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Shaul Magid is the Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Professor of Jewish Studies at Indiana University, Kogod Senior Senior Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, and rabbi of the Fire Island Synagogue in Seaview, NY. In 2018-2019 he will be the Brownstone Visiting Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College.
There has been much talk recently about issues of Social Justice and Judaism, the misrepresentation or misappropriation of Rabbinic terms, and the theological foundations or religious language of Jewish Social Justice. The latest iteration revolved around a critique of Jewish social justice in Jonathan Neumann’s To Heal the World? How the Left Corrupts Judaism and Endangers Israel. I published a critical essay on Neumann’s book, “Social Justice and the Future of Judaism,” in Tablet. Rabbi Ysoscher Katz then published two essays, the first, “Why the Orthodox Hate ‘Tikkun Olam’”, in The Forward and the second, “What Does Tikkun Olam Mean? Debating Interpretation; Authority; Misappropriation (and Chazon Ish)”, in The Times of Israel. The second essay in part reproduces a debate I had with Rabbi Katz on his Facebook page about these issues. These constructive debates ultimately boil down to questions of authenticity with regard to the potential scope of Torah: How far can we extend Rabbinic teaching beyond its borders? How deeply can we de-contextualize Rabbinic or Kabbalistic motifs to serve our contemporary needs? The claim among some of the detractors of progressive Social Justice Jews is that their program lacks a “religious language,” that it is based largely on secular as opposed to Torah principles. The elasticity of Torah is a question Jews have dealt with for millennia. Below I want to offer one example of how sensitive traditional Jewish thinkers were to the question of sacred acts and sacred space, the study house and the street, the insularity of the Jewish community and the cities in which they reside.
Our understanding of these challenging questions of Torah’s reach can be sharpened by a provocative passage by the Hasidic Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto, R. Kolonymos Kalman Shapira of Piasczeno (1869-1943), in his book Derekh Ha-Melekh. Commenting on Moses’s request in Numbers 27:17 that God appoint a leader “who shall go out before them and go in before them,” R. Shapira homes in on the verse’s spacial imagery and relates it to the following midrash in the Tanhuma (Be-Hukotai 3:1) on another verse which locates Torah in the public domain, “Wisdom cries out in the street, raises her voice in the public square” (Prov. 1:20). The midrash reads as follows:
Yishma‘el bar Nahmani asked R Yohanan ben R. Eli‘ezer when he was standing in the market: He said to him, “Teach me something!”
He replied back, “Go to the study house and I will teach you there.”
He said, “Rabbenu, didn’t you [already] teach me, ‘Wisdom cries out in the street’?”
He said, “You know how to read [Scripture], but you don’t know how to recite [oral traditions]: What is ‘Wisdom cries out in the street’? In the ‘street/external domain’ of Torah….What is ‘the public square [rehovot]? In the place where Torah is expanded [markhivin].”
Shapira reflects on this midrash suggestively, as follows. (I have truncated some of his comments for clarity).
The sanctity of Torah spreads throughout the body of the one who studies it even if h/she is not able comprehend it with h/her intellect. This is true not only of a person but also the house and the walls in which h/she studies…Even if the Torah, its words and wisdom, can be revealed while “on the way,” (i.e. not in the study house), nevertheless the reasoning of the Torah that is revealed above speech and intellection is capable of being disclosed only in places where Torah is expanded (be-makom markhivin), in a place that is holy, and [thus] even its walls will become sanctified. Specifically in this place [the study house] the Torah is expanded and this is where its reasons can be revealed…because it transcends the body.
We are not speaking of lofty matters here. Rather in matters of understanding each according to his/her ability. One can understand something from one’s learning and yet his/her understanding will be limited (lit. narrow, kazarah) such that he/she doesn’t even really know, or is not really sure of, his/her understanding. Afterward the matter begins to expand in his mind and speech as he/she reviews it and then begins to truly understand it. And this [process of] understanding is not solely in intellectual matters. Rather all good thoughts and the desire for teshuva/repentance [initially] comes to a person in a very limited and narrow way in the beginning and one must work to expand it. This is like a Sefer Torah that is rolled in a very narrow way even though inside it contains the entire Torah. Nevertheless, it is closed and it is only when we unroll it and expand it that its contents are revealed to all of Israel. This embodies the two categories of breadth and depth. Just like with a Sefer Torah, we need a table upon which it is opened. And the more it is opened, the bigger table we need to hold it. This is true of expanding holiness in an individual, which also needs a place to hold it until [it expands and] the mind is not sufficient but requires the entire body, one’s house and the walls of the city and there, too, the holiness can reside…
The context here is the difference between private and public Torah space. Where is Torah best studied and understood? Space is also compared the human body: How is Torah best absorbed into the fullness of the human body such that it can be understood in its most integrated sense? But I suggest that there is something else going on here as well: thinking about the contracted and expansive states of Torah more generally. Contracted Torah limits one’s understanding of it, while expansive Torah is more fully absorbed into the body, as well as into the public square. It may be that the study house is the best place to acquire this Torah (though the Rabbinic advocacy of the study house here is certainly self-serving in that the study house is their domain). Contracted Torah (like the closed Sefer Torah) contains everything but its contracted state makes it impossible for that wisdom to expand and thus be fully understood. What exactly is the contracted vs. the expansive Torah? R. Shapira never tells us. Perhaps, though, this binary may help us frame our understanding of the de-contextualization of Jewish canonical thinking in ways that may be foreign to the Rabbis but can be used to engage with contemporary issues in the public sphere, where wisdom is required. This may necessitate, at times, a certain amount of misrepresentation, as all expansion to some degree distorts and moves away from something in its contracted state. There are certainly rules of such acts of expansion, but the Midrashic mind is quite creative in interpretive landscape. There are those who are devoted to protecting the contracted nature of Torah, venerating its insularity. And there are those who prefer to open the Torah to the world, to celebrate its wisdom by expanding it beyond its borders. It is noteworthy that R. Shapira stresses that it is only in this expansive state that Torah can be fully understood. In its contracted — one might say, parochial — manifestation, there is a limited understanding of its wisdom even as such a contracted state may protect it from external contamination.
When we read Biblical and Rabbinic literature outside the contracted state of its own making, metaphorically unrolling the Sefer Torah to examine what is inside, what occurs is not only an expansion of that wisdom beyond the body, and the house, to the entire city, but we also become privy to aspects of its wisdom that were heretofore unrevealed. It is telling that Shapira adds at the end “the walls of the city.” When the wisdom of the Torah speaks to the ills of the polis, of the public square, it reaches not only a state of fulfillment but also a state of fullness. The study house may be the place where Torah gestates, but it is the public square where it reaches its telos.
