— By Ricky Sherover-Marcuse
I. WHO ARE THE JEWS?
- Jews are people with a common early history, which originated more than 5000 years ago.
- There are many Jewish cultures: Jews speak many languages. Arabic, Ladino, Yiddish and are three languages traditionally spoken in various Jewish communities. The language of Jewish religious tradition and of the state of Israel is modern Hebrew. Being Jewish is not identical with speaking any particular language.
- Judaism is the name of the religion, which has played a major part in shaping Jewish cultures. There are a variety of ways to practice Judaism. Many Jews do not identify as religious.
- “Jewishness” is a learned social identity, not a set of genetic traits.
- There are various procedures in Judaism whereby non-Jews (Gentiles) can convert and become Jews. But it is not necessary to be Jewish in order to learn about and to enjoy the richness of Jewish traditions and cultures.
- Every Jew has and is entitled to have a unique (self-defined) relationship to Jewish traditions, Jewish cultures, Jewish religious practices, Jewish history, and to the state of Israel.
II. JEWISH OPPRESSION (since the late 19th century, known as ANTI-SEMITISM)
- Jewish oppression is real; it affects the life of every Jew. As a people and as individuals Jews have been the targets of systematic mistreatment and of anti-Jewish attitudes.
- The key difficulty in understanding the nature of Jewish oppression is that except in periods where Jews are the targets of mass physical violence, they are invisible as an oppressed group.
- The reasons for this invisibility are that the ruling powers have traditionally used the Jews as scapegoats for prevailing economic and social problems. As a result the Jews have been isolated from other oppressed groups; they have been seen as oppressors or as the cause of other people’s misfortunes.
- Jewish oppression has a cyclical form: there have been alternating periods of violence and temporary “safety” under specific conditions. The historical experience of the Jewish people is one of recurrent expulsion and temporary shelter.
- The historical predicament of the Jews as a people without a homeland created a situation in which Jewish communities were always in potential danger of being expelled and consequently had to bargain for the right to remain in a given place.
- The bargain required the carrying out of the “dirty work” for the ruling powers by a tiny minority of Jews. For example, during the Middle Ages some Jews functioned as tax collectors. The majority of tax collectors were non- Jews.
- The fact that there have been a few Jews in positions of relative power (Henry Kissinger as U.S. Secretary of State) has made the misinformation about Jews as oppressors seem plausible.
- The existence of the state of Israel has given the Jews a homeland but the fundamental feature of Jewish oppression remains unchanged: as a result of the need to bargain with the dominant powers for the right to exist, Israel is made to take on the task of carrying out the “dirty work” of supporting oppressive regimes and is isolated from other oppressed groups.
- The cyclical nature of Jewish oppression means that even in situations in which Jewish communities are flourishing (such as is the case in the United States today), the undertone of instability remains a presence in Jewish lives.
- Jewish oppression has generated misinformation about Jews as a group and as individuals which functions as the “explanation” or “justification” of Jewish oppression. This misinformation confuses both Jews and non-Jews.
- Some of the commonest bits of misinformation about Jews are: Jews run the economy and own the banks Jews have special inborn abilities with money Jews are smarter or more intelligent than other people Jews are not working class people Jewish women are pushy, aggressive, domineering, smothering Jews did not resist during the Holocaust Israel is oppressive because it is a Jewish state Jews are more exclusive or clannish than other people
- Jewish oppression hurts everyone. Jewish oppression has often functioned as the opening wedge for the oppression of other groups. Because of the historical use of Jews as social scapegoats, Jewish oppression has been condoned even when people mobilized against other forms of oppression. But when one oppression is condoned, all forms of oppression are legitimized and the unity of all liberation efforts is weakened.
III. JEWISH LIBERATION AND THE ROLE OF NON-JEWISH ALLIES
- Jewish liberation is the concern of all people– not only of Jews.
- Jewish liberation means:
1) the ending of any mistreatment of Jews,
2) the elimination of all anti-Jewish attitudes,
3) the undoing of all ‘echoes’ of Jewish oppression in the hearts and minds of the Jews themselves. The achievement of Jewish liberation will mean that Jews will be and will feel themselves to be cherished- fully welcomed in the world.
- Like other peoples, Jews are entitled to a national homeland, a nation state in a world of nation states. Allies need to remember that the right of the Jewish people to a national homeland or state is in no way contradictory to the right of the Palestinian people to a national homeland or state. Allies need to be for both sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict. To support Israel at the expense of the Palestinians is to force Jews to choose between security and justice- an impossible choice.
- Allies need to find out as much as they can about Jewish history, Jewish cultures, religious practices and traditions–not only from books and films but also from individual Jews themselves.
- Allies need to listen to the unique perspective of every individual Jew and to remember that every Jew is an expert on her/his experience of being Jewish.
- Jewish oppression need not be a permanent state of affairs. It can be ended — just as other forms of oppression can be ended.
- Allies need to remember that they are good enough and smart enough to intervene when anti-Jewish acts occur or when anti-Jewish jokes or comments are made.
- Every non-Jew has the exciting and challenging possibility of being a committed ally of Jewish liberation.