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A secular Palestinian’s Hanukkah 2019 message

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I’ve been thinking about the complexities of the rise in antisemitism for a while, and the Brooklyn attacks, which happened while I was there, jogged me into writing this note.

I just returned home to the Pacific Northwest from a five-week stay in the Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn—an area with a visible Orthodox Jewish majority.  Most of the women wear wigs, the women and girls wear long skirts with black tights, most of the men have prayer shawls whose fringes show under their jacket, and almost every male, even very young boys, wears a yarmulke. There are multiple small Jewish delis, bakeries, and specialized hat stores, and the Dunkin Donuts store, as well as the Caribbean and Chinese restaurants, have a sign on their front window that states “Yes we are kosher.” Synagogues, yeshivas, Jewish pre-schools and community centers are on every block.  As I took my daily walks, I saw many more menorahs in the house windows than Christmas trees and decorations.

This neighborhood is home and cultural haven to these Ashkenazi Jewish American families, I thought to myself, not unlike Dearborn, which is home and cultural haven to the Michigan Arab American community, and where Arabic language, but also Arabic culture, are taught in the public school system, and reinforced in extra-curricular Saturday and Sunday school.  And while I must say that I bristled at the Israeli flags flying on some of the Brooklyn porches, I also appreciated the fact that a once ostracized, literally ghettoized community, could openly go about its lifestyle with no pressure to assimilate into the greater New York City or “American” way.

Then I heard about the December 11 attack on the Kosher market in Jersey City, just across the river.  A hate crime against Jews.  The next day, there was another attack on a Jewish man in Manhattan.  This was followed by yet more attacks on Jews in Crown Heights, and Gravesend. These were not random attacks on individuals who happened to be Jewish, as all the attacks were accompanied by anti-Jewish slurs. All the way across the country, an Iranian Jewish synagogue was vandalized in East Los Angeles.  And on December 27, an orthodox Jewish woman was also punched, in Brooklyn, as her young boy was ripped away from her and thrown to the ground. In fact, there has been an antisemitic attack in New York and New Jersey every day of this Hanukkah season.

Yes, antisemitism is on the rise, and while we can and do blame the Trump Administration for condoning, when it does not openly embrace, white supremacy, the fact is, these hate crimes were not all committed by white supremacists.  In some cases, the alleged perpetrators were people of color, emboldened by the energized antisemitic discourse in the country, since Trump’s presidency.  And since it must be said, I am also extremely disturbed by the many accusations lobbed at some undefined “progressive left” that is supposedly behind the attacks, just because many are committed by people of color. When people of color commit homophobic or transphobic or Islamophobic crimes, the perpetrators are not considered the “progressive left.” The recent attacks on Jews are hate crimes, and “the progressive left” does not engage in hate crimes. There are gray areas everywhere, you know.

Also while in New York, I attended a staged reading of a play about the death penalty, and the criminal (in)justice system, one of the most racist institutions in this country.  The weather was frigid, and as I stood in line outside the closed theatre doors, I commented on the fact that I would love to eat (but mostly, get out of the cold) at the vegan restaurant right next door, except that I could not patronize any establishment that serves what it calls “Israeli salad,” and “Israeli falafel.”  The man in line next to me, with whom I had started a conversation about the death penalty, accused me of antisemitism, lecturing me on my racism until the theatre doors finally opened, sparing me his caricature-like interruptions of my arguments with “but Hamas…” That mansplainer had somehow fully bought into the misguided argument that any and all criticism of Israel is antisemitism.  And that, if it were not for Hamas, Israel would not be violating the human rights of the Palestinian people.  My attempts to explain chronology, history, international law, the Nakba happening in 1948, and the Naksa in 1967, whereas Hamas was not founded until after the first Intifada, in 1987, could not pass through his “but Hamas…” shield. Like me, he would not abide antisemitism, but unlike me, he could not distinguish between Zionism and Judaism, between anti-Zionism, and antisemitism.

