Categories
Israel

Practicing Anti-Semitism, in Theory

Just over a week ago, on August 17, the Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB) published a review of Deconstructing Zionism: a Critique of Political Metaphysics, a collection of essays edited by Gianni Vattimo and Michael Marder. Vattimo is the Italian philosopher who, during the current Israel-Hamas conflict, has made clear once again his sympathy for Hamas and expressed his desire to “shoot those bastard Zionists,” who he considers “worse than Nazis.” His anti-Semitic tendencies are on record (a reevaluation of the claims of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion). The collection brings together the less and the more well-known voices who theorize anti-Zionism and make of the Jew, among all ethnic, racial, and religious groups a generic and cultural category of thought, so that one may speak of them, in contrast to Estonians or Hindus, let’s say, in terms not of what they empirically are or choose to be, but what, symbolically and thematically, some collection of philosophers and professors of literature theorize they should be.

LARB has become, since it’s inception two years ago, a varied and vibrant addition to the American literary scene. Among all of the review’s riches, I had hoped to see in any coverage of Israel-Palestine something different from the standard Israel-centric critique found at the New York Review of Books. This has not turned out be the case, and when LARB assigned its review of Deconstructing Zionism to David Lloyd, a leading member of the organizing collective for the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, I felt compelled to comment. What follows below is the full exchange (as of this writing) between me and Jonathan Hahn, LARB’s executive editor, and Tom Lutz, LARB’s editor-in-chief. For a very different kind of review of Deconstructing Zionism, see the review by Gabriel Noah Brahm at fathom journal.

***

the sad red earth • 5 days ago

How unfortunate that LARB, which conceives itself an alternative point of departure from that of NYRB, follows now the same backslapping intellectual fashion, travels irresponsibly the same facile political current, not of anti-nationalism, but of irredeemably racist anti-Zionism. Faced with the job of reviewing a collection of essays that attack the very legitimacy of Israeli nationalism among all others, LARB’s editors choose for the task not some critic who might challenge the foundations of the book’s agonistic ideology, but one of the few people who might actually find the volume wanting in its efforts to deconstruct Zionism, judging them both – Zionism and deconstruction, as it were – too Jewish, the collection, in the end, insufficiently Palestinian. Who criticizes the book for mimicking the “creative contortions” of “liberal Zionist critiques.” (If Lenin did not actually say, after Dick the butcher, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the liberals,” he surely did it.) Who bemoans the editors’ perceived “anxiety” – despite their “robust anticipation” of them – over charges of anti-Semitism. Who thinks the editors, therefore, too apprehensive before the prospect of truly essentializing Jewish racism, in what is “a singularly Jewish political philosophy and enterprise.” Who finds of the marker “Jews of Conscience” (“good Jews”) only that it is “somewhat polemic.”

Not enough that LARB should consider this production an expression of its mission, but that it should offer it, too, without any acknowledgement of its provenance – that its primary editor champions and wishes militarily to support an expressly, by covenant, anti-Semitic and genocidal organization. That he has wished publically for the deaths of Israelis, and that he has professed to change his mind about the truth of the notoriously fraudulent and anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The reviewer thinks these realities, no doubt, too genuinely praximatic to include informatively amid the theorizing. LARB’S editors find it unnecessary to append.

Instead, we find entertained and performed the usual diffuse, vatic logorrhea by which, through persistent metaphorical fallacy, a body made a bomb is thought to enact freedom and a person sitting at a bus stop is conceived as committing violence. (Imagine here a parenthetical reference to Adorno or Gramsci, a neologism scraped and dusted out of etymology, a new obscure infinitive.)

  • JonathanHahn Mod  the sad red earth • 4 days ago

    Dear Sad Red Earth,

    We appreciate you posting your concerns, and understand that Dr. Lloyd’s views as expressed here are controversial. We are committed to airing the important debates of our time, and they cannot be aired without allowing people on very different sides of the debate to have their say. The views Dr. Lloyd expresses here do not represent our magazine, nor do the views of any of the many writers we have published on the Middle East, whether they be controversial or not. Our mission is to engage our readers in conversation, and this essay is one part of that effort. We are glad you took the time and effort to share your views.