Shapira adds that it is only in Eretz Yisrael, where Israel lives in full responsibility of its destiny, where Torah can be totally manifest. But even outside of Eretz Yisrael, in the public square in which we reside in the Diaspora, the process of expanding Torah beyond the study house, and beyond the boundaries of its own state of contraction, to address the needs of society, to be heard in and beyond the walls of the city, is for R. Shapira the fulfillment of Proverbs, Wisdom cries out in the street, Raises her voice in the public square. This is one aspect of the theological foundation and religious language of Jewish Social Justice. And it is performed every day by those who have learned in the study house and are have taken Torah to its expansive state in the streets of the city.
Emily Strauss is a community organizer, and a frequent contributor to New Voices, Jewish Currents, The Forward, and Lilith magazine.
For the second year in a row, the Trump administration failed to acknowledge June as LGBTQ pride month, neglecting to highlight this part of America’s heritage and population. This is not out of character for the Trump administration. In fact,the Department of Justice under Jeff Sessions reversed a request the Obama administration made to the Census Bureau to add questions about sexual orientation and gender identity to the 2020 census. The addition of these questions would have gathered critical data for meeting the public health needs of the LGBTQ community. The AIDS crisis set the precedent for the absolute necessity of accurate public health data.
B’midbar, Numbers 1:1-4:20, states “On the first day of the second month, in the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt, the Eternal One spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting, saying “Take a census of the whole Israelite company…”
God asked Moses to count and list the names of every male over the age of twenty who was able to bear arms, and have a representative of each house assist. God ordered that the Levites not be counted among the Israelites, for they would be in charge of tending to the Tabernacle.
This parsha centers on the importance of standing up to be counted, and the individual responsibility of each person to the larger whole. The construction of the Tabernacle shows that individuals together form the community. Men over the age of twenty who can bear arms are being counted for the purpose of military organization. The Israelites are wandering in the desert, and the desire for a form of communal defense is at the forefront.
However, when we set apart from the whole those who should be counted, we then by default acknowledge the existence of those who are not being counted. We know that their names and their labor matter too, and are imperative to the survival of the community. We know that feminized labor is devalued, and the emotional and spiritual labor done by women to create nurturing atmospheres is rarely acknowledged.
There is a parallel between the unnamed individuals that were not counted in the census Moses led, and the stories of LGBTQ people that have been erased and silenced. We are the unnamed and uncounted figures throughout history. In addition, when the legal mandate for a US census was written in the constitution, it stated that slaves should be counted as 3/5ths of a person. The census Moses led must be similarly challenged by the evolving lens of history.
There is tension between one’s obligation to self, and one’s obligation to community. However, one must have a self-interest in order to be in relationship with others. In order to be in genuine relationship with one’s community, we must show up and be counted as our full selves. The parsha focuses on a census in which only a fraction of the community was counted, but the parsha also falls on Shavuot, when God gave the Torah at Mount Sinai. The rabbi Rashi said that all Jews were at Mount Sinai, and that we all received the Torah. A census isn’t required for us to know we all contain the prophetic leadership that was given at Mount Sinai, and we were all of us there.
Ellen Siegel at the Sabra and Shatila Massacre commemoration ceremony on September 20, 2014.
When longtime activist Ellen Siegel recently wrote us saying she had suffered from a debilitating stroke and was in need of financial support for her rehabilitation, I was prompted to review her interview with the American Jewish Peace Archive. I found a story of courage and dedication. In her September 2014 interview, Siegel shared the story of her lifelong work with Palestinian refugees in Lebanon — including during the 1982 Lebanon War — her peace activism within the U.S. Jewish community, as well as her advice for younger activists who aspire to follow in her footsteps.
Siegel’s memories of Israel start early. She remembers the jubilation in her Jewish neighborhood in Baltimore in 1948 on the day Israel was declared a state, including “a parade up the street where people were carrying the Israeli flag and singing ‘Hatikvah,'” Israel’s national anthem.
In the late 1960s, Siegel got involved with the anti-Vietnam War, Women’s, and Civil Rights movements, while working professionally as a nurse. Her political involvement led her to progressive circles within the Jewish community, where she began to learn about the history of Palestinians for the first time.
In 1972, Siegel took a trip to Europe and the Middle East with another young Jewish American woman. Seeking to better understand the conflict and the history of the region, they traveled to Lebanon and visited a Palestinian refugee camp. When they arrived, one of the PLO guards there told them, “We killed Israelis at Munich.” Siegel was taken aback and confused. She didn’t yet know about the murder of eleven Israeli Olympic team members and one German guard during the Olympic Games by the Palestinian militant group Black September on that very same day: September 6, 1972. Siegel and her friend soon found themselves in a conflict zone when Israel retaliated with an air raid on PLO bases in Lebanon and Syria, which killed both militants and civilians.
Siegel felt compelled to offer her nursing skills to those who had been injured in the raids. As a volunteer with the Lebanese Red Cross, she “saw incredible devastation…There were cars that had been run over by tanks. There were fires.”
In one hospital, Siegel met an elderly man with pictures on his wall of orange groves, which he said were from his home in Palestine. Throughout her time in the hospital, Siegel continued to hear similar stories from Palestinian refugees of longing for home in what was now Israel.
After several months in Lebanon, Siegel and her friend traveled to Israel and spent two months living on a kibbutz. At one point, they took a taxi to El Arish in the occupied Sinai Peninsula.The cab driver told them, “Why do you want to go there [and] see these dirty Arabs?” Siegel recalls being deeply disturbed by the racism she encountered.
Ellen Siegel with Ghada Karmi in 1973
She remained connected to the Palestinian refugee community in Lebanon after she left, and, in 1980, Siegel returned to Lebanon where she had been helping to promote the work of a women’s embroidery collective. She saw very little improvement in the overcrowded refugee camps in the eight years since she had last been there. In fact, parts of them seemed worse.
Back in the U.S., Siegel helped found Washington Area Jews for Israeli-Palestinian Peace in Washington, D.C. in the summer of 1982. Theorganization started as an ad hoc group of Jews who organized protests in front of the Israeli embassy against the bombings and siege of Beirut during the Lebanon War.
At the end of that summer, Siegel felt that, given the horror of the war, she needed to do more. So, in August 1982, she returned to Lebanon as avolunteer nurse and was assigned to Gaza Hospital, serving the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.
