Podcast / On The Nose
On the Nose is our biweekly podcast. The editorial staff discusses the politics, culture, and questions that animate today’s Jewish left.
Jewish Feelings
Duration
0:00 / 54:57
Published
June 29, 2021

Welcome to the first official episode of the Jewish Currents podcast, On the Nose. After a brief conversation about the show’s title, editor-in-chief Arielle Angel, publisher Jacob Plitman, managing editor Nathan Goldman, and assistant editor Mari Cohen discuss the Anti-Defamation League’s recent survey of American Jews about their perceptions and understanding of antisemitism, in the wake of a reported “uptick in antisemitic incidents.” We discuss what it means that the survey suggests American Jews widely conflate anti-Zionism and certain criticisms of Israel with antisemitism. What’s the relationship between claims of antisemitism and feelings of discomfort? How does this misunderstanding relate to the left’s thinking about the authority of subjective experience and the politics of feelings? What can Jewish identity politics teach us about the power and limits of identity politics writ large?

Articles and Podcasts Mentioned:

Survey of American Jews since Recent Violence in Israel” by the Anti-Defamation League

Preliminary ADL Data Reveals Uptick in Antisemitic Incidents Linked to Recent Mideast Violence” by the Anti-Defamation League

A Closer Look at the ‘Uptick’ in Antisemitism” by Mari Cohen

Jewish Americans in 2020” (Pew study)

The Collective Work of Abolition” by Claire Schwartz

How Not to Fight Antisemitism” by Jewish Currents editors

How not to think like a cop, with Naomi Murakawa” from Time To Say Goodbye

Fears of Government Surveillance Complicate Muslim Groups’ Access to Federal Security Funding” by Mari Cohen

Books Mentioned:

We Do This ‘Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice by Mariame Kaba

Meir Kahane: The Public Life and Political Thought of an American Jewish Radical by Shaul Magid

Black Power, Jewish Politics by Marc Dollinger

Sexual Justice by Alexandra Brodsky

Policing the Crisis by Stuart Hall, Chas Critcher, Tony Jefferson, John Clarke, and Brian Roberts

Thanks to Santiago Helou Quintero for producing and to Nathan Salsburg for the use of his song “VIII (All That Were Calculated Have Passed).”


Transcript

Arielle Angel: Hello! It turns out we are doing this. This is the first official episode of the Jewish Currents podcast, which now has a name. We’re calling it On The Nose in honor of our Spring 2021 issue and also the first kind of experiment that we did. Our colleague Ari Brostoff thinks that it’s a little too slick, too NPR-y, like On The Media or something, but hopefully you like it and let us know what you think. Nathan, you want to tell us a little bit about how this came to be or why we’re doing this?

Nathan Goldman: Yeah, I think the title came up kind of in a appropriately idiosyncratic, fortuitous way where we were recording our first episode of what became the podcast, which was about the cover with the nose on it, and I mentioned to some friends in a group chat we were doing a recording on the nose, which was immediately mistaken for the name of our new podcast. But then we did end up using that title for the original thing. And yeah, the more we sort of joked about it, the more it seemed to stick. I hear Ari’s concern that it’s a little NPR-y or something, I think maybe, in an even more grandiose way, one thing I like about it, is it almost sounds like one of the Aristotle treatises has come down to us as De Anima, which is ‘on the soul’, or Montaigne’s essays are all ‘Of X’ and ‘Of Y’, so it’s an over aggrandizing treaty, except it’s about a nose. So that’s kind of how I’ve come to think about it and like it.

AA: And maybe we’ll trick some NPR liberals into listening to this weird podcast.

Jacob Plitman: For the record, I suggested ‘Full Shtetl Jacket’ which I still stand by, but this is a pseudo democracy here at Jewish Currents. So I will agree and go with this decision whether or not I agree with it in the spirit.

AA: Well, I also suggested ‘Conversations with Jews’ and as this is a pro-Sally Rooney environment, I hoped to prevail. But at the end of the day, we’re also going to be having conversations with not Jews. I was thinking that we are the Jews that the conversations are with, but I think this is good. I like On The Nose. I’m glad we’re going with it.

JP: I think we can end our--this was our solipsism cold open--so why don’t we talk about the topic.

AA: Well, we’re going to talk today about polls and surveys and numbers and statistics. The ADL just put out a survey. Nathan, you want to tell us about it?

