Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Journey of a ("Self-Hating") Jew

Among other events in recent history, the formation of the group Independent Jewish Voices in the UK has once again pushed the debate on Israel and Palestine into the spotlight. Along with this, the usual, tired and outrageously misplaced allegations of “self-hatred” are made by the more shrill voices among the “Israel can do no wrong” lobby. Here are some of my ruminations on this discussion.

Journey of a (“Self-Hating”) Jew
David Rovics

There are few issues more divisive in US society, including on the left, than the issue of Israel and Palestine. Even the word “Palestine” is divisive! The state of Israel claims to represent Jews worldwide. This is a preposterous and plainly incorrect claim, but one often made and often assumed, to the detriment of much of humanity. People who vocally oppose Israeli policies are labelled anti-Semites. Jews who oppose Israeli policies – or who dare to question the right of this apartheid state to exist as such – are labelled “self-hating Jews.” Supporters of Israel are using historic anti-Semitism and the memory of the Nazi holocaust as a means to stifle dissent. Reason and compassion is not on their side, so they resort to name-calling. I have some personal experiences with this state of affairs, and I thought I’d recount some of them and share some thoughts on the subject.


I used to be lovers with a woman from Germany. She and I were visiting my grandmother at her retirement community in Florida. It seems about half the Jewish population of Brooklyn ends up in Florida by the time they’re 65, and grandma Diane was among them. One of the women grandma played Bridge with was a German Jewish holocaust survivor. When she met my partner, there was something she clearly felt compelled to tell her. “We were Germans,” she said. “We were Germans.” That was all, three words.

Any non-fascist historian can confirm this fact. By the early twentieth century most German Jews were what they call “assimilated.” They were about as German as any other German. For many, their Jewish identity was about as important to them as which Christian denomination their neighbors belonged to. They were integrated members of a European society, Europeans, Germans. They were communists, social democrats, conservatives. They were laborers and they were bosses. They were renters and landlords, rich, poor, and in between. Obviously, the rise of Hitler changed all that, and suddenly Jews recognized themselves as Jews again. The Nazis wanted to kill all of them, so Jewish identity suddenly became a matter of life and death. When people are thus threatened, oppressed, and ultimately slaughtered in their millions, this sort of thing tends to bring people together to attempt to defend themselves. Thus from this disparate group of people once again is born a “community.”

Enter 21st-century USA. There is no such thing as a “Jewish community.” There is no such thing as a “Christian community” either, or an “Irish community,” “Italian community,” etc. There is no oppression to speak of in the US or Europe directed at people based on their Jewish or Christian identity, any more than there is still oppression against people of Irish or Italian descent. Certainly there used to be all of these things, but it’s been a while. In the forty years I’ve been living in the US I have hardly ever heard a serious anti-Semitic remark. I’ve never been victimized in any way as a result of being Jewish, and I don’t think I have ever met anyone of my generation who has had a problem with anti-Semitism of any significance, either.

Jewishness of course is an unusual phenomenon that is often defined as a religious, ethnic, and/or quasi-national identity, depending on who’s doing the defining. Regardless of the definition, there is plenty of common history for Jews anywhere, but like Catholics, Poles or whoever else in the modern US, Jews do not have a common identity in terms of their politics, professions, geography, etc. Jews are not ghettoized anymore, whether by law or by a generalized discrimination. They are rich, poor and in between, and they live anywhere in the country where you might find other people. Sometimes in large numbers, sometimes in very small numbers. Sometimes they have contact with each other as Jews for one reason or another, usually they don’t.

Once I had a gig at a law school in Vermont. Three people came to hand out literature about my alleged anti-Semititic views to people coming to the show. These three people were in a group that called itself The Jewish Community, as I recall. But in the civilized discussion that followed my concert, it turned out that there were more than three people of Jewish lineage in the crowd who were not members of The Jewish Community and didn’t share their views on Israel. It didn’t seem to me that these Jews were any less Jewish than The Jewish Community -- they just weren’t in a group that called itself The Jewish Community.

This also, it seems to me, is the distinction between groups like AIPAC and the rest of the Jewish population. The rest of us don’t tend to organize as a “Jewish community,” but as whoever we are – environmentalists, anarchists, union members, real estate developers, whatever.

Of course, there is plenty of oppression in the US. Racism, for example, permeates society. Race, of course, is a social construct with no biological basis, but it is a social construct that is the basis for both historical and ongoing discrimination of massive proportions. But if a Jew, a Catholic, or even a Muslim is white, then he or she is white, and treated as such. This is how modern US society functions. There is a sort of caste system, and it changes in various ways over time. It used to be a liability to be most anything other than a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. This is no longer the case. Over the course of the post-war period the “white” category has expanded to include light-skinned Jews and other historically-oppressed ethnic and religious groups such as Irish and Italian Catholics.

This is not to say that white people don’t suffer from discrimination. You can still be discriminated against according to your regional accent, how you dress, whether you can read or write, etc. As a youthful, long-haired hippie driving an old beat-up car, I was pulled over by the cops many times more than most other white people, probably for all of those offenses – being young, having long hair, and driving an old car. But I’m quite certain it was not for being Jewish.

