Jewish iden­tity in a pickle

In­de­pen­dent Jewish Voices-mcgill and their sto­ries

The McGill Daily - - Front Page - Writ­ten by Mcgill Stu­dents’ Chap­ter of In­de­pe­dent Jewish Voices | Vis­ual by Ma­rina Du­jur­d­je­vic

In­de­pen­dent Jewish Voices (IJV) Mcgill is a group of anti-and non-zion­ist Jewish stu­dents on Mcgill cam­pus.

In speak­ing about the ori­gins of Zion­ism and con­tem­po­rary an­tiSemitism in this ar­ti­cle, we have cho­sen to fo­cus on the ex­pe­ri­ences and the­o­ries of Euro­pean Jewry. We ac­knowl­edge the di­ver­sity of ex­pe­ri­ences, whether those ar e of vi­o­lence or of thriv­ing com­mu­nal life, specif­i­cally in the con­trast­ing ex­pe­ri­ences of Sephardic, Mizrachi, and other Jewish peo­ples. We also ac­knowl­edge the forms of vi­o­lence and dis­pos­ses­sion Zion­ism has im­posed on these com­mu­ni­ties, like “Op­er­a­tion Magic Car­pet” in Ye­men, and gen­eral era sure from dom­i­nant con­cep­tions and nar­ra­tives of Ju­daism. For the pur­pose of dis­cussing main­stream Zion­ism that evolved from Euro­pean thinkers, as it is ap­plied in Is­rael by its gov­ern­ment, and how it man­i­fests in North America, we ar e choos­ing to fo­cus on Ashke­nazi ex­pe­ri­ences and Euro­pean po­lit­i­cal Zion­ism How­ever, we hope to ac­knowl­edge the fail­ure of main­stream di­a­logue within and be­yond the Jewish com­mu­nity to en­gage with non-Ashke­nazi iden­ti­ties and his­to­ries. We hope to in­clude these per­spec­tives as we move for­ward with IJV Mcgill’s work.

A re­cent tweet by a stu­dent politi­cian, which read “punch a zion­ist to­day ,” has in­flamed dis­cus­sion over anti-zion­ism, vi­o­lence, and anti-semitism at Mcgill. For many of us, this has been a dif­fi­cult and tur­bu­lent time to be both a Jewish stu­dent, and an anti/non-zion­ist stu­dent on cam­pus. We would like to be­gin this ar­ti­cle with the recog­ni­tion that the tweet may in­cite vi­o­lence against vis­i­bly Jewish peo­ple and Jewish com­mu­ni­ties in Mon­treal and be­yond. We hear and sup­port calls for the ne­ces­sity of emo­tional, phys­i­cal, and men­tal safety fr om anti-semitic vi­o­lence.

The con­fla­tion of anti-semitism and anti-zion­ism within and be­yond the Mcgill com­mu­nity de­nies us, as young Jewish folks, the di­ver­sity of our Di­as­poric Jewish iden­ti­ties. We de­nounce anti-semitism, and rec­og­nize the lived re­al­i­ties of the con­cerns ex­pressed by the Jewish com­mu­nity. How­ever, this con­fla­tion fails to rec­og­nize anti-semitism – an at­tack on mem­bers of the Jewish faith and peo­ple­hood – as sep­a­rate from crit­i­cism of the ac­tions of the Is­raeli state, in par­tic­u­lar its il­le­gal oc­cu­pa­tion of Pales­tinian land. The on­go­ing op­pres­sion of other peo­ples is not a project with the right to in­voke Jewish peo­ple­hood or Di­as­poric Jewish claims in our names. In in­te­grat­ing Is­rael into the fab­rics of our com­mu­ni­ties, the plu­ral­ity of po­lit­i­cal con­vic­tions held by Jewish peo­ples are erased, si­lenc­ing anti-zion­ist voices.

