« 114 Countries Condemn War | Main | Intelligence: Genes Cause Environment »

February 23, 2003

Who is a Jew- and Am I One?

Hmm-- well I managed to get labelled a self-hating Jew AND an "insensitive gentile" all based on my post about Bethlehem and its echo of the ghettos.

Over at Little Green Footballs, a comment said "no one can hate the Jews more than such a cunt of self-loathing delusional Jew as Nathan Newman."

And the Goblin Queen less colorfully said about me and Ampersand that "he and a lot of other, well, gentiles, have a tin ear about what does and doesn’t constitute insensitivity."

It appears that one cannot have a harsh view of the Israel government, whatever your faith, since Jews who have one are merely psychologically (and apparently sexually) disabled, and gentiles of course have no sympathy for the horrors Jews have suffered and therefore can't understand how to put starving of children in Gaza in its proper perspective.

Now, Katie at the Goblin Queen quickly retreated from her ethnic labelling, admitting ignorance (Ampersand is Jewish as one example), but it does illustrate one of the things that makes the debate over Israel so terminal in American culture. It's not what is said but who says it that gets infinitely analyzed.

So who am I-- not a Jew. My Mom is Anglo and Protestant, all my friends were mostly Irish Catholic with an occasional Protestant thrown in growing up, and I'd never been near a Jewish service until some Hillel friends took me to a nice Seder, saturated in politics of liberation against Apartheid and such, during college.

But not a non-Jew precisely either, given a Jewish Dad and no identification as a Christian, an extended Jewish family throughout New York City where I now live, and fully recognizing that my Jewish grandmother was lucky to get out of Slovakia when her sister and others died in the Nazi camps. I know I'm Jewish enough that the Nazis wouldn't have noticed the difference.

Maybe I'm just Jewish enough to hate myself but too Christian to be sensitive. But I'll champ on the other bit and say it's just as reasonable to say that I am Jewish enough to be very sensitive to the horrors and hatred that have swirled around Jews, yet have too much self-love to allow that identification to merge with a state that is now committing unspeakable acts that betray the values of that history. Being a Jew or not a Jew is not really the issue of who can speak on the issue.

But who is a Jew goes to the heart of what makes Israel problematic. Not because it's an ethnically based state, but because whether you are a Jew gets measured (or withdraw from some) based on an odd combination of ethnicity, religion and cultural identification. Some criticize Israel as a racist state per se, which I reject out of hand, as I wrote in this email here:

what immigration policies don't run
smack up against the largest dilemma of enlightment political theory, namely
who qualifies for participation in the polis? Many Islamic nations bar
non-muslims from a whole host of political positions and shape their
countries in numerous theocratic ways. Germany not only has its racist
immigration laws, but uses various religious authorities as part of the
administration of state functions, most notably the requirement that church
authorities give permission for church members to get an abortion.

The US officially does rather well on formal racial and religious neutrality
rules, but its policies and politics are more soaked in racism and
theocratic debates than almost any Western country. How many Western states
have the leaders of major political parties competing to cite their personal
relationship with Jesus?...

It is precisely the transnational nature of Judaism
and the ability to voluntarily convert in order to join that makes Judaism
an "allegiance" not a race. That there is only one country that bases its
legal structure around Judaism, as opposed to the Christian traditions of
many Western states or the sharia Islamic traditions of other Middle Eastern
countries, does not many Judaism less religious because of that unique
national mapping of Judaic religion...

The Russian semi-Jews are an interesting case, since their definition as
Jews is less self-chosen than an identification imposed often involuntarily
by the state and Russian culture. Obviously, Israel is not merely a
theocratic state given its secular Zionist roots but also a haven for those
who even unwillingly have had a Jewish identify imposed on them; in that
sense, the Russian Jews are the last refugees from state-defined forms of
Jewish discrimination. The Orthodox theocrats object to acceptance of the
"goyim" Russians for that reason, but again this seems less an ethnic or
cultural definition of Judaism (since many of the Russians have so little
Jewish identification at all) but rather a political definition of Judaism-
the politics being the politics of Jewish persecution...

My point is that I am all for condemning Israel for the sins of oppression
against the Palestinians, as any country imposing such oppression on another
should be condemned and pressured to end such oppression. Where I make an
objection is where that criticism verges into a form of anti-Jewish argument
that singles out Judaism or even Zionism as some particularly odious form of
religion or nationalism, from the "Zionism equals Racism" propaganda to the
particular fixation on Israel's Law of Return while ignoring the racism of
almost every other immigration policy in the world."

I quoted this at some length, partly because it's a real problem in discussions of Israel, and partly to illustrate that I actually feel myself to be a "raging moderate" on the whole issue. See here and here for other defenses of Israel against its attackers. I firmly defend the right of Jews to have a nationalist state and even accept that carving out land for nationalism is almost never a completely just project (European nationalism's victims are just in less shallow graves). So all I am doing is making what I see as the moderate point that the methods of nationalism have stepped across the borderline between rough injustice and crimes against humanity in Israel.

Yes, comparing Israel to 1938 Germany is not moderate language, but I've seen little indication that less telling analogies do anything but sooth Israel's defenders to say "well every nation does it." Maybe I could have settled for Apartheid as the metaphor, which worked as long as Palestinians were being allowed to work, but now that they are starving in Gaza, it seems too weak a comparison. Walk the dusty streets of Nablus then multiply that by all the other smaller towns, and the mass population squeezed into Gaza, and imagine that all as prisons without enough food and where your children can be shot down like dogs.

There is nothing sensitive in trying to calibrate the horror of that oppression of the Palestinians. And while the Palestinian leadership are hardly the best tacticians and brutal in their own right, the worst delusion of Israel's defenders is that they were ever offered freedom and turned the offer down.

Palestinians Never Were Offered a Real State: Let's put that lie to rest for those who weren't paying attention. The Palestinians were NEVER offered the West Bank as a contiguous area to be combined with Gaza. See this Slate article and this Nation article refuting the dangerous congratulatory delusion that Israel made a real offer of a Palestinian state that was turned down by the Palestinian leadership.

At Camp David, the Palestinians were only offered 91% of the West Bank, much of the lost 9% land of key symbolic and economic importance to the Palestinians. And Israel would maintain an East-West road slicing the West Bank in half, patrolled by Israel and subject to closure at will by Israel. This would have effectively left the Palestinians divided into three physically separated enclaves subject to Israeli checkpoints between the two halves of the West Bank and Gaza. And the key issue of the status of the Temple Mount was not settled, which Sharon helped blow up with his provocation. And the right of Palestinian refugees outside the Occupied Territories was not really addressed at all.

So there was no reasonable deal on the table, yet Israel was continuing to expand settlements on Palestinian land. It was in the context of Israel's refusal to offer a real state and the continued expansion of settlements that the second intifada exploded. After the intifada, Israel began to discuss a more reasonable offer at the less discussed Taba negotiations, but Barak was soon kicked out of office and all negotiations ceased.

That almost every Israeli defender continues to believe an acceptable peace offer was made at Camp David just shows why who is speaking matters far less than what is said, and more importantly, what is heard.

Posted by Nathan at February 23, 2003 09:13 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)