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Jews

In RC Jewish liberation work, we claim proudly that Jews are members of every race and have been citizens of many nations. Jews today include Mizrachi Jews (descended primarily from West Asian, Muslim-majority, and Arab countries), Sephardic Jews (descended from Spain and North Africa), Ashkenazi Jews (descended from Eastern and Central Europe), and Ethiopian, Indian, Black African-heritage, Asian-heritage, and Latino Jews.

Estimates are that seventy-five percent of the Jews in the world now live in the United States or Israel. In Israel, about fifty-two percent of Jews are Jews of color (Jews targeted by racism). In the United States, twenty percent of Jews are likely to be Jews of color.

KEY ISSUES FOR JEWS

Below are some of the key issues for Jews, both inside and outside of the RC Communities:

1) The increasing visibility of anti-Semitism

In the present period, anti-Semitism* has become more visible in many countries, including the United States, England, France, Belgium, and Germany. Synagogues and Jewish community centers have received numerous bomb threats, and cemeteries have been desecrated. During the 2016 U.S. presidential race, the Trump campaign used a flyer that showed Hillary Clinton on the same page with Wall Street, Jewish stars, and dollar signs. After people objected, the campaign withdrew the image, but the message about Jews and money had already been received.

2) Jews as oppressed people

A core part of RC Jewish liberation work is facing that anti-Jewish oppression exists. The oppression operates in a cyclical pattern. Periods of official tolerance of Jews are followed by periods of overt persecution and scapegoating. During the times when Jews seem to be free from overt persecution, it is tempting to conclude that they are not an oppressed group. But the oppression of Jews is meant to stay invisible. The invisibility is central to keeping the oppression unchallenged.

Anti-Jewish oppression can be confusing and hard to see when it allows some Jews a measure of “success.” Most of the time we think of oppressed peoples as being poor and disenfranchised. But assimilation, acceptance, the prominence of outstanding Jewish individuals, and even economic mobility for the Jewish community as a whole have never been reliable indicators that Jews are free from oppression. The way anti-Jewish oppression works is to give some Jews access to power and privilege so that they can be the ready scapegoats when people try to challenge the inequities of an oppressive system. In RC Jewish liberation, we work on reaching for allies and facing together that there is present-time anti-Jewish oppression.

3) Jews as oppressors

Like many peoples, Jews have functioned as both “oppressed” and “oppressors.” As an oppressed people, Jews have been singled out and blamed for many of the world’s difficulties and then subjected to mass extermination, pogroms, expulsions, and genocide. In an attempt to escape this devastating history, some Jews have sought security and survival by acting out oppressive behaviors toward others. The only reason Jews have ever agreed to this role has been the slim hope for survival and the oppressors’ offer to protect Jews.

4) The double dynamic of anti-Semitism

Those who understand the existence of anti-Jewish oppression have not always acknowledged the reality that Jews act out oppressive behaviors. Those who acknowledge the places where Jews act oppressively have not always recognized the vulnerabilities and fears for survival that drive Jews to act in this way. In RC Jewish liberation, we work on both.

Some of us may wish for a simple definition of “good guys” and “bad guys,” but anti-Jewish oppression requires a more complex analysis. We need to understand and deal with the double dynamic that is anti-Semitism: systematic vulnerability followed by an effort to establish safety by colluding with oppression.

5) How anti-Semitism is used to divert the attention of liberation movements

In RC Jewish liberation, we work to understand the role of anti-Semitism in dividing liberation movements. Here is an example of how it is used this way. In recent years, several wide-world conferences on ending racism, sexism, or Gay oppression were diverted from their intended programs by the singling out of Israel for blame for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A simplistic criticism of Israel—without acknowledgment of the current and historical complexities in the Middle East conflict—became the unintended focus of each conference. And the result: the explicit work of the conference, be it ending racism, sexism, or Gay oppression, was derailed. For example, before the 2016 Creating Change Conference, a large gathering of LGBTQ activists in Chicago, Illinois, USA, an Israeli LGBTQ group was invited, then uninvited, and finally re-invited to attend. During the conference, members of the Israeli organization and other visible Jews were attacked. People claimed that any Israeli or Jewish person could only be an oppressor and did not deserve to be listened to. This attack ripped apart the conference. It was a classic example of how anti-Semitism diverts the attention of oppressed peoples away from fighting against their own oppression onto targeting Jews.