It is vi­tal to state that an­tiSemitism was and con­tin­ues to be a vi­o­lent threat to Jewish peo­ple and com­mu­ni­ties world­wide – and left­ist anti-op­pres­sive spa­ces are cer­tainly not free from such anti-semitism. How­ever , it is also vi­tal to note: modern day sys­temic op­pres­sion can­not be jus­ti­fied by his­toric dis­crim­i­na­tion ex­pe­ri­enced by oth­ers. In com­ing from his­to­ries of op­pres­sion, we are tied to so­cial jus­tice strug­gles; as Rabbi Jill Ja­cobs ex­plains, the “obli­ga­tion to show our­selves as hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced dis­crim­i­na­tion [...] means con­tin­u­ously work­ing to al­le­vi­ate the suf­fer­ing of oth­ers .” We area col­lec­tive of young Jewish folk iden­ti­fy­ing as non- or anti- zion­ists, who share prin­ci­ples that are grounded not only in po­lit­i­cal con­vic­tion, but also in eth­i­cal im­per­a­tive so four shared Ju­daism. In that sense, we de­fine non/anti-zion­ism as a spec­trum of po­lit­i­cal, moral, and re­li­gious views that en­com­pass an op­po­si­tion to the Zion­ist project, whether it be through Boy­cott, Di­vest­ment, and Sanc­tions (BDS) against the Is­raeli state, ac­tively fight­ing the no­tion that Is­rael is the Jewish home­land, or crit­i­ciz­ing Is­rael for its in­jus­tices. While we each iden­tify as non- or anti-zion­ist Jews, we ac­knowl­edge that this ar­ti­cle does not speak for all non- or anti-zion­ist Jewish peo­ple.

In this piece, we aim to crit­i­cally as­sess the Zion­ist the­ory fr om which to­day’ s North Amer­i­can Zion­ist com­mu­ni­ties and ac­tions are gr ounded, and fr om which the prin­ci­ples em­bod­ied by the gov­ern­ment of Is­rael orig­i­nate. But be­yond just dis­cussing ide­ol­ogy , we aim to shar e our per­sonal sto­ries of how the con­fla­tion of anti-zion­ism and anti-semitism has harmed us.

Stu­dents iden­ti­fy­ing as Zion­ists have in­sti­tu­tional r es­ources and fa­mil­ial sup­port sys­tems at their dis­posal. As folk that face alien­ation from our greater Jewish com­mu­ni­ties and even our fam­i­lies for our sol­i­dar­ity ac­tivism, we ar e sys­tem­at­i­cally and rou­tinely de­nied these sup­ports. We have ex­pended tremen­dous emo­tional labour to pub­lish our views and ex­pe­ri­ences, and ask that our Jewish iden­ti­ties be re­spected.

Un­tan­gling his­tor­i­cal Zion­ism and Jewish iden­tity

“The Jewish State,” a pam­phlet pub­lished by the Jewish re­porter Theodor Herzl in 1896, aimed to gal­va­nize Jewish peo­ple to adopt a na­tional iden­tity and en­gage with the Zion­ist project. The text was writ­ten in the gr eater con­text of wide­spread anti-semitism through­out Eur ope, and in the spe­cific con­text of the anti-semitic per­se­cu­tion of a French mil­i­tary cap­tain in what is known as ‘The Drey­fus Af­fair.” The con­tem­po­rary man­i­fes­ta­tion of anti-semitism that Herzl re­sponded to was new and rad­i­cal; it de­parted fr om me­dieval myths of wicked Jewish crimes against Chris­tian Eur ope, such as the al­leged Jewish rit­u­al­is­tic mur­der of chil­dren, or the Blood Li­bels, and con­spir­a­cies against gov­ern­ments. As ris­ing eth­no­cen­tric na­tion­al­ism, the emer­gence of eu­gen­ics, and con­ti­nen­tal ism were em­bed­ded into Euro­pean cul­ture through aca­demic ac­cep­tance and in­sti­tu­tional nor­mal­iza­tion, so too were they em­bed­ded into anti-semitism; the Jewish peo­ple be­came a sin­gu­lar, and more im­por­tantly, ‘in­fe­rior eth­nic group,’ ir­rec­on­cil­able with Euro­pean eth­nic and so­ci­etal stan­dards. Anti-semitism per­vaded all com­mu­ni­ties, from ru­ral peas­antry to the high­est ranks of Euro­pean in­tel­li­gentsia. Vi­o­lent per­se­cu­tion and non­vi­o­lent dis­crim­i­na­tion were wide­spread, and many Jewish peo­ple were de­nied their rights to bod­ily safety, eco­nomic se­cu­rity through em­ploy­ment and prop­erty, and free­dom of move­ment. It is within this con­text that Herzl be­gan his work on the Zion­ist project.

