When the Oppressed Become Oppressors

Probably no group has suffered more over the centuries at the hands of Christianity than Jews.

A simple grumbling in some Medieval village about the “killers of Jesus” was all it took to ignite a bloody demonic fury resulting in unimaginable carnage. For centuries, it was pogroms, then modernity gave us the Holocaust.

Today, this ancient ambition for a final solution finds expression in the rise of antisemitic violence. In 2021, such violence hit a record high of 2,717 incidents within the United States alone.

To stand in solidarity with the persecuted is to stand against my Christian siblings and with my Jewish siblings.

But what happens when the oppressed become the new oppressors?

For six weeks, I was in Palestine conducting research. I witnessed apartheid, I witnessed settler colonialism, I witnessed oppression, I witnessed the attempt to systematically humiliate a people.

The hope of a two-state solution is no longer feasible because the illegal settlements on Palestinian land has made such an option unattainable. Israel needs the Palestinians to simply vanish; hence, laws and policies are enacted to drive away those with economic means to flee.

And for those who don’t – they are subjected to a neo-Jim Crow. Laws that were once used to segregate Jews throughout the world are now enacted by the State of Israel to segregate Palestinians.

To stand in solidarity with the persecuted is to stand against my Zionist siblings and with my Palestinian siblings.

Often, those who have experienced oppression confuse liberation with equality with the oppressor – desiring to be like the oppressor, dreaming to take the place of the oppressor.

Paulo Friere, who wrote the classic Pedagogy of the Oppressed, argues this point, claiming that the oppressed internalizes the image of the oppressor and adopts their guidelines, their worldview. Lacking alternative liberative models to emulate, the oppressed often replicate the structures which have privileged oppressors.

This is what occurred after the Holocaust, according to Talmudic Studies professor Daniel Boyarin.

He argued that emancipated Jews became desperate to remake the Jewish male in the image of Anglo-Saxon as the ultimate white male of their world. The Zionist 1940s writers glorified the “beautiful death” of the Warsaw rebels, a desired paragon over and against the “ugly death” of the concentration camp martyrs.

It seems to me that Zionism is a whitening process, a toxic masculinity which developed to overcompensate the so-called “femininity” of those who passively walked to their deaths in the camps.

Boyarin understands Zionism as “colonialist drag” – an attempt to prove Jews are as manly as their previous oppressors.

Zionism, he argues, becomes the colonial project of transforming Jewish men – the creation of a “new Jew” – into a type of an ideal Aryan male, to become kexol haggoyim (like all the nations) in an attempt restore the Jew’s honor and get him once-and-for-all out of the ghetto.

Zionism, I would argue, becomes the cure of emasculation, leading to assimilation with the settler colonialist mentality.

The U.S. rugged frontiersman had its Indians, where those who were not genocided were herded into reservations. Israel has its Palestinians, where those who are not decimated are segregated behind a wall demarcating the West Bank. Both in the U.S. and in Israel, the colonizers redefine themselves as natives.

No doubt there will be those who will seek to dismiss me, to discredit me with accusations of antisemitism. But that is a risk I must take if I ever want to overcome my shameful silence on the oppression I witnessed.

We have redefined the term to encompass any criticism of a Zionist political state. Using such logic, anyone who criticizes China – as I do – is anti-Asian; anyone who criticizes the Cuban nation, my homeland – as I do – is anti-Latiné; anyone who criticizes the U.S.A. – as I do – is anti-American.

A difference exists between criticizing a government which is complicit with repression and hating a people due to their race, ethnicity or religion. Anyone who criticizes the State of Israel is not antisemitic, quite the contrary.

It is the most faithful supporters of Israel – evangelicals and fundamentalists – who salivate for an eschatological final solution of the Jews. Support for Israel has nothing to do with solidarity with a historically persecuted people. The only reason they are friends with Israel is to usher in the Second Coming, which ends with all Jews who reject the Christ being cast into the lake of fire.

The Israeli government knows of the duplicitous and disingenuous reason for proclaimed friendship by Christians on the right but ignore their not-so-hidden agenda for political expedience. Both are using each other; both deserve each other.

From Bethlehem, I would take the No. 231 bus to the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. At the checkpoint, all Palestinians were forced to disembark and have their papers examined. They stood in long lines under a hot beating sun – no shade – as pimple-faced teenagers with assault rifles draped over their shoulders checked their papers with disgust and contempt.

I was forbidden to join them. I just had to wave my golden ticket – a U.S. passport – to stay in my comfortable seat on the bus.

On this particular day, an elderly Palestinian woman refused to get off the bus. Maybe she was tired. Maybe she had had enough of the daily indignations. Maybe she was standing – or should I say sitting – for her rights to be treated as a human, to be treated with dignity.

I noticed the two teenage soldiers approach her. Their voices rose. I did not understand what they were saying but it was obvious they were demanding she gets off the bus.

One held her IMI Galil assault rifle in a menacing manner. She defiantly yelled back. The atmosphere was tense. I was witnessing a Rosa Parks moment.

As Aesop noted: “It is always easy to be brave from a safe distance.” I always fancy myself as standing up for the oppressed regardless of the situation.

I’m sure I would have said something as Jews were being rounded up in Nazi Germany. No doubt I would have stood up against Jim and Jane Crow during the civil rights era.

But as I witnessed this brave woman “sit” against her oppressors, I just sat there and watched. Mutely. Eventually, she gave up and got off the bus, leaving me behind to my shame of silence.

We are told oppression flourishes because people like me – and maybe you – refuse to speak. Heaven, help us.

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