In September 1982, Lebanese president-elect Bachir Gemayel was assassinated by a member of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, and Israeli forces occupied West Beirut. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) surrounded theSabra and Shatila refugee camps, and allowed their then-allies and enemies of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) — the Christian Phalange militia — into the camp to “clear out” any remaining PLO militants. The Phalange were out for revenge as they believed Gemayel, with whom they were allied, had been murdered by a member of the PLO. The IDF shot flares to light up thecamp to enable them to see into alleyways.The Phalange massacred hundreds, perhaps thousands of Palestinian refugees — including many women, children and elderly people — in the Sabra and Shatila camps, while, according to Siegel, the IDF blockaded anyone trying to flee. The Israeli military also provided walkie-talkies to communicate with the Phalanges, as well as bulldozers to bury the bodies.
Siegel was working in the hospital in Sabra during the massacre. Initially, many people in the camps ran to the hospital seeking safety and shelter, injured with bullet wounds.
As the violence spread and panic broke out, most of the patients inside thehospital fled, leaving behind only “the critically ill who couldn’t move.” Thehospital staff hid them in the basement. Siegel recalls taping up the windows so explosions wouldn’t shatter the glass.
The next morning, the volunteer international staff were told to go to theground floor of the hospital. Militants, who Siegel recognized as Phalange from the Arabic on their uniforms, were waiting for them. When an Arab staff member of the hospital attempted to join the group of mostly Northern European, white volunteers, the soldiers shot and killed him.
Siegel did not yet know why the Phalange militants appeared to have taken control of the camp, but, with the rest of the foreign volunteers, she obeyed their orders to follow them into the street. She remembers passing by many dead bodies. One Palestinian woman tried to give her baby to the medical staff as they walked by, but was prevented from doing so by the militants.
After taking their passports, the Phalange fighters lined up the nurses and doctors against a bullet-riddled wall. She recalls, that when they “stood in front of us with their rifles, many began to cry. I thought to myself, ‘Is anybody going to know that I died in this refugee camp?’ But, I thought, ‘it’s okay that I did this, because this is the right thing to do.'”
But an Israeli commander ran into the group and ordered the Phalange soldiers to halt the execution, presumably because “it would not have looked nice if all of these foreigners were assassinated.” Siegel and the other volunteer medical staff were then taken to a U.N. building where they were individually interrogated about why they had “come to help Palestinians.” Finally, their passports were returned and they were turned over to the IDF.
Siegel recalls how incongruous it was to arrive at the IDF post, on top of a hill overlooking the camps. It was Rosh HaShanah, and some of the soldiers were wearing prayer shawls and kipahs while reciting morning prayers. One memory in particular stands out to Siegel decades later: one of the Israeli soldiers offering a piece of honey cake wrapped in tin foil to one of the Norwegian volunteer nurses. She thought: “this man’s mother gave him this honey cake for a sweet year to take with him on his journey and here he was standing in aplace where hundreds if not thousands of people had just been slaughtered.”
Siegel immediately knew she had to give voice to what she had witnessed. She thought of the admonishments of Holocaust survivors who she had cared for as a nurse in Baltimore: that speaking out against injustice is valuable above all else. She wrote a thirteen-page account of the events she had seen and gave her statement to a New York Times correspondent in a Beirut hotel.
When she told him that she wanted to testify, Siegel was connected to theIsraeli authorities. Soon after, she was brought to Jerusalem with two other doctors who had worked with her to testify before the Israeli Commission of Inquiry into the Events at the Refugee Camps, otherwise known as the Kahan Commission.
Ellen Siegel with colleague Dr. Swee Ang in Jerusalem prior to testifying before the Kahan Commission, Oct. 1982
When she was called to testify, Siegel read her written statement aloud. She ended by saying “that Jews have spent many years looking for war criminals and bringing them to justice” and that she hoped that “justice would be done.” She was told by Justice Aharon Barak, chairman of the Commission, that justice would be done. “Of course,” Siegel reflected, “justice was never done.”
Siegel believed that then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, as the person overseeing the IDF’s operations in Lebanon, was guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Siegel recalls that IDF soldiers were “on top of thefive-story building [with] binoculars, looking down on the camps. And they could see. They knew what was happening.”
The Commission found Sharon personally responsible “for ignoring the danger of bloodshed and revenge” and “not taking appropriate measures to prevent bloodshed.” He was later dismissed as Defense Minister by Prime Minister Menachem Begin, but only after a massive outpouring of grassroots pressure by Israeli activists.
“Ever since then,” Siegel said, “I’m known as the nurse who testified against Sharon. But I have done a lot more.”
When Siegel arrived back in D.C. in November 1982, she continued her involvement with Washington Area Jews for an Israeli-Palestinian Peace. One of her roles within the group was organizing Friendship Dinners in the D.C. area to promote relations between the local Jewish and Palestinian populations. The dinners grew to accommodate about 200 attendees, including prominent Jewish and Palestinian community leaders. Siegel also maintains good relationships with Israeli peace activists, many of whom she has helped arrange speaking tours in the U.S.
Siegel speaking with Rabbi Sid Schwartz at Friendship Dinner in the mid-1980s.
Since her testimony over 35 years ago, Siegel has regularly gone back to therefugee camps in Lebanon to attend the annual Sabra and Shatila massacre commemoration ceremony, as well as to visit schools and clinics to “show solidarity and try to give them the hope that they will one day have the ability to return.” She also works with the Lebanese NGO Beit Atfal Assumoud (BAS), which helps children have a normal kindergarten experience, provides financial support to the elderly, and helps Palestinian women sell embroidery.
As far as her message to younger American Jewish activists who might follow in her path, Siegel first and foremost wants us to understand the severity of thesituation of Palestinian refugees. “There are now at least four generations [born] in these refugee camps… and the children [still] draw maps of Palestine.” Decades after they were created, the refugee camps are still overcrowded, with open sewage systems and without clean water or electricity. She said that young activists “need to understand the history,” and she shared her wish that more people “could go to Lebanon, and have a tour of these camps and listen and talk to Palestinian [refugees].”
I was moved by the story of Ellen Siegel’s activism, service, and dedication over the course of decades. Her interview spotlights a history of horrific brutality against Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and suffering that continues to this day, and reminds us that the struggle for reconciliation is far from over even 35 years after the Sabra and Shatila massacre and Kahan Commission at which she first testified. How the Israeli government can take more responsibility for Palestinian refugees and make reparations for these crimes remains an animating question for Siegel. My hope is that we can learn from her story and carry forward her legacy of courage, commitment and speaking truth to power.
