Right. Let’s get down to business. There is a comment on my Helen Thomas response to which I’d like to devote some significant attention, even though I had wanted to leave the piece behind and move on to some other topic for a bit. No such luck.
If you will recall, my premise in that post was that the anti-Zionism expressed by Thomas was in fact very lightly veiled anti-Semitism, the kind that has been haunting Jews since the beginning of history. My response indicated that despite enormous odds – centuries’ worth of forced wandering and being weeded out one way or another – the Jews have not only survived, but have become among the most productive members of any society that has agreed to host them. And that now, with Israel, merely a new incarnation of a very old homeland, we were done wandering and being hosted.
Several readers of this blog and the many others on which the piece was re-posted – Jews and non-Jews alike – took exception to the assumption that anti-Semitism was ‘the default’. Why so divisive, they wanted to know? Why so suspicious and alarmist? Don’t you realize how insulting this piece was to the many non-Jews who most expressly do not feel this way? Why can’t we ignore the old Press Room Bat and move on, one big, happy human family?
The best of these objections follows here, from one North American David:
“…Good G_d… I can almost feel the spiteful, juvenile relish through the screen. What are you doing Sara? You excitedly take a 90 year old’s senior moment as proof of the “default antisemitism” that lurks underneath every Gentile? You take this sad woman’s shameful remarks as an excuse for a smug rant about Jewish history so incoherent and uninformed that any self respecting Rabbi would cringe to hear it?
Don’t you see that by cheerfully portraying history, the world, the UN, etc, etc, etc as the eternal Jewish enemy you are simply becoming the caricature that antisemites talk about? That your belief in this sort of Jewish exceptionalism (the eternal, moral, misunderstood victim) only reinforces the narrative that Israel so deeply needs to escape in order to achieve true peace?
“We, we, we, we, we”…. Sara, true grace lies beyond the “us” and “them” duality that you so ardently perpetuate as a journalist in search of conflict. Take a deep breath, and stop chaining yourself to this vicious tribal cartography that so many use as a crutch in order to avoid facing the original, timeless truth. There is a far greater “we”.
Oh, David. Where do I begin? As to your first, rather ad-hominem, paragraph: There was no spite or relish or cheer; if you detected passion, it was borne of a deep sadness, coupled with the determination not to disappear. (And *maybe* I was a little pissed off.) That the history was simplistic I will not dispute; writing for popular audiences with the goal of producing a clear message precluded anything more complicated. I agree, I could have filled in a lot more blanks, honed the words for 100% accuracy.
As to your cringing rabbis: I suppose, as the ever-sexy Bill Clinton might say, that depends on how you define ‘rabbi’. I’ve been contacted by some of them asking for permission to forward or reprint the piece for their congregations. (No, not all Orthodox rabbis. Thanks for asking, though.)
Also, by the way, a large majority of the non-Jews I’ve encountered since writing the ‘rant’ understood that I was *not* trying to insult or accuse the good citizens of the world, only call on the carpet those whose sentiments veer towards the Thomasian.
Far from being a ‘senior moment’, Thomas’s unfortunate public words followed a long career of barely restrained, barely private venom, in which she was, most regrettably, not nearly alone. Indeed, I’ve had more than a few readers agree with her sentiments on this site, and other blog pages.
I’ve also gotten private responses from Jewish readers who endured days of hostile, vocal Thomas support in offices throughout the US and Canada, and felt they could say nothing in response. Part of the viral-ity (and virility?) of the piece, I believe, stems from a widespread feeling of being un-free to speak up as an ethnically identifying Jew in a politically correct world. With all of the freedom of speech that America and the West have in Costco quantities, it seems to only extend to certain types of speech.
This brings me, brother David (for we are all brothers, are we not?), to the crux of your complaint. Why, you wonder, do we not just dissolve our salty selves into the Great Sea of Man? Imagine – no countries! No religion! Why all the – oh, please let me savor this shaved-ice phrase again – “vicious tribal cartography” that deeply identified Jews so forcefully engrave upon the enlightened, blind-to-race world? Why, you ask, the ugly, Shylockian “we, we, we, we, we”? Why not join the collective, the universal, the mythic, theTimelessOriginalSpiritofHumanity? Breaaaaaaathe. Isn’t that better?
Well, honestly…the buzz is not bad. (Pufff.) But there’s kind of a nasty edge to it, some toxicity. And I’ll tell you why: Because nearly every time I have ever heard this argument made by a liberal in more than a general, utopian sense – this need to blend and melt into the brotherhood of man – it is directed specifically at Jews, and usually by other Jews.
