Science in Palestine (Part 4): Antisemitism
In this episode, we speak with Reuben Telushkin, a multimedia artist based in Detroit, Michigan and a Midwest regional organizer for Jewish Voice for Peace. He helps to unpack and define antisemitism as well as position this term in relation to global movements for justice for Palestine.
Transcript (Please Excuse Any Errors)
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LaToya Strong [LS]: Hey, listeners. Welcome to Abolition Science Radio. We're your hosts. I'm
LaToya Strong ...
Atasi Das [AD]: And Atasi Das. We are here to talk all things science and math, and their relationship to...
AD: And so much more.
[ ♫ Music fade out.]
AD: Hey listeners.
AD: We’re back for another part of our Science in Palestine series.
AD: Um, so we’re happy to be back and to start up with a whole nother segment. How you doing?
LS: It has been, I had a good day. I went for a walk.
LS: Through Harlem with a friend. Did some work, for this episode.
LS: So yeah, so how you doing?
AD: I’m good. Feel a little bit busy and it feels like a New York monsoon season, cause all this rainy weather. And I’m like, kinda confused. Ha ha.
LS: Yeah, it’s been mad rainy for spring. Like, it’s been April, for several months.
AD: It’s summer. Right.
LS: Oh, it is the solstice tomorrow, yeah.
LS: But it’s been a really rainy spring, but it’s good for the plants.
AD: That’s true.
LS: For the ecosystem.
AD: That’s true. I should think about it like that. Good for our planet, strange otherwise.
LS: Yeah. Do you know what I hate? I hate wet socks though, so I’m like ghuhhh, walking around, lot of wet sock moments.
AD: Yeah. That, I also do not enjoy wet socks.
LS: It’s a really gross feeling.
AD: Mhmm, yeah.
[Both slight laughing.]
AD: I’m looking at you like, yep.
LS: We can move on, we can move on.
AD: So, my question of our go-to segment is, if, ok so, today’s episode we’re going to be doing some really heavy deep thinking with our guests and with one another, and so I’m thinking of podcasts – what is a go-to podcast you’ve been listening to?
LS: Ooooh, that is a good one. Mmmm…hmm…I don’t know.
AD: Cheating, going through your – that’s not cheating, whatever.
LS: Yeah, that’s not cheating. What!
AD: Sorry, it’s not.
LS: […] So, I listen to them sporadically now, um, the last one I listened to was, Code Switch and their episode on M.E.Ch.A. , which is the Mexican-American Student Association, there’s this whole movement to change the name so it’s more inclusive of other Latinx identities. So it’s really interesting debate, so that’s the last particular like episode I listened to on Code Switch.
AD: Code Switch, cool.
LS: Yeah. I, so like, go-to, maybe like Rustbelt Abolition [Radio].
AD: Oh yeah.
LS: Is one. I like Code Switch.
AD: I was in a place where sometimes I was listening to – what’s that series? Ugh I’m gonna – Serial.
LS: Oh, yeah. Ha ha.
AD: So on those long commutes, you know, you can like listen to episode after episode.
AD: And then, recently, um, to kinda prepare for this episode and just in general, I’ve been listening to Indigo Radio which some of my friends and teachers –
LS: Hey friends!
AD: Yeah. Produce it, and they have amazing episode on the Environment – Solidarity, Environment, and Capitalism, and they had another one. And they have a lot of episode, yeah, but that’s what I’ve recently listened to. But, I like series as well, like, yeah.
LS: Do you watch, and/or listen to – cause like murder mystery things is like, is the wave.
AD: Is it a wave? Ok.
LS: Yeah, there’s so many murder mystery things!
LS: Do you listen or watch other –
AD: - murder mysteries?
AD: No. I don’t typically. I feel like – I don’t know why Serial got me hooked, I think it was a compelling storyline and there was like, you are rooting for- I feel like, his innocence. I was like, yeah, let’s uncover this case, cause I feel like there’s, there’s something.
AD: I mean that was my take.
AD: But murder mysteries, I feel like are sometimes like, like leave me with like, I’m just like looking under, hiding under my covers.
AD: Like, oh god like! So not really. Do you?
LS: No. Do you know what I started watching cause it’s five seasons right now on Netflix – How to Get Away with Murder. Which is not my usual genre, my usual genre is like space, things are happening in space. Or vampires, werewolves, witches, if it has all three, even better.
AD: Ha ha, all three.
LS: But this one, cause drama like, there’s a formula to it so eventually it’s like ugh, I’m like tired of you doing the same thing. But I’ve like made it midway this season, it’s like sort of murder mystery – they keep murdering people. I’m just like, alright, starting to get old already, like how many people can you murder and then keep getting away with it.
LS: I mean, maybe a lot cause, ha ha ha, happens in real life.
AD: Ha ha ha. Anyways, so many different yeah, like series and things. Um.
LS: We went deep with that one.
AD: We did. Ha ha ha, my go to.
LS: But, to get back on topic, you may have noticed when we introduced this series, Science in Palestine, we were like Part 1 will be this, Part 2 will be this, and then Part 3 and then Part 4 and you probably noticed that that order is not what is happening.
AD: Right, for many different, variety of reasons.
LS: For many – yes. But, I also feel like y’all are probably like, not surprised.
LS: As our listeners.
AD: Yeah. We appreciate you for staying with us and just like, learning. I feel like in making this series, you and I have really had to like think deeply with our guests.
LS: Yeah yeah.
AD: So, I hope as listeners, you are too.
AD: What are we talking about this time?
LS: We are talking about antisemitism. So why is it important that we talk about antisemitism when discussing this topic of Palestine?
AD: So, the issue of Palestine and the state of Israel is like, from 1948, has been a very deep and heavy topic. And I think at this moment in time, I’m seeing a lot of conversation that, when that happens, then the word antisemitism is used a lot and so that’s with Ilhan [Omar] um, [LS: Mhmm] the Congresswoman, as well as, you know, so many different scholars who’ve [LS: Mhmm] been pushed out of their jobs cause of talking about the issue of Palestine. And so, antisemitism is a part of that conversation and I think that we’re bringing up looking at Science in Palestine as a project, you know, as scientists and scholars who wanna think about it [LS: Mhmm] and so that is, I feel like something that’s kind of like, topics that we have to address. Cause other – it’s coming up everywhere, so…that’s why I think we have to address it. Yeah, do you have anything you wanna?
LS: Yeah, I agree. And also, I mean, antisemitism is a very real form of prejudice or oppression and so, how do we make sure that, one, we aren’t enacting or engaging in antisemitism, but also have a better understanding of what it is, so when these charges do come at people, we can sort of have the right vocab, or words, or language, whatever we need to do to sort of tease out what is and isn’t antisemitism.
AD: So, to help us in this conversation in this episode, who are we gonna have on?
LS: So we are having on, Reuben Telushkin, who is a multimedia artist based in Detroit, MI. [website url: http://www.reubentelushkin.com/ ] He works in sound, tangible interaction, installation, and performance. He is also the Midwest regional organizer for Jewish Voices for Peace.
AD: And, before we play that conversation which was recorded earlier, I just want to note that Toya wasn’t with us in that conversation, but we’re gonna share some takeaways and some thoughts after we play it.
LS: Yeah. Yep, I was not there.
LS: But I did listen and so, our conversation will be about pieces that I sort of picked out from the convo.
[Switch to different previously recorded conversation.]
AD: So, thank you Reuben, for joining us on the show today. Um, where we’re talking about antisemitism and in the context of Palestine specifically. So, Reuben, if you could just introduce yourself to listeners, um, you know, just kind of a little bit, whatever you want to share about yourself and then maybe, if there’s a song or an artist that you’re currently listening to.
Reuben Telushkin [RT]: Totally, yeah. Hello world. Thanks for having me, Atasi. My name is Reuben, I’m an artist and organizer. By day, I am the Midwest Regional Organizer for Jewish Voice for Peace [url: https://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/ ]. Jewish Voice for Peace is a US based Jewish Palestine solidarity organization. So, in my capacity, I organize with our Midwest chapters, national grassroots organization. And by night, I’m also a multimedia sculpture and installation artist.
RT: Um, I know, it sounds fancier than it is. My, pronouns are he/his, I live in Detroit, MI. I’m originally from Massachusetts, and um, some music, well I mean. Detroit is a music city and so, I’m really lucky to have a lot to choose from here. Um, lately I’ve been really digging Dego and Kaidi. They have a relatively new album out called ‘A So We Gwarn’. That is, Dego and Kaidi, I believe they’re Jamaican, based in London, make like diasporic African dance music and they’re signed to Sound Signature which is a um, a label started by Theo Parrish, who’s a Detroit based techno-musician.
AD: Wow, we’ll definitely have to check them out and –
RT: It’s so good.
AD: What kind of sound is it? Does it have – does this group - ?
RT: It functions like, in an electronic music, um, dance set, so you could definitely slide it in if you were like playing house music but it’s very like…sounds, it’s like rich, real instruments, um, I guess like, Afro-beat, funk, just a really like, clean, technical, I guess like, electronic sensibility around it as well.
AD: That sounds awesome.
RT: It just grooves, it’s got a really good vibe.
RT: Everyone should go check it out.
AD: Yeah. We’ll definitely put them up for sure. Cool, so just to transition into, from kind of like, having a little bit of an introduction of who you are and where you’re situated at this moment. Uh, we’ve been having a conversation with a variety of people about Science in Palestine and just to kind of catch you up a little bit on the conversation, we talked with somebody about their experiences growing up in the conditions of growing up in Palestine and then living in a refugee camp and they kind of, helped give us a sense of like, what that felt like, what that was like, what daily life is like and what that means for education. And then we also spoke with a couple of organizers who are also scientists, and physicists specifically, about how scientists are kinda organizing in various ways in solidarity with Palestine. And so like, in this conversation as we’re talking about math and science and the different ways it’s used, um and taken up, we wanted to bring in the conversation of antisemitism in relationship to this series because I feel like that term is used in multiple and lots of different scenarios, especially if there’s a critique on the state of Israel. And we just wanted to kind of, you know, you talked about working with Jewish Voice for Peace, so maybe if you want to start there, or how that might relate with this issue of Palestine and just, antisemitism.
RT: Absolutely, I mean it’s an unavoidable part of the conversation.
RT: And, it’s oft- accusations of antisemitism are often and frequently used as a way of shutting down any conversation about Palestinian liberation or Palestinian human rights or just, any Palestinian advocacy at all.
RT: Um, often even the inclusion of a Palestinian in an event is enough to like, warrant, you know, the accusation that there are antisemitic motives at play. Which I mean, is disgusting and often disingenuous. Um, so I guess that there are like. That’s a piece that’s worth starting on is like, the various ways where people have misunderstandings of antisemitism and aren’t clear about what it is and isn’t, and then there are sometimes folks who do know what they’re doing and what they’re saying and they know that something isn’t antisemitic, but they can, you know, know that they can end a conversation by saying that it is. So, there’s people out there with multiple different levels of understandings and ways - motivations for entering that conversation. Um, at Jewish Voice for Peace, a lot of what we do is, trying to separate out what is critique of Israel, what is antisemitism, and almost always, critique of Israel is not antisemitism.
RT: Sometimes it is, but it’s usually Palestinians that suffer from these accusations, either by having – being excluded from participation in like, things that have a lot of – like decision making about things that are gonna like, affect them directly. Like, often it’s like students being, who are just like trying – like Palestinian students who are just trying to do like, advocate for their people. And just like, anyone would, but Palestinians are not really like allowed to bring their full selves and any like, self-advocacy on their behalf is automatically deemed antisemitic. The existence of Palestinians is often deemed antisemitic.
And so, Jewish Voice for Peace [JVP] is kind of like, comprised by, a group of Jewish folks who really want to support Palestinians and their quest for human rights and also want to combat antisemitism. And that often puts us in a like, interesting cross section of folks that believe that JVP purely exists just to- like we’re self-hating Jews, or that we’re traitors, or like, that our motivation are to like, “help the enemy.” You know.
RT: And, we released a book about what antisemitism is and isn’t, just a few years back, it’s called On Antisemitism [url: http://onantisemitism.com/ ] , and folks should go check it out. It’s an anthology of a lot of brilliant writers, um, smarter than me, who can unpack kind of like, coming at it from a couple different angles, they like get into the historical elements of Zionism, and some of like, the historical foundations of antisemitism, some of the more like contemporary expressions and the ways that it’s used to silence Palestinian speech. So, I feel like, I’m kind of all over the place and I’d love to make sure that I’ve properly answered your question.
AD: Sure, I really appreciate kind of, like you said, it’s a lot to take on. You know, it’s a lot to kind of have like a one sentence response to because, the way it’s positioned in society, so I appreciate how you’ve kind of outlined some of the uses of this term and then also it’s real- the realness of this particular form of discrimination. Right.
AD: And I think that –
RT: Yeah that’s-
AD: I would like to hear, how you would describe or how you might say ok, if I was talking to a high school group and wanted to tell them, you know, this is what antisemitism is about, or even from your own kinda like, as you’ve been trying to make sense of it in your life, or how you’ve made sense of it in your own experience of what that would look like, maybe that might be a way.
RT: Yeah. Totally. Alright, I’m flipping my imaginary chair backwards and sitting in front of the kids. Antisemitism is a very old form of hatred, discrimination, prejudice. It started out, for a long time, for centuries and centuries, for millennia really, it was more religious in nature, the hatred of Jews for not believing in the most popular God of the time- you know, be it Christ, be it whoever, you know like. Much of antisemitism that has like, gone on over the last several thousand years was religious in nature, like – hating Jews for allegedly killing Christ, or like not praying to Christ, or just like, being nonbelievers. And, in the last couple centuries, like as we get into modernity, and this goes alongside with like, the uh, just kind of the emergence of our current like, capitalist Western dominated world order, you see Jew hatred evolve from being purely religious into becoming a form of like, scientific racism. You know, and, much of the like, our way of understanding the world and the way that our world is arranged currently, um, as much of our like science and technology was being developed over these last couple hundred years, you also have like racist ideas about like, who’s human, who isn’t, um, what innate behaviors are ascribed to these ethnicities or those races. And so, so as science was modernizing, so, you know, racism was like, pulling on emerging disciplines of science like anthropology, um, which was being used to like, justify colonialism by proving the inhumanity of the conquered. Um, that was having an effect on the expressions of Jew hatred.
RT: That’s my high school pitch.
AD: Yeah, and so I want to kind of pick up on, you know how, you were talking about this particular last couple of hundred, you know, couple of hundred years in which capitalist development has also um, concurrently been developing along with these different forms of hierarchies, you know. And the ways in which knowledge, like anthropology supports those hierarchies, and like who’s human and who’s not human.
AD: So I think that’s a very interesting way of like, having us unpack what antisemitism arises out of, or in some – in this particular time frame I guess.
AD: But I wonder - so you mentioned before something about this word Zionism. Cause you talked about the anthology that was written about On Antisemitism from all these different scholarly works, and this word Zionism, what is Zionism?
RT: Zionism is the belief that Jews have a God given right to claim the land of Israel. Which is what, inconveniently located on top of Palestine. Um, but it’s in Judaism, the – after the second temple was destroyed. So, another hallmark of antisemitism is somewhat like, cyclical and routine destruction and expulsion of Jews from wherever they’re at. And, in some of our like, religious texts, there- after the second temple was destroyed in the land that is now known as Israel, uh, there began this long thousand year like, diaspora, exodus. Like, multiple thousand year. So, the idea of Zionism is that when the messiah returns, the Jews are gonna be allowed to return to that land.
