As the violence in Israel escalates, so too does the rhetoric around Judaism and global Jewry.
Though I have an opinion on the Israel-Palestine conflict, I’m also just a guy in Chicago, so who cares? Right?
But what happens over there affects what happens here, especially if you’re Jewish (like me).
The American Right has one opinion on Israel, informed by Evangelical mythos and anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism. The American Left has another opinion, and sees a classic occupier/occupied situation.
There aren’t only two sides here, but that’s how the conflict plays out in our collective imagination, now almost totally mediated by internet algorithms.
Despite what TikTok pundits, work-from-home reporters and news feeds would have us think, the situation in Israel and Palestine is not as simply understood as either of these views, but in both cases (and in America in particular), Jews get caught in the middle.
Because Israel is an ostensibly Jewish state, when the conflict heats up over there, Jews everywhere are put into question. While many so-called progressive groups have been staging mostly peaceful pro-Palestinian protests in U.S. cities over the past few weeks, Jewish-affiliated offices, businesses and other institutions are on high alert — with synagogues remaining a special target. Over the past year, for example, synagogues in places as diverse as Los Angeles, Kenosha, Salt Lake City and even Skokie have been vandalized by swastikas and scribblings such as “Free Palestine,” “F**k Israel” and other similar messages, which turn these buildings into political symbols and send an age-old message to Jewish people:
Jews are American, until they’re not.
Jews are white, until they’re not.
The “othering” of Jews is almost as old as Judaism, so the tension rising now isn’t new. And, through the millennia, it always ends the same way: in death and excommunication. Most recently — less than 100 years ago — Jews were German until they weren’t.
Meanwhile, racial nationalism is ascendant globally. In the United States, this plays out as rising hate crimes against Black, Asian, Indigenous and other non-white communities . . . and also Jews.
Remember Charlottesville and “Jews will not replace us?” And the Jan. 6 insurrectionists with “Camp Auschwitz” t-shirts? And the constant violence against Jewish people in their own communities, including mass shootings, such as the 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, which left 11 people dead?
So when you have so-called left-wing progressives protesting in front of synagogues, burning Israeli flags and shouting “death to Israel,” it sends exactly the same message as the right-wing white supremacists at Charlottesville: Jews do not belong here.
I consider myself progressive, but I usually don’t comment on Israel-Palestine issues because:
1) I’m not Israeli
2) I’m not Palestinian
3) I’m not a geopolitical expert
4) I feel caught in the middle
Especially as someone who is not religious (and generally opposed to religion), but still Jewish by descent, I’m caught in the middle whether I like it or not.
Unless you’re Israeli, Palestinian, or a geopolitical expert involved in real government, think tank or intelligence work in the region, your opinions on the conflict are just that: opinions. And when shared on social media, all you’re doing is amplifying the algorithms of the political moment.
The political moment is the decline of democracy and ascent of racist nationalism, including that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political project.
When this happens, people die. Not just as targets of war, but of organized programs of genocide and destruction. Concentration camp-style.
Jews are being othered on the left and the right. A replay every century.
[This op-ed was originally published by the Chicago Sun-Times. View the original here.]