Here is my Hanukkah blessing. I say the usual orthodox blessing in Hebrew, but here is the intention and meaning I imbue it with:

Blessed are you, spirit of resistance, who sanctifies my life by showing me how to make it meaningful, and inspires me to kindle the Chanukah light.

Blessed are you, spirit of resistance, who wrought miracles for those who struggled for a better world, in those days and at this time.

Blessed are you, spirit of resistance, who has kept me and the wider working class alive, sustained our hearts, bodies and minds, and brought us to this season.

And then I take a minute to remember how impossible the odds must have felt for those who struggled before me, and how victory would have seemed to require a miracle at the start, for those fighting colonialisation, slavery, dictatorship, and yet now so much of that is in the past*. One day let future generations say the same about these dark times.

 

* for inspiring stories of how much people have overcome through collective struggle, courage, solidarity and hope try https://www.facebook.com/workingclasshistory/

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Chanukah 3rd night. MSF, sambhavna clinic in Bhopal and veterans for peace

December 9, 2015 1 comment

Today I have felt inspired and hopeful for how they light up the darkness by these three:

MSF movement (because been thinking on them explicitly as I was completing my MSF application form with a long-term MSF volunteer and listening to his stories)

Sambhavna clinic in Bhopal.

Veterans for peace with their brave and long-term commitment to anti militarism, who today staged a protest against war on Syria by some of them returning their war medals outside downing Street.

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Categories: chanukah, judaism

Chanukah second night. Jen Marlowe and Lesvos refugee solidarity

December 7, 2015 2 comments

I decided to celebrate Chanukah by focusing for each candle on something that I find inspiring, hopeful, joyful or otherwise characterised by love, humanity or progress.

Today two things stood out. The beautiful practical solidarity of those in Lesvos featured in Reelnews brand new short film “Stateless on Lesvos” just released today. (And screened together with Q&A with film-maker in Glasgow and Edinburgh next week!)

Jen Marlowe, who is just this most incredible person I feel super honoured to know, wrote about her day of making muppet mini movies and joyfully protesting Eric Garner’s killing. She is a beautiful candle in many darknesses, from fighting capital punishment, to her work in Darfur, Palestine/Israel or in Bahrain. And thinking of her, not just the incredible activism that she does, but her spirit which kinda radiates humanity and power and compassion and humour and love, I always find brightens me up inside.

I’m pretty tired tonight – had a busy few days and then a super early start and 8 hours of travel (I’m now in London for the next few days) – so can’t write as long as yesterday. But even though tired and head fuzzy from lack of sleep I made myself still light the candles and focus on each one as I find that the energy that I intend normally follows the ritual, if not immediately, then as part of a longer process. Its hard to describe, especially as my poor wee tired brain is super struggling for words and vaguely hallucinating just now. But I’ll know what I mean if/when I come back to read this.

But this feels the right way for me to celebrate Chanukah.

 

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Chanukah – first there was one. First evening.

December 7, 2015 1 comment

Happy Chanukah to all who celebrate it.

Not sure if I’ll keep this up all week, as its a bit spontaneous, but just in case I manage, I’ll post my ponderings.

Rarely has light been needed to chase away darkness so much as now. I have felt despair and hopelessness more this year than ever before. Climate change. Racism. New wars and ongoing ones destroying lives and communities. Austerity destroying lives in the UK. Who can imagine what horrors the refugees currently fleeing to Europe must be trying to escape to instead “choose” to pile themselves and families on to unstable boats and then facing grim fortress Europe as winter approaches? And then what “welcome” they get from us, noble and beautiful exceptions apart.

But thanks be to chance and the universe and life force, I have reached again to this holiday. How fitting that it is the festival of oil, when so much of the horror of above, from wars to gain control of oil rich regions, to climate change, to the resources disgusting Daesh have, could be blamed on “black gold”? And yet even the role of oil in humanity’s road is not clear cut – certainly I am glad for the agricultural gains that allowed more to eat, though were it not for the economic and political macrosystems more would have benefitted.

I do feel a bleakness inside me. And yet still I lit tonight that first candle. Why? Why did I choose to do that? Because it feels good and right. Because maybe somewhere deep down, almost smothered by despair, there is a flicker of belief that each night, I will light one more, until my menorah is radiating heat and light. That this is something worthwhile. That even in times of despair, incredible and beautiful things do happen that demonstrate the power and nobility and potential of the life force. Connections, serendipitous happenings, love,  rebellions, resistance, cracks through which a better world can be seen. Are these the first, tentative lighting of candles, which will chase away the darkness? Let us celebrate them! Let us foreground them, proudly displaying them in our windows and hallways! Let us not mourn that they are so singular, but see them as being part of a tradition that has the potential to grow and multiply, steadily, night by night, until the darkness is lit up.

But tonight, there is just one, well, one and the shamash. The helper candle, easy to ignore in pretentious pontifications such as this one, and yet who kindled the rest, and especially tonight, especially when there is just one other candle that it shares the menorah with, is so crucial to the light giving. How easily we overlook those that do not have easily glorified roles. And yet where would our love and light and hope and solidarity be without those who are there first to lay the ground and help light up the rest?

I think if I’d thought this through I’d have kept some of the themes above for later nights, but I’ll trust to tomorrow inspiration for then. For tonight, maybe these thoughts have began to relight some hope and belief in me, though the despair and horror are still so deep.

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Categories: chanukah, diary, judaism, politics Tags: ,

Wishing all who do, an easy and meaningful fast. #yomkippur

September 22, 2015 1 comment

Be well over the fast, to all those keeping yom kippur. I’m very sad to be missing it this year, as its tough but intensely beautiful and spiritual and a key part of my year. However I have just arrived in Glasgow now and only for a short break before continuing on to John O’Groats and my body needs fuel and nutrients to repair itself from the tough cycling. I’d thought I’d arrive early enough to have a decent meal but actually I was later than I wanted and had a tougher few days than I realised and don’t feel like fasting for 25 hours would be a good idea!

Categories: judaism Tags:

Random short post about beginnings of finding my way to be Jewish

October 2, 2014 2 comments

There’s lots of ways to be Jewish. For me, I like trying out different practices, different groups, different traditions, and seeing which feels right to where I am at that time. As I was brought up entirely secular, this has been a journey of my “adulthood”.

I began exploring my Jewish heritage when I was in my early twenties. But quickly I found the initial communities welcoming, but simultaneously keen to promote a politic that I disagreed with. I think its that those subsections of Judaism most keen to bring lapsed members back into the fold, the most “evangelical” that I have come across are, like their Christian equivalents, very socially conservative. So I felt awkward and like I had to hold back my views, because after all I felt grateful for how they were giving me so much for example helping me learn Hebrew, inviting me for Friday night dinners and getting Chanukah candles for me. But I felt bad anyway, because without saying anything to the contrary, it was assumed that I agreed with them on the role of women, anti choice, homophobia and most of all zionism. So I was deceiving my hosts by not saying anything, but I felt socially pressured to not speak up. And anyway, this was something I was doing away from politics. I have to argue with people all the time normally, and tbh I hate it. I hate debating. It gets me anxious even at the early stages. So doing this in a space that I felt was nurturing my soul, that gave me a hard-to-describe peace and spirituality would have ruined the experience for me. So I pulled away from that.

Anyway, I actually mean to write a review of my high holidays so far, so I’m gonna post this up as it is so far, and start a whole new post instead! I’ll make sure I start that from a bit more recently so I don’t go off on a tangent and lose my way again!

Categories: judaism