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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.

ct-muslim-and-jewish-fathers-protest-with-their-children-video-20170131.jpg

On the 9th anniversary of Rachel Corrie’s death in Gaza

March 16, 2012 5 comments

Nine years ago today a small group of us spent several hours using our bodies to non violently defend family homes in Rafah, Gaza, from Israeli bulldozers. And then one of those bulldozers just kept on going, crushing Rachel Corrie, 23, beneath it; she died within an hour.

Rachel wasn’t fearless – I remember one day when we were standing as human shields as municipal construction workers were rebuilding a well that had been destroyed by the IDF (Israeli army) seriously compromising the Rafah water supply. We were there every day over several weeks as the work was carried out, and while mostly this was incredibly boring (ever hung out at a construction site?) at times it was terrifying as snipers would shoot towards us. Because we were clearly identified as internationals and were standing between an IDF watchtower and the workers, these were warning shots; on other occasions municipal workers had been killed by IDF snipers hence our presence. I imagine that the IDF soldiers are pretty bored too. They’ve been subjected to years of propaganda dehumanising Palestinians and this together with the sure knowledge that they can get away with it means that putting a rifle into the hands of an 18 year old kid is a recipe for such killings.

Well one day the watchtower snipers started up, but didn’t just shoot their normal couple of shots, but kept going. We had our banner declaring in English, Arabic and Hebrew something about us being internationals and Rachel used the megaphone to shout over and over again in the direction of the shooting that we were international human rights volunteers and to please stop shooting at us; we never knew if they could hear us or not. The shots were whistling past our ears. Sometimes they hit the ground just in front of our feet sending up bits of rock. Rachel’s voice was getting increasingly shakey. I was trying to work out how accurate a sniper could be at that distance – they were clearly trying to scare us as the shots got closer and closer and I know that they can shoot killshots at that range, but supposing the wind suddenly changed? The distinctive crack meant it was high velocity bullets whistling past so surely they wouldn’t be affected by wind? But supposing one of the soldiers did slip, or just thought “screw it” – our lives were in their hands. We were all terrified. Rachel would pause and we would talk about how we wished we had a cigarette and that we could leave and try and cheer each other up. Finally, approximately 40-60 minutes later, the shooting stopped and we went to a nearby friend’s flat for a very shakey cup of sweet tea with maramiya (sage).

The wells were rebuilt; infrastructure is repairable, unlike destroyed lives. And there have been so many lives destroyed by the occupation. Thousands and thousands of Palestinians killed. Millions of children growing up in traumatising environments in Gaza and the West Bank* A 27 year old friend in Rafah has lost dozens of friends over the years to IDF bullets. These are not necessarily fighters; they could have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Like the street cleaner who was shot from a watchtower while smoking outside his house about an hour after Rachel died. We visited his family; apparently he had learning difficulties and still lived with his parents, and had no relationship with politics. And like so many other Palestinian deaths there has been nothing about him in the news, no accountability from the IDF, just another senseless murder in Gaza.

This post is a bit rambly, and that would probably have been a good place to end it, but I want to talk a bit more about Rachel. I only met her 6 weeks before she was killed, and got to know her a lot better after she was killed through reading her emails and other writing, and spending time with her family. To be honest I don’t know if we’d have been close friends if we’d just met normally. She had a very quirky sense of humour that didn’t match mine. I doubt very much that given a choice, it would have been my arms that she would have died in. But I did have that role, I stroked her hair and told her that she was loved as her body shut down.

I wish I had been closer to her, because from her writing an intelligent, compassionate and complex figure emerges. Within a short time she was aware of the complexity, the nuance, the conflicts of the situation. I’m going to stop with some of Rachel’s words. Please do as she did, and put the humanity back into how you think about other people. We are all individuals, with families, hopes, dreams, loves, fears, background contexts that affect our trajectories, and the ability to do amazing things in the world.

“we are all kids curious about other kids. Egyptian kids shouting at strange women wandering into the path of tanks. Palestinian kids shot from the tanks when they peak out from behind walls to see what’s going on. International kids standing in front of tanks with banners. Israeli kids in the tanks anonymously – occasionally shouting and also occasionally waving – many forced to be here, many just agressive – shooting into the houses as we wander away.” (Rachel Corrie, February 7 2003, accessible at http://rachelcorriefoundation.org/rachel/emails)

 

EDITED TO ADD : We’re having an event in Glasgow tonight to celebrate Rachel’s life. Its at Glas Uni but you don’t have to be a student to come :
Boyd Orr. Lecture Theatre E.
University Avenue just up from Byres Rd.
http://www.facebook.com/events/314851021908411/

* I will write about the effect that the occupation is having on Israelis soon. I absolutely condemn all civilian killings.

On being Jewish and antizionist

November 21, 2011 6 comments

This is just a few thoughts and no doubt I’ll write more on this.

That I’m Jewish is meaningful to me. My skeptical friends don’t understand it, and think it at odds with my other beliefs, and that I can’t explain it in words doesn’t really help much! All I can say is that I experience strong, unexpected feelings in connection with Judaica, such as rituals, places and language. For example I feel a strong sense of grounding, peace and energy each week when I light candles just before sunset on Friday evenings to bring in the sabbath. Twice in my life I have gone to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and both times was overpowered by emotion. Read more…

Hosting an anti oppression Seder – what does it mean to us?

April 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Interfaith Anti-Oppression Passover Seder

Friday 22nd April.  8pm.  The Free Hetherington, 13 University Gardens.

Facebook event

Read more…