History is another matter entirely. While the label of “self-hating” is generally misapplied and used to try to silence Jews critical of Israel, self-hatred certainly exists, and other conditions like it. I think of my nanny when I was very young, living in upper Manhattan. She was a deeply loving woman full of enthusiasm for life, and children, her own two sons and the many young children she took care of. I visited her now and then for decades after my family moved from New York City when I was a small child. She was full of stories. She talked about all the gangsters in the area and how they never pick on her because she’s known them all since they were babies. New York was her city. She had a strange accent, impossible to place. She said she was English. She met an Italian-American jazz musician there in England and moved back to New York with him after the war. She talked about being a teenager in London during the blitz, and how she used to use the air raids to her advantage, to spend more time with boys. “Sorry mom, I can’t come home now, there’s an air raid happening.”

She raised her kids to be Irish-American Catholics in New York City. Several years ago I was visiting New York and I gave her a call. Her eldest son answered the phone. His mother had died a few months before, he told me. He also told me that he had found out during the last year or so of her life that she was not from England -- she was a German Jew. She was one of the last Jewish children sent to England during the Kindertransports. For whatever reason, she had hidden her identity from everyone, her friends, her family. She told her son on her deathbed about how her society, Germany, had rejected her. Perhaps the rejection was too much to bear, and she had to try to forget about her past, her German and Jewish identity. Perhaps the term “self-hating” could in some measure apply to this wonderful, vibrant, but apparently troubled woman, although the term seems far too simplistic to fit such a complex person so full of love for humanity.

Perhaps it was experiences she had after arriving in the US that strengthened her resolve to keep her ethnic and national identity hidden. My grandmother’s mother was from Russia, and spoke Yiddish, never becoming very fluent in English. When my dad was young it was Yiddish that the matriarchs of the house spoke, their secret language which they never taught him. Grandma Diane’s parents were refugees, leaving Russia because they didn’t want to be killed in the pogroms and didn’t wanted to be drafted into the Tsar’s army, a death sentence in itself. Before the Nazi holocaust, Diane Rovics and her mother were in touch with dozens of relatives in Europe, Diane once told me. Her mother died soon after the war, and I don’t know how much Diane tried to get back in touch with her relatives across the ocean, but she said she never heard from any of them, and presumed them all to be dead.

Grandma Diane’s Jewish identity was always terribly complex for her. For a long time she was looking for housing outside of Brooklyn. This search went on for years before she eventually moved to New Jersey and then Florida. In every community she visited there were either too many Jews or not enough Jews. She wanted the safety of having lots of Jews around, but didn’t want anybody else to notice. When I was a child she often told me that I was lucky to have blond hair and blue eyes and not to “look Jewish.” She’d say the same about our last name, from Grandpa Alvin’s part of the family, Rovics, which she informed me was not a typical Jewish last name.

Once when she left the safety of New York City to visit Connecticut about a half century ago, land of the “gentiles” back then, there was a sign on the beach saying “no Jews or dogs allowed.” I’m sure she had many other similar experiences. Being Jewish was for her a source of strength and a source of anguish, but mostly anguish. She always just wanted to fit in, to be an American, and ultimately, she did, and she was. She was traumatized by her family history and by the Nazi holocaust, but she wanted to put it behind her. She would often tell her idealistic leftwing grandson, “you can’t change the world.” She’d tell me to just look out for myself, get a good job, go to business school, become a dentist, be a respectable part of society and hopefully you will be respected in turn, or at least left alone.

For other assimilated, white, light-haired, blue-eyed US citizens such as Diane’s daughter, my aunt Judy, who knows where life could have gone. But as with so many others, the Jewish genocide that was going on when she was born in 1941 made a lasting impact. The Zionist movement for a Jewish homeland, not very popular among Jews worldwide before the Nazi holocaust, became much more popular after it. Lots of Jews – though far from all – joined that bandwagon, and my aunt was one of them. We haven’t spoken in years, but from what I understand, for her and her synogogue in New Jersey, criticism of Israel is completely unacceptable, there is no room for debate.

For people like Judy, “never again” means “never again to us.” Fuck everybody else, especially Arabs. The fascists in Europe killed us, nobody stopped them, and now if we need to steal somebody else’s land in order to have a home, so be it. People like Judy invent all kinds of outrageous theories to justify the fundamentally racist movement that has led to the state of Israel. There are no Palestinians, they’re all Arabs, and the 800 million Arabs in the world all hate Jews and want to “drive the Jews into the sea.” The Palestinians are really Jordanians and should be just as happy there as in the land of their ancestors. The hundreds of Palestinian villages destroyed by the Zionists never really existed. The Palestinians were all nomads if they weren’t Jordanian. The refugee problem is one created by the Arab states -- not the Jews who drove the refugees off their land.

