Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Jew Baiting in Berkeley

Mike L.

{A big Tip 'O the Kippa to Empress Trudy.}

This piece was written by Aryella Moreh and originally published at the Daily Californian.
I come from a family of refugees. My mother was younger than I am now when she was forced to flee for her life from the Islamic Revolution of Iran. My mother recalls being forced to sit in the back of her classroom along with a group of young Jewish children during her school years.

When my mother went to buy groceries in the market, she was not allowed to touch the produce because she was considered a “dirty Jew.” These are only a few indicators of the systematic oppression of the Iranian Jews, some of the oldest inhabitants of Persia. At the age of 20, she was forced to abandon her life in Iran as her family was scattered across the world. My grandmother, Mamanjani, was never allowed to return home because of her active involvement in Jewish organizations. Though she had no ties to any other government, she was warned not to go home for fear of execution without trial. Despite calling Persia home for 2,500 years, in 1979, my family and many Jewish families like my own were forced to forced to flee their homes. My family’s home, business and property was confiscated. We were torn from our homes, forced to flee to whichever country would take us in.

Though these experiences define me, some students on our campus seem to think my history does not count. During the “divestment” meeting two weeks ago, Students for Justice in Palestine tweeted about those opposed to divestment: “the Zizis are literally white people crying about their privilege, lol.” Apparently, Zizi is SJP shorthand for Zionist. And later, Daily Cal Blogger Noah Kulwin discussed a clear division he seems to see between “students of color” and “Jewish students,” implying that Jewish students like me cannot be considered students of color. I am here to address ignorance about what truly defines the Jewish people. Amid claims — or rather accusations — of “privilege” or the inability of Jews to understand the plight of “colored people,” I realized many people on this campus are unaware of who the Jewish people actually are.

My story is not unique among those who stood against divestment. Many of my peers who spoke against divestment come from families that experienced similar persecution before making it to America. For some, it was the Iraqi Farhud, where hundreds of Jews were killed and injured as Baghdad’s Jewish community was destroyed. For others, it was the oppression Jews faced under Soviet rule in Russia. And for others still, it was the Holocaust of Eastern Europe. But although they come from different corners of the globe, these Jewish students are here for a single reason: because making it to America was the difference between a new life and death in the countries they used to call home.

In the second half of the 20th century, millennia-old Jewish communities throughout the Middle East and North Africa were completely destroyed. The number of Middle Eastern Jewish refugees like my parents is on par with the number of Palestinian refugees following the Arab-Israeli War of 1948.

Not every Iranian Jew achieved asylum in America. For those who were not fortunate enough to make it here, Israel was the only country to which refugees could go. That’s what it means to have a Jewish State. It is a place — the only place — Jews like my family are guaranteed security. For our senate to refuse to recognize Israel as the Jewish State means that they are refusing to acknowledge my right to a place where my family, and others like me, are safe.

The pro-divestment movement wants you to believe that its cause is a struggle between the ethnic minority Palestinians and the “white” and “privileged” Jews and Israelis. By pretending that Jews are white Europeans, they argue that Israelis are foreign occupiers. But Jews are not a homogenous group of white people; we are an ethnically Middle Eastern people, comprising many unique communities from across the globe. After centuries of persecution, we have found security in this country and in our nation’s first home, Israel. And although we have achieved the privilege of statehood, our personal histories are defined by our recent struggles.

If there is one thing we can accomplish at a university, it is to educate ourselves. It shames me to see students at one of the most prestigious universities in the world denying the oppression of my people. True justice comes from recognizing the struggles and stories of every student. It is both offensive and counterproductive to define the ethnicity and history of another student group for political gain. Each student, regardless of race, ethnicity, color or creed, faces unique circumstances. To alter a commonly used sentiment on this campus, we all must check our prejudices.

Aryella Moreh is a student at UC Berkeley.
I just feel terrible for Jewish kids on campus these days.  I will never forget walking across the quad at San Francisco State University as a graduate student and seeing a banner that showed the US flag with little Stars of David in it, rather than the usual five-pointed stars, but I was already an adult at the time.  I also recall seeing one of my old professors, Dr. Fred Astren, a Professor of Jewish Studies, literally putting his body between a small of group of Jewish students and a much larger aggressive mob from the Palestinian Students Association.

This was about 13 years ago and, by the way, took place at Malcolm X Plaza at the entrance to the student union.  SFSU was always considerably more radical than UCAL Berkeley, even in the Sixties.


  1. This is the second time I've come across "Zizi." I'm assuming it's shorthand for 'Zionazi?'

    Cute little hatemongering bigots SJP are, eh?

    1. Ahhhh...

      Zizi = ZioNazi.