6) Racism toward Mizrachim

Another issue we work on in RC Jewish liberation is the racism targeting the Mizrachim. The systemic, ongoing racism aimed at the Mizrachim in Israel has contributed to the difficulty in building unity between Israeli Jews and Palestinians. In the Israeli peace movement, it has made it difficult to have Mizrachi leadership in the center of the work to build alliances between Israeli Jews and Palestinians.

There is no contradiction between Mizrachi liberation and Palestinian liberation. In fact, one cannot happen without the other. The Mizrachim can also be a natural bridge between Palestinians and Israeli Jews. They need to be in the center of the leadership of Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

7) The Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is central to RC Jewish liberation work. For many Jews, the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948 was an attempt to end centuries of anti-Jewish oppression, which included Jews not having a homeland and being subject to the whims of the rulers of the countries in which they lived. For Palestinians, the foundation of the state of Israel was a horrible time that led to their families being exiled from Palestine. The two peoples were set up against each other to compete for the same land and resources. As a result, neither Jews nor Palestinians have experienced the benefits of security and self-determination.

Many Israeli Jews have battled heroically to build cooperative relationships with Palestinians, and many Palestinians have battled heroically to build cooperative relationships with Israeli Jews. But some groups vilify Israel and communicate that Israel, or the policies of the Israeli government, are the sole cause of all the current difficulties in the region; and others vilify the Palestinian people and claim that there is “no one on the other side to talk to” and that peace would be possible except for Palestinian intransigence. Singling out either Israel or the Palestinian people for blame for the conflict misses the critical role that larger world forces (for example, a growing arms race) have played in keeping the Palestinian and Israeli peoples divided from each other. Our work in RC is to see that Palestinians and Israeli Jews stay united and refuse to be divided from each other.

8) Internalized anti-Jewish oppression

In RC Jewish liberation, we also focus on discharging internalized anti-Jewish oppression. It is not surprising that a people with a history of repeated genocide would have struggles with self-hatred and genocidal distress. A key element of anti-Jewish oppression is to blame Jews. Of course, after being blamed, many Jews blame themselves and other Jews for their difficulties. When the existence of anti-Jewish oppression is denied, many Jews conclude that it is a figment of their imagination. Denial further reinforces the isolation, blame, and terror that are at the core of the oppression.

Internalized anti-Jewish oppression can lead Jews to be highly critical of one another. They can hold each other to the same perfectionist standards that the world holds them to. Some Jews turn against other Jews for not being “good enough Jews”; others criticize Jews who act “too pushy” or “too assertive.” Jews who visibly show their fears can elicit disgust or withdrawal from other Jews. It is just too painful for some Jews to stay close when they can see the scars of the oppression etched in the other Jews’ behavior. Loving all Jews, no matter how much they show the scars of the oppression, is a key goal of RC Jewish liberation work.

JEWS AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Many Jews are active in environmental work, inside and outside of RC. At the same time, it has been extremely difficult for many Jewish organizations to prioritize working on the environment. There are reasons for this. For centuries Jews were not allowed to own land and were constantly expelled from their countries of origin. Thus having a strong commitment to the land was never an option. In addition, undischarged scars from the Holocaust have made it hard for Jews to listen to urgent messages of imminent destruction without becoming paralyzed. Environmental activism has remained a key goal in RC Jewish liberation work.

JEWS GOING PUBLIC WITH RC

Currently RC Jewish liberation is going more public with RC. We have launched Jews and Allies: United to End Anti-Semitism. Teams of Jewish RCers and their allies, in the United States, England, Israel, and Australia, are organizing non-RC projects that bring the theory and practice of RC and ideas from RC Jewish liberation into the wide world.

Cherie Brown

International Liberation Reference Person for Jews

Silver Spring, Maryland, USA

(Present Time 188, July 2017)


* The terms anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish oppression are used interchangeably throughout this article. While the term anti-Semitism is less precise (there are also Semitic peoples who are not Jews), it is the term that has been widely used in the wide world and understood to refer to the specific oppression directed against the Jewish people.


Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00