Julia Salazar and Jewish Privilege
By Gilad Atzmon
A few years ago in Portland, a pro Palestinian activist told me that he was a bit uneasy. A recent study of Portland’s demography had found that the number of Jews in the city had doubled overnight. This concerned my activist friend for the obvious reasons. Jewish migration is often attached to political and cultural transitions. He asked me, as an expert on Jewish affairs, what is it that brings so many Jews to his northern American city. I thought about it for maybe 30 seconds and, even without examining the evidence, I offered a possible answer. “It is certainly easy to imagine that many Jews migrated to your city, but it is more likely that what happened is that many more people, Jews and gentiles, have chosen to identify themselves as Jews.”
Jewish identification in the 21st century is an obvious privilege, some might claim, the ultimate political privilege. As we know, Judeo-centric exceptionalist politics are protected from criticism by different legal and cultural instruments such as the bogus IHRA definition of antisemitism and the tyranny of correctness. If you are a Jew, you are perceived as a well-connected character, probably slightly more ‘sophisticated’ than the average American. Whether we like to admit it or not, a young law school graduate, may benefit from appearing to be Jewish as he interviews for his first job at a NY law firm.
Last year in San Diego, an astute Palestinian- American friend, loudly joked during the Q&A following my talk: “I really don’t understand my people. All we have to do is to convert en mass into Judaism and then make Aliya and take our land back.”
It is hardly a secret. In the world in which we live, the ultimate political privilege is reserved for Jewish ID politics. The Jewish Identitarian ethos goes far beyond Jewish political orientation. It is the piece that unites the Jewish right and left. The Zionists claim the right to live ‘in peace’ on someone else’s land. The so-called ‘anti’ Zionists insist that their Jewishness places them in the very special position to “kosher” the entire pro Palestinian movement.
N.Y. State Senate hopeful Julia Salazar is just 27 years old, but she has clearly grasped the universe around her. She wants to be elected and she understands that being a Jew is the quickest path to her goal. The Brooklyn candidate stated that her Jewishness is based largely on “family lore,” but to her great surprise, the Jews weren’t happy to take her in. Haaretz quickly pointed out that Salazar doesn’t belong to the chosen people. A Jewish ex-friend told the Israeli paper Salazar had “admitted she couldn’t go on Birthright trip because she wasn’t Jewish.”
Apparently the ‘ex friend’ told the Israeli paper that “As someone who values and cherished my Jewish identity, I’m incensed at the idea of another person fabricating a similar identity for political gain, for the purposes of recognition and to get ahead in life.” The message here is unambiguous although hardly news. Jewish identity is an exclusive tribal setting that is racially defined. Unless Salazar can show her mother’s Jewish racial purity, she is basically out of the Jewish club and can’t be a beneficiary of the Jewish privilege.
The Zionist outrage around Salazar is to be expected. For whatever political reasons, Salazar who runs in Brooklyn, decided to adopt the Jewish pro BDS position. In the eyes of Israel firsters she committed two crimes: she ‘pretends’ to be a Jew and then, if this were not enough, she actually pretends to be a ‘self hating’ one.
The good news for humanity, however, is that Salazar, like many others, can read the political transition in the west. She probably sees how popular Corbyn is in Britain despite the relentless and duplicitous campaign against him. Salazar may understand that many people see Israel as the ultimate evil. She may even believe that Trump won the election because he was “dog whistling” by pointing at Soros, the Fed, Goldman Sachs, etc. But it goes further. Salazar is living in NYC and she may well sense or even share her neighbours’ renewed anger every year when the list of “NYC 100 Worst Landlords” is published. Perhaps Salazar believes that the only chance to survive in American politics in the current climate is to become a Jew. To oppose Israel as a Jew, to oppose NYC slumlords as a Jew, to oppose AIPAC as a Jew. Perhaps Salazar believes that the only way to emancipate America from what may seem to some as Jewish hegemony, is to become a Jew. If you can’t beat them, join them.
Here is the bad news for Salazar, it is not going to work. The Jews have rejected the young Latina. Apparently she isn’t racially qualified.
The Jewishpress writes today. “There are, at least, three reasons why many of us (Jews) find her vaguely annoying. These are:1) Her apparently untrue claims to be Jewish. 2) Her antisemitic anti-Zionism. 3) Her anti-democratic socialism.”
But it isn’t only the Zionists who reject the young Latin Jewish candidate, the so-called ‘Jewish Progressives’ do not really want her either. The Jewish ‘progressive’ Forward isn’t pleased with Salazar either. Mijal Bitton writes “… the Salazar dustup revealed a fundamental and seldom explored paradox in the liberal discourse on identity: the tension between essential and exclusive identity politics predicated on group experiences on the one hand, and notions of identity that validate choice and malleability in how individuals self-identify on the other.”