At the time of its con­cep­tion, Zion­ism and the in­tent to leave Europe and form a Jewish state was not a widely ac­cepted po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy amongst Euro­pean Jewish com­mu­ni­ties. Par­al­lel to many other set­tler -colo­nial­ist pro­jects, Zion­ism was spear­headed by the elite – in this case, the

upper-class Jewish in­tel­li­gentsia of Cen­tral and Western Europe. Poor, mainly East­ern Euro­pean Jewish com­mu­ni­ties were largely ex­cluded from the Zion­ist in­tel­lec­tual project, but were in­stead ex­pected to per­form the labour of set­tling the land, wher­ever or when­ever that was to be.

Di­as­poric Jewry were proud of their status in the Euro­pean sec­u­lar world – whether that pride was grounded in their in­su­lar and rab­bini­cal re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties, their as­sim­i­la­tion into the Euro­pean in­tel­li­gentsia, or their rad­i­cal po­lit­i­cal work. Many of these Jewish folk did not hold an in­trin­sic yearn­ing to re­turn to Is­rael, as Zion­ists of­ten as­sert. It is im­por­tant to note that many dis­en­fran­chised and op­pressed East­ern Euro­pean Jewish folk tended to favour work­ers’ or­gan­i­sa­tions like the Bund and ad­vo­cated for Yid­dish So­cial­ism, a Jewish work­ers move­ment, rather than Zion­ism.

Many con­tem­po­rary Jewish peo­ple have no­ticed, as we do, that much Zion­ist the­ory har­nesses the same na­tion­al­is­tic, eth­no­cen­tric rhetoric uti­lized by the anti-semitic Euro­pean pow­ers at the time – such as the por­trayal of Jewish peo­ples as ge­net­i­cally of one eth­nic­ity or race. These sim­i­lar­i­ties ex­panded through the po­lit­i­cal dis­course of the early- and mid-1900s. How­ever, as Euro­pean pow­ers be­came more threat­en­ing and vi­o­lent lead­ing into World War II, many Jews took com­fort in the adop­tion of Jewish unity as a means for Jewish strength. How­ever, through this process, Jewish one­ness, a foun­da­tional and an­cient el­e­ment of Jewish re­li­gious thought: לזה זה ערבים ישראל כל , be­came con­flated with na­tion­al­ism and Zion­ism. Echo­ing early po­lit­i­cal Zion­ists like Herzl, con­tem­po­rary groups like the Amer­i­can Is­rael Pub­lic Af­fairs Com­mit­tee ( AIPAC) and the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment use this no­tion of a sin­gu­lar Jewish peo­ple to re­in­force the myth of unan­i­mous and un­wa­ver­ing Jewish sup­port for the state. This nar­ra­tive of one­ness, rooted in the uni­fi­ca­tion ef­forts of early Zion­ism, is a harm­ful tool of the Zion­ist project im­posed to erase Jewish eth­nic and lived di­ver­sity.

Zion­ism to­day and the “Pales­tinian Is­sue”

Con­tem­po­rary Zion­ists draw upon the con­structed con­cept of Jewish unity to sug­gest that all Jewish peo­ples are treated with eq­uity within the state of Is­rael. How­ever, from the ini­tial en­trance of these peo­ples into the land, they have been sub­ju­gated and seg­re­gated. For ex­am­ple, Mizrahi Jewish chil­dren were sub­ject to un­healthy lev­els of ra­di­a­tion at the hands of Ashke­nazi of­fi­cials. Although the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment long de­nied it, they re­cently ad­mit­ted to force­fully ster­il­iz­ing Ethiopian Jewish im­mi­grant women upon en­ter­ing the coun­try, and the Ethiopian Jewish com­mu­nity in Is­rael ex­pe­ri­ences rates of po­lice bru­tal­ity six times higher than their com­mu­ni­ties’ pro­por­tion to the pop­u­la­tion in the coun­try. From its es­tab­lish­ment, op­pres­sion has been ev­i­dent in the so­cial fabric of Is­rael: day-to-day dis­crim­i­na­tion and threats of vi­o­lence are a prom­i­nent com­po­nent of the nar­ra­tives of non-ashke­nazi Jewry who im­mi­grate to or live in Is­rael.

