“We” Are Not Winning The War

A prelude: For months I debated whether to publish this. I ask over and over again: Is the information current? Is it balanced and palatable to every position? Does it have to be April 1st? The answers inevitably return to a resounding “no”.  I must settle with that fact. Moreover, I speculate that publishing this is a way to sidestep people who will disagree with me instead of initiating conversation. I’ve seen these mistakes made in the past. I could simply ignore these hesitations and hit send, but no consideration is a luxury. 

Nevertheless, as guest speakers visit to inform us, and faculty host discussion rooms, I can only view these months as a historical moment for Olin, for which the most recent physical artifacts around the school are the advocacy flyers, whose messages boil away the nuance around the most complicated social issue I am forced to contend with. April is when the conversation has become relevant, and so this is when I will publish.

Preparing for my bar mitzvah, I planned to wrap candies in the Israeli flag as a thank you gift. My mother prohibited it. I didn’t understand at that time, but that was my first experience learning about the difference between embracing Judaism, my religion, and embracing the state of Israel. 

While I stayed in Edinburgh for a semester, I tried to reach out to the Jewish community in Scotland. I was not exceptionally active, but I went to one event. It was a Friday night Shabbat service, gathering Jewish societies from universities in the area. It was a pleasant service, and they invited an interesting speaker, a Scottish politician whose job it is to advise on Jewish affairs. He was an elegant speaker. Deceptively elegant, for he wove messages in his sentences that festered discord within me. He spoke about the success Scotland is making fighting hate crimes and hate speech. Then he said, “Right now, we are all fighting a war. And we are winning!” to a standing ovation… but that statement did not inspire applause from me. 

This ‘war’ refers to multiple conflicts, while similar, are separate in their goals. The first war is likely the one you are thinking of, the attacks in Israel and Palestine. The other ‘war’ is that of antisemitism, and the historical prejudices that perpetuate anti-Jewish sentiments. While both are systemic in nature, and the two are heavily intertwined, there are important differences. 

Israel is a country. Its actions should be treated as such, instead of pretending it acts on the will of the Jewish people. I, as a Jewish individual, do not necessarily align with the actions of Netanyahu and his cabinet simply because they head a predominantly Jewish state. My traditions and the way I was raised have little to do with Israel, if at all. My approach to antisemitism is never related to Israel. Not because of my alignment with the state, and not because I  strategically decide against invoking Israel. The fight for Israel is not the fight against antisemitism for me. 

This politician fused these two ‘wars’ together. He used the war in Israel to represent antisemitism at home and abroad. However, victory in one war does not necessitate the victory of the other. This is a common conflation, and a deliberate one. Israel the political body, the US, and other allied countries make this logical leap to expedite political support. They do this also to handwave political criticisms of Israel as bigotry: Align with Israel, or align with antisemitism. But I don’t need to agree with a government’s actions to advocate 

for my religious pride. I began learning this idea when I was thirteen. However, as I sat in the room with over 100 other Jews, I got a strange feeling that the sit-down from my mother is not one shared with the rest of my community. 

I thought I didn’t need to publish this for Olin. As I proofread these words, I speculate that I’m preaching too heavily to the congregation. Surely, I hoped, the people of this institution would equally make the distinction. However, I am confronted with flaws in that assumption. For many Jewish people, Israel is not a political entity, but a cultural entity. When interpreted from this view, an attack on Israel is an attack on the place that honors Jewish history in ways I cannot conceive. In this way, the tie between antizionism and antisemitism is recontextualized. I do not agree with this perspective, but I have learned it must be taken seriously.

After the service, I told a friend how the speaker’s words hit me so hard. Someone walking by missed the context, and asked what words they could have been. Providing the context, I repeated, ‘we are fighting a war, and we’re winning.”She paused, and replied, “No you’re not,” as she put a cigarette to her mouth. 

I don’t know what she meant by that. She could have referred to any of the things I talked about. But it doesn’t matter. I know it’s true regardless. 

Sure, Israel will win the ground war, no doubt about that, but Israel fights another war in the public eye. They are losing support from allies, with public support for Palestine in the US higher than it’s ever been. The UN condemns Israel’s actions, and now the country is under pressure for a ceasefire.‘We’ arenot winning this war.

The war against antisemitism persists, in stranger ways than you may expect. Of course, the anti-Israel voices are chock-full of antisemites, but Netenyahu protects them because he likes it this way. With these enemies, he can maintain the state’s image as the bastion against antisemitism, and he can pin dissent on alignment with Nazis. But there is antisemitism among zionists as well. John Hagee was a speaker at The March for Israel from last fall. He’s a televangelist, and his wikipedia has a whole section about his thoughts on Jews. My favorite line states, “[Hagee] claimed 

that the persecution of Jews throughout history, implicitly including the Holocaust, was due to the Jewish people’s disobedience of God”. It would take another 1200 words to explain why there are such prominent antisemitic zionists, but suffice it to say there’s more evidence to distinguish the two wars “we” are fighting. And we are not winning the war against antisemitism. 

But there’s one more war. It’s a war that I am fighting. I’m fighting for Jews and non Jews alike to thoughtfully continue the dialogue. I have seen the hostility from Oliners that keeps me from initiating more of these conversations. I’ve seen others fight this battle and lose their Jewish community over it. I’m scared to risk that. There are already so few Jews in the world to share solidarity, and every relationship like this is harder to find after one is destroyed. But this is a fight I must face, alongside other Jewish people who are torn between their nation of Judaism and the state of Israel. I hope I accurately described the difference between these battles, and how their conflation harms the success for Jews everywhere. And if I haven’t, well… 

then I’ve already lost this war.

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