Jewish identity is not straightforward, at times feeling like a series of external projections rather than a source of solidarity. Artist Toby Millman, who has done a great deal of work exploring the relationship between Israel and Palestine, coined the term “off-white” to describe Jewish racial status in the United States. As a member of the Jewish diaspora who has often “passed” enough for white to be exposed to acts of anti-Semitism, ranging from casual to outrageous, I can identify with this shading. Comics artist and polemicist Eli Valley explodes this off-white status into a stunning range of shades (eggshell! linen! Nazi tears!), adding scathing and critical complexity, in a new anthology of (mostly) previously published work from the past 10 years, Diaspora Boy: Comics on Crisis in America and Israel, released by OR Books. In the book, Valley analyzes the deep conflict, contradictions, and crisis lodged within the heart of Zionist ideology, and how they’re an indictment of members of the Jewish diaspora (of which he is one).
In a lengthy and well-researched introduction, Valley sketches the tenets of Zionist philosophy. First expounded in 1896 by Theodor Herzl, Zionism is based on the idea of Jews reclaiming their ancestral “Land of Israel”; it blossomed with the post-WWII relocation of European Jews and the formation of Israel as an independent state. The introduction also raises some of the issues that make Valley’s work controversial in the Jewish community, including the broad disinclination of American Jews to criticize or even acknowledge the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the hypocrisy and lack of empathy inherent in this infliction of human rights abuses, from a people who recently suffered the same.