What is Jewish identity? A response to the general garbage written by Jewish racial purists and in particular to this blog by the curiously named ‘Jew Know’
Recently there has been a(nother) spate of attacks of the ‘Jackie not a Jew’ type. Most have been downright racist, some hilarious, all show an obsessive concern for genealogy, an old trope of racists, in their attempt to police something which is in fact too complex to be policed, in this case Jewish identity.
This most recent contribution by ‘Jew Know’ made me think (probably because I was on holiday), not just about my identity, but of Jewish identity, of racism, ethno-nationalism, racial purity and of those who put themselves up as guardians of identity whether they are white, black, Jewish or any other.
First thing ‘Jew Know’ — learn something about cultures that not your own, otherwise you are simply an ignorant Jew Know-little.
You cannot trace the ancestry of Caribbean people using records (alone). Slave records are limited (for obvious reasons). Parentage was often not attributed, or falsely attributed. Records were ‘manipulated’, for example, especially when women had ‘relations’ or were raped by white men (the description ‘white’ in this instance includes Jews in the context of the racialised, colour ordered Caribbean). In any case, in a society where even long term, committed relationships between white and black would/could not be officially endorsed/recognised another ‘father’ was often named on official documents.
Neither does ‘Jew Know’ take account of the particular oppressions experienced by Jewish refugees on the run from Christian persecution, for example the ‘Conversos’ (Jews who were forced, often on pain of death, to convert) and the other Jews of the Caribbean who were forced to compromise in so many other ways simply to survive, or those who chose to take on a more fluid, syncretic idea of what made them Jewish.
Yes, Jew Know appears pretty ignorant of the positioning of Jews in the Caribbean, the flow of Caribbean ethno-religious cultures, the conversion to Judaism undertaken by enslaved African women who wanted/were coerced into ‘marrying’ Jewish men. There is no comment on this — and for good reason, because Jew Know doesn’t have a clue, you know.
The binary outlook reflected in Jew Know’s blog betrays deep-seated ignorance of the many variations of Jewishness that have historically always been part of Jewish history. But according to Jew Know everything to do with Jewish identity has the simplicity of any authoritarian ideology; you are either Jewish or not. There is no scope for variation, no intersectionality, no understanding of the potential conflicts, complex histories inherent in being black and Jewish, Arab and Jewish, Asian and Jewish. No, In Jew Know’s kosher world there is no room for complexity, no Jewish diversity, just a nice, easy, genetic (or is it religious) monoculture where bright eyed Jewish mothers give birth to Jewish children and people have access to the easy going charms of the local Rabbi to sort things out when things get …. mucky, for Jew Know cannot tolerate a world of self-determination — no — a higher authority must always decree.
But as we all know — none of that’s true — Jews, like every other people, come in all sorts.
Jew Know expresses religious and ethnic definition of identity and leaves no room for those with no religious commitment but with the necessary ancestry, those who have been adopted, those ‘in care’, those orphaned and separated from the community. Jew Know does not admit the perspective of Reformed Jews, those who advocate that Jewish identity can be inherited from a father as well as mother — no.
Then tell me Jew Know, in your little, little world, what about the people of Jewish heritage born to people who have not practiced any religion, maybe for generations? Ok — strike them out!
And is acceptance of a Jewish state part of being Jewish? When and who decided that one? And are the very many non or anti-Zionist Jews ‘self-haters and not real Jews in your book too? I think I know your awnser.
I have nothing to prove to you Jew Know. You shame the Jewish heritage you claim.
To deny my Jewish heritage is racist, deeply racist, and you are a racist. It is as unacceptable to deny my Jewish heritage, deny the political and historical struggles that brought my parents together as it would be to deny my African or Caribbean ancestry. Your attitudes reflect the deep-seated and shameful racism entrenched in too many sections of the Jewish community.
It reflects a shameful intolerance, a lack of inclusivity, empathy, an essentialism that harvests a paucity of the soul. As with all ethno-nationalists these attitudes undermine the high-ground they seek to attain; complexity is the life-blood of creativity, the life-blood of a modern, tolerant society, the only path of progress for humanity. Want help with these ideas? I suggest you contact Mocha Jews and find out more. http://mochajuden.com
Jew Know, you appear in fact to Know Little of the multi-faceted history of the Jewish people, a people that in the last 2,000 years engaged and yes, MIXED at times, and very often with the rest of the world, were an essential part of much of it. These Jewish people fought to be a part, not set apart, from the countries they inhabited. …. Hurrah!
And then, in true racial purity tradition you dig up what you claim are my genealogical records and publish what you again claim is my family tree (sordid aren’t you, it will be my underwear drawer next I presume). By the way, I know nothing of some of the people you refer to as my ancestors — and truth is neither do you — though I can take you back on one side to the 15th century and the pogroms of the Spain and Portugal and on the other to an African griot.
My DNA (which I have had detailed analysis of before you purists were in my life) is the business of me and my family — and my friends who have seen it. As for the rest ……
You have caused distress to many people, Jewish and non Jewish. Your intolerance and racism is an embarrassment, not just to Jews but to all good people everywhere. You have caused outrage, in particular to members of the black and Caribbean community in Britain.
Jew Know — I wouldn’t ask you to prove your Jewishness, I would however welcome you proving your humanity but truth is on that one, I won’t be holding my breath.
is on the Editorial Board of Labour Briefing and was until recently Vice chair of Momentum