Friday, May 14, 2021

Don't apply US identity politics to the Middle East

A US Congressman's attempt to brand Israeli Jews caught up in the current conflict with Hamas as 'white' is lambasted by Liel Leibowitz writing in Tablet. At the end of the day, American identity politics cannot be applied to the Middle East: it is about one group's wish to murder another. 


US Congressman Jamaal Bowman

 Now, this might be confusing to you, especially if you’ve been following the news over the past day. If so, you would have heard about Soumya Santosh, a 32-year-old Indian woman who, in order to provide for her 9-year-old boy, found work in the Israeli city of Ashkelon, caring for an 80-year-old woman. The pair were ducking for cover when their home was directly hit by one of Hamas’s rockets. Santosh’s brown body was torn apart by a projectile hurled by a terrorist organization and aimed at innocent civilians, none of whom, by the way, have any use for silly and preening identity politics.

 Or maybe you know about 19-year-old Yehuda Guetta—his family hails from Libya, a country located, of all places, in Africa. Yehuda was shot and killed earlier this week by a Palestinian-American named Muntasir Shalabi, who was motivated, according to his neighbors, by equal parts Jew hatred and heavy gambling debts. 

 In general, I am loathe to deny Americans the right to play their national sports, which these days apparently include mau-mauing “white people”—though I will say that it seems creepy to use skin color as the primary way to identify human beings, like 19th century “race scientists” did. But since Congressman Bowman is being joined by a host of other elected officials including Rashida Tlaib in trying to chauvinistically transpose their own American psychodrama onto a foreign region, this is now starting to get terrifyingly dangerous—and I don't mean for Israel, but for Jews living here in the United States, including those in Congressman Bowman’s own district.

 So let’s be clear as day: Israel isn’t America, Jews aren’t white, and Palestinians aren’t “Black and brown people.” Judaism is an identity that predates “race,” just as it predates America, and the sin of slavery, and the idea of nations and the Christian and Muslim faiths.

 Reckless, ignorant racializing, precisely of the kind that Bowman is practicing these days, has a trickle-down effect. In a statement last month, the Congressman and his fellow progressives released a statement declaring themselves shocked, shocked! by the anti-Jewish violence in their own districts. Sir, the call is coming from inside your house. 

 Moreover, if people like Congressman Bowman can’t see how being openly denigrated by powerful people—like, say, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives—makes members of a minority group feel vulnerable and targeted, then I really have no idea what progressive politics are even pretending to be about anymore. 

 Of course, Bowman is free to ignore Jewish history and all the suffering of real people in the present, and to fantasize about skin-based affinities while fundamentalist terrorists lob thousands of rockets at people who are family members, both figuratively and literally speaking, of his own constituents. But how about the other side of what’s happening in Israel? 

In the last 48 hours, thousands of Israeli Arab citizens, whose skin color is exactly the same as that of their neighbors, and who enjoy the highest standard of living in the region as well as every right to practice their religion freely and attend great universities, launched a wave of pogroms against their Jewish neighbors. They attacked and defaced synagogues in Lod—just like in Bowman’s district in Riverdale. They also beat up children in the street, bombed buses, dragged drivers from their cars, and smashed shop windows, targeting the Jewish regional minority. 

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