      There's nothing like taking the most abused minority in recorded history and clubbing them with their own genocide.

      And to the extent that these people consider themselves "liberal" they are entirely deluding themselves.

      One cannot engage in the Nazi project of harming the Jewish people and still consider oneself a "liberal." A fascist, yes, but not a liberal.

    2. It would be nice if more of us pointed this out to them, and kicked them the hell out of our 'big tent.'

      I'm feeling pretty lonely these days...

  2. The Big Lie comes to mind.

    Not that it ultimately matters, but I do sometimes wonder how many 'progressive' Western anti-Israel fanatics really do believe the simple-minded, silly narrative that Israel is a nation full of White Europeans oppressing 'native' non-white people.

    Everything else aside, the strength of that particular myth still confounds. They don't even have to go there to see firsthand that they're wrong, all they need to do these days is watch a YouTube clip or two.

  3. CiFWatch once had a post on a BBC coverage of Jewish returnees to Israel climbing down the plane stairs. There were many extractions to choose from, as CiFWatch's unedited dispatch showed: An Ethiopian family as well as American arrivals, olim from Morocco and others. So which picture did the BBC choose to feature of all pictures? Easy: The one with the white-skinned, light-haired Ultra-Orthodox Jew with a black suit and hat. Not that I think that returnee was any less of a representative of the return of the Jewish people to their land, of course; but in the context of the BBC, this exclusive choice of all choices was calculated to hammer home the narrative of "Jews as aliens in this land," and by extension, of the Jewish State as a "foreign implant in the Middle East."

    Dan Bielak is right that our push has to be for the truth to be heard. However, I'm not optimistic in the ability of websites (like CiFWatch and this one) to do more than supply the materials; the real heavy lifting is to get the message beyond the blockade of a largely anti-Zionist worldwide media, and that's something that will require state-authored pressure on the hostile media outlets.

    I'll consider it a great achievement for websites like HonestReporting, CiFWatch and Israel Thrives once they influence policymakers. If those in positions of power come to form their opinions following a reading of pro-Israel websites, it'll be a real accomplishment.

  4. Zion,

    all we can do is till ground.

    You influence a few people at a time in order to change the conversation into something that more closely reflects reality.

    I have considerable admiration for Adam Levick, which is why I highlight him often enough, as well as Matt and Zach, but I have no delusion that either they or us will make any significant change to anything in the near term.

    The very notion of influencing politicians is, at this point, entirely outside of my thinking because it is absolutely outside of the realm of possibility.

    But ideas have a way of moving and growing and penetrating into unlikely spaces over time. The whole notion of a "Palestinian" people, as Rashid Khalidi could tell you, was chewed over by some elite Arab residents of Israel during the early part of the twentieth century thus creating the ground for Yassir Arafat and the Soviets.

    {Of course, he wouldn't put in those terms, but nonetheless.}

    It seems to me that all we are doing is experimenting with cognition, helping in a small way to prepare the ground for others, and opening up areas of conversation that may have been closed off previously.

    This is the kind of project that takes years, even decades, to come to fruition and even then who knows what it will end up looking like.

    The real key to the entire thing is the very notion of a separate and distinct Palestinian-Muslim-Arab national identity that is somehow different from Syrian-Muslim-Arab or a Jordanian-Muslim-Arab national identity.

    That's the key and it's entirely taboo in the west.

    I think that we can help make it less taboo.

  5. I would like to think that I represent sort of a Silent Significant Minority (heh) myself, and I can use my own political development over the past few years as at least some sort of proof that places like this do matter at a grassroots level.

    Five years ago, I never would have considered myself a pro-Israel advocate, though I certainly never brooked 'anti-Zionism.'

    Today I absolutely consider it a duty to advocate for Israel, after my unfortunate experiences at certain places like Daily Kos, finding out what goes on at places like HuffPo and the Guardian, and also upon clearing out what I thoght I already 'knew' and making an effort to consider the writings and thoughts of Mike and others.

    But particularly Mike's writings, because he seems to have undergone the very same process, from roughly the very same starting point, as I did, only a year or two earlier.

    I don't even know if 'right' is the correct word, but I'll freely admit I've moved somewhat-the-other-way-from-left on this issue over the past couple years.

    I'm comfortable where I am now on the Arab-Israel issue (slightly center-left? center? slightly center-right? I suppose if I were an Israeli I'd be considered center-left; and for an American, I'm probably center-right? If such labels even matter, which I'm sure they don't...), and I feel this is where I belong and where I'll most likely stay.

    Looking at influencing today's politicians might not be the best way to judge what we can do on that front. I'd be more concerned with introducing and mainstreaming the kinds of ideas and topics we discuss here, and influencing tomorrow's leaders, myself...

