jewin' the fat


Top Ten: The Zionist Conspiracy

In honour of the biggest Zionist day in the calendar year this week, here’s a tribute to the ten or so biggest Zionist-stereotypes, all of whom claiming to hold the key to what a ‘true’ Zionist really is. The reality is, at the end of the day, that Zionism is not a political theory, power conspiracy nor a policy of a government (as detractors/hacks/ignoramuses may assume), it is an ideology which is inherently personal, and interpreted by the individual to facilitate self-determination as a member of the Jewish people.

As it turns out, a bunch of those Jew-Individuals got together a couple hundred years ago and, determined to do more than argue with each other on the value of a state for Jews or a Jewish state, actually set about creating it.

It is neither the plot of the 8th Harry Potter novel, 'Harry Potter and the Zionist Conspiracy to take over the world with superior money-handling skills and uber-developed business acumen mu-ha-ha-ha-hacking-cough-ha-ha!" (HT @ Diaryofanelderofzion.blogspot.com : he's a Zionist - he knows!)

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Im Tirtzu
April 15, 2010, 11:36 AM
Filed under: Comment, Identity, Israel, Zionism | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

This week marks the 62nd year of independence of the modern State of Israel. So let’s explore the ‘ism‘ that inspired, and facilitated the path towards a state for the Jewish people of the world.

If you will it, it is no dream  — Teddy Herzl

There is certainly an element of pride associated with Zionism, but it is not to be confused with nationalism (a pride-filled ideology though it may be). In fact, Zionism at its origin is more about the expression of self-determination, and self-determination is about feeling worthy as a nation of the elements of nationhood that others enjoy. Elements of nationhood can include common language, culture, traditions, symbols and of course geography – the latter being the uniquely absent component when one of the first Zionists, Theodore Herzl, cooked up this hair-brained scheme to get Jewish nationhood back on the menu.

However, Zionism at its origins was not widely accepted as a national movement – most Jews lived as ‘guests’ in countries in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Despite the threat and implications of violence, discrimination and expulsion (see England in 1290 CE, Spain, 1492 CE, Kiev, 1886 – click here for a full list of Jewish ‘Fugees) many didn’t appreciate the necessity of a national homeland. Unfortunately, it took a hundred years and millions of lives for the international community to realise this as a requirement for the safety and continuity of the Jewish people.

Currently, the image of Zionism is bound up in the current politics of the State of Israel. Perhaps it should be. But there are many forms, and many understandings of this ideology, and it’s important to see them not as a homogenous belief, but as focused manifestations of our identity as Jewish people – members of the tribe, individuals who identify as Jews, children born of Jewish parents, and people who subscribe to the tenants of faith, cultural norms and traditions of a 3000 year old history of a people – a people dispersed, and then, through the hope of Zionism, brought back together again..

So who is a Zionist? Check this out for the full list of wannabes, willneverbes and wildebeest that make up the Zionist colour palette.



The Odd Couple of days
February 27, 2010, 5:07 PM
Filed under: Comment, Identity | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I found myself recently on a road trip, heading down the beautiful south coast with a ragtag bunch of friends and acquaintances. Amongst us were 2 Labor hacks, 1 PhD student, an Ethiopian immigrant, a Torres Strait Islander, a couple of Catholics and a range of couples, singles, old flings and potential new ones, as well as a guy who seemed to relish every opportunity to point out that myself and one other in the group were Members of the Tribe – though he didn’t see fit to put it as politely as that.

But I suppose, it was kinda my fault anyway. I did discuss it with my fellow Heeb – that is, our general Heebi-jeebiness. More specifically, after a few months MIA, I was interested to find out about his life, including his non-Jewish girlfriend, and how he was dealing with the clashes in belief and religious practice (she is an atheist). Perfect pre-dinner conversation. It started meekly enough, but before we knew it, it seemed everyone had an opinion on our musings, and were being quite vocal in their appreciation, or in this guy’s case, disgust. Then we entered the twilight zone, and bizarre-0-man provided the ultimate conversation buzz-kill:

My Grandmother warned me about people like you”. (Me? I thought? what, conservative? Opinionated? Pseudo Feminist? Middle Class? Sorry?)“She warned me about Jews. Don’t Trust ’em.”