NG: Yeah, so the ADL, the Anti Defamation League, put out this survey on June 9, which was following up on some data they had been putting out that had been very influential and picked up in a lot of stories in the media. The earlier data, which Mari did some great analysis on for Currents, was making claims of an uptick in anti-semitism following the war in Gaza. And that original data, as Mari had pointed out, it was sort of aggregating these individual claims. So people saying “this happened to me”, or in most cases, “I saw this” or “I’m aware of this happening,” whereas this follow-up survey was asking people, surveying between the end of May to the beginning of June, basically surveying American Jews about what they have experienced or witnessed. And then also, I think, maybe even most interestingly, what they define anti-semitism as, because one of the things that’s always an issue here, and a lot of Mari’s analysis pointed to this is, what is what defines an anti-semitic incident? And so I’ll just note some of the top line things here before we dig into the numbers. The kind of big number is, they claim, that 60% of American Jews personally witnessed anti-semitism because of the Middle East conflict in May, is how they frame it. And then I think the other biggest data to just mention is they asked this question about whether different things would be ‘definitely or probably’ anti-semitic. They didn’t decide to disambiguate between those, that was the category. And they say 75% of Jews say it is definitely or probably anti-semitic to say that Israel should not exist as a Jewish state. And then that 70% say it is anti-semitic to compare Israel’s actions to those of the Nazis. 67% say it is anti-semitic to protest Israeli actions outside of an American synagogue. 61% say it is anti-semitic to call Zionism racist. 56% say it’s anti-semitic to support BDS basically, (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) and 55% say it’s anti-semitic to call Israel an apartheid state, which is very useful information, because these are basically a collection of some of the most disputed cases, I guess. So yeah, I think we can kind of start there.

AA: It’s pretty amazing, actually, because Mari’s piece, which was quite popular and really kind of flew around the internet, was like, “Hey, ADL, what are you doing? You’re you’re just counting all of these things.” And their response is like, “Yeah, well, so? Jews agree with us.” Their answer is that Jewish experience is, maybe they’re not saying that Jewish experience is an objective truth, but they seem to be saying that by putting out this survey right on the heels of that. It seems to be a move that’s--whether or not it’s controversial, this is what Jews think, is anti-semitism. And Jews are the experts on anti-semitism. Voila.

JP: Firstly, I love the idea that we might vote. We should have a democratic process by which Jews get to decide what is anti-semitism, which I think is a really exciting thing. And especially given the success of efforts like the International Holocaust Remembrance, the IHRA, the idea that these determinations would have the force of law in suppressing speech across the United States and other places in the world. The idea that affirming that 55% of Jews somewhat or very much agree with the idea that they’re calling Israel in apartheid state is anti-semitism is both very funny and also very scary. That word has been most recently pushed to the forefront. People have been calling out the apartheid system in Israel/Palestine for years, but it’s had a renewed level of attention, because Israeli human rights organizations are pushing that determination. So there really is a somewhat classic ouroborous of Israeli lefties saying something true and American Jews saying it’s anti-semitic, which is dark, but mildly funny to me.

NG: I do think it’s interesting that, in some ways, I agree with all that, I also think it’s striking in some ways that the lowest numbers by a factor of 20 points are the things around BDS and calling Israel an apartheid state. The things that got the most people to agree that they were anti-semitic were saying that Israel should not exist as a Jewish state and comparing Israel’s actions to those of the Nazis. And it was hard to maybe speculate on, you know, why those things are, but part of what stood out to me is the way in which there’s a lesser share of these more objective political claims, or just the idea of apartheid, obviously, as sensitive rhetoric. But it’s also a legal definition, a human rights claim, it’s clearly becoming more popular. And then BDS also is very scary to people, but is this kind of political formation and list of particular demands. Both of those things, I feel like the arguments for them tend to rely on saying Israel is like any country and if it’s doing these things, or we have a right to protest in these ways, whereas Israel should not exist as a Jewish state and comparing to the Nazis. I don’t know, those just seemed to speak to me to what a lot of this seems related to, which is just this idea that, to me, it seems like a lot of what people end up calling anti-semitic is just kind of a response of discomfort or something, and these two seem to be the ones that really prime a certain visceral reaction. I find the Nazi comparison was, in some ways, the most interesting because it’s the one I most struggle to even see the defensible reason it would be anti-semitic. It seems to me mostly that it just really upsets people. And because it’s such a visceral reaction in ways that I can understand or empathize with, but I haven’t been able to formulate for myself or find a good actual analytical explanation of why that would be anti-semitic.

MC: It’s interesting too, because I think oftentimes these guides or various discourses will go around on the left--I feel like things I used to read in college, maybe even wrote one once for some social justice related zine or guide we were making at school--oftentimes, these guides will say it’s okay to be anti Zionist, it’s okay to have a different political position about what’s going to be in the land of Israel/Palestine, ultimately, but don’t let your rhetoric use Nazi comparisons, because that is a way of slipping into anti semitism, or maybe not always slipping into anti semitism, but that’s uncomfortable for Jews. So in some ways, I feel like there are circles where anti Zionism or not believing in a specifically Jewish state is considered within the bounds of acceptable discourse, but Nazi comparisons aren’t. So in some ways, I was a little bit surprised to see that switched in this poll, just because I’m primed to the other direction.

AA: This question of discomfort is really valuable, because I do think that there is this way in which discomfort and anti-semitism have become the same thing. I know we have perhaps made a decision not to talk about the Pew study today, and maybe at some point, we will, but something that I’ve been really struck with, or the thing that keeps sticking with me about the Pew study is that they have all of these measures or metrics of happiness of Jews, and overall, Jews are pretty content. They’re happy, they’re making money overall, they say they’re happy with their family life, they’re happy with their mental health, they’re doing great. They like to hang out with their friends, they like to spend time outdoors, they’re reporting really high levels of contentment. But they’re also reporting higher levels of anti-semitism. And I was just thinking about how there are all of these studies about, for example, the mental health of black people in America, and how their experience of mental health is correlated with how they self-report on their own happiness, and that there’s a huge racial gap in terms of self-reported happiness. And I’m just thinking, if there was really the kind of anti-semitism that Jews report, feeling, if they were really experiencing anti-semitism to the extent that they feel like they are, wouldn’t that affect their contentment levels? On a basic level, wouldn’t they just report lesser levels of happiness? Or wouldn’t they actually just have less of a reason to be content economically or socially or any of these other reasons? And so I do think this question of where discomfort starts and where that slips over into reporting anti-semitism ends. I actually am really glad that ADL did this study, because it is extremely useful to understand how reliable Jews are as self-reporters of anti-semitism and it’s kind of a bleak picture. And also, what do we do with that?

JP: Yeah, I think it might highlight the difference between two ideas, like the idea of oppression and the idea of ideology. I know this is going to seem like I’m putting on the Frankfurt School hat, but that’s a requirement once or twice during one of these podcasts. So the difference between ideology and oppression here is important because one can have an experience of oppression. Clearly, black people in United States have an experience of racism, and some Jews have an experience of anti-semitic violence. There’s no question that anti semitic violence exists, it obviously exists. But there’s a difference between an ideology and an experience of an oppression in that the ADL, and Jewish establishment leaders writ large, could be correct in pointing out anti-semitism as a pervasive ideology in American society and in society at large. When I was a union organizer, I remember going into the basement of various hotels and meeting with delegates, and a bunch of times I would be talking to them about conspiracy theories--and this was before QAnon--but as soon as we started talking about the bosses, all of a sudden we’d be talking about how the Rothschilds actually own this hotel and how they’re, I guess, setting the schedules and were causing the guys in the liquor storage cage to have to work harder. It never really made sense exactly how this was directly interfacing with their reality. But the thing is, they were always half right, right? They’re wrong that the Rothschilds own the hotel. No, they don’t. People who own that particular hotel aren’t even Jewish. But they are correct that there’s a conspiracy. A conspiracy happens at 7am every day in the manager’s office, where their schedules are set and where their amount of work is determined. And I think there’s a conflation. An ideology is a system of beliefs meant to explain something about the world. And I think it can be both true, racism and anti-semitism are both ideologies and experiences. But I think the difference--it’s possible that Jews could be looking at the United States, even be correct that anti-semitism as an ideology is pervasive, and still, by and large, have a contented generally happy, generally wealthier, all according to Pew, experience of life here in the United States. And I think thats part of the dissonance here, where there’s been pushback on work that we’ve done, and others in pointing out, you know, the gigantic gap between the supposedly all-encompassing, pervasive, dangerous reality of anti-semitism, and the experience of black and brown people, and then of course, of Jews of color, who sit in between and among those different experiences. So I just think it’s worth pointing that out, where the ideology can be real, and its effects in people’s actual experience could be relatively minor.

AA: Totally. And I don’t mean to say anti-semitism doesn’t exist, I just am pointing out that, at least in this ADL survey, in terms of people saying they experienced personally, and by the way, they say they experienced it both in person and online. What people experience online, considering the sheer volume of content that is out there, and the sheer volume of content that people’s eyeballs see and take in is not the same as asking what they’ve experienced in person. And I do think that those questions should should have been separated, but still, with this particular survey, them asking about, essentially things related to Israel, and experiencing those things as anti-semitism. They’re not talking about Charlottesville or something like the existence of an anti-semitic ideology, they really are talking about “anti-Israel” speech.

