November 25, 2014

Letter: Katz talks about discrimination too narrowly and zionism too broadly

I am sympathetic to Katz’s complaints of discrimination in “That wasn’t funny” (11/18/14), having been at the receiving end of racism myself. I was thus disappointed to learn that Katz chose to highlight anti-Semitism over other types of discrimination.

Katz alleges that fabrications about Jews have somehow gone unnoticed on campus while “other awful minority stereotypes” have not. This is a patently false, if not puzzling claim to make, given that a front-page article in the same paper reported that some students on campus have felt strongly enough about unaddressed racism on the same campus to petition for institutional change. There seems to be no reason to single out Jews as a target of discrimination on campus, in the United States, and much less the world today.

Anti-Semitism is not exceptional in its prevalence these days. Katz cites a “strange little pattern in Europe and beyond” of anti-Jewish incidents whenever renewed clashes take place between Israel and the occupied territories. How about the other “strange little pattern” around the world of Islamophobia that increases in intensity, well, pretty much all the time? Remember the Koran that almost burned? How about the violent attacks on mosques, madrassas, and women wearing Islamic dress in England? Or the arson committed last week at the Grand Mosque of Strasbourg, France?

The “race” in “racism” is not an actual one in which different minorities must compete to win the prize of world’s most persecuted. If Katz is genuinely interested in fighting this issue and finding allies, she would do well to expand her definition of what discrimination means. It is quite possible to acknowledge the suffering of others without diminishing one’s own experience. For example, what does Katz feel about black people who are stopped by police on campus for no apparent reason? How about the persecution of Rohingyas, Uighurs, and Yazidis? Or gay people, transgender people, and persons with disabilities at that? Indeed, how does Katz feel about Palestinians in the occupied territories who are, on a daily basis, denied rights to land access, political participation, and education, to name a few?

Moreover, I am surprised that Katz has made a common but fatal mistake: She confuses the Zionist movement with the Jewish religion. She complains about Steven Salaita’s remarks about “West Bank settlers” and “Zionists” but does not quote anything he says about “Jews.” This is because, in fact, Salaita’s outrage is directed at the Israeli state and Zionists rather than the Jewish people as a whole—a position that the professor has publicly and consistently expressed. Indeed it is more often than not Jews themselves who conflate the Jewish religion with the Zionist movement, thus conflating Jewish people with the Israeli state and Israelis. For instance, some Zionist organizations, such as the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, use the word “Jewish” or “Jews” in their titles, misleadingly suggesting that their motivations are more pious than political.

In fact, many Jewish communities in the world do not identify with Israel or the Israeli state. They include Jewish communities still living in Iran and parts of the Arab world, as well as those in the U.S. that are actively campaigning against illegal Israeli policies. Prominent figures in this category include Noam Chomsky of MIT and Judith Butler of U.C. Berkeley. Similarly, many of the staunchest Zionists are not Jews. Consider for instance Christians United for Israel, which is said to be the largest pro-Israel group in the U.S.

Katz is right to point out the dangers of “baseless hatred” toward Jews, especially when the antagonism is really intended for Zionists rather than all Jewish people. To protect Jews who disavow the State of Israel’s behavior, it is therefore incumbent upon Zionists—especially the Jewish among them—to make a clear and careful distinction between Judaism and Zionism (as one might do for Islam and Islamism too). In this vein, they should stop accusing figures like Salaita and Bruce Shipman at Yale University of anti-Semitism and forcing their resignation (or simply firing them) when the only thing they are guilty of is speaking up against Zionism.

Anti-Semitism definitely isn’t funny, but aren’t all forms of discrimination equally so?

-Xin Tian Yong (MA Candidate in the Division of Social Sciences)