Some friends of mine have awesome new blogs

February 7, 2011

I’m clearly crap at updating this blog, so in the meantime, go read these blogs by some friends of mine:

 

Making Christmas Cards

 

Vomiting Diamonds

 

Not Afraid Of Ruins


Christonormativity

June 25, 2007

A taster of the upcoming second issue of my zine, Anarchia. Shouldn’t be too much longer til it’s done. 

Growing up as a Jew in Aotearoa/New Zealand, the month of December has always played host to some weird feelings that I’ve never quite been able to pin down, and certainly never able to name. This year, for the first time, I have really tried to dig deep within myself and work out what it is about the “holiday season” that really gets to me, and for the first time, I have been able to get a real feeling for the issues, and to put a name to them – Christonormativity.

Christonormative practices legitimise and privilege Christianity and Christian practices as fundamental and “natural” within society, to paraphrase Cathy Cohen’s definition of Heteronormativity. In doing so, of course, they serve to delegitimise my experiences and culture as a Jewish person and further alienate me from the surrounding society. Needless to say, this becomes most noticable in the “Christmas period”, with advertisments, songs, signs, trees, tinsel and family gatherings, even amongst my nominally atheist friends.

In a South Park episode I once saw, Kyle, the Jewish character, sings a song with the chorus “I’m just a Jew, a lonely Jew, on Christmas”. Indeed, this has traditionally been the feeling I have had around this time of year, as many of my friends return to their parent’s hometown to celebrate this so called “secular, family holiday”. I recall when growing up never quite knowing how to talk about this – even on a simple level, as a child, wondering what to say in January when friends asked “so, what did you get for Christmas?” The question was asked with a surprising frequency, even from friends who knew I was Jewish. My answers changed from year to year as I became more and more sure of my own culture – what began as attempts to fudge the question and move the discussion on soon moved into affirmative statements of my Jewish identity, These affirmative statements, however, are often met with a response that I’m sick of hearing: “Christmas isn’t a Christian holiday, it’s a secular family one!”

This is the key to Christonormativity – rather than outwardly and openly forcing Christianity upon people (as in the Inquisition), Christonormativity seeks to make Christian practices applicable to all and to allow non-Christian practices only so long as they reside within a Christian framework (see the relatively new tradition of giving presents at the Jewish festival of Channukah, often at a similar time to Christmas). In doing so, it disempowers those who are not part of the dominant Christian culture and gives them two choices: assimilate or consign yourself to the margins.

Through the implicit threat of violence, this pressure to assimilate or marginilise has been internalised by the Jewish community. Right through my childhood, we were told it was not a good idea to be “too” open about our Jewishness, and in a community where the majority of people have family members who either survived or were murdered in the Holocaust, this feeling was especially strong. We should be proud of our culture, we were taught, but there’s no need to take it beyond the walls of our homes and community centres. The threat of violence was visualised by the community security that would stand at the entrance to any community event. This threat was further reinforced by many ultra-Zionist members of the community – those who would constantly state that Jews needed Israel because, even though New Zealand might seem friendly at the moment, things could change at any moment, and ultimately, we could only trust Jews to look after Jews.

Many friends of mine who have moved to Israel from elsewhere have expressed how one of the things they enjoy most about living there is the fact that they live in a culture where it is normal to be Jewish and to celebrate Jewish holidays – in short, Israel has replaced Christonormativity with Judeonormativity. Unsurprisingly, the dominant culture pays little heed to the many Muslims, Christians, Druze, Bah’ai and others who live there, who have become the minority cultures and again, given that same choice – assimilate or be marginalised. Again, the threat (often acted upon) of violence is used to enforce and display the power of the dominant Judeonormative culture.

There is a third option that the varying forms of religonormativity tries to hide from us, an option infinitely preferable both to assimilation and to marginalisation. This option, of course, is social revolution – a revolution to destroy not only religonormativity, but also capitalism, patriarchy, statism, racism and all other forms of oppression and social control.


Breaking the illusion of consensus

December 29, 2006

If Not Now, When?

A short film in which Jews speak out against the illusion of Jewish consensus on Israel. From Jewish Conscience.

Don’t see the embedded video? Click here to watch it.

Looking back on my Sunday school lessons, I felt that I had been hoodwinked. Indeed, it was a remarkably similar history to the one I had learnt at school about Australia’s colonial past and its treatment of Aborigines. In both cases, inconvenient facts were whitewashed. I was taught about the creation of Israel, but not about the indigenous Palestinian inhabitants. We discussed Arab terrorism but never what may have caused it. Zionist pioneers were praised for their ability to turn an empty land into a fertile Jewish homeland. Perhaps most disturbingly, though, we were told constantly that the only believable reason anyone might hate Israel is antisemitism. The morality, or otherwise, of Israeli actions was never questioned, let alone given context. In the eyes of this dominant Zionism, Jews have always been and remain blameless victims and visionary pioneers.

