This piece is part of our Wit­ness­ing series, which shares pieces from Israeli authors and authors in Israel, as well as the expe­ri­ences of Jew­ish writ­ers around the globe in the after­math of Octo­ber 7th.

It is crit­i­cal to under­stand his­to­ry not just through the books that will be writ­ten lat­er, but also through the first-hand tes­ti­monies and real-time account­ing of events as they occur. At Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, we under­stand the val­ue of these writ­ten tes­ti­mo­ni­als and of shar­ing these indi­vid­ual expe­ri­ences. It’s more impor­tant now than ever to give space to these voic­es and narratives.

In col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, JBI is record­ing writ­ers’ first-hand accounts, as shared with and pub­lished by JBC, to increase the acces­si­bil­i­ty of these accounts for indi­vid­u­als who are blind, have low vision or are print disabled. 

Two weeks after Octo­ber 7th – as Israel’s coun­ter­at­tack against Hamas was pick­ing up speed and claim­ing many lives, but before the ground inva­sion com­menced, and while the death toll in Israel con­tin­ued to rise, con­fu­sion plagu­ing dozens of fam­i­lies who were still wait­ing to learn whether their loved ones had been spared, mur­dered, or kid­napped – my writ­ing group fell apart. 

All at once, my rela­tion­ship with sev­er­al mem­bers of the group went south. They cit­ed my social media activ­i­ty — rais­ing aware­ness of Hamas’s crimes, call­ing on the world to demand the release of hostages, and con­demn­ing protests that reframed mur­der and rape as resis­tance — as insen­si­tive, nation­al­is­tic, and myopic. There may have been oth­er rea­sons for the rift that devel­oped, but I wasn’t giv­en any, so all I have is my own under­stand­ing of the sit­u­a­tion. We had years of close, inti­mate friend­ship under our belts. (If you’ve ever been part of a writ­ing group, you know all too well the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty this entails. Espe­cial­ly if, like me, you have been work­ing on a mem­oir.) I spent a good long while look­ing back at every sin­gle thing I’d post­ed, but found no calls for vio­lence in my words, no hatred direct­ed at any group of peo­ple. I only found the fear, tur­moil, and urge to make the world under­stand what any Jew­ish Israeli was express­ing. Was that the problem?

Griev­ing and long­ing and try­ing to make sense of my fast-dis­in­te­grat­ing friend­ships, I sought advice from an old­er writer. He sug­gest­ed I write my friends a good­bye let­ter. Don’t send it,” he explained. Just write it as an exer­cise and see how it makes you feel.” 

I tried. I had a doc­u­ment open on my desk­top for weeks, but I couldn’t make any head­way. My esti­ma­tion of what moti­vat­ed them to aban­don me kept chang­ing the more I learned about many Amer­i­can pro­gres­sives and how they felt about Israel — not as a gov­ern­ment, but as an idea. My feel­ings kept chang­ing, too — shock tak­en over by sad­ness, then despair, then for­give­ness, then the anguish of real­iz­ing how futile this work was. 

Writ­ing, in gen­er­al, was feel­ing more and more like a point­less endeav­or. I lost count of how many of my for­mer peers at the Colum­bia School of the Arts had post­ed lies about Israel and jokes about how Israelis love to blame Hamas for every sin­gle prob­lem. On Twit­ter and Insta­gram, hun­dreds of writ­ers were mak­ing lists of Zion­ist authors.” They cast a wide net, includ­ing any authors who had vis­it­ed Israel, or whose books had been trans­lat­ed into Hebrew. One orga­ni­za­tion I came across post­ed images of Intifa­da” graf­fi­ti and cel­e­bra­tions of the break­ing of the fence” — a ref­er­ence to the breach­ing of the Gaza-Israel bor­der dur­ing which Hamas mil­i­tants invad­ed kib­butz­im and towns in south­ern Israel, where they raped, mur­dered, muti­lat­ed, and kid­napped civil­ians and boo­by-trapped Jew­ish women’s genitalia. 

