Diaspora Podcast, Jewish Voice for Peace, Tallie Ben Daniel, Nava EtShalom

We spoke with Tallie Ben Daniel and Nava EtShalom about their new show, Diaspora Podcast from Jewish Voice for Peace. We discussed the origins of the podcast, the goals and intentions of putting it out, and what folks can expect in the first season of the show.

For other JVP related episodes, check out:

  • 26 Jewish Voice for Peace: On this episode we spoke with Rebecca Vilkomerson, [former] executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace. Over the past 20 years JVP has grown to become the largest Jewish leftist organization in the US, with over 200,000 supporters and 60 chapters across the country. We talked with Rebecca about the history of JVP, how it’s changed over time, and what today’s rapidly shifting political climate means for their work.
  • 28 JVP’s National Members Meeting: We went to Chicago for the Jewish Voice for Peace National Members Meeting [2017]! We brought a recorder with us and put together an audio collage of our experience.

Short: Diaspora Podcast – Transcript

David: So Sam, it’s been a few months of talking almost exclusively about fascism on the show.

Sam: Yeah, it’s been a really optimistic few months here at Treyf headquarters..

David: So what we wanted to do is just take a break for this episode and talk about something a bit more positive.

Sam: And lucky for us, the fine folks at Jewish Voice for Peace have a brand new podcast, the new Diaspora Podcast.

David: Yeah. And so we were excited to learn about this new addition to the world of radical leftist Jewish media.

Sam: Shout out to the co-hosts of this podcast, Tallie and Nava, for making this podcast and for taking the time to talk to us about it.

David: Yeah. And without further ado, here’s our conversation with Tallie and Nava.

Tallie: Hi, I’m Tallie Ben Daniel. I work for Jewish Voice for Peace and I’m one of the co-hosts of the Diaspora podcast. I live in Oakland and I’m a political educator.

Nava: Hi, I’m Nava EtShalom and I live in Philly where I am a long term doctoral candidate in English lit, writing about the representation of settler colonialism in Palestine in Anglophone literature. And I’m a poet. And I have been doing movement work in support of Palestinian liberation for 20 years, and I’m really excited to be talking to you guys.

David: Well, welcome to the show! And Tallie welcome back to the show. So we wanted to talk with you about the new podcast. And maybe before we get into what the show is about and where it’s going-

Sam: The nuts and bolts, if you will.

David: (laughter) Yeah. How how did the show start? What’s the origin story of a podcast?

Tallie: So it started in part because Jewish Voice for Peace came out as opposing Zionism and put out a statement – is it over a year ago now ? – a while ago at this point, and what that did is basically open up an opportunity for us to be able to speak more openly about Zionism and how we see the impact of Zionism. And we wanted to make something that wasn’t a statement, that wasn’t a book, that wasn’t something that we felt was harder to access. And we also, I also, did not know how much work podcasts were. And so podcasts became a way to do this sort of work of education and opening up a conversation that was really kind of accessible for people. So that’s the origin story of the first sort of iteration of the podcast. And then Nava came on board.

Nava: And then I came on board. And how that happened was, I have a traumatic brain injury that I’ve had for six years. And I was getting to this point where I was feeling just like, real despair that I could really not contribute anything to movement work. And I just hadn’t figured out, what do I do with my disability? You know, I’m still going through all kinds of like radicalization and identity formation around it. And in that moment, I was like, I need to find some way, even though I can’t run a meeting, I can’t really organize, I can’t show up for a demonstration or civil disobedience.  And then I was like, I’m just going to call Tallie, she’s been doing the academic stuff for JVP. And I called her and I was like, can I get in on academic council business? And she was like, here’s this podcast that I’m thinking about. And it was so fun to talk about. We just started having fun right away and started talking every week to dream about it and plan it. And that was a year ago,  more than a year ago.

Tallie: Yeah.

Nava: And I was psyched about it because I think it’s so good for us to just make more culture, especially more pop culture, artifacts that just work as primers. Like what is this? What is this work? And it seems like such a good political resource for us to have, just like a primer on Jews and Zionism.