From My Israel Question by Antony Loewenstein.


Against the conflation of Judaism and Zionism

September 25, 2006

Something from an email I wrote today that I thought I might put on here too, as its something thats been frustrating me a lot lately:

I think it’s important to remember that popular conflation of Zionism and Judaism is only a recent occurance – prior to the Shoah, Zionism was a minority movement amongst Jews, and Jewish opposition to Zionism has never ceased, on the contrary, it has been growing across the world in the last 5-10 years.

I am currently writing a book, looking at Jewish radicals from 1800 to present, and the research for it has thrown up some interesting parallels. In the late 1800′s/early 1900′s, in London’s East End, there were literally tens of thousands of Jewish anarchists, socialists and communists (in fact, for a long time, there were more Jewish radical leftists than non-Jewish in the UK). Jewish trade unions flourished, and explicitly revolutionary newspapers written solely in Yiddish had print runs of upwards of 50,000. Nobody, however, suggested that you could not be Jewish and a capitalist, nobody suggested radical leftism was a prerequisite for Judaism.

I think those that seek to conflate Zionism and Judaism could learn a lot from that lesson – just because a political theory is dominant within a cultural/ethnic group at any given moment, it does not mean that it always has been or always will be, and it most certainly does not mean one has to subscribe to the political philosophy in order to be a part of the cultural/ethnic group.


Prayer in schools – A Jew’s story

August 28, 2006

With all the fuss lately regarding prayer in schools, I’ve been doing some thinking about what it was like for me back in my secondary school days.

I went to Wellington College, a decile 10 state-school that tried its hardest to pretend it was an expensive private school. To give an example of what I mean, we weren’t allowed mufti days because it would “ruin the school’s reputation”.

Twice a week, we would have assemblies. As the school hall wasn’t big enough for the whole school, one year level would have their own assembly in a separate hall, on rotation. The circumstances from full assemblies to year assemblies was slightly different, with regards to the level of Christianity that was pushed upon us, but both involved it.

In the school assemblies, the whole school was to stand and recite the Lord’s prayer. This was lead by the head prefect – at the time I thought it was just a quirk, but now it seems that it may have been to get around the laws regarding prayer in schools. Additionally, we would sing one or two hymns, always of a Christian nature. In the year level assemblies neither of these occurred, but once every term or two we would be addressed by a “guest speaker” – a Christian who would discuss Jesus with us, and hand out free copies of the Christian Bible at the end of the assembly.

In the school assemblies, the pressure on all the students to recite the Lord’s prayer was intense. If you stood silent, the teachers would stare intensely at you, making sure you knew they disapproved. On a couple of occasions, I was actually confronted by teachers demanding to know why I wasn’t reciting the prayer with the rest of the school! In addition, the intense peer pressure that always exists at high school from the other students was ever present in this case.

How did I react? For a time I remained silent, but stood. After a decent length of time at the school, however, the pressure got to me, and I felt forced to mouth along silently with the prayer simply so I wouldn’t be noticed. I can recall at least one other Jewish student and one Hindu student that dealt with the intense pressure the same way, and also mouthed along with this Christian prayer. I did the same with the hymns.

A short time later, I began instead reciting the Shema during assembly. The Shema is one of the most important prayers in Jewish liturgy, and could possibly be referred to as the Jewish version of the Lord’s prayer. Well, to be fair, it should be said that the Lord’s prayer is the Christian version of the Shema, as the Shema came far earlier. I did this despite already calling myself an atheist, with a strong non-belief in God, simply because the pressure was so great. I guess I figured if I was going to recite something I didn’t agree with, at least it should be from my own culture. Still, the though of an atheist proclaiming “Hear oh Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one” (translation of the first line of the Shema) is a little odd, to say the least.

Now that I’m a little more mature, and a lot more politically aware, the fact that I was coerced into that situation makes me really angry. Wellington College, a state run school, had no right to force one religion upon all its students to the exclusion of all others. As far as I know, they probably still do.


Aotearoa Jews For Justice launches

August 15, 2006

Recently, a group of Aotearoa (New Zealand) Jews joined together to form a group called Aotearoa Jews For Justice, in order to show quite clearly that not all Jews are Zionists, and that there are an ever increasing number of Jews all over the world standing in solidarity with the Palestinian and Lebanese people. The group currently has members in Wellington and Christchurch and already we have had expressions of interest from elsewhere in the country. To contact AJFJ, email jewsforjustice[at]gmail[dot]com (don’t forget to fix the address before hitting send!).

