Jewfros in Palestine

Tablet has a moving piece by Samantha Shokin, a Brooklyn-based writer, on how a semester in Israel helped change the way she felt about herself, particularly her bodily self-image as a Jewish woman.

Shokin writes:

I spent a lifetime hating my Jewish hair—straightening it, covering it, or otherwise finding ways to diminish its presence. A trip to Israel is what it took for me to realize my hair was wonderful all its own, and much more than just an accessory.

Shokin does a wonderful job describing how her hair was caught up with her feelings of awkwardness, shame, and exclusion, how difficult it was as an adolescent to contend with images of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera from the vantage of “frizzy brown hair and glasses.” This was no simple matter of teenage angst, Shokin makes clear; it cut to the heart of her Jewish identity, not to mention a long history of anti-Semitism. For centuries, Jewish looks, including hair, have been a dividing line between the drowned and the saved. As that simple line from Paul Celan reminds us: “your golden hair Margarete/ your ashen hair Shulamit.” So it’s quite clear in Shokin’s piece that she’s not simply describing her personal insecurities. She’s tapping into a wider conversation, familiar to members of other ethnic minorities, about how particular conceptions of beauty become markers of status and inclusion—and, concomitantly, inferiority and exclusion. It’s no wonder that when Shokin goes to Israel and sees so many dos like her own, she feels at home.

But there’s something to be said about stepping into a hair salon and not feeling like a piece of work, just as there is about stepping into crowd of people and not feeling like a stranger.

That said, the piece suffers from an obliviousness I can’t help flinching at. Nowhere in Shokin’s discussion does she even give a hint that she’s aware that her feeling at home comes at a cost to someone else. How might a teenage Palestinian girl in the West Bank—undergoing not only the adolescent angst that Shokin once endured but also the facts of the Occupation—read this piece? Might she not respond, “I have to suffer all of this, just so you can feel at home with your hair?”

I’m being tendentious. But it’s a tendentious situation. And articles like this don’t help. They speak instead to a larger cluelessness among Jewish Americans about what they’re doing when they go to Israel and find themselves at home.

I can’t tell you how many discussions I’ve had over the years with Jewish defenders of the State of Israel whose position is entirely fair and eminently reasonable—so long as you forget that there are actual Palestinians living there. People I love and respect mount air-tight arguments and make genuinely moving cases to me about the Jewish need for a refuge from persecution; about the desire to live somewhere—anywhere, say some—where they are not a minority; about the stirring feeling of hearing Hebrew spoken in the street; about the longing to feel at home. About wanting to be a teenager who loves her hair.

All of this I hear, and think, yes, of course, how could anyone not understand and empathize with that? But all of these heartfelt and legitimate claims rest upon a simple omission: the Palestinians. For these claims to obtain their intended force, we have to pretend that the Palestinians aren’t there—or that they don’t exist.

Shokin’s piece is a microcosm: its adolescent sense that my problems are the only problems that matter in this world sound all too much like Zionist arguments for a Jewish homeland. Not Zionist arguments at their weakest, but Zionist arguments at their strongest.


  1. neffer January 31, 2014 at 1:36 pm | #

    The problem with your article is that you do not realize how trivial your objections to Israel are. Palestinian suffering is, first and foremost, a product of their ideology. Division of the land is possible. They, however, were caught up in the insanity of Hajj Amin Hussayni’s hatred and inflexibility, which has led, time and time again, to further agony for Palestinians.

    Grow up!!!

    • Phil Brander January 31, 2014 at 1:54 pm | #

      So I guess it’s back to “It’s all their fault”, right? But even if, I repeat, if that was so, what do we do now with the Palestinians? Just ignore that there are there?

      • neffer January 31, 2014 at 2:54 pm | #

        I do not say it is all their fault. But, it is chiefly the fault of their lunatic leaders, who decided to use average people as coal providing warmth for those leaders. They havd done this continuously for decades.

        One might note: the Israelis offered to build normal homes for Palestinians living in camps in the WB and Gaza. The Arab side and their allies did not need to say “No” to that. That would have done a lot to help end the dispute. And that amounted to using those living in the camps to keep the dispute going.

