The comments in this Alas, a Blog post have hosted a roaring discussion about whether Jews ought to be considered a subordinated people for the purpose of left-wing critical theory. I staked out the original "yes" position, the hosts of the blog (Amp, joined by Mandolin and Maia) seem to disagree. It's going better than I had hoped -- I've garnered some support from other commenters, and it's generating a very lively debate. I certainly think I've gained ground as the discussion has progressed.
Yet, at the same time, it is very tiring. One of my allies in the comment section analogized the issue to "feminism 101" problems, wherein feminist bloggers are constantly forced to rehash the basic precepts of feminism because "well-meaning" outsiders simply don't know the first principles. My friend remarked that, to a large extent, we seem to be stuck at "anti-Semitism 001". At least with regards to feminism or racism, there is usually an admission (at least from, to quote Feminist Law Profs, "supposedly liberal doods") that misogyny or racism is a problem, and a preface of "I'm not a racist, but...." or its topical equivalent. With anti-Semitism, by contrast, we still seem to be stuck on whether or not the problem exists at all -- the post in this case was an unfortunately unremarkable essay deriding those who see anti-Semitism as anything but the most marginal part of anti-Israel discourse. Apparently, we're too quick to play the anti-Semitism card. For people whom, in other contexts, would be the first to demand that victims be allowed to define their own oppression, this is particularly frustrating. And all the other typical reactionary arguments were deployed as well, from the "I've got Jewish relatives, I can't be anti-Semitic", to "you're essentializing Jews and excluding those who disagree with you." When I noted that Jews face barriers in society when, for example, lobster is served at a state dinner, I stood accused of excluding non-Kosher Jews. Speaking as a Jew who keeps only a nominal version of Kosher (albeit one that doesn't eat lobster), I can assure my interlocutor that not keeping Kosher isn't the problem for me as a Jew. It's when I do engage in differential practices from the secular/Christian norm that I run into trouble. This is 101 material -- and it's particularly frustrating to have to run through it with people who I know know better.
In the wake of such conversations, my mood tends to follow a predictable pattern. At first, I want to fight fire with fire -- write the post-of-all-posts that will lay the issue to rest forever. A Critical Jewish Manifesto (in this case)! But very quickly, that mood dissipates, and I'm instead left tired and wanting. I don't know how to write a manifesto. I don't even know if one can write a manifesto by oneself (it feels so presumptuous to write "we demand" while being a single author). The problem is that I feel very, very alone in this endeavor. For every discovery of Albert Memmi (thanks Phoebe!), there are twenty more reminders that my cause is not well-represented among the people I want to call my compatriots.
For example, The Blog and the Bullet linked approvingly to my post on Martin Luther King, Why is the Only Good Civil Rights Leader a Dead One? Much obliged, and thank you. The Blog and the Bullet styles itself an aggregator of blog posts on a variety of critical anti-subordination issues. And if you look at their sidebar, they range quite the gamut of topics, everything from "Arab Issues" to "Caste" to "Anti-Feminism" to "Pacific Islander Issues" to "Transphobia." 88 categories in all, by my quick count. On religion alone, they have "Islam", "Hindu", "Sikh", even "Christianity." But do they have a topic on "Jews" or "Judaism"? Nope. "Anti-Semitism"? Nope. ("Occupation"? Of course). Is there really no critical blogging out there on anti-Semitism that is worthy of their time? Are we really that marginal to the overall struggle? A site search for anti-Semitism turns up nothing. Ditto, Jew, ditto Judaism. It is a complete, utter, and total annihilation. And I'm sick of it.
I was tempted to write a comment about it. But I don't want to be drawn in to yet another discussion about how my oppression isn't real, about how I'm just over-sensitive, how my quest for liberation is just so much Euro-American colonialism. Enough is enough. I shouldn't have to hold your hand -- it's time for the left to step up to the plate. Stop trying to silence our voices by accusing us of playing the anti-Semitism card. Stop running us together with White, European Christianity. Stop forgetting the unique issues, burdens, history, and violence that Jews have face and continue to face in an anti-Semitic world. Stop ignoring the presence of anti-Semitism as a structural, institutional phenomenon that shapes the very fabric of our society and infects the vision of all people at all levels of society. And most of all, stop acting shocked when Jews demand a vision of liberation that incorporates our needs and experiences too.