People like Judy live in a sea of lies, and are miserable. At least they’re miserable. Hating other people so vehemently – Arabs, your fellow Jewish critics, and whoever else – causes one to be miserable. I’m sure there must be some happy ones out there, but the “ardent Zionists” I meet tend to be about as miserable as other members of hate groups I’ve met. I remember seeing the Orange marchers in Glasgow one time. What a miserable bunch. They all looked so pathetic, those men and boys dressed in their antiquated outfits, singing songs about being “knee-deep in Fenian blood.” These people have decided that the solution to their perceived problems lies in the oppression of another people. Not only does this kind of mentality breed misery, but it also doesn’t work.

Disenfranchised people always struggle for their liberty. Sometimes their struggles will be crushed, as in the case of the German left in the 1930’s. Sometimes their struggles will meet with relative success, such as the European labor movements that have been largely responsible for creating many of the most prosperous societies on Earth. Other times the oppression of a people leads to an ongoing struggle for justice that goes on for decades, such as the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. There can never possibly be peace and security for Israel as long as there are millions of impoverished, angry refugees surrounding it, no matter how high the walls they build, no matter how many children they massacre, no matter how many youths they torture in their prisons. History has demonstrated this fact, over and over again. Where there is oppression there will be resistance. The resistance may or may not be successful, but it will always harm the oppressor to one degree or another. This is not mere rhetoric. It is history and current events, all over the world.

There are those for whom “never again” takes on a very different meaning than for people like my aunt. For them, these lessons of history are learned. Of course, such people have existed since long before the Nazi holocaust, but the holocaust also was responsible for creating lots more of them. People who believe oppression should be opposed in all it’s forms, and those struggling for their lives and liberty should be supported. For these people, the term “us” means something much bigger than Jews, Catholics, Americans, or some other such limited category. Bob Steck is one such example.

Bob Steck died last December at the age of 95. He was a friend of mine, who I used to see much more of back when he lived near my mother in Connecticut, before he and his wife moved to Arizona. Bob grew up near Davenport, Iowa. When he was a boy in the 1920’s, Davenport was a town full of socialist intellectuals. The countryside around the town was full of radical farmers. When the fascist generals rebelled against the democratically-elected government in Spain in 1936, Bob was one of many thousands of Americans who volunteered – against the wishes of the US government – to fight fascism in Europe. Bob had never been to Spain, and I’m not sure if he had ever even met a Spaniard before, out there in the middle of the farm belt. He was not fighting for people he knew, or for “his people” in some kind of limited sense – he was fighting for humanity, for the future, for justice, for dignity.

Along with Bob, thousands of young men and women joined the International Brigades from England, Ireland and elsewhere. The biggest contingents of people ready to die in the fight against fascism came from Germany and Italy. After more than a year fighting the war in Spain he was captured, and spent 16 months in a concentration camp where he was regularly beaten, where the conditions were atrocious. Some German Nazis visited the camp once and measured everybody’s faces, thinking they could tell the Jews apart from the others by the size of their noses. He was Jewish, though that never occurred to me until one morning at his house when he made a particularly tasteless Matzo Ball omelette for me. Most of the Americans to go to Spain were killed there, but Bob was one of the those who ultimately returned home.

More than anything, Bob was a communist, and a historical optimist. He would tell me that ever since society has been divided into classes, several thousand years ago for much of the planet, there has been a class struggle, and this struggle will continue until we eventually abolish poverty, racism, and these sorts of divisions in society. Just as he fought against fascism in Europe, he fought against racism in the US. He was the Director of Activities of Camp Unity, a daring inter-racial working-class resort in upstate New York. He saw himself as a part of a movement, not as an exceptional individual, though he was most certainly both. He taught history for 30 years in the public schools of New York City, playing his part in the evolution of society, with books and lectures, just as he had in Spain with rifles and supply trucks. Yes, he was Jewish, and like so many Jews and so many other people of his generation, he was a communist first and foremost.

Bob was a very stoic man, by his own admission. He was stoic before the Spanish Civil War, but being held in the concentration camp taught him stoicism to a much larger degree. Never let the guards know how badly you are suffering, or it will demoralize the other prisoners. This was his view. I don’t know how much he may have had to question his beliefs from time to time, but when I asked him what his thoughts were on Israel, his response was quick and unequivocal. There must be justice for the Palestinians.

Long before I ever went to Israel I had strong opinions on the behavior of the Israeli government, and whether there should even be an Israeli government as such (that is, a government wherein non-Jews are systematically discriminated against, disenfranchised or killed). I had never been there, but my impression was that it was a colonial state, a society of settlers, like South Africa, Australia, the US, Canada and others. One of many societies where European invaders had colonized the place at gunpoint and either killed or driven out the indigenous population. The scars of living in societies like these can be seen on anybody living in them, whether they are members of one of the oppressed groups or one of the privileged groups. Whether they are being killed, doing the killing, or giving the orders to fire.

I was uncertain what to do when in 1999 I received an invitation from the Israeli Folk Music Society to do a tour of Israel that they would set up. But I quickly decided I should do it. I lived in one society that was brutally colonized by European invaders, so it seemed silly not to go, just because Israel was much more recently-conquered territory than the US. Besides, I wanted to see first-hand what was up there, and the offer to organize a tour was a perfect way to meet real Israelis.

