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April 18, 2003
This Much is True: We Remember
Jews Like Us
by BRUCE JACKSON
They're spreading poison about American Jews.
Many of the people spreading this poison are Jews themselves, a relatively small group that wants to convince everybody (or at least everybody in power) that the great bulk of us think the way they do, which we don't. Some non-Jews, like Pat Buchanan and other less-rabid but no less invidious bigots, but find it a good way to stereotype us: Jews all think alike, dontcha know. It's weird and freaky when militant right-wing Jews can hook up with old-fashioned anti-Semites to stereotype the rest of us, but these are weird and freaky times.
The basic tenets of the present poison seem to be these:
Could any goy have thought that one up? "You disagree with my politics, therefore you are a self-hating Jew. The problem, the ethical issues, the guilt are all yours." Freud would have danced all over it.
You respond, "No, man, you're WRONG about all of it. Let's go over the facts."
They listen, politely, or not, and at the end they say,"See? I told you, you're a self-hating Jew."
True-believers of whatever stripe find ratification wherever they look. In the court where the conclusion is foregone, all facts serve only to convict.
I first heard the phrase "self-hating Jew" in Greenwich Village in the 1980s when a group from the Jewish Defense League, Meyer Kahane's militant organization, stood in the street yelling it at William Kunstler's house. I looked out the window, saw the bared teeth and raised fists and thought that they looked and comported themselves very much like Hitler Jugend, missing only the armbands.
Kunstler's comment on them was, "Pay them no mind. They don't know what they're talking about. That's the silliest thing to call me. I don't hate myself. Everybody knows I love myself."
I went out of the house and before I'd even stepped from the doorway to the top of the steps they were yelling "Self-hating Jew! Self-hating Jew!" at me. I yelled back, "But you don't even know if I'm Jewish." They didn't care. They kept yelling "Self-hating Jew" until I reached the police barricade at Christopher Street, whereupon they started yelling at the house again.
I'm not making this lunatic stuff up and neither am I waxing rhetorical.
All reliable studies and surveys show that the great majority of American Jews, whatever the level of their support for Israel itself, oppose unilateralism, think the United Nations an important forum, favor a Palestinian state, are opposed to the settlements in the Occupied Territories, oppose Sharon's militancy, are sickened and appalled by the images of Israeli tanks destroying homes, villages and vineyards, and are desperate for the killing and dying on both sides to stop now. Not after every potentially suicidal Palestinian is wiped out. Not after the world is made perfect. Now.
The neocon and radical right, though a numerical minority, have politicians running scared. One example of that is New York Senator Charles Schumer, who recently told students at an upstate Catholic military school that he was now in favor of pre-emptive wars. "Pollster John Zogby said Schumer's tough posture is a political move to appeal to pro-war upstate voters and elements of the Jewish community in New York City," wrote Buffalo News Washington bureau chief Doug Turner. Zogby "said polls show a majority of Jewish voters nationally and in New York State oppose war with Iraq. 'But the loudest voices in the Jewish community, the hard-line conservatives who favor the war, are politically the strongest,' Zogby said. 'I think he's bidding for the Likud vote,' Zogby joked, referring to the party of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon."
Given the evidence of those surveys, why do Schumer and otherwise sensible members of Congress act as if these bullies of the right represented even a large minority of us? Maybe for the same reason they continue to base U.S. Caribbean policy on the hysterical voices of the small Cuban exile community in Miami. Remember how Al Gore (D.), Dan Burton (R) and so many of the rest fell over one another trying to be politically correct and make political capital in the Elian Gonzalez soap opera three years ago? They're terrified of groups of middle-class people who scream at them and they think such screamers are more likely to vote and write checks than people who speak softly or rationally.
More and more I hear that those militaristic Jews in and advising the Bush administration — such as Paul Wolfowitz inside the White House and William Kristol on the outside — prove where Jews are at, politically. Nonsense. That only proves what political stripe of Jews are in favor in the Bush White House.
Wolfowitz and Kristol are Americans who are Jewish and who are part of the American Conservative Right. Why single them out as Jews and then blame the rest of us Jews for them? Most of us don't like or agree with those ideologues either. Blaming the rest of us for them is like blaming the Methodists for Dick Cheney or Baptists for John Ashcroft. It's not the religion that made those people what they are. Wolfowitz, Kristol, Cheney and Ashcroft would be the way they are if they were Zoroastrians.
JEWS LIKE US
In spring 2001, I started working on a book the working title of which is "Jews like us." I thought it might be useful to give some of the Jews who don't scream a chance to say what they think about being Jewish in America now. I stopped working on the book when everything got cranked up after 9/11, but I've started doing interviews again. I have basically one question I ask everybody: "You say you're Jewish. What do you mean by that?"
The responses are astonishing in their variety. I'm continually amazed at the huge range of stories, opinion, and analysis. The only generalization I can make about it is this: hardly any of it comes close to the militant neocon line. Sure, there are some groups in which the ideology is locked down tight and some individuals for whom Sharon's version of Israel's security needs transcends all reason and decency. But that's the minority. Painting us all with the Wolfowitz-Kristol brush, saying, in effect, that our considered political and ethnical opinions are worthless, is just today's trendy way to be anti-semitic, no matter who is doing it.
There is an ever-growing number of organizations of American Jews trying to get the word out that the press and politicians should look beyond the noisy minority. