Ariel Chesler

Want to Combat Anti-Semitism? Stop Palsplaining!

I share the widespread concern about the anti-Semitic graffiti and other anti-Jewish acts and symbols which have been appearing all over the country since last week’s general election. I also recoil at the thought of Trump appointing Stephen Bannon as one of his top advisers – a person who, at a minimum, gave a tremendous platform to bigoted white nationalists.

But, I find it nothing less than convenient for progressives and liberals to be suddenly discussing anti-Semitism when it comes from the right.  To quote political organizer Carly Pildis, “I cannot stand to hear so much pontificating on anti-semitism from advocacy communities that have consistently marginalized us.” Indeed, these are the same people who have been ignoring the anti-Semitism from the left even as some of us Jews on the left have been shouting about it from the digital rooftops.

To see certain media outlets repeatedly expressing concern about Bannon’s and Trump’s anti-Semitism is quite frankly laughable when they have given a platform to anti-Semites on the left who, hiding behind a claimed stance of anti-racism and anti-colonialism, present fact and context free positions on Israel. Such disinformation and miseducation poses a central threat to Jewish lives everywhere.

Let’s be clear. The thing that most endangers Jews around the globe right now is anti-Zionism.  The movement to erase Jewish history and the demonization of the Jewish nation is what most inspires hatred of Jews these days.  

In other words, if one truly cares about Jews it is necessary to care just as much about Holocaust denial as about UNESCO, which in the face of settled scientific, archaeological and historical evidence denies that Jews have lived in Israel for thousands of years. It is not enough to be moved by a Holocaust survivor singing the national anthem at a baseball game. One must show compassion for the Holocaust survivor subject to random stabbing on the streets of Jerusalem.  One must be appalled by Trump’s use of age old anti-Semitic tropes in his campaign advertisements, and by the use of the very same tropes throughout the Muslim world.  One must take threats of physical violence against Jews by neonazis and by Iran, by European right wing fascists and by Palestinians all equally seriously. One must oppose Hamas’s call for genocide and the PA’s refusal to accept the validity of a Jewish state regardless of boundaries.

As Alan Dershowitz put it, “People of good will, Jews and non-Jews, must condemn with equal vigor all manifestations of bigotry whether they emanate from the hard alt-right or hard alt-left. That is why I cannot support Bannon’s appointment even though he is strongly pro-Israel. But that is also why I can’t support those on the hard left who advocate good causes, while at the same time promoting anti-Semitism and delegitimation of Israel.”

So, if you want to get serious about anti-Semitism, and its major causes at this time in history, you can speak out against the post-truth approach to Israel. Let’s call it Palsplaining.

Interestingly, Palsplaining is accepted by the same folks who deem other privileged explaining offensive. I would caution such people that just as with other racism they “don’t get to define” what anti-Semitism is.  While Palsplainers would like to think of Jews as “the minority that isn’t — that is to say white, privileged and identified with an ‘imperialist-colonialist’ state, Israel,” Jews remain a minority in the Middle East, have been ethnically cleansed from all the countries surrounding Israel, and face threats like no other country.  Jews also remain the most frequent victims of hate crimes based on religion in this country. Thus, efforts to strip Jews of minority and historical victim status are dubious.

Privileged explaining should be challenged because marginalized people should be able to explain their own experience rather than have it explained to them, and those who are not members of a particular group would do well to listen and acknowledge the experience and narratives of others.

In the case of the Jews, Palsplainers — in the Arab world, NGOs, on college campuses and at the UN — define us in such a way so that they can “deny the existence of a distinct Jewish people with a right to national sovereignty.” Yet, from time immemorial Jews have defined themselves as “a specific people” with a “specific faith” who are  “bound to a specific land.” That land is Israel and this is the story of Passover.

And, despite the fact that Jews have lived in the land that is now the modern nation of Israel for thousands of years and long ago established a sovereign nation there, Palsplainers would label us usurpers and colonizers. Worse, they somehow seem to believe that the land has been the sovereign nation of Palestine since the birth of humanity. Of course, this is all false. Jews were ethnically cleansed from their own homeland as a series of colonizers — the Romans, the Ottomans, the Islamic Caliphate, among others — conquered the land.  

Palsplainers also seek to cast the Jew as Nazi and to baselessly charge the Jewish nation with committing genocide. Why? Because they treat the Holocaust not as a source of trauma but as a source of privilege, and an unjust privilege at that.” In fact, as David Schraub has postulated, the story of the Holocaust is disliked because it shows the “imperfection of the gentiles” and because it “creates space for Jewish voices to be heard”. As Schraub explains, this challenges the prior unassailable hierarchy which placed non-Jews as superior to Jews. The loudest Palsplainers, particularly in the Arab world and Europe, seek to return to a time when it was unthinkable, outrageous, blasphemous, for a Jew to have the temerity to contest a non-Jewish articulation of Jewish experience.

In other words, just like other privileged explaining, Palsplaining seeks to silence Jews and the Jewish experience as told by Jews. This form of privileged explaining has deadly consequences especially because it is accepted fully by governments and international organizations.

If you are looking for meaningful action to take to combat anti-semitism, start by rejecting Palsplaining. Instead, just let Jews tell our story. It’s an old story, and a good one.

About the Author
Ariel Chesler is an attorney and a writer. His work has been published in various places including Time and the Huffington Post.
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