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Race from a Jewish perspective

G'day. In submitting this piece, expressly as a response to Irfan's last piece, Sue Hoffman expressed her reservation that perhaps this piece was 'too personal' for a Webdiary thread-starter. So I pass her concern on to Webdiarists as a qualifier. This is Sue's truth, and it is a perspective of hope and outreach. It is a very simple message, and in an ocean of cynicism and conflicting facts, it is worth, just for a moment, our pure focus. Sue's last piece was Postcard from Damascus.

I’m Jewish, grew up in a Jewish community in England, went to a Jewish primary school. My older sister who’s worked for Jewish organisations most of her adult life is a well-respected member of that community. My mum and younger sister live in Israel. I’m well-grounded in the faith (or used to be, probably forgotten much of it) even though I don’t adhere to its practices. I look Jewish. Transiting through Amman airport terminal recently en route to Damascus, staff insisted on directing me to Gate 6 which would have been right if I was going to Tel Aviv.

An advocate for refugees and asylum seekers, I was targeted by white supremacists who graffitied my home with anti-refugee sentiments and large swastikas although they didn’t realise at the time I was Jewish. Double whammy for them. They also vandalised a synagogue, SIX MILLION … PLUS CHIPS in huge letters written on the walls of the Kosher foodshop in the synagogue grounds.

As the same mob had previously firebombed Chinese restaurants, it was a bit scary for me until the perps were caught a couple of days later. Loads of people contacted me, many offering a place to stay until it settled down including Muslims of varying nationalities. Some I wouldn’t even say were friends, don’t know them that well, I’d classify them more as acquaintances.

I agree completely with Irfan’s sentiment that “Jewish and Muslim organisations and leaders must realise that only by actively cooperating against xenophobia will they achieve substantial gains in Western countries where cultural chauvinism is on the rise. In the nominally Christian West, both Jews and Muslims are minorities. Both are potentially vulnerable.” In addition, there’s plenty for Jews and Muslims not in leadership roles who do.

Being a member of a minority group that’s experienced so much persecution is one of the reasons I’m passionate about the refugee issue and anti-Muslim sentiments. I was brought up to say I was Jewish, not English; to identify with my genetic heritage rather than the country I resided in; not surprising when you consider the treatment of Jews in many countries over the centuries.

I didn’t use to announce all over the place that I’m Jewish but that’s changed in recent years. Addressing groups and writing about anti-Muslim sentiments, I’m told it adds to the credibility of my arguments to say “Look I’m a Jew and my experience is that by majority Muslims are OK. Take away the political dimensions and we get on great.”

I don’t want to downplay or ignore the huge problems that exist. Talking about the Palestine/Israel situation with my mum (who lives in Israel) which we rarely do as it’s such a painful topic, she once said that she wished a bomb would drop on all the Palestinians, to which I responded “You advocating genocide then?” And of course she doesn’t, not my mum. She went on to say, quite rightly, “You don’t know what its like unless you live here”, which applies equally to daily life of the Palestinians of course. She next told me about a man I’d been at school with who’d had the back of his head blown off on his way home from synagogue the previous week.

When I was last in Israel, I stayed in a Jewish village in the north of the country. The children from the nearby Arab town attended the village kindy and the Jewish farmers sold produce to shopkeepers in the town. Security was always a consideration – the village was surrounded by a fence which the men of the village patrolled every and all night – but generally there was no problem.

Until a bomb would go off in Tel Aviv or wherever. The Arab kids stopped coming to the school and the Jews stayed away from the Arab town until the tensions started to ease, as they invariably did. Soon after one of these incidents, I went with a farmer friend to the Arab town for him to sell artichokes and me to buy what he said was the best humus and falafel you could get. Driving through the streets you could see the remnants of anti-Jewish posters and placards from the previous days’ rallies and feel the tension in the air. He left me in his truck while he went into the shop. A group of Arab lads, teenagers, walked by, saw me and stared, emanating raw hate with an intensity I hope I never encounter again. Nothing actually happened, my friend returned to the truck with the food, and the lads left.

Here in Perth, I visit Muslim friends in their homes, they come to mine. No big deal. We have fascinating conversations about Muslims, Jews, Arabs, Middle Eastern history, Iraq and more recently cartoons. There’s plenty we disagree on but that’s OK.

In Postcard from Damascus, I wrote about my experiences in Damascus living with an Iraqi family. One of my reasons for doing this was to demonstrate a side of Muslims that’s often overlooked, ordinary family stuff; also to illustrate that people from different cultures can get along together and that many Muslims are well, quite nice people when you bother to get to know them. As are many Jews. Extremists of all persuasions probably warrant different descriptors.

I know that my personal contact with Muslims here and overseas, especially those who’ve never met a Jew before, has made a difference in how they think about Jews. A drop in the ocean for sure but it’s a start.

As a final anecdote, at a gathering of ethnic community groups after the graffiti episode, I was introduced to an African man who was unsure whether it was Blacks or Jews who’d suffered the most down the centuries. He resolved his dilemma by giving me a big hug whilst announcing to all present that he and I were brothers. Sweet.


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It's good to read Sue's reflection. Of course people will reach peaceful and productive agreements on the human level. That's what we do.

Disarmament creates the space in which human feelings can change and develop. Disarm.

Wake up call

On February 16, 2006, the Iranian reformist Internet daily Rooz reported for the first time that extremist clerics from Qom had issued what the daily called "a new fatwa," which states that "Shari'a does not forbid the use of nuclear weapons."