MC: Yeah. And also, to be just extra clear about witnessing things online. That means somebody could have seen one of the viral videos. It’s a little bit unclear, but my understanding is that if you are someone who saw one of those viral videos of one of the anti-semitic attacks associated with the protests or something like that, perhaps that could be construed as witnessing anti-semitism online. Because I watched that video, I think I witnessed anti-semitism, but I don’t think I’ve witnessed any anti-semitism directly at me and definitely not in person. One thing that came up in my article was that the ADL has this very specific way of defining anti-semitism that lumps in a variety of types of incidents. So there can be pretty intentional anti-semitic beatings that come from seeing somebody who’s wearing a kippah in the street and making anti-semitic comments. And then there tends to be a pretty large amount of swastika vandalism that goes on in the United States and that’s something that went on during this period of Israel-Gaza, violence, and that goes on pretty often outside of that. And then things like somebody holding up a protest sign saying Zionism is racism. But the thing is it’s interesting, because the ADL has this definition that includes things like saying Zionism is racism or a lot of anti-Zionist speech as anti-semitic. But according to the survey, it seems like a lot of Jews share that. So on the one hand, I think we have a lot of criticism for the of the ADL, rightfully, for what they do, but they are also kind of reflecting this broader population opinion. They have a role in shaping that opinion, so it’s not so clear. The institutions on the one hand are reflecting this opinion, but also there’s this two-way relationship in which they create that opinion. So it’s not that surprising that most American Jews would think it was anti-semitic, if that’s been the dominant national narrative for a really long time. But we can’t say that it doesn’t represent what most Jews think is anti-semitic, because perhaps it does.

AA: Well, first of all, there’s the question that we can maybe put aside for a second because I think it’s one question that we should really dig into, which is whether it matters? It obviously matters that Jews feel this way, but does that constitute an objective truth as to what anti-semitism is? I think we would all agree that it does not. And so there’s a question about what we do with that, that I’ll put to the side for a minute. Well, part of the reason that Jews think this way is because the foremost organization tasked with educating Jews about anti-semitism has also been an Israel advocacy organization, for decades. So what would happen if the ADL said we’re going to do the responsible thing, and just not count these kinds of cases and actually stick to what constitutes--obviously there are situations where anti-Israel speech or anti-Israel actions slide into anti-semitism or are motivated by anti semitism. And I’m not saying they shouldn’t report on those things, or count those things. But what if they just stuck to that and said, “Look, we were wrong.” Would a majority of American Jews who believe this right now start to change their minds? The question of what American Jews, as you were saying, Mari, think is not independent of what they have been made to believe, by their leadership, or purported leadership. So it’s kind of hard to disentangle those two things.

NG: Totally. And this is implicit in what you’re saying, Arielle, but it’s such a deep seated project. These are things we cover all the time, but the ADL could wake up tomorrow and say “we actually don’t think anti-Zionism is anti-semitism,” or “we actually don’t think these things that actually are just anti-Zionist or critical of Israel or anti-semitic.” And that might change things, but it wouldn’t change everything. Or there’s the context of this belief, and this is how I think it also gets wrapped up in the question of discomfort, the identity formation of American Jews in the past more than 70 years has been so imbricated with a certain Zionist narrative, that it becomes very, very difficult to disentangle, I think even at the level of an individual’s experience. And this varies for different people based on the different religious, political, generational contexts they grew up in, and then where they move politically and what happens to them. But I think part of the hard thing is just disentangling someone’s experience of a certain thing, which reads to them--it’s almost not an analytical experience in some ways for most people to say they see something and then they’re like, “is that anti-semitic?” It just becomes a reaction of like “I see that sign, and I feel scared.” And that’s just an experience. There’s a history that undergirds that experience and there’s a discourse that undergirds that experience, but I do think it’s hard. I guess it’s part of the challenge of things we have to think about of how do you actually turn that experience which started in discourse, and then became an experience back into discourse enough to have a conversation about why that experience is “wrong?” It’s just hard to have. That’s part of the problem, I think, is this disjunction between the terrain of analysis and argument and the terrain of what has just become an experience?

AA: I think something that’s happening now--what’s very frustrating to watch is that this total conflation of anti-semitism and anti-Zionism basically, negates the thing that would make these attacks anti-semitic. If these people were saying, “It doesn’t matter what my ideology is, I’m being attacked because I’m a Jew,” then I would agree, this is anti-semitism. But basically what people are saying is “I stand with Israel, and they attacked me for being a Zionist,” and then I’m sort of like, well you just found yourself in a political fight in the same way that a Democrat and a Republican might find themselves in a political fight.