  2. Alan Hertz January 31, 2014 at 1:54 pm | #

    Tell me, Neffer, what kind of division you propose, and how that could possibly be fair to the people dispossessed by it.

    • neffer January 31, 2014 at 3:05 pm | #

      None of this is about fairness. The land that is on the Israeli side of the Green Line was, in its time, garbage land. Land is what people decide to do with it.

      All involved – both sides – are filled with people who were displaced. Fairness runs both ways but, in fact, because it runs both ways, what is possible is to reach a compromise which ends the dispute.

      Ending the dispute – where each side agrees and actually believes – that the other side has a legitimate claim, is what is needed. Otherwise, it really does not matter what division is put in place. It will not stick.

      So, if you ask me, perfect justice does not exist. My wife, who is from the USSR, would have preferred not to have had to find refuge in the US. Rather than make the worst of her situation, she embraced her predicament and made a life for herself. There is exactly no reason why Palestinian Arabs are unable to do that, apart from their vile leaders who think that justice only applies for them.

      In Israel, roughly 800,000 Jews came as refugees from Arab lands, including a good number from lands captured by Jordan in the 1948 war, from places now asserted by Palestinians as being wholly for Arabs – no Jews to be allowed. That is your idea of justice? Obviously not, unless you are a bigot.

      So, the issue is to find something that all involved can accept. The Israelis are not willing to become a minority group in an Arab country. Take a look around the part of the world where Israel is located. Only someone filled with hate – or an ideologue who refuses to think – could ask the Israelis to fold into another Arab tyranny, where minorities are treated far worse than what people accuse the Israelis of doing. And, that is not just in Syria. The entire Arab world is filled with persecuted minorities, to the point that Christians are leaving in droves, in a mass exodus.

      Wake up.

      • Harold January 31, 2014 at 6:16 pm | #

        So the land is yours, and they can become the diaspora?

        Do you realize how hypocritical that sounds?

      • Blinkenlights der Gutenberg February 2, 2014 at 1:52 am | #

        You should ask your wife whether perhaps some other people, besides herself, in fact were unable to leave the USSR…

  3. Phil Brander January 31, 2014 at 1:56 pm | #

    I meant to say “that they are there”?

  4. Mark Lefevre January 31, 2014 at 2:02 pm | #

    Corey. I apologize for saying this so bluntly, but you write like someone who’s never set foot in Israel. Please please please say it ain’t so!

    • Corey Robin January 31, 2014 at 2:26 pm | #

      It ain’t so. But more important: could you explain what you mean?

      • Mark Lefevre January 31, 2014 at 9:11 pm | #

        I’m glad to hear that. Hophmi makes essentially the same point (albeit with more aggression). Briefly, there’s something about the way you reduced all Jewish diaspora/Israeli experience to The Conflict. There’s a lot going on in Israel, and most of it has little to do with what seems to interest you.
        In the same way that I’ve often wondered if Max Blumenthal would write the same stories if he understood either of Israel’s main languages.

        • Corey Robin January 31, 2014 at 9:18 pm | #

          I understand. You do realize, of course, that the same could be said of any political issue one takes up. I write frequently for example about the workplace, particularly the role of coercion. Someone could easily and fairly say that I have a single-minded concern when it comes to the workplace. I don’t write, for example, about the production process in a factory; workflow issues; human resources departments; and much much more. I write about Edmund Burke a lot. I don’t write about every facet of Edmund Burke; I write about the facets that are of relevance. If I made pretensions or claims to be writing about Israel in all of its totality, your critique would be fair. But I don’t, so I’m not quite certain what force it has.

      • Mark Lefevre January 31, 2014 at 10:21 pm | #

        There is also a slight edge of misogyny to this whole piece. To be a Jew in the last century is to have been mocked and destroyed physically, but also culturally. “Jewish woman” might sound like a punchline to you, but it doesn’t to me.

      • Everett Benson February 4, 2014 at 3:00 am | #

        We’re talking about obsession here, Mark. Everything has to be connected with it, even an adolescent girl’s concern about hair style. Corey Robin has just reduced his “ideology” to an absurdity, and he does not even know it.

