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Marching for all of it, 2019

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There was a huge outpouring of anger, determination, resistance and more on January 20, 2016.  No to it all—the Muslim ban, the misogyny, the white supremacy, the greed, the inequality, and yes, no to Trump—all of it.  Millions marched.  No one quite can say how this massive revolt occurred amidst such a varied group, but women marched!

Jump to now, and there is fraying around the edges, anger at the core, charges of racism, antisemitism, self-serving egoism, celebrity elitism.

Many of these charges were addressed months ago and yet they continue to fester and divide.  I wonder whose interests are being served in all this division and that attention should be addressed here, rather than elsewhere.

A bit of back-story:

I am an atheist Jew.  I was brought up by Communist parents so Israel and its practice of Zionism was always seen as problematic in my household—long before the newer histories of anti-Zionism, anti-Zionist Jews, organizing to support BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions), the atrocities done to Gaza and Palestine.  Edward Said had not yet written The Question of Palestine. And, antisemitism was not on the rise as it is today.

Synagogues have never been a safe space for me, although I do not mean to blanketly indict them, given that I know little of them today. Most of the people attending them in Atlanta, Georgia in the 1970s feared and rejected my family’s anti-racist commitments and civil rights activism.  They made sure we did not live in their community.  Be careful what you assume about me, and other Jews. We come in all forms. It is why prejudice against any homogenized group is so dangerous.

My father spoke of the mass murder of Jews in World War II as fascism and Nazism.  (He was an MP and forward observer in the Army—assignments that Jews were relegated to—to hate them just a bit more—a case of antisemitism in the army supposedly fighting it).  But he never used the term holocaust, as such.  He thought, and taught me and my 3 sisters, that there have been too many holocausts—settler colonialism against Native Americans, the chattel slave trade and slavery, to name only a few.

So, in this moment, it is important to me to recognize antisemitism as part of the multiple systems of hatred and oppression, but with no singularity of “exceptionalism”.  I am thinking how important it is to recognize the specific struggles of any burdened group, but without recognizing the particular history as an “exceptional” one.  Hatreds are connected through unique differences that also share commonality.

Consider the intricate lacing of racism and antisemitism. Most Jews in the US have come to be regarded as white but this whiteness does not erase the pain and suffering of antisemitism. Antisemitism constructs Jews as less than human, but our whiteness complicates the rendering of this.

I was the only Jew in North High School in Columbus Ohio, in 1963.  Fellow students thought I was “different”, weird, godless, a “kike”.  Boys said their parents forbade them to date me.  I kept wondering what it was that I was supposed to think and believe as a Jew, given that I had no religious training at all.

I remember screaming at my parents one day: “I believe in God”—not having any idea what that meant, but comforted by the thought that at least I could say this.  Of course they replied: believe in whatever you wish to Zillah.  That seemed to end my foray as a believer.

In my largely white High school in Atlanta, Ga., I however, was a white girl.  The school had desegregated the fall I entered. There was one Black student, Clemsey Wood.  We talked, and then both of us were punished. I lived in the Black neighborhood where the faculty housing for Atlanta University was located.  I lived in the Black community and walked through the poor white community to get to school.  “White Bitch” and “Black N—–Lover” were my two identities.  I was heartbroken most of this my senior year.

When I was visiting Egypt in 2008 a merchant stopped me on the street with his wares to sell and asked me if I was from Israel.  I thought to myself: he sees a Jew so I am from Israel.  I answered, “no, I am not from Israel and I am a Semite, like you”.

These are some of my thoughts when I am asked to respond to the controversy surrounding the antisemitism of the Women’s March.  Tamika Mallory’s association with Farrakhan and Linda Sarsour’s implied connection as one of the March organizers has been used to nibble away at the tenuous alliances of all kinds of women.

New Marches are being called for: disabled women; women for Palestine; women against antisemitism, and so forth. The rift over anti-Semitism is further heightened by Alice Walker’s endorsement of an antisemitic writer and her own antisemitic writings.

There is nothing new to the strains between some Blacks and Jews in forming camaraderie, or between some Black and White feminists.  I remember speaking at Haverford College just shortly after Angela (Davis) was released from prison, with bell (hooks) on a panel organized by Hortense (Spillers) who was provost at the time—on “Racism in the White Women’s Movement.”  It has been four decades now that women have been struggling through the racism of  (some, too many) white women.