The United States is as disunited today as it has ever been in its entire troubled history. And for that, whoever the actual perpetrator of the crimes, I blame an administration that foments callousness, hatred, and violence, as it empowers white supremacy and buoys Zionism.  And I do not for a second trust that this administration, with its cynical attempts to weaponize antisemitism by criminalizing BDS, will adequately address the waves of hatred sweeping the country.

I am a full-fledged atheist–beyond “secular” and “agnostic.”  But I would like to think that, if there was a visible marker of my atheism, I’d feel safe wearing it, just as Jews should feel safe wearing their religious markers, and Muslims theirs.  I know many hijabi women, and hate to think that their scarf will designate them as targets in 2020, as it had done after the September 11, 2001 attacks, when a wounded American people lashed out at those perceived as “others.”

More than ever before, as hatred sweeps this country, we must be the ones who protect each other.  More than ever before, the alliances we have formed over the past years, intersectional alliances across communities and issues, are critical ramparts against attacks today.  I will not support the politics of people who would deny anyone their human rights, but unless your religious beliefs trespass on my rights, I will support you as you practice your spirituality, and celebrate your culture.

And I do hope my next president is the Jewish candidate from Brooklyn—Midwood, actually.

Nada Elia

Nada Elia is a Palestinian scholar-activist, writer, and grassroots organizer, currently completing a book on Palestinian Diaspora activism.

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21 Responses

  1. eljay on December 30, 2019, 10:36 am

    … Then I heard about the December 11 attack on the Kosher market in Jersey City, just across the river. A hate crime against Jews. The next day, there was another attack on a Jewish man in Manhattan. This was followed by yet more attacks on Jews in Crown Heights, and Gravesend. These were not random attacks on individuals who happened to be Jewish, as all the attacks were accompanied by anti-Jewish slurs. All the way across the country, an Iranian Jewish synagogue was vandalized in East Los Angeles. And on December 27, an orthodox Jewish woman was also punched, in Brooklyn, as her young boy was ripped away from her and thrown to the ground. In fact, there has been an antisemitic attack in New York and New Jersey every day of this Hanukkah season. …

    The reasonable and moral thing to do is to bring the perpetrators to justice and hold them accountable for their actions. (Justice, accountability and equality, everywhere and always.)

    The Zionist thing to do – at least according to Bari Weiss – is to support Israel because only then can Jewish Americans truly be safe. (Ms. Weiss should be asked to specify how much additional support for Israel – and in what form – would have prevented the deaths listed above.)

  2. wondering jew on December 30, 2019, 1:15 pm

    I live in midwood.
    The usa was more divided in 1863 obviously.
    It was more divided in 1963, but secession of 1863 was at the root of the conflict.
    LBJ ‘s we shall overcome and nixon’s desegregation by a republican turned 1963 into a relatively bloodless revolution.
    2020 and trump who is a symptom of resistance to immigration is indeed worse in a way than 1963. A very polarized electorate.

    • Mooser on December 30, 2019, 7:15 pm

      “for this crowd, no respect.
      happy new year and til we meet again.
      sorry for wasting your time. not true. sorry for wasting my time and energy.”
      “wj” 12/28

      But here you are, back again, so we’ve got a mignon.

      Anyway, “Yonah”, don’t you think that if Jews, and Rabbis like Dov Hikind let the American people know we are with Trump, and Make America Great Again, it would reduce a lot of antisemitism? I mean, it couldn’t hurt, right?

  3. eljay on December 30, 2019, 5:48 pm

    Hey, y.f., you’re a Zionist, maybe you can answer for Bari Weiss: How much additional support for Israel – and in what form – would have prevented the deaths listed by Ms. Elia in her article? How much support for Israel – and in what form – will prevent similar deaths in the future? Thanks.

