Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Yom Hashoah, Israel, Adolph Hitler, and the U.S.: some thoughts by an ignorant citizen

[A member of Einsatzgruppe D is about to shoot a man sitting by a mass grave in Vinnitsa, Ukraine, in 1942. Present in the background are members of the German Army, the German Labor Service, and the Hitler Youth.[144] The back of the photograph is inscribed "The last Jew in Vinnitsa". Image and information that goes with it was found here]

I live in the United States, the country in which I am a citizen. This is a fact I take for granted--this secure citizenship--most days of my life. My father was born in the Ukraine, however, but managed, with his relatives, during a period of pogroms killing and displacing Jews in that country, to come to the U.S. several years before the above photograph was taken. My father's family lived approximately one hundred miles from Vinnitsa, which is about the same distance that exists between Tampa and Orlando, Florida. The town in which my father was born no longer exists.

I find that we who are educated here in the U.S., especially in universities and colleges, consider ourselves experts in many things--perhaps in everything. What follows flows from the mind of someone who has been raised by an arrogant society that encourages me to think "what I think" is important and has the right to be shared. I have also been raised, within my own family, to believe I had no right to my thoughts or feelings, and to keep them to myself as best I could. It is this paradoxical tension which appears and is leaned into every time I write or speak. Today I speak about Israel, and Hitler, and the political function of scapegoating people of color as "the source" of all of our problems.

The State of Israel has organised its national existence based on the forced relocation of non-Jewish Palestinians, making it, from the start, an occupier nation and a nation of colonisers; in essence, a racist State. It's founders and leaders have done this in a place where Europeans and those from the United States were outsiders--not of the land, regardless of their faith. Only faith declared otherwise.

I suspect that if there were no white European Jews and no white U.S. Jews in Israel, the only reason for U.S. leaders to maintain "relations" with that nation would be to use it as a military landing pad in its quest for world domination--oh, and to hopefully get control of some of those nearby oil fields as well. The U.S. cares about places where white people live. And white people occupy many places so that Europe and the U.S. can then care about those areas, "protecting them" with military might. It is not only the U.S. that functions rather effectively as a racist State. G-d knows, the Israeli government is far from egalitarian in its treatment of Black Jews relative to white ones. G-d knows the class differences between Israelis of many faiths, and Palestinians of many faiths, is blatant. Guess which group, overall, more closely approximates the U.S.'s white middle class? Yes, the Israelis, if they are seen as white, light-skinned, and not of color.

I do not know a goddamned thing about what it is to live in or around Israel. I have no bone-deep sense of how threatened Israeli Jews feel, nor the extent to which Israeli Jews are right to feel this way. I intuit some sense of how Palestinians in the region feel, and the fact of regular suicide bombing speaks to a level of desperation and grief I have not experienced in my lifetime. If I have learned nothing else from dominant media, it is that it will blame the victims every opportunity it gets. Women ask for rape, men say. Blacks would have not been so persecuted in the 1950s and 1960s (oh, and the '70s, and '80s, and '90s, and currently) if they weren't so uppity, whites say. Never mind that women of any ethnicity and African Americans of any gender are never not persecuted, and have never enjoyed luxuriously long (or pathetically short) periods of U.S. history in which oppressive hostility was not acted out against their bodies and minds.

And I do know this: there was a man born two days and one hundred and twenty years ago, named Adolph Hitler, who demonstrated that it was possible, within certain regions of Europe, mind you (and not others), to wipe out half of the world's Jews in just a few years.

This didn't happen in the Middle East, though historically Middle Eastern Jews (not white ones) have been enslaved there, by Egyptian rulers. What has happened to Jews, mostly from Europe, over the millennia has been posted elsewhere on this blog. The assumption that any or every Middle Eastern country's leadership has both the will and the means necessary to generate anything like a Nazi Holocaust is as yet completely unfounded and is bound to a fiction that allows white male supremacy to flourish. We might presume, stupidly, that Iran's bigoted leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wouldn't think of doing such a thing, as in his view "such a thing as the Nazi Holocaust" never happened to begin with. But by what means shall Iran destroy Israel, really? Bigotry alone is not enough. What Israel has plenty of is racism, misogyny, and military force. This is a dangerous and deadly combination. Palestinian people know of this force. It has ripped them from their homes, and torn their flesh from their bones.

The world's Jews have a holiday, Yom Hashoah, or "[Nazi] Holocaust Remembrance Day". According to the omnipresent white Christian calendar, it precariously fell this year on the day after Adolph Hitler's birthday. Last year it was Christian calendar date May 2, and next year it will be C.c. date April 11. As a note to non-Jews, it actually falls on the same day every year, if you get out your Jewish calendars: Nis 27.