Sam: So David and I are both super excited about Diaspora podcast, and that y’all are working on it. Who do you both see as the targeted audience, or what are some of the goals of putting the show together?

Nava: Ok, we have to tell you before, we will answer that question,

Tallie: Yes

Nava: That’s what we’re here for. But we do have to tell you that we are like never not talking about this question.

Tallie: Yeah. It’s maybe the most living question in the process of putting this podcast together. And I think we keep… I, maybe I’m just going to speak for myself, I keep feeling like we have finally achieved the answer. Like we know it. And then a week later, we’re like wait, can we just have this conversation one more time?

Nava: And also, Tallie and I really have learned to fight in the context of this question, because also what will happen is that I’m like, Tallie can we finally sit down and talk about what are our goals and who is the intended audience? And Tallie will be like, we have the document that answers that question! So this is a troubled question, it’s a little bit vexed, but we are going to tell you what we know.

Tallie: One answer is that there’s multiple audiences for this question, which is possibly why it’s a little bit of a challenge for us to answer. But one of the audiences are Jewish people who are kind of progressive but aren’t Zionists. So Nava and I have both been pretty obsessed with the questions of Zionism and nationalism and Judaism and Jewishness for most of our adult lives. But we know that there are people out there who are not as obsessed as we are about it, and are part of this sort of broader leftist movement or are very progressive. And this is a really living question for them right now, considering the Trump-Netanyahu alliance, considering all the ways that nationalism is making trouble for all of us right now. So that’s one of the audiences, right, is just like, okay you don’t know what this relationship is between Israel and the United States? Let’s talk it out a little bit and figure out how Zionism fits into that.

Nava: And then another audience that we think about in terms of how we’re organizing it and gearing it, it’s for people who are involved in this work for the liberation of Palestine, who aren’t Palestinian, don’t come from Palestinian families, and don’t have a lot of background on Zionism. And I think that this is a part of audience that we’re not trying to, like, move them or make more room for them in the fold. We’re trying to be like, here’s a tool if you want to deepen what you know about this. Because it makes our work more powerful if we understand, like what is even this ideology, how did it get so bound up in what it means to be Jewish, especially in North America. It sort of becomes hard to imagine a way forward after the ethno-state if we don’t understand the origins of the ethno-state. We want to have that available.

Tallie: Yeah. And I mean, I think, of course, one of the audiences is anti-Zionist Jews, because so much of what it can feel like to be an anti-Zionist Jewish person is to be kind of lonely. And so just to make visible that there are others and that you’re not alone and that there’s a whole community of anti-Zionist Jews who are trying to build a different future for Jewish people.

Nava: Although TBH [to be quite honest], I feel really torn about making a podcast that ends up feeling primarily like a resource for Jews to understand Zionism better and understand its violence. Of course we have to educate other Jews about this because we have to get our people. But on the other hand, I’m really allergic to the concept of our people. I worry about the aspects of trying to move and educate Jews about this. I worry about the sort of the strategic questions that that raises. Like do we need to be talking to Jews? Is that an important step in the liberation of Palestine? Or is it an important step in not feeling so alienated and terrible in Jewish spaces, or like making the Jewish communities you want? Where do those things actually come together and where are we kind of shoving them together?

David: Well I mean considering that this podcast emerges from Jewish Voice for Peace, I think the question of how much its intention is to engage Jews, it’s an interesting question to me, because JVP has its own strategy, right? Is there an aspect of JVP’s mandate that is about engaging non-Jewish people with these types of educational material?

Tallie: Oh, that’s such a good question. In some ways, I think the way in which this is a question that’s alive in the podcast is also a question that’s alive in JVP. Not to get too weirdly meta about it, but I think the reason that it’s hard to answer this question is because of Zionism. Because part of what Zionism teaches us is that we should only be concerned about the well-being and interests of other Jewish people, and that everybody else’s interests should be secondary. And so I think we’re pushing back against those things, which then makes it confusing when we’re like, well we’re a Jewish organization, right? So what it means to be a Jewish person and what is a Jewish organization are also questions that nobody knows the answers to, honestly. So it is something that we think about all the time in JVP.

