Jumping on the gun can be a problem

The recent shooting in Atlanta provoked many responses. The early reactions immediately identified the shooting as an example of "anti-Asian Hate" on the wake of COVID-19. What immediately followed was some people unquestioningly embracing the explanation. Some segments of the population felt touched by the attack; some members of the Asian American community itself felt victimized. Each group had its own reasons for embracing the early interpretation of the shooting. The fact is that the Police investigation points in a different direction, based on the personal connections of the perpetrator to the business attacked and also based on the fact that while most victims were Asian American, a significant portion of the victims were not. Do the facts affect the way people feel? Hardly. Don't get me wrong - the shooting was wrong, and I feel for the victims. I just question the interpretation of the perpetrator's motivations. Yet the kind of reaction I mentioned is not unheard of, and shows up in multiple situations.

One of those situations is the fine line between opposition to Israeli policies and anti Zionism (and its cousin anti Semitism). I'd like to share my perception of each of these manifestations of opposition/hate.

Let's start with opposition to Israeli policies. Opposing government policies is one of the bedrocks of Democracy. Without a rational expression of that opposition, those in charge could run amok and avoid any kind of checks and balances as well as controls. Among those opposing Israeli policies are some Israelis themselves (some of them high ranking military officers); some Palestinians who would like to have more control over their lives; some well-meaning citizens of western countries who would like to see the European model of Democracy spread over the whole world, as well as some Muslims who feel solidarity with their Palestinian correligionists and who also find it easier to see the straw in the Israeli eye rather than the wooden beam in the Arab eye. But opposing a government policy, be it Israeli, Palestinian, American or anywhere else, should be seen as a sign of healthy politics.

Second, let's talk about anti-Zionism. Zionism is a political movement, started in the XIX Century, created to ensure the right of the Jewish People to self-determination. Different groups oppose Zionism. One odd group against Zionism includes some ultra-orthodox Jewish groups who oppose Zionism not because they deny the rights of the Jewish people, but because they refuse to accept that Jews can "self-determine" - they consider that redemption of the Jewish people and restoration of Jewish sovereignity over the Jewish Homeland is the exclusive province of God. This group can hardly be considered opposing Jewish rights. Another group of Anti Zionists are those who oppose Zionism because they oppose any kind of sovereign Nationalism; be it Jewish, American, European, etc. I may have serious disagreements with their position, but I can hardly consider them as targeting Zionism in particular.

Of course there are those in the group last mentioned who oppose Nationalism only in the case of the Jews. They don't see any problem with Palestinian Nationalism, or Arab, or American or whatever.  Their problem is just with Jewish Nationalism. This group is clearly biased against the Jews and their National rights and can be more properly called anti Semites using Zionism as a tool. They tend to call not for a correction in Israeli policies but for the destruction of the Jewish State. Many of them do not even care what would replace Israel - they just want Israel destroyed. As an Argentine Jew I find this ironic considering many of these people used to be among those who said in Argentina "Jews go back to your native Judaea" in the 1930s all the way to the 1960s.

There are also the open anti Semites who hate Jews regardless of what they do or where they are. For them, a Jew praying for the coming of the Messiah in an ultra Orthodox synagogue is the same as a Jewish resident of Judea-Samaria or the Jewish Doctor researching a cure for Cancer. From these individuals perspective a Jew is a Jew is a Jew. They tend to see Jewish conspiracies in anything they don't like or frustrates them. Jews can be blamed for losing World War I (Adolf Hitler), consistently making bad choices and losing wars (Arabs in general, Palestinians in particular), losing an election (QAnon), or even killing a Divine Symbol (The Christian accusation of Jews as Christ killers). For these people opposing Zionism is not just a tool but the ultimate confirmation of their warped worldview.

All of the above is a neat distinction between different groups and their motivations to clash with Jews in one way or another. It looks clear, organized, rational. Then reality intrudes into the picture and the boundaries between these forms of behavior became fuzzier, messier.

Take for example the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) Movement. According to Omar Barghouti, founder of the Movement, the goal of the BDS action is to destroy Israel and replace it with a Palestinian State where Jews will not be welcome unless they accept their position as a subordinate group. Yet the rethoric of the Movement is wrapped in an aura of anti Nationalism, thus attracting the group I mentioned earlier in the blog. It also paints the Jews as the spawns of the Devil, providing anti Semites with yet another confirmation of their anti Jewish beliefs. It also tells the Palestinians that by destroying Israel they will have everything "they have been denied" (and in the process convince them that they had no part in their own situation). To put it succintly, the BDS Movement plays at the fears, frustrations and beliefs of people (whether they agree with them or not) to advance their own agenda, which is clearly anti Semitic.

Take also, as an example, the Neturei Karta, a Jewish anti Zionist group which is part of the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish world. While they deny the right of Jews to take history in their own hands and therefore the validity of the Zionist poliitcal movement, they could have very well just stopped there, lived their lives and let others live theirs. But that is not where they ended. They established unholly alliances with Israel's enemies in an effort to destroy what they perceive as an affront on God and the Torah. They supported Holocaust deniers like Mahmoud Ahmedinejad of Iran and anti Semites like David Duke of Klu Klux Klan fame. They even closed ranks with Louis Farrakhan.

And then there is the blessed "Inter sectionality". The concept and the term themselves refer just to an analytical framework in Sociology to try to understand how different aspects of an individual's identity interact with each other and with the society in which the individual lives. In modern times, however, the concept and the term have been hijacked for political activism. It is being used to disqualify participation of groups in coalitions (the infamous exclusion of "Zionist Jews" from many events) and even to draw battle lines while securing allies for one's side while definign the other side as "the enemy". It has contributed to the polarization of social interaction and political discourse, and it has become an obstacle in establishing rational conversations accross ideological divides.

Take me, for example. I am an Argentinean Zionist Jew who chose to come to the US and become an American citizen. That is who I am. In Argentina, however, many people automatically assume that because I live in the US and left Argentina, I am their enemy because I don't care about the Argentine people. In liberal circles, because I am a Zionist, I am considered "other". The price of admission I have been asked many times to pay has been to check my Zionism at the door; and that has closed the doors on me more than once. Among American Jews there are those who are uncomfortable with me because I don't fit their stereotype of what a Jew is. I have a Spanish (not European, not Israeli, not Russian) accent and my Jewish education (Secular Zionist) challenges the way they see themselves. In Zionist circles, the fact that I am a Liberal Zionist (some may even say left wing) makes some on the Zionist right look at me with suspicion and even denial.

Holding up to who you are is not easy these days. But who we are is the product of our own personal history and defines where we come from and what we believe. Only those who are comfortable in their own skin can talk with those they disagree with and listen to them. Any rational dialogue requires that those involved will not consider that disagreeing with them is the same as invalidating them. Only those who believe in themselves can truly accept differences as what they are: differences. Any road back to a non polarized world starts with looking into ourselves and accepting who we are. Then, and only then, we can truly begin to do Tikkun Olam (The Repairing of the World). These are just my two cents...



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