I rarely see the immigrant kids I grew up with in San Francisco. Well, they’re not kids anymore. They’re in their 40s, haggard, with families, mortgages, various careers. Most of them are are like me—they’ve descended from families that have historically lived in what today’s known as Eastern Europe: Poland, Belarus, Ukraine. They themselves were born all over: in Kiev, Odessa, Leningrad. They left the Soviet Union in the 1980s—they were “saved” and ultimately settled in the Bay Area. They have no real historical connection to Palestine or the Levant. And yet, while Israel’s been carrying out an all-out aerial massacre in Gaza, they’ve been plastering their Facebook feeds with messages of support and posting Zemfira genocide memes–and getting laugh reacts.
This is what happens when a whole group of people gets converted to ethno-nationalism, which has become a kind of secular religion for them — a belief system predicated on messianic ethnic cleansing and blood-and-soil thinking. Most of my old Soviet immigrant friends aren’t religious, but Zionism fills in that gap for them.
I’m not against people trying to forge a new identity after the collapse of the Soviet Union. People have to cope somehow, I guess. But this new identity of theirs is predicated on Israel violently displacing an entire people—because they think that Palestinians aren’t of the right kind of blood and weren’t chosen by their God. Israel belongs to Jews, they say. That’s just how it is. And they see resistance to this plan as aggression and terrorism—to be quashed with overwhelming force.
What makes this particularly depressing is that my fellow Soviet Jewish immigrants base a huge part of their own identity on an overly inflated sense of how badly they were treated in the Soviet Union, yet they couldn’t give a fuck about the Palestinian people—who are victims of their own Zionist ideology. And what are some antisemitic slurs thrown your way or some scattered university quotas and job restrictions in the Soviet Union, compared to the violent torah-driven apartheid that they cheer on in Israel? And anyway, most of my old immigrant friends were too young to experience even the most minor Soviet antisemitism. It’s all abstract for them anyway.
But then what I am saying? Soviet immigrant support for Israel sits firmly in the American mainstream. So they fit right in here–in with American Jews and with Americans in general. This is a society that loves to valorize (and weaponize) its various nationalistic immigrant communities and to promote their grievances in the service of American power. If you’re from an immigrant community, it’s good and proper and respectable to be a hardline nationalist in America.
I don’t know why, but I could never get my own people’s fanatical embrace of Zionism and Israel. I could never understand their obsession with this pure mythical Jewish homeland. I have never felt any special affinity for that place—even though the Reform Jewish community that took my family in when we arrived in San Francisco tried its hardest to convert me to the Zionist faith. In fact, last time Evgenia and I were in Israel in 2019 I had uncontrollable spasms of annoyance and revulsion. There’s something about the smug and well-fed hick-shtetl vibe of the people there that makes my blood boil.
Evgenia and I were just talking about this the other day, and she can’t understand this Soviet Jewish blood obsession, either. To her Zionism seems a poor substitute for the Russian and Soviet culture that many Soviet Jews reject—even-though Jews were a huge part of it.
There’s not much I can do from here in Los Angeles, other than to watch in horror—at what Israel is doing and at my own immigrant community that’s cheering it on—and to say that I’m against Israel and its ideology. As someone whose family almost got wiped out in a genocidal Nazi war, there’s just no way I can support a society based on the same exact blood-obsessed ideas. Solidarity with the people of Palestine. It’s really that simple.