Nava: I don’t work for JVP, but I’m a fellow traveler with a lot of JVPers and believe in the work. And I think that concern there is like, are we working against Zionism in a way that re-inscribes Zionism by centering Israel in the political and identity questions that we grapple with? I feel like that’s like a live question. I don’t think that’s a resolved question or a simple question or even necessarily the most useful question.

David: So you were saying, you were talking earlier about identifying the need for primers of a certain kind. Can you talk a bit more about that gap in the media landscape that you’re hoping to fill with this project?

Nava: Yeah, some of our excitement about this is just like there’s something about listening to radio, and listening to people’s voices that makes you feel welcomed in. And it’s warm, and you feel bonded, and there’s like room to listen to stuff that for some people might be hard to listen to, and for everybody will at some points be hard to listen to. So I think some of it is a very literal question of medium. We do look forward to the hate mail we’re gonna get about our voices…

Tallie: (laughter)

Nava: Just because we’re women.

Tallie: I will say that for me, Zionism has been a third rail for so long. And openly talking about anti-Zionism is something that is correct and moral and desired, it just feels like there hasn’t been… you can find writing about it if you’re an academically minded person who likes reading academic work, but it’s actually a challenge to find something that’s like a Newsweek article level on anti-Zionism and why Zionism is something that someone would criticize. You know, listicle version of why someone would be an anti-Zionist. (laughter) And so it’s really challenging because Zionism is complicated and has a long history, but I do think it’s needed to have something that’s a little bit more…here’s what it is, here’s why people would have a problem with it.

Nava: I sort of imagine it… I don’t know if anyone else got this for a graduation present… as like a set of tapes, great lecture series or whatever. Not that we’re the great lecturers, but we just want it to be on the shelf for whenever you want it.

David: So obviously making a podcast is very different from the type of movement work that I think all of us probably have a shared experience in of some kind. And I’m just curious what it’s been like for you to shift into this new zone.

Tallie: For me, it’s been… Nava has more radio podcast experience than I do. This is like a totally new genre for me and it feels like learning a new language, like you understand some of the basic vocabulary, but you’re not fluent in it yet. And you can tell that other people are better at it than you are, but you’re learning all the time and it’s getting better all the time. Very nerve wracking. It’s much slower. I think organizing can sometimes feel like a slog, but is often very quick. You’re responding to something that’s happening right now and then you see the impact pretty soon. But podcasting is definitely not like that. And I think we won’t see the impact for a while. And there’s, I think, both good and bad things about that. It reminds me much more of writing than it does of organizing in that way. But it’s been really good for me to kind of help me boil down what are the core messages that I want to say? What is the core story I want to tell?  Which feels like important work to do when you’re organizing and in all areas of your life, you know.

Nava: I think for me it’s actually been a really interesting part of my experience of understanding my own disability and my own ableism in new ways, because when I first started working with Tallie on the podcast, I was so excited about it. And one of the things that I felt like was I was finding a way for myself to do what I could, like at least I can do this for the movement, even if I can’t be an organizer and can’t do some of the work I was excited to do before my injury, for example. And I think what’s been really cool about the process is that I have deepened my sense of all the multiple ways there are to do movement work. You know, I’ve thought about this before as a poet and as a scholar, but this feels like a new level of understanding that like, of course I have what to bring. Of course we all have what to bring to the work. And this is what I can do. And I am so lucky to be doing it. And it feels like a good reorganizing of my sense of what movement work is, and a deepening of my sense that there are infinite ways to do it. And I’m grateful to have this one.

Sam: And you have one subscriber here for the next however many seasons you make, maybe two? But on the subject of season one, can you both talk a little bit about what some of the issues are within the broader question of Zionism that you’re going to try to tackle this season?

Tallie: We did try to have a history…

Nava: We do have a history episode!