What you see happening there now, is that, a lot of Jews did not wait for the messiah to return. And so, the state of Israel, this is now like, the distinction is now known as political Zionism as opposed to religious Zionism. Religious Zionism is like, you know, you’re supposed to wait for the messiah- only the messiah can declare that the Jews are allowed to return to the promised land. Political Zionism is this like, more wordly project of nation creating. Which kind of circumvents the religious narrative and just gets straight into the land taking. And um, a lot of Zionists will say that like, you can’t steal land that is yours. You know, they believe it’s their God-given birthright to come back to this land. We’re talking about antisemitism, but we also haven’t really defined what a Semite is.
RT: So it’s like, important to also do that, cause if you’re talking about this like, uh, this people that has this like historical connection – ancestral connection to this land, that is a piece of the claim, is this like – some Zionists, consider Jews indigenous to the land of Palestine. So, they don’t regard themselves as occupiers because you know, they feel like they’re the indigenous people of this land.
AD: So what is it? How would you say, how would you help unpack what a Semite, what does Semite mean or refer to?
RT: Semite is um, Semitic is really a linguistic category. It’s not really a reliable like, ethnic descriptor.
RT: You know, I’m actually like, I can tell like – one frequent rhetorical thing that pops up is like, folks will say like, oh, you know, how, I’m – Palestinians are the real Semites. And so, it’s like, doesn’t make sense to call it antisemitism cause Palestinians are the real Semites. And uh, some Palestinians do identify as Semites. And, it’s not really like, I don’t identify as a Semite, so like, this is something that I think like, a Palestinian is much more qualified to talk about here. But it’s really important to note that the word Semite, it kind of comes out of like, a Western colonial like, orientalist projection of like, um –
AD: An other language? Or an other language family kind of thing?
RT: An other, yes. So I mean, you can have Arab Jews who are Semitic. And you can have people who speak Semitic languages who might not necessarily look like what you think a Semite is supposed to be. So, the more accurate phrase to talk about what we’re talking about when most people say the word antisemitism is probably, anti-Jewish hatred or prejudice. That, I find to be more accurate, more precise, um, less rooted in this like, kind of colonial taxonomy. And that’s one thing that the JVP book gets into a little bit, is like, we don’t hyphenate antisemitism, we just write it as one word cause the hyphenation and the capitalization of the S kind of legitimizes this like orientalist taxonomy that isn’t really like super accurate. It’s kind of like calling white people, Caucasians in 2019. When we now know that like, the Caucus region, is like not really where most white people in this country come from. So, it’s kind of one of those things where like an outdated descriptor like, kind of attaches itself to an idea and just like, gets stuck there so it’s the single unhyphenated antisemitism is kind of like, an acknowledgement of that history and like, using it with a grain of salt.
AD: Yeah, thank you. That’s really helpful to kind of distinguish between because yeah, I hadn’t heard that way of grounding the understanding of antisemitism. I mean, if you were to continue talking to high schoolers, or you know, just young people – elementary schoolers let’s say, why do you think it’s important to understand antisemitism in this current time that we live?
RT: Because it, it is a real thing. Collective hatred of Jews is not a made up thing, and that is what is so hard and frustrating about when people say that Palestinians who are just trying to be free, live on the land that their families come from, and stop being like, overpoliced and oppressed. When people say that that is antisemitism, it kind of like is a cry wolf scenario. Because you know, as we’ve seen, there are people who are going into synagogues and shooting up Jews, and there are –
AD: Swastikas and yeah.
RT: Nazism has not gone away. And you know, Nazism isn’t even the only form of like, Jew-hatred that you find. So, that’s why it’s tricky, that’s why it’s complicated, that’s why it’s important because we can’t just look away and say like, oh nothing is antisemitism. Um, it’s important to know what is antisemitism and what is not. But just because we understand that advocating for Palestinian human rights is not antisemitism, does not mean that antisemitism doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world.
RT: And right now, like, uh, a very live and active debate is like, antisemitism on the right versus antisemitism on the left.
RT: And you know, what that’s code for is like, antisemitism on the right means Nazism and white supremacists, the people who are shooting up synagogues. And um, what antisemitism on the left is code for, is Palestinian human rights and advocacy therein. And there’s kind of a, that’s not all, like, it’s hard to talk about antisemitism on the left because it’s nine times out of ten, is an attempt to silence critique of Israel. But you often do, sometimes see people who have like, underdeveloped or inaccurate analyses of capitalism and money and power, and like how, world power works that are informed by very old, antisemitic stereotypes. And these stereotypes are like, the Jew as the banker, the behind the scenes like puppet-master, the one controlling, you know the Illuminati, the lizard people, the you know, reptilian one percent. Um, this idea that like, Jews are controlling media, banks, politics, and that, we’re the ones pulling the strings behind all of this. Is sometimes- it’s so intertwined, it’s so deep rooted into these like stereotypes around Jews and money- [AD: Yeah.] that it does take a very like, developed understanding of antisemitism to know how to talk about capitalism, and these like, interconnected like, global systems of oppression and um, how to challenge Jews’ participation in those things without sliding into this territory of like, overblowing our influence and our participation in those things.