Each day brought dis­heart­en­ing news from lit­er­ary mag­a­zines and pub­lish­ers. Some declared that they would adhere to BDS guide­lines; oth­ers put out state­ments of sol­i­dar­i­ty with Pales­tine, which includ­ed hate­ful and unsub­stan­ti­at­ed anti-Israel bias; still oth­ers pub­lished pieces that demo­nized the fight against anti­semitism, and even jus­ti­fied the mas­sacre of Octo­ber 7th or claimed that the Israeli gov­ern­ment had fab­ri­cat­ed it. 

One of the great­est blows was deliv­ered when Guer­ni­ca Mag­a­zine took down a piece – one that focused on the empa­thy and nuance required in this moment, and the suf­fer­ing of both Israelis and Pales­tini­ans – because it had been writ­ten from an Israeli per­spec­tive. As one can imag­ine, this event, in which an essay by Joan­na Chen was removed from Guer­ni­ca Mag­a­zine fol­low­ing the protest res­ig­na­tions of its edi­to­r­i­al staff, was par­tic­u­lar­ly dev­as­tat­ing to me. Like Chen, I am a Jew­ish-Israeli writer and trans­la­tor, and like her I have always held strong left-wing views and sup­port­ed the estab­lish­ment of a Pales­tin­ian state both in advo­ca­cy and in nation­al elec­tions. The fact that voic­es in the lib­er­al lit­er­ary world could not tol­er­ate a piece of writ­ing that strived to find room for com­pas­sion and coex­is­tence because it was writ­ten by an Israeli per­son – one who acknowl­edged that Israelis were also griev­ing and trau­ma­tized by the largest, most bru­tal mas­sacre endured by Jews since the Holo­caust — told me in no uncer­tain terms that my voice was no longer wel­come in many lit­er­ary spaces — I bare­ly passed as human in them. 

Per­haps most trou­bling of all: A few pub­li­ca­tions had edit­ed their guide­lines page to intro­duce new addi­tions to the gen­er­al­ly accept­ed pro­hi­bi­tions on hatred and big­otry in their sub­mis­sions, adding in no Zionism.” 

While there are reli­gious Zion­ists and lib­er­al Zion­ists, Zion­ists who sup­port the Israeli gov­ern­ment and Zion­ists who abhor the gov­ern­ment but rely on the State of Israel for a sense of safe­ty in this world, the def­i­n­i­tion of Zion­ism is sim­ple, and can eas­i­ly be found in a Google search: it is the belief in a Jew­ish state in our his­toric home­land. It is nei­ther an agen­da of supe­ri­or­i­ty nor a doc­trine of expan­sion­ism. While anti-Zion­ist Jews are cur­rent­ly being tok­enized and flaunt­ed by those who fos­ter anti-Israel bias, the fact is that a major­i­ty of Jews around the world iden­ti­fy as Zion­ists. This includes many Jews and Israelis who are polit­i­cal­ly on the hard-left and have pro­found crit­i­cism of the Netanyahu gov­ern­ment, of IDF con­duct in Gaza, and of the occu­pa­tion of the West Bank. See­ing the words no Zion­ism ” proud­ly announced on a lit­er­ary web­site is a shock and a hor­ror for many Jews. We’ve seen this qual­i­fi­ca­tion before. The Amer­i­can lit­er­ary world did not come up with no Zion­ism.” Sovi­et Rus­sia thought of it first, when it launched its cam­paign to sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly strip Jews of every Jew­ish char­ac­ter­is­tic before turn­ing to more vio­lent meth­ods of era­sure, when the pow­ers that be real­ized that a Jew by any oth­er name was still, well, a Jew. 