The next day was shite. More rain, rain and rain. Good thing there was take-away fish and chip shop, Rugby Union on TV and a stack of board games, including Monopoly. (side note: I am not an avid Monopoly player. I am not interested in investment, and am far more likely to be seen frittering my wealth away on rent and chance cards, landing myself in Debt and in Jail. Now Risk. There’s a game for me!) So we settled in to play. Someone nominated me as the Bank, mostly because I was sitting closest to the board and already mesmerised by the pretty colours. And away we went! Soon it became clear that Jew 2 and I had put  a foot wrong, and not because we both were hemorrhaging money faster than Lehmann Brothers.  Rather because we were so unwilling to give up without a fight for our precious coloured paper.

“Ah, the Jews are out in force today … you guys should be good at this, you know, gouging people for rent … Jews hate to lose money …Yeah you love money … well, it is what they were born to do …”

Now once again, perhaps we had led them down the garden path a bit – you know, played along, laughed it off. Pretended the 7th or 8th jibe didn’t sting far more than the 1st or 2nd. Well eventually I went bankrupt (I told you), and it was with a sigh of relief and a deep sense of gratitude to whomever bought me out and let me escape to check my Gmail. Out of the fry pan and into the fire.

After the Rugby, it was dinner time and the hordes were hungry. We shopped, cooked and feasted, and while we sat around drinking wine, licking our fingers and picking at leftovers, someone brought up the unusual topic of hazing, on university campuses. So I thought ‘hey, I’m amongst friends, a little sharing never hurt’, and offered my experience as an executive member of a Jewish university Campus group, and the spectacle we presented to the first-year group which involved four heads of campus in Sydney, our hands tied behind our back, and an apple that had to be eaten. Again, within an instant, my story about consensual adult public fruit-eating  has turned into a travesty of sexual rights and abuses, and I was being accused of being just as bad Nazis for forcing honest, hard-working Germans to vote for them in 1936.

WHAT THE DEUTSCHMARK?!

Now, I could have reminded this human-rights defender about the history of pre-war Germany, and still bristling with the desire to stick my fork in his leg and his fresh t-bone up his nose, my Jew-in-arms came to be defense, but without much effect. Apparently asking consenting adults to engage in harmless, though messy showboating for the amusement of 18 year olds is akin to supporting a dictatorship with genocidal tendencies. Thanks for bring that to my attention. Oh silly me. Isn’t my face red now, hmm?

In an effort to stop my outrage bubbling into violence, I busied myself with cleaning up, while more wine was poured, and the group wound up covered in chocolate and eating nectarine slices. Happy families indeed. The next day it was home time and I woke early to make it down to the beach for a swim before everyone woke up. As I got dressed upon my return, I noticed a familiar black white and red poking out of my bag. ‘Must’ve been her Nazi voting instruction manual’, I hear you surmise.

Nope. It was my rip-off I Heart Israel T-shirt, bought in Occupied Palestine with a serious dose of Irony and Zionism, no less. I threw it on indifferently and as I rolled up the sleeves, I realised why my anger had suddenly dissipated. I could have called this guy any number of names under the sun, most of them a reference to his lack of understanding, knowledge or appreciation of culture, history and sensitivity. I could have called him out on his disrespectful language, tone and reference, how he, as an Indigenous Australian should understand the danger of antiquated, unsubstantiated prejudice and baseless bigotry.

But it all melted away. I let it go. Because you can wear your heart on your sleeve and your identity with shame, or pride, or joy or irony or contentment. The point is, you get to choose,  no one else. No matter what they call you.

PostScript: We have booked another escape for an upcoming long weekend to that same gorgeous spot of southern coastline, and we have instituted a strictly non-negotiable ‘no bigot’ policy. That’s right. This time, this Jewess gets to choose who comes along for the ride. And I’m calling shotgun.



The Amazing Race
January 8, 2010, 8:34 AM
Filed under: Comment, Identity, media | Tags: , , , , , ,

There is nothing more palatable or popular around a hipster wine bar, WASPish dinner party, Labor luncheon, Liberal cocktail party or Green Left Weekly freegan dumpster than the topic of race in Australia. Race Riots, Race Relations or racial profiling or vilification – it seems in a country built on immigration, we are obsessed with what Edward Said termed “the other” – the notion that we define ourselves, not by who we are actively, but reactively as what we are not – not them, not her, not that.