Ellen Siegel at AJPA interview on Sept. 7, 2014 with her cat Dartanian, who was rescued from Lebanon.
At best, this policy will result in parents and children being imprisoned together — and still denied the chance to apply for asylum. This policy is STILL inhumane and against international law.
This week’s parshah, Chukat, contains an interesting case study in treatment of human beings. The parsha records two deaths: that of Miriam, and that of her brother, Aaron. They are quite a study in contrasts.
Of Miriam’s death we’re told, וַיֵּ֥שֶׁב הָעָ֖ם בְּקָדֵ֑שׁ וַתָּ֤מָת שָׁם֙ מִרְיָ֔ם וַתִּקָּבֵ֖ר שָֽׁם, “The people settled in Kadesh, and Miriam died there and was buried there” (Num. 20:1).
Just verses later in the same chapter, of Aaron’s death we’re told, וַיִּרְאוּ֙ כָּל־הָ֣עֵדָ֔ה כִּ֥י גָוַ֖ע אַֽהֲרֹ֑ן וַיִּבְכּ֤וּ אֶת־אַֽהֲרֹן֙ שְׁלשִׁ֣ים י֔וֹם כֹּ֖ל בֵּ֥ית יִשְׂרָאֵֽל, “The whole community knew that Aaron had breathed his last, and all of the house of Israel bewailed Aaron for 30 days” (Num. 20:29).
Aaron’s death is witnessed and mourned. Miriam’s death is practically parenthetical in the journey through the desert. The word choice emphasizes the difference: Aaron poetically “perished” (גָוַ֖ע), while Miriam simply “died” (תָּ֤מָת). What happened after Miriam dies is that she is buried, while the people of Israel observe shloshim for her brother. Of course, these same people are indeed quite upset after Miriam’s death — but only because her well disappears upon her death, and with it, their source of water.
Torah is a sexist document, so this divergence is in some ways unsurprising. Through their actions, Israelites show that they value Aaron’s life more than Miriam’s. Aaron’s full humanity is acknowledged, while Miriam is reduced to her utilitarian value.
As we learn so often in Jewish text and tradition, how we treat people in death says much about how we treat them in life.
Ultimately, what we are witnessing right now is the dehumanization of immigrants. Literally and figuratively, human beings are being deliberately stripped of their value and their dignity.
The president is drawing directly from the oldest tyrant in the book: “Our country” is Egypt; “immigrants” are the children of Israel; and the “Democrats” are the enemies.
But this comparison also points to the roles that Jews must play right now. Our lot is with the immigrants so denigrated by this administration.
What this means on a practical level is that we need to build relationships with immigrant-led organizations and to act in solidarity at their request. There are actions taking place across the country over the next few weeks. There are many national mobilizations planned, but it’s also important to take action at local detention centers, as adults and children detained at the border are being sent all over. Last night in New York City 300 Jews gathered at a rally sponsored by T’ruah and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, and cosponsored by more than 30 other Jewish organizations, to call for a just a humane immigration policy.
Next week the three week of mourning begin, culminating in the holiday Tisha B’Av, in which we commemorate various tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people. T’ruah is encouraging communities to plan actions at ICE detention facilities then (July 21-22).
And following the call of the immigrant rights organization Mijente, T’ruah is organizing clergy (and clergy-to-be) to join a delegation to San Diego July 2-3. (Please contact me if you’re interested. If you’re not clergy, sign up to go with JFREJ.)
May we strive to ourselves recognize the humanity of each and every person — and to ensure that our immigration system does the same.
This piece of #TorahForTheResistance is written by Rabbi Salem Pearce. She is the Director of Organizing at T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
The Trump administration’s recently announced “zero tolerance” policy on illegal border crossings has led to an emotion-laden national conversation on the government’s responsibility for the welfare of children who are brought across the U.S. border by their parents. The new policy requires that all border crossers entering the U.S. without a legal visa outside of official ports of entry be charged with a federal misdemeanor instead of a civil penalty. This criminal charge requires adult migrants to be placed in federal custody, and, in so doing, forces the separation of parents from children.
The intent of this policy, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ), is to preserve the rule of law and deter illegal immigration. The tactic also appears to be part of a larger effort to to reduce the number of immigrants who obtain legal status through
political asylum by dissuading potential applicants from crossing the border, encouraging current applicants to withdraw their asylum requests, and narrowing and redefining the conditions under which asylum is granted.
A large number of the migrants detained at the border have fled from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador to escape staggeringly high levels of violence — much of it from gangs — in the hopes that they might obtain legal status in the U.S through political asylum. Under U.S. immigration law, asylum is granted to those who can show “persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution” if forced to return to their country on account of “race, religion, national origin, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.”
Applicants solicit asylum within the U.S. in a legal process following one of two paths: affirmative for those who came to the U.S. legally, and defensive asylum for those who entered without immigration documents. In fiscal year 2016, the most recent year for which complete data is available, 20,455 individuals in the U.S. were granted asylum.
Those seeking asylum, unlike other undocumented immigrants, often voluntarily turn themselves in to the border patrol to make their claim. They are then referred for a “credible fear” screening conducted by an asylum officer to ascertain the possible basis for asylum. claim. Those who are successful proceed through a “merits hearing” before an immigration judge and then a final hearing. An extremely high backlog of cases may delay their court appearances for months or even years.
By criminalizing all border crossings outside of ports of entry, the Trump administration upended the prior practice of either releasing asylum applicants who arrived with their families while their cases were pending or housing them in family detention centers. Because official points of entry are now turning away asylum applicants as they are “filled to capacity,” those who seek asylum must either wait an indefinite period of time or take their chances crossing elsewhere.
Adults are incarcerated, while their children are sent to facilities operated by the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) or to foster homes they oversee, often hundreds or thousands of miles away. Frequently neither parents nor children have information as to one another’s location following their forced separation. And the ORR does not appear to have adequate resources to assume responsibility for this sudden influx of children from infants to teenagers.
Once separated from their parents, children under eighteen years old are legally considered unaccompanied minors and placed on a legal track separate from that of their parents, often without legal representation or access to whatever documentation their parents may have brought with them to support their application. The administration appears not to have any policy in place to reunite children with their families once the parents leave federal custody nor does it see it as its responsibility.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions deterred the hopes of many of these migrants with his June 11, 2018 order to immigration judges to stop granting asylum to most victims of domestic abuse and gang violence, issues critical to the claims of many Central American asylum seekers and a large percentage of asylum seekers overall. Sessions issued the order in spite of a warning from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees that changing the asylum rules in this manner violated international agreements about refugees into which the U.S. has entered.