Sim­i­larly, the Zion­ist project re­sponds to the ‘Pales­tinian is­sue’ in a va­ri­ety of ways: through the dele­git­imiza­tion of Pales­tinian peo­ple, na­tion­hood, and ci­ti­zen­ship, the de­pic­tion of the Pales­tinian peo­ple as ‘prim­i­tive’ and a vi­o­lent ‘threat’ to the Jewish state, and the con­struc­tion of a pa­ter­nal­is­tic fal­lacy that the State of Is­rael would bet­ter serve the Pales­tini­ans than the Pales­tini­ans them­selves. In real­ity, Is­raeli Jewish cit­i­zens are placed in a po­si­tion of in­sti­tu­tional power and hold priv­i­lege over Pales­tini­ans; this im­bal­ance of power man­i­fests in a mul­ti­tude of ways which sys­tem­at­i­cally op­press Pales­tini­ans. Is­rael con­tin­ues to hold Pales­tinian youths un­der ad­min­is­tra­tive de­ten­tion and deny youths ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion, Is­raeli forces de­mol­ish Pales­tinian homes, and the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment cen­sors, ar­rests, and abuses Pales­tinian jour­nal­ists and ac­tivists.

As Jewish folks with rel­a­tive priv­i­lege in Is­raeli so­ci­ety, we can­not pre­tend to com­pre­hend the ex­pe­ri­ences of Pales­tini­ans in oc­cu­pied lands and do not wish to speak over their nar­ra­tives. How­ever, there is a dis­crim­i­na­tory na­ture of Is­rael which we can speak to: par­tic­u­larly fo­cus­ing on its priv­i­leg­ing of white Ashke­nazi (Euro­pean) Jews and cre­at­ing a class-struc­tured so­ci­ety in which Soviet Jews, Sephardic Jews, Mizrachi Jews, North-african Jews, and African Jews are op­pressed, marginal­ized and ex­ploited. The Zion­ist project largely ig­nores the in­equities of vary­ing eth­nic groups of Jewish folk in Is­raeli so­ci­ety and presents Is­rael as the pro­tec­tor of all Jews. The pa­tri­ar­chal saviour nar­ra­tive of Is­rael as a safe haven for the Jewish peo­ple in­spires steady Jewish Di­as­poric sup­port for Zion­ism.

In or­der to fur­ther con­cretize Di­as­poric and domestic Jewish sup­port of Zion­ism, the Zion­ist project in­fuses their po­lit­i­cal agenda into the ar­chi­tec­ture of Jewish re­li­gious life. How­ever, po­lit­i­cal Zion­ism can be fur­ther dis­tin­guished from Ju­daism through some re­li­gious jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for a Jewish Di­as­pora or Ex­ile, known in the To­rah as “Ge’ulah.” We would like to pref­ace these re­li­gious claims with an ac­knowl­edge­ment that the fol­low­ing is not the only “true” re­li­gious in­ter­pre­ta­tion, but also that these views are far from fringe. Fol­low­ing the Ro­man de­struc­tion of the Sec­ond Tem­ple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, some Rab­bis re-in­ter­preted G-d’s prom­ise of the land of Is­rael and Judea to Abra­ham as a pact, and con­cluded that only the Mes­siah can rule a Jewish na­tion. Un­der this in­ter­pre­ta­tion, un­til the Mes­siah is sent, hu­mans can­not cre­ate or self­gov­ern a Jewish state.

