Judaism and Zionism: Not Inseparable

Here’s the post I mentioned in my GHD Review Post for this month (August 2015). It’s a long one, about something very personal to me.

A few months ago, I came across this insightful post: A Letter to My Rabbi about Palestine. I left this comment:

Thank you for writing this much-needed letter! As a young(er) Jewish activist (I protested the Iraq Invasion by the US when I was in high school), I struggled with what to feel about Israel. I didn’t know as much about the history as I do now, and I only heard the Israel-supporting US news. I did not speak out, because I didn’t know what to say, or even that the situation was as bad as it was/is.

As I have grown older, learned more, and solidified my own politics and morals, I have moved to speaking out. As a Black-white biracial Jew, the idea of a homeland that is always open to me is such a tempting one, but I know that the modern Israeli state can never be that homeland to me. I have considered Birthright trips in the past, but I cannot–even tacitly–condone the Israeli state, nor support it with my money (beyond, unfortunately, the aid that my tax dollars go to).

This stance is not a popular one in Jewish communities. We have been taught to conflate our Judaism with Zionism, as you stated, and the anti-Jewish rhetoric and violence that is on the rise globally leaves us fearful of another Shoah. That violence is real, and the fear may be justified, but that is no excuse for abandoning our morals and our duty to humanity. A Palestinian life is precious, worth as much as any other life! (Destroy a life, and you destroy the world.)

Thank you for writing this letter, and sharing it. We must be willing to hold ourselves and each other to this high standard, to acknowledge the wrongs of Zionism, and move towards peace, and a better way.

My own journey on this topic has been a difficult one. As mentioned in another post on the same blog, Hebrew schools and Jewish youth programs foster pride for Israel in the children who attend them; I was not immune to this. But until very recently, all of the Jews I knew were liberal, middle class white people, and for all that we have religion in common, we come from very different places.

The promise of Israel meant a lot to me as a teen. I thought about going on a birthright trip, even looked into queer & trans specific ones, but I never really got things together to go — I struggled with juggling 1-2 jobs and a full-time course load right out of high school, then withdrew from school for a time to work. Scrambling to survive, the desire to stay housed and get enough food was my priority, and left little time for something like travel.

Then, I began to learn more about the history of Israel and the present state of occupation, and I struggled with myself. I explored the idea of a “two-state solution”, looked for any way to validate the Israeli state; very quickly it became obvious to me that there was no justification for the continued existence of such a wholly immoral nation. Through exploring the work of anti-Zionist Jews, I realized that this was a truth I needed to speak on. So I did.

On August 4th, my latest piece went up on Black Girl Dangerous. On the phone with my mother a few weeks ago, I sarcastically referred to this BGD piece as the one that would make me super popular in any Jewish community; I feared the opposite, of course. But for the first 48 hours or so, I received only positive feedback — a lot of folks have been contacting me to let me know that this piece resonated with them — and while that is nice to hear, I was waiting for the backlash. The longer it went without any negative comments, the more anxious I became.

And then Thursday, it hit. A progressive Jewish group shared my piece on their page Wednesday afternoon, and it was like a feeding frenzy. Abusive trolls showed up in their comments to accuse me of being a terrorist sympathizer, to ridicule my appearance, to question my identity as a Jew, to mock my intelligence. Eventually, they spilled over onto my Facebook page, commenting on the most recent posts and sending hateful messages to the inbox. Two separate commenters likened me to kapos. Overnight, a wave of hate flooded my page. I spent 3 hours banning and blocking, going from a single banned individual Wednesday night to 63 banned individuals by noon Thursday.

At first, each comment and message hurt. Though I knew that it might happen, I still wasn’t prepared for it. But as I read through roughly 140 comments, I stopped caring about the opinions of the commenters. Anyone whose only argument for my being incorrect was that I am ugly doesn’t mean anything to me. Still, the tension and anxiety started to activate my chronic pain, and after 3 hours, I was exhausted.

I’m pretty sure many of the critics never even read the piece, but merely reacted to the title: “I’m Jewish But I Don’t Support Israel — And Neither Should Any Jew Dedicated To Social Justice”. It’s not the title I submitted the piece under (I’m not very good at titles, in general), but I wrote it nonetheless; that’s most of the first line from the second paragraph. Much of that line is fact — I am Jewish, and I don’t support the Israeli state — but some of it is opinion, my opinion.

This opinion is so widely reviled by members of my own religion that I expected this to happen, tried to prepare for it. My previous pieces, despite the vitriol that some USians fling at Black Lives Matter, didn’t receive this much hate. In fact, I’m not sure I saw any. But I started the piece with this line for a reason: “If there’s a faster way to be reviled in the United States media than denouncing Israel, I’m not sure I know it.” Now, it’s mainly been visible to me on Facebook (and I admit I haven’t gone looking for it anywhere else), but even this reaction is vastly disproportionate.

In the piece, I make a distinction between Judaism — a curious mix of culture, religion, and ethnicity dating back millennia — and Zionism, which is a nationalistic movement to establish a Jewish homeland that began around 1897. I am Jewish, but I am not a Zionist. Yet, many of those spewing hate my way claim the two are inseparable. My anti-colonial values invalidate my Judaism to them.

I spent several days last week being afraid. I worried that I’d be doxed, that someone would vandalize my home (or worse). Anxiety is not rational, but I can’t actually assess the validity of that fear, because this kind of internet bullying does escalate to real life. I’m no Anita Sarkeesian, nor am I even Caroline Criado-Perez, but I’ve received violent threats and harassment before, and while this instance is smaller in scale than what Sarkeesian and Criado-Perez faced, it’s no less vile.

But in the end, despite my fear, I’m still here; being simultaneously Jewish and not a Zionist, because the two terms are not synonyms for each other. I’m here, and I’m not shutting up.

(Not even for the dude who messaged me only this: “Shut up tessara… Seriously. Thanks“)

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Judaism and Zionism: Not Inseparable

  1. I begin to wish I had read the original article. I so agree with your views on this issue: the Israel argument is one that often arises among non-Jews of my acquaintance, and the name of the Homeland has come to be synonymous with tyranny. In truth I suspect Israel has few friends left in the Western world, apart, of course, from the United States. I am sorry your attempt to open the debate was met with such a vitriolic response, though I am not surprised.

    1. It’s definitely contentious. I knew that I might get this response, but I think it’s more important to stand for what I believe in, and not let fear of reprisal silence my truths.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Hi Tessara! This is Katya- I wrote the ‘Letter to my Rabbi’ piece. I’m sorry for the delayed reaction, but I feel so honored to have had anything to do with this piece you wrote. Your work is incredible and inspiring, and I’ll definitely be tuned into it
    Best,
    Katya

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s