  6. Mike,

    I'm not desperate—wouldn't be writing at all if I were—but I sure am frustrated. Having read the exposés of anti-Zionist bias on sites like CiFWatch and HonestReporting, or Leo Rennert's series about the American media, I can only laud them for their work but I feel the big point is being missed. Namely, I don't want the bias to be merely exposed; I want it to stop.

    A lot of readers won't be reading CiFWatch and the rest. Pro-Israel readers are already aware of the bias, while those that need to be reached the most won't bother reading those sites. If it's because they're firmly anti-Israel, or if it's because they don't trust Internet news over the old-media MSM, or can't get out of that couch, same thing in all cases. I could spend a lifetime laying out the bias of the MSM, but what good would that do? If it's for the sake of "naming and shaming," then count me out, because I believe the anti-Israel media can't be shamed by exposing them for engaging in what they believe to be a good cause. Ergo, only external pressure by Israeli officialdom can make the bias stop. That's why I'm so keen on having political influence.

    "The very notion of influencing politicians is, at this point, entirely outside of my thinking because it is absolutely outside of the realm of possibility."

    I agree with you, in the sense that I'm not suggesting to petition politicians or any other such direct course of action. What I was saying is I hope that, through the route of indirect "tilling the ground" that you call for, good ideas for defending Jewish national rights will spread until even the politicians can't ignore them.

    Maybe you could say I'm impatient. When you speak of "the kind of project that takes years, even decades, to come to fruition," the instinctive reaction in my head is, "But we don't have that much time!" Although, I have to say, this reaction isn't based on anything objective, because none of us know how much time we have. Honestly, when someone gets to care for our cause with every fiber of their being ("God, make those attacks on Israel stop NOW!"), impatience is an inevitable result. Nothing to do but train myself to be a little more patient...

  7. Jay,

    "I don't even know if 'right' is the correct word, but I'll freely admit I've moved somewhat-the-other-way-from-left on this issue over the past couple years."

    I don't think so. I mean, I don't think you're the one who's moved.

    Is Zionism inherently right-wing? By no means. Zionism = Jewish nationalism. Nothing more, nothing less. As such, it can be secular, religious, left-wing or right-wing. Socialists were the leaders of Zionism from the 1930s up to 1977 (when Menachem Begin won), and left-wingers worldwide were great supporters of Israel before the 1960s.

    What happened? In the 1960s, the Left's extreme branch, Marxism (now usually dubbed Progressivism), started to take over. Anti-nationalism in general is a Marxist tenet, and anti-Zionism has been a special Marxist stance ever since 1920. In the 1960s, the racial theory that posits a Manichean conflict between "white, Western imperialism" and "indigenous dark-skinned resistance" also became a staple of Marxism, and soon enough anti-Zionism was shoehorned into that view of geopolitics.

    Y'all left-wingers who are pro-Israel are the ones who haven't changed with that tide—the old patriotic Left of FDR and Truman. Trouble is, with the move of the Marxist fringe to the center of today's Left, a left-winger who supports Israel or doesn't blame America for all of mankind's ills will by necessity look like a right-winger in comparison to the new mainstream. But it's an optical illusion, nothing more. What makes me a right-winger isn't my being staunchly pro-Israel (though it's enough for the Progressives), it's other things, like my social and fiscal conservatism. Those are orthogonal to the question of Zionism, though you wouldn't think so looking at the Progressives, who've made anti-Zionism as mandatory a position for being a left-winger as socialism.

  8. Very good point, Zion.

    I would certainly never claim that Zionism is inherently right-wing, but I did mean that I personally moved from, say, in terms of American advocacy groups, being aligned with the views of J Street, to being aligned with the views of Stand With Us, over the past couple of years.

    "Trouble is, with the move of the Marxist fringe to the center of today's Left, a left-winger who supports Israel or doesn't blame America for all of mankind's ills will by necessity look like a right-winger in comparison to the new mainstream."

    Yeah, this does seem to be precisely the problem.

    Though I'd differ a bit in that I think anti-Israel (and anti-American) fanaticism is hardly a requirement of being on the activist Left today, it does unfortunately seem that such ideas are at least tacitly approved of by a clear majority, if the blogs are any indication.

  9. Or simply sweep it all off the table. Israeli.is.a.country. Full of all sorts of people. People who Israel's enemies don't distinguish from one another; left, right, observant, Russian, Zionist, Anti-zionist, Arab, olim, communists, Orthodox, Masorti, gay, etc etc.

    You don't have to be a 'right wing Zionist'. We love you anyway. As Chabad say; "not now, soon!"