    Sincerely,
    Jonathan Hahn, Executive Editor, Los Angeles Review of Books

    • the sad red earth  JonathanHahn • 3 days ago

      Dear Mr. Hahn,

      Thank you for your reply. Of course, one should not presume the views of individual writers to represent those of the journal publishing them. However, publications make editorial decisions. These individual decisions are choices among multiple possible alternative decisions, all of which, compiled, may or may not offer evidence of a perspective on the part of the journal, a shaping inclination toward a subject. What does available evidence seem to show about LARB?

      An unscientific but not, algorithmically, random survey by Google search of “Los Angeles Review of Books” and “Israel” turns up the following among the first three pages of results. Foremost, we find the March forum entitled “Academic Activism: Israelis, Palestinians, and the Ethics of Boycott,” in which eight participants, four pro and four con, offered their views on an academic boycott of Israel. As your introduction attested, “We facilitated this forum at the urging of David Palumbo-Liu, a supporter of the BDS movement, in the hopes that it would engender a more informed understanding on these and many related questions.” Why did Palumbo-Liu urge such a forum? What was the “more informed understanding” he sought? Only he knows his mind and motivation, but as a leading academic activist against the State of Israel, and in support of an academic boycott, he could hardly have hoped that such a forum would lower the profile of his cause. In a nation overwhelmingly supportive of Israel, in its origins and struggles, any broader publication of anti-Zionist argument, even against opposing voices, could only, rather, raise the profile of the boycott cause. LARB provided that opportunity. As it turned out, too, only one of the eight participants availed himself of a rebuttal, a last word – Palumbo-Liu.

      Of the nine additional results clearly identifiable as political in nature, three – unflattering depictions of Israel all – are among a series of essays by professed anti-Zionist Ben Ehrenreich. One is by Alex Kane, an assistant editor of the rabidly anti-Zionist and profoundly anti-Semitic website Mondoweiss. One is a review of Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land : The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, written by Omri Boehm, who has charged the IDF, among the world’s militaries, with immorality and who attacks Israel on the basis of reinterpreting the seminal Jewish myth of Abraham’s binding of Isaac for sacrifice. One is a Marginalia Channel essay opposing the Presbyterian Church USA’s divestment vote against Israel for no better reason than the author’s Jewish identification with Israel – and while nonetheless expressing sympathy for the Church’s complaints against the country. A second Marginalia Channel essay offers that it was Israel’s founding – and not, say, to choose two relatively modern examples, the genocidal anti-Semitism of Haj Amin al-Husseini or Sayyid Qutb – that “increasingly turned the concepts ‘Arab’ and ‘Jew’ into fundamental and irreconcilable opposites.” Then, to close, the one objective piece on Israel related matters, serving only to report, without favor to Israeli or Arab, is an account of – the MLA debate on an anti-Israel measure.

      Needless to point out that among these entries one will find no evidence of “very different sides of the debate” or of a “conversation.” What is normatively controversial and what is prejudicially beyond the pale of respectable debate – such as, one might wish, the singling out of one only among the world’s peoples, in their existing nation-state, as undeserving of self-determination – is a status to be mediated by innumerable human decisions and indecisions, such as the invisibility of any writing presenting an alternative view of the Arab-Israeli conflict. And then there was the choice of David Lloyd to review a collection of essays on deconstructing Zionism.

      A. Jay Adler
      Adjunct Professor of English; California State University, Dominguez Hills
      Lecturer in English, El Camino College
      Professor of English, Emeritus; Los Angeles Southwest College.

      • JonathanHahn Mod  the sad red earth • 3 days ago

        Dear Prof. Adler,

        We have published over 75 pieces, or an average of one every two weeks since founding LARB three years ago, related to Israel. The simplified algorithmic research you’ve relied on here of course does not reflect the scope of what we have published, but the pieces we’ve published that have caused the most talk — those that were pushed up in the Google ratings by the amount of readership, comment, reposting, citation, etc. It is entirely unsurprising that those pieces are the most hot-button ones, the ones that extreme partisans either champion or decry.

        We are always looking for subtle and nuanced analyses, and these are the kind of pieces that don’t tend to shoot up in the Google rankings: pieces that approach these issues in less direct ways — as in reviews of novels, for instance, or interviews with poets — that again, we feel are important, and yet you will not find these in the first three pages of Google results for your search. In fact, the first three pages that result from that search only include 4 pieces from LARB — the rest are posts (from The Jerusalem Post, for example, or sites called holylandprinciples, worldpoliticsreview, etc) where people are reacting to a small selection of our pieces. Using Google the way you do doesn’t prove our bias, it shows the bias of internet chatter.

        Your moniker in your first post — “the sad red earth” — references the blood spilled on that ground, and it is the history of violence and the ongoing violence that compels our attention, of course. As we all know too well, the loudest voices speak past each other, and we have attempted in various ways — as in our special series in which Jewish and Arab, Israeli and Palestinian poets spoke to each other, and in the forum on the academic boycott — to engage as many sides as possible in dialogue. In most cases these attempts fail, but we continue to try.

        You ask why David Palumbo-Liu urged a forum on the boycott. He is an activist, and obviously he wanted to argue for his position to our audience. But he did not choose the other participants or exercise any editorial control. And there is not a single publication that has brought together four such powerful voices against the boycott as we did. We also had four voices in favor. It is a shame, we think, too, that only Palumbo-Liu availed himself of our invitation to all participants (and to others) to respond to the other participants. But as a movement that has made large strides in institutional validation in a short time, we thought it was worthy of sustained attention.

        One of the reasons, of course, that people don’t always respond to arguments like those made in the forum — that is, one of the reasons the other participants didn’t respond further — is because the very language different sides use seems to make discussion impossible. For instance, to call Mondoweiss a “profoundly anti-Semitic” website as you do here — how can one respond to this? Founded by Jews, edited from “a progressive Jewish perspective,” with an emphasis on “Jewish American identity” — whatever one thinks of its politics, to call it profoundly anti-Semitic is simply to use the kind of rhetorical overkill that makes true conversation impossible. Does saying that imply agreement with Mondoweiss’s politics? No. Anti-Zionism, too, takes many different forms, in some cases based on a desire to eliminate Israel, yes. But for none of the writers you mention in your note is this the case: for Ben Ehrenreich, Alex Kane, Omri Boehm, and many other writers in our pages, it is based on a desire to stop the killing, or a desire to find a lasting resolution — a desire, in other words, for peace. Your charge that there is “an invisibility of any writing presenting an alternative view of the Arab-Israeli conflict” is, in fact, true only in that the majority of voices we have published on Israel are, in fact, Israeli and Jewish, and we have not published any piece by representatives of neo-Nazi parties, of Golden Dawn, of the Muslim Brotherhood, or other such parties that are anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist, and dedicated to the destruction of Israel. This is true of absolutely none of our writers.

        To that end the argument you are making here is a real disservice to the 75 writers we have published whose work revolves in some way around Israel, and who are not interested in hitting hot buttons, not trying to forward a particular political agenda, but instead are offering pieces of considered scholarship on the Middle East and its ancillary issues, pieces of engaged literary criticism, and personal, essayistic reflections. Your calculus of our bias takes a huge rolling pin and drags it over these writers, all of whom have worked with their full hearts and minds to produce the best work they can. While flattening out that work into a simplistic pro- or anti-Israel rubric may be exciting to some, it is not of interest to us: it does not represent our writers, nor our magazine, with any accuracy, nor is it informative to any reader who wants a true picture of the kind of magazine we’ve been, still are, and will continue to be.

        We say this knowing full well — we can read the argument in your comments here and in many pieces we have published in our pages — that for certain people to critique the idea of Zionism (or to critique Israel’s defense forces or government, or to support the right of the people of Gaza to self-determination) is akin to arguing for the destruction of Israel. We have pieces critiquing ideas of American exceptionalism, American foreign policy, American war policy, and American racism and yet we do not, by doing so, suggest the destruction of America. We treat none of this lightly; we enter this fray with our eyes open, and know very well, as we edit political debates, that we are editing the words of people who have buried their own parents and children, killed at the hands of others. We never forget this as we let writers have their say, and make their arguments. And perhaps we are naïve, holding to the belief that writing can have some force in human affairs, that the conversation, as we too easily call it, can make a difference — but we do.

        Sincerely,

        Tom Lutz, Editor in Chief, Los Angeles Review of Books
        Jonathan Hahn, Executive Editor, Los Angeles Review of Books

        • the sad red earth  JonathanHahn • a day ago

          Gentlemen,

          I am content to leave your properly fuller presentation of LARB’s engagement with the subject of Israel to answer my own, and to have the two provide together the picture that others might regard. Except.

          Except you endeavor to fill out the picture I paint with reference to “pieces that approach these issues in less direct ways — as in reviews of novels, for instance, or interviews with poets.” Herein lies a distinction I sought to make in culling from my search only those articles I thought clearly political, or what turned out to be, as you described them, hot button in nature. It is the heat that concerns us here – Zionism’s deconstructors and the BDS advocates, and those, like me, who seek to fight the fire they fan. For a life well lived, or at least examined, you and I fully agree on the value of reviews of novels and interviews with poets, and discussions about and among them. However, what these approaches represent on such a subject as Israel – political and hot button in itself to those roiled by the very fact of its existence, and because of how it has had to exist thus far – is, to appropriate a term from Foucault, a kind of soft humanism. The humanizing transformations of literature, when they come, are long in realization; the political coup, in contrast, may be swift and brutal, as would be, for instance, the advent of Hamas, on Israelis and all Jews, upon its being released from its containment. Poetry makes nothing happen, Auden told us in praise of Yeats, with some measure of irony, thought not enough irony to stop an Iranian missile smuggled through the Rafah crossing from being fired. One may bemoan in soulful outreach with one’s nominal enemy, in that soft human way, as writers and other artists may do, our common afflicted humanity and still, politically, seek “solutions” that entail the end of a nation-state for Jews. Soft humanism often accommodates that disjunction from politics in practice. Or if not, the prisons and the unmarked graves of history have been filled aplenty with literary folk who conceived it enough to raise themselves up alone above the strife of peoples and nations.

          There is a different frame for soft humanism, one probably closer to what Foucault had in mind in identifying exemplars in Stalinism and Christian democratic hegemony. One may find it here in Lloyd’s review and the tendency it represents. On the one hand, this tendency critiques through a postcolonial analysis that is focused on the operations of power and the conditions of oppressed marginality. On the other hand, it draws, in its appeals and sanctions, from the same Judeo-Christian originated humanistic well of moral righteousness as do many other ideas of human organization. So near the end, we have Lloyd citing favorably Judith Butler about “undoing sovereignty” and invoking, in Lloyd’s words, “the parameters of living with and in difference that Butler describes as cohabitation.” This represents the culmination of a strenuously theorized evangelical mush that spoons up a stupefying banality – that in seeking to rise above “the post-Westphalian formation of territorial states and sanctioned violence” we all need (who’d a thunk it) to love one another and treat each other as we would wish to be treated. And not to put too fine a point on it, but in that risky leap of faerie faith, Jews go first.

          Yet what more pernicious operation in its own right underlies this prophetic injunction to dwell all together in cohabitation? The sacrifice of the Jews. The sacrifice of the Jews in which “the effect of Zionism’s destruction of Judaism is to make of the Palestinians the Jews of the present, dispossessed, forced into exile… subjects of a continuing diaspora…. The singularity of the Jew transfers to the Palestinians…[.] in the ‘privileged’ critical position, that is, once occupied by the European Jew.” Whereas the more common contemporary anti-Semitic gesture is to shame Jews with the Holocaust by likening Israel and Zionism to Nazi Germany, applying the language of ghettos and concentration camps and genocidal holocaust and racialist supremacy to Israel and Jews – so that some presumed moral authority gained by suffering the ultimate historical victimization is bluntly used as a cudgel with which to beat – the anti-Zionist BDSing deconstructors will rather refine through theory so much special recognition of historical identity away, and deliver it over, even, to the Palestinians. What is left for the Jews? Butler will give them the supreme honor of enacting the moral high ground of eternal exile, as, in Zizek’s words, “the immediate embodiment of universality,” so as to symbolize the undoing of sovereignty.

          And it is all so highfalutin that one can persuade oneself of a disjunction between it and all the singling out that went historically before it for the Jews.