Zion­ism has in­vaded re­li­gious prac­tice, where those forms of prayer and prac­tice that are cen­tered around Is­rael are deemed su­pe­rior. In con­trast, non-ashke­nazi modes of prayer and prac­tice are deemed ‘im­pure.’ Zion­ism has, through time, mod­i­fied all prac­tices re­gard­less of ge­o­graphic or eth­nic af­fil­i­a­tion, dam­ag­ing and eras­ing sig­nif­i­cant el­e­ments of them. Di­as­poric Jewish spa­ces and prac­tices should not be in­val­i­dated by the Zion­ist project, nor should ac­cep­tance into these spa­ces be con­di­tional on sup­port of Zion­ist ide­ol­ogy.

We will not be erased: Anti/non-zion­ist Jewish voices

Zion­ism is wo­ven into the fabric of Jewish life and tra­di­tion, per­me­at­ing fa­mil­ial, re­li­gious, sec­u­lar, in­sti­tu­tional, and emo­tional as­pects of Jewish ex­is­tence. Jewish day schools are the birth­place of many young Jewish folks’ strong Jewish iden­ti­ties; they are a place for teach­ing prayer, spread­ing cul­ture, and pro­vid­ing a foun­da­tion for Jewish chil­dren to carry on the Jewish tra­di­tion. Un­for­tu­nately, these aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions use their po­si­tion to per­pet­u­ate the Zion­ist agenda and en­cour­age im­pres­sion­able stu­dents to sub­scribe to Zion­ism. Like many other main­stream in­sti­tu­tions, most Jewish day schools tend to erase the dif­fer­ences between a Zion­ist iden­tity and a Jewish iden­tity. Fur­ther­more, Zion­ist con­di­tion­ing oc­curs in the home, where Jewish fam­i­lies will preach their sup­port and love for Is­rael as a dis­tant home­land.

Hanna*, who grew up in a Rus­sian Jewish fam­ily in the U.S., re­counts her story of the pickle jar: “It was the sec­ond night of Passover: I had just sung the four ques­tions, our plates were dot­ted with red wine, our bel­lies au­di­bly growl­ing. As the Seder came to a close, my mother left to carry steam­ing bowls of matzo ball soup in from the kitchen. She also brought a large pickle jar to the ta­ble. As my rel­a­tives be­gan to slurp, the pickle jar was passed around, and it came to me. My eyes fell to its la­bel: ‘Made in Is­rael.’ My mother and I made eye con­tact as I passed the jar to my brother. Shocked, she said in her heavy Rus­sian ac­cent, ‘You’re not eat­ing pick­les?’ I was ashamed, and an­gered. I thought to my­self, ‘there are so many va­ri­eties on the shelf, mama – why choose Is­raeli im­ported pick­les?’ How was I to ex­plain my logic of ab­stain­ing, or my in­volve­ment in the boy­cott of Is­raeli prod­ucts at the din­ner ta­ble, in front of my grand­par­ents? And who was I? A priv­i­leged girl, born to im­mi­grant par­ents, who could choose what to eat, and choose to po­lit­i­cally dis­en­gage from cer­tain brined foods. Had I taken it too far? I my­self, was in a pickle. The post-din­ner kitchen clean up was icy, and my pickle-re­fusal has come up again, many times, as proof of me ‘turn­ing my back’ on ‘our past.’ Yet again, Jewish cul­ture was be­ing placed in­side an Is­raeli pickle jar.”

Hadar*, a mem­ber of IJV Mcgill and a Jewish day school grad­u­ate, ex­plains that her ex­pe­ri­ence with Zion­ist in­doc­tri­na­tion started in kin­der­garten:

