To End Racism We Must End Anti-Jewish Oppression

I am a Han Chinese and Ashkenazi Jewish Co-Counselor in the United States. My RC Region (Idaho, Montana, and parts of Washington, USA) recently held two simultaneous workshops—one for People of the Global Majority and Natives raised Native and another for white people (including Natives raised white). The only time both groups were together was for Havdalah [the celebration at the end of Shabbat], which I had the joy of leading.

PRE-WORKSHOP PREPARATION

Before the workshop I asked Susan Rosen, a white Ashkenazi Jew who leads the Jews in my Area, if she would practice the Havdalah blessing song I wanted to use and prepare the white Ashkenazi Jews (and any white allies she wanted) for my plan. I asked Tara Villalba, a non-Jewish RC teacher of the Global Majority who is active in social justice movements, to tell me about the role of anti-Jewish oppression in maintaining racism.

MY TALK

At the workshop, after dinner on Saturday, the People of the Global Majority and the Natives raised Native joined the white workshop for Havdalah. I spoke about how anti-Jewish oppression holds racism in place and how getting serious about ending racism requires getting serious about ending anti-Jewish oppression too.

I talked about how Harvey Jackins, because he was a community organizer, knew that anti-Jewish oppression divides movements.

I gave a basic explanation of anti-Jewish oppression: more than two thousand years of blame, isolation, and terror and then more blame for showing the effects of the oppression.

I said that we Jews of color and Indigenous Jews generally speak up about racism in Jewish spaces but struggle to bring up anti-Jewish oppression in our communities of color and Indigenous communities. This is not because anti-Jewish oppression is less brutal or less real than racism but because of our terror and because there is so little support in the wide world for Jewish liberation. As a racial justice activist, I know of many Jewish organizations that focus primarily on ending racism but not a single organization of People of the Global Majority that focuses primarily on ending anti-Jewish oppression.

I said that many people with “alt-right,” white supremacist, and neo-Nazi patterns believe that People of the Global Majority (for example, former U.S. President Obama) are doing well only because Jews are secretly in charge and running things. So to address that form of racism, we obviously need to address anti-Jewish oppression.

I also talked about how anti-Jewish oppression looks in leftist, liberal, and social justice circles, including in the racial justice movement. The long lists of oppressions given in U.S.-based movements rarely include anti-Jewish oppression, and even when it’s blatant, anti-Jewish oppression is not mentioned. For example, when the “Unite the Right” rally [a gathering of white supremacists] became violent in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA, all my racial justice activist friends posted on social media about racism but never once mentioned anti-Jewish oppression—even when commenting on event flyers that said, “End Jewish influence in America.” I was frequently surprised when friends would write a lot about Nazis without ever mentioning the words “Jew” or “anti-Semitism.”

In the United States, usually the only groups, outside of RC, that openly talk about anti-Jewish oppression are Jewish organizations that tend to be more conservative and pro-Israeli military and Israeli settlements, and their confusions and patterns confuse everyone else. Thus we ourselves need to start defining the conversation about anti-Jewish oppression. This is especially true if we want to end racism, because of how anti-Jewish oppression is used to divide and weaken the racial justice movement.

Finally, I talked about the joy of doing this work together, of getting our minds back and addressing both racial justice and Jewish liberation as completely intertwined.

HEARING FROM A GLOBAL-MAJORITY ALLY TO JEWS

Tara spoke next. She said that when she’d first moved to the United States, her parents had told her to look to Black people and Jews as her allies if things got difficult. She said that she wanted People of the Global Majority to do better on anti-Jewish oppression and that she wanted her Jewish compañeras and compañeros [comrades] to be able to be their full selves in movement spaces. She talked about how most of the white people supporting her in her movement work were Jews and how she wanted the white Gentiles to stop leaving those Jews alone.

INTRODUCING THE SONG

After a mini-session, I invited all the Jews up to the front for Havdalah. I explained that we know that it’s time for Havdalah when there are three stars visible in the sky. I said that we would sing a song honoring fruit of the vine, spices, and fire and that the braided Havdalah candle represents unity and shows that many wicks lit together create a brighter light than a single one. I added that we could think about this as all of our liberations being bound together and shining brighter than the liberation of a single people alone.

CONNECTION AND RE-EVALUATION

Susan led the song. As we started singing, the allies spontaneously began to stand up and join us, and we ended in a circle, all holding hands. We sang extra long to give everyone time to smell the spices being passed around.

The experience was so connecting that we People of the Global Majority and Natives raised Native didn’t rush back to our own space but rather stayed to connect and mingle with the white people. Our workshop leader had to tell us it was time to leave. It made me realize that if anti-Semitism divides peoples from each other, then Jewish liberation is the perfect bridge to bring people together.

Julianne (友蘭) Gale ( תמרה) 

Occupied Tuwaduq (Skokomish) Territory (settler name: Hoodsport, Washington, USA)

Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders of wide world change

(Present Time 192, July 2018)


Last modified: 2019-05-22 17:00:04+00