          In this light, the “engaged literary criticism, and personal, essayistic reflections” LARB publishes, of deep human value, are not a counterweight to the political warfare, disguised as intellectual critique, currently underway to undo a nation-state and a people’s self-determination. You believe you read in my comments here perspectives that do not, in fact, apply to me. I will not belabor this further comment by addressing that issue. This is not about me, but about what the true range of widely held and still compelling perspectives is on these issues. You do use the phrase to “critique the idea of Zionism,” which is vague enough in its application and import, and which does raise the question of special treatment of Jewish nationalism only. You appear to believe that anti-Zionism may be understood as not to entail the elimination of Israel – a phrase that in itself should strike the conscience terribly. That is a peculiar understanding. You aver that such a desire does not inhabit those writers I referenced last time. But at least as long ago as 2009 Ehrenreich published an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times entitled, “Zionism is the problem.” In it Ehrenreich quotes supportively Lessing J. Rosenwald, when the latter declared Zionism “the concept of a racial state — the Hitlerian concept.” The society Ehrenreich conjures in the piece is clearly not a Jewish state – not Israel. And as recently as March 20 of this year, Philip Weiss, founder of Mondoweiss, declared in a post at that site, “Israel is a blot on civilization.”

          About Mondoweiss, here we may well focus our disagreement best of all. You charge of my labeling it “profoundly anti-Semitic” that the label is “the kind of rhetorical overkill that makes true conversation impossible.” I think you read some overkill just above. I have been observing Mondoweiss for five years. I have written about it at my blog, the sad red earth (also my Twitter handle). I and other active defenders of Israel against the campaign of vilification against it know it well. You appear to think that because it is operated by, now, three Jews, and that it labels itself “progressive,” this is defense against declaring it what it manifestly is. Its closely moderated comments section, with which the principals engage, is profuse with demonization of Israel – of Zio-Nazi’s and Zio-supremacists – and of Judaism. Many of its published comments are indistinguishable from what may be found at Veteran’s Today or Stormfront. Its editorial direction is not ill represented by the words of Weiss above. Further, particularly in its early days, its founder was prone to revelatory posts evincing psychodramas of maternal, familial, and ethno-cultural discomfort and rejection. He is almost as interested in what he deems excesses of Jewish power in the United States as he is the blot on civilization.

          That Mondoweiss has been mainstreamed in some so-called progressive circles is as indicative of the problem that drew my initial comments as was the choice to assign David Lloyd to review Deconstructing Zionism. In an era in which every other kind of racism is being analyzed at degrees of depth and in ranges of complexity far beyond a simple slur or stereotype, institutionally and intersectionally, it is the very problem itself that only anti-Semitism is regularly reduced in the same quarters to nothing more than the time-honored tropes and preposterous libels, in a concerted refusal to recognize its modern and sophisticated mutations. One of the great embarrassments of the modern civilized world was the 1975 U.N. resolution declaring Zionism a form of racism – a resolution promoted by totalitarians states and supported by a slew of the world’s common dictatorships and overtly anti-Semitic Arab governments. So embarrassing was this stinking rose in the garden of human rights that in 1991, the U.N. was compelled to remove it. Now, in academic and progressive circles throughout the Western World, it is the height of intellectual fashion to make the same claim in theoretically abstruse prose or in cant political terminology and to dismiss charges of anti-Semitism with the same disdain for reaction to their racism as once emitted by bulbous sheriffs on torn Mississippi streets. When Daniel Patrick Moynihan delivered his grand and justly famous denunciation of U.N. resolution 3379, he scorned the “obscenity” of the U.N. declaration in part by the reductio ad absurdum of tracing the U.N.’s own faulty attempts to define racism, including as a form of Nazism, thereby providing grounds to call Zionism a form of Nazism. This is a claim that would fail to trouble many of Israel’s hyperbolic critics today, and it filters through the interstices of meaning from all the fancy critiques of Zionism that denounce it as racialist. See Ben Ehrenreich quoting Lessing J. Rosenwald.

          Quite simply, it should have been obvious that there was a whole world of true conversational challenge – different sides of the debate – that might have been brought to bear in a review of Deconstructing Zionism other than assigning the book to a shades of gray treatment over the genuineness of its deconstructive mode.

          Finally, a last word about the sad red earth. You extended the blog title and Twitter handle’s reference metaphorically in a direction I certainly find fitting. I found it so as well during my travels in Indian Country when people thought the name called our attention to that sad ground we walk upon. In fact, the phrase is from Kerouac’s On the Road. Sal Paradise walks the streets of Denver one dusk after a futile effort by Dean Moriarity to find his father. Says Paradise of his walk, “I felt like a speck on the surface of the sad red earth.” As are we all. That is the focus I try always to maintain in my own humanism and in the tension between it and the often monstrously grinding wheels of history and ideology.

          Sincerely,

          A. Jay Adler

Categories
Israel

Anatomy of an Anti-Semite

.