MC: What Nathan was sort of talking about, about this politics of feelings or what we’re supposed to do about people’s feelings. And I think it’s really hard to figure that out, because there is this very strong sense from this large majority of Jews, many of whom have loud voices and are represented by institutions that really encourage them to speak up about this, that rile them up about this, and many of them have access to political representatives and types of political power in our country. And they feel that they have been a victim of anti-semitism because of this. And it does kind of raise this question about how we handle feelings. And I think there’s something to think about in terms of comparisons to abolitionist discourse on this. For example, when Claire interviewed Mariame Kaba for us, there was this very useful quote--I think it actually comes from Kaba’s recent book--which is about how “abolition is not about your fucking feelings.” And there’s often these concerns that come up in that, for example, victims of crime--especially the way that this becomes the most complicated on the left is victims of sexual violence--who then have to figure out what it means to have hard conversations about what abolition looks like in those types of situations. Because being a victim, in many ways is this awful experience, and then that feeling becomes a justification for increased carceral response, or crime or feelings of fear whether or not the crime--sometimes the crime is very real in a lot of these cases, sometimes there’s neighborhoods where people are very scared, and maybe there’s not actually that much crime, or it’s irrational, or sometimes it’s even based on racism--but anyway, feelings just come into this stuff in all sorts of ways. And what does it look like to have to say, no, maybe these feelings actually can’t control the policy decisions that we make. And I think we are in a position on the left where the left has kind of leaned in to a politics of feeling for a very long time and it’s very understandable because a lot of what oppressive power structures have done in the United States is dismiss certain feelings and certain experiences. But we have, in effect, created a situation in which you can say, “well, this is my lived experience, and nobody can refute that, because then they are oppressing me.” And because Jews are a minority group in the United States, then Jews are using that same language as everybody else on the rest of the left, and then we’ve got a situation where maybe what somebody’s lived experiences is, what they really strongly feel was their experience of anti-semitism is not what I agree was the problem or the thing that they want to do about it is not what I think we should do. And so I think that,in some ways, a lot of the modern left has set this trap. And it is something that we have to have to wrestle with a little bit.

NG: We could probably all agree, at least I’ll say I believe, there’s a value to the framework and the move in which we can say it’s important to listen to people’s experiences of oppression and to give good faith credence to saying this was my experience of this, this was racist, you might not think this was racist, but it was because of this. And to take that seriously, as Mari was saying, and as a corrective to systemic forms of racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia and all these things. But we run into an analytical problem when there’s a real disagreement, and I feel like the other left inevitably runs into this, where it’s saying we take that evidence of “I experienced this,” or “I feel this” seriously, it’s also a very easily exploitable form of evidence, precisely because it’s not discursive. It’s not analytical, it’s not something someone gets to disagree with, or at least someone outside the group gets to disagree with. Part of the whole context of us having this conversation is--it’s not as if we don’t get people mad by having these conversations, we definitely do--but we’re permitted in the discourse by more people, and we have more of a leg to stand on in some way, because we can be like, we’re Jews, were a Jewish magazine. We rest on that authority. And it’s part of the whole project of what we’re doing is that we’re able to participate in a different way, because we are Jews. But it’s a difficult kind of discursive economy or something to navigate.

AA: No, it is really uncomfortable. Because I think what’s really interesting is that with the last response that we did, it was kind of a critique of Jewish identity politics insofar as identity politics creates kind of a culture of grievance and victimization. And we are in a position to say, for Jews, hey, this really isn’t working for us, but it’s sort of interesting, because it is an overall critique of identity politics, we can’t say to any other group “maybe it isn’t working for you all either.” But it does seem implicit in the critique, my question is always if Jews don’t know, or if Jews can’t be trusted to tell you what anti-semitism is, what does it mean about the limitations as you all are saying of experiential oppression? The value of those experiences, of course, is that things are being understudied, under-looked at, underexposed in society overall. And I know that many Jews do feel that anti semitism functions in the same way.

JP: Part of it reminds me of professor Shaul Magid’s upcoming book about Meir Kahane. And also professor Marc Dollinger’s book, ‘Black Power, Jewish Politics,’ because there’s a long history of the white mainstream Jewish community directly reacting to black liberation movements here in the United States, and building pseudo versions of this of similar architecture. So there were even examples of the Black Panthers doing sickle cell anemia awareness drives in black communities, and some Jewish activists then doing Tay Sachs drives in Jewish communities. Tay Sachs is such a serious disease that you generally die before you’re three years old. So the symbolic value of the thing was far outstripped of any sort of medical value that could have been provided by such a thing. But what is messaged by that is a sort of artificial, parallel position with black people in the United States. And so much of this is built around looking at the black experience, which is a foundational experience in the way the United States works, which does have a unique relationship to capitalism here in the United States. And then Jews, rightfully wondering, well, what what does that mean, for us? And the uncomfortable answer is that for most Jews in the United States, we are white people generally having a relatively good experience under capitalism. And that, to me, is why we feel this sort of this psychological need to explain to ourselves why life here doesn’t feel good. I think that’s in the 70s, that resulted in the invention of the Jewish Defense League, which was Meir Kahane’s group, which became a terrorist organization in Israel/Palestine, and became a banned party that’s now in the Knesset. And here in the United States, there are images of very publicly presenting Jews with bats and whatnot. I encourage everyone to Google some of this, there’s some striking images. And today, I think we’re talking about the current iteration where Black Lives Matter has shown that it is possible to start from a place of identity politics. But if you’re talking about the reality for black and brown people in the United States, to talk about identity politics is to talk about prison, and is to talk about a carceral state and is to talk about capitalism. And that’s not the same for every group across the United States. You can’t just copy paste that to every possible demographic and expect a similar result. If you start in a Jewish identity politics space, you get, as Leonard Cohen said, you end up either in psychiatry or the insane Talmud of Zionism. And I think when you look at some of these survey results, that’s just what you’re seeing.