So imagine my surprise to find, while on a tour with a group of Asians from the Asia-Pacific, that I was, in fact with … a group … of people … from … Asia (!) who were more like me than most white, Jewish, Australian women from Sydney – my supposed racial group. We were interested in the same hobbies, argued about the same political topics, enjoyed the same music, ate the same food, watched the same movies, studied the same topics, worked in the same industry, for the same purpose. Same. Same. Same.

It probably would have been very easy to find differences between us – geography, ethnicity, religion, hair, eye and skin colour – but none of those things mattered – because when it comes to positive human interaction, it is our commonalities that bind us together. Each of us empowered by the same things, each of us made vulnerable by the same fears and threats. United we stand, divided we fall.

Several days ago, a young student was walking to work on night in Melbourne. He was attacked, stabbed several times by a gang of young people, and managed to stumble into his workplace, where he died. Does it matter that he happened to be Indian?

Well, apparently in Australia it does.

I’m not pretending that Australians are the perfect picture of tolerance and respect when it comes to the rainbow spectrum of nationalities represented in Australian society. In fact, Australians, through years of controlled immigration, refusal of refugee absorption and the horrors of the Stolen Generation – well, let’s just say we have our fair share of skeletons in the closet.

The attacks on Indian students, which have dominated the front pages of national and most regional/metropolitan papers, ranged from subtle to overtly violent assault, and largely have included some form of racial taunt or slur. But if the name-calling (curry-muncher, kike, fag, bitch) is just a spur of the moment verbal assault, based on visual or audio clues (an accent, skin colour, dress) – does that necessarily mean the motivation to harm is racial?

Don’t be fooled.  Australia is not an island of anti-Indian sentiment, festering away in the Asia-Pacific, waiting to set themselves upon innocent students. As well as this, Australia may not have the best track record when it comes to personal safety on our streets, and indeed there are neighbourhoods and areas when it is blatantly unsafe and stupid to walk around at night. Wearing jewellery, iPods, walking alone on unlit streets, even on main roads alone – all these things draw attention to the individual, and heighten the risk of attack.

But when it comes to this kind of randomised violence, every person who puts themselves in a dangerous situation is fair game.  To assume that every person who is a minority, or of a lower class, who gets killed/attacked is being hurt because of their ethnic background or upbringing or social status is a little simplistic, and inversely bigoted: “They are Indian, therefore it must have been about their race.”

The sad reality of life is that random, ugly violence is ugly and random, but it does not need a motive, nor a media beat-up to create one.



Skinny Bitch isn’t just an insult
November 11, 2009, 4:16 PM
Filed under: Comment, Identity | Tags: , , , ,

Remember those girls in high school, who were perenially on diet, skinny, and mean as hell? Maybe they just weren’t getting a good feed …

If anyone reads the news anymore, it may surprise you to learn that science has proven (take THAT religion!) that a low carb, high fat diet, leaves dieters in feeling far bitchier than those on a high carb, low fat diet. Which purports to explain why all those skinny girls are so angry at the world.

If I was denied pasta, potatoes and bread for over a year, I’d be in a shit mood too. Suck on that Dr. Atkins.



Jew is as Jew does

We knew it would happen eventually, and you know what they say – when the shit hits the fan, everyone gets covered in it.

I’m talking of course about the imminent ruling of the Supreme Court in Britain, regarding the case of a Jewish boy who was born to an Orthodox Jewish father, and Progressive Jewish mother (a Convert). This boy, whom the courts have dubbed ‘M’, was denied enrolment to the Jewish Free School (JFS) in London, on account of the fact that the school adheres to a strict Orthodox-only enrolment policy. ‘M”s parents decided to sue on the grounds of racial discrimination, and so we find ourselves waiting with bated breath for the ruling that could change the very way we define ourselves, and our community as Jewish, right here in Australia.

Jewish

Up until now this has been protected by the laws in the UK governing religious freedoms, especially in running educational institutions. Now whatever you believe about the validity of a school operating for the youth of a particular religion, this case is basically proposing that rather than a religion, being Jewish is purely a blood-line – a ‘race’.  

In fact, this case goes to the very fibre of what a ‘Jew’ is in our contemporary society – a race, ethnicity, culture, nation, religion – and whether it is possible to have our cake and eat it too. 