And that’s what I did. Not Peace Now, not Gush-Shalom, not Women In Black, not Anarchists Against the Wall. They’re not members of the Israeli Folk Music Society. I met regular Israeli Jewish anglophone folk music fans. Like so many Israelis, the vast majority of the men and women I met were not born in Israel. Many were from New York, and others originally came from Britain, Australia and elsewhere. I was trying to be sort of undercover, wanting to see what Israeli Jews thought about their situation, not wanting to impose my viewpoint first. Besides, I hadn’t yet written any songs about the Palestinian struggle (at least nothing I liked enough to sing in public), so that made it easier for me.

What I found in my ten-day tour of Israel was the most racist society I had ever encountered. The secular yuppies of Tel Aviv were the worst, while the most compassionate people opposed to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza tended to be very religious, which was an unexpected revelation for me. The most sensible person I met on that trip was a religious man who was in the Israeli military for the wars of both 1967 and 1973. It was after 1973 that he had an awakening, and came to recognize the brutal reality of the Israeli occupation.

I met some other fairly decent folks there, but most people I encountered seemed to be right out of a Klan rally in 1950’s Alabama. Very odd, since many of the Americans among them had been involved with the Civil Rights movement back in the day. But they seemed to have no problem talking about “the Arab mind,” refusing to use the term “Palestinian” in conversation, even when avoiding it meant jumping through all kinds of verbal hoops. They talked fondly of one friend living on a West Bank settlement, whose politics were often described as “somewhere to the right of Ghengis Khan.” One of them talked often of her “Christian Arab” friend who lived in a “Christian Arab” town in Israel, who we should visit at some point. (We never did.)

Once I was doing a house concert there. As long as I sang about oppression elsewhere in the world people loved it. They were reminiscing of their days in the movement against the Vietnam war and their time in SDS. I was trying to end my show after quite a while, but they wanted more, more. It was at least the fifth encore, and I thought, OK, now I’m gonna hit ‘em with a song against the US bombing raids and UN sanctions that were currently causing mass suffering in Iraq. It was the first time I sang a song at a gig and nobody clapped.

After a very pregnant silence, a self-described socialist originally from Scotland began clapping, but no one joined him. There was basically unanimity in the room. The song was wrong, the bombing of Iraq was right. And how outrageous to sing that song in Israel, I was told, since “we had to put gas masks on our children and hide in bomb shelters.” A handful of Israelis were killed by the Scud missiles, a few years after Israel had itself bombed Iraq, and the Israelis had to sleep in bomb shelters, all emerging safely the next morning, unlike the Iraqis who were being killed in their hundreds of thousands, including those incinerated by the US Air Force while hiding in their bomb shelters.

But for these people, the suffering of the Iraqis simply was irrelevant. The Iraqis didn’t matter, they all wanted to kill the Jews, even the Iraqi children, I was told there to my unbelieving face.

My German girlfriend was with me on that tour. In the long discussion that followed me singing the song about the war on Iraq, she and I were told that the bombing of Dresden was a good thing. This man was telling us that the killing of a hundred thousand women and children, for no reason other than to kill them, was a good thing. He was telling us that one of the great war crimes of world history -- right up there with other mechanized mass killings, such as the blitz, the Nazi holocaust or the carpet-bombing of Korea and Vietnam – was a good thing. He couldn’t justify it in any way, but it was good, and he wanted us to know that.

This was around the time that I realized that the whole of Israeli society is full of trauma survivors of one sort or another. Palestinians inside and outside Israel traumatized by ongoing oppression of so many sorts, and Jews traumatized by living in the war zone they created when they declared their “independence” (from whom?) in 1948. Traumatized by their parents and other relatives being killed in Europe. Traumatized in such a way that most of them had decided, it seemed, that “never again” clearly meant “never again to us Jews.” To hell with everybody else.

About a year later, to my surprise, the Israeli Folk Music Society offered to organize another tour for me. I again decided in favor of constructive engagement. But then, a couple months before the tour was to happen, Ariel Sharon took a thousand troops to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the spark – along with the settlement-building, the road closures, the increasing numbers of checkpoints, the bulldozing of houses and olive groves -- that lit the powder keg that set off the second Intifada. And then I wrote a song about the Israeli soldiers gunning down children with live ammunition soon after Sharon’s visit to the mosque, and it was all over.

The organizer of the tour didn’t cancel it right away. One by one, the organizers of nine of the ten shows I was scheduled to do wrote me outraged emails. How could you write a song like this, how could you say these things, we thought you were one of us, you sound like them. From most of the presenters there, and then from other supporters of Israel from the US and elsewhere, I started receiving emails regularly calling me a self-hating Jew, a neofascist, a fascist, a Nazi, etc. One of the ten presenters wrote me and said he liked the lyrics and looked forward to hearing them. He was the veteran of 1967 and 1973 I mentioned earlier.