AA: But still, the question stands about the limits of subjectivity in terms of--I agree, obviously, that there’s no comparison and Jews have long been not just Jews. ‘Time to Say Goodbye,’ the podcast hosted by Tammy Kim, Jay Caspian King, and Andy Liu, where they talk about kind of Asian American experience, talks about this kind of thing all the time, about the way that Asian Americans have been looking at black activism and black experience and trying to find their way through it and by copying those models, and often finding them ill fitting, and I hear you that, on some level, for Jews, that just isn’t going to work. But I don’t think that we’re saying that other people of color are allowed a certain kind of experiential subjectivity that Jews are not. On a certain level, we have to be able to say that there’s a limitation, broadly. It is just a question who gets to decide and, in our communities specifically, even if we’re just staying in our lane, what does it mean for us, for example, as a minority of Jews who believes that there should be a full separation between anti-Zionism and anti-semitism to basically say “look, we’re right,” and try to politically advocate to impose that as a definition, what does that mean?

MC: I think that was what the Jewish left strategy has been so far, is to play on experiential terms and say, well, actually we have this different experience of anti-semitism, which is coming from the right in the US. And it’s then, in some ways, trying to take that template away from the Jewish right in saying, no, actually, you need to take seriously our fear in our victimization by the right wing, white nationalists of the United States. And then our argument in response, which had got a lot of pushback, was saying this stuff is very concerning and important, but our experiences of fear from the right wing, actually consistent with the real danger that we’re in, with the real harm that we face, what are the limits of our experiences and feelings about that and relying on them. But in general, the left strategy has been to try to use the same template and just turn it around to use it against the right, Jewish left strategy, rather than to actually try to question its fundamental dogma, which makes sense, because it’s really hard. And again, you don’t want to be in the position where you’re questioning anybody else’s experience.

AA:

I actually, interestingly, thought about our responses differently in the sense of even leaning into an experiential lens, I would say most of us, not in the South or areas where being a Jew--where most Jews live, in big cities, are not having constant experiences of anti-semitism is my guess. Unless they believe that anti-Israel stuff is anti-semitism, and then they probably are, because they are liberals and in progressive spaces more often, then they probably are experiencing those things. So I don’t know.

MC: Right. But I think that that is what we believe. But I think that the Jewish left more broadly, in the tendency that we’re critiquing, is that the Jewish left, more broadly, has started use the opportunity to try to talk about their own experiences and feelings around victimization and anti-semitism from the right. Our intervention was to say that maybe that’s not really happening to us in a way that matches the level of the discourse. But I think that the tendency we’re critiquing is one to talk about an experience of anti-semitism.

NG: Yeah, two things that makes me think are one, I think it comes back partly to this question of what it means in the ADL survey to witness anti semitism and pointing out the idea that if someone saw a video of one of these attacks, because if it’s including online, that’s witnessing it. And then a lot of these things, with all the Israel things, they’re all discursive, in the sense that they all mean someone saying something, or doing a protest somewhere, basically. And so I think it’s related to the thing we were talking about in the response, which is this question of tropes, where if I see this Republican ad saying this thing that invokes this structure that I know to be anti-semitic, it’s an experience of--I know I’ve said the word discourse so many times in this on this thing--but an experience of discourse or a kind of witnessing. It’s mediated in some way--and all experiences are mediated--but I don’t know, the mediation becomes a way to actually not look at your experience in the sense that Arielle was talking about it. And in terms of the Pew stuff, in terms of what’s my psychological experience? What is my class position? And what is my life actually like? And things like that as the kind of experience. So that’s one thing, and then I would also just say that I think, in the way that Arielle is talking about, and it gets uncomfortable the more we try to say it in broad terms rather than in our own case that we’re sort of allowed to speak to, but I think the stuff we talked about in the response and this stuff with ADL surveys speaks to the way in which personal experience as an authority is dangerous or powerful in as much as it’s not--I know I said this before--but it’s not contestable. And so it’s hard to build a foundation on that, I think. I wonder, can we think about ways in which it offers a way in and is useful in that, but can’t be a foundation of a politics or even a claim about the world on its own. Because it’s so it’s so easy to make it say anything because it just rests on absolute authority of anybody to be able to say, “this is what this is.” And there might be cases in which that’s both necessary and important in terms of believing people who say they’ve experienced sexual assault, I think that’s an important principle in that context. But also, as Mari was pointing to, there’s also ways that can totally within a carceral system can come to lead to things we might not agree with. Which is not to contest the value of believing people when they say things happen to them, but it’s also to say that that has to exist in a context and is very easily exploitable. And I think the case with Jews and with Israel, it’s interesting that I feel like we’ve noticed trends in which Israel and Zionists and kind of hard-right proponents of Israel have been very good about finding areas of left-wing rhetoric that, because of things like this, are very open to exploitation. An, in some ways, complicated case is this indigenous conversation by saying, well, actually, we’re indigenous. But this appropriation of left wing rhetoric is very, is very powerful, and I think in the Israel case, often the absent term is the kind of power relations thing, because people are able to use saying “I experienced this as anti-semitic” as a way to get away from the conversation about, in the context of Israel/Palestine, who actually has the power in that situation.