        In a post to an earlier item by Corey, I added “Obsession” to the famous “3Ds” Natan Sharansky defined as constituting antisemitism. I suspect that Corey would not dream of treating an adolescent girl’s social anxieties about hair so very polemically, ideologically and nastily if she lived in the Palestinian territories, England, Spain or the United States. The Double standards, Demonisation, and Delegitimisation only apply when it comes to Israel.

      • s. wallerstein February 4, 2014 at 8:24 am | #

        Obsession? How about specialization?

        No one can keep up with human rights violations in Syria, North Korea, the Ukraine, Honduras, Paraguay and Israel. There’s simply not enough time. So Corey specializes in Israel. Nothing obsessive about that.

        Why should a Jew single out Israel?

        Because there are those who first get their own house in order in ethical terms. It’s all too easy to point an accusing finger at human rights violations in far off lands: it hurts more to look at how those close to us also violate human rights, in this case, our fellow Jews in Israel.

        Does that make us self-hating Jews?

        No way. That makes us morally conscientious Jews, ethically scrupulous Jews, Jews who practice what they preach, that is, social justice.

      • s. wallerstein February 4, 2014 at 8:26 am | #

        What I wrote sounds a bit presumptous: how about “Jews who try to practice what they preach” instead of simply “practice what they preach”. We try, although we do not always succeed.

      • Everett Benson February 4, 2014 at 4:58 pm | #

        Sorry, s.wallerstein, the excuse does not fly. Corey’s obsession, as shown by making nasty and utterly irrelevant anti-Israel comments about a young Jewish woman’s anxieties about hair style and identity, do indeed betray the “3Ds” of antisemitism. It is even a show-case example of the immoral absurdities arrived at by double standards, demonisation and delegitimatisation. It is not excused by nor even connected with issues of social justice as alleged, serves to smear legitimate Jewish pride in identity, as such (evidently something that should not exist according to Corey), and actually has nothing to do with morality, Jewish or otherwise. Quite the opposite. It is a gratuitous expression of hate, the desire to inflict pain, to make an innocent woman to be ashamed of herself, and to put a Jew, as a Jew, on the defense.

        Manifestly and as this instance shows, Corey Robin is on the warpath against the Jewish people as such, their community and mainstream, both in Israel and the U.S. He even wants to lead the charge. To do so he willingly aligns himself with rabid antisemites who contribute freely to his blog. He sees no problem in their far-out attacks on Jews as such, on a wide range of topics. He even spurs them on with a constant stream of his own sneering lead articles. This has nothing to do with social justice, s.wallerstein. That is just the usual sort of hypocritical excuse for encouraging attacks on Jews. Only the highest motivations are claimed for attacks on a girl’s Jewish identity.

        And what, after all, is the substance of this attack? That the would-be murderers of Jews should at all times and by definition be affirmed uncritically and sympathetically by Jews, their immoral behaviours should become one’s own cause and even replace one’s own joys in being alive, and their hatred of the Jewish people should be shared? Come on.

  5. Walt kovacs January 31, 2014 at 2:20 pm | #

    Silly blog post written by a silly man, with an unrequited hate of Jewish women

    • easytolo January 31, 2014 at 2:48 pm | #

      ‘unrequited hatred’ I don’t that word means what you think it means

      • Blinkenlights der Gutenberg February 2, 2014 at 2:02 am | #

        Oh, but it’s true. No matter his seething hatred, the Jewish ladies swoon after Corey. To them, he’s just playing hard to get.

    • Harold January 31, 2014 at 6:17 pm | #

      Silly troll who has a position and sticks to it no matter what.

  6. s. wallerstein January 31, 2014 at 2:40 pm | #

    Palestinians rarely have blond hair themselves.

    Would it have been so weird for this woman to return from Israel feeling a sense of sisterhood with all so-called semitic women?

    I myself have semitic hair, felt ugly when a teenager because of it and gradually, stopped striving for honorary aryan or anglo-saxon status and began to identify with my Mediterranean roots.

  7. hophmi January 31, 2014 at 2:59 pm | #

    “Nowhere in Shokin’s discussion does she even give a hint that she’s aware that her feeling at home comes at a cost to someone else.”

    So, according to Corey Robin, every American who goes to Israel and writes about it is required to include a Corey Robin-approved line about how Israel exists only because of Palestinian suffering? Every article, including one about hair, has to include the politics of the conflict?

