on not feeling safe as a jew

written 28 february 2012

I want to preface this by saying that this isn’t an attempt to whitewash anti-Jewish racism that exists in the Palestine solidarity movement or anywhere. Like every single other form of racism, like sexism and queerphobia, like ableism and classism, anti-Jewish racism exists IN THE WORLD and it will exist in our movements until we specifically confront it, and as we continually confront it.

I don’t want to say that I never run into the occasional anti-Jewish comment doing this work. It happens. When it does happen, I deal with it like I’d deal with a sexist comment. I call the person out. If I’m really upset or feel like the space isn’t safe for me to call the person out, I ask a non-Jewish ally to support me. Sometimes I don’t even need to ask because people already have my back and they understand how racism works.

Anti-Jewish racism is not special. It is a form of oppression like all others that’s built historically into the structures of our societies and communities, and needs to be confronted in the same way.

Please note that I am an Israeli-American living in a settler-colonial state engaged in imperialist wars, which has a massive prison-industrial complex. I am already drastically safer than folks living in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Palestine, other places where US or Israeli intervention is murdering civilians on a daily basis, and drastically safer than folks living in poor black and brown communities under police occupation, those who are within the prison system, and immigrants who are undocumented, among many others.

I am an Arab Jew. In a vast majority of circumstances, being an Arab Jew means that part of my identity remains invisible to people who refuse to see it. People who reinforce that invisibility, who make statements about “the Arabs and the Jews,” even the need to make peace between “them,” who systematically (even with the best of intentions but the ignorance of privilege) exclude Jews of color from their spaces, make me feel, at the very least, not welcome.

Sometimes in “Arab” spaces I get this thing that’s, like, “well, you are one of the GOOD Jews, not like the European colonizing Jews,” but I feel way more capable of confronting comments like that than I do the overall structural exclusion and invisiblity that I feel in “safe” Jewish spaces on a regular basis.

Get this: ANTI-ARAB RACISM AFFECTS ME. Sure, because I am Jewish, and Israeli, and pass for white in some situations, it affects me a lot less. I can be pretty sure that the U.S. government is not spying on me solely because of my country of origin, for example. When I see Jewish people in Jewish spaces perpetuating anti-Arab racism, not only do I feel like my identity is not being respected, I feel betrayed and frightened, as if I am only waiting for the moment until my privileges do not protect me any longer.

When people use the histories of Jews from the Middle East in our families’ countries of origin as justification for US or Israeli colonialism and human rights offenses, it makes me feel like I am unable to share my family’s story or history, to be fully present in the space, without having my words become co-opted by a nationalist project. Again, this is something that happens to me predominatly in Jewish spaces and Jewish conversations.

With all of this going on in the background, I want to say that the moments when I feel most physically threatened as a Jew are when I see the systemic backlash of threats, state violence, individual violence, intimidation, and slander that anti-Zionist Jews and Jews who criticize Israel are subjected to.

When I am at a peaceful flash mob and I see Zionist counter-protestors use a stun gun and pepper spray against bystanders who confront them, I feel unsafe.

When a meeting (not a public event, a closed meeting) of Jews against the occupation is disrupted violently, I feel unsafe.

When my friend’s neck is injured by members of the audience as she disrupts the Israeli prime minister with nothing but her voice and a banner, I feel unsafe.

When my friends are shot at by the Israeli army and border police with tear gas, rubber bullets, and many other “less-than-lethal” weapons which are the same ones used by the US army, the Egyptian army, the OPD, and other police forces all around the country, week after week at peaceful demonstrations against the apartheid wall, I feel unsafe.

When my friends are injured at those demonstrations, I feel shaken by grief and rage and powerlessness, and yes, I feel unsafe.

When laws are passed in Israel that criminalize the work that I do, and make my friends in the country more vulnerable to state violence and incarceration, I feel unsafe. When American Jewish organizations support these laws or leave them uncriticized, I feel unsafe.

When counterprotestors shout racist and heterosexist comments at me at demonstrations (or send them to me in e-mails), such as “How many Arab cocks did you suck today?” I feel unsafe.

When people graphically describe queerphobic violence that they presume would be done to me in Palestine or in Palestinian spaces, such as “You would get stabbed if there was ever a Pride parade in Gaza,” this makes invisible Palestinian queers, and Israeli queers who WERE stabbed at a pride parade in Jerusalem, and I feel unsafe.

When photos of me, racial and sexual slurs, my phone number, and a quote about my mother (who has no involement with my work whatsoever), are placed on a hate website that specifically identifies Jews who criticize Israel, I feel unsafe.

When I fear that I may lose my job at a synagogue, or have my employment come under fire or scrutiny, because of the activism that I do outside of the workplace, I feel unsafe.

When what I feel after giving a passionate speech in solidarity with the Palestinian people in public is fear and shame, instead of pride and moral conviction, I AM unsafe.

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About mirit mizrahi

artist, writer, activist, giant. זהירות! אני מזרחית
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