AD: Yeah. Yeah, thank you for helping kind of situate it even further. And I think you’ve been kind of talking about how, you know this, the use of antisemitism is a, how it’s associated particularly with Palestinian activism and I wanted to return, and maybe this next question kind of returns back to that a little bit, but as you’re talking about the issue of land. You know, in, Palestine. [RT: Mhmm.] What is partly now, the state of Israel, what are your thoughts about how Jewish Voice for Peace supports you know, that, what is the line or what is promoted in terms of land and Palestinian people? And just people?
RT: So, we, Jewish Voice for Peace, our policy and also what I personally believe in is the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their land. So that is like, a kind of, non-negotiable like, point of solidarity that we have with the Palestinian people. And the Palestinian Freedom Movement is the right of refugees to return to their homes from they were, uh, expelled. Not in ’48, but also ongoing and continuously. So, 1948 is the year that the state of Israel was created and founded. The word that Palestinians use to refer to that time and that moment and that era is Al Nakba, which is Arabic for catastrophe. So, this is 1948, the Nakba, um, is like a catastrophic moment in collective Palestinian history. And, it’s a moment where almost a million Palestinians were displaced from that land. And you still have Palestinian elders who have like, the original keys to their homes that they wear on necklaces around their neck. This isn’t like, ancient history, these are people who remember their villages that they grew up in. You know, or like, are only a generation or two removed from people who remember what their country was like and what having their sovereignty was like. And just like, having a life in Palestine. So, there’s, it’s – yeah-
AD: It’s not so far away.
RT: Jewish Voice for Peace is, it’s not abstract, it’s very concrete about like families being able to go back to their land because people can give you the latitude and the longitude of where their family is from. [AD: Mhmm.] So, that’s what Jewish Voice for Peace, we support the Right of Return, we oppose Zionism, we endorse Boycott, Divestment, Sanction (BDS).
AD: Cool, thank you.
RT: Those are three distinguishing –
RT: Policies, yes.
AD: So, the last question I wanted to ask you kind of, in this vein of solidarity in that you know, you really kind of helped pull apart different ways Zionism is positioned and like, distinguishing political Zionism is about the land and nation creating and that, you know like, even – and also acknowledging like, real discrimination that’s happening to many groups, especially and including Jewish people – my last question is kind of like, what are your thoughts about making connections between making connections between various struggles globally for yourself and your work, and you know, there’s, I feel like – sometimes it’s like, there’s this issue based kind of tendency I think, that can happen of like, which side are you – or who are you for- what team are you on, of what – what is your issue? And I think that you’ve kind of helped tease out some understandings of issues, so yeah, to shorten this question, what are your thoughts about making connections between people’s struggles worldwide?
RT: Colonialism and imperialism have, and continue to, ravage human life on this planet. Um, I’m talking to you from stolen land, and we’re talking about stolen land. In Palestine, and here on Turtle Island. You know, so, it’s not an isolated issue and I think that is like, probably one of the, one of the things that gives this – gives most credibility to the proof that, that the movement for Palestinian liberation is not, is not about anti-Jewish hatred but just, literally just about the movement for Palestinian liberation. It could be any group of people who have pushed Palestinians off their land, dispossessed them, and continue to oppress them and that would be resisted against. So, it’s like, at the end of the day, it’s not really about who is doing the oppressing, but just about ending the oppression.
RT: And you obviously need a thorough understanding of like, who is doing the oppression and the histories that go into that, but at the end of the day like – this is about decolonization. Um, this is about reparations. Those are issues that are very at the root of the Palestinian struggle, but they’re also at the root of um, anyone who has had almost their entire peoplehood taken away from them. So I can relate to that as a Black person. Um, you know, I can relate to that as a person born into this country, the United States which is occupying many countries that it has no right to occupy. Just the same that Israel is occupying Palestine, and I think also, it’s about just like, human compassion. There’s not really a justification for children being snatched up in the middle of the night out of their family’s house and like, held without their families knowing where they are or like what’s happening to them, or you know, being tortured and abused. So, that’s a thing that’s happening to children on this land, and you know like, we just want to end suffering. Right. So, at the end of the day it’s like, people will tell you oh, Israel – Palestine is like so complicated, don’t get involved, it’s too complex to understand, you shouldn’t speak out until you really know what you’re talking about and I mean, that’s not the worst rule to follow, but you don’t need like a complex geopolitical analysis to know that like, a grandma being pushed out of her house and her son being shot by a sniper for holding a rock is wrong. Some things are just like, we know injustice when we see it and you should just not ignore that intuition.
AD: Yeah, true. True words.
RT: Trust yourself.
AD: Yeah. Yeah.
RT: Trust your struggle.
AD: Trust the struggle.
AD: Yeah, thank you again for sharing your thoughts. We know that there are a lot of pretty deep questions and I appreciate all of the things that you had to share with us and our listeners. I know you talked about at the very beginning that you’re a multimedia artist, is there a way that, if we wanted to share with listeners to check out your work, or be involved with Jewish Voice for Peace, or any of the things that you’re also engaged in.
