Here we go again

And with another outbreak of violence surrounding Gaza, I brace myself to deal with the inevitable flood of hatred against Jews, the accusation that we’re genocidal and commit war crimes, that we target children, that we have no respect for Arab life, that we are unprovoked aggressors. You name it, we’re accused of it. I know that sometime in the next few days, I will read of visibly Orthodox Jews in Stamford Hill and Golders Green being attacked, of synagogues being vandalised, because people punish Jews worldwide for whatever happens in the Middle East while at the same time claiming, “I have nothing against Jews, just Zionists and the Israeli government.”

Outside the Israeli Consulate not far from my apartment, people are chanting, “Zionist scum, your time has come.” Welcome to tolerant, liberal, progressive San Francisco.

No mention of over 12,000 rockets landing in Israel, targeting civilians, since 2001. Non-Israelis and non-Jews rarely consider the fact that their countries, if faced with the same attacks, probably would have retaliated a lot quicker. No mention that militants in Gaza deliberately aim at non-military targets. Nope. It would get in the way of their refusal to see any shades of grey in this massive mess.

This is me a few years ago, in London:


It’s strange. I’m not really an observant Jew. I’m in synagogue maybe twice a year. But more and more I have to be a spokesperson for my ethnic group in the face of loads of bullshit. I have to explain everything to people who don’t have a clue. I don’t like it, but I have to do it because then otherwise I’m just rolling over and being complicit in letting people walk over us. Between this and Tottenham-Y-Word-gate, I’m feeling like I have to be SuperJew when I’m honestly not the best spokesperson, but, eh. Gotta be tough, Kite. Got to risk the fact that people are going to label you things that you are not, call you scum, dissolve friendships simply because you believe Israel has a place on the map alongside a Palestinian state. That’s life. Some people are going to love you and others are going to hate your guts, but the best you can hope for is that people are going to listen to your argument. Big shrug.

I hate war. Like any other person who isn’t a total sociopath, I want war to be the last resort. There are crazies out there who hate Muslims. I am not one of them. Extremists hijack Islam and use it to justify violence, and I know moderate Muslims feel the same way about that as I do whenever some crazy ultra-Haredi-Jewish idiot dehumanizes Arabs: angry that our background has been seized by people full of hatred, and eager to distance ourselves, rushing to say, “We’re not all like that.” I am saddened by any loss of human life, and I detest those right-wing elements of Israeli politics who treat Arabs as lesser people. But it is inexcusable for people to ignore the context, to ignore how many times Israel has offered to negotiate and been rebuffed, to ignore the barrage of rockets on towns like Sderot. People point to the skewed death tolls, at how few Israelis compared to Palestinians have died. That’s because there is an excellent missile shield intercepting them before they hit Israeli towns, and a coordinated warning system and network of bomb shelters. But that’s immaterial – does a government have to wait until a bloodbath has already happened to defend its sovereignity like any other country would? Israel has said enough is enough. Apparently, in the eyes of the rest of the world, it is not allowed to do that. It is supposed to sit there and take it and take it and take it.

I believe that the only way there is ever going to be peace is a two-state solution. Neither of us is going to disappear anytime soon so we ought to figure out some way to accommodate both groups. But Hamas won’t even come to the negotiating table. Palestinian people deserve better than that.

Hamas could help Palestinian people. It doesn’t. When Israel pulled out of Gaza, it left agricultural infrastructure intact so that Palestinians could use it. Hamas destroyed everything. If Hamas can keep Palestinians in poverty, if Hamas can place weaponry in civilian areas to maximize casualties in Israeli strikes, then it can continue to demonize Israel. Its charter calls for the extermination of Jews – not just Israelis, all Jews – and how can I negotiate my right to breathe?

I’m not going to apologize for my existence or to whom I was born. I am not going to be a useful idiot. There are loads of people who want us Jews to shut up and go back to hunching over our books in the Yeshiva rather than reacting like any other country would in the face of eleven years of attacks on its existence. Sorry – ain’t gonna happen. We Jews will negotiate land, we will negotiate policy, but we will not negotiate our right to simply be alive.

The rest of the world has a problem with that.

The rest of the world thinks that Israelis and only Israelis need to roll over and die.

Anyone who thinks this is genocide, read a book that has the definition of genocide in it. Look at Darfur, at Kosovo. And stop embarrassing yourself.

I was a teenager when the Good Friday Agreement was signed, and I hoped that within my lifetime a similar process would play out between Israelis and Palestinians as it did between Irish Republicans and Unionists. That hope fades with every year I grow older. If there is to be ANY hope for peace, there needs to be negotiation. Hamas doesn’t want to negotiate. Never has done and, sadly, never will.

