Friday, June 12, 2009

Jewish Racism and the Perils of Assimilation

Some time ago, a friend of mine told me about an interview she listened to where a Muslim American was talking about integrating into U.S. society. He said that Jews were a model of how a group can overcome the prejudices against them and integrate.

My friend thought it was interesting given the animosity between Jews and Muslims. I thought it was interesting because I don't believe Jews necessarily represent a model of integration that new immigrants should follow.

I thought about that interview after I watched Joseph Dana and Max Blumenthal's appalling video of white supremacist American Jews in Jerusalem. (Warning: This video is offensive in the extreme and not work safe.)

I was shocked when I watched the video, not because I deceived myself into thinking there were no racist Jews. I've certainly met some. I was shocked because the young adults in the video so willingly and brazenly adopted the stereotypes, language, and threats of white supremacists (with the ubiquitous appropriated blackness of American youth to boot).

Had I exhibited this KKK-like behavior, my father would have kicked my ass. It isn't so much because he thought racism was wrong (although he did). It would have been more because of his sense of self. I don't believe he thought of himself as white, at least not completely. Most Jews of his era didn't.

He was born in 1929. He was 29 when the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation Temple was bombed by white separatists. He was 35 when Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman were found dead. He may not have been marching with Martin Luther King or identifying with the people who did, but he certainly wasn't identifying with white supremacists either.

So what happened?

The people in that video clearly spent much of their lives in the United States, Somewhere along the way they became white. They embraced the worst aspects of the United States - the racism, the hatred, the violence.

The video was posted on many websites. Granted, many of the websites were focused on Israeli issues, but these kids clearly had many years in the states. People commented on what the video meant about Israel. Almost nobody commented on what the video meant about the United States.

One commenter on the Atlantic did get to the heart of the matter:

This is not really about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is about American bigotry, for us Americans to think about and deal with. While these Jews too often move to Israel and contribute to the problems there, it's a fundamentally American problem that needs to be thought about and dealt with by Americans. What about America is making this happen? How is the rubric of classic American racism changing? How do we deal with it differently? What does it mean when a historically marginalized group produces bigots who migrate to the right wing?"
What it means is, they assimilated.

This week a violent anti-semitic and racist walked into the Washington DC holocaust museum and killed an African American security guard. Does anyone believe the shooter cared whether or not he was shooting a Jew or a black person?

So sadly ironic for that act of terrorism to happen the same week as this video of white supremacist Jews shows up on the internet. So sadly ironic for that act of terrorism to happen the same week as responses to that video like this one from 50 cent's website:
where were good all days when hitler ruled the world all theses pig jews should b dead now
That is assimilation we do not need.

Another thing we do not need is low expectations. So many of the comments to the video were along the lines of "that's how drunk kids act" or some such bullshit.


That's how thoughtless, heartless, little monsters act. And if they are old enough to be out at a bar drinking, they are old enough for us to stop calling them kids and start expecting them to act right.

We don't need immigrants to assimilate. We don't need more Americans to identify with the worst aspects of the dominant culture. And we don't need such low expectations for ourselves that we blow these things off. We need immigrants (and native born) to challenge the dominant culture. We need people who challenge the hierarchy, racism, classism, and violence.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The chosen people.

Fucking bring Hitler back.