Thursday, January 15, 2015

I’ve Been Training All My Life to Run this Race

I am Charlie, I am Ahmed, I am Jewish
I was moved and inspired by the unity rally in Paris last week. After the horror stories I’d read about European and French anti-Semitism this past year it was particularly heartening to see the signs that read, “je suis Charlie," "je suis Juif,"and some that read, “je suis Ahmed," the name of the Muslim policeman who was murdered at the Charlie Hebdo office. 

A united front is neccesary at this historical moment when overt anti-Semitism is worse than any time since the lead-up to World War II and Islamophobia is being weaponized as a fascist organizing tool.

Of course prejudice against Jews is not the only problem now. Islamophobia is a massive concern in non-Muslim countries worldwide. The deluded thinking that makes each individual Muslim responsible for the actions of any other Muslim embodies the very essence of bigotry. Muslims are a stigmatized underclass in Europe. As such they are often victims of racism and have limited prospects for upward moblility. The anti-Muslim rallies being held almost weekly in Berlin are actually quite reminiscent of the anti-Jewish rallies of the thirties!

A few journalists have even gone so far as to label Muslims the “new Jews.” This is ridiculous. To even consider this to be the case we would have to be living in a post anti-Semitic world. The fallacy that anti-Jewish hatred has been eradicated makes as much sense as calling our society “post-racial,” In other words, it makes absolutely no sense at all.

Some of my friends have been posting articles and cartoons pointing out that Jews receive an inordinate amount of attention when bigotry rears its head. This "special privileges" strategy has a tried and true history. It is the pedestal approach that has been applied both to women and gays as well as Jews. It denies the reality of both minority status and varying levels of race and class within a group. Once you’re up on that high perch it is easier to be the recepient of all sorts of projectiles. Neo-nazi groups and their followers find this school of thought appealing.

As a child growing up in Ohio in the 1950’s, I was warned repeatedly by virtually all family members, that it was only a matter of time until the gentile world, would try to eliminate us again. That undercurrent of fear has always been deep in Jewish communities, and not without reason. In many ways this fear has shaped my life. It has driven my politics and directed my struggle and fueled the determination to make my presence felt in opposing all forms of oppression.

It is difficult to impossible to be proudly Jewish in the left. We can be Jews but we have to be careful about talking about it. LGBT folks have experienced similar constraints in the past. There was a time when you could be discreetly queer, just keep your mouth shut about it. As leftist Jews today, we are required to bury our memories of discrimination and harrassment and simply pass for "white." Our loudest accusations of racist or Zionist are often reserved for fellow Jews, due to peer pressure, due to fear. We are terrified of bringing that undercurrent of disdain, of hatred to the surface.

It is true, Israel is a travesty in so many ways. How ironic that the very country that was supposed to keep us safe is the one now most likely to lead us into danger just because the Germans wouldn’t just give us Germany but saddled us with someone else's country instead! But this purpose of this piece is not to discuss the Middle East. The establishment of Israel was the result of a massive and brutal genocide. But it has nothing to do with our individual histories as Jews outside of that state today. Our attempted assimilation, our wounds, our victories, the struggles of our parents and grandparents, all that doesn't change. As secular, American, activist Jews, these are the stories we must tell.
The far-right is practically orgasmic over the Paris attacks. The burgeoning neo-Nazi organizations in Europe would adore seeing Muslims and Jews fight to the death of every last one of us. Unity is of ultimate importance now. Arab Muslims are Semites; they are our cousins who, under different circumstance, could have been our closest allies. Perhaps there is still time. Today both Jews and Muslims are in the crosshairs, our destinies intertwined. We will rise or fall together.