I’ll begin with a story. As with most great stories, this is a tale follows a simple and popular narrative structure.

There is a boy. He meets a girl. At a summer camp for young (Jewish) people. Needless to say, by the end of the camp, they are smitten, and they begin to date. He is a good Jewish boy, from a nice family in Sydney’s north, and she is a sweet, funny Jewess from the south-East of the city. The relationship barrels along, sparks fly, plans are made and before you know it, he is on one knee on a beach proposing they spend forever together.

Except that Mother didn’t tell her daughter that when she married the girl’s father, she was impatient, in love and ill prepared for the tumult of Orthodox conversion. So she converted as a Reform Jew. And that her Orthodox-educated, raised and believing daughter, according to Halacha, is one too.

Now at this point, the story shifts focus, and for many, it becomes a crash course in choose-your-own-adventure – something that many are not prepared for at all. I mean, she was from the right side of the tracks – hell, she could even be more observant than he is, but it changes little in terms of the strict Halacha that governs these situations. And again, agree or not with the Jewish law, this is a purely religious standard, for those who wish to abide by it.

But what about civil liberties? Where is the space in this paradigm for human rights? The ability of a citizen of a country to choose his or her own destiny, regardless of their race, religion, class, sex or sexual orientations? Recent calls by prominent Muslim community spokesperson, Keysar Trad to integrate Shariah Law into the Victorian legal system were met with anger and condemned as being an affront to the very independence and multilateralism of justice. For all. Imagine if the laws governing Jewish marriage, death, divorce – were all suddenly absorbed into a secular, national system, and overruled by it. It will destroy a system that thrives in its separation of church and state.

Australians are beholden to a justice system steeped in British traditions, as according to our history as a former British colony. Our government system, our past times, eating habits – even the Jewish community in Australia looks to the London Beth Din to dictate the terms of Orthodoxy, and rule of matters of Jewish life and law.

So what happens if the British Supreme Court rules in ‘M”s favour?

Well, no doubt it’s decision would need to be accepted by the London Beth Din, and changes made to the JFS accordingly. It means that the right to define who is a Jew is taken away from the community, and given to the courts, in direct contradiction to the human rights of the individual to practise their religion freely and without prejudice.

It means for Australian Jewish schools, clubs and organisations, precedents are being set removing the autonomy of the institution, and the religious structure of the Australian community may begin to erode. It means that while our claim as a nation may be upheld, our religious rights as Jews may not be.

It means that the rights of the individual are protected in law, above and beyond the rights of the community. Unlike other peoples, Jews have ensured their survival over millenia through the power of tzdaka, the importance of tikkun olam and the power of the many, over the self-interest of the few. It would be a shame to start now.

It also means that for Australians, we may have to accept that being a Jew is no longer just an ethno-culture or religion, but strictly defined by the word ‘race’, a concept created by those groups who would have seen Jews eradicated – and almost did.

And that is something I, and you, and even those still perched on the fence,  should not be forced to abide.



Ennui-tainment (Part 2)

The stubborn refusal to give tragedy the final say

There seems to be a distinctly anti-Generation-Y movement which undercuts the question of Shoah re-commemoration.

See, for years there has been a very stable, highly enforced method of interacting with the history of Holocaust, and an especially enforced standard of commemoration of that history. It included extreme reverence, highly emotive triggers, and a heaviness of the soul that most Jewish youth associate with any Holocaust-related public conversation.

Then, after upwards of 50 years of silent, sombre and most sincere reflection, young  Jewish people began to do with the Holocaust what young Jewish people have done with Shabbat, Zionism and other sacred cows – they turned it on its head.Cyanide and Happiness 

Which is not to say that young Jews today don’t appreciate the gravity of the Holocaust. Rather, they over-appreciate it. They are saturated in understanding. Like the children of Holocaust survivors who were drowning in the silence of their parents, these third-generation Jews are likewise drowning in the over-exposure their parents are kindly facilitating.  

Is visiting a death camp at 16 an age-appropriate experience? Indeed, can one ask an 11-year-old to comprehend or relate to the number 1 000 000, let alone light a candle to remember 1 000 000 children killed in the Shoah? How do you explain hatred for hatred’s sake, without condescending, or killing for ethnicity’s sake, without terrifying?