“With a Zion­ist Is­raeli father and a Zion­ist Cana­dian mother, I was en­rolled in a Zion­ist in­sti­tu­tion by the ripe age of three. As a young girl, I re­call look­ing up to Is­raeli De­fense Forces (IDF) soldiers with pride and hop­ing to join them one day in de­fence of ‘my coun­try.’ Through­out ele­men­tary school, we per­formed plays about the state of Is­rael, wrote short sto­ries about sum­mers in Tel Aviv, and sang songs ex­press­ing our emo­tional con­nec­tion to Zion. I dis­tinctly re­call an ex­pe­ri­ence that I had in grade four: our He­brew in­struc­tors de­cided to take a break from study­ing dik-duk, or gram­mar, to screen a film. We saw Ker­sh­ner’s 1977 Raid on En­tebbe; a film de­pict­ing the his­tor­i­cal hi­jack­ing of an Air France air­craft by the Pales­tinian Lib­er­a­tion Or­gan­i­sa­tion. As an im­pres­sion­able Jewish child, this film and our dis­cus­sion of it thor­oughly fright­ened me and taught me to fear ‘ Mus­lim-ap­pear­ing’ peo­ples and erased the nec­es­sary con­text of Pales­tinian re­sis­tance to con­di­tions of op­pres­sion. I have since worked to un­learn this early Is­lam­o­pho­bia, but so much of my ele­men­tary school­ing and domestic en­vi­ron­ment con­di­tioned me to view Mus­lim Arabs as in­her­ently bad and Is­raeli Zion­ists as ul­ti­mately heroic.

Con­tin­u­ing on with my Zion­ist ac­tivism, I joined my day school’s own AIPAC club, as­sumed a lead­er­ship role in it, and trav­elled to Wash­ing­ton D.C. to lobby for the pro-is­rael su­per-pac. I didn’t buy into it un­equiv­o­cally – I ques­tioned the Is­lam­o­pho­bic speak­ers and pre­sen­ta­tions and was wary of evan­gel­i­cal Christians that preached their sup­port for AIPAC – but I felt proud, em­pow­ered, and part of a larger pur­pose. I ad­mired the Columbia and Barnard stu­dents that led a work­shop on com­bat­ing anti-zion­ism – in which they im­plied that this work also com­bated an­tiSemitism – on col­lege cam­puses. I strug­gled with my con­nec­tion to Ju­daism in a re­li­gious sense, but I thought that I had fi­nally found my place in the Jewish com­mu­nity; my Zion­ism was my Ju­daism.

In Beit Knes­set (tem­ple), school, sum­mer camp, and ex­tracur­ric­u­lars, I was con­di­tioned to un­equiv­o­cally sup­port Is­rael. Af­ter read­ing about the atroc­i­ties of Op­er­a­tion Pro­tec­tive Edge, when over 2,100 Pales­tini­ans were killed in the Gaza Strip by Is­raeli airstrikes, I com­pletely aban­doned my Zion­ism by the start of grade 11. I knew that my morals and my val­ues hadn’t a shred in com­mon with those of the Zion­ists, who could avert their eyes from or even jus­tify the mas­sacre. Through in­ter­ac­tion with anti-op­pres­sive Jewish com­mu­ni­ties that acted as al­ter­na­tives to my Jewish school com­mu­nity, I re­alised my Ju­daism once more and re­claimed my Zion­ist-free iden­tity. How­ever, my im­me­di­ate com­mu­nity was still Zion­ist. I sat through my manda­tory Is­rael-ad­vo­cacy course as a se­nior in high school as a mishloach, or rep­re­sen­ta­tive, from Is­rael came to in­spire us to fur­ther sup­port Is­rael. He asked: ‘Is Is­rael a racist coun­try?’ Ex­pect­ing an over­whelm­ing ‘NO,’ I raised my hand and curtly an­swered, ‘yes.’ My fel­low stu­dents looked at me in awe, pro­cessed my an­swer, and raised their hands to agree with me. I turned to our mishloach; I’d never seen a more shocked look on some­one’s face.

To this day, my views would be met with the same shocked look cou­pled with an ac­cu­sa­tion of be­ing a ‘self-hat­ing Jew’ at any given Zion­ist in­sti­tu­tion. I beg these Zion­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions to

“The obli­ga­tion to show our­selves as hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced dis­crim­i­na­tion […] means con­tin­u­ously work­ing to al­le­vi­ate the suf­fer­ing of oth­ers.” —Rabbi Jill Ja­cobs

val­i­date and ac­knowl­edge that yes, anti-zion­ist Jews ex­ist and we are proud of it. I hope for non-zion­ist spa­ces in which Jews can prac­tise. I hope for Jewish schools that do not con­di­tion their stu­dents to sup­port Is­rael. How­ever, spa­ces on col­lege cam­puses like In­de­pen­dent Jewish Voices are a step in the rigt Mcgill, Jewish com­mu­nity groups ei­ther take an as­sumed Zion­ist stance or are ‘apo­lit­i­cal’ – which means up­hold­ing the status quo of con­flat­ing Zion­ist and Jewish iden­ti­ties.ht di­rec­tion for the cre­ation of Jewish com­mu­ni­ties free of Zion­ist ide­ol­ogy.”

