Sunday, September 5, 2010

"There is no free speech in Berkeley if you speak outside the dominant paradigm." Anti- Semitism in the feminist movement

Cross posted here:

The Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA) is dedicated to research of the origins and manifestations associated with antisemitism and other forms of prejudice globally. YIISA's inaugurral conference "Global Antisemitism: A Crisis of Modernity" was held August 23, 2010 - 25, 2010, and featured such speakers as Irwin Cotler, Ruth Wisse, David Hirsh, Deborah Lipstadt, and Richard Landes. Also speaking was our friend, Thyme Seigal, who delievered this address:


By Thyme S. Siegel

I tossed like a dreamer through my life in America, daughter of Yiddish speakers, daughter of the back woods of NJ. I was sleep walking. Incubating. Even though 20 years ago, I researched and taught Jewish Womens History , and published an article called “Anti-Jewish Oppression in Progressive Movements”, I did not feel a sense of personal threat. Except when I thought about Israel. I was afraid to go. Israel was too precious and too vulnerable. Finally Pesach week '09, I went to Israel. Enchanted, I wrote a story of my adventure called “3 Weeks in the Holyland”. It is the best story I have ever written. I loved the little Jewish nation, a whole country of my extended family. But when I arrived back in northern California, old friends of the decades, people, women mostly, who were always warm and supportive of me and my writing, did not approve of my joy and did not want to read my adventure.

I went to dinner at the home of an old high school friend, a well-published talmudic scholar also considered a feminist for his writings. Even tho he owes his career to Israel, he felt Israel had no right to defend itself against rockets from Hamas. His response to my questioning this: “For a few rockets? Its lies, all lies.” I said that there were many many reports of thousands of rockets. “Its lies, all lies”. But I know someone whose relatives have a half a second to get into a bomb shelter in Ashkelon” He shrugged contemptuously... He scoffs at the notion of contemporary anti-Semitism. He poo pood the problem of Jews having to flee Europe again.” Highly overblown”. He compared the Israelis to Nazis in public at an University of California Berkeley Associated Students meeting debating a divestment BDS issue.(not bondage and discipline) He called Israeli's effective airline security procedures “racism” When I pointed out it might save his life someday, he said “I don't care.” This is what someone called “jewicide”. The embedded agenda that trumps the facts. Yet he has been able to indoctrinate several generations of students now. In academia there are a lot more Jews like him. And non-Jews.

I feel threatened by this kind of thinking, personally threatened. It has stirred up my survival instincts. The Hamas charter calls for the annihilation of the Jewish people and has done so all along, but it did not impact my fear level. I am now more motivated than I ever have been in my life.

I am motivated to speak out, impelled by a sense of insecurity, not only for Israel, but for America. After returning from Israel I researched global jihad and the predicament Israel is really in. I read Eurabia about Europe and Infiltration about the United States.

I have undergone a transformation, woken up my survival instincts and my appreciation. I appreciate the life Ive gotten to live in America, a life of fantastic freedom of choice and opportunity for creativity. I never thought I would do this, but I stand on the street with a pro- Israel group, holding an Israeli or American flag ----to counter those demonstrating that anti zionism really is antisemitism, in case there was any doubt.

The flotillistas shout ugly slogans: “Go back to Auschwitz” and “Intifada! Intifada!” chanted by hundreds of demonstrators held back only by the good will of the police can stimulate your survival instincts--- if you want to wake up your whole being ---and not just comprehend all this intellectually. Hear The shouts of From the River to the Sea. Meaning they dont want a 2 state solution, they want it all. Hear: Khaybar! Khaybar!, a reference to Mohammad's 7th c. massacre of a tribe of Jews. The hamasniks shout “Smash the Jewish State”, “target all Jewish businesses”, “Every zionist is a target”, blood thirsty, monster....shame shame shame”. I am not ashamed.

The local flotilla leader in the bay area openly solicits funding for new flotilla--- without worry about getting indicted by the federal attorney--- for aiding a terrorist organization.This does not seem to alarm my long time women and men friends, Jewish and non-Jewish. Hard core pacifists are ready to overlook all facts on the ground. They do not want to believe that no matter what they say or do, they have deadly and determined enemies. Patiently I explain why the Israels got themselves in a position of needing to have a blockade. There is no memory, even of the most recent history.

I live in Berkeley, California, where I pioneered women’s studies in 1970, enabled by a faculty advisor who, 40 years later, now signs petitions to boycott Israel. The topic of jew hatred, of Israel and Jewish history did not arise for me until I researched and taught Jewish Women’s History in the early 1990’s. I was part of a generational bubble. We could have lives of great inter-cultural cross-over, lives which explored our freedom.

In the 1970’s I lived in a matriarchal village of Eugene Ore, ( I call it “matriarchial” because I wrote a story with that name, no one else called it that.) We were against patriarchy, all patriarchies. By the 1980's it seemed we had ceded our global vision to the larger left. No longer concerned with the fate of women in islam, I started hearing condemnations of Israel with no mention of the surrounding toxic patriarchies. The original ideals of global sisterhood disintegrated into a shocking rhetoric of obsessive Israel blaming. We were of course against war, all war. Later our slogans merged with the larger anti-war left: “Another world is possible”,” and the larger New Age spirituality movement: Be the change you want to see”, and “We refuse to be enemies” or, “There are no enemies anywhere”.

There is no free speech in Berkeley if you speak outside the dominant paradigm. Nonie Darwish, an x muslim who is an Egyptian American, who wrote Now They Call Me Infidel, and an expose of sharia law called Cruel and Usual Punishment came to speak at the UC campus. She was interrupted so intensely at her campus speech in Wheeler Hall that she had to leave the stage, speech unfinished, with inadequate security. Public education is not easy. Darwish has to live with a body guard and death threats.