It is unclear to what extent the current “crises” at the border may have been intentionally created by the “zero tolerance” policy to rally support for increased anti-immigrant measures. Some news sources have framed the administration’s border policy as defense from a “foreign invasion.” Overall, border crossings are comparable to normal levels of recent years, and overcrowded conditions at detention centers are a consequence of detaining people who previously would have been released pending the outcome of their cases.
The current predicament raises the question about who we are as a nation that harms children in the name of defending our borders. Studies have shown that breaking up families in this manner can cause irreparable harm to children’s short and long-term health.
The restrictions on the conditions for which one may be eligible for asylum and the refusal to process asylee applicants at ports of entry raises the question as to whether the U.S. has abandoned its role as a refuge for the tired, poor, “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Furthermore, there is the question of whether or not the U.S. government bears some responsibility to help the region recover from the dire conditions that have caused the mass migration. U.S. foreign policy over the past several decades has contributed in great part to the desperate circumstances in many of the countries from which asylum seekers are fleeing – from intervention during the civil wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua in the 1980s, to the deportation of hundreds of violent gang members, to Washington’s War on Drugs which has displaced the drug trade north into Central America and Mexico.
These are a few things concerned citizens can do to help:
Give a donation to organizations providing legal services to migrants on the border and their children, suing the government to halt the separation of families, and organizing opposition to family separation, or consider contributing to a bond fund set up to help those eligible to leave detention.
Engage in a nuanced dialogue about immigration with friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors. As central as it is to the foundations of the U.S., few Americans know much about U.S. immigration policy. Anti-immigrant demagoguery is promoted as a cure for societal ills, but really only further inflames totally unrelated underlying fears. If anti-immigration rhetoric didn’t so effectively energize the administration’s political base and confuse many others into silence, it might be less likely to implement such harsh policies.
Emily Strauss is a community organizer, and a frequent contributor to New Voices, Jewish Currents, The Forward, and Lilith magazine.
Despite the increasing focus on intersectionality within progressive spaces, religion is often a blind spot, causing even interfaith work to leave behind communities that are not Christian. Over the course of the past year, national progressive organizations worked hard to formulate an intersectional approach, with varying degrees of success. Christian hegemony was a common hurdle for them. The March for Racial Justice scheduled events on major Jewish holidays, and the Women’s March struggled to disavow associations with Louis Farrakhan, a leader that is known to be anti-Semitic. A Democratic Washington, D.C. council member made that were steeped in anti-Semitic dog whistles. Situations like these occur when communities fail to be in genuine relationship each other. They expose existing gaps in trust and accountability, and reveal a flawed understanding of each other’s needs. Time and time again, the National LGBTQ Task Force shows a similarly myopic perspective.
The LGBTQ Task Force rejects workshops related to Israel/Palestine, and cancels workshops led by Muslim and Jewish organizers in an effort to avoid discussion of Israel/Palestine. The policing of Jewish and Muslim led programming at Creating Change, the National Conference on LGBTQ Equality, reflects a larger absence of meaningful investment in Muslim and Jewish work by the Task Force, and a willful ignorance of our needs. It creates a palpable atmosphere of Christian hegemony.
In 2016 in Chicago, the Task Force first cancelled and then reinstated a reception being held by A Wider Bridge. The decisions were reactionary and swift. The swiftness of this decision making by nature precludes intentional learning, analysis, or relationship building. As a consequence, it relies on assumptions, tokenizing, microaggressions, and stereotypes. These policies smack of Christians making decisions about the needs of groups to which they do not belong. Following the 2016 Creating Change conference, the Task Force hired an independent contracting agency to review their existing standards and make recommendations for updated policies. This is counterintuitive, as the Task Force could have just listened to the voices of their stakeholders who were directly affected.
Muslim and Jewish leaders run a Muslim-Jewish dialogue every year at Creating Change, and this year re-worked it to focus on the intersections of anti-semitism and islamophobia. However, only hours before it was scheduled to occur, the Task Force intervened and cancelled it, most likely out of fear Israel/Palestine would become a topic of discussion. The Task Force did not notify conference participants of the change. In its place, Naomi Leapheart, the director of faith work at the Task Force, facilitated a conversation about the events in Charlottesville, Virginia. Although the violence in Charlottesville centered anti-semitism and islamophobia, the workshop did not mention either. The Task Force did not permit Muslim and Jewish organizers to lead. Many Muslim and Palestinian organizers walked out of the room in protest.
The Task Force’s process of choosing Muslim and Jewish conference leaders to hear from is disturbingly tokenizing. The LGBTQ Task Force does not even have an email listserve for faith leadership. The Task Force staff just chooses one or two Jews and Muslims at random to speak with, and concludes that they have done their due diligence in reaching out to faith leaders. With so many tools at their disposal, it is shocking that the Task Force makes basic communication seem like such an unreasonable expectation.
This has tangible consequences. There is no protocol for registering for Creating Change as a member of a faith working group, leading to confusion about the faith gatherings at the conference such as the Practice Spirit, Do Justice faith dinner, or the National Religious Leadership Roundtable breakfast this year. Some who emailed Naomi Leapheart received responses saying that the dinner was for working group leaders only, as if the Task Force was in charge of distinguishing who the leaders of the working groups are. However, this is unmistakably information far beyond their depth of knowledge, as Naomi asked for the names of our leadership as participants were leaving the dinner, and Task Force staff did not even provide Kosher and Halal meals at either event. At the National Religious Leadership Roundtable breakfast, conference staff served bacon and sausage to every participant, regardless of their religion.
The opening plenary speech of the conference, “Activism in the Time of Tyranny,” featured the cisgender, heterosexual executive director of Muslim Advocates, an organization that systematically erases the existence of LGBTQ Muslims. The Task Force did not consult the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity (MASGD) prior to choosing this speaker, and when Muslim leadership raised concerns about their choice of speaker, the Task Force dismissed them. In fact, MASGD recommended one of its own members, Urooj Arshad, for the panel, but Creating Change administrators ignored the suggestion. The Task Force also failed to consult Muslim leadership about the organizing of Friday prayer. MASGD released a statement in 2016 opposing pinkwashing at the conference, but the Task Force never reached out to make amends or consult MASGD about their needs. MASGD began officially boycotting the conference following the unrest in 2016, yet the Task Force continues to list them as contributors in the program booklet. It is as if the Task Force does not notice whether we are even present.