Ross Vachon (of Malibu, CA, he informs) has reappeared. A month and a half after I pinned him wriggling to the specimen board in ‘Anti-Semitism, the Ur-Hatred,” he has apparently taken time to emerge from his burrow and discover what I observed of him. He had originally written me privately, in response to “The Uncanny John Mearsheimer,” the sum total of his trenchant reply being to call me a “Jew hack.” I then performed my antisemitology.

Vachon, who has written for one of the anti-Semites of the moment – Gilad Atzmon – and who used to contribute to Semite loving Counterpunch, now by all indication prowls the internet attempting to play whack-a-Jew. He discovers that I publically replied to his ugly private communiqué, and he is compelled once more to respond. He rhetoriczes. He insults on the exhale. He quotes Danton, does standup shtick, descends for a roll in Yiddishkeit vernacular, and rummages around in his rucksack of adjectives. The one thing he does not do – of course – is think. Reacting defensively to my analysis last time of why he then wrote privately, he now posts a public comment.

We see that the earlier use of “Jew hack,” to end his original insult string “bilious anti-American neurotic Jew hack” has now had the “Jew” this time, again defensively, removed. We then are graced with an unselfconscious litany of Jew love that – I suppose we should all be grateful and (you’ll forgive the expression) observant – omits only “finance.” The only attempt at actual argument, at which Vachon is woefully deficient (there being a paucity of interlocutors in the burrow) is the simple claim

You’re afraid to address the central point – “The Israel Lobby” was 1. A best-seller 2. The American Foreign Policy Establishment could not help but take notice of it.

Of course, Mein Kampf was a bestseller, as was Valley of the Dolls, as is currently – you can look it up –  Kris Jenner…And All Things Kardashian. The monumentalized-in-all-caps American foreign policy establishment took note of The Israel Lobby in order to reject it (one can’t help but notice road kill either), and the reputations of its authors have suffered for it.

I am sure that there are things Vachon does well. He insults with enthusiasm. Still, even then he can be lamely puerile, resorting to “blogger kook who parades around in pajamas.” Only the tops, Ross – get it right. When he attempts to join insult with (only the veneer of unsupported) analysis, as in “[j]ust more callow sophistry,” he follows it up with the empty “bilious, clueless, horny, over-the-hill.” Nonetheless, while pretty stupid stuff, it isn’t, except in its aim at me, especially vile in character. But somehow this ejaculation did not suffice. Vachon did not subside in satisfaction. He pressed on to investigate me, and was compelled to comment again.

Vachon has attempted to pretend that this exchange is all about the The Israel Lobby, yet while I never bring it up, he cannot forget my Jewishness. He digs around amongst my several alma matae and seizes upon the one that enables a joke based upon a distinguishing Jewish physical characteristic. I guess none of my schools provided an acronym for hooked nose. And Vachon thinks identifying Jewish comic Lenny Bruce as the joke’s source obscures its psychic provenance in him. In truth, this brief outburst is a mine of material.

Vachon pretends that I last time identified the epithet “neurotic Jew” as a sign of anti-Semitism, while in reality it was the use of the mere “Jew” as insult that was the giveaway. I was quite clear about it. It is one of the characteristics of the racial and ethnic hater that he simply cannot recognize how objectionably he is perceived by others – how the hate brands and disfigures him in others’ eyes, and how visible it is. He will even show it off – hoods and capes, swastikas, “Jew!” – imagining that he is the uncanny eruption to the surface of the feeling everyone else still represses but receives with unacknowledged familiarity. And erupt it does.

A characteristic of the Ur-hatred is that it overrides other ideational tendencies: it is the ever disturbing, repeatedly, momentarily satisfying answer to all. This is why right and left anti-Semitism tend to merge, how David Duke can support Cynthia McKinney who joins forces more generally with white supremacists. So on the one hand Vachon accuses me of being anti-American – a typical far right criticism – and on the other he grabs from the bag of purer-than-pure farther left criticism of liberals by imagining my work in Indian country to have exhibited nonetheless “racism, and paternalism.”

It’s not the right. It’s not the left. It’s the hatred stupid.

Vachon closes with a quote from Danton: “Audacity, always audacity.”

But the quote is incomplete. The full statement is

“Pour les vaincre, messieurs, il nous faut de l’audace, encore de l’audace, et toujours de l’audace et la Patrie sera sauvée!”