A friend of my father’s is an American Jewish doctor. He’s also part of a group that regularly travels to Israeli hospitals to perform free life-saving surgery for Palestinian kids. Several years ago he operated on a child with a heart defect. After the successful surgery, he met the child’s mother, who didn’t have any money and who didn’t speak Hebrew (and the doctor didn’t speak Arabic), but she was so overcome with emotion that she began stuffing a bag full of sweets and crying and giving it to him. Things like this show that no two groups of human beings are natural enemies. We get warped by politics, by intolerance. Both groups have done plenty wrong, but the only way forward is to at least acknowledge the other side has a right to exist. Israel has tried this. Hamas has refused. And that’s sad. And civilians suffer. All people essentially want the same thing. They want healthy children and a safe place for them to grow up. They want them to live.

The world doesn’t want to see things like the surgery project. The world thinks there’s no good in Israel, that it’s not a truly multicultural place. The world thinks people like this simply don’t exist, can’t exist, because it sees Israel as an evil malignancy to be chopped out and thrown away.

And I feel sorry for the rest of the world.


In which your resident Jewish girl states an ambiguous opinion

My dad sent me this article yesterday about how the Society of Black Laywers is threatening to file a complaint with the police if Tottenham Hotspur does not stop fans from using the word “Yid” to describe themselves. I figured I would weigh in with my 2p, even if this is just my little blog.

I’m not terribly bothered by the use of “Yid” by Tottenham Hotspur fans. But I never use it myself, for a very basic reason: I’m a Spurs fan who is actually Jewish.


Jew-hatred is not a thing of the past. Jews are still singled out for attack based on our ethnicity/religion, in the UK and abroad. “Yids” is still being used to refer to us that way (though, to be completely honest, I’m more likely to get “Jewish bitch”). For us, it’s not as if it existed only zillions of years ago so the word no longer has that sting of hatred in it. It’s still there, built in to the very sound of it.

I know very well that when my fellow Spurs fans use “Yid,” they mean no offense to Jewish people like me. I know they’re not being anti-Semitic (Some of my best non-Jewish friends are vocal members of the Yid Army, etc etc). But the word is so loaded that some of us can’t simply shrug it off, say we’ve taken it back, and pretend that it’s not problematic.

You can only “take back” a derogatory term if you’re from the group being targeted by it. “Yids” refers first and foremost to Jews, not to Spurs fans. The vast majority of Spurs fans are not even Jewish, so it’s not as if they are reclaiming this term to take pride in their ethnicity. Go anywhere in London and ask somebody what “Yid” refers to, and they will immediately make the connection to Jews even if they also are aware of the Spurs link.  It was only originally used as an insult against Spurs fans because that bit of North London used to have a large Jewish population. In essence, when “Tottenham” was synonymous with “Jewish,” there was no distinction made between the supporters at White Hart Lane and the shop owners on the High Road whose families lived in the surrounding streets. Most of the Jews of Tottenham, like other immigrant groups, have done well for themselves, and over the past several decades they have moved to elsewhere in North London as well as the Hertfordshire and Essex suburbs. The population addressed by the slur left, but because the football club is geographically tied to the neighbourhood, the slur remained. My point is: supporters of other clubs may use it against Spurs fans in general, but that was not its original nor its primary usage. Crucially, non-Jewish Spurs fans have never had to deal with it referring to their ethnic group, to their blood, and the consequences of that. If other JEWISH Spurs fans want to use “Yid,” that’s an entirely different story.

To draw the most obvious parallel, it’s like non-Black people using the N-word. If Black people want to use it, then that’s their choice because the original and enduring meaning of the word has always been against their ethnic group, used to disrespect them and keep them down. But there are a lot of Black people who hate the use of it, and likewise there are plenty of Jewish people who never want to hear anybody referred to as a Yid in any sense, ever again. Non-Jews don’t get to choose when it’s OK to use “Yid” because it’s not their insulting word. Down the road in Golders Green and Stamford Hill, Jews still get physically attacked because of who they are. Fists, bottles, even cars used as weapons. It’s a bit too close to home – literally, as Stamford Hill sits just south of Tottenham. “Yid” hasn’t been completely consigned to the past in North London, at least not yet. Even if Spurs fans mean it affectionately when they refer to themselves, it doesn’t change the fact that I typically hear that word used as a way to signify that my people are viewed as devious, sleazy scum taking advantage of non-Jewish English people because we’re obsessed with money and only care about our own people, or whatever is being said about us this year. I can’t forget that because it is still happening today. I don’t think we Spurs fans really need to take it back, either. We have plenty of other words for ourselves. We don’t need this one. Using it doesn’t improve anybody’s life – or fix our club’s issues on the pitch.