Then a few days later I started receiving emails from Palestinians throughout the diaspora who had gotten the lyrics to my song somehow, too. These emails far outnumbered the ones from the Israel supporters. Many were short, just thanking me for making this statement. Others were much longer and full of stories of the nakba, “the catastrophe,” as they call the events of 1948. Others wrote about the brutality and humiliation of life under occupation, or life in the refugee camps. I started meeting Palestinians of all walks of life, in the US, Canada, England, and eventually in Palestine itself.

The news lately is full of factional fighting between Fatah and Hamas. But this is not the sort of thing that characterizes Palestinian society. Palestinians do have a community. One reason for this is the fact that they are all under siege, and all struggling to live under the occupation, all wanting it to end. The Muslims and Christians get along fine. They are all Palestinian. When you’re there, these things are obvious, especially if you’ve visited other communities engaged in resistance. You see those common signs, that universal sense of determination, purpose, existing in the moment, not knowing what horrors tomorrow may bring, whether their house will be bulldozed, whether their daughter will be shot by a sniper while sitting in school, whether the olive grove will be burned by settlers. On the ground in Palestine, it’s very clear what’s happening. This is a place under occupation by a massive, fundamentally racist military power.

Most people in the world with a knowledge of world events recognize the situation for what it is. This is certainly true in Europe. According to polls I’ve seen lately, most Jews in Europe and in North America do not identify with Israel as a country that represents them. Most people in Europe do not have any problems with Jews. There are always a few boneheads here and there desecrating cemetaries. It doesn’t take many people to do that. But generally, serious acts of anti-Semitism are virtually unheard of in Europe or North America. Most Europeans, however, are very critical of Israel and concerned about the plight of the Palestinians. And most Europeans recognize that there is no contradiction here, since they understand that “Israel” and “Jews” are, thankfully, two different things.

Germany, however, is a unique case, where as far as Israel and Palestine are concerned, it’s a different story.

In my family there’s long been a bit of a suspicion of Germany and Germans. Most of us have been to Europe, but only a couple have actually visited Germany. Bordering countries, yes – Holland, France, Denmark, but not Germany. Of course, the neighboring countries are all much more attractive, since most of their cities survived WWII intact, while almost all of Germany’s were destroyed by British and American carpet-bombing. But the comparative lack of pre-war architecture wasn’t why my family avoided visiting Germany.

I was a bit hesitant about it the first time I visited. I didn’t know a lot about recent German history. I mostly knew German accents from WWII movies. After spending quite a bit of time there, though, I developed a real affection for German society. Spending lots of time with lots of Germans, I found so much beauty, and so much anguish. As much as German society suffered from the Allied bombardments, from a generation of young men being sent off to kill and be killed in battle, from so many non-Jewish Germans also being killed in the camps, Germans as a whole are even more paralyzed with an unbearable guilt about the genocide of their Jewish brethren. Most Germans today have no recollection of what society was like with millions of German Jews in it, but their absence is like a ghost standing on every street corner.

Most Germans would be horrified to be accused of anti-Semitism. Whereas the left throughout almost the entire world is critical of Israel and supports Palestinian sovereignty, the German left is largely quiet about it, or actively and uncritically supporting Israel.

I remember one guy in the neighborhood in Hamburg where I spent quite a bit of time, who had a radio show at the local free radio station (equivalent of what we’d call community radio in the US). For one of his shows he interviewed a Palestinian doctor about life under the Israeli occupation.
Specifically about the challenges of providing medical care under the circumstances, with the checkpoints delaying ambulances for hours or turning them back, with tanks firing at ambulances, etc. By consensus, the collective board that ran the radio station canned his show permanently for this offense. What did he do? He failed to have an Israeli on his show at the same time. To dare to have a Palestinian doctor with no Israeli to somehow balance out his views was unacceptable.

Many Germans on the left who have dared to try to be consistent internationalists in solidarity with oppressed people around the world, and have included Palestinians within that worldview, have suffered similar fates. When you know that this is the environment on the German left and in German society in general, the Autonomen become even more impressive. These were Germans in the tradition of Bob Steck, true internationalists who supported liberation everywhere, including for Palestinians.

In the 1980’s the German autonomous movement followed in the footsteps of the Italian autonomous movement a decade before. They ccupied buildings, reclaiming the commons, building a different society. They rejected the Soviet model as well as the capitalist one. They opposed US as well as German military and economic intervention in the Third World. They were antifascists to the core, spending much of their time physically battling Nazi boneheads on the streets of Germany, and often battling the German police as well. (When they have to choose, the police almost always side with the right in these situations.) They supported struggles for self-determination around the world. And, consistent with the rest of their principles around anti-racism and Third World liberation, at the top of their flagship squat in Hamburg, Haffenstrasse, were two words that shocked German society probably more than anything else coming from the Autonomen: “free Palestine.”

But with the decline of the Autonomen has come, among other things, the rise of a uniquely German organization known as the Anti-Deutsche.