AA: Two things that came up for me when you were talking. One is I’m actually reading Sexual Justice by Alexandra Schwartz [editors’ note: by Alexandra Brodsky] right now about civil sexual assault cases and due process and she’s actually dealing with a lot of the same things. Yes, believe women, but “believe women” is not enforceable, she actually has a lot of issues with that hashtag. It’s a good political tool to introduce an idea into the bloodstream of society and it’s a good principle for when you’re talking to your friends, or when a friend of yours or a family member comes to you with an experience of sexual assault, but it’s not a legally enforceable kind of a phrase. And I do think that, in questions of power, and especially because we have a situation, which is the IHRA, where there are actual enforceable ways that Palestinian speech and Palestinian identity is being legislated along these lines, that becomes a pretty important piece of all of this, and as you said, in terms of the power analysis. I keep thinking about the ways that subjectivity, for example, has dominated Jewish media. Obviously, we don’t think of ourselves as a quote, unquote, “objective organization,” but we have made very intentional decisions to rely way less on opinion pieces and way more on reporting or research. And, for example, for a really long time, The Forward’s opinion page really drove the organization. That seems to be, I think, shifting even in the last couple years, but it certainly was the case for a long time where you essentially would just constantly have people being like “I experienced anti-semitism,” and then a personal account of how they were attacked by Palestinian activists or something. And yeah, you can’t argue with that. And you also can’t blame Jews who’ve been reading this crap for 20 years for drinking the Kool Aid or whatever. There is a way in which we can’t just say “well, they think this” and so we wash our hands of it or we’re out of it. There there is a way that we need to actively transform the discourse. Because this is something that was also done intentionally, or that it was allowed to happen. And so there is a way in which we have to think about it as something that is a cause and effect that needs to be reversed.

MC: Yeah. And also thinking about what it means, these questions of subjectivity and interest when it comes to organizations doing the collecting. What does it mean to have any kind of organization who’s driving reason is to report on a certain type of hate crime or incident or type of violence? Even if we feel that they are in good faith, which I think we often don’t feel about certain choices made by the ADL, an organization that has that as its driving mission is going to have a particular viewpoint is going to--well, first of all, if it’s a nonprofit organization, it’s going to have to please funders, it’s going to have to have donors and supporters. And it’s much easier to get support if you’re saying anti-semitism is rising, then to say otherwise. I’m not trying to necessarily accuse the ADL of any kind of intentional conspiracy in that way, I just think that if the framework that you’re working in is designed around identifying and reporting a certain type of incident, that’s going to shape your mindset around those incidents in a certain way. And it’s something that we have to think about, because I think also sometimes the left’s answer to these kinds of concerns as well, like “what if we do our own anti semitic incident tracking?” Which I don’t necessarily think is a bad thing--scholars and commentators about things like hate crimes have different takes on whether or not it makes sense to try to categorize certain things as hate crimes or hate violence and report it. Sometimes there is concerns about what it means, using Stuart Hall’s definition of creating a moral panic, and whether focusing extensively on reporting serves to create this framework and impose it on events that actually result in creating more moral panics that result in carceral responses. But at the same time, when types of violence happen to people that’s racially motivated, and that’s motivated by anti-semitism, people want some sort of recognition of that feeling. People want some sort of community response. So I think it’s very complicated. And there’s a need to figure out what to do about that. But if you have an organization that is looking for it, there are very specific structures that create very specific incentives for what you’re going to find and what you’re going to do. There is this statistic in this survey that I think we should address, which is “who should do a lot or somewhat more to address recent anti-semitism?“And at the top, there’s 79%, say Republicans in Congress and states should do more, 78% say Democrats in Congress and states should do more, 77% civil rights groups, 76%, President Biden, 76% non-Jewish faith leaders, which is also kind of interesting. Because 42% say that President Biden and his administration has greatly helped address anti-semitism. So I guess it’s both that he’s greatly helped, and that he should do more. But also, there’s this general feeling that Congress should do more, which is very interesting, because Congress has done a lot of stuff around this, historically and recently. I don’t know if some of those survey respondents are referring to Ilhan Omar, if they’re referring to people like Marjorie Taylor Greene, to be clear, who I don’t think are at all equivalent, but that some people do. But, I think this is something that Arielle was talking about earlier today, which is that there’s this persistent sense that the Jews have been abandoned, and that nobody cares about anti-semitism, which also isn’t borne out in terms of the actual official response. I think Mitch McConnell was planning to release some sort of hate crimes legislation, there was a congressional letter and statement that was created. There’s been a lot. In New York, Andrew Cuomo called in the National Guard to protect Jewish institutions. So there’s been a pretty robust institutional response.