“To defeat them, gentlemen, we need audacity, still more audacity, and audacity forever, and the Fatherland will be saved!”

Now, yes, this was Danton during the French Revolution. But given the context of this exchange, from whom else can we easily imagine these words – into whose mouth place them? It was an early and continuing discomfort among some during the days in which the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was created that the U.S. for the first time in its national vernacular made use of a term, common in other countries, that chauvinistically conjures up a volk and their nativist attachment to land. It is not a sentiment and language that has produced the best in human beings. It isn’t a good history.

When was the last time a people were urged to show audacity in order to save the Fatherland from Jews?

AJA

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Categories
The Political Animal

How We Lived on It (42) – Anti-Semitism, the Ur-Hatred

I’ve been thinking since I wrote “The Uncanny John Mearsheimer,” in which I by the way proposed Jewish anti-Semitism and black-for-white passing as Ur forms of the uncanny, that anti-Semitism is one of the Ur forms of hatred – the group form. Hatred of the other, expressed as demonization, is a primal emotion. In the individual or group manifestation, a process of alienation takes place, the demonized other made malevolent beyond the pale: outsider, foreigner, witch, blasphemer, even literally an alien – somehow dehumanized. While there may have been abiding group hatreds earlier in history than that of Jews, none was sustained in history as anti-Semitism has been. Of course, there is nothing intrinsic in Jewishness that causes this hatred – that would be, after all, the anti-Semite’s belief.

Rather than intrinsic, the circumstantial role of Jews in this Ur-hatred isn’t that surprising when one considers. We have a group of people who make their lasting mark momentously in the history of civilization by originating monotheism, and the foundational religious text of all subsequent Western religions, and who think themselves at the time, and so record it, rather remarkable (chosen) for the achievement. And then their monumentality in the founding of even those subsequent religions – and being assigned, too, by those successors, a quite controversial role in a succeeding group’s own founding narrative. Followed by a long history of stubbornly resisting – as small a contingent as they became – complete conversion, assimilation, and even eradication. Human beings, it is historically apparent, need other human beings to fear and despise – even, just like notions of an anthropomorphic God and devil were needed, a founding and essential human source of social ills, the scapegoat, was needed – and Jews momentously and circumstantially came to answer that need.

What I was suggesting in “The Uncanny John Mearsheimer” is that the emergence of that Ur-hatred in an individual, group, or society is a manifestation of the uncanny, and that like any repressed psychic element rising to the surface, there will be a contest of compulsion and suppression. One will deny, yet one will make assertions belying the denial, followed by more denial. One will make charges in conveniently reconfigured terms – Israel, not Jew; (public) lobby, not secret organization – one will engender thereby suspicious accusations, one will deny them with outrage, and then one will begin to speak of good Jews and bad Jews, and then write book blurbs for a Holocaust denier, Hitler apologist and outright Jew hater. Then one will claim that the denier, apologist, and hater is not those things, and cry “Who me, how dare you.” BDS supporters and incorporators of Israel’s founding into the post-Columbian colonial narrative stink of this psychic turmoil. A monster is struggling to the surface, acidly searing the thin skin of civility, and the vapor is noxious.

I post, then, “The Uncanny John Mearsheimer,” and I receive from the gaseous reaches this email.

They can’t help themselves, you see. This pretends, too, to be supportive of the Israel-Lobby author, even as it contradictorily jettisons that author’s own phony defense of separating Jews from Israel. (There are good and bad, after all.)  There is more to be observed about this communication, though.

First, most apparently, in “bilious, anti-American, neurotic Jew hacks like you” there is a string of adjectives. All but one – Jew – are by definition pejorative. What, then, are we to make of the “Jew” in the midst of them? Did the author momentarily relent in his despite, recall some early longing for objective accounting? No – the “Jew” is pejorative, too.

I well recall – he recalled it for me as he re-envisioned it so vividly – my father’s account for me of an occasion in Poland when he was just a boy, around 1922 or so: a military officer standing on the steps of a public building struck my father in the face with his gloves and spit the word “Jew” at him. No actual term of insult was necessary. For the Jew hater, the word Jew itself is the insult.

So in defense of the man still running from the monster he created, we get the Doctor Frankenstein who dances with his around around a fire. He speaks of “an idea whose time has come.” But since he makes no pretense of Zionists or lobbyists, and talks directly and so clearly of Jews, we know what kind of idea he has in mind.