I’ll be returning to Germany for the G8 protests this summer, but the last time I was there was several years ago, and the last concert I did there was in the town of Marburg. I had seen a flyer that the Anti-Deutsche had made, criticizing me and my music the night before. This time, when I got to the arts center in Marburg where my concert was to happen, there were eight or so blond men and women in their early twenties, forming a gauntlet in front of the entrance to the building, handing out the flyers. Some people didn’t go to the show as a result, I don’t know how many.

The flyers claimed I was an anti-Semite. I was clearly an anti-Semite because I support the Palestinian struggle, and the Palestinians all hate women and hate their own children, since they fail to prevent them from being shot by Israeli tanks. They furthermore argued that since I was critical of capitalism, I was therefore anti-Semitic because making statements against institutions like the World Bank is a veiled anti-Semitic thing to do. This kind of thinking seems to be supporting all kinds of strange anti-Semitic myths about the ranks of Jews being filled with rich bankers, but there you go. Also, since I opposed the war in Iraq, I was an anti-Semite, since the war in Iraq was being waged to benefit Israel, and therefore it was good, and therefore the US should be supported most of the time, and Israel all of the time. I approached them politely to try to have a civil discourse about the flyer, but was told by one of them that “we don’t talk to fascists,” so there would be no discussion.

If this was an isolated cult of wingnuts it would be one thing, but the Anti-Deutsche are a fairly common phenomenon all over Germany, with their base in Leipzig. They actually originally come out of the more communist end of the German left. Many Germans will privately acknowledge them as nutters, but they’re often loathe to confront them, fearing the label of anti-Semitism.

To their credit, the Anti-Deutsche apparently spend much of their time opposing actual fascists. But they seem to spend at least as much time harassing people like me. I haven’t seen any overviews on this sort of thing, but my friend Attila the Stockbroker, a punk rock songwriter and poet from England who tours in Germany regularly, has recently been banned from a number of music venues on account of his fairly mild opposition to Israeli policies. He hasn’t written any songs specifically on the subject, but just mentioning his opposition to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza was enough to get the Anti-Deutsche to actively denounce him. And that was enough to get several venues to ban him, and for some of his traditional leftwing punk audience to stop coming to his shows.

As irrational as the Anti-Deutsche patently are, they have a chilling effect on the German left, and they are a real product of German history, and of the German collective guilt complex. So in order to avoid being anti-Semitic, that is, in order to avoid being racist, they must support a racist regime. It’s convoluted logic that most people outside of Germany can see through, but in Germany this logic plays pretty well. Two wrongs make a right. We are traumatized because our people killed millions of Jews, therefore we must support the traumatized victims of the Nazi holocaust as they act out their displaced feelings of aggression towards us and focus them against the Palestinians, slaughtering thousands of them annually and making sure the rest live in a state of squalor.

Jews like my aunt or like so many Israelis say “never again to us,” while the Anti-Deutsche and other Germans say “never again to them.” The Autonomen and the Bob Stecks of the world say never again to anyone.

Who holds the moral high ground is obvious. The thing that allows people like me to sleep well at night, though, is having the knowledge that not only is this the moral view, the view that is easier to live with as a human being with a conscience, but it is also the sensible understanding of history and reality. Blinded by rage, trauma, or guilt, what the pro-Israel people apparently don’t see is that no matter what you do, a subjugated people will fight back. As anybody who’s visited a VA clinic in the US can tell you, the cost of oppression is also very high for those doing the oppressing.

So I say save the Jews and free Palestine!

8 comments:

Oscar said...

Thanks, David. That was a very introspective piece. Thanks for sharing.

"We were Germans", your grandmother's friend said, and you explain how insignificant their Jewish identity was to them, in their own eyes. They never referred to themselves as Jews, didn't feel any belonging to that community. Judaism was a dark past, which they had escaped, emancipated from.

Now look at today. Many Jews will identify themselves as Americans, or as Brits, and consider themselves to be assimilated, but they will belong to organizations such as "Jewish Voices for Peace", "Independent Jewish Voices", "Jews against Israel", "Not in Our Name", etc.

There are dozens of organizations for any conceivable progressive or less-progressive cause, which all identify themselves as Jewish. To Jews today, including the ones on the left, Jewish tribal identity appears to be far more significant than it used to be in antebellum Germany. What does that say about the depth of their assimilation?

I am very troubled by this. Why do they need to identify as Jews all the time? Why can they not genuinely become part of larger society, shed their tribal allegiance, and work toward the greater good of mankind?

aiman said...

Very beautiful essay, which gives us an insight into the building of your activism. To me you make more sense than other left-wing people, because you care most for humanity rather than politics and you even sing this in "The Dying Firefighter". I want to quote two parts from it that are universal in their inherent truth, and you have put them very philosophically:

"Racism, for example, permeates society. Race, of course, is a social construct with no biological basis, but it is a social construct that is the basis for both historical and ongoing discrimination of massive proportions. But if a Jew, a Catholic, or even a Muslim is white, then he or she is white, and treated as such...This is not to say that white people don’t suffer from discrimination. You can still be discriminated against according to your regional accent, how you dress, whether you can read or write, etc."

"The thing that allows people like me to sleep well at night, though, is having the knowledge that not only is this the moral view, the view that is easier to live with as a human being with a conscience, but it is also the sensible understanding of history and reality."

To me you're a hate-hating Jew but first and foremost a human being like we all should be and see each other. Well said. Your essay has given me hope about who I am myself.

aiman said...

"Why do they need to identify as Jews all the time? Why can they not genuinely become part of larger society, shed their tribal allegiance, and work toward the greater good of mankind?"

Hi Oscar,

I think this is because of what Robert Fisk calls the "Ministry of Fear" aka the media, which has caused more harm than good to ordinary Jews by associating Israel directly with them, stifling debate on Israel and constructing its image as a "sacred mystery" and all critics of its politics as anti-Semites. The biggest anti-Semites can be found among the right-wing movement. As an Israeli philosopher sarcastically noted in her article "With Friends Like These..." the European right-wing which is denigrating Muslims these days and championing Israel was slaughtering Jews earlier. The other set of anti-Semites can be found in Tel Aviv, whose moral values have been paved by racist theory, which is anti-Semitic in itself.

bruce said...

Thanks, David. Much to think about. Especially, about current Germany.

Having Rom (Gypsy) ancestors, I have often thought about what we and the Jews have in common. I agree with your analysis of the current Israeli
mind; thankfully we Rom never got a "homeland".

johnx said...

Thank you for posting this. Its so educational and inspirational. I hope you know that.

greggy said...

This is a repost of a a recent blog I wrote on my myspace page....

There seems to be, as of late, and amongst anti-globalism, anti-capitalist movements a misguided discontent with Israel--stemming from a lack of distinction between the state of Israel and the Jewish people and the need for a Jewish homeland. It also seems that some are using the need for a Jewish homeland as an excuse to escelate violence in the occupied territory. And this has not escaped the critical eye of leftist pundits.

It seems that there is a lot of debate around the issue as well. By now, if you are unaware of the alliance between the US and Israeli governments/administrations, you are, no doubt living under the butt crack of People magazine and Entertainment Weekly (left and right butt cheek, respectively). Likewise, you have probably heard the right wing assertion that Israel has infiltrated the US governement with Zionist interest, notably put forward by David Duke. You've heard it in CHICK tracts and now on the evening news: The Jews are taking over. Unfortunately, in these fucked up times, this poison is even entering the rhetoric of left as well.

Now you can purchase you're old fashioned Jew-hate at lefitist bookstores as well. The cross fertilization between Extreme Right and Left is particularly disconcerting to me. To add even more "fuck" to the mind fuck of this realization is Jewish scholars who are claiming that ANY criticism of (the state of) Israel, and the bloodthirsty tactics thereof, constitutes a form of cloaked anit-semitism (some even going so far as to say that this is ESPECIALLY true of people who wouldn't consider themselves anti-semetic). Like I said. A mindfuck. And a vipers' nest to try to weigh in on. But I am going to attempt to make sense of this. And again, I am not trying to oversimplify this, but here goes...

First of all, one needs to understand the currents that are at play here. On the one hand there is the need for a Jewish homeland. No debate necessary on that point. It seems that Evangelicals and other far right christian orginizations have a doctrine that states that the Jews need to all come back to Israel, convert to christianity and then the end times or whatever will comence. It just so happens, US foreign policy makers happen to believe this tripe, and being the warmongering types they are, there seems to be a certian, shall we say, "complicity," to put it mildly, in the heavy handed tactics of the Israli government and military towards the Palestinians. The war of terror, only intensifies anti-Palestinian sentiments in this country. A Palestinian suicide bombs a bus, it's terrorism. The 2006, near-WWIII-provoking barage of missiles directed at Hezbollah is 'self defense.' Again, no need to argue that there is a double standard at play. And these are some the arguments vollied in the political left about human righs abuses commited by the Israeli government, backed by US hardware and logistical support, not to mention security council vetos.

Some see this as a part of a larger overall political move. It is, in effect the same question that dominated the cold war, namely: who controls the capital? Israel, being seen as 'in kahootz' with theUS government, is not an astonishing observation, in and of itself. One might be able to argue, that they are acting in mutual self interest: namely, that Israel needs American support (at least at the level of the UN, so that they don't have resolutions passed against them for crimes against humanity--all it takes is a veto by the US. Though one could argue the need for access to military hardware and intelligence as well)--and that the US needs a foothold in the Middle East so that they can try to secure the oil, that many leftists argue, the US will try to take by force. Ok, so there is this apparent alliance between Israel and the US. Some say it is a power play for dominance in the region. This leads to the suspicion that this is part of an overall pattern of globalization. In the right, you often hear this explained as a plan for a one world government, microchipping, new world order, cashless society, freemasons etc etc. On the left, it is often seen more (and in my opinion, this is a bit more accurate) as a way to open up new markets, galvenize corporate control--basically that the military are clearing the way for multi-national corporations, opening up new labor markets etc etc..