AA: Well, not to mention that, as your reporting has shown, Jews are receiving a lot of congressional money for security through the nonprofit security grant program. And we also have a special envoy for anti-semitism, which is a position it’s kind of like an anti-semitism ambassador, which is a position that doesn’t exist for almost any other kind of hatred or racism. And they, I think, in response to the recent uptick, quote, unquote, there was a resurgence or reformation of the black Jewish Caucus, which existed in an earlier form, if I’m not mistaken, about this. So there’s definitely movement. People in government are responding. But I don’t think that people are usually looking for that kind of response. They are kind of conveniently ignoring those responses. Because this is really obviously, for the Bari Weiss’s of the world, a rhetorical way to beat up on the left and beat up on the grassroots organizing. And I think that the reason that is easy to do is because the left is looking to see what people in power are doing. If people in power are responding to something like this, then what is the point of protesting on behalf of it necessarily? I think that is the basic left analysis on this.

JP: Well, I would like to take this time to announce my candidacy for National Envoy Against Anti-Irish Discrimination. And I encourage my Italian brothers and sisters to select, from among you, a suitable representative so that we can end discrimination against white ethnics. If I hear another protester say paddy wagon, [laughter] that a civil disobedience thing, disrupting commerce, then I will file a complaint with [laughter].

MC: What about Irish Goodbye? Are you going to crack down on that trope?

JP: Oh, no more Irish Goodbye.

AA: Wait, what’s an Irish goodbye?

NG: When you leave without saying goodbye.

AA: Oh, I thought that was a French goodbye.

JP: No, that’s when you kiss everybody. And then there’s the Jewish goodbye, which is when you go around the room, you’re at somebody’s apartment, you kiss everyone, you hug them, you have a little conversation. And then the cops come and they get evicted, you live there now. That’s the Jewish goodbye.

AA: I thought the Jewish goodbye is when you say goodbye to everyone, and then you stand at the door talking for another hour.

MC: That is my understanding of the Jewish goodbye.

AA: Yeah, that’s the Jewish goodbye.

JP: Anti-semites...

MC: (Laughs) I had someone once told me that they used French goodbye instead of Irish goodbye, because they didn’t want to be rude to the Irish. They didn’t want to be discriminatory against Irish people.

AA: Okay, well, we’ve clearly gone off the rails here, we should probably...

AA: Do we want to say anything about what we think we can do about this? Or do we not need to do that?

AA: Well, I propose something. I just think there is a co-constitutive relationship between our media and our institutions and Jewish public opinion. And so I don’t think we can just say, “well, this is what Jewish public opinion is,” and therefore, throw up our hands. I think something that the Pew study shows is that Jewish public opinion changes over time on a whole bunch of things. 70 years ago, more Jews were non-Zionist than Zionist in the United States. There has been a shift that has happened over time and it has happened in a mutually reinforcing way with our institutions and with institutional money. And I don’t think that there’s any reason to think that it can’t be undone or that the Jewish populace can’t get smarter on these kinds of things if there are organizations that are changing, and particularly because they’re changing generationally. What’s really interesting about that ADL survey is that there’s a really large number, I’m not looking at it, but there’s a large number of people who say that they’ve had a conversation with someone--oh, 18% have seen one or more of their personal relationships suffer because of conversations about the recent violence. And the first thing I thought of is that those are people talking to their kids. Those are American Jews having really shitty conversations with someone in their family, including probably their children. And so there is a change that’s already happening. And we need to be there to continue. Something that I’ve been feeling is, even if people are like, “you don’t represent Jews,” we do have to kind of stand here and say “maybe we don’t right now, but we will.” We will and we are right and history will bear that out. And so over time, things will change.

End Credits: Can’t get enough Jewish Currents? Keep in touch with us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, and visit JewishCurrents.org to subscribe and see our latest. A very special thanks to Nathan Salzberg for providing us with music from his album “Landwerk No. 2” and to Santiago Helou Quintero for producing this segment. Thanks for listening. That’s all from us.

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