Finally, and most importantly, of the entity who writes under the name of Ross Vachon, and who has written in like manner for Israel Shamir and Counterpunch, too, we should consider that he might have left his comment here on the blog. Someone like Jeffrey Goldberg, who does not accept comments on his blog – and we can well imagine why he doesn’t – leaves a correspondent no choice but to write him directly. Vachon chose to write me directly even though he didn’t have to. Even if he believed that I would delete the comment, still what mattered to him was not that he publicly express his bigoted contempt, but that I receive it. Like someone who whispers the insult into your ear rather than pronounce it boldly, it is not for shame before the public that he does it – he has no shame – but because he imagines the whispered remark the more deeply wounding insult, like a blade inserted at close quarters.

So the anti-Semite imagines.

I imagine him now a specimen pinned to a spreading board.

AJA

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The Political Animal

Apologies: Authentic and Inauthentic

When I first posted about Rick Sanchez at the start of the week, I considered closing with some thoughts about the alternative ways Sanchez could handle the inevitable public statement and apology. I chose not to, but knew anyway that the most likely choice would be the carefully worded, inauthentic utterance of someone coping with a “situation,” with an apology very little if at all for what was done and mostly for how it all turned out. Here is the apology Rick Sanchez released yesterday.

On October 4th, I had a very good conversation with Jon Stewart, and I had the opportunity to apologize for my inartful comments from last week.  I sincerely extend this apology to anyone else whom I may have offended.

As Jon was kind enough to note in his show Monday night, I am very much opposed to hate and intolerance, in any form, and I have frequently spoken out against prejudice. Despite what my tired and mangled words may have implied, they were never intended to suggest any sort of narrow-mindedness and should never have been made.

In the aftermath of these comments, CNN and I have decided to part ways. However, I want to go on record to say that I have nothing but the highest regard for CNN and for my six wonderful years with them.  I appreciate every opportunity that they have given me, and it has been a wonderful experience working for them. I have tremendous respect for everyone there, and I know that they feel the same about me.  There are no hard feelings – just excitement about a new future of opportunities.

I look forward to my next step with great anticipation.  In the meantime, I will continue to promote my book, Conventional Idiocy, in the hopes of broadening the discussion to get a better understanding between all Americans, regardless of race, creed or religion.

Sanchez thought it okay to issue this kind of “apology” because it is the kind of fake representation that we allow people to make in the public sphere without adequately scorning them. You could have laid odds that Sanchez would apologize to those “whom I may have offended” rather than for what he said. Was there anyone who wasn’t offended to some degree or other? What kind of people were they? Does Sanchez think it reasonable that anyone would not have been offended by what he said? Was what he said offensive or was it not? What is his judgment after several days of reflection?

One has to laugh at the artfulness of “inartful.” Is there an artful way to ignorantly stereotype a person and whole classes of people, while being, as well, factually incorrect about many things: Stewart did not grow up the privileged elitist Sanchez portrayed and Jews do not run television news. One could only have hoped that Sanchez would not blow smoke up the social rectum by claiming to feel, at one of the lower moments of his life, “excitement about a new future of opportunities.” One might never have dreamed that he would close his apology by pitching his book.

Rather than reveal himself to be – when he should have been looking most deeply into himself – little more than a surface of media presentation and self-promotion, he might have delivered an apology close to this – a real apology.

On October 4th, I had a very good conversation with Jon Stewart, and I had the opportunity to apologize to him for the comments I made about him last week and the suggestions I made about Jews.  I sincerely apologize to Jon, to the listeners that day, to my viewers, and to everyone.

As Jon was kind enough to note in his show Monday night, I am very much opposed to hate and intolerance, in any form, and I have frequently spoken out against prejudice. The things I said that day were stupid. Jon Stewart is a humorist who poked fun at my foibles as he does those of many others. I was too sensitive, and I allowed myself to be hurt by his humor and to develop a sense of grievance. As a result of my feeling of grievance, I thought stupid things, which led me to say stupid things that are contrary to all of my best instincts. They were inexcusable. I feel embarrassed and ashamed.

The one good thing that comes from an error like the one I made is that it presents an opportunity – the opportunity to do better. I vow to do better, and I hope to demonstrate that in the future.

AJA

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