RT: Yeah. Anyone and everybody should become a member of Jewish Voice for Peace. We are a majority Jewish organization, but we have lots of different members from all different kinds of backgrounds. And uh, you know, actually, what makes our, the organization able to take the strong positions that we take are that we don’t really get any money from like foundations or grants or like, huge donors. So like, we’re almost 100% funded by just like, member dues.
AD: Oh wow.
RT: And so, yeah. So that’s what allows us to kind of take whatever political line we want to take because, we know that it’s endorsed by our membership. Because that’s what’s driving our politics is our membership, so fundraising pitch – it is only $5 a month to be a member, or $18 a year. Anybody and everybody should join, jvp.org/join .
And uh, if you want to learn more about my art, you can go to my website, uh Reuben Telushkin [dot] com or hit me up on IG at telushkin_studio.
AD: Cool. We’ll make sure we put that up as well for folks to check our your work and the Jewish Voice for Peace. And thank you again for joining us and uh, I hope to actually meet you in person sometime. And have another conversation about many other things!
RT: Yes. Now, it will happen!
[Switch back to current recorded conversation.]
AD: So, there was a lot in that conversation that you just heard with Reuben and myself and, I thought we could just spend some time like, going into some of that conversation, and um, and pulling up some points that he mentioned and so that, you and I can talk about some of the ideas or the connections that we made to the things that he said.
AD: So, but I guess, in general, you heard, as you were listening, what came up for you? What stood out?
LS: Mhmm. I think the very first thing that I notice, and I’m sure this happens everytime we have a conversation with somebody but I think because I wasn’t there, it stuck out to me were the long pauses that you as a listener don’t ever get to hear because it, it gets edited out for the flow of it. And so there were, on Reuben’s end specifically, and Atasi’s end just these really long pauses that they were sort of thinking about how to say what they wanted to say within the limits of the English language. Yeah, so there was careful thought being put behind what we being said. And I, I wish there was a way to show, like for y’all to hear that but there really isn’t. I mean, there is, we could leave it in, but then the episode would be like mad long.
AD: Ha ha ha. Yeah, no, it’s true. I think that we were both really trying to be thoughtful and intentional in the conversation. But he also mentioned this book that is a resource for folks who are curious and interested in thinking about this term, antisemitism. What was the title? Do you have it?
LS: It’s literally just called On Antisemitism.
AD: And it was an anthology, so it’s a group of different authors from Jewish Voice for Peace. We both keep saying Jewish Voices for Peace, but I believe it was put together – is that true?
LS: It’s put together, yes. By Jewish Voice for Peace, published by Haymarket Books, but I don’t know if every contributor is part of the group.
AD: Got it. Ok, that’s a good clarification. So, that book, we took a look at and, I, you know, certainly found some interesting pieces that I thought were clarifying.
AD: And so there’s this one chapter and I don’t know how to pronounce their name, but I will try – in Shaul Magid’s chapter, which was called “On Antisemitism and Its Uses”, they really talk about that term and like, try to historicize it. So they look at it, the history of this word, theologically, politically, with the creation of the state of Israel. Um, and what really stuck out to me, struck me from that chapter was the conversation of, like, what antisemitism would mean if it wasn’t connected to the state of Israel.
AD: So like how that would change the nature of where it’s used and, so this is one quote from his- their chapter: “subsequently, it has been defined in so many ways and can mean so many things that the relationship between the term has ceased being descriptive and has taken on an objective reality all it’s own. Below, I do not engage in defining the term, but rather, look at how it functions and what that might say about those inside the Jewish community who use it.” So, to me, that’s kind of interesting cause it’s like, hey, it’s like taken on a whole ‘nother life, yeah. That was interesting.
LS: Yeah, um, very interesting. And so, connected to that, at the beginning of the book, they have a passage about the spelling of antisemitism, and so JVP, when it’s like their collective voice, I think they’re lowercasing that S, whereas some folks capitalize it, like the S in antisemitism, so they delve into the like, what a Semite means and how it was a pseudo-scientific racist term and so, which they feel contributes to the points that you just brought up. So they use antisemitism unhyphenated, lower case S, where that’s just one view. And so, others who have a different view still capitalize it.
And so they do give a definition of antisemitism in the appendix.
AD: Oh Cool.
LS: There’s two appendixes, it’s the first one. And, oh, there’s also a discussion guide and additional readings in the second appendix if you wanted to like, do this with folks.
AD: Like a teaching tool?
LS: A teaching tool!
AD: That’s cool.
LS: I know, right. Yeah, so there are, it says like, definitions of antisemitism that treat criticism of Israel or of Zionism as antisemitic are inaccurate and harmful. So, the majority of Jews are not Israeli. Facts. Not all citizens of Israel are Jewish. Facts. Israel is a state. Facts. Um, this is what I do when I read alone, but I’m reading out loud.
[Both laughing. Talk at same time.]
AD: You say facts to yourself?
LS: I have commentary – no, and so many other commentary. I’m gonna not do that.
LS: Israel is a state. Zionism is a political ideology. Judaism and Jewish identity encompass a diversity of religious and secular expressions. Um, and they just keep going. They delve further in. I’m not gonna keep reading to y’all and you can get it and read it for yourself. Um, by really teasing out what it means when you use that term and what it invokes. Yeah.