Similarly, the conference scheduled all of the Jewish programming during Shabbat this year, rendering it inaccessible to Orthodox and Shabbat observant Jews. Some of the workshops were even scheduled at the same time, forcing the organizers of the workshops to combine the sessions so they could lead both. Meanwhile, funding for the Jewish and Muslim working groups is inconsistent at best. Some years, the Task Force provides funding, and some years they provide none. No one has ever spelled out how to access this funding. We need consistent, transparent, long term, meaningful investment in our communities. To police our workshops and our leadership without investing in it is disingenuous allyship.
There is quick staff turnover within the faith organizing component of the Task Force. Former faith work director Carol Lautier put intention into working with MASGD in 2016 to gain a thorough understanding of what occurred in Chicago. Naomi Leapheart replaced her this year. This leads to little institutional memory and few long term goals. It jeopardizes the creation of sustainable infrastructure and relationships, and actively impedes organizing. It is possible that the high staff turnover rate is due to a lack of long term vision and institutional support for the faith organizing program. In addition, Naomi Leapheart is Christian, as is Assistant Faith Work Director, Barbara Satin. The paucity of diversity of religious backgrounds between them no doubt contributes to a lack of familiarity with organizing non Christian communities, and could be the result of a work environment that is less than supportive of other faiths.
Members of the Jewish Working Group are considering joining MASGD in their boycott of the conference, as we are losing confidence in the Task Force having any intention for their faith organizing program. If they continue to shut down our workshops, we truly do not know what they expect to accomplish here. If they do not trust us to be the experts on our experiences, these are no longer organizing spaces. Unless we put effort into deconstructing Christian centric attitudes in our collaborative work, it will be the Achilles heel of the religious left. The Muslim and Jewish Working Groups require more representation within the Faith Work staff, respect for our autonomy, transparent communication with the Task Force, and consistent, meaningful investment in our communities.
Hannah Ehlers currently lives in DC. She attended American University where she majored in Jewish Studies. Ehlers is Development Associate at the New Israel Fund, a non-profit dedicated to strengthening democracy and equality in Israel and to ending the occupation.
During my freshman year of college, I read Roth’s Operation Shylock: A Confession for a class called “Voices in Modern Jewish Literature”. The book is weird, genius, infuriating, and riddled with overt, dangerous sexism. It changed my life.
Operation Shylock, a story Roth suggests may or may not be true, follows him on a trip to Israel in the midst of the first intifada. The aim of this trip is to find and stop the man (his look-alike and a fellow Jew named Philip Roth) who has impersonated Roth in an effort to use his fame to promote an extreme idea (diasporism, the return of Ashkenazi Jews and their descendants to Europe) to “save the Jewish soul” before Israel destroys it.
Like many of Roth’s other writings, Operation Shylock is full of sexism: Roth the writer encounters his impersonator’s girlfriend, nicknamed Jinx, who he describes entirely by her sex appeal. Despite a loving wife waiting for him back in the United States, Roth the author eventually seduces Jinx, stating: “…I implanted myself and then I fled. I penetrated her and I ran.” (Pg. 238)
And yet, through its portrayal of current and past events in Israel, Roth and Operation Shylock changed my life. Throughout the story, Roth introduces us to Israelis and Palestinians and exposes, through their conversations and the things he claims to witness and experience, human rights abuses committed by IDF soldiers and other injustices ingrained in Israel’s policies regarding the crackdown on the intifada. For example, Roth eludes to then Minister of Defense Yitzhak Rabin’s “broken bones” policy, which encouraged soldiers to break the arms and legs of Palestinians to deter them and others from resisting. Roth meets a young soldier who understands the immorality of this unofficial policy, and the soldier explains that he has to do a lot of “maneuvering” to avoid beating Palestinians. The young man complains that, when he tells his father about what is going on, his father responds by saying that any country faced with Israel’s situation would also resort to breaking bones (Pg. 169).
Reading Operation Shylock at age 19 was the first time I had encountered criticism of Israel other than a side-note about the Western Wall and the Israeli government’s treatment of Reform and Conservative Jews. It was the first time I had heard about the occupation and Israel’s questionable wartime policies and treatment of Palestinians.
I wasn’t the only one encountering all of this for the first time. Many students expressed confusion and disbelief. When our class first discussed the book, a student sitting nearby– someone who was deeply involved in Jewish life on campus, including the “Students for Israel” group– turned to me with a distraught look on her face and said, “I had no idea about any of this.”
“Me neither,” I replied.
What I had been exposed to in Roth’s novel spread cracks in the foundation I stood on. It shattered my romantic perception and blind love of Israel that had been instilled in me by my synagogue and community growing up. It put into question the Jewish values that I held so dear, that I felt were the basis of my worldview and moral compass. It jumbled my understanding of Judaism.
I kept coming back to the same questions: If we can’t uphold our values when it comes to the Jewish State– a country my community claims to be essential to Jewish identity and continuity– then what meaning do these values even hold? What does any of it mean if the Jewish State, for 50 years, has denied millions of people’s basic rights? And what does it say of the American Jewish community as we by and large, through our words and silence, our deeds and wallets, have uncritically supported it?
Tikkun olam, gemilut hasadim, and loving the stranger, concepts central to my Jewish identity, started to taste bitter in my mouth. To this day, I struggle to re-capture the full wonder and connection to Torah and Jewish tradition that I used to take for granted. I understand that the State of Israel and Judaism are not synonymous, despite the mixed signals from my community. Still, everything I was learning about felt like it went straight to the Jewish soul, to Jewish meaning, to God, and threatened it all.
My reading of Operation Shylock was the beginning of a long, painful, and confusing process, and I credit Roth’s book in part with propelling me down the path I find myself on today. Not long after reading the book, I joined progressive Jewish and Israel-Palestine groups on campus, took every class I could related to the issue, and interned at an organization working to end the conflict. I studied abroad in Israel and joined trips into the West Bank and East Jerusalem to witness the occupation for myself. I engaged with Israelis and Palestinians from across political divides– from Palestinian peace activists to extremist Jewish settlers
The more I learned, the more invested I became, the more obligated I felt.
Ultimately, what I discovered about the Jewish community here and in Israel was exactly what Roth had tried to expose and upend. But to this day, I’m still angry– at my Jewish education, the Jewish community, and Roth himself– that I had to learn about it all in this way. I had to learn from a misogynist things that I should have been told, at least introduced to, during my formal Jewish education.
