As a Jew of Color the Saga of Julia Salazar Has Been Very Distressing
The first time I read the Armin Rosen Tablet Article on Julia Salazar, I didn’t even finish, because I found it so disgusting. The birtherism triggered memories of when Barack Obama was first running for president. Many of my Jewish friends spoke in racist dog whistles many unaware of how it whittled down my sense of self worth. I often tempered my reactions fearful of what would happen if I called them out.
But then I read it again, and again and again; and I was less convinced. Regardless of the nefarious nature behind some of the attacks on Salazar, (including this week’s revelation of her sexual assault, an attack outside the bounds of decency in any context) there were parts of her biography that warranted attention, like her leadership of the racist philosemitic Christians United for Israel despite her claims that “her first organizing was with tenants in Harlem.”
Then of course there were the numerous inconsistencies in the story she provided about herself. The portait she painted of herself as an underprivileged person included many inconsistencies, ommissions and flat out lies. One year ago a DSA NPC member Danny Fetonte was forced out of his position after it was revealed that he had made omissions in his organizing history. Normally I would agree with some of my comrades that such investigations into Salazar’s past would be unseemly, but she has made those statements a part of her candidacy and what makes her a good candidate. She made it relevant. One of the many non-dominant identities Salazar has presented for herself is a “Jew of Color.” I have a policy of never questioning somebody’s Jewishness. If somebody tells me they’re Jewish I take them at their word. I also don’t expect the traditionally mandated qualifications like matrilineal lineage or certified conversion. I just assume that person is being sincere.
Straddling two identities that are often at odds with each other is an often precarious position. You are accountable to and for both while never fully enjoying the benefits of either. You have twice as many enemies, suffer twice as many micro aggressions. And there are very few safe spaces.
I spent a large part of my biological and spiritual adolescence trying to shed one or both of those identities for the sake of ease. My lived experience as a Jew of Color is lifelong and has come with immense suffering, confusion, isolation, depression, substance abuse, anger, rejection, resentment and heartbreak. It has also come with pride, perspective, experience, wisdom and humility.
My identity is the most powerful thing I have. I cannot spend it. I cannot lose it. It will probably be within the first two sentences of my obituary. Any event in my life any accomplishment any life milestone, will be inseparable from it. It has guided my dating life and will be an integral part of any family, biological or chosen, I have forever. I have ended friendships over the incompatible perspectives I have because of my identity.
Because of all this I hate to cheapen my identity. I am hesitant to employ it for gain. I don’t like using it in the titles of my articles (this piece is an obvious exception becuse it’s about my identity), and I feel dirty when using it to tout myself as an authority on social matters.
So when the Jew of Color label was employed as a smokescreen to help Salazar avoid accountability for some of her false statements, I felt angry ashamed and used. This was especially insulting since many of those leftist Jews holding up “Jews of Color” when defending Salazar have dismissed me (a Jew of color) in the past when I tried to share my perspective.
During the campaign I was hesitant to put out my own piece for several reasons. I would be standing against colleagues, comrades, and friends. I did not wish to do that. I had nothing to gain from attacking her. I feared reprisals from people sympathetic to Salazar and I just didn’t want that kind of attention. But mostly, I feared being manipulated and exploited by people in the center and right who only seem to want to listen to me when I criticize The Left. People like Tablet’s Yair Rosenberg who only seems to give a shit about Jews of Color when they talk about Farrakhan.
Several of my fellow Jews of color lent their voice in support of Salazar. I respect their choice and will never argue with them, but I cannot stand with them on this one.
It is true that Jews of Color often have their Jewish legitimacy questioned. We’re asked if we’re converts, if we’re Ethiopian or if we’re Black Israelites, by total strangers. I’ve never met a Black Jew who hasn’t been interrogated about their lineage on sight. I’ve never met a white jew (even converts) who has. But I’m not convinced that was what happened; at least not at first. Many criticized the Tablet article saying it policed Jewish identity. But did it? This is one excerpt.
Salazar has not been alone in her journey from right to left on Israel. She isn’t alone in defining a nontraditional Jewish identity, or in that identity becoming an impetus for activism.
While this passage talks about Jewish identity and examines it, there is no value judgment. The article only questioned numerous statements Salazar made about her history, not whether she was Jewish or not. To call this policing Jewish identity is a stretch and the initial torrent of people labeling this article solely as doing so felt like gas lighting.
Again it exploited (disingenuously) very painful experiences in service of somebody who has inhabited that identity (and can shed it if she wished) for a very short time frame.
One op/ed written by her friends in response to the accusations of dishonesty spoke glowingly about her Jewish awakening while never really, denying, addressing of acknowledging the statements.
The whole experience has been frustrating as I’ve felt disillusioned with the actions of many of my comrades, while also hand-cuffed in my ability to respond publicly.
Bottom line. Salazar lied. Then she lied to cover those lies. She said that she “immigrated to this country as a child.” When asked about this discrepancy, she threw her staff under the bus. Saying they weren’t experienced. But she’s on video repeating the same statements. And also made them on a live interview with Virgil Texas from Chapo Traphouse. These statements are irreconcilable.
In the JC interview she claimed,
“There isn’t one immigrant identity.”
But she didn’t just claim to be an immigrant, she told a story about how she came here multiple times, and that story was fake.
In the same JC interview, she said [her immigrant identity] wasn’t a focus of her campaign, but it was literally the first thing she said when Meaghan Day asked her “How did you become a socialist?”
They are lies. Plain and simple. And when questioned about it, she didn’t take responsibility. This is not honorable. This is not the mark of somebody with integrity.
That coupled with the revelation (as bizarre as it was that This was even researched) that her lineage is not of poor South Americans, but Bourgeois Bogota elite descended from European colonialists. I am hesitant to police somebody’s “person of color” status, but the claim is shady.
Now either those lies were insignificant and she lied for no good reason, or those lies are huge. Either way, she alone cast doubts onto her sincerity. When people first made the comparisons to Rachel Dolzeal, I found it offensive, but now I’m not so sure it’s inappropriate.
Furthermore I have not appreciated the vague insinuations of Jewish conspiracy theories made by many of her defenders. That the “Jewish establishment;” is coming to her or the reporting was the actions of “dark money groups;” or that it was all just an “anti-BDS smear.” This combined with the allegations that the “real estate lobby” was behind all this made me very uneasy.
In my view Julia Salazar represents one of the biggest unspoken problems in DSA. Many white (or white passing) middle-class millennials moving to Brooklyn with privilege pricing out people of color both becoming part of the gentrifier problem, while posturing as protectors of people of color. Julia Salazar is an out of state, privately-educated, Ivy-league transplant. She’s not the only one. It’s not leftism, it’s self-interested liberalism. At my first DSA meeting I was one of two black men in an a neighborhood that is 75% black. DSA claims to fight for poor immigrants, and people of color, but was unable to find a life-long POC resident of Bushwick as a candidate. This is a problem.
Now Marty Dilan is worse than Salazar by several orders of magnitude. He represents everything wrong in NY politics. He is corrupt and I am not sorry to see him go. but having better politics is not enough. I agree with Julia Salazar on pretty much every issue. And I believe that socialism will win. But how we win matters. How we fight matters. If we cannot hold ourselves to a basic level of honesty, then how can we know that we will remain true to ourselves and our mission? Losing with integrity is better than winning without it. I fear that many of the tactics utilized will be reinforced: lying, attacks on women journalists, idpol smokescreens etc.
The left could have survived a Salazar loss, I’m not sure it can survive her victory.