I’ve been driving around thinking about my Jewish studies class and trying to apply the information that I learned to my activism. I wanted to write you a letter telling you everything that I’ve learned this quarter and explain what I’m thinking about right now but I know you’re busy so I thought it’d be nice if I sent it in a voice note so you can listen to it on your way to work. And if we are being honest our best thinking is always done in the car on long drives anyways.
Remember when you used to drive me to Cascade Ridge Elementary school every day? You poor single father, just driving my ass 45 minutes each way to and from school. Looking back on those times we spent talking in the car are some of my favorite memories. I remember when you used to ask me to envision what a free Palestine will look like. I don’t know if you know this but that’s actually a revolutionary tool that we learned about in my Critical Race Theory class, it’s called “decolonial imagination” and it’s a really important step towards liberation for colonized people. I’ve learned a lot by studying Jewish history this quarter and I found it really surprising to see how similar Palestinian identity was to Jewish identity. I want to acknowledge that I know I’m generalizing when I say “Jewish identity” since Jewish history is multifaceted and Mizrahi Jews have a much different history than European Jews do. Nonetheless, I’m going to assert that Palestinians have a lot that we can learn from our Jewish brothers and sisters as a whole. Which is why when I envision a free Palestine now, I look to Jewish history for examples of what we should and shouldn’t do in the future.
We read a book by Hannah Arendt who’s an anti-Zionist holocaust survivor and scholar and she talked a lot about eternal anti-Semitism and how detrimental it was towards achieving true Jewish liberation. She says that, and I quote, “Jews concerned with the survival of their people would in a curious desperate misinterpretation hit on the consoling idea that anti-Semitism, after all, might be an excellent means for keeping the people together, so that the assumption of eternal anti-Semitism would even imply an eternal guarantee of Jewish existence.” This really stuck out to me because we are beginning to experience this eternal victimization as well in the Palestinian community. A lot of Muslims, including Palestinians as you already know, justify the colonization of our land and genocide by saying that it was Allah’s will. But that's a cheap copout in my opinion, for both Jews and for Palestinians, because an eternal victimhood negates any responsibility from our oppressor. It places the blame on God and external factors which will always hold us back from achieving our liberation because we cannot contest the prophecy of Allah.
It also negates any responsibility on our part, or on the Jews part, for how we have come to be in this position of eternal victimhood. I feel like I’m just beginning to actually understand the multi-dimensional history of anti-Semitism in Europe and I know that I still have a long ways to go but I’m going to give you a brief rundown of some of the major concepts that I’ve learned so we can look to them as an example for our own self-preservation.
So as you know, Jews are a diasporic group of people. After their exile from Israel they lived all over the world but in Europe specifically they tried to preserve their Jewish identity by relatively staying separate from mainstream society. This manifested into two different major groups of Jewish people—Arendt uses the terms Jewish elite and the Jewish masses to describe them. The Jews who made up the Jewish masses at the time, were extremely poor but nonetheless were still granted certain privileges from the state. For example they were able to remain living in Jewish ghettos, which was actually wanted because it helped to preserve the Jewish identity. On the other hand, the paradox is that even though neither the Jewish elite, nor the members of the Jewish masses, wanted to be assimilated to European identity, the Jewish elite became aligned with the nation state. The elite were very interconnected to the banking system but not in the typical anti-Semitic trope that we immediately think of when we hear that. Jews were relatively apolitical because they didn’t want to assimilate to a Christian European identity, and at the time there was a major stigma around Christians handling money. So Jews, being the versatile group of diasporic people that they were, they filled that role and did it very well. The issues began to really arise when antisemitism became internalized in upper class Jews. The “elite Jews” were against the emancipation of the Jewish masses because they knew if the masses were emancipated into this seeming equality, then their privileges would be lost. So the Jewish masses and the Jewish elite at this point were pitted against each other.
Up until then the Jewish religion was an incredibly diverse population. But because of the Reich’s racialization of Jews as a whole, they became an ethno-religious group of people in Europe. When I started this class I opened up with my qualms about Judaism being considered an ethno-religion because of how diverse the Jewish population was. I think I understand this a little better now because not all Jews fit into this “ethno-religious” grouping, but any attempt to discredit the real racialization and stigmatization of European Jews would be illegitimate.
