The Ghetto Jew
The history of discrimination against- and trauma perpetuated upon Jewish people (aka anti-Semitism) is historically documented and unquestionable among serious academics. As members of a second-class minority community, Jews served as scapegoats for centuries and were abused by people of different religions, ethnicities and nationalities. History is riddled with examples of Jewish persecution, which often culminated in practices of genocide and ethnic cleansing against Jews, most notably during the crusades, Spanish inquisition and the Nazi Holocaust.
Jews have utilized different techniques to survive. While some assimilated and others converted, many Jewish communities have remained steadfast in their beliefs and practices.
The “ghetto Jew” is a stereotypical image of European Jews that formed as a result of trauma and fear conditioning. Ghetto Jews are members of self-sustained Jewish communities, tend to associate mostly with other members, keep their head down, ride the political mainstream, and in general refrain from calling attention to themselves.
The New Jew
Jews went through a slow process of emancipation in their adoptive European countries with varying levels of success. Some excelled and were integral to a cultural renaissance in Europe (for an account see here). Many of these “new Jews” were empowered with equal rights and all the spoils of the intellectual class and bourgeoisie, including prestige, status and money.
Emancipation and integration were viewed as a vehicle to overcome anti-Semitism. However, scapegoating and anti-Jewish sentiments persistently resurfaced in Europe (especially before WWII), targeting ghetto Jews and emancipated ones alike.
Together with the growing frustration at the failures of emancipation to rid Jews of oppression, the rising tide of nationalist forces in Europe at the time inspired a form of Jewish nationalism: Zionism. Leaders of the budding Zionist movement in the 19th and 20th century, many of whom were secular (e.g. Theodor Herzl) and some socialist (e.g. Moses Hess), adopted the image of the new Jew as a propaganda tool.
The new Zionist Jew was defined by culture and language and had a purpose: to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine as a solution to persecution. The new Jew served the national aspirations of Zionism; s/he worked the land (which was not theirs), fought for rights (while oppressing those of the indigenous Palestinians) and raised his/her head tall and proud (while promoting ethnic cleansing). The propagandized image of the new Jew was one of empowerment; s/he carried a rifle and would supposedly not stand for any kind of bigotry, particularly anti-Semitism.
As such, leaders of the Zionist movement manipulated the trauma of Jews to promote their nationalistic and Judeo-supremacist agenda. Similar to any settler-colonialist project, Zionism led to unimaginable suffering, ethnic cleansing and genocide and continues to sow terror in the hearts of Palestinians and others.
The Just Jew
This past week, the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu visited President Donald Trump in the White House. Netanyahu is the epitome of the empowered Zionist new Jew: he was a member of an elite unit in the Israel Defense Force (IDF) and has been the leader of Israel for many years. What’s more, his father was a Zionist historian and his older brother Yonatan (Yoni) Netanyahu is widely hailed as a war hero who died for his country during the Entebbe operation.
Donald Trump and his administration have been showing strong signs of fascism and anti-Semitism and have a strong following of white supremacists. When directly asked about the growing incidents of anti-Semitism in the U.S., Trump evaded the question and snapped at the reporter.
Intuitively, it would make sense in accordance with Zionist propaganda for an empowered new Jew like Netanyahu to lead the charge against bigotry and anti-Semitism. But Netanyahu embraced Trump and perfectly exemplified the inherent collusion between Zionism, anti-Semitism and fascism. In fact, it is now clear that the Israeli government cannot protect- and does not represent liberal Jews who wish to live in peace within diverse communities around the world, or within Israel itself.
The apparent failure of Zionism to live up to its promise of protecting all Jews underscores the necessity of a new and further evolved form of Jew, one who adopts those qualities that have worked and sheds those that have not, a Jew primarily focused on equality and justice: a “just Jew”.
A just Jew returns to the roots of Judaism, which promote a persistent quest for justice (“justice, justice shall you pursue”; Deuteronomy 16:20). A just Jew is unwedded to nation state and utilizes a collective knowledge and history of survival, trauma and oppression as both victim and victimizer to unite with other Jews, and join Muslim, immigrant, Palestinian, Black and Brown, LGBTQ, indigenous and other minority communities in the battle to oppose fascism, ethno-supremacy, apartheid, crony capitalism and bigotry of all kinds, including anti-Semitism and Zionism. The just Jew is part of a global community of resistance, which promotes a sustainable and egalitarian future for all humanity.
This piece first appeared at Mondoweiss.