Reba*, an IJV Mcgill mem­ber, re­counts her jour­ney to­wards sep­a­rat­ing Zion­ism from her Jewish iden­tity:

“In pur­su­ing an ac­tive Jewish iden­tity in the Di­as­pora, I am re­peat­edly con­fronted by a frus­trat­ing mes­sage that Jewish ful­fill­ment is only pos­si­ble in Is­rael. It was only re­cently, in the past cou­ple of years, that I felt able to call my­self re­li­gious even though I have no in­ten­tions of as­so­ci­at­ing my Jewish iden­tity with Zion­ism. My whole life, I learned that I should feel ‘the most Jewish’ and the most ‘at home’ when in Is­rael, de­spite its dis­tance and dif­fer­ence from any­where I’ve lived long-term. I grew up be­ing taught that the true unit­ing force of Jews all around the world was a shared ground, a sov­er­eign land. I now find this ar­gu­ment, that is ex­tremely nor­mal­ized in Jewish com­mu­ni­ties, of­fen­sive and in­val­i­dat­ing to the work I do in the Jewish com­mu­nity in the Di­as­pora. When I spent nine months liv­ing in Is­rael at the age of 18, I was still con­fused about how Ju­daism could mean so many dif­fer­ent things to dif­fer­ent peo­ple, yet by liv­ing within cer­tain borders, we were ful­fill­ing ‘the most im­por­tant Jewish de­mand.’ It angers me that Zion­ist rhetoric con­flates a re­li­gious, spir­i­tual iden­tity with na­tion­al­ism. As I have per­son­ally stopped hold­ing na­tion­al­ist ide­ol­ogy and sup­port­ing borders, Zion­ism sits in con­tra­dic­tion with more and more of my per­sonal val­ues.

I’ve al­ways con­nected to Jewish texts, holidays, and prac­tices, and felt sat­is­fied as an ac­tive mem­ber of Jewish com­mu­ni­ties in Mon­treal and Van­cou­ver. How­ever, the con­fla­tion of Ju­daism with Zion­ism gives rise to a dis­ap­point­ing era­sure of Jewish prac­tice and cul­ture that oc­curs in the Di­as­pora in­de­pen­dently from Is­rael. Con­se­quently, claims of an­tiSemitism in the face of anti-zion­ist ef­forts have struck me as re­duc­tive and mis­guided. In re­sponse to crit­i­cisms of Is­rael, Jewish com­mu­ni­ties will tend to de­fend the rights and safety of Jews. If we are try­ing to de­fend the rights and safety of Jews, why is there not a more in­clu­sive, di­verse Jewish com­mu­nity on cam­pus? Why don’t we rec­og­nize the role of Yid­dish and Ara­bic in Jewish his­tory? Why don’t we pro­mote cel­e­bra­tions of Jewish holidays out­side of Ashke­nazi, Euro­pean prac­tices?

Fur­ther­more, con­flat­ing an­tiSemitism with anti-zion­ism al­lows for an ac­cep­tance and ig­no­rance of Is­rael’s vi­o­la­tions of hu­man rights. Ris­ing to pro­tect the rights and safety of Jews in re­sponse to anti-zion­ism ig­nores Is­rael’s set­tler-colo­nial­ist op­pres­sion and vi­o­lence. These kinds of re­sponses have of­ten left me won­der­ing what Is­rael Zion­ist groups even sup­port, since the coun­try they choose to de­fend is an ide­al­ized, peace­ful land of milk and honey – so very far from the bru­tal real­ity on the ground. Zion­ist struc­tures will of­ten pick and choose what parts of Is­rael they por­tray and val­i­date; on Birthright trips, for ex­am­ple, Is­raeli tourism is glo­ri­fied and vi­o­lence is hid­den. Con­tin­u­ing to live with such a nar­row un­der­stand­ing of Is­rael will only con­tinue the op­pres­sion of Pales­tinian peo­ple. Jews must be hon­est with them­selves about Is­rael, for its vi­o­la­tions of hu­man rights does war­rant a global re­sponse that is not in­her­ently anti-semitic.”