When the banking systems in Europe failed and an economic collapse happened, Jews were easy to scapegoat. They had already been segregated from mainstream society and were easy to vilify based on the privileges that they had possessed out of necessity for their survival. The key factor here for me, was realizing that diasporic people cannot act as a tool for the state. In a podcast by Christian Davis, titled ‘Fascism and Colonialism’ I learned that Jewish Zionists were heavily involved in colonizing Namibia before Nazi Germany gained most of its power. But after World War 1, Germany had lost virtually all of their colonized land in Africa and since White supremacy had already gained momentum in German society, this loss was extremely humiliating to the White Germans. And again this loss of control from the White elites was attributed to Jewish involvement and Jews were yet again placed as the scapegoat.
Another really prominent similarity between us and Jews is that we share this relationship to diaspora. And that makes Jewish history incredibly useful for Palestinians and other refugee groups to look to as an example when settling in someone else’s territory. My professor this quarter said (quote) “rootlessness is a breeding ground for atrocities”. And that really stuck out to me because Palestinians are now a diasporic group of people as well and a lot of us are residing on stolen land. And we are not entitled to any of it, especially not that of Turtle Island, we must act as guests upon entry to these communities and while we must preserve our identity. I’m no way shape or form advocating for us to assimilate, but also we mustn’t segregate ourselves from other marginalized groups and instead work to create real solidarity between us otherwise we will just perpetuate justified acts of violence in the name of self preservation.
You see that’s also something I learned, and not actually from the Jewish people themselves but instead from their oppressors. Conquer and divide is a real strategy that works. We see it with the Nazi’s pitting the elite Jews against the Jewish masses but we also see it with plenty of other Jewish historical events. In North Africa for example, the French granted the Algerian Jewish population with French citizenship and didn’t offer this opportunity to its other Arab populations. This very clearly created a dichotomized relationship between North African Jews and non-Jewish North African people.
Another author we read this quarter was Ariella Aisha Azoulay, she is a Palestinian and North African Jewish person that grew up in “Israel” as an Israeli and she’s informed a lot of my thought process here. She says “I came here [United States] seven years ago and I felt that Undoing Potential History book was almost done, but then I quickly realized it’s not done. And rather than having Palestine as its focus, Palestine became a reiteration of imperial violence rather than the exception.”
Which I think brings to my point beautifully. We are not the exception, we are not special, and our persecution is not eternal. We are merely, like Azoulay says, a reiteration of imperial violence, and we can look to other displaced people when we need direction towards our liberation. The oppressed are the only ones who can liberate themselves.
When I decided that I wanted to write this letter to you I initially wanted to warn you about the dangers of the oppressed becoming the oppressor, and how this typically is a cyclical process, meaning it’s a cycle of the oppressed becoming the oppressor. My goal was to warn you about the dangers of a free Palestine operating as Israel does now by using the justification of self-determination and protection of the Palestinian people. Upon my further investigation and study of Jewish history though, I realized that it is much more complex than this. All oppressed people subconsciously buy into ideologies that support White supremacy and oftentimes we seek protection from the state, settler colonial states, as a last ditch effort to save ourselves. We can see clear examples of this in Jewish history starting before the creation of Israel in Namibia up until now with the atrocities we see committed against Palestinians by Zionists. But we should also recognize when this is happening within our own community.e need to call out neoliberal Palestinian politics, we need to have community discussions about defunding the police and standing in solidarity with Black folxs and other marginalized communities in the land we settle, we need to make sure we aren’t aligning ourselves with the same states who would scapegoat us in a second if they needed to like they did to the Jews, and we have to be aware of when we are being divided. Some questions that I have coming out of this is how can we hold Fatah accountable for their corruption? How can we call in Hamas for discussions about the separation of church and state? I plan to be more critical in the ways I engage with lobbying and bureaucratic bullcrap in the United States from here on out. I plan to be more militant in my beliefs and less divisive within my community. And this means when I envision a free Palestine, I see it as a land where we radically love and accept anyone. Where we don’t have borders and we don’t displace others. Where we never use the excuse of self-determination to oppress someone else like the Israelis have done to us or the Nazis did to them. Jewish people are a necessity to Palestine and we will all prevail with radical love.
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