Letters — From the December 2018 issue

Letters

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Give Love a Bad Name?

John Hockenberry asserts early in his essay that millions of women have reexamined their sexual lives “looking for evidence of victimization” [“Exile,” Memoir, October]. This is an obvious dog whistle. Tellingly, Hockenberry calls #MeToo a “recalibration,” when it is instead an acknowledgment of the millions of people, mostly women, who have been subject to aggression—actions for which their aggressors should have been held accountable and were not.

The implication throughout Hockenberry’s essay is that, in looking back, we are redefining acts of aggression, but their reality is in fact the constant. What Hockenberry sees as a revision is simply broad social perception adjusting to the truth, not vice versa. The scant few aggressors who are now being held to account is the adjustment.

Hannah Carlen
New York City

As a contemporary and a longtime fan of John Hockenberry’s work, as well as a feminist and an admirer of the #MeToo movement, I found his essay an authentic representation of the confusion that many are experiencing. One thing that I believe we can all agree on is that the intersection of economic and workplace power with sexual dominance is a dangerous one for both men and women.

Hockenberry has, at the very least, suffered some collateral damage from being a reportedly unpopular boss in an industry that’s been targeted by the movement, and I am saddened that I must now think about his personal life, something that I never found necessary to appreciate his unique perspective. I hope that Hockenberry and the people who are interested in thinking outside the echo chamber of morality, sex, and romance will add their voices more loudly to the conversation, leading to a more thoughtful and honest public discourse.

Mary Brady
Baltimore

Hockenberry still refuses to acknowledge that the workplace is an entirely different context than a social event. Sexual overtures in the workplace—“romantic” or not—are out of line for this very reason, and have been viewed as such for some time. In the wrong context, romantic gestures—such as the love poem that Hockenberry laments can no longer be sent to colleagues—are not romantic at all.

Stella Hackell
San Jose, Calif.

While I was glad that Hockenberry was given a chance to discuss his experience in the aftermath of his firing, I was frustrated by his overall argument that #MeToo is the death of romance. He yearns for a “new universal scaffold of love and romance,” but this scaffold already exists: it’s called affirmative consent, and aside from being common sense, it has been codified into law by a number of states. When even legislative bodies are hip to the new lingo, the rest of us have no excuse.

Galen Egan
Menlo Park, Calif.

A society in which people are branded as deviant without hope for redemption is no more sustainable than one in which people are treated as inferior on the basis of their gender. That said, there is little in this essay to suggest that Hockenberry has yet earned his redemption.

Hockenberry spends most of this article ruminating on the confusing world of contemporary sexual practices and “romance,” a word he uses constantly and indelicately. But despite this drawn-out discussion, I am left with no idea what this “new modern concept of romance” might look like, or why Hockenberry should be involved in its conception.

Sarah Wukoson
New York City

Sort and Destroy

I agreed to talk at length with Tanya Gold for her article because she posed as someone genuinely trying to understand non-Zionist Jewish viewpoints [“Among Britain’s Anti-Semites,” Letter from the United Kingdom, October]. Her article reflects nothing of what I told her. It casts no light on the long history of Jewish dissent from the Zionist idea of a state that privileges Jews and separates us from the rest of humanity. She ignored the views of the authoritative thinkers she interviewed with perspectives that oppose her main thesis, including Antony Lerman, the former head of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, and David Rosenberg, a prominent Jewish socialist writer and commentator. She was also disdainful and uncomprehending toward black Jewish anti­racist activist Jackie Walker, who has been a prime victim of the hysteria in the United Kingdom about alleged anti-­Semitism on the left.

In the eight months it took Gold to write her article, she appears not to have investigated a single one of the allegations made against the left by its enemies. She has simply repeated old accusations, using her skills as a writer to bolster the ongoing, dangerous bastardization of the term anti-Semitism. Its real meaning—hostility to Jews because we are Jews—is being lost, the fight against racism in all its forms is being weakened, and the voices of Palestinians are being deliberately silenced.

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi
Media Officer, Jewish Voice for Labour
London

I have no idea of the brief given to Gold, but Harper’s Magazine’s investment in months of investigative journalism on the so-called crisis of anti-Semitism in the British Labour Party was a unique opportunity that failed to do anything except regurgitate the pap served up by British newspapers.

What Gold neglects to tell her readers is that an extraordinary number of key positions in Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership group are held by Jews, including some with well-known Zionist sympathies. It seems that Gold, like the writer Howard Jacobson, whose offensive pen she quotes in her article, was not going to allow facts to counter her narrative.

I met with Gold often during her reporting. We spoke intensely, sometimes passionately. Despite our political differences (Tanya is a Zionist), I thought we had found a way to communicate. I watched her struggle, sometimes to the point of tears, with issues I raised. She appeared to listen, admitting to limited knowledge of the history and ongoing oppression of black people in the West. Ever the optimist, I hoped dialogue might help achieve something desperately needed here and in the United States—a bridge between opposing sides. Instead, Tanya’s article stoked hate and, perhaps, more violence.