Add to this a corss-fertilization between Muslim intellectuals and leftist anti-globalists, and before you know it we are back to reading Mein Kampf, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the International Jew--which are becoming best sellers in the Muslim world....all in the name of Anti-Capitalism (which in iteslf is a stereotype: the Jew as an unredeemed capitalist and purveyor of usury). Well, maybe not ALL in the name of anti-capitalism, but you can see that people are becoming only to eager to climb into bed with one another in discussing issues of concern. Unfortunately, somehow, they are also only too happy to stop their critical thinking on one common denominator. On pains of redundancy, do I really have to reiterate that this is what Germany looked like in the late 1920's early 30's?

Adding fire to this (and fostering suspicion amongst opponents) is the argument that you simply cannot question the government of Israel. If you do, you are an anti-semite.

Let me start by saying that it should be up to the Jewish people alone should decide what is anti semetic. Second, let's all get out heads out of our asses and peer through the fog of propaganda.

Is there an alliance between the US and the state of Israel? YES

Does this mean that there is a Zionist conspiracy? NO

Is there an interest amongs Zionist Christians to secure Israel? Probably. They state as much--I mean this is central to their docterine.

Does this influence US foreign policy? Probably less than you'd think. In myu opinion, that is that is like a bonus. If a new administration came to power in the US without the obvious religious right slant, I doubt little would change in regard to US policy. It is more likely that the Christian Zionist connection is a current of propaganda used to secure votes among the religious right. Profits and securing energy resources are first. The number one cost in the Iraq quagmire? Fuel costs.

Does criticism of the STATE of Israel constitute anti-semetism? NO

Do some people use criticism of Israel as a trojan horse to slip you a little good ol'fashioned anti semetism?More than likely this happens. You would have to look at the overall arguments being made and discern that for yourself. Accounts of the six day war, for isntance, and of the past 40 years of occupation are not pretty. Israel should be scrutinized. But don't let people polarize the argument in terms of 'Does Israel deserve to have a homeland or not?'

And then the biggest question of all is the distinction between a Jewish homeland and the state of Israel. Why the fuck doesn't anyone draw this distinction? Especially amongst erudite, college educated people? It seems that everyone is in agreement, that somehow the Jews are responsible, they just cant seem to agree if it is a Jew-as-capitalist fantasy, or a Jew-as-world-dominating facist bent on one world government by way of the UN. I'm surprised there aren't protests over who hates the Jews more?

GET THIS STRAIGHT: It is just another case of political scapegoating. When you come across things like this, you should regard it as tripe.

No, the real question at play here--the one that noone is talking about, is the legitimacy of any state. US, Israeli or Canadian, for that matter. Chomsky argues that the state itself seldom has any legitimate claim to power. So the question of Jewish homeland and the legitimacy of the state of Israel (namely it's actions) are two seperate issues and should be treated as such.

dbcsez said...

Yes, it's two months since you posted this, and via links on davidrovics.com I have finally clicked over to your blog and discovered this very thorough examination of Jewish identity, and have devoured every word.

Expressing opposition to Israel's policies and being labeled anti-Semitic for it simply does not compute. If we oppose the Bush regime's policies, does that make us anti-Methodist? One can be a sincere Communist and still criticize Fidel Castro for locking up dissidents without being called a self-hating Communist, can't one?

I'm glad you were able to offer a perspective from having spent time talking with Israelis. Most Westerners who have opinions on Israel/Palestine have no freakin' clue what's really going on there. I have never been there, so I can only go by what I have read, and conclude from it that the Situation is too complex for most of us to grasp. It is also brutally unjust toward Palestinians, other Arabs, and even non-Ashkenazy Jews.

Perhaps you have seen Amy Goodman's recent interview with Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Maguire, who caught a rubber bullet in the leg during a peaceful demonstration against the Wall last week. She has seen a lot of brutality in her time, but none as vicious as that meted out by the Israeli Defense Forces. That says a lot.

Clementine said...

Everybody says there is this RACE problem. Everybody says this RACE problem will be solved when the third world pours into EVERY white country and ONLY into white countries.

The Netherlands and Belgium are more crowded than Japan or Taiwan, but nobody says Japan or Taiwan will solve this RACE problem by bringing in millions of third worlders and quote assimilating unquote with them.

Everybody says the final solution to this RACE problem is for EVERY white country and ONLY white countries to "assimilate," i.e., intermarry, with all those non-whites.

What if I said there was this RACE problem and this RACE problem would be solved only if hundreds of millions of non-blacks were brought into EVERY black country and ONLY into black countries?

How long would it take anyone to realize I'm not talking about a RACE problem. I am talking about the final solution to the BLACK problem?

And how long would it take any sane black man to notice this and what kind of psycho black man wouldn't object to this?

But if I tell that obvious truth about the ongoing program of genocide against my race, the white race, Liberals and respectable conservatives agree that I am a naziwhowantstokillsixmillionjews.

They say they are anti-racist. What they are is anti-white.

Anti-racist is a code word for anti-white.