AD: Mhmm. Yeah. And there’s a- another chapter I thought was really interesting for me to learn cause I have been thinking about what it means, um, for Palestinian’s lives, you know. I remember growing up and kind of seeing news reports, or like images of young kids throwing rocks. You know, so like this [LS: Mhmm], I remember having this early memory and kind of like thinking about peripherally and at some point in my life, I was like, what is this. What’s going on? So this chapter, by Tallie Ben Daniel and it was called “Antisemitism, Palestine, and the Mizrahi Question”. Um, was interesting because it focused on how mainstream US Jewish histories and culture erase Mizrahi histories. For me, I was like what, what does Mizrahi mean?
AD: Um, and it’s a term to describe Jewish communities from the Middle East. Or, the East, if we’re using like, that designation of like, East means Asia or East means this.
AD: And the author, this author elaborates that Mizrahi is like, a symbol of being an other, so of being like, not “normal”, and this person is an Iraqi Jewish person. So what they’re highlighting is like, there’s a large diaspora of Jewish communities that are really diverse.
AD: And, that the experiences, and they say, the experiences of Iraqi Jews, that they are unique. But those Iraqi Jewish experiences are also connected to experiences of Jews in Yemen, in Syria, in Egypt, Iran, India, Morocco, and other Middle Eastern, as well as North African countries. And that they’re continually, in that, that those experiences are always seen as other. As like, separate from an Israeli society. So, it’s interesting because it’s kind of like, this term, that’s supposed to mean something that’s about all Jewish communities (LS: Right.) when actually it’s quite diverse. And so they even continue in saying, “we assume that the status of Iraqi Jews in the early 20th century were the same or similar to those of Polish, German, and Bavarian Jews.” And this is in Europe, right, “when in fact, they were living totally different political contexts, grappling with totally different histories.” And I think that ties into what we’ve been thinking of, in terms of – I mean, this is about a particular term, antisemitism and what that means in a global context and what that means in terms of like particular issues, but this is about categories, about like who that includes, who’s not included, for what purpose, like all the things that are like not seen under the veil. Quote unquote, that’s a weird metaphor, but…Yeah, that was interesting.
LS: What does that mean? Under the veil – what’s the metaphor?
AD: Like, meaning that this term is meant to like, it covers up other tensions that are happening.
AD: So like, when we’re- this author is talking about how as a Mizrahi Jew, there’s other forms of discrimination within the Jewish community that have a history and also experiences that are not the same. It’s not the exact same history for every Jewish community.
LS: Correct, yeah.
AD: And so that’s what I took, so the veil thing is like, what’s not seen. Under the term. Yeah. That’s what I mean. Does that make?
LS: Yeah, it makes sense. Words have power. And that’s what always gets me when people are like, oh, the PC police. And it’s not about being politically correct, like, words have like a lineage and a history that get us to a certain place and I think when you ignore or erase that, you ignore and erase like, history, like you were just getting that. And so I think, this anthology, and just delving into this word in general, I think – I don’t know, I just think it’s important. That’s where I’m going.
LS: Ignore that.
AD: No, I don’t want – no, let’s not ignore that. I think you’re right. Words have a history and they can be used as weapons.
AD: I mean, I think that was also a part of us looking at this concept of, this word of antisemitism –
LS: Is the weaponization of it.
LS: Yeah. That’s another I mentioned in the, because there’s such a fear when talking about Palestinian liberation, the conflation of it with antisemitism, they were saying there’s a lot of Palestinian voices that they would like to have included, specifically students, who then charged with antisemitism who just weren’t comfortable or felt safe speaking or writing. [AD: Mhmm.] And so we don’t get that perspective.
AD: For sure. What does that mean for how we as humans want, like the kind of world and society we want to build. So like, if we’re trying to think of abolition in this broad way, and as a part of dismantling oppressive things that are happening, at this moment, that people live, you know, everyday. And then a building up of something different [LS: Mhmm.], you know, how are these histories- how do we make sense of all these different kinds of histories?
AD: So I feel like that to me, it’s kind of like, it’s brought forward, like, how important it is. Like, I’m learning constantly of what I don’t know. Constantly. And not that we need to all know everything. It’s just that, I gotta be open.
AD: A bit.
LS: Yes. This was not something that was a bullet point for us to talk about, but I’m gonna go and say it, and this also I think is different when conservative folks are offering their opposing view- cause it’s the status quo. Like your devil, like playing devil’s advocate, whenever anyone plays devil’s advocate, like you’re not, what are you- what is this? Like, you are literally suggesting and offering what the status quo is, and it may not be your experience but you have people telling you that this is what the experience is. So you’re not offering like, anything new.
AD: It’s like, saying someone who’s like, within an occupation and like literally having every single aspect of their life being monitered in so many ways, that it’s like, oh there’s another side to what you literally are going through right now. Which is – you know, like, what ok.
LS: Yeah, just wanna make sure we’re all clear. We’re not, we’re not saying that. [AD: We’re not saying that.]
LS: So, Reuben also mentioned modernity. Which is a favorite topic of ours – is it?
AD: I mean, I think we talked about it once. Ha ha ha.