We are still working on getting our kaupapa sorted, but hopefully soon we should actually have the core beliefs of the group down on paper. When we do, I’ll be sure to post them here. We will also have a website up and running within the next few days.

Meanwhile, here is the flyer some of our Wellington members handed out on a recent Lebanon/Palestine solidarity march in Wellington, and a letter to the editor from AJFJ that was published in the Dominion Post.

Aotearoa Jews For Justice Speaks Out Against Israel

Aotearoa Jews For Justice stands in solidarity with the Lebanese and Palestinian people suffering at the hands of the Israeli army. We also stand with those Israelis who are challenging the illegal and war-mongering actions of the Israeli state in Palestine and now in Lebanon.

We are part of a growing global movement of Jews who feel that it is our duty to oppose the atrocities being committed by the Israeli government in our name. Israel has never and will never represent us.

We draw from a long tradition of Jews who have campaigned for social justice and against racism and colonialism regardless of where it has occurred. To find out more or to join us, contact jewsforjustice[at]gmail[dot]com

For more information:

Israel Indymedia

International Middle East Media Centre

Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions

Gush Shalom

Refuser Solidarity Network

B’Tselem

Ibdaa

To the editor,

As Israel continues brutalising Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, and continues its expansion in the West Bank, we feel it is important that, as Jews, we stand up and make clear that Israel, despite its claims to the contrary, is not acting in our name.

Aotearoa Jews For Justice stands in solidarity with the Lebanese and Palestinian people suffering at the hands of the Israeli army. We also stand with those Israelis who are challenging the illegal and war-mongering actions of the Israeli state in Palestine and now in Lebanon.

In drawing from a long history of Jews who have worked for social justice all over the globe, we aim to continue the mission of those who have come before us for a just and peaceful world.

Israel has never and will never represent all Jews.

Yours,

Aotearoa Jews For Justice


Self Hating Jew – Part 2

May 28, 2006

This is a follow up to a post I did a short time ago called Self Hating Jew? so it might help to read that first.

A couple of days ago, someone wrote to an NZ Jewish email list, stating that they considered an article published in Craccum, the Auckland University student magazine, to be antisemitic. I replied with the following:

Without particularly wanting to get into this argument again, while the article below is anti-Zionist, it most certainly is not antisemitic in any way, shape or form.

A short discussion followed, and my next email to the list was the following (names replaced with **'s):

***, I deny the "right" of the State of Israel to exist. So do an ever-increasing minority of Jews the world over.

Your step from "Israel shouldn't exist" to "kill the Jews" carries a severe logical flaw – many of the people the world over who deny the"right" of Israel to exist as a Jewish state do for for reasons of justice for Palestinians, of anti-statism in general and a number of other reasons, rather than antisemitism. They do not have an issue with Jews in any way, shape or form, but rather with the way Israel was formed and/or the concept of nation states in general.

Of course, a number of people who believe Israel shouldn't exist are antisemitic. That is not in doubt. But seeking to label all anti-Zionists as antisemites is a definitive step down the wrong path. If you see people trying to kill you everywhere you look, chances are you'll make it come true.

All fairly low-key, all quite polite. So, imagine my surprise when I awoke the next morning to find an email in my inbox from a Wellington Jew who has known me, quite literally, for my entire life. This email had been sent off-list, by someone who grew up with my Mother (who died in 2002).

The email read:

Shame on you Asher.

Your Mother would turn over in her grave to read what you have just posted.

This is the sort of shit I have to deal with. Discussion is great, argument is fine. But when someone stoops down to this sort of level, I can only respond with vitriol. The person who sent me this email was also responsible for spreading lies about me at last years Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day, a day when Zionists celebrate the conquering of East Jerusalem in the 6 day war of 1967) event in Wellington. My reply follows:

Fuck you *****.

As if you can even begin to think you have the right to presume what my Mother might have said or thought in any given situation.

My Mother raised me to value my own thoughts and opinions in the knowledge that they were valid. My Mother raised me to be more than merely a reactionary spouting off talking points that I had heard on the news.

When I was young, I remember a certain Wellington Orthodox Rabbi who told me I should question everything anyone told me. Being a cheeky kid, I asked him "even things you tell me, Rabbi?". He answered me swiftly with something I remember and value to this very day. He said, "You should question me most of all, as I'm claiming a position of authority".


Self Hating Jew?

May 2, 2006

The following is a piece that I wrote on February 5th of this year. I never finished it, and never sent it to the place I wrote it for, an email list used by a large number of NZ Jews.

