I thought about this in tandem with those bomb threats that raked across Jewish Community Centers this month -- dozens of them, coordinated, nationwide. It was, unsurprisingly, all over the Jewish media. Did it also resonate among our putative allies? I remember Carly Pildis' pleading tweet:
Did she find any? I don't know. There was a powerful statement from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA. But it does seem exceptional. Maybe there were more. I do know that it scarcely even occurred to me to look for such solidarity. I've become conditioned not to expect it. It's not that other groups never have our backs, but it's a rare enough occurrence that it doesn't factor into my default strategies for protecting Jews.I am looking for ANY social justice/human rights/anti-racism/anti-oppression group to stand in support with our community today.— (((Carly Pildis))) (@CarlyPildis) January 18, 2017
I keep going. Researching this post, I Google "solidarity with Jews." The first hit is a link titled "Jews lead march for solidarity with Muslims." A noble undertaking to be sure, but that's not solidarity with Jews. Solidarity, apparently, is something Jews give. It is not something we receive.
I continued to think. I remember the email I wrote following the election to the UC-Berkeley Vice Chancellor of Equity and Inclusion, when her message to the community offering support to (a lengthy list of) threatened campus populations failed to include Jews. I remember how, just a few days after that dust-up, my union sent its own email standing in solidarity with an even larger group -- still managing to omit Jews.
Meanwhile, I came across an event hosted by the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists' Social Justice group featuring notorious antisemite Alison Weir. Weir regularly collaborates with neo-Nazis and White supremacists. She questioned the Garland nomination because there were too many Jews on the Supreme Court. She contends that the medieval "blood libel" -- responsible for countless antisemitic massacres across history -- is accurate. She has referred to Judaism as a "ruthless and supremacist faith." I know Unitarian Universalists -- including clergy who do solidarity work. In accordance with said solidarity, they have supported sit-ins in front of Jewish communal organizations who cut ties with the Movement for Black Lives after the latter accused Israel of genocide. Will they address the log in their eye?
Maybe. Maybe not. It's a busy time for folks combating hate, after all. So many groups need solidarity.
Of course, there's a pattern at work here. Berkeley doesn't publicize the fact that its printers are regularly appropriated to launch antisemitic Jeremiads. It not being publicized means that persons who might be receptive to a claim of solidarity aren't on notice that Jews are in need of it. Not thinking that Jews are in need of it, they don't view the absence of distinctively Jewish voices or campaign as a loss or gap. Indeed, being blissfully unaware of the continued fact of antisemitic oppression, they may think of Jews as in the category of those who should solely be givers of solidarity and support. The politics of Jewish invisibility continues unmolested.
This narrative may seem too innocent, though I would not be averse to citing some James Baldwin: "It is the innocence which constitutes the crime." Yet it is not entirely even criminal innocence. There are affirmative beliefs about Jews that contribute to the problem. Solidarity with Jews means breaking down the sense that Jews are already spoken for, are anti-discrimination winners, are if anything too greedy in what we demand from our fellows. It requires overcoming the deep Gentile Fragility (if I can appropriate a term) that has a hair-trigger around claims of antisemitism. It requires active work and active unlearning of established patterns. It requires acknowledging that antisemitism is not an external infection but emerges out of our own movements and our own practices. Opposing antisemitism will sometimes mean reassessing things precious to us. It will sometimes require costly grace.
Some might say that, until we are included as equals in communities of solidarity, we should not contribute our energies to the fight. Why should we fight for others who will do nothing for us? A tempting proposition, but not one that appeals to me. I engage in such a fight for self, because it's right, not because of what I expect in return. Nor does it mean I claim that Jews have it worse than anyone else, that we are uniquely threatened. Every group faces its particular set of challenges, the glass blocking the way is as always sometimes visible and sometimes obscure.
But let's be clear: Swastikas are appearing on campuses, on fraternities, in Jewish neighborhoods. Bomb threats are being called in by the dozens on Jewish communal centers. Jews are being compared to Nazis by persons on the right and left -- persons who will in the next breath loudly proclaim their allyship to the Jewish people. Social actors shun Jewish spaces, activists blacklist Jewish voices. In our own way and in our own context, Jews are among those groups under threat. We are not people that can be justly excised from communities of solidarity. We have the right to demand inclusion.
But we aren't included yet. Right now, solidarity is for goyim. A provocative indictment for solidarity activists to grapple with, but that is my charge.