"[Mohsen Gharavian, a disciple of Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi who is Iranian President Ahmadinejad's spiritual mentor] said that he sees no problem with the military use of nuclear weapons [sic]: 'One must say that when the entire world is armed with nuclear weapons, it is only natural that, as a counter-measure, it is necessary to be able to use these weapons. However, what is important is what goal they may be used for.'"


For some reason, that RoozOnline link doesn't work directly from here, but it connects fine from this MEMRI page.

The core problem

Sue, a very good piece, that expresses the reality of the average person and how they don't reflect the attitudes of the ruling elite. I am sure that like your mother, we all just want the problem to go away. What she said, was from frustration and not a desire for the blood of Palestinians.

Your entire article tells the story of the fear and repression that the people of the world suffer, because of ideological conflict. We have the same here with our current situation, where the vast majority just want to get on with life and enjoy it in a responsible way.

No matter which way you look at it, it shows us to the basic problem throughout our world is religion. In all conflicts, its religion that is at the core of the problems. To me religion is infantile and the domain of the unintelligent mind, yet I respect a persons right to believe what they want to, as long as it doesn't cause harm to others... How we overcome that is anybody's guess, but overcome it we must. If we don't, then all we can look forward to is more violent conflicts between monotheistic beliefs.

It's been that way for the last couple of thousand years, yet instead of these people that believe in the same god and have their origins in the same place, becoming closer together and providing an example that expresses their beliefs in the way they would have us believe. They continue to cause more and more trouble, some under the guise of economic power and control.

I would like someone to put forward a solution, other than the most obvious but hardest one. The removal of religious influence, public expression and promotion.

Common humanity

Sue, a wonderful piece.  A drop in the ocean, sure, but every drop helps.

You really hit the mark; it’s all about finding our common humanity.  History is chock full of terrible examples of what happens when people are reduced to an abstraction - ‘the Jew’ ‘the Muslim’, ‘the black’ etc. – and then demonised. The Nazis who ran Auschwitz didn’t think of Jews as humans like them, they thought of them as something akin to rats, which is literally how they were portrayed in Nazi propaganda videos.

The piece reminded me of an anecdote I read about in John Glover’s Humanity – A Moral History of the 20th Century. I’m probably remembering the details badly, but it goes something like this. In South Africa during the bad old days of apartheid, a white policeman was chasing down a black woman after a protest march. He had his truncheon out, ready to give her a good thrashing.  As the women ran, one of her shoes came off. The white policeman had been well brought up and understood that when a (white) women loses her shoe you pick it up for her. The policeman instinctively did just that and found himself handing the shoe to the woman he was about to beat up. Having acknowledged her humanity, however unwittingly, he was then unable to follow through with the truncheon and left her alone.

Thank you Sue

Sue, I too am so very pleased you wrote this and gave us permission to publish it.

It will be wonderful to see a conversation amongst members of the Webdiary community characterised by the postive vibe you've experienced.

My hope is that all comment on this thread reflect that, though I will be thrilled if even most of it does. We look to be off to a good start, so my hope is buoyed by that.

grounds for hope

Brings to mind a Faye Kellerman novel that I just read set in Los Angeles, that seemed to propose a similar process of engagement as part of the solution.

This is a substantial post and points to the obscured fact that the solution to the conflict rests not only with big financial inflows as lubricant and fair treaties, but a grass-roots location that will reverse the reifying trends of recent times. People and kids, whole families playing, sharing meals and in classrooms growing up with each other. You can't want to "wipe" someone you know personally. Hopefully there would be less likelihood that you might want to see them starving or homeless, either.

Sue Hoffman's post is the first positive approach to the Palestine/Israel for such a long time that at it actually strikes me with its originality. The cruelling of optimism and the entrenched seige mentality of many in a part of the world where most of us could only imagine the realities of everyday life, is a dominant reality, after all.

The beginnings of change in Northern Ireland only began to commence, when grass-roots engagement often involving cross-faith working-class women fed up with the costs of the violence developed.

The fact of Blair's goverment was the belated "tipping" factor that occurred to employ the change of heart felt by many as generator for action. Unfortunately, a US administration of like outlook is not in place, although Clinton's fitful efforts after Oslo did indicate future possibilities, if the will and intent were strong enough.

Who will be the people who midwife a incremental change in the future, one wonders?

We know that the Sue Hoffmans and say Irfan Yusufs or Hanan Ashrawis of the world could probably ultimately engineer change over a brew of coffeee or tea, but how deeply is the damage described by Hoffman, concerning her mum as example on all sides, entrenched that has to be overcome?

And what of all those  who have a vested interest in violence, ignorance and prejudice; and worse still, base political or financial gain from them?

So glad

Sue, I'm so glad you wrote this. So often we find leaders getting caught up in conflicts over big issues while people on the ground just want to show love and goodwill.

Only when we interact as human beings and not just political animals will we learn to get along.

Vandals and graffiti victims

Lovely story about the discrepancy between the “political line” and the acts and feelings of citizens. There are now, of course, good examples, also broadcast on Australian television, of a people's movement between the two countries, where Palestinian youths and Israeli young people join in, if I remember correctly, mixed dance classes - and how they report that they are mutually discovering many things they have in common.

However, a comment about Ms Hoffman's statement "I was targeted by white supremacists who graffitied my home with anti-refugee sentiments and large swastikas although they didn’t realise at the time I was Jewish": Suresh Rajan, past President of the Ethnic Communities Council of Western Australia, tells me that during the court prosecution of the vandals who did the graffiti, it became publicly clear that it was not Ms Hoffman who was targeted, but her house or residential address, because the “white supremacists” were wrongly under the impression that it was Suresh Rajan who was the resident at this address. That's quite a difference in the state of affairs that should be brought to Ms Hoffman's attention. See the most seditious Australian website!

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