But, there have been successful and important alliances.  Black and white women organizing for reproductive rights and against sterilization abuse; the socialist feminist coalition work that underpinned the Combahee River Collective work and statement of purpose; cross-class and racial alliances against the Vietnam and Iraq war.

So where are we? Not where we should be.  More “isms” have been uncovered in the last several decades along with more identities and more oppressions.  So “we” need more recognition of how we “intersect”, “overlap”, connect to each other, not less. This means risking alliances that are not perfect.

“We”, the big we, need to come together committed to moving with and through our limitations and contradictions to find a world free of exploitation and racial hatreds especially white supremacy, antisemitism, xenophobia, capitalism, nationalisms, misogyny and its gender binaries.

I am for a march with many contingents.  Mine is an abolitionist socialist feminist contingent supporting all the others without any form of hatred; a Feminism for the 99%.

Zillah Eisenstein

Zillah Eisenstein is a Professor of Anti-Racist Feminist Theory at Ithaca College and one of the organizers for the International Women’s Strike.

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13 Responses

  1. echinococcus on January 9, 2019, 1:25 am

    “I am an atheist Jew”

    Bullcrap, if you’ll excuse my French. You may well be Eskenazi by the sound of it –if you don’t have another distinct cultural identification like, say, Sefardí or such. Because that’s the only possible historically “Jewish-related” cultural characterization, provided you actively carry the culture.

    If you were culturally part of urban European society, like French, German, Italian, etc. (or, of course, American!) with theoretical Jewish ancestry, you wouldn’t have any distinguishing cultural characteristics, as the only “Jewish” cultural elements would be liturgical/religious, period.

    “Jew” characterizes the follower of a religion, given that there is absolutely zilch in common except religion, culturally or ethnically speaking, among the different populations that were nominally Jewish in history. Period. Is that still unclear? Has that ever been clearly answered or rebutted?

    “I am for a march with many contingents. Mine is an abolitionist socialist feminist contingent supporting all the others without any form of hatred”

    Oh. now that makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? Your march excludes anyone who opposes each of the characteristics of that “contingent”. Meaning you are deliberately excluding a lot of supporters of Palestinian resistance. Meaning you are sabotaging. Thank you.

    • Mayhem on January 9, 2019, 6:06 pm

      @echinoccus, the author is free to define herself and it is not for you to argue about the validity of someone’s self-identification or credo, especially if it is genuine. There is an abundance of people who are ethnically or culturally Jewish, coming from a Jewish background who would classify themselves legitimately as atheist. Being Jewish is not just a matter of subscribing to a set of religious beliefs.
      The women’s march is tainted with anti-semitism and that is coming from those who very frequently subscribe to the Palestinian narrative.
      Given you question the author’s credentials I guess I am perfectly entitled to do the same when I hear people espouse the Palestinian cause based on what I believe is a false, concocted narrative contrived not in its own right but in knee jerk opposition to that of Zionism.

      • eljay on January 9, 2019, 7:11 pm

        || Mayhem: … Being Jewish is not just a matter of subscribing to a set of religious beliefs. … ||

        Of course not. But because it is a religion-based identity, being Jewish is primarily a matter of:
        – undergoing a religious conversion to Judaism; or
        – being descended from someone who underwent a religious conversion to Judaism.

      • echinococcus on January 10, 2019, 12:34 am

        Look at foaming-at-the-mouth Zionists who jump into the fray, completely unarmed with any facts, on behalf of “non”-Zionist tribalists :

        ” Being Jewish is not just a matter of subscribing to a set of religious beliefs”

        Well, that’s exactly what you tribals were challenged to establish with solid evidence.

        When you assert (no matter how loudly) that a flea is an elephant, or that a tiger is cuddly lamb, or any other palpable nonsense, the world doesn’t accept it on the basis of someone’s subjective fancy. And the world is well-advised to reject such obviously absurd nonsense because it may have horrifying consequences. Which it certainly has in the case of the crazy, mythologic, racist “Jewish peoplehood” nonsense.

        Again, there is no relationship between religion, an acquired and discardable characteristic, and the national or ethnic character people are unfortunately born with. Not with any religion, and not with Judaism, either.

