Mr. Gabriel Matthew Schivone is one of the very few people in human history whose very name appears destined to become a description of a phenomenon, in this case the Schivone Jew. Previous examples of persons who have given their names to phenomena include Vidkun Quisling, the Earl of Sandwich, and only very few others.
If you google Mr. Schivone, very little of his distinction will appear. You will find him described as a proud Jewish member of the Gaza flotilla, as an interviewer of Noam Chomsky, even as a poet; in short, just another one of those very very righteous Jews who battle on behalf of the oppressed Palestinians. Nothing outstanding there.
Here, for example, he explains why, particularly as a Jew, his conscience led him to resist “U.S. – Israeli aggression.”
Well, so far so good. The only problem is that Mr. Schivone is not Jewish. He has had a distant Jewish relative, but no, no Jewish parent, no conversion to Judaism. On the other hand he feels strongly about the Palestinians and suggests that such feelings qualify him as a Jew; as he put it, you work with what you have.
These little bits of his biography have just emerged from two letters published in Haaretz, to which he had contributed one of his anti-Israel rants. Here is the first of these letters:
In response to “A moment before the next flotilla,” Week’s End, June 24.
In his editorial about joining the flotilla to Gaza, Gabriel Schivone represented himself as a Jewish college student. I feel I must point out that this not his true identity, but one he has created in order to generate insider credibility, shield himself from accusations of anti-Semitism, and resonate with a target audience.
I met Gabriel in 2004 while attending the University of Arizona, where we became very close friends. I am a strong supporter of Palestinian human rights and agree with Gabriel that the blockade of Gaza has caused great humanitarian suffering. However, readers have a right to know the facts and reach their own informed conclusions.
Gabriel is not Jewish, whether in terms of ethnic ancestry, religious belief, or cultural identity. He has never identified as a Jew until it became useful in advancing his political agenda. During the High Holiday season of 2007, Gabriel told me that he discussed Israel with campus representatives of Chabad, identifying himself as a Jew. When asked why he did this, he explained that he has a distant Jewish relative and that “you use what you have.”
In all the time I’ve known him, he has never expressed feeling morally conflicted about Israel, nor has he succumbed to pressure to be “silent.” The editorial’s narrative is not Gabriel’s story, but one crafted to lend moral and emotional weight to his argument while appealing to the young, college-aged Jews whose participation is so vital to the pro-Palestinian movement.
The aim of this letter is not to discredit that movement or the flotilla, or to take a political side, but to alert readers to specific distortions in this editorial. It is a shame that the war of narratives so readily eclipses and manipulates the truth.
And here is Mr. Schivone’s response:
I’m astonished by the bizarre charges about my most cherished sense of personal identity made by a person I haven’t seen, nor corresponded with, in years. It is precisely through my work organizing for Palestinian human rights with other Jews that I evolved to become deeply proud of my identity as a Chicano Jew.
This is not an uncommon story. Many of us find, after years in the wilderness, that this work has brought us closer to our Jewish roots because we found a community of other Jews who believed as we did and who commit themselves, with every ounce of their being, to full equality for all people, especially Palestinians.
Petty attempts at personal defamation of this sort act as distractions from the urgent task that should concern us all: to expose, and resist, U.S.-Israeli policies of closure and the ongoing destruction of Palestinian life under occupation.
Gabriel Matthew Schivone
What are we to make of the Schivone Jews ? Gabriel here is the purest form: no Jewish background whatever, but this lack compensated by a strong desire to work against Israel. The old joke was about the fervent anti-Communist being some-sort-of Communist, so, why not, by that logic the anti-Jew surely has claim to being, at the very least, a some-sort-of Jew. This pure form of being a Schivone Jew may be rare, it is the Schivone Jew in the strong sense.
Much less rare is the Schivone Jew in a weaker sense.
Most of the few active anti-Israel Jews that I have known fall into this category. Usually there was a Jewish parent (whether mother or father, in this context, matters little) but a life totally apart from any other Jewish entanglement. The spouse (or, more often, the “partner”) would not be Jewish, and, of course, there would not be synagogue membership, except when that involves, as it sometimes does, anti-Israel activism. In short, the self-identification as “Jewish” comes up for one and only one purpose: a life devoted to fighting against Israel. Which brings us to a definition of the Schivone Jew: someone of little or no Jewish background who, nevertheless, petulantly claims a Jewish identify for the sole purpose of agitating against Israel as an aggrieved Jew.
As it happens, Schivone Jews seem to predominate in the major self-styled “Jewish” groups that oppose Israel. This is certainly true of Jewish Voice for Peace (of which Gabriel Schivone is a member and reports “many non-Jewish Americans” as members) and perhaps also of Michael Lerner’s Tikkun (which acknowledges that 40% of its readership is non-Jewish).
Chapeau: Paul Bogdanor
UPDATE, July 2012
It appears that another Schivone Jew (i.e. a non-Jewish anti-Israel activist, claiming to be Jewish) has appeared in Germany, a Ms. Irena Wachendorff. Here is the Jerusalem Post report.
Chapeau: Richard Klagsbrun
UPDATE, May 2015
My Writings on “Partial Jews”