    This is the kind of insufferable self-righteousness you might expect from a freshman college student, not a philosophy professor. It’s like a disease on the left. Who the hell are you to presume that she has no opinion on the Palestinians?

    • s. wallerstein January 31, 2014 at 3:37 pm | #

      Maybe the world is divided into those who, whether they want to or not, can’t help noticing who is being oppressed in any given society and those who can. The folks who can’t go on a vacation to a tropical resort hotel without being aware of the surrounding poverty and those bewitched by the false smiles and happy natives and who can.

      Is there a moral imperative to belong to the first group? No, probably not.

      Those who can’t help noticing, often accused of ruining the party, probably even envy a little those who never see the frowns on the clowns (as the song goes), but I suspect the world would be a better place if we all opened our eyes a little to the oppression and exploitation which fuels most of our parties.

  8. Jara Handala January 31, 2014 at 3:34 pm | #

    What is British hair? Is it different from English hair? What about German hair? Can such a thing exist? How long has it existed for? Was there ever GDR hair? And Soviet hair? Or USA hair?

    What about Muslim hair? Buddhist hair? Bahá’í hair? – at least that shares the first three letters.

    Why on earth would anyone be so brainwashed that they think their hair could be Jewish? Does Judaic hair need special Judaic shampoo & conditioner? Perhaps the special special products can only be made in Israel, or at least only under licence from Israeli companies?

    As we know, people get together to do stuff on an occasional or regular basis, & it can be religious or secular. When this stuff is of the Judaic kind, it is Jew stuff, not other stuff. Call all this effort Jew-work. In doing this work these people constitute a religioised & ethnicised group of people, a group enacting themselves as Jews. And when the secular practices extend beyond known family then in order to keep the Judaic label they are necessarily the attribute of fictive kin, the wonderful world of the fantasy ethnic family, the Jew family, one people, one nation, one world. Please. This is the 21st century. Primordial myth-making is not only so pre-Enlightenment it is anti-Enlightenment.

    What started as a European religioising-ethnicising Jewish nationalism ended up as a Jewish supremacism in Palestine. Rather than being a regular nationalism of an oppressed minority trying to fight oppression where they lived, the project was to create in Europe a supra-national community, of Jews, & then leave. So it began, uniquely, as an emigratory nationalism, to go to a foreign place (xenotopic, a xenotopic nationalism), to go to another place (allotopic, an allotopic nationalism), be it Uganda, Madagascar, Palestine. And given the distribution of humans on the planet it was almost certainly going to have to be a colonising nationalism, &, given the power relations, a parasitic nationalism dependent upon a host imperialist state.

    And in all this it proved to be. Its peculiarities are not just its origins but the sorts of origin it had: being an emigratory nationalism it was allotopic; as they were foreigners it was xenotopic; & arising in the late 19th century it could not avoid being colonising & parasitic. And as the land was already inhabited, & the colonisers a minority, the emigratory nationalists would need supremacist ambitions to sustain their rule. Thus the nationalism grew over into a supremacism.

    But back to Samantha & her epiphanic homecoming. We haven’t considered Judaic law: is hair also solely matrilineal? But what about the immigration law of Israel that one grandparent is good enough to be brushed with the right kind of tar? What about laws elsewhere when it was one-eighth? Which is right, which is just? How can we adjudicate? Is it possible to adjudicate rationally in all this? And do Judaic dads have some say in this, including Samantha Shokin’s dad? And don’t get me started on what an Eritrean might have to say to her about curly, shocking black hair.

    • Corey Robin January 31, 2014 at 3:38 pm | #

      “Why on earth would anyone be so brainwashed that they think their hair could be Jewish?”

      I’m not sure whom this comment is directed to — someone on the blog, the *Tablet* writer I discussed, who? — but I think it’s clear in the article I discuss that the writer doesn’t think there’s such a thing as Jewish hair in a biological or essential or religious sense. She’s referring to a stereotype and how it affected her growing up. Don’t see that as brainwashed; it’s just what it means to be socialized in a particular culture, one that validates certain dominant norms of beauty that are either associated with a specific ethnic group or that are meant to validate a specific ethnic group. That’s all.

