Wednesday, June 09, 2010

On Jews and "Home."

(I'm a little rusty, so bear that in mind, and I apologize in advance for that, as well as for the abrupt non-ending. But if I don't post this, it will be yet another deleted post. Just don't expect me to say anything new.)

Bfp writes of Helen Thomas: "She is not hating Jews or wishing death or violence on Jews as a people. She is offering a very pointed critique of occupation and violence that a Jewish nation/state is inflicting on indigenous populations." This is a crucial point. It is a mistake to dismiss her comments as anti-Semitic.

At the same time, the notion that Jews can simply return to their homes in Poland and Germany fails to recognize the reality of anti-Semitism and the legacy of anti-Semitism. Poles and Germans still own the houses and property of Jews who were dispossessed; they won't be giving them back anytime soon. Jews can no more "go home" to Germany and Poland than can a young woman "go home" to a parent who has raped her. Legally and physically, of course, Jews are able to travel to and establish themselves in these countries, and that is an important right and freedom that Palestinians do not have. Still, the meaning of "home" for any diasporic people is complex and difficult, and Thomas' comment, at best, did not recognize this complexity.

One of the stereotypes that has always followed Jews is the idea of Jews as having power to hurt others; for example, the sense many people (who are not Jewish) have that Jews are running the U.S. In the situation of Israel and Palestine, Jews do, in fact, have power, and Israel has used that power to hurt and oppress. But it is a mistake to imagine that Jewish people are therefore no longer oppressed or that they can return to the countries that tried to kill them and live safely.

I felt the need to say all of this, but I also need to say, now, that while I think we need to acknowledge this complexity, and while Thomas' comments need to be addressed so that this complexity is brought out, there is also something larger, here. Bfp gets at it in the quote above and in this post, as well. And so does Tony Klug's piece, "Are Israeli Policies Entrenching Anti-Semitism Worldwide?" Calling out Israel is not inherently anti-Semitic. Protesting Israel's abuses is, in fact, the moral duty of Jews as well as non-Jews. Just as we have worked to define "racism" and "homophobia" in ways that focus on institutionalized oppression rather than personal prejudice, we need to work on applying the same analysis to the concept of anti-Semitism. I don't believe that Thomas' comments were anti-Semitic, and while I am concerned that she made them, I am distressed that the larger point she was making is getting lost.

Further, perhaps like Klug, I worry that the rush to censure Thomas - and to force her out - is inevitably going to deepen the very real distrust and dislike of Jews in America and elsewhere. And it certainly won't help either the Israelis or the Palestinians.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One thing I notice whenever any discussion arises about Israeli politics is the very primitive level of logical fallacies in which people engage. The most ubiquitous of these is the fallacy of the complex question. Your post points out one example. There are millions more. A classic example is "do you believe X has done bad things, and therefore Y is a blameless victim who cannot be held responsible for anything?" It works both ways. People literally make things up and rewrite history when they are discussion the issue. For example, Israel argues that the blockade in Gaza is not so bad because apparently, markets there are overflowing with goods. Meanwhile, Palestinian documentaries declare that Arab countries only invaded Israel in 1948 after Israel drove out all the Palestinians. These are both distortions. It's entirely possible to recognize human rights abuses without agreeing that the country committing them should cease to exist and its inhabitants be driven into the sea.