Sunday, May 23, 2010

The past didn't go anywhere: Working to reduce anti-semitism

by Keren Lehavot

Part of our work as advocates and activists is to understand various systems of oppression; how they impact others, ourselves, and the world; and to make whatever difference we can using our knowledge and skills. When I came across The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere: Making Resistance to Antisemitism Part of All of Our Movements by April Rosenblum, I felt like I came across a gem that put a bright and insightful light to an often hushed topic. The pamphlet defines anti-Semitism, highlights ways in which it is still a world problem, reviews relevant and recent history, and argues for the need to recognize and incorporate anti-Jewish oppression in our activist work at the same time that we acknowledge other systems of oppression and criticize Israeli policies. One of the enlightening pieces of the pamphlet reads:

Anti-Jewish oppression has been around a long time - it became government practice in Christian society about 1,700 years ago and only stopped having official Vatican approval in 1965. But when anti-Jewish oppression isn’t at its most brutal, it can be really hard to see. How come this oppression can seem so invisible?

Partly it’s that it allows Jews success. Many oppressions rely on keeping a targeted group of people poor, uneducated, designated non-white, or otherwise 'at the bottom.’ Anti-Jewish oppression doesn’t depend on that. Although at many times it has kept Jews in poverty or designated non-white, these have been “optional” features. Because the point of anti-Jewish oppression is to keep a Jewish face in front, so that Jews, instead of ruling classes, become the target for peoples’ rage, it works even more smoothly when Jews are allowed some success, and can be perceived as the ones “in charge” by other oppressed groups.

Partly it’s that it moves in cycles. Because it can allow Jews to ‘move up,’ antisemitism is cyclical: Attacks come in waves; but each time things calm down and Jews are able to blend in or succeed in society again, it gives the appearance that anti-Semitism is 'over.' In some of the most famous examples of anti-Jewish expulsion and mass murder (i.e., medieval Spain or modern Germany), just prior to the attacks, Jews appeared to be one of society’s most successful, comfortable, well-integrated minorities.

I appreciated the complex, rich views offered on a complicated, and often heated, topic. Understanding and learning about ways in which unique oppressions show up enriches my personal life (e.g., how do I understand this as a Jewish, Israeli-born woman? How does it resonate with my experience? How can I use it in a way that is empowering, that can empower others?) and impacts my perspective and actions in other social movements. If you are interested in reading the pamphlet, a link is available here.

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