        Either these non-religious tribals come with solid proof of any pan-“Jewish” cultural element, natural language, or the like, or they limit their assertions to any cultural or ethnic cluster that can be proved: Eskenazi, Sefardí, Falasha, Mashriqi, Maghribi… or plain Western European with a more-or-less typical name period (who may or may not practice the religion of Zionism.) Subjective feelings are worth bupkis. Not introducible as evidence.

        Obviously, the Zionist crime against humanity cannot be used as evidence for such “peoplehood”, given that it was concocted, under our very eyes, based on this very nonsense of “peoplehood”. And yet, so-called “non-” and even “anti-“Zionists continue to peddle this murderous myth that (necessarily) generated Zionism.

      • echinococcus on January 10, 2019, 12:58 am


        ” being Jewish is primarily a matter of:
        – undergoing a religious conversion to Judaism; or
        – being descended from someone who underwent a religious conversion to Judaism.”

        Being descended from anyone cannot confer religion or “religion-based identity” because religion is a matter of believing in a given set of metaphysical stuff, with or without the attendant mumbo-jumbo. No matter how religious one’s ancestors, if one doesn’t adhere to those beliefs or rituals then there is no such identity.

        Your concept is shared by Ottoman law, which assigned to each a religion at birth, unrenounceable except sometimes by conversion, and on this basis made each person subject to the arbitrary temporal power of a given religious leader. It also justified horrible mass expulsions, migrations and mass murder, based only on the nominal “religious identity” at birth.

        The Zionist entity is the only state today (with a variant in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan) that continues to use this legal concept. It had been used by Germany until 1945.

      • Mooser on January 10, 2019, 7:13 pm

        “There is an abundance of people who are ethnically or culturally Jewish, coming from a Jewish background who would classify themselves legitimately as atheist” “Mayhem”

        Sure! Best of both worlds. All the advantages (in Israel) of ostensible Judaism, with none of the constraints.

    • Stephen Shenfield on January 10, 2019, 12:54 pm

      She says: ‘I am for a march with many contingents.’ Those who don’t qualify for her contingent can join the march as part of a different contingent. Unless they are not women, of course.

      Fredy Perlman said that the only -ist he accepted as a label for himself was a cellist.

      • RoHa on January 10, 2019, 10:14 pm

        Is cellism permissible in the 21st century?

      • hai_bar on January 11, 2019, 7:25 am

        @Stephen Shenfield – Thank you for mentioning this name (Fredy Perlman). Spent hours reading in his work, precious information. Thanks.

  2. tamarque on January 9, 2019, 8:31 am

    I do relate to this piece. I am of the opinion that the divisiveness is like what we have seen many times when peoples come together to empower themelves. It is an insidious process, never in the mainstream discussions, but more importantly, never in the movements themselves. Thus we saw the impact of COINTELPTRO destroying the Movements of the 1960-70’s and the FBI infiltrations and the media compliance of subtley and not so subtely using its powerful pulpit to create divisions and failure. Today we are seeing the same I fear with the NY Times doing what it does best–pretend to be liberal while supporting the oligarchy and waging its sinister divisiveness. So much history to learn and lean how to avoid repeating.

  3. Ossinev on January 10, 2019, 7:08 am

    ” There is an abundance of people who are ethnically or culturally Jewish, coming from a Jewish background who would classify themselves legitimately as atheist”

    You seem to have some sort of expertise in self classification. I am an ex Catholic and I now self classify myself as an atheist. If push comes to shove what do you think is best – should I say that I am ethnically a Catholic or culturally a Catholic. I would point out if it helps that a part of me secretly would like to think that I have the same Catholic ethnic DNA as the Pope.

    • echinococcus on January 10, 2019, 9:15 am


      “a part of me secretly would like to think that I have the same Catholic ethnic DNA as the Pope.”

      Unfortunately, my friend, the sterling-quality DNA that “we” Jews continue to enjoy has experienced four negative mutations, with Christianity first, then the Schism and finally the Reformation and Counterreformation. A large number of nucleotide base pairs have been cut at each of these events, resulting in inferior DNA for the Catholic Nation. So, His Holiness is certainly a worthy and holy person but not a carrier of the best nucleic acids, of which we happen to have cornered the monopoly.

  4. Citizen on January 10, 2019, 2:33 pm

    US Senate just denied Israel another quick $38 Billion + interest (no ceiling, like Obama wanted) by a close vote resulting only from Democrats wanting to put federal job pay over Trump’s wall.

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