Tallie: We do have a history episode. (laughter) It’s extremely challenging to have a history episode of anything but, you know, the history of Zionism is a very big topic. And so we tackled it, in a way. We know that we have an episode that’s an impact on Palestinians. We’re still kind of developing some episodes that will hit on the impact on Mizrahi Jews and impact on Ashkenazi Jews. But those episodes are less finished.

Nava: We are also in a few episodes going to be airing a conversation the two of us had about how we stopped being Zionist. We’re also going to be talking to a scholar who works on Christian Zionism to talk about… I mean, there’s so much to say about Christian Zionism… but we’re gonna be talking about how some Christian Zionist precepts became Jewish Zionist precepts and sort of how that process happened, which I think is also gonna be really interesting.

Tallie: Yeah. And one thing we’re very… I’m really excited about, is the idea of diaspora as something – this is going back to our living conversation about audience – but that the idea of diaspora has a significance in Jewish thought, but is also something that’s really powerful for a lot of different movements and peoples. And so sharing a little bit from people, an invitation to have people share with us what the word diaspora means for them regardless of if they’re Jewish or not. Which I’m hoping can be a way for us to connect the thing we’re doing with the thing that lots of different people are doing in the aftermath of colonialism and nationalism.

Sam: Okay so before we let you go, we have a segment on our show called shkoyakh and it’s basically a thumbs up, thumbs down situation. Something that you find exciting or the opposite, I guess. A person, a group, an event, a book sometimes…

David: Anything giving you life right now.

Sam: Yes, that’s the more optimistic way. Anything making you excited or giving you hope. So I was wondering if we could kick that to both of you and ask for both of your shkoykahs for the week.

Tallie: I think the shkoyakh I will give is despite this being a pretty bad news week, I do feel like I can see the way that the conditions are changing in real time, that people are… do folks know who Michael Ian Black is?

David: No.

Tallie: He’s a comedian who was in a bunch of movies… think of like SNL adjacent comedian. And he tweeted something that was like, now that American Jews are our own nation, can we just formally recognize Palestine? And I just thought that was telling, right, that this comedian who is not political on any level and is not known to be like anti-Zionist on any level is suddenly saying something that’s to be funny, but also is like, I don’t know. It just feels like things are shifting under this really terrible set of circumstances that we find ourselves in. So that’s where I’ll go, is that things are shifting and that people are open to new and different ways of thinking about Palestine and the future.

Nava: That is a good one Tallie!

Tallie: Thank you, Nava.

Nava: Exactly what you said Tallie, like this is shitty, repressive, scary stuff. But you know one of the things that happens in response too, is like growth and power of the kind of movement building that we want to see. So like that is totally a shkoykah. And also just on this very literal level, the fact that there is available language in the White House and Congress to even talk about BDS… like seven years ago, 400 people knew what BDS was! And now, the [New York] Times is writing, like, not super awesome attempts to understand it. You know, the people who are mad about it are using our language. I mean, they’re also using this fucked up anti-Semitism language. But they’re also using our language. And that seems like power.

David: Well, if you’d like to learn more about that language, or hear that language on the regular (laughter) you can tune into the new Diaspora podcast. Thanks so much to both of you for taking the time to chat with us and looking forward to hearing all the episodes that come out.

Tallie: Oh my god, we’re so thrilled to be here. Thank you so much.

Nava: It’s been great talking to you.

Sam: Treyf podcast is Sam Bick and David Zinman, a huuuuuuge thanks to CKUT 90.3 FM, where we recorded this podcast under the shadow of the Giant Cross of Secularism on Occupied Kanien’kehá ka Territory.

David: Thanks as always to Saxsyndrum and Socalled for the music you heard in the episode and to everybody who helps makes Treyf podcast happen.

Sam: You can check us out on the social media is at Treyf, T-R-E-Y-F on Twitter, on Facebook and on Instagram.

David: Please send any comments, suggestions or hate mail to treyfpdocast at gmail dot com .

Sam: More episodes soon.