Rachel’s Soapbox: First Thoughts on Life as a Jew in Trump’s America

Since the election, my thoughts have been coming in a jumble. So I’ve started a little column on my website that I call my soapbox. It is a weekly mix of the personal and the political in this frenetic and frightening but exhilarating moment.

1. I am pleased to see ADL take a stand against Islamophobia and pleased with their new CEO committing to ‘register’ Muslim if a registry were created. But I’ve watched for fifteen years as ADL has tacitly nudged on Islamophobia in America in the name of protecting Jews and Israel, which makes their recent decisions seem sort of shallow and politically expedient. Abe Foxman’s deeply hurtful statements about the Islamic center in lower Manhattan were not lost on the American Muslim community six years ago. (Mr. Foxman said that no Islamic center should be built near ground zero for the sake of “sensitivity to the victims”, as though there were no Muslim victims and no daylight between the perpetrators of the attacks and Islam. As far as I can tell, no apology has been issued to the American Muslim community.) Nor were their ‘Top Ten Anti-Israel Organizations’ blacklists, which repeated unfounded allegations and outright falsehoods about American Muslim organizations and which still appears on their website. Their constant interventions into the material support cases of the early 2000s resulted in the criminalization of Islamic charities and cast an unfair pall of suspicion over every Muslim in the country who supported charitable works in Palestine. I know Mr. Greenblatt is not Mr. Foxman and that the organization has new leadership and I’ll be fair to them. But they will have to do significant tshuva to get on the side of right and shake off their past ugliness. They should start by ending their facilitation of partnerships between American police departments and the Israeli military, in the first instance.

2. Islamophobic Jews like David Horowitz, Rabbi David Eliezrie, and Mort Klein rarely see their place within the Jewish communal tent questioned. A recent piece in The Forward asked sincerely whether pro-Trump Jews would be able to take their rightful place in synagogues across the country now that liberal Jews are out in force against their candidate. Meanwhile, millions of dollars are spent to paint Jews like me as outsiders, self-haters, and fringe lunatics. They do everything they can to deracinate me and other Jews because of our support for Palestinian human rights. At this moment, the mainstream Jewish community needs to reckon with this. The community is fine with Islamphobes who sidle up to alt-right antisemites but refuses to rent space to JVP. What will it say about us if we allow this dynamic to continue?

3. We need to undo the redlines in the Jewish community. We need to talk about the issues that divide us, not shun those with dissenting views. The fact is that we can’t have a productive and meaningful debate about Israel-Palestine in the Jewish community and this imperils us more than we realize. We avoid the subject, we avoid points of view we find too challenging, and we lob personal attacks at those who don’t share our views. I believe this is because we are too deeply enmeshed in our inherited trauma to listen to the viewpoints of Palestinians and their allies. Making healthy progress in this area means confronting the places that scare us and making space for the stuff we’re sweeping under the rug.

4. Antisemitism should be taken as seriously as any other form of oppression. It functions less acutely than oppression based on race, gender and sexuality in the contemporary American moment, but pretending it just vanished after the conclusion of WWII is ridiculous. The rise of the alt-right shows that antisemitism is still a tool of the powerful and that its antidote is aligning with other struggles for justice. Standing up for others in this moment, specifically Arabs and Muslims, Latinx, LGBTQ, and Native communities, means there will be others to stand up for us.

5. Of course there is antisemitism on the left, but the left I am part of is more committed to eradicating bigotry than the center or the right, certainly. And while the left is not infallible—we internalize racism, misogyny, antisemitism, and the rest of it as much as anyone else in this society does—the richest discussions I’ve had about antisemitism have taken place in these spaces. I’m hearing a lot of discussion in broad strokes about antisemitism on the left and antisemitism in the BDS movement. Speaking as someone who has spent considerable time in both left and pro-Palestinian spaces over the course of thirteen years, I can say I have *NEVER* been asked to check my Jewish identity at the door. I have never lied about being Jewish in social movement spaces and everyone who worked with me in Palestine knew I was Jewish. Organizers in the BDS movement are some of the most deeply principled people I know. The Palestinians I’ve worked with are extraordinarily resilient in the face of obstacles I will never have to face. They are people who live their values, who sacrifice time and personal ambition to do the work necessary to keep Palestinians on their land, to elevate their voices, and to refute the utterly baseless lies told about them in the media. They are the people who have held me when I felt weak, angry, frustrated, and isolated. Please don’t give into baseless suspicion about them and their motives.

6. Our Jewish community is dealing with some serious unhealed trauma because of the European pogroms of the early 20th century, which led to many of our ancestors coming here and culminated in the Nazi Holocaust. It also led to Zionism and Israel’s creation. These events have left us with open wounds and there are those in our community who make a living off of rubbing salt into them. The pro-Israel advocacy community uses any and all opportunities to paint those who disagree with it as antisemites. They are manipulating our emotions and commitment to our community and heritage. They are guilting us into staying silent about the oppression of Palestinians. And we respond like scared rabbits, like white people who clutch their bags when a black person enters the subway car. The red lines they have created result in us making decisions every day not to stand with Palestinians and other people of color in meaningful ways. Let’s commit to stop guilting and shaming, only honoring our diverse experiences and facing the things that make us uneasy. This is a frightening time, but one with tremendous opportunity.

It’s time to rise to the occasion.

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