Even more star­tling is the fact that, as Dara Horn bril­liant­ly explained in a recent Atlantic arti­cle, this choice is not per­ceived by those who make it as a con­tra­dic­tion or an aber­ra­tion. The lit­er­ary world — much like the aca­d­e­m­ic world, to which it is deeply con­nect­ed — per­ceives itself as being on a mis­sion to make the world a bet­ter place. Which is anoth­er rea­son why I used to think I fit right in. 

His­tor­i­cal­ly, Amer­i­can Jews have skewed left. Lib­er­al val­ues made sense for new­ly arrived immi­grants and first-gen­er­a­tion Amer­i­cans still seek­ing accep­tance in a soci­ety that took them in but set impos­si­ble obsta­cles in their path to belong­ing. These val­ues also matched the Jew­ish imper­a­tive for tikkun olam—mak­ing the world a bet­ter place. 

This was true for me, too. I had grown up in a coun­try that was major­i­ty Jew­ish and naive­ly thought I had moved to a post-anti­se­mit­ic Amer­i­ca. Lib­er­al val­ues had always been a deeply defin­ing part of my iden­ti­ty. I was hap­py — still am — to use what­ev­er priv­i­lege I have in order to ele­vate oth­ers. In fact, when I moved to the US, I was excit­ed to find what I’d thought was the per­fect envi­ron­ment for me — the Amer­i­can lit­er­ary indus­try. Here was a space con­cerned with the pur­suit of jus­tice, focused on includ­ing and high­light­ing under­rep­re­sent­ed voic­es, and which seemed to lead the way for the world when it came to pro­gres­sive, open-mind­ed values. 

But as it turns out, in the minds of many in lit­er­ary cir­cles, tikkun olam will be achieved by rid­ding the indus­try of Zion­ists. Whether or not they know what Zion­ism actu­al­ly means, Jew­ish writ­ers must come to terms with the fact that oppo­si­tion to it in the lit­er­ary world is per­va­sive , not an anomaly. 

When one tries to point out this ris­ing anti­semitism and anti-Israel bias tak­ing place in the lit­er­ary world, we are inevitably met with skep­ti­cism, or, worse, told that we are play­ing the vic­tim and cry­ing anti­semitism” as a means of shut­ting down legit­i­mate crit­i­cism of the Israeli gov­ern­ment, or in order to jus­ti­fy the atroc­i­ties it com­mits. But call­ing for an end to the Zion­ist project” is hard­ly crit­i­cism of the Israeli gov­ern­ment, and chal­leng­ing anti­semitism has noth­ing to do with one’s views of the war. To call out this tox­ic trend is to become its target.

You can have years of expe­ri­ence liv­ing through intifadas and fight­ing for a two-state solu­tion and still be thrown off by this. Per­haps it is the writer’s prac­tice of work­shop­ping and expos­ing our­selves to scruti­ny and crit­i­cism. When a fel­low writer or edi­tor casts doubt on some­thing we know to be true, it gives us pause. We start to ques­tion our own instincts. Per­haps that is the point. 

For Zion­ist writ­ers (read: many Jew­ish writ­ers) the mes­sage is clear: we are no longer wel­come. Or, rather, we could still be wel­come, but only if we push the part of our­selves that loves Israel, lives in Israel, used to live in Israel, has rel­a­tives in Israel, or oth­er­wise believes that Israel is an invalu­able asset to the Jew­ish peo­ple, deep down into the most secret, unspo­ken recess­es of our minds. In prac­tice, this pre­cludes many of us. Any dis­claimer made by these pub­li­ca­tions about how BDS and sim­i­lar sanc­tions are not intend­ed to dis­crim­i­nate against indi­vid­u­als on the basis of reli­gion or eth­nic­i­ty is noth­ing but win­dow dressing. 