Anti-zion­ism on cam­pus

Re­cently, the Al­ge­meiner, a Jewish and Zion­ist pa­per, named Mcgill as one of the “worst uni­ver­si­ties for Jewish stu­dents” in North America. The ar­ti­cle ar­gues that the Mcgill stu­dent body largely sup­ports BDS, and is there­fore anti-semitic and hos­tile to­ward Jews. Due to its re­fusal to pub­lish Zion­ist ar­ti­cles, The Mcgill Daily has been ac­cused of anti-semitism by the Al­ge­meiner, as well as in ar­ti­cles by B’nai Brith Canada, Mcgill Hil­lel, Hon­est Re­port­ing, and other Zion­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions. This crit­i­cism is rooted in the above con­fla­tion, as Zion­ist is as­sumed as “Jewish,” and thus crit­i­cism of Is­rael is an­tiSemitism. This con­tin­ues to si­lence non/anti-zion­ist Jewish voices – many of which have ap­peared in the pages of The Daily. By clar­i­fy­ing the dis­tinc­tion between anti-zion­ism and anti-semitism, we would like to show that such ac­cu­sa­tions of anti-semitism against The Daily are base­less, and that re­fus­ing to pub­lish Zion­ist opin­ions is com­pat­i­ble with an anti-op­pres­sive man­date.

Dom­i­nant nar­ra­tives that con­flate Zion­ism with Ju­daism re­sult in the marginal­iza­tion and nega­tion of these non or an­tiZion­ist Jewish voices. At Mcgill, Jewish com­mu­nity groups ei­ther take an as­sumed Zion­ist stance or are ‘apo­lit­i­cal’ – which means up­hold­ing the status quo of con­flat­ing Zion­ist and Jewish iden­ti­ties. Apart from In­de­pen­dent Jewish Voices Mcgill, there is no other non/anti-zion­ist Jewish group on cam­pus or­gan­is­ing around and speak­ing openly against Zion­ist abuses of power. Fur­ther­more, there is not a sin­gle other Jewish in­sti­tu­tion on cam­pus which has com­mit­ted to a rad­i­cal anti-op­pres­sive man­date. Rad­i­cal Jewish folks are left without the fa­mil­ial, com­mu­nal, ma­te­rial, fi­nan­cial, and in­sti­tu­tional sup­port or re­sources with which to cre­ate rad­i­cal Jewish spa­ces. Even when rec­og­nized, the non/anti-zion­ist Jew iden­tity con­tin­ues to be a ta­boo on cam­pus, which IJV Mcgill seeks to de­con­struct and com­bat. The emer­gence of IJV Mcgill and non/anti-zion­ist spa­ces for Jews echoes a grow­ing transna­tional Jewish re­sis­tance move­ment, which in­cludes or­gan­i­sa­tions like Jewish Voice for Peace in the U.S. or Jew­das in the UK.

In­de­pen­dent Jewish Voices Mcgill is here to af­firm that we will not be si­lenced. Op­pos­ing Zion­ism, an op­pres­sive and vi­o­lent ex­e­cu­tion of coloni­sa­tion, is not an act of anti-semitism. Fur­ther­more, we aim to chal­lenge the un­ques­tioned harm in­flicted on Jewish folks and com­mu­ni­ties by the Zion­ist project. We are proud Jewish folks who stand in sol­i­dar­ity with Pales­tine, The Daily, and crit­i­cisms of Is­rael and Zion­ism.

Yet again, Jewish cul­ture was be­ing placed in­side and Is­raeli pickle jar. —Hanna*

*Names have been changed.

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