Prof. Phyllis Chesler
Originally published in Arutz Sheva
I am very uneasy, a bit out of sorts. Post the mid-term election, the nation seems merely, depressingly, just a bit more polarized. All that lies before us may be political logjams, continued Civil War, and increased contempt for one’s opponent. But the elections also seem a bit anti-climactic. Nothing truly dramatic happened. The mood is subdued. Trudging hard work on both sides of the aisle, and impressively long and tired lines of voters at the polls.
I’m a feminist and I’m glad that so many women ran and were elected. However, as a feminist, I am more concerned with one’s agenda than with one’s gender.
On the one hand, assuming they are qualified, (and that is not always the case—House-bound Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez comes to mind), the ascension of the formerly disenfranchised is long overdue and very welcome. On the other hand, where they stand on issues is the only thing that interests me.
Some women politicians may support Sharia law and Minister Farrakhan—and oppose Israel’s right to exist. Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib and Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar immediately come to mind. Tlaib was seen dancing with the flag of Palestine when she made her victory speech; Omar wears hijab, which is fine—but, since I know something about Somali culture in Minnesota, I wonder where she stands on issues such as FGM, forced marriage, and polygamy.
Although female, some politicians support the further evisceration of Roe v Wade. Here, Tennessee’s Marsha Blackburn, Alabama’s Martha Roby, and West Virginia’s Carol Miller come to mind. All won seats in the Senate or the House and all oppose women’s reproductive freedom as do at least two new Governors, Kristi Noem of South Dakota, and Kay Ellen Ivey of Alabama.
Guess what? The same women politicians who are anti-Choice are all pro-Israel.
I am pro-Choice and I refuse to choose between these two issues; however, I live in a country and at a time where I am expected to do so.
Can we judge politicians on the basis of their race, religion, class origins, ethnicity? I fear not/I fear we sometimes can. But the way in which we currently Balkanize Identity is very worrisome.
Who am I? Who are any of us? What single label can define a human being?
I’m a daughter, a sister, a mother, a spouse, a friend, a mother-in-law, and a grandmother; but defining myself in these terms tells you very little about me; I’d probably have to write a book about each relationship first. Perhaps that’s who I am. In my case, you may find me in my books—but after they’re written, I usually move right on, I am no longer there. I sometimes change my mind about some of what I’ve written.
For God’s sake: I contain multitudes. Everyone does.
But then there is the reality of being Jewish and the reality of ethnic bigotry towards the Jewish people.
As a Jew, I know how deep racism cuts. I “get” why African-Americans (or First Nation peoples, or Asian-, Hispanic-, and Muslim-Americans), might want to work with their own kind. Sometimes, so do I.
I’m named after my paternal grandmother, Perele, a woman who was hacked to death by Cossacks. I bear her name and some part of her DNA. How can I ever forget?
She ran a tea-shop. Did her killers come for her in the morning–after she’d prepared the tea for the day, or was it a midnight raid? Were the unarmed Jews asleep–did she have time to recite the Sh’ma before the laughing, drunken men cut her down?
I bear the DNA of all my relatives whose descendants I never got to meet because they were murdered in pogroms and in the Holocaust. My missing, extended family–all up in smoke.
I once invited a friend, an African-American professor to join me and my son on our first visit to the Holocaust Museum in D.C. All through our visit, she kept talking about how there’s no Slavery Museum. I agreed with her. And yet, I also thought: Aren’t Jews allowed to focus on our own tragedies without also having to acknowledge everyone else’s?
Years later, I visited that Holocaust Museum again. This time, I noticed that most of the books in the Museum Shop concerned genocides and mass murders that had nothing to do with Jews. Again, I wondered whether Jews could ever mourn our own without being accused of selfishness, grievance-mongering, and particularism. I left for a meeting with a feminist who exclaimed:
“Oh, I’m so glad you went to that Museum! I’m an Armenian-Christian. My ancestors endured genocide and exile at the hands of the Turks. I feel so included over there.”
I immediately felt ashamed of myself and glad that Jews–of course, Jews!–made her feel witnessed, remembered.
Some say this is what God expected Jews to do.
I’m white–but I’m also a Jew. Being Jewish isn’t really a race; it’s a religion, a culture, an ethical guide, a historical legacy. Tell that to the Jew-haters.
Once, white Jews were denigrated as non-whites in both Europe and America–but Jews are also people of color. Those from the Arab, North African, Indian, and Central Asian world range in skin color from black to brown to olive and are often indistinguishable from their non-Jewish neighbors. Jews of color once constituted half of Israel’s population; they had fled ceaseless persecution or were exiled from the Arab and Muslim world.
Ironically, my anti-racist colleagues seem to oppose every racism save one: that of Jew-hatred, aka anti-Semitism. This is the only racism that’s both permitted and yet unacknowledged by anti-racist progressives.
Oh dear God: I don’t know how we can resolve the ravages of racism, the consequences of European colonialism and the propaganda that sets racially marginalized groups against Jews.
So many of the recent acts of anti-Semitic vandalism and physical attacks on Jews in New York City were committed by African-American and/or by Muslim men.
But Jews should not allow themselves to be shamed and blamed—scapegoated—because Black Africans sold Black Africans into slavery; because Black Muslims and ethnic Arab Muslims had a major hand in the European and American slave trade; because white Christians in Europe, and in North and South America, (and yes, a handful of Jews, too), grew rich on the labor of both African slaves and white indentured servants.
While the filthy African slave trade flourished, my ancestors hung on for dear life in the frozen wastelands of Eastern Europe and in the sweltering deserts of the Muslim world. Most did not make it.