That Tanya barely mentions the tradition of anti-Zionist Jews is an obvious error. Her failure to acknowledge that many of the members suspended and excluded from Labour for anti-Semitism are in fact Jewish may be where Tanya’s reporting is shoddiest. But to omit the controversy surrounding the politically constructed concept of “new anti-­Semitism,” which conflates anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, and has been used to stoke allegations of “leftist anti-­Semitism,” can only be seen as an attempt to foreclose any challenge to what is, in fact, a highly controversial notion: that criticism of Israel is inherently anti-Semitic and that the rise of anti-­Semitism in the United Kingdom comes from the left. This is not only nonsense but, as protofascists rise on both sides of the Atlantic, also dangerously stupid.

Gold’s assertion about how few Jews are anti-Zionist is also questionable. In the United Kingdom, the Orthodox Neturei Karta, who as a rule do not support the state of Israel, make up a sizable portion of the Jewish population. And while the letter from twenty-nine Orthodox rabbis who support Corbyn has not been widely circulated in the media, I’m sure Gold must at least be aware of the findings of “The Attitudes of British Jews Towards Israel,” a survey funded by Yachad, a liberal Zionist group, who in 2015 found a declining number—just 59 percent—of Jews identifying as Zionists. This is not confined to the United Kingdom. Recent research in the United States shows a rising trend, particularly among the youth, for Jews to disassociate themselves from Israel. Not surprising, perhaps, given the murderous actions undertaken by the Netanyahu government, its embedding of racism in Israeli legislation, its ongoing illegal demolitions of Palestinian and Bedouin homes, and its atrocities against protesters. Apart from the medics and journalists shot amid recent protests on the Great March of Return in Gaza, more than ten thousand have been injured and killed, including several twelve-year-old children.

However, this can never be reduced to a simple numbers game. How many whites thought slavery immoral? How many Germans opposed the Nazis? In many ways it’s immaterial. There are ethics, there is power—and the lack of it. As Booker T. Washington said, “A lie doesn’t become truth, wrong doesn’t become right, evil doesn’t become good, just because it’s accepted by a majority.” Sometimes numbers don’t count.

There’s more I could say about Gold’s angry and politically illiterate piece of journalism, but I will end on a personal note. Given Tanya’s background, her ignorance of people of African descent, you might ask, How could she ever ­really get the perspective of a black, Jewish, antiracist activist without the leap of genius this article so obviously lacks?

Gold, perhaps unsurprisingly, misunderstood my suggestion that concern about anti-Semitism in our most right-wing press, which coincidedwith the election of Corbyn as leader, would obfuscate other forms of racisms. In her article, Gold renders this point as a competition, as if justice has to be rationed. This reminds me of a child who fears losing the love of a mother when a younger sibling arrives. Justice, like love, expands to fit the space it’s given. I must also have been mistaken when I thought that Gold was listening, either to me or to the words of my one-woman show, The Lynching, which she attended, since she seems to have misinterpreted that message as well. I am an internationalist, and I reject any boundary that separates one people from another.

Of course, how could Gold get me when instead of a leap of genius, what we got was a leap of imagination, which suggested, without a shred of evidence, that I blame Jews for what happened to my mother? Her desperate attempt to make sense of my political stance by suggesting this is abusive. I can only think it serves some internal need to believe that any contradiction to her views on Israel must stem from animosity toward Jews. I’m afraid it doesn’t. Much more, if not most—who knows the quantity?—opposition to the state of Israel comes from a commitment to human rights.

A week after Gold’s article was published, at a meeting of Jewish Voice for Labour at this year’s Labour Party conference, the screening of a new documentary film that focuses on a year of my political life, Witchhunt, was canceled by the police after the venue received a bomb threat to “kill many people” and explicitly mentioned Jews. There was hardly a mention in the mainstream media, no comment from Gold. Perhaps Jewish Voice for Labour, as Jews who do not necessarily see Zionism as part of their identity, are considered the wrong sort of Jews to be included in Gold’s, or the media’s, concerns about anti-Semitism.

Jackie Walker
London

Gold performs a revealing sleight of hand when she replaces the historical issue of Zionist dealings with the Nazis with “calling Jews Nazis” in the next. This approach is revealing: Gold sees Jews as implicitly synonymous with Zionism and Israel. This claim of an organic oneness between a political ideology or a nationstate and an ethnicity is unique, exploiting Jewish identity to shield that nation-state from accountability. But to assert that Israel, Zionism, and Jews are inextricably entwined, is equally to assert that the Israeli state informs the values and morality of Jews, simply because they are Jews. That, to me, is anti-Semitism. Gold cannot have it both ways.

Thomas Suárez
London

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