Not surprisingly, Bitton, like most Identitarians, doesn’t understand the crux of ID politics. The so called ‘paradox’ she refers to is actually inherent in the dialectic tension that forms the core of the Identitarian discourse.
Identitarianism doesn’t reveal ‘what people are,’ instead it tells what people ‘identify as.’ John identifying himself ‘as a gay’ doesn’t necessarily mean that John is a homosexual. It only reveals that John likes to see himself and to be seen by others ‘as gay.’ This essential understanding of the misleading nature of the Identitarianism was explored by the comic ‘Daffyd Thomas – The only Gay in the village.’ Thomas identifies as ‘a gay.’ He adopts gay symbolic identifiers, he speaks as one, he demands the attention and the privilege of one, but at the same time he is totally removed from the sexuality that has traditionally been the crux of ‘being’ gay.
In an attempt to resolve Salazar’s Jewish identity complex, Bitton argues that Salazar’s defenders have two arguments: “The first defends her on the grounds that she represents a hybrid identity distinctly Latin/Sephardi/non-white, and as such inaccessible and misunderstood by her white, Ashkenazi, American critics. The second defends her on the grounds that Jewish identity, like Salazar’s, is malleable and does not fit into one mold.”
Both arguments can be summed into a single intellectually duplicitous doctrine that is set to block criticism of any given Identitarian discourse. It attributes blindness to the Other. But isn’t this exactly what Jewish institutions are doing routinely? Just a month ago, in a letter to the Labour Party ruling Body, British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis wrote “It is astonishing that the Labour Party presumes that it is more qualified than…the Jewish community to define antisemitism.” Essentially, the Chief Rabbi is complaining that a bunch of Goyim in the Labour party see themselves as qualified to decide what antisemitsm is for the Labour party.
So, while the British Chief Rabbi claims that ‘antisemitsm’ is a Jew -protected discourse, Bitton complains that Salazar’s identity as Latina, Sephardi, or as a Jew of Color, intrudes on protected property; “it can only be understood, and interrogated, by the small number of those born into similar identities.”
In fact, Salazar has been copying Rabbi Mirvis’ tactics. This doesn’t only confirm that she is a Jew, it may qualify her to become Brooklyn’s chief Rabbi.
Bitton says of Salazar defenders that, “According to them, Salazar’s minority group identity confers upon her certain inalienable rights of representation inaccessible to others, but she can also legitimately choose to be Jewish in her own individual way.”
This may seem a contradiction to some. But this is exactly the primary rule of Jewish ID politics. Jewish identification is largely a racially exclusive club. But those who manage to fit in are totally free to choose their own way; they can be orthodox, conservative, reform, secular, atheist, self loving, self hating, Zionists, anti or even AZZ (anti Zionist Zionists). The members of the Jewish Identitarian club are welcome to select any combination of the above while knowing that any criticism from an outsider can be dismissed as a form of ‘antisemitsm.’ But candidate Salazar can’t take part in this Identitarian exercise. Why? Because she isn’t racially qualified.
Whether Bitton understands it or not, her futile attempt to deconstruct Salazar reveals that the Jewish Identitarian concept is, in practice, an exercise in Jewish racial classification. There is no difference between Salazar’s identitarian choice and JVP or other Jewish progressive schools of thought. None of the Jewish progressive schools is asked to clear its contradictions. The JVPs are not asked to source the so called ‘Jewish values’ that stand at the core of their ‘Jewish activism.’ The only difference is that Salazar isn’t racially Jewish. Her mother’s blood is not of the right kind. She is, accordingly, rejected.
Bitton herself seems to grasp that her attempt at deconstruction of Salazar achieves little. Bitton ends her Forward article by admitting that “Salazar’s story demands that we (Jews, presumably) explore the way in which we approach identity. Is it malleable, individual and pro-choice, or it is essential, exclusive and inherited? And if it can be both, then those who choose a selective approach to identity must demonstrate moral consistency in their rhetoric.”
I guess that the answer is really simple. Jewish identity is both malleable and racially exclusive. It is elastic enough to fit different Jewish tribal interests. Salazar, I believe, would face no problem from whatsoever in becoming a ‘Jew’ if she were a supporter of Israel and an enemy of BDS. Israeli patriots are noticeably racially tolerant of Goyim who support the Jewish national project as many Russians immigrants to Israeli could happily attest.
To understand ID politics and Jewish ID politics in particular read