To this day, I feel betrayed and incensed about how easy it was for everything I thought I knew about Israel, the Jewish community and progressive Jewish values to be undermined through exposure to a more complete historical narrative. I feel foolish for not seeing past my community’s unquestioning support for the Israeli government, even while being encouraged to wrestle with Jewish theology and the existence of God, and to freely criticize U.S. government policies and many aspects of American society.
Philip Roth should not have been the one to open my eyes.
Today, along with many other progressive Israeli and American Jews, I work to build a Jewish community and Israel that stands for the equality of all people with no exceptions— that rejects misogyny, islamophobia, racism, and all forms of oppression everywhere. I will continue to work towards a community that doesn’t need men like Philip Roth to remind us what our Jewish values are all about.
The Anti-Imperialism of Fools: Why the Jewish Left Needs to Take Globalization Seriously
— Mark my words Mr. Dedalus, he said, England is in the hands of Jews. In all the highest places; her finance, her press. And they are signs of the nation’s decay. Wherever they gather they eat up a nation’s vital strength. I have seen it coming these years. As sure as we are standing here the Jew merchants are already at their destruction. Old England is dying…
— A merchant, Stephen said, is one who buys cheap and sells dear, Jew or gentile, is he not?
— James Joyce, Ulysses
One of many things that complicates antisemitism is that it only rarely refers to Jews; indeed, it may not even need actual Jews to function, as we are learning from the re-birth of Right in Eastern Europe, a land so thoroughly ethnically cleansed, old Jewish gravestones have been used to pave streets. In a way I can almost forgive the pro-Israel crowd for thinking all criticism of Israel is antisemitic — at least there are Jews there, who hold real power, and are committing actual crimes worthy of criticism. So I was alarmed if not surprised the other week when the Trump administration, facing sharp criticism for tariffs on steel and aluminum, referred to their resigning economic adviser Gary Cohn as a “globalist” — and has used the term several times to mock critics of economic nationalism.
The term “globalist” has been pointed out to have a long antisemitic history, one that locates the Jew as a stand-in for international capitalism — cosmopolitan, without borders or roots to the land. If the Alt-Right’s nationalist rallying cry is the Nazi slogan of “blood and soil,” then the Jew is by contrast ethnically alien and perpetually foreign. As Marx pointed out in “The Jewish Question,” all the qualities of money that are threatening to a Christian state — its materiality, its fungibility, its universality, its abstraction — are also all the qualities that are transferred onto the category of “The Jew.” For the Right, which places race at the center of all ontological meaning, “The Jew” explains capitalism — it is its racial base, you could say — what the circulation of value would be to a Marxist.
Thankfully we haven’t slipped so far in the Trump era so that no one noticed: several media outlets did point out the antisemitic, Alt-Right connotations of the term. Yet what mainstream, even liberal, media have a harder time with is talking about the actual economic debate going on the White House. If one takes NPR as any guide, the coverage of the Trump tariffs have been incredibly uniform: they focus on the increased cost to the consumer and often feature soft-focus stories on small manufacturers and small businesses that will be hurt either by rising prices on other items. Indeed, the tariffs are predicted to do so much harm, one would think workers are suffering because markets aren’t open enough. Never mind that the tariffs won’t raise prices all that much — like everything in the twitterverse that is our national conversation, the real economic and social impacts of policy are often beside the point.
What narrative one receives from even progressive commentators on trade is that the series of processes we refer to as “globalization” — off-shoring, outsourcing, deindustrialization, de-unionization — have been a wholly positive process. While I agree with Marxist economists such as Doug Henwood that the tariffs are mostly toxic showboating and will have little economic effect one way or another, I fear the blithe dismissal of them more than I fear their impact. For the previously unionized worker in heavy industry, telling them the only life raft any one in government has offered is simply snake-oil — while not providing another alternative — is tantamount to announcing their labor does not matter.
Which brings us back to the uses of antisemitism. It is not a coincidence that the most antisemitic members of Trump’s cabinet are also the most critical of globalization. In Steve Bannon’s60 Minutes interview, he articulated repeatedly that trade and the economic impacts of globalization should be the Trump administration’s main focus: “if we ran a campaign that focused on trade and immigration, I told myself, we could set this thing on fire.” He further elaborated that, “if we force the Democrats to defend the status quo, then we’ve won.” The “status quo” for Bannon is shorthand for our current neoliberal, global order, in which workers are pitted against each other in a global race to the bottom.
This anti-capitalist, yet racial, vision of the world is not aberration for the Right — it is in some ways its essence. As Moishe Postone articulates in his well known essay on antisemitism and Nazism, antisemitism functioned as a “foreshortened anticapitalism” that offered a bracing critique of the liberal economic system — an economic system, it should be remembered, under which most Germans fared badly. Given that life expectancy for working class white men has declined for the first time in many decades, a trend attributable their declining standard of living, there is more than a whiff of late Victorian social Darwinism in suggesting that globalization is merely an “identity issue”. While globalization is not the singular cause of working class decline in the U.S., for many, it is as visible a sign of economic collapse as the thousands of well paid jobs that once anchored Midwestern urban centers vanish.
We cannot dismiss the antisemitism of someone like Bannon, not because it is immoral, which it certainly is, but because it addresses even in an eclipsed way a real source of pain and outrage for many working class people. In the devastated mill towns from the Appalachians to the South Shore of Lake Michigan, the ruins of the “status quo” are all around, if anyone cares to look. They are available in statistics — the level of gun violence on Chicago’s South Side or the epidemics of opium abuse in small towns in the Midwest or stagnant wages in a de-unionized economy. Or you can just go there, and see city centers that look like they’ve been devastated by tornadoes, and left to rot. Antisemitism, for Bannon and the Right, should not be understood as simply hatred, dislike or aversion: it is a framework to explain the suffering of millions of people. If we do not develop a language and a politics that addresses the real devastation left by globalization then the party that does — in whatever language — will win.
Rather than simply dismiss the Alt-Right’s critique of globalization as economic dead-enders, as much of the liberal press does, we need to dust off an older language of anti-imperialism. One of the inherent problems in any conversation about globalization is that the term itself is mystifying — it lumps many parts of liberal culture that are positive, such as music, travel, global foodways, a concern for the plight of migrants and a celebration of diversity — with many things that are bad: offshoring, special economic zones, and global labor arbitrage. This mystification is often further complicated by the fact that globalization’s most vocal critics often conflate migration and diversity with off-shoring and job-flight: Marine Le Pen who calls in one breath for the regulation of global finance capital, and in the other for the imprisonment of global migrants.
