The Curses of Nationalism

To those of you who would call me a self-hating Jew because I oppose the Israeli government’s policy of terrorism and apartheid against the Palestinian people, let me say this right away before you do: I do not go to synagogue. I would like my daughter to have the experience, but I have not ever found one that does not advocate support for Israel.

While I usually celebrate Passover, Yom Kippur and Hanukkah, and I say the Kaddish for my father, I do so in a non-tradition manner, changing words and rites to suit my internationalist ideology. Yet this year the matzo and the horseradish I bought a month ago are unopened. When I hear growing Israeli terror justified by biblical references, I could not bring myself to organize a Seder, even with all the good ideas and Web sites providing alternative services.

I am not going to pretend that I spend my days reading the Torah or that my kitchen is a Kosher one, as do many who oppose Israeli policy. And it is none of your business what I think about God.

Yet I am Jewish. I am Jewish because I am the child of a Holocaust survivor, the grandchild and great-grandchild of survivors of countless pogroms. Like many, I cannot trace exactly where my ancestors come from because they were proverbial wandering Jews. This history, this heritage, explains much about who I am. Like many, it has led me to look at the world in such a way that I could not possibly support the Israeli government.

My grandparents and great-grandparents, who had no country of origin when they came to the United States, had one fewer dividing -ism to overcome. Some adopted Judaism as their nation, some the United States and others became internationalists.

The experience of the Holocaust–my father’s experience–makes it impossible for me to embrace nationalism of any sort. I know the (non-Jewish) German people are made of the same stuff as all other humans, and that it was nationalism, a belief in the Fatherland over all that led so many to Nazi collaboration. I also know the German people felt like a besieged people, an oppressed people, as a result of World War I, when they voted for Hitler in 1933.

Nationalism is a handmaiden of racism. True, it can be liberating for an oppressed people, but it is an ideology that is not easily tempered. The Jewish experience should serve as a lesson for all.

Most Israelis of my middle age are the children of the oppressed, and a significant percentage of them support their government’s oppression of a people. Nationalism is racism when it defines a good American as a flag-waving American and it is racism when it defines a good Jew as a one who stands by Israel right or wrong.

“Never Again” is a powerful idea, an idea echoed by holocaust survivors and their progeny. For some, it means “Never Again” for my people, e.g., Jews. For me and for many others, it is a powerful commitment: a calling to fight against oppression of any person anywhere. It mandates my support for Palestinian sovereignty–not because their nationalism is potentially any less dangerous than Jewish nationalism, but because in this case, they are the oppressed people.

I don’t always live up to my ideals. I wish I had combated my fear of you and written this earlier instead of using my embrace of internationalism as an excuse to let you define who is a Jew.

In the United States and around the world, there is a Jewish tradition of internationalism, of radical dissent. It is a tradition born of the experience of oppression and often made tenable by access to educational and other material resources. For Jews like me looking for footsteps to follow, these ancestors provide a strong, viable, and self-loving alternative to the myopic ethnocentric tradition that has led so many Jews to support Israel “Uber Alles.”

We are all products of our history, but we do have choices. Let’s follow the ancestors who have struggled for all humanity.

Anne Winkler-Morey teaches history and Chicano studies at the University and Macalester College. This article originally appeared in the Daily Minnesotan, the campus newspaper of the University of Minnesota.