      • Jara Handala January 31, 2014 at 5:50 pm | #

        Samantha Shokin says, “I spent a lifetime hating my Jewish hair.” I would never describe my hair other than the qualities it has: dark, quite straight, medium length. It is not rational to ascribe a religioised or ethnicised or racialised attribute to one’s hair – but to apply those kinds of attribute to the oppression & exploitation one may endure, & any stereotypes arising from that, perhaps yes, but not to one’s hair.

        She speaks of gentiles & goys: “petite blonde gentiles”, & “goyish hair and slender, hairless bodies”. She describes herself as more of a Jew than a Russian: a “Russian Jew”, not a ‘Jewish Russian’ – nor, indeed, an American; & in Israel, she says, “[e]verywhere I looked, I saw evidence of consanguinity”. The only time she uses scare quotes around ‘Jew’ & its cognates is when she describes seeing in a film someone “complete with ‘Jewish’ hair (despite the character not being Jewish).”

        There is no evidence in what she wrote that she doesn’t believe her hair is Jewish: to repeat, “I spent a lifetime hating my Jewish hair” – not her ‘stereotypically Jewish, more accurately Ashkenazi, hair’. At no point does she problematise, as it were, what it is to be a Jew. She can’t even bring herself to be consistent & consider her hair Ashkenazi: no, it’s Jewish. Of course that is her prerogative. Likewise it is of anyone to point out her uncritical conception of what it is to be a Jew.

        (Her outlook is consistent with the editorial line of ‘Tablet Magazine’: just after her article starts there’s a promo for another side of the ‘Tablet’, “Learn To Love Your Jewish Body”. Blood on the inside, blood on the outside.)

        Her final sentences: “Israelis are famously open, but I marveled not only at the familial atmosphere but by the fact that many locals physically resembled me. People addressed me in Hebrew, assuming I was one of them. Every other pedestrian looked like a cousin or an uncle. Their faces were my own.” The photo of her is cosmopolitan Tel Aviv beach. In her whole article, as with almost any news coverage, one could not imagine that 25% of Israel’s citizens are non-Jews – & that official figure ( excludes the non-people: “202 000 foreign workers” & “those who entered the country without a visa and did not arrive through recognized border checkpoints”, my Eritrean & her companions. But maybe she only saw those Jews descended from Khazars. What can she be talking about? Judaic-tinted spectacles can be more powerful than a tank.

        I read her article twice before making my original comment. I take care in what I say, I’m not flippant, but even so I should have been explicit & put scare quotes around the word in question. If ‘brainwashing’ isn’t acceptable then think of this example of the religioising-ethnicising fantasy process as ‘hairwashing’.

      • Jara Handala January 31, 2014 at 8:00 pm | #

        Whoops, only just noticed her article trips into a second page, apologies. But it only corroborates what I have said:

        “I was one of the tribe . . .

        “At that moment it felt like our hirsute tribal marking—a collection of people, once scattered among the far reaches of the globe”

        No scare quotes, no euphemistic language, it’s literal: she takes as a reality what she calls Jewish “consanguinity” – some pan-Jew stuff, in the blood, distinguishing “the tribe”.

        As I pointed out in another thread, invoking the summary work of Shlomo Sand, a worldwide Jewish people or nation is an invention, a myth, an incredibly dangerous myth for everyone, whether one considers oneself a Jew or not. There was no exile, no scattering, no wandering, so no diaspora, & so no return: it’s been the ideology of a colonising project.

        And although Samantha says, “[t]he sense of place I felt in Israel has yet to be matched . . . I felt at home there and alienated everywhere else”, & of “making aliyah”, she doesn’t see herself taking part – an opportunity denied to most of the world as they embody the wrong stuff, the wrong “consanguinity”. In plain language, she meets the racist immigration criteria, most don’t.

        (In my first comment I should have avoided ambiguity by being explicit, rather than ironic, & put scare quotes around ‘homecoming’ as that was her first time in Palestine.)

