By Guest Writer Jamie Faye '16
I’ve been staring at this blank screen for days trying to come up with the perfect personal anecdote with which to begin this article. I could have jumped right in, shocking all of you with one of my grandma’s Auschwitz memories and using that to smoothly segue into how being a third generation Holocaust survivor has affected me to this day. Or, alternatively, I could have walked all of you through the radical thought process I experienced when I decided to get a Star of David permanently tattooed on my skin a few weeks ago. I considered describing that one time 11-year-old me asked my dad what a “kike” was, or how I didn’t realize until I was 20 years old how unusual it was that every synagogue, JCC, and Jewish day school I’ve ever been to has an armed security guard standing by the door; and, of course, I considered detailing the frustration I experience every time somebody tells me I “don’t look Jewish” and waits expectantly for me to thank them, as if it’s a compliment. But as successfully as these stories would exemplify the bits and pieces of Jew hate I’ve experienced throughout my life, none of them would be conducive in breaking down the true nature of anti-Semitism, why it needs to be stopped, and why so many politically-active college students are so comfortable ignoring it.
Perhaps one of the biggest contributing factors to the deafening silence regarding anti-Semitism on our campus is that many of my peers are unable to recognize it, because it doesn’t always look like other racism. While many other, more overt forms of racism thrive on degrading certain demographics, alleging inferiority, and excluding them from various aspects of society, Jew hate tends to equate us with our oppressors by generalizing all Jewish people as predominantly middle-class, assimilated, and white. These stereotypes are a shameless and offensive erasure of our history and origins, and they are dangerous. They paint us as complicit in several centuries of the same white-supremacist oppression that has, and continues to, humiliate, persecute, and murder us.
There also exists a fancy modern concept recently dubbed the “new anti-Semitism,” which is a form of Jew hate characterized by the adoption of left-wing, socially liberal, and anti-imperialist rhetoric to push agendas that are fundamentally anti-Semitic. And yes, I have experienced it on the Mount Holyoke campus- almost always accompanied by the classic and much-loved act of talking over me. (Just a heads up: This is the part where you should start taking notes, because there’s a chance it could be about you.) Many serial offenders of “new anti-Semitism” are people who tend to pride themselves on their anti-racist credentials, and whose outlooks are geared towards eradicating racism… or so they think. However, this cleverly-disguised manifestation of Jew hatred is nothing but recycled age-old bigotries and stereotypes. Common anti-Semitic conspiracies and stereotypes I have seen regurgitated in the modern leftist movement include, but are not limited to, subtle (or, occasionally, not so subtle) assertions that Jews are greedy, hold too much power in the media and the government, are conspiring against the rest of the world, and have a hidden agenda. Interestingly enough, these are the same ideas that make up the heart of Nazi propaganda. Hey, classmates... just a word of advice: If you sound like a Nazi, there’s something wrong with your activism. Learn to recognize this rhetoric in the words of others as well as in your own personal thought processes before you end up doing more harm than good.
I’m tired of Jewish people being tokenized and used to further unrelated agendas.
My existence, my history, and my culture, are not rhetorical devices. When you use Jewish history of oppression and persecution as a tool in your arguments, you’re implying that anti-Semitism is a thing of the past, which is a very common misconception. Over time, it has manifested differently, although it continues to plague our society to this day. According to recent FBI statistics, anti-Semitic hate crimes make up approximately 62% of religiously-motivated hate crimes in the United States. Just because you haven’t personally witnessed a hate crime, doesn’t mean they aren’t happening. Over 300 anti-Semitic incidents at more than 100 schools in 28 states have been documented by the AMCHA Initiative, and last year, thousands of Jewish people fled their homes in Europe (most notably, France) out of fear for their safety. If you think that anti-Semitism doesn’t exist today, you haven’t been paying attention. It’s not dead, it didn’t end with the liberation of the concentration camps in the 40s, and I don’t need my peers and classmates to exploit centuries of Jewish oppression for the sake of drawing far-fetched and irrelevant comparisons during their political discourse. And I promise there are ways to explain how evil and racist a politician is without comparing them to Hitler. On a related note, something else worth taking into consideration is the fact that one of the biggest reasons Hitler was even able to enact his “Final Solution,” was because very few people stood up for Jews when they should have. Let’s not continue that legacy.