As this new lit­er­ary land­scape unfolds, a num­ber of new pub­li­ca­tions have popped up since Octo­ber 7th that are specif­i­cal­ly designed for Jew­ish and Zion­ist writ­ing. Some are focused on the pro­duc­tion and pub­li­ca­tion of texts that cope with the trau­ma of the mas­sacre, oth­ers are sim­ply safe spaces for Jews to be Jewy. In a time that feels so fraught and unsafe, it’s won­der­ful to have safe spaces where we are wel­come, invit­ed, cel­e­brat­ed. No, that’s a ludi­crous under­state­ment. In what feels phys­i­cal­ly, emo­tion­al­ly, and spir­i­tu­al­ly like a pro­found­ly dan­ger­ous moment to be Jew­ish, know­ing that I might still have some­place to pub­lish my work is a godsend. 

But as reas­sur­ing and uplift­ing as these new pub­li­ca­tions are, their estab­lish­ment is mere­ly the oth­er side of the same coin. More than an embrace of Jew­ish cul­ture, it is a response to no Zion­ism.” Jew­ish writ­ers will uti­lize these new jour­nals not only because we may feel safer these days in a Jew­ish envi­ron­ment, but because we feel inher­ent­ly reject­ed by so many oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, either because they told us so direct­ly, or because they are mak­ing a series of unmis­tak­able choic­es that com­mu­ni­cates the sen­ti­ment to us in no uncer­tain terms. 

Jew­ish writ­ers will be faced with that age-old ques­tion that we have had to answer so many times before: do we assim­i­late for the sake of being allowed to con­tin­ue mov­ing with­in the lit­er­ary indus­try (at least until the next time Israel is at exis­ten­tial risk)? Or do we stay true to the com­plex­i­ty of our whole iden­ti­ties, lim­it­ed in our con­vic­tion to Jew­ish spaces only? Will we hide our stars or will we go, as my moth­er-in-law put it, Back to the ghetto?” 

It is a sto­ry we know in our bones. I used to think there was too much Holo­caust edu­ca­tion in Israel; that it start­ed too ear­ly and was need­less­ly upset­ting. Now I know exact­ly what it was for. Holo­caust edu­ca­tion isn’t about remem­ber­ing. It’s about rec­og­niz­ing the signs. 

I don’t want to hide, and I don’t want to choose. While not every piece of writ­ing I cre­ate may be Jew­ish or Zion­ist in nature, while Israel might often come up in a crit­i­cal tone in my writ­ing, or not come up at all, my voice would not be my voice if I had to police my iden­ti­ty, to choose whether I can be a Jew or a mem­oirist, a Jew or an essay­ist, a Jew or a fem­i­nist, a Jew or a lib­er­al, a Jew or an anti-racist, a Jew or a whole per­son, full of val­ues and com­plex­i­ties. I’d rather be allowed to be both Jew­ish and human. I want to inter­act both with the Jew­ish and the non-Jew­ish world, not to be lim­it­ed either in the audi­ence I can reach or in what I can explore. 

But if I am made to choose, then to me the answer is clear. My iden­ti­ty is unqual­i­fied and unequiv­o­cal. I am to myself what I am to those whose mouths fill with bile when they speak the word. I’m a Jew. 

The views and opin­ions expressed above are those of the author, based on their obser­va­tions and experiences.

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Yardenne Greenspan is a writer and Hebrew trans­la­tor born in Tel Aviv. She was a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to Ploughshares from 2016 to 2023. Her writ­ing has been fea­tured in Lit­er­ary Hub, Haaretz, Words With­out Bor­ders, Asymp­tote, Two Lines, and Apogee, among oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. Her trans­la­tions have been pub­lished by Rest­less Books, St. Martin’s Press, Akashic, Syra­cuse Uni­ver­si­ty, New Ves­sel Press, Ama­zon Cross­ing, and Far­rar, Straus & Giroux. Her trans­la­tion of The Mem­o­ry Mon­ster by Yishai Sarid was a 2020 New York Times Notable Book and her trans­la­tions of Where I Am by Dana Shem-Ur and the anthol­o­gy West Jerusalem Noir were 2023 World Lit­er­a­ture Today Notable Trans­la­tions. She has an MFA from Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty and lives in New York City.