Tag Archives: antisemitism

Denying antisemitism

In July 2004 the Bolton Street Jewish cemetery in Wellington was vandalized – headstones smashed and swastikas graffitied on the ground. The day before, two Israelis, possibly Mossad agents, had been sentenced to prison for attempting to steal identities of New Zealand citizens. The attack on the cemetery was likely a response to the Israeli men’s crime, by antisemites who believe that all Jews should be held responsible for the Israeli state’s actions.

A few days later, a TV news program interviewed Nick Miller, a White supremacist and member of the National Front. Miller denied having anything to do with the vandalism at the cemetery. He suggested an alternative explanation, that Jews had vandalized the cemetery themselves, to generate “sympathy for their countrymen”.

The idea that Jews invent antisemitism, to make ourselves look like victims and thus deflect attention from our supposed control of the banks/media/entire world, is popular with antisemites. But I don’t expect to hear it from other Jews.

On Tuesday, The Australian published an article about protests against White supremacist Milo Yiannopoulos’ public talk in Melbourne:

Felicity Perry, a 33-year-old university administrator, was walking through the gathering Melbourne dusk towards the Flemington Railway station when she heard the chant. “Auschwitz–Birkenau, Bergen-Belsen, -Buchenwald, Dachau.”

At first, she thought she’d misheard. Then she turned and looked at the faces of the men glaring at her, chanting in unison. “Auschwitz–Birkenau, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Dachau.” She hadn’t misheard. There was no mistake; only a hatred deeper than Perry, a woman readily identifiable as Jewish, could have imagined.

You’d think that Jewish supporters of Yiannopoulos would publicly condemn this sort of thing, but instead they’ve responded by attacking Perry on social media, accusing her of making up the entire story to fuel some kind of leftist political agenda.

I’ve known Felicity since we were 20 (we started a feminist collective in her bedroom back in 2004). I don’t always agree with her, but I’ve never known her to be a liar, and I definitely haven’t known her to be cruel. It would take immense cruelty to tell lies that make Jews feel unsafe in public.

Besides, antifascist Jews have no reason to make false allegations of antisemitism from right-wing extremists. For us, bigotry against Aboriginals and Muslims is enough reason to oppose the right. We don’t need to be the targets of racism to know that racism is wrong.

Felicity’s story is just one more example of what we already know: aligning ourselves with White supremacy will not protect us from antisemitism.

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Stop ignoring anti-Jewish racism

Last Saturday I went to the protest against asset sales organized by Aotearoa Not For Sale. I was marching with my friend Maia, discussing the latest episode of The Good Wife in between chants of ‘hey hey ho ho/John Key has got to go’.

Halfway up Willis St we overheard a guy behind us talking: ‘This is all because John Key is a money-hungry Jew.’ Maia immediately turned around and told him that he was being anti-Semitic and that it wasn’t ok (she’s great like that). The guy explained that she didn’t understand the historical context, that ‘they took over this country with their money’, before finally giving up and telling her ‘you must be Jewish’ (incidentally, she isn’t. Not that it’s relevant’).

By that point I’d already walked away. I was in no mood to hear about how I control the world’s money and am personally responsible for the economic recession.

This wasn’t the first time that anti-Jewish racism has cropped up at Aotearoa Not For Sale events. Last year a guy named Nathan Symington joined an anti-asset sales march in Auckland holding a skateboard with swastikas chalked on it. The same man was later charged with the racist vandalism of the Symonds St Jewish cemetery.

When an Auckland activist noticed that Symington had clicked ‘attending’ on a facebook page for an Aotearoa Not For Sale street party, she commented and asked the organisers to make a clear statement that racism and fascism weren’t welcome at this event. She was ignored and her comment was deleted. (I’m told that at the party itself one of the organisers did make a statement condemning racism. I don’t want to imply that everyone involved in ANFS ignores racism.)

There were similar instances of anti-Jewish racism at Occupy spaces in 2011, and on the facebook pages of several of the Occupy groups as well.