LS: It’s like all up in my dissertation, which I still have not touched. Ha ha ha.
AD: You will. You’ll get there.
AD: Ha ha ha.
LS: You draw from it too, differently than me, but –
AD: Yeah. I think what’s interesting is, actually if you could help explain to our listeners, kind of like, how you position this – like this word modernity, the first time I heard it, I’m like what is this academia [LS: Yeah, word.] nonsense word.
AD: It’s like, is that a word? What does that even mean? And so, what do you mean by it? What is the significance – why should we even like, hear it? What does it mean to you?
LS: Yeah, so, the way I use it, and I do - I draw from folks like Sylvia Wynter, dope. So dope. Modernity being like, when Europe set out to literally colonize the entire world. Like, what that meant and all of their descendants who would become white, the world that they inherited and benefit from. And so, you had all of these different cultures and people and their languages and their practices existing how they existed. Um, it’s not saying that, you know, everyone was living in harmony and living in peace cause that’s just not true, but we don’t have the type of oppression that we get when Europe set out. And so, what they brought with them and then mapped onto everyone was their particular view of the world. So, as they were transitioning from a more theological worldview, and like, things are mapped in that way and transitioning to sort of Enlightenment and Rationalism, and things being like, expressed logically and you know, the birth of Western Modern Science. That being mapped onto the world, and so modernity really gives birth to all of these like, racial categories that we see. Um, all of these like, science, like Western Modern Science being the science and everything else being like ethnomathematics, ethnomusicology, ethno-this. But for me, like what modernity does and the way that it’s been looked at, it ignores the fact that everything that we hold up as like, the way to produce knowledge is also embedded in a culture. Like, there- it- Western Modern Science is an ethnoscience. And so it’s, like the culture that it exists in is imperialism, colonization, capitalism, etc etc etc. And so, when we start to think about science and math in that way, how do we then start to understand like, how modernity has like, given us these things.
AD: Yeah. Wow, you are like, starting to dissertate right now. I feel like.
AD: No, stand behind it. Stand behind it and yeah. For me, modernity is like, pointing to how history is still present today.
AD: And, this is, yesterday there was the Congressional hearing on reparations that Ta-Nehisi de Coates – de Coates? Ta-Nehisi Coates.
LS: Ha ha.
AD: Wow. Um, had a conversation on, and he was speaking to, kind of like this importance but also to talk about history as present. Like, it has an impact now, and so you know, what I think about this, what you’re talking about in terms of modernity is like how do we understand where things came – like how did things come to be? And to continue to ask that.
AD: Because it has roots, all of it does and so we need to trace it.
AD: Yeah. So, yeah. I think it’s important.
LS: Which is what Reuben did, um, when he was talking about the term Semite, and then the traits that were placed onto Jewish folks at that time and how it’s still. We still see that today.
AD: So, thanks Reuben for like, joining us and for sharing those thoughts and getting us thinking too.
LS: Yeah. But we also mentioned, he’s a multimedia artist, so we wanna-
LS: Wait, is that where we’re going now?
AD: We are now.
AD: We are now.
LS: Right, cause we don’t have the song piece so wlahh.
AD: So, Reuben gave us a song piece that we would love to find but, we couldn’t find it, so, listeners if you could help us search and tweet at us. What is our tweet handle? @abolition_sci ?
LS: Oh. Yes. Yes yes yes yes.
AD: Yeah, we’d love to kind of like, like uncover this artist cause he talked about them.
LS: Yeah, ok, I found a duo that has like, both the terms that he said in it, but I was like, that’s not it. They’re definitely not.
AD: So, everybody can help us sleuth. Ha ha ha.
LS: Yes. Your google stalking skills, if you will. Just kidding, don’t stalk people.
AD: How about searching?
AD: But yeah, so he’s a multimedia artist?
LS: He’s a multimedia artist, you can go on his website, which he mentioned and I did not write it down to repeat it. [AD: Ha ha ha ha.] But, it’s pretty, pretty dope work.
LS: That he does, so I’d love to see more of the, and if you google his name, some like, clips of some of the sound stuff that he does comes up. Also pretty cool. And he does this workshop that, we gotta get him to New York, to do this on DIY speakers. So making speakers out of household items. [AD: Mhmm.] And he connects it back, since he’s in Detroit. The history of like, the musical tradition in Detroit. So yeah, so, yeah.
AD: It’s like a whole, such an interesting form of like, [LS: Mhmm.] learning, cause it’s- he talks about connecting art, science, and technology. [LS: Mhmm.] But you know, you’re not in a l- it’s in a really interesting way. So, check out his work.
AD: Yeah, check out his work and it’s gonna be awesome. So, cool.
LS: Yep, so, that’s our episode. We don’t know if this is Part 4, or Part 3 of the series. We’ll know when you know.
LS: Just kidding, obviously we’ll know before y’all, we just have to make a decision.
AD: I love how we try to end it but we can’t. Ha.
LS: Ok. Nix that. Thanks for joining us.
AD: Yes, thank you, and we will see you next episode.
[♫ Music fade out.]
AD: Check us out at Abolition Science [dot] org, where you can sign up for our newsletter.
LS: And follow us on Instagram @abolitionscience and also follow us on Twitter @abolition_sci
AD: See you soon!