Anti-Semitism is not “white on white” racism.
Jewish people being considered part of “whiteness” or the “white race” is a relatively modern and highly American-centric concept, and it’s important to take your privileged position within American society into consideration before insisting that Jews play a huge part in furthering white supremacy, an ideology that has been, and continues to be, the cause of millions of lost Jewish lives. Also, not only white people are anti-Semitic. But writing it off as “white on white” racism absolves non-white people of their anti-Semitic behavior and prevents them from taking responsibility for their part in it. I know a lot of my peers may also be interested to hear that dismissing anti-Semitism as a form of “white on white” racism is actually extremely racist. I can’t even begin to describe how detrimental, counter-productive, and flat-out racist it is to erase the existence of Jewish people of color, in addition to erasing all the racialization that Jewish people have faced throughout history (and yes, even to this day). Jewish Holocaust victims weren’t killed because they put candles in their house instead of a Christmas tree, they were killed for their blood. If you’re comfortable writing all Jews off as “white people,” you should probably consider how and why you have such a narrow view of one of the most diverse and complex demographics in the world.
The “are Jews a race” question is one that has been discussed for hundreds of years, yet remains unanswerable. Regardless, it is widely accepted that Jews are an ethnoreligious group, as we have a common blood relation, yet people who were not born Jewish have the ability to convert. Despite the fact that the idea of Jewishness as a race is widely debated, clumping all Jews in with “whiteness” and “white culture” is a fun and easy way to ignore centuries of racialization. Even today, in 2016, Jewish people across the world are still not considered part of whiteness. The whole “calling Jews white when it’s convenient for your own political rhetoric” thing leaves many Jewish people feeling alienated from society and from political/social justice discourse. This uncomfortable position within the modern social justice sphere, particularly on Mount Holyoke’s campus, has served as inspiration for my personal racial identity... “off-white.” Not white enough to be a white person, too white to be considered a person of color, and invisible enough to be excluded from discussions (unless you’re using me as a rhetorical device, I guess).
The Jewish right to life is not controversial, and it’s not up for debate.
For some reason, there exists this common misconception that calling out Jew hate means you’re aligning yourself with a particular side of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. And because a lot of people feel as if they’re not well-versed enough in the conflict’s complex history to comment on it, they try to do everything they can to avoid getting a “pro-Palestinian” or “pro-Israel” label slapped on them against their will. But I have good news for all of you who actively avoid pointing out Jew hate out of fear of being associated with a side of this conflict: anti-Semitism predates the founding of the modern state of Israel, meaning that it’s possible to stand up for Jewish people without getting accused of choosing a side of the conflict! Amazing. Additionally, attacks against Jewish people across the world are not political attacks against the state of Israel- they’re racist against all Jewish people, everywhere. That’s technically horrible news, but could serve as a form of relief for those of you who are desperately avoiding association with Israel and Palestine… because it’s possible. Also no offense, but not wanting to be associated with a political stance isn’t a good enough reason to ignore racism. The suffering of the Jewish people is not a touchy subject or one that needs to be skirted around or ignored because you’re afraid of receiving backlash for standing up for us.
As an activist, a student, and an ally, you have a moral obligation to denounce and call out anti-Semitism when you see it. 70 years ago, my grandparents were forced to wear a Star of David as a mark of shame. But today, I wear mine proudly; not only because I’m proud of my identity, but because it serves as a radical political statement as well. It’s a permanent, physical marker of who I am and what’s important to me. Most of all, it’s a reminder that something like the Holocaust will never happen to the Jewish people again- because we won’t let it. And neither will you, right? “Never again,” is what they always told us in Hebrew school. But they forgot to mention the most important part, which is that the Holocaust wasn’t our lesson to learn.