Chutzpah

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.

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