        Her ‘Tablet’ article has almost 50 comments. Those of note: tribal language of seemingly ‘white’ racialised separatists (Heathen Holiday; Larry Clone); an anti-Judaic comment by Niles Crane that I reported to ‘Tablet’; & “I have no idea what makes this ‘Jewish’ hair” & “there appears to be as many different types of hair among other jews [sic] as anybody else” (Lisa Yanofsky Matkowsky). There are two longer comments by Anya Achtenberg, who in passing says, “[a]ll I ask is not to mystify where this hair came from, like, from the Jewish hair factory”:

        “This is a lovely, kind of ‘touristic’ view of being Jewish and having a certain kind of hair . . . I think this article does something quite terrible, something that the Jewish ‘community’ often does. I think we can agree that Jews are not A Race. There are all kinds of Jews. Pretending that someone like me, with some roots in Spain — and, therefore, Northern Africa, is just the same as a German Jew who may (or may not — people were in massive migrations for how many centuries?) have straight blond hair, is a big lie which covers the complexity of history and race that is Jewishness. That hair, my hair, comes from somewhere. It is not spontaneous Jewish hair combustion. It means a connection to race. To various lineages. To Africa. This is understood in many places but since the US is all about whiteness, making Jews white, that enormous knowledge of history – seems to disappear. This Jew, light skinned, is not all white. I am mixed and I am sick of classifications removing my African and Asian/Indigenous roots. This article makes ‘nice’ and whitens history . . . I, for instance, must stand with African refugees to Israel. I feel them to be my family, my cousins, racially as well as ethically, as much as the Jews who are also my family. Indeed, the treatment I received as a young person with that hair was often most brutal from other Jews — the ‘whiter’ ones, and often most welcoming from the African American and Latinos I met in NY. All I ask is not to mystify where this hair came from, like, from the Jewish hair factory. The more we lose our true history, INCLUDING who we are in terms of our complex ethnicities, the more we lose our deep being, and our real place in the world. [my ellipses]

        “As well, I think this is a symptom connected to the frantic work to keep ‘demographics’ in Israel ‘whiter’. It completely related to the treatment of Palestinians — our deep cousins that would be considered NOT white. Jews — white. Huh? Idiotic fables. That frantic, keep it white, keep it Jewish, demographic panic in Israel is part of the mystification of who Jews are, where we come from, who is OUR FAMILY. With whom we share origins, race, migrations, beds, blood, and an urgent need for peace and community.”

      • Paul S February 1, 2014 at 9:57 am | #

        During the Spanish inquisition wasn’t red hair considered Jewish hair?

  9. Ayman Fadel January 31, 2014 at 5:42 pm | #

    Reblogged this on Aym Playing and commented:
    Palestine should not be a summer camp for American Jews to discover themselves.

    • hophmi January 31, 2014 at 7:54 pm | #

      She wasn’t in Palestine.

    • freespeechlover February 1, 2014 at 4:29 pm | #

      Thanks. Well put.

      • freespeechlover February 1, 2014 at 4:31 pm | #

        To clarify–my comment was in reply to Ayman Fadel not hophmi.

      • hophmi February 1, 2014 at 4:53 pm | #

        That’s OK. Mine is at least factual. His is not.

      • Jara Handala February 1, 2014 at 8:07 pm | #

        hophmi, you say, “[s]he wasn’t in Palestine” is “factual”?

        Well, not according to the official annotation (in square brackets) of the first sentence of the very first statement of the Israeli state – here courtesy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel:

        “ERETZ-ISRAEL [(Hebrew) – the Land of Israel, Palestine] was the birthplace of the Jewish people.”
        (‘The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel’, 14 May 1948) (love that this is in the ‘Peace’ directory)

        Any reader of this proclamation of the People’s Council may also be quite surprised to see that two common political words do not appear: ‘liberal’ & ‘democracy’, & their cognates, are absent.

  10. Ayman Fadel January 31, 2014 at 8:11 pm | #

    I posted this to my Facebook wall. A friend of mine wrote:

    I get BDS. If I were Palestinian, I’d probably be all for it. And Palestinians in and out of the territories have a legitimate and urgent set of grievances, taking a book’s worth of pages from Max Blumenthal’s excellent book Goliath, published late last year. But this is a nasty piece of work, this essay, reeking of a smugness of someone who has no vested interest in the region and no ability to put himself in someone else’s shoes except when it’s fashionable to do so. There is a vibrant Israeli culture. There is a spoken language, Hebrew, resurrected after several millennia. To take pride on these things is not necessarily to dump on Palestinians.