  4. wondering jew on December 30, 2019, 6:30 pm

    hey eljay,

    you’re a putz.

    but i’ll say this: murder of ultra orthodox jews by black people suffering from mental health problems is attributable to: mental health problems and our society’s inability (refusal) to deal with this aspect of human nature particularly in economically depressed and socially oppressed communities.
    that these sick people would express their violence towards ultra orthodox jews is attributable to , well, i’m not sure. there used to be a debate regarding violence in society at large being the result of video games and violent tv . and there never was any proof. in the last 20 years the murder rate in nyc has plummeted. to what is that attributable? not sure. I have my theories.
    hatred of orthodox jews can be related to : farrakhan and venomous hatred, urban tensions of ethnic groups- thus semi permissible hatred, the new testament and successionist thinking. I would blame those before antizionism.
    eljay, you could answer for yourself: if you could avoid acting like a putz, would you?

    • eljay on December 31, 2019, 1:50 pm

      || wondering jew: hey eljay,

      you’re a putz. … ||

      hey y.f.,

      you’re a zionist.

      || … but i’ll say this: [blahblahblah] … ||

      IOW, nothing at all about how – in Bari Weiss’ opinion – supporting Israel can prevent the deaths of Jewish Americans. Huh. Could it be that she’s got it all wrong?

      || … eljay, you could answer for yourself: if you could avoid acting like a putz, would you? ||

      Putz: Fool, idiot.

      y.f., I may be a putz – gawd knows I’ve said and done foolish and idiotic things over the years – but at least I strive to be a consistently good and moral person.

      You are indisputably a Zionist so, at best, you are a hateful and immoral hypocrite who advocates, commits, supports and/or defends at least one form of evil.

      I’d much rather be a putz than a Zionist.

      Happy 2020, y.f. May this be the year you cease to be a Zionist and, instead, become a putz.  :-)

  5. echinococcus on December 30, 2019, 11:01 pm

    Chanukkah is, as far as I know from extensive experience with practicing European (and mainly Spanish, Arabic and urban German) Jews, a relatively low-key, secondary religious feast (celebrating, by the way, the Qa’ida suicide bombers of the backwater Judaean hills and provocatively antagonizing the Western tradition.) Or was so.

    The only visible explanation for Chanukkah acquiring star status among the holidays (and losing the guttural aspiration at the start of the word — it is Khanukkah, like “Khamas” as pronounced by Zionists) is a desire to not only compete with the Christmas and New Year celebration of the 98% of the general population around the tribal implant, but to poison it by making obligatory a PC “holiday” greeting to rain on the parade, and “equal status” of a negligible minority with all the rest of the population.

    • Boomer on December 31, 2019, 10:11 am

      echinococcus: to be politically correct you must avoid stating certain untruths, but also certain truths. Also, I recently noticed that some of the regulars on NPR now refer to Jews as comprising 3% of the American population. I don’t know whether this is literally correct, but I infer that it is politically so.

      • echinococcus on December 31, 2019, 8:52 pm


        There is no way to have a civilized conversation on Mondoweiss because of their uncivilized, anonymous and unaccountable “moderators” who keep interfering for unfathomable reasons, with no clear rules, and seem to sadistically enjoy depriving people of their right of response.

        Of course, this is Phil Weiss’ very own site and as he has every right to run it as he sees fit he remains fully responsible; I shouldn’t even have mentioned the “moderators”.

    • Jon66 on December 31, 2019, 1:45 pm

      Kwanza must make your head explode.

      • echinococcus on December 31, 2019, 8:49 pm

        We’re talking about nonsense you declared to be your very own. Not that of other people.

      • Jon66 on January 1, 2020, 5:09 pm

        I thought we were discussing the problem you had with the elevation of a holiday of a minority group in competition with the holiday of a majority group.
        Is this another one of those things that you only object to when Jewish people do it?

      • echinococcus on January 1, 2020, 7:22 pm

        A Zionist, not “we”, is making a textbook case presentation, not “discussion”, of his refractory chronic whataboutism.

        And, as usual, comparing apples to stink cucumber.