The campaign against asset sales is broad. It includes socialists who argue for nationalization of resources, anarchists who argue for collectivization of the means of production, and tino rangatiratanga activists who view asset sales as a continuation of colonization. It also includes nationalists, racists and conspiracy theorists.

Aotearoa Not For Sale organisers can’t be held personally responsible for the actions of every single person who attends one of their protests. But they do need to take responsibility for ensuring that racism isn’t tolerated—or worse, nurtured.

One way to do that is to stop the nationalist rhetoric. Campaigns against privatization have a nasty habit of appealing to populist nationalism, because it’s an easy way of galvanizing support. That slope is both slippery and dangerous. Its logical conclusion is in racism and xenophobia. It’s essential that arguments against the privatization of public assets are based on an ethic of economic and social justice, not nationalism.

Another way to take responsibility is to take a strong and explicit stance against racism. Not just against Jews, but against Māori, Pacific islanders, Asians, Arabs—anybody. Opposition to racism needs to be one of the central tenets of anti-privatisation activism, and it needs to be made explicit and constantly reiterated. When people hold racist signs or make racist comments at protests they should be asked to leave. When racist behavior manifests it should be publicly condemned, not swept under the rug for fear of ‘damaging the movement’.

Nothing divides social movements quite as effectively as oppression ignored. If Aotearoa Not For Sale continues to ignore anti-Jewish racism, it will split the movement between those who are willing to tolerate racism, and those who cannot.

So stop ignoring anti-Jewish racism.

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No to anti-Semitism, no to Israel

I love the Symonds St cemetery. I love that it’s right in the middle of the city where anyone can enter, not locked up behind a fence. I love that a Jewish cemetery in a mostly non-Jewish country can be in the middle of the city where anyone can enter.

I love sitting in the cemetery and reading the inscriptions on the headstones. It’s comforting reading Hebrew in New Zealand. It makes me feel less alien here. I don’t know anything about the lives of the people buried in that cemetery, but it’s reassuring to see that Jews have a history in this country—as much as any other Tau Iwi anyway.

I imagine that’s exactly why neo-Nazis targeted the Symonds St cemetery. To them, Jewish people are not part of New Zealand society (along with other non-White, non-hetero people). Attacking a 19th century Jewish cemetery is a way of attacking Jewish existence in New Zealand.

It’s hard to describe how I felt when I read about it. It’s not the first time something like this has happened. In 2004 the Jewish cemeteries in Karori and Makara were vandalised by neo-Nazis. So it’s always at the back of my mind, the possibility of anti-Semitic attacks. But that didn’t stop the shock that hit me this afternoon. It’s the same shock I felt the first time I saw swastika jewelry being sold at a New Zealand shop. It took me a few minutes to notice I was shaking.

The people who attacked the cemetery spray painted swastikas and 88s on Jewish headstones. They also sprayed ‘fuck Israel’ on a grave. Why spray anti-Israel slogans in a cemetery that pre-dates the Israeli state’s existence?

I am not a Zionist and I don’t support Israel. I support freedom and equality for everyone living in historic Palestine and I support the right of Palestinian refugees to return home. I don’t think that ‘fuck Israel’ is an anti-Semitic slogan—except for when it’s spray painted on a dead Jew’s grave.

Whoever vandalised these graves wasn’t acting out of solidarity with Palestinians. White supremacists attack Muslims just as much as they attack Jews. But anti-Semites are perfectly happy to hijack Palestinians’ struggle for liberation from a racist state, when it serves their racist agenda. That’s something the global Palestine solidarity movement has been addressing recently after a Palestine solidarity organisation tweeted an anti-Semitic video. Both Bekah Wolf and Ali Abunimah have written about it. The discussion on anti-Semitism in the Palestine solidarity movement lead over 100 Palestinian activists to sign a statement condemning anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, Zionism and all other bigotry.

