You wrote an article on Israel for your college newspaper called ?From Victim to Victimizer.? Tell me about that controversial article and the dramatic response to it.
The experience of writing about Israel was so incredibly negative for me 11 years ago that I haven?t written about Israel since. I had gone to Israel at the start of the first intifada, when I was 19. I didn?t know what it was. People talked about an intifada and I thought it meant a heat wave, because it was really, really hot. I went with my mother, and we met with people from the women?s movement in Israel, and the peace movement, so I was exposed to the fact that there is diversity of opinion there. I was also exposed to the way in which Israeli violence and the militarization of the country affects women in particular, and creates a culture of violence. A lot of our discussions were about how women were told that every other issue had to be deferred until there was peace, so issues like violence against women and abortion were not considered truly legitimate or important until this moment, which never seems to come, arrived. I started to think about the whole psychology of being so determined not to have violence inflicted on you that you can?t see when you inflict violence on others.
This, of course, resonates in the present tense as well.
We see this right now with Sharon, when he?s giving speeches about how they [Israel?s enemies] want to chase Israelis into the sea, and he can?t see that he?s the one doing the chasing. The way we talk about our victimization and the way we talk about our history in the mainstream sense, instead of extending sympathy and compassion, has had the opposite effect. We are blinded to the victimization of others and can even have a sadistic streak, which is reflected in the high levels of domestic violence in Israel. It?s a psychology that Jews are really unwilling to see because our narrative is one of triumph over tragedy. It?s never that simple.
What happened when you were in college?
The Jewish community in Toronto just decided to lynch me. And not just the students?it was the entire Jewish community, including B?nai Brith, the Canadian Jewish Congress, and some of the richest Jews in Canada who fund large sectors of the university I was attending. A meeting was called by the Jewish Student Union about what to do about the article. I saw the flyers for the meeting, and since nobody knew what I looked like, I thought I would go. A young woman stood up and said, ?If I ever meet Naomi Klein, I?m going to kill her.? And she was two people away from me. I remember the feeling of my heart beating in my chest. After more than an hour of listening to people discuss me, I stood up and said, ?I?m Naomi Klein, and I wrote ?Victim to Victimizer,? and I?m as much a Jew as every single one of you.?
Would you say that the experience marked your birth as an activist?
There?s no doubt that experience prepared me for controversy, but on the other hand, I also feel really angry that it worked. Because now I?m not scared to write about multinational corporations, and I?m not afraid to write about the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, but I?m still afraid to write about Israel.
What do you think should happen?
We need a way to talk about anti-Semitism that doesn?t require blanket support for Israel. That?s what the Sharon mindset counts on, in terms of the silence of progressive Jews?that there will always be enough anti-Semitism out there that Jews will be afraid to criticize Israel.
Adapted and condensed from heeb (#2). Dubbed ?The New Jew Review,? Heeb is a magazine at once irreverent and pointed with a Gen-X and Gen-Y perspective on Judaism. Subscriptions: $17.95/yr. (4 issues) from Box 20074, Brooklyn, NY 11202.