The women's movement in this country has drifted off the rails. Not finding Israel perfect, and not finding our own American relatives perfect, some women in the movement started down a long slippery slope, thinking they were climbing the high moral ground, shouting “hypocrites, murderers”, at their own relatives and ancestors, while claiming a universal identity. The blame Israel always for everything obsession picked up speed. The Israeli government always held in contempt as dominated by right wing militarists instead of being perceived as led by the duly elected leaders who were chosen as the best to maintain security.

An old friend from our women's writing group, claimed recently that “Israel has the most right wing militarist government in its history”. She always made huge confident claims in a quiet calm manner.I believed in her confidence. my friend of 35 years. I always craved her approval. I suddenly heard instead ignorant arrogance. I asked her, “How would you feel if you and your extended family were targeted for mass extermination by the ideology of millions of people? She replied:”First, I would ask myself if it was true. We could try to figure out how to know better what the truth is. What form does that target for death take? . Tell me why you feel your life is in danger of death from those you know and are in physical proximity to”. She said, “Maybe this seems like a stupid question. I’m asking it because we have to find solid ground to stand on before we get to the more difficult questions. So tell me if you feel this.” She is a person I have shared my feelings with for 35 years but I shut down, unable to share more with her. She refuses to read the sources that have convinced me of the nature of the anti-Semitism we are facing. Her continued obtuseness indicates to me she is an adherent who refuses to give credence to any development that does not fit the narrative to which she is committed. A well known visionary author, earth activist, anti-globalization and wicca leader in the bay area, goes on English language tours of Gaza. After I returned from Israel, I had questions for her, a Jewish witch tourist in Gaza. By email, I asked her if she could monitor al Jezeera in Arabic? I asked if she would ask some questions suggested by Tawfiq Hamid, an x-muslim, to define political islam. He asks muslims and muslim institutions to clearly unambiguously and publically denounce fighting and killing Jews, calling Jews Pigs and monkeys, killing apostates, beating and stoning women for any reason, and gay killing. Her response was to say that radical judaism needed to denounce those concepts Also. Then she rattled off a list of horrendous things that Israeli soldiers and settlers have allegedly done to the Palestinians. She signed it, “Thyme, your radical consciousness and lifelong commitment to justice is better than this, love”. Yes she signed it love, As she shifted the blame back to Jews and changed the subject. A couple Weeks later she sent me a forwarded message, introducing it by saying “This is a far more eloquent response to Your questions than anything I could write. ” then below in caps:WORTH YOUR TIME TO READ!!!!It was not reference to my questions, but a total blaming of muslim women's predicament on---- Israel and western imperialism. Nothing about the inculcated jew hatred. I responded by asking her again if she could monitor al Jezeera in Arabic, but it was useless as she’d blocked my email. I was shocked, no dialog was possible.

There are familiar patterns. Blaming everything on US imperialism, colonialism. Blaming Israel and Jews right back into that familiar groove. Ah, and then there is blaming everything on patriarchy, all patriarchies, not differentiating. A goddess priestess , who produces a well-distributed very successful women's astrological calendar, mentored me in the 1970’s.... the voice of the old anti-patriarchal spirit…When I tried to update her on the world today, she responded: “in the alternative non patriarchal world we are creating… Without men who are so much more stuck in the old adversarial ways of patriarchy.”I notice the WE WE of it, the world we are creating, because we do create our own reality, right? But then she updates herself and writes that “getting beyond duality is the only game” she wants to play.”We all need to grow up and take responsibility for our lives. Fight the enemy within, as a necessary pre-condition to fighting what appears to be the enemies “out there”. This is a time of human evolution that will either do us in or force us to change in fundamental ways”. . She is envisioning “the shift” that the bumper stickers proclaim , the shift that happens. I imagine a shift also, that our survival instinct wakes up, that we come to appreciate our deepest most important values and are inspired to defend them. The motivation for this shift will entail feeling personally threatened.

Now I am a zionist street warrior, holding an Israeli or American flag, standing across the street to counter the hate and lies of Women In Black. Standing next to me on the street was a lesbian who had also been in the Jewish feminist movement. We knew the same names, the local and national celebrities of our literary sub-culture of the 1970’s. We had read the same authors, gone to the same concerts. We came from old-lefty families. We know the self righteous proclaimers who sign the local anti-Israel petitions. “We are Jews and we support divesting----” kind of thing. What did they know of Jewish history? When finally a petition appeared with a long list of those who opposed the hate and lies about the Jewish state, I did not know any of them, but I had to find them, I had to meet them, I needed them.

I will meet with anyone who supports Jewish Israel. I am not afraid of this surreal situation of being called---horrors, right wing, even tho it is a total obfuscation of the term. “Right wing, racist islamophobic" are words being used to frighten and suppress people with legitimate concerns.

I’m not drinking the Kool Aid. I say, “Hello, Berkeley, your acid sparkled streets, heartland in the production of rhetoric, heartland of resistance: I'm here, I love Israel, I love America, get used to it.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree. It happened to me also with someone in the US university I knew from work who blocked my account in Facebook after we disagreed. My last words before I was banned were: "I think real tolerance is listening to viewpoints you don't agree with and I think that political debate is trying to convince another person of your point, if you think you are right, not just spouting slogans."

    She preferred not to listen to things she disagreed with because I was always being "negative".

    I regret the situation in the Academia. The woman is a post doc!