Anti-Semitic attacks on diaspora Jewish communities hurt both Jews and Palestinians. They reinforce the Zionist claim that Jews aren’t safe unless Israel remains a Jewish-supremacist state—and that this justifies the horrific consequences for Palestinians and other non-Jews. Anti-Semitism and Zionism are both racist ideologies and they reinforce each other.

I’m sad that the response to these racist attacks is to increase security, including building a $250,000 security fence around the cemetery. We should be addressing the root of the problem, which is to say, we should be addressing anti-Semitism and racism.

I’m relieved that so far no one’s attempted to exploit the situation to garner support for Israel.

Defending Jewish people’s right to live in peace anywhere in the world is part of the wider struggle against racism and colonialism, in Palestine and elsewhere. Conflating Jews with Israel serves anti-Semites like the people who spray painted swastikas on 130-year-old graves, and it serves Zionists like the IDF soldiers who terrorise West Bank Palestinians. It doesn’t serve anyone’s struggle for liberation.

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All very well to be antisemitic…

Gordon Campbell published a piece last week’s criticising John Key’s support for Mubarak in Egypt. It begins,

‘All very well that John Key is New Zealand’s third Jewish prime minister…’

Which reminds me of a lot of the discourse in New Zealand during the Israeli Air Force assault on Gaza in December 2008 – January 2009, which maintained that John Key was supporting the Israeli government because John Key is Jewish.

Now, if John Key was a socialist and a humanitarian known for his solidarity with people’s liberation movements worldwide, then I could see how his support for the Israeli state would seem unusual. But John Key is the leader of the New Zealand National Party, an organisation dedicated to upholding capitalism and Western imperialism. So his support of repressive regimes in Israel and Egypt is not some strange aberration. It is completely consistent with his political stance on everything else (and personally I think that the reason he’s framed this issue as being all about Israel is that he’s a moron who knows sweet fuck all about the Middle East, and is regurgitating American foreign policy lines in an effort to hide his ignorance).

Like John Key, I am Jewish. In many ways I am more stereotypically Jewish than John Key. Both my parents are Jewish, I was brought up in Israel, I speak Hebrew fluently, I celebrate Jewish holidays and I fix a mean bowl of vegan matzoh ball soup.

Unlike John Key, I am an anarchist and a communist. Which means that I am opposed to capitalism and Western imperialism, I support Palestinian struggles for self determination and I support the current Egyptian uprising against Mubarak.

Like John Key, my stance on Middle East politics is informed by my political views, not my ethnicity. To say that John Key’s political stance is based on his Jewish ethnicity is antisemitic. It assumes that all Jews share the same political views simply because we are Jews. Antisemitism is not OK. Seriously. Just because Zionists accuse anyone who supports Palestinian liberation of antisemitism does mean that it’s suddenly cool to be antisemitic. I get tired of saying this.

Now here, for your reading pleasure, are some other Jews who don’t share John Key’s opinion of Egyptian politics. I disagree with a lot of their analysis. This is because Jews are a diverse group of individuals who share a common sense of identity, not a common political analysis.

First of all, there’s Michael Warschawski’s piece on the Alternative Information Centre’s website, which is always a good source of info on Palestinian and Israeli politics.

This opinion piece by Roy Arad published in Ha’aretz criticises the hypocrisy of supporting democracy for Westerners but not for Arabs.

+972 also has some good commentary. Mati Shemoelof challenges the idea that Israel is a democracy. Yossi Gurvitz asks why people are so preoccupied with Islamic fundamentalism and not Jewish fundamentalism.

Outside Israel, Al Jazeera published a piece by Michael Lerner supporting the Egyptian revolt. Jew on this has a good critique of it, which also applies to a lot of the above articles (they also have a good range of links on the uprising).

Finally, my pal David Sheen put together this video of a solidarity demo in Tel Aviv. It gives you some idea of the racism and ignorance of the Israeli public. Which to be fair isn’t much different to the racism and ignorance of the New Zealand public. And another video of a different solidarity demo, which gives you some idea of the connections people are making between struggles in Egypt and Palestine/Israel.

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