I’ve written before that I am proud to be a Jew. My pride (insert shameless link to previous article here), for those who missed out the on the opportunity to read what has been described as a masterpiece on the level of Toni Morrison or Albert Camus (by my mother, granted), stems from the Jewish people’s resilience and the historical legacy of survival and power that is passed down from generation to generation. However, there’s another aspect of the Jewish tradition which inspires and shapes my philosophy of the world that I passed over in the previous article: one in which empathy and social justice are coveted and prioritized. Should all of human history be transcribed into a book, I am keenly aware that with any random flip of the page I have a remarkable probability to learn about a legacy of brutality inflicted upon people with my name. This context is important for understanding why my parents instilled the morals in me that they did: they understood their history and they understood the importance of demanding society become equitable for all people, not just Jews. It was for that reason I was embarrassed and ashamed to read Jason’s recent article in the Nexus.
…there’s another aspect of the Jewish tradition which inspires and shapes my philosophy of the world that I passed over in the previous article: one in which empathy and social justice are coveted and prioritized.
Jason begins his article (which you can read here) by complaining about the lack of safe spaces for Jews on campus, which is necessary because “the divestment debate [will] start up again at UCSB, [and] you can be certain that Jewish students will face strongly worded anti-Israel rhetoric that they will find offensive, marginalizing and triggering, and yet their complaints will not evoke the usual reaction that such claims do when they come from other minority groups.” First of all, there are literally spaces set aside for Jews on the campus — Hillel, Sigma Alpha Epsilon Pi and Alpha Epsilon Pi to name a few — but this doesn’t matter because Jason wasn’t seriously asking for there to be spaces set aside, he was just being snide and attempting once again to shame marginalized students who are actually demanding their own spaces. Secondly, framing the discussion on divestment as being Jews versus non-Jews is not only misleading, it is downright wrong — he completely ignores the scores of Jewish organizations and people calling for the end of Israel’s dehumanizing policies.
However, it is not this portion of the article that I took such issue with to cause me to write a response, rather it was when he shifted the focus to how “social justice warriors (SJWs) in the universities provide no ‘safe spaces’ to Jews because we fly in the face of every single claim they make about privilege, oppression and group identity.” It is with this sentence that Jason begins to weaponize and exploit the Jewish persons’ historical struggle and uses it against those most oppressed right now. It is with statement that Jason begins a textbook example of why assimilation politics are so profoundly immoral and doomed.
Jason claims “We Jews are living, breathing proof that a historically oppressed group can overcome its oppression on its own in America, through its hard work and drive to succeed, without any of the ‘legs up’ (affirmative action, welfare, reparations) that SJWs say are necessary.” By this I can only assume Jason means that we Jews asked for no help and graciously accepted the none that was offered. As a side note, one of the main things Jews did and do ask for is Israel, but I guess that isn’t considered a “leg up” to Jason. He also manages to imply that every other group that remains marginalized remains so because they’re just so gosh darn lazy and if only they worked a little harder they could escape the historical, perpetual poverty and violence that ensnares their communities.
As a side note, one of the main things Jews did and do ask for is Israel, but I guess that isn’t considered a “leg up” to Jason.
This argument, however, manages simultaneously to be grossly offensive and historically inaccurate. I am proud of the historical struggle and demand for acceptance of the Jewish people; we did not quietly go about our business and hope the white people would one day accept us. We demanded our rights — we demanded our humanity be recognized. So it confuses me that a person can be proud of our current success and then condescendingly put down people demanding their humanity be recognized right now. Regardless of one’s view of assimilation, it is an obligation that we have as a people who have assimilated to be a megaphone for those who are not given a seat at the table — who are not given a voice. We have an obligation as Jews, as Americans and as humans to be just, and this justice requires us to stop false narratives like the one Jason spews in his recent article. I refuse to be a tool for a dominant power. I refuse to be the model minority he attempts to make of us. Our assimilation and hard-fought acceptance will not and cannot be used as a way to grant an unjust system legitimacy. We cannot allow people to point to us and go, “Hey if they can, why can’t you?”
Furthermore, Jason makes a mistake that I too made in my first draft of writing this: namely that not all Jews are white. There are hundreds of thousands of people of color in the United States who identify as Jewish, and framing this discussion of Jews entirely being able to assimilate via our hard work erases Jews who haven’t been granted the opportunity to assimilate. It also makes it even more pertinent that Jews advocate for black and queer liberation since Jewish liberation means nothing if a large percentage of us are still in bondage. There’s also a false equivalence in comparing the suffering and exploitation of Jewish, Irish and Italian populations with that of the African American and Native American populations. While obviously I would never make the case that Jews didn’t suffer, we were not systematically exploited for all our capital in America and used as dispensable material goods with which one can build a country on. Ignoring this erases the specific and more ingrained hardships people of color face.
I refuse to be a tool for a dominant power. I refuse to be the model minority he attempts to make of us.
Jason then asks, “Is it any wonder that they’re a little annoyed with us right now?” “They” once again refers to those pesky Social Justice Warriors, and Jason once again seems to forget about the large amount of Jews in the other aisle he shows such disdain for. Jews are overrepresented in a lot of branches of society, not just in wealth, so it is disheartening to know that Jason doesn’t consider the large amount of Jews diligently working alongside other marginalized students. For him to later equate the very real anti-Semitism Jews face with the modern social justice movement does a grave disservice to all sides: It trivializes actual anti-Semitism with his hyperbolic rhetoric, and shuts down any semblance of dialogue he so often is calling for.
The issue of the UCLA student who had her objectivity called into question is a result of the false narrative that continues to equate Jews with Zionists, one I might mention Jason tells at the beginning of the article. While the actions at UCLA are unacceptable, they occur because people have a misguided belief in the false equivalence of Judaism and Zionism.
Finally, Jason makes the claim that “SJWs say that America is an inherently racist country because it was designed by white men for the interests of white men. The first part may be true, but the second is patently false, and the Jewish story in America is proof of this.” The only problem is that the second part is as true as the first part. Jews assimilated into American society because American society changed what it meant to be white. Jason and I are not white in the 1900s, and we certainly are not white at the founding of the country. This is the problem with assimilation politics: It allows a patently oppressive society to snare a once marginalized group and then use them as ammunition to legitimize their actions and further oppress those who haven’t been granted white status yet. I too care little about what identity is given to me, Jason. What I care about is having my humanity recognized — a seemingly trivial right that so many of these powerful activists whom you, Jason, so condescendingly deride, still aren’t granted.