There can be something politically challenging in trying to keep two seemingly contradictory ideas clear in one’s head – and indeed, it’s why the Right’s position is easier to explain. We need to keep clear that migration is a cultural benefit to the host country and we welcome the stranger among us; it is also clear that three decades of free trade orthodoxy have not brought a more prosperous world or a more stable global order — the companies that move from state to state, nation to nation, do so to profit from low wages, cheap resources, and then move on. Even China, once the location for cheap labor, is beginning to outsource its garment industry to Africa as its wages rise. Yet the way to fight these economic changes is not to build walls or erect tariffs, but rather, as Vladimir Lenin suggested in his famous volume on imperialism, to target financial capital.
The great innovation of Marxism is to point out the way imperialism is not some inherent product of a Western imaginary., though God knows there is much to be discussed there. Rather, imperialism is born out of the material contradictions of capitalism. Early theorists such as Rosa Luxemburg and Lenin focused on the centralization of capital and its tendency to produce more than workers could consume — requiring that capitalists break open new markets for goods and find new arenas for investment. And as later world systems theorists articulated, this outpouring of capital did not “develop” the third world so much as restructure third world economies to be economically subordinate, caught both in basic resource extraction and financial debt traps. In our latest phase, as French economists Gérard Duménil and Dominique Lévy argue in their groundbreaking The Crisis of Neoliberalism, the move to financialization by one bloc of capitalist managers and investors precipitated the rise of globalization production. The trend away from industrial to financial management created pressure on manufacturing firms to lower the cost of labor and redirect investment to managers and shareholders and other rentiers. When we are talking of “globalization,” we need to keep in mind that we are really talking about just a new phase of capitalist exploitation — one that has ushered in a crisis of dependency for much of the world.
Yet the global compression of wages between the first and third world has also meant that we can talk — really for the first time — of a global working class with convergent interests. The devaluation of production through outsourcing and rent-seeking finance has also meant paradoxically that capital is being hoarded, parked in assets such as treasury bonds and real estate, rather than invested in production, infrastructure, or the public sector. As economist J.W. Mason recently wrote, one of the answers to crisis provoked by financialization is to “socialize investment” by “repressing” finance, democratizing central banks, using states to finance investment, and yes, closing borders to the outflow of Western capital.
As Mason writes, “in a world where capital flows are large and unrestricted, the concrete activity of production and reproduction must constantly adjust itself to the changing whims of foreign investors” as they move capital from one industry to another, and one country to another. Investment, or rather capital, needs to be democratized and put to use to meet human needs. The liberal premise that the export of U.S. capital benefits workers in other countries will no more save us than the right wing premise that foreign workers or foreign goods are our enemy. Creating a real industrial policy in the U.S. that could direct investment away from off-shoring companies and to dying towns in the Midwest is a far better proposal for workers of all races than tariffs, immigration restrictions, or job retraining.
Of course it might seem strange in an essay about antisemitism and global imperialism to not mention Israel, one of the world’s last settler-colonial states. For many on the Alt-Right, Richard Spencer’s declaration that he is a “white Zionist” positions Israel as an answer to the multiple, intersecting crises of globalization. An “ethno state” in Alt-Right terminology, Israel serves an example of the kind of racially pure garrison state that can construct a coherent national identity against the chaotic forces of neoliberal capitalism. Israel also solves the “Jewish Question” by removing Jews from the “the West” and perhaps more subtly, but more importantly, “territorializes” the Jew — neutralizes their cosmopolitan, transnational, multicultural diasporic identity and makes them like other bound, rooted members of a defined national culture. While Spencer is a vile antisemite, he is not altogether wrong, in so far as Herzl and other founders of Israel imagined Zionism as a counter to the image of culturally fluid, racially impure, and rootless Jew.
Yet Israel, as Ali Abunimah points out in Battle for Justice in Palestine, is fully integrated in both neoliberal global capital markets, as well as the military circuits of U.S. empire. Israeli weapons, biotech, agricultural, and IT firms compete globally, engage in foreign direct investment, and park a great deal of their assets abroad. Far from being the classless utopia of the Kibbutzim, according an OECD report, Israel is one of the most unequal societies in the Western world, even among Jews. While Israel is exceptional in so far as it explicitly defines its borders and identity in demographic terms, it is not exceptional in so far as it is subject to the same global pressures on wages, real estate speculation, austerity, balance of payment traps, and so on, even for its majority Jewish citizens. If one wants to conduct a materialist analysis about the right-wing lurch of Israeli society and its increasingly intractable inability to make peace with Palestinians, one would need to also consider the ways that Israel has adopted a racially defined, right-wing nationalism as an ideological hedge against its own economic unraveling. The irony that a Jewish state should adopt such a political posture merely reinforces Althusser’s insight that history, or perhaps rather capitalism, is a process without a stable subject.
While talk of trade policy may seem esoteric, the implications are gut simple. If the left does not develop a real analysis and critique of what we call “globalization,” we have ceded the issue to the Right. And the Right, make no mistake, is winning: given the option between “globalization” and liberalism, Americans, Europeans, Russians, and, increasingly, the Chinese are returning to nationalism — and to open antisemitism. Bannon is clearly wrong about most things, as is Trump, but they have a clear, easy to understand analysis of why good, union jobs have left the Midwest, and a proposal, however misguided, for what to do. As Martiniquan poet and politician Aimé Césaire reminds us, the Holocaust of Europe can trace its origins, or at least, its architecture, to the colonial genocides in Africa and the Americas. Antisemitism, for Césaire, is always already linked to a global imaginary of race and exploitation. And in this way, if we care about antisemitism, we also need to start caring about trade or, as I would say, imperialism.
So, we do see humanity behaving toward each other in an animal-like way. But rather than blaming others as BEING “animals,” we should be focused on the fact that we are treating far too many people LIKE animals. That is where our governments, our religions, our communities should focus — how do we treat others with humanity?
Can we stop all bad behavior by MS-13 or Hamas? No. But we can control and direct our own toward humanity, toward respect, toward peace.
Maybe even the idea that Reisen references, that people can be like wild animals, is offensive to some; I think our own actions, rather than those of others, show it to be so. It’s time to heed Reisen’s words and reorient our words, our own actions, and our policies.
Here is the whole poem:
Teach me, Lord, teach me
how to deal with people
to show them how
to convert the evil within the good.
And if human beings are
may I be able to turn them
toward mildness and
At the circus, I saw
a man tame a tiger,
defang a snake;
would You make me so
Bless me with patience,
make me strong as steel.
that i might demonstrate to humanity
the same such wonders.