Would it surprise you that even our nightmares are Shoah related? I challenge any Jewish person to deny that they have had at least one, if not lifelong Holocaust-themed dreams. Mine involved abbatoir-style slaughter-houses, with loved ones forced like cattle through the turnstiles, awaiting their death, with nothing to be done. And for a long time, there was nothing to be done but tread water in the overwhelming tide that threatened to overpower our connection to our history altogether.

As time separated the generations from the immediacy of the tragedy, and threatened to disconnect them from its meaning, humour became the bridge which allowed Jews to take back the power, and stubbornly refused to submit to the magnitude of victimhood. Suddenly there was a means to process this massive influence in our lives – a method to understand the madness. What started with the Ghetto reinterpretations of Hitler’s masterpiece Mein Krampft (My Cramp) and the naming of dogs and pigs ‘Adolf’, became a critical communal and coping mechanism for those affected by Nazi policies. Survivor and Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl said in Mans Search for Meaning,

“We knew that we had nothing to lose except our ridiculously naked lives. When the showers started to run, we all tried very hard to make fun, both about ourselves and about each other. After all, real water did flow from the sprays!”

Half a century on this tradition continues, to the chagrin and horror of the PC police and inflated egos that cannot understand that Heeb Magazine’s mockery of Holocaust memoirs stems from a moral disgust that the once noble premise of documenting history has become a money-making industry – so why not write your own Holocaust memoir? And if we want to truly destroy the power of Hitler, how better than to belittle his memory and mock his self-righteousness character with a series of YouTube videos here, here and here? And here. And there. And here too.

People like Rosanne Barr hit the nail on the head – Sure it’s sick and twisted to don a moustache and bake Burnt Jew Cookies in an oven, but what are we so blinded by our pride and self-importance that we cannot see the irony and power of the inversion? When someone like Barr suggests such a photo shoot, a woman whose life has been dedicated to offending as many people as possible with her brand of take-no-prisoners humour, everything is fair game. As she herself told Heeb:

“He killed my whole family, it is true, but he is also dead, and I, a Jewish woman am still alive to make fun of him, and I will continue to make fun of the little runt for the rest of my life! He, and his ideas need to be laughed at even more these days, picked apart and analyzed up and down, as there are more and more people denying his crimes, and more and more despots trying to copy them.”

This peculiar cultural revenge is replicated again and again, in the infamous character actor Sascha Baron Cohen playing an anti-Semitic Kazakh in Borat, or in the faux-terror of Seinfeld‘s dreaded ‘Soup Nazi’ – turning the stereotype on its head, and in doing, fulfilling the hopes of the millions of victims encapsulated in the Talmudic verse: “The best revenge is to live”.

Call it revenge porn, but Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds could be regarded as the best antidote to the evils of the Nazi regime since Chaplin’s The Dictator. Tellingly, after the screening of Tarantino’s film, I bumped into a Jewish couple in their mid-sixties who could not fathom how such a film was even produced, let alone enjoyed – such was their disgust for the film’s subversion of the traditional power-relationship of the Shoah.

Where younger viewers whooped and heckled as Nazi’s were gunned down, and the image of a young Jewish woman laughed, rising in flames as the harbinger of death and destruction upon a Nazi crowd, wreaking her luscious revenge … it was a sweet moment for this generation.

2009_inglorious_bastards_002

Still from Inglorious Basterds

This tale of Jews taking back their honour and their lives from the Nazi regime which had tried and failed to destroy them was a “once upon a time” fable that reverberated in cinemas across the world, re-forming those Shoah nightmares into Shoah fantasies, littered with scalps and bullets and relief. Far from offensive, Inglorious Basterds gave young Jews the chance to divert the course of their people’s tragic history, even if it was only for a couple of hours, in a recliner seat in a theatre in Sydney or Toronto or London. And sure it’s just a movie – but in telling this story, Tarantino validated this generation’s fantasy, and went some way to understanding the foundations of the cultural architecture of 70 years of suffering.

So rather than mis-reading young Jewish attempts to re-imagine, re-define and re-tell the story of the Holocaust as out-of-touch, inappropriate, disrespectful or ignorant – perhaps it is time to step out of the stranglehold of ‘traditional’ Holocaust commemoration, and recognise that the light of satire does not diminish any of the truth of history. Rather, it can light the way to a better understanding, and clearer picture of what the Holocaust means for Jews today.