I am very grateful for the good will shown by the Society of Black Lawyers, but I think that “Yid” is by far not the worst thing people yell at matches. The bigger problem is the incidence of words which are flat-out hateful and have never been seen by the recipients of the abuse as a point of pride or defiance – like the abuse that Black players and those suspected of being gay get. I would also be a lot more concerned if Yossi Benayoun was getting abuse for being an Israeli Jew, or something along that line.

I’m not going to judge you if you’re a Spurs supporter and you call yourself a member of the Yid Army. I know you mean no insult by it. And to be honest, we Jews have much, much bigger problems to deal with than what people say at a football match. Just don’t expect me to join in with you.

I would definitely not go so far as to call it anti-Semitic abuse – it’s just football fans, who by definition need to show membership in the larger group, to signify a common identity. I’m a sociologist. I know how signs of group affiliation work. But I’m not going to say that hearing the word doesn’t leave a bit of a sting, and I would like Spurs supporters to at least take a second to remember that this word isn’t only their term of camaraderie. It’s my signifier that there are a hell of a lot of people out there who hate me just because of my ethnicity. For some of us, it’s far more difficult to see it as entirely harmless. It’s a massive grey area. I’m not a killjoy, I’m just Jewish. And we Jews have a good sense of humor when something’s actually funny.

I know this is not the most well-organised argument. I’m sure that plenty of Spurs fans are going to see me as some killjoy bitch who needs to shut up and stop getting in the way of their fun. As a Jewish fan, I feel obligated to weigh in with my opinion when it comes to this term. I wish I didn’t, but for as long as my people are getting stick – and worse – simply because of our background, I have to say something. I love Spurs and I want everybody to enjoy matches at White Hart Lane as much as I do (or did, because I moved to California in 2010). Can we do better? Yes, certainly. We can and we should. I’m not going to jump on you if you think my argument is crap, but I hold Spurs supporters to a high standard, and I think you can all live up to it. Think about it – if you respect the history of the club, and know the history of the neighbourhood, then you owe that tiny bit of respect to those of us tied to that particular part of history, those of us who have had to deal with the word “Yid” when it has been used in a not-so-casual way.

For the love of all that is sensible, please vote NO on Proposition 37

Voting NO on Proposition 37 tomorrow and hoping it fails. The proposition is not simply a case of “Shouldn’t you have the right to know what’s in your food?” – it’s scaremongering and anti-science, and the proposition itself is full of exemptions that would make the labels ultimately meaningless, kind of like those Prop 65 warnings you see everywhere (because the trial lawyer behind those is the same one behind this proposition – I’m sure he’s doing this just because he cares about food, no ulterior motive at all!).

The labelling scheme WILL increase food prices, and this WILL have the hardest impact on poor Californians who already pay high food prices. No, Monsanto is not my friend, but neither are the quacks like naturopaths supporting the Yes-on-37 campaign. I’m siding with the seven Nobel Laureates in chemistry or physiology/medicine from California, and dozens of other academics in saying no to 37. I trust them a lot more than a quack like “Dr.” Mercola, the top donor to the yes-on-37 campaign – Mercola is an HIV denialist and anti-vaccine panic-monger, why on earth would anybody trust him when it comes to anything scientific? Trust a man who doesn’t think AIDS is caused by HIV to know what is healthy? No thanks. I’d rather chill with the biologists at UC Berkeley who also believe this proposition needs to fail.

Nor should we pretend that businesses like Whole Foods are in this because they believe in the greater good – they have a profit motive just like every other business. It’s ludicrous for them to point the finger at companies that have a financial stake in GM food when they themselves have a massive financial interest in promoting non-GM food. (As for health arguments, you have a huge risk of food poisoning from “natural” fad foods like raw milk.) Plus I’m disgusted that people are using the “Monsanto gave the world Agent Orange and they’re telling you GM foods are safe” argument. That’s irresponsible scare-mongering of the worst degree.

As for “Frankenfood” arguments – genetic engineering takes place in nature, and always has done. You’ve been eating genetically engineered foods your entire life. An engineer friend schooled me, and it’s really fascinating. Definitely read up on it. I’m disturbed by how many of my colleagues in social science are buying the pro-37 arguments – guys, we’re striving for credibility as scientists, so shouldn’t we be examining the evidence? Shouldn’t we be looking at how there are no studies in proper peer-reviewed journals that find evidence GMOs are harmful to your health?
More is at stake than just California’s reputation – which, believe me, is already firmly cemented in the head-in-the-clouds-hippie category. Science is already under siege from quacks who take advantage of poor science education in this country. I have no business interests in this whatsoever – I’m a PhD student in sociology who hates unnecessary panic, and who hates the idea of the pro-GM backers being viewed as saints just looking out for your health and safety when they’ve got dollar signs in their eyes like everybody else. I’m not bankrolled by any corporation – if I was, then trust me, I wouldn’t be living in the Tenderloin. I’m for facts, not taking advantage of fear – NO ON 37.