I have rarely encountered this ecumenism applied, say, to the over-exclusivity of the African American return to African roots, or to Spanish speakers in Florida or New York being deemed “too Latino,” or to the popular Muslim return to the veil. If you walk through New York City or Boston or Miami, you will find little pockets of China and Pakistan and Puerto Rico.
Not melting or blending, but full on ethnic – and guess what? Assuming citizens pay taxes and fall in line with the rule of law and with democratic values, I think that’s just great. This – although I’m not in general a slave to PC or even a fan, really – happens to be the politically correct thing to think. Embracing multiculturalism is a liberal value I can get behind. Until here, I’m on board your love train.
I know this embrace makes me part company with many conservatives (with whom I agree on other matters), who indeed often express the wish for all of the above groups to just finish their merge into the great highway that is America, and quit driving in multiple lanes. While I share this concern for loyalty to American interests and ideals, I am not convinced that this commitment to common Western values can’t take place even while an individual embraces his ethnicity.
The dialectic between being who you really are and remaining a good, devoted, productive, contributing citizen of the place you live is not beyond the grasp of humanity. I see it all the time. With some willingness to compromise and also to work hard (no free rides!), no one needs to get lost, and no one needs to feel threatened or taken advantage of. If no such compromise is possible with the culture or religion in question, the problem takes on another dimension altogether. This is in fact a great litmus test.
But it seems that for most liberals, when a Jew gets too Jewish, too proud of his or her roots, too involved in the often tragic Jewish narrative, too ethnically Jew-y, we hear cries, like yours, of “exceptionalism,” usually tinged with some amount of embarrassed disgust.
Does political correctness mean Jewish people, most of whom also happen to be white or whitish people, don’t get to grapple with their past or embrace their race? Do we have to fly under the culturally aesthetic radar, virtually disappearing as a nation with laws, customs, and a history, in order to be accepted by you? This, indeed, is what the Hellenists wanted two millennia ago, and what the Helen apologists seem to want today.
There’s another other fascinating and frustrating thing going on here. Very often, what makes something OK to say is that the racial entity in question is willing to say the same thing about themselves. This rule, too, stands at the cornerstone of political correctness. This means, of course, that Jews, who thrive on self-deprecation, guilt, and all manner of public introspective angst, are truly open targets.
So the same honesty, open dialogue, and striving for self improvement that I love, and that are the hallmarks of democratic and Jewish thought (and seem to be anathema, by the way, to radical Islamic and Pan-Arab thought), are turned around on us rather maliciously. We debate our own Particularism vs. Universalism rather vociferously all the time; this is in fact one of the central debates raging in Israeli society as we speak. But then we are reminded that perhaps we should pipe down, because never is there a self critique that goes un-echoed through the chambers of the world. Ooops. There I go again, me and my paranoia.
In any event, back to the melting pot and the vast inclusive WE. Personally, I prefer to see humanity not as a soup but as a puzzle, with a million different and highly individualized, multicolored pieces that fit together to make the whole picture. Each piece is of equal importance, and each maintains its integrity – its own shape and color do not change – but it also makes no sense alone. You need all of the pieces.
While I enjoy being a colorful member of the colorful world and interacting with a lot of different kinds of people, I do not want to have to dissolve – to essentially get lost or watered down as a Jew, whether de facto or de jure – in order to be considered a loving, universal human being. I want to be able to embrace our racial specialness, as everyone should be able to do, and also to speak honestly about our largely troubled past, and about our recent victories in wars we never wanted to fight, without offending or embarrassing anyone. Of course, while remaining a loyal and productive citizen of the western world.
I think this is a realistic desire, but requires the tough empirical truths about a culture’s ultimate goals to hold more water than party-line ideologies.
David, all you need is love. Tru dat. It’s a Jewish value, too, alongside justice and continuity. So I have an idea. Go bring your ‘melt into each other’ message to places like Beirut and Kabul, Damascus and Ankara, Tehran and Khartoum, where the cynical, corrupt, and largely evil leaders of oppressed millions need to hear it even more than I did.
Then, if they leave you any limbs, please don’t forget to write and tell me how it went.
PS – Happy Anniversary to my Main Man D! Today’s post was supposed to be about marriage, but you know how I tend to get sidetracked….
Readers – I promise, I am not a single-issue girl. Next post: Not so heavy, I hope.
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