Since I became more public with my beliefs as a anti-Zionist member of the New Zealand Jewish community, a large number of people, many of whom have known me most of my life, have seen fit to label me with that cruel epithet "self-hating Jew". This has reached the stage where I now very rarely involve myself in the Jewish community or it's activities. I no longer feel welcome at the Jewish community centre in Wellington, a place where I went to kindergarten and primary school, a place where I have spent so much of my life.

Now, I could write here about the role my Jewish identity plays in my life. I could write about how I express my Judaism, or the role Judaism plays in influencing the political activism I do (such as anti-fascist activism). But I'm not going to do that, because that would be allowing those who have smeared me to dictate the frame of the argument. I'm not going to defend myself or my beliefs, because I shouldn't have to. In a truly respectful community, we would agree on some things, disagree on others and respect each others differences. We would discuss, and we would argue, but at the end of the day, regardless of the outcome, we would continue on our seperate paths with both of us having grown from the experience, because that's what a community is about.

If you feel uncomfortable associating with me because my beliefs differ from yours, perhaps you should seek out a cult, rather than our community, because there you won't have to question yourself – everything you say will be echoed by everyone else.

If you haven't run away after that last paragraph, I'm going to assume you want to be a part of the Jewish community still. That's fantastic. Now, how about we engage in some dialogue, rather than spreading (frequently false) rumours about me behind my back.

I don't want to hear your patronising comments about how me not believing in G-d (you see, I write it that way out of respect for you, even if I may not agree) or not linking my fate to that of Israel's is a "failure of the community to properly educate". As I said in a previous email to this list a few months ago:

"Education is giving knowledge in such a way that empowers the educated to form their own opinions

In education, as long as the educated are sufficiently able to form their own opinions, you cannot fail. The only way to fail in education is if you fail to educate.

On the other hand, indoctrination is regarded as exactly what the dictionary says: "To imbue with a partisan or ideological point of view". This means teaching certain things with the explicit goal of producing a specific point of view. In indoctrination, one is considered to have failed if the recipient does not come out with the required point of view."

I hope sincerely that our community aims to educate, not indoctrinate, although sadly sometimes I'm not sure that it does.

So, why did I never finish this? Sadly, the reason was not because the community suddenly became welcoming and ceased to be bigoted against me. Rather, I never spent the time finishing this piece because I lost hope that things would ever change.
Of course, there are some Jews in the Wellington community who I love dearly with all my heart. Some agree with my politics on Israel/Palestine, others disagree but are able to keep our differences respectful. To these people, I say thank you.

To those who would seek to informally excommunicate me from the community however, I wish to issue a resounding fuck off. I won't let you dictate my identity to me, and I sure as hell won't bow to your pressure. If you want your little exclusive cult, you're going to have to fight for it.


A Jewish Fable

August 13, 2005

Here’s something I just made up for a friend of mine.

Once upon a time, there was a small town.
In this town, there lived a number of athletes of high ability.
One day, they heard about a new type of athletic competition – the marathon.
The Mayor of the town offered a reward of many, many treasures to the winner of the marathon.
The athletes all trained for a few weeks. Then came the starting day. They all lined up and, on the Mayor’s call, set off.

The first person of the 5 athletes collapsed after 10 minutes of running.
The second 20 minutes later.
Halfway through, only 2 athletes remained.
They each ran as fast as they could, hoping to tire the other out so they could be the last man standing.

Eventually, one collapsed 2/3 of the way through the race. The other carried on at a more leisurely pace, having no more competitors
However, he had expended so much energy while running against his final competitor that he too collapsed, 3/4 of the way through.

That night, once all had recovered, he went to claim his prize as the man who had run the longest.
The Mayor, however, pointed out that he had not won – he was merely the last to lose.
And so the treasures remained with the Mayor.

The moral of the story?

If any of the men had run a leisurely pace throughout and conserved their energy, they could have won without a problem. However, in competing, they only ensured that they would all lose.

Metaphors for life?

Just because one thing might be better than others, it doesn’t neccessarily make it a winner – it may just be the last loser.


You are not my brother

August 7, 2005

Avram Burg, a former speaker of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament), has long been someone I have held a lot of respect for. He is also an excellent writer, and he recently issued a scathing attack on ultra-nationalist religious Jewish settlers of the West Bank and Gaza Strip who claim to be upholding Judaism in their disgusting views.

When they threaten me and talk of ‘a war of brothers,’ I stop dead in my tracks. Are these my brothers? No!

I have brothers and sisters in values and spirit. If you are a bad person, a whining oppressor or a strong-armed occupier, you are not my brother, even if you observe Shabbat and uphold the religious precepts.

Automatic Judaism, without self-criticism and without moral commitment implies an unacceptable racist doctrine.

I’m glad someone of his stature finally came out and said it…


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