Editor's Note: This piece was written in response to a lecture held Nov. 19, 2019, titled “American Jews and Israel in the Trump Era: Polarization and Protest.”
Last Tuesday, UW Jewish studies program held an event on American Jews in the Trump Era. During the question session, guest speaker Dov Waxman was asked about the situation of Jews in Britain. In his answer, Waxman mentioned one point that in countries where Jews wield less political influence, anti-Zionist members of the community tend to reticent about their affiliation, fearing that it would foster anti-Semitist sentiments.
In the event, Waxman insisted on differentiating terms related to Jews. Anti-Zionism is constructed within the Jewish theology, historically supported by Orthodox Jews (but their position had shifted since then). Anti-Zionism, which opposes the establishment of the State of Israel, does not equal anti-Semitism. In America, there are fundamental misunderstandings about the Jewish community. President Trump expressed his frustration in the lack of voter support from American Jews regarding his series of pro-Israel policies. In Trump's understanding, pro-Israel is essentially the same as pro-American Jews.
Beyond studies on American Jews, I was sparked by Waxman to connect his theory with the political dilemma Chinese experience in contemporary America.
The crucial misunderstanding faced by Chinese in America is the equation of state and identity. Chinese mainland government = CPC = China = Chinese = American citizens with Chinese origins. This signifying chain is a predominant understanding in American society, yet it is an oversimplification of the dynamic. Under this signifying chain, any remarks toward the Chinese government will be interpreted as remarks towards Chinese; any criticism towards the Chinese government eventually will assimilate with the anti-Chinese rhetoric, thus turns into the accomplice of racism and xenophobia.
The general society's inability to differentiate these terms eliminates the space for moderates, which leaves no alternative for one's political inclinations. Someone is either pro-China or anti-China, no other position exists between the two ends of the spectrum. Consequently, moderates are either muted or compelled to take the more radical stance. Any rational comments are flattened out, there is no dimension for opinions; all aspects about China and Chinese, molt into one chunk.
We often hold the firm belief that our opinion is the product of our independent thinking, however, no discourse exists outside the context. Language is always conventional, we are always constrained by our environments. The seemingly solid freedom of choice is merely an illusion. The choices left to us, has already filtered by the context of our societies.
UW student, Class of 2023