      • Jon66 on January 1, 2020, 10:49 pm

        So much for universal principles. Your hate is showing.
        It’s your usual topic, ‘ It’s a bad thing if Jewish people do it.’

      • echinococcus on January 2, 2020, 1:20 am

        That would be *your* universal principle summarized as “Jimmy farted during recess, so I have the right to defecate on your plate”…

        … and I’ll whinge and whimper endlessly about the same nonsense until everyone in here gets dizzy spells.

      • Jon66 on January 2, 2020, 8:17 am

        Am I wrong in stating your position as, ‘ The emphasis on Chanukah in the US is bad because it detracts from Christmas, but Kwanza is just fine’? If that is your position, can you explain why?

      • DaBakr on January 24, 2020, 12:42 pm


        Gross. the coprophiliac response meme? Wtf? heads out of loo.

        btw…pretty certain the campaign to de-legitimize Israel is an utter failure. Note the attendance of more then 30 world leaders who weren’t originally expected but showed up in numbers greater then anybody knew.

        The constant plinking and chipping away at a small but firm monolith in the hopes it will fall is an excercize in futility, especially as pertains to Israel (which MWs have chosen to single out for all sorts of ‘high minded’ or low minded reasons.) But to be sure, there is always press outlet willing to push this tired narrative.

  6. Boomer on December 31, 2019, 10:33 am


    Thank you for your eloquent and heart-felt essay. Indeed, “we must be the ones who protect each other.”

    After each attack like the recent one there are understandable calls to “stamp out” such crimes with more laws and law enforcement. I’m not a social scientist with special expertise in such matters, but I suspect we have enough such laws and law enforcement officers. We can let them do their jobs.

    But I suspect that progress toward the kind of society many of us want also requires more constructive work not only to build alliances among groups (as you say) but also to build relationships among individuals.

    I’ve read that humans naturally tend to have associations with about 100=200 other people. If each of us counted within our 100-200 a few friends, or at least friendly acquaintances from other subgroups, it would perhaps go a long way to reducing inter-group tension.

    • Boomer on December 31, 2019, 1:22 pm

      PS: There are, of course, some problems with the “let’s get to know one another” approach. Among them, the proliferation of groups (not all of which are represented in every area). There are limits to how much difference can realistically be accommodated in my 100-200 friends and associates. I recall LBJ reassuring the nation when the immigration law was changed that it would not fundamentally change America. He didn’t always speak the truth, about that, or about Vietnam.

      Then too, there is the ease with which inter-group hostility can grow simply from the fact of difference. Robert Sapolsky (Behave) and Jonathan Haidt (The Righteous Mind) have written about how this seems to have fundamental roots in our evolutionary history.

      Such considerations seem to raise questions about how much cultural/group variation is manageable in a society. America used to celebrate the “melting pot.” More recently, that idea has been politically incorrect in some circles. It is better to celebrate group differences: wrong to expect minorities to assimilate.

      Haidt himself, in some article or interview a few years ago said that he preferred a “mosaic” society to a “melting pot.” To me this seemed potentially problematic, given what he had written in The Righteous Mind. I wondered if he saw a contradiction, and how he might reconcile these views. I’ve never met him, never had a chance to ask him. But from this, I infer, that perhaps his thinking has evolved.

      • RoHa on January 1, 2020, 11:42 pm

        “More recently, that idea has been politically incorrect in some circles. It is better to celebrate group differences: wrong to expect minorities to assimilate.”

        The PC positions seems to be as follows:

        -The Mixambiguan immigrants chose to come to Oblivia, so we can assume that they wanted the benefits that follow from living in Oblivia.

        -But it is terribly wrong to ask the Mixambiguan immigrants to adapt to Oblivian society as a condition for gaining those benefits.

        -The Oblivians had not real choice in whether the Mixambiguan immigrants entered or not. (Oblivia is about as much a democracy as the UK is.)

        -But it is right and proper to demand that the Oblivians adapt to the Mixambiguan immigrants.

        This position has always seemed morally upside-down to me.

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