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You’ve got it mixed up: how my Judaism is separate from Israeli policies

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APRIL 15, 2019

As my friend and I chatted over coffee she frustratedly told me, “I’m tired of being called a self-hating Jew for supporting Palestinian rights.”

I repeated those words to myself in my head — a self-hating Jew. I got chills thinking about the backlash I would receive by asserting my views on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Mainstream American Jewish spaces often promote a uniformly positive view of Israel, despite claiming to accept diverse viewpoints on the issue.

I am afraid that if I voice dissent to the pro-Israel norm, my identity as a Jew would be invalidated even more than the fully Jewish people who bring up similar concerns. I could be deemed “not Jewish at all” because my mother isn’t Jewish — which goes against the Jewish law of matrilineage. I feel that as an Asian Jewish womxn, my claim to Jewish heritage is already precarious for some more traditional branches of Judaism. Being against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza could be the last straw on the camel that leads these spaces to reject me entirely.

In these spaces, the association between Judaism and support for Israel without question is even more evident in the push for “educational” trips to Israel, especially Birthright. When other Jews find out that my father is Jewish, they immediately ask, “Have you gone on Birthright yet?”

These interactions made me feel like building a strong connection to Israel is a rite of passage that every young American Jew must go through. Birthright is supposed to be our glorified “homecoming,” a beautiful educational and emotional journey that truly transforms how we see our Judaism.

I had contemplated going on Birthright, but I decided against it after researching how the organization erases the occupation and attempts to shut down participants who ask questions about it.

Whenever I openly express my reservations about Birthright, people often claim that it’s a trip to discover Jewish identity and life in Israel — not about politics. But everything is inherently political, especially when the trip itself is on contested territory. I didn’t comprehend how anyone could offer a trip to “get to know” Israel and not address its hxstory as a colonial project and its current problematic policies against Palestinians. I was shocked that people could reduce the violence against Palestinians to just “politics.”

I wish the Jewish people around me would acknowledge the hypocrisy in erasing the human rights violations in Israeli policies toward Palestinians. Jews have hxstorically faced marginalization and dispossession of their land, and continue to be the target of white supremacist violence. But so many of the Jews around me fail to see the similarities between our hxstoric oppression and the Israeli state’s oppression of Palestinians.

As a mixed womxn of color, I see the conflict differently. While there’s no denying that I have access to white privilege and benefit from being conditionally white-passing, I’m still a target of racialized stereotypes. It’s impossible to separate my identities from my lived experiences and not understand how race or ethnicity plays a role in the conflict. It’s easier for people who have never experienced any form of racism to say the conflict is “not about race.” This is clear when I overhear people conflating the actions of Hamas — a fundamentalist organization — with the intentions of all Palestinians, as if their inherent existence is a threat to Israel.

And yet, I’ve felt that my Jewish and womxn of color identities have been forcibly separated, despite my support of ending the occupation and establishing a Palestinian state. Folx have disclosed to me in social justice spaces that when they hear someone is Jewish, they are immediately a little taken aback because they assume most Jews support the Israeli government. To a certain extent, I understand where they are coming from because so many Jewish organizations refuse to have nuanced conversations about the conflict. So many mainstream American Jewish institutions do not sufficiently recognize the Israeli state’s continued violation of Palestinian human rights.

So while my Jewishness is a central piece of my identity as a womxn of color, asserting it in racial justice spaces I’m a part of feels wrong.

Once, I accidentally posted a Jews of Color Collective event in a group chat for a racial justice organization. I felt like I had outed myself as being supportive of Israeli state policies even though Jews of Color Collective activities have nothing to do with Israel. I couldn’t help but wonder if they all presumed that my affiliation with a Jewish group automatically meant I unconditionally supported Israeli policies.

My Jewish heritage alone does not define my viewpoints on the issue, especially because I am not just Jewish — I am Jewish, Chinese and a mixed-race womxn of color. As a white-passing Jewish womxn, it is my responsibility to actively criticize the Israeli state’s policies and hold other Jewish people accountable in doing the same.

Genevieve Xia Ye Slosberg writes the Monday column on being a mixed-race womxn in China and the United States. Contact her at [email protected].

APRIL 16, 2019