One of the things we Jews ought to remember, at this time of the Jewish (5769) and Christian 2009 calendar years, is exactly who Adolph Hitler was in the context of the region, culture, and methods in and by which he rose to power. What we also ought never forget is the fact that millions of Jewish, Roma, lesbian and gay people; Polish resistance fighters and intellectuals, Soviet prisoners; the mentally and physically disabled, and other groups were turned to ash, or were shot and buried--transformed in moments from terrified community of captives to an egregiously large lump of land, under which horrendous piles of corpses lay to rot with casual disregard in the eyes of the assassins.

To the extent that anti-Semitism flourishes in any region, Jews anywhere are imperiled. This statement ought not be disregarded or taken as mere rhetoric by non-Jewish people who have not endured genocide. When your own cousin's story includes the fact that every one of our family of 300, except for Uncle David--who somehow survived Auschwitz at the age of seventeen--was killed within four years in Eastern Europe in the late '30s and early '40s, it gives one pause. So too does the fact that anti-Semitism is on the rise across white-dominated countries. Muslims are frequently blamed for this increase, but we should know better by now than to point a finger at one group of people, particularly when the pointer's finger is white, and the singled-out "problem" people are of color. Whenever two groups of oppressed people are seen as primarily responsible for each other's demise, you can count on it that there's at least one other group, an oppressor of each of the two embattled groups, that is writing up such responsibility-relinquishing reports, spreading such conveniently self-serving lies*. It is also misleading to think that only white-dominated countries known for past anti-Semitism are now emerging as pro-Palestinian. The social-political history of the Danes disproves this "theory".

(*The U.S. supplies 90% of the arms to make Mexico's drug wars highly lethal; why aren't they "our" drug wars then, if our munitions are being used to kill? And Europe's role in destabilising governments and rending the cultural fabric of people across regions of sub-Saharan Africa are rarely reported in the white Western press as requisite factors for the violence that gets blamed on "one" ethnic group or "the another". Nor do we hear much about the flow of arms from Europe to embattled regions of Africa. I hope the picture is getting clearer.)

Racism and anti-Semitism are hard for my foreigner's mind to untangle when our media sloppily suggest that all Jews are white and racist, and all Muslims are anti-Semitic and aren't Israeli. Muslims and Jews, in the Middle East, lived as relatives for centuries, let's not forget. The economic exploitation and political execution of Christian/Aryan anti-Semitism in Europe transformed many Jews' desire for a Jewish homeland into an historically, uniquely desperate need.

After all, it was the merger of European cross-cultural/regional anti-Semitism, the political forces necessary to make turn otherwise "good citizens" into accomplices and engineers of mass murder, makers of the mechanistic means to do so--the technology that turned Hitler's idea of killing all Jews into something heinously plausible, his mission half-way accomplished. We must not forget what it was that supported him: his officers, the SS, universities, churches, the post office, the Finance Ministry, drug companies, the builders of the crematoria, and the other constituencies comprising the madman-made machine for pulverising Jews and so many others into dust en masse. Many things had to be in firmly place or be quickly manufactured in order to destroy so many so swiftly. Not the least of these components was virulent and abundant cultural anti-Semitism. (Check.) But is not bigotry alone that generates genocide.

In the cultural worlds I learn about or are part of, I observe that U.S. whites' feelings about the Israeli government are mixed up with feelings about Israeli and non-Israeli Jews. Among some Europeans, feelings about Israeli Jews are mixed up with feelings about European Jews, most of whom have never set foot in Israel. Among some U.S. people of color, feelings about white Jews have been historically combined with experiences of non-Jewish whites. White's feelings about Jews, both white and of color are often enough blended into general white supremacist racism. And so on.

What little the U.S.'s "good citizens" learn from history, its media compels us to promptly forget. For example, we forget, on an appalling routine basis, that those of us who are white are here in large part as colonisers; we are part of a racist and misogynist State; our Founding Fathers were rapists and slave holders who, in order to form a more pure... I mean perfect union, required the displacement and mass murder of tens of millions of Indigenous inhabitants of Turtle Island, later called North America. This mass murder was a genocide approximately five to eight times larger than the one known as the Nazi Holocaust, if dead body counts matter.

So when you hear the media ridiculously promulgating notions that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Israeli government are each different incarnations of those heinous leaders of Nazi Germany, please take a moment and remember the truth of our history.

Recommended reading:
Scapegoat: The Jews, Israel, and Women's Liberation, by Andrea Dworkin (2002)
"In 2009 Europe, the Jew remains the scapegoat", by Stan Goodenough (2009)
"Russian Anti-Semitism and the Scapegoating of Jews">, by James L. Gibson and Marc Morjé Howard (2007)
"The Strange Phenomenon of Black Anti-Semitism", by Larry Elder (2009)
"The Muslims Need a Scapegoat", by Ibrahim Abdul Mu'min (2005)
"The Black Jewish or Hebrew Israelite Community", by Rabbi Sholomo Ben Levy (2009)

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