    • Michael January 31, 2014 at 9:27 pm | #


      I love your blog. I’m happy there are leftist voices like yours out there. Sometimes, when I’m riding the bus, I think: “What will happen when we lose Noam Chomsky? The center will not hold.”

      But then I read posts by writers like yourself, and I feel better.


      • Corey Robin January 31, 2014 at 9:31 pm | #

        You made my day!

    • Jonny Butter February 2, 2014 at 1:00 pm | #

      In a rape culture, you can say things like “We can’t really know what really happened, so let’s all act as if Woody Allen is innocent (and she is lying).”

      Corey and others have linked to this really good essay about the Woody Allen thing, which I think is pertinent to this post. That Prof. Robin gave Shokin’s article a sympathetic reading is essential to the point of his post, IMO. The point is that you have to think through the implications of what you say and do, just as Mr Bady does, and insists we do re: Woody Allen.

  11. Corey Robin January 31, 2014 at 10:30 pm | #

    Mark Lefevre: “There is also a slight edge of misogyny to this whole piece. To be a Jew in the last century is to have been mocked and destroyed physically, but also culturally. ‘Jewish woman’ might sound like a punchline to you, but it doesn’t to me.”

    I guess you just skipped over the longest paragraph in this post. The one that begins “Shokin does a wonderful job describing” and ends with “she feels at home.”

  12. A. John Doe February 2, 2014 at 1:05 pm | #

    Hi Corey,

    I want to point out that the author is not a girl who simply went on a trip to Israel (nor even ‘simply went to Israel as a “Birthright”‘), but the Digital Media Specialist at the Anti-Defamation League.

    From her LinkedIn Profile (which I won’t link to, but a quick google search will show the public profile):
    Samanatha Shokin:

    Digital Media Relations Specialist
    Anti-Defamation League
    Nonprofit; 201-500 employees; Nonprofit Organization Management industry
    July 2013 – Present (8 months) New York
    – Write and edit press releases, blogs, news advisories, and feature stories
    – Edit the League’s newsletter, HeADLines, which has thousands of readers worldwide
    – Publish, update, and maintain news content on the organization’s website
    – Coordinate with media and help pitch news stories
    – Develop public relations opportunities through both traditional and social media platforms

    I want to draw emphasis on “write/edit press releases, blogs, stories” and “coordinate with media and help pitch news stories”…. so, by calling herself a “freelance Brooklyn writer,” Ms. Shokin is willfully misrepresenting herself.

    I think the criticism leveled at the article would be different had Ms. Shokin more accurately described herself as “a writer and PR specialist for the Anti-Defamation League, a pro-Israel organization dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism.”

    • Jara Handala February 2, 2014 at 11:31 pm | #

      1) Well, if this is all true, A John Doe, then it puts a completely different complexion, or tint, on the matter of Jewish hair, & on the article as a whole.

      So Samantha Shokin is the (sole?) editor of the ADL’s only weekly publication, the punning HeADLines? At the ADL site one can sign up to this online-only news digest, but strangely it gives no info about the staff, & neither does it have its archive nor a link to where it may be read. Guess it’s mirrored to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Givat Ram, Al-Quds, where a humble clerk eagerly awaits an email each Sunday.

      And Ms Shokin is a “Digital Media Relations Specialist”, & she “help[s] pitch news stories”. Well, pitch she certainly did, &, as if in reverse, the ‘Tablet’ did the swallowing. So spring semester 2011 in Israel, her junior year, then a few months after her senior year at the NYC HQ of the ADL. Pitching & editing. ‘Developing opportunities’. One being taking advantage of one’s peculiar hair, Jewish hair.

      In fairness though, Mr Doe, the published byline, “a freelance writer living in Brooklyn”, would be the responsibility of an editor at the ‘Tablet’. You may be right that that was all the info the ‘Tablet’ had, but would anyone suggest that the ‘Tablet’ managers don’t know who edits the ADL’s only weekly publication, a news digest, a source that they can use themselves to recycle stories or ideas of perceived interest to their own readers? Unlikely. Very unlikely. So I don’t think it counts as misrepresentation, more likely either or both parties being ‘economical with the truth’, perhaps a nod & a wink.

      2) One strategy used by the Israeli state & its foreign supporters since the War On Gaza has been an attempt to ‘normalise’ what Israel & its society is all about, & to get the attention of foreign media away from the colonising & the occupying, all that nasty, un-photogenic stuff. Hence more stories on Israeli modern architecture, holiday locations, having fun!, IDF babes on Instagram, cuisine, hydroponic agriculture, high tech industries, software writing, gay discos. Even Jewish hair.

      3) Thanx to Corey I have been introduced to the ‘Tablet’, which I didn’t know existed. Browsing, an article caught my eye, an interesting one on a debate at McGill, Montreal, in 1961 between Arnold Toynbee & Yaacov Herzog. And it is an exemplar of this ‘normalising’ approach, & it fits in with Corey’s post today about their trying to regain control of the discussion.

      The author is a ‘Tablet’ regular it says, & he works in Al-Quds, at the Israel State Archives, “the national archives” says the link. But he’s probably not an archivist, tending the 40km of records (24 miles), he has a much more exciting job, he’s an editor. Yes, another editor; writing at the ‘Tablet’. But Yair Rosenberg’s byline is quite upfront, he’s “the editor of the English-language blog” of the ISA – albeit with a direct line to the ‘Tablet’.

      Of note is his argument made in the final section. It starts, “[t]oday, the understanding of the Jewish state that Herzog conveyed – a normal state with normal problems – is almost entirely absent from the public discourse . . . He acknowledged Israel’s fallibility, like that of any other nation. Vindication for Herzog rested not in clearing Israel of any wrongdoing, but in situating its failures in the context of human failure. By compelling Toynbee to concede that Israel’s moral offenses were no different than those of any other country, he established that Israel’s crime was not its inhumanity, but its humanity.” Jews can be bad too. They’re human. They’re just like anyone else. They’re not special.

      By contrast, Rosenberg continues, if Israel is either demonised or presented as the offspring of an immaculate conception then “it becomes almost impossible to have a normal conversation about Israel or its problems.”

      He concludes: “The best way, then, to mark the 53rd anniversary of Herzog’s successful showdown with Toynbee is to reclaim Herzog’s Israel, with all its imperfections and promise. Because if we continue to treat the Jewish state as a fossil – something to be displayed pristinely on a shelf, or buried in the dustbin of history, rather than understood as a living, breathing, and sometimes flawed organism – Toynbee will have won after all.”

      So get used to the normalising offensive. It’s going to be ratcheted up to counter the growing boycott, divestment & sanctions campaigns. Thing is though, a supremacist state & society is not normal. The Deep South, apartheid South Africa, not normal. A religioising-ethnicising Jewish Israeli supremacism is not normal, not even normal by the standard of either Judaism or Jewish history. Trying to hold on to land occupied for almost 47 years, acquired through a war of aggression, is not normal – moreover it violates international law. Colonising that land is also not normal – again, violates international law. Israel is not normal. Period.

      Rosenberg & his fellow state managers will try their best, they’ll use new techniques & approaches, their foreign supporters will push the guilt-shame buttons, & the reactionary drift within Israel will no doubt accelerate. The laager fortifies itself. The wagons move ever tighter. They’re hoping for the Red Indian Solution, imitating their North American teachers. A strategy of attrition, sitting it out, decrying an anti-Judaic world. Much depends on the nerve of the Palestinian negotiators. Sumud, as ever, remains the order of the day.

  13. Corey Robin February 4, 2014 at 5:06 pm | #

    Everett Benson: It’s Tuesday, the day every week that I pick up my five-year-old daughter from school and take her to Hebrew School. On Saturday we’ll be in shul together. I shouldn’t have to say this, and it pains me to have to say it, but not only am I Jewish, I am happily and proudly Jewish. So that’s out of the way. Now here’s the next step. This is my blog. I find false and self-serving accusations of anti-Semitism to be distasteful enough when I read them elsewhere, but I sure as hell don’t have to tolerate them on my blog, much less when they’re leveled at me. So this is your warning. You bring up that accusation against me again, and you’re banned. No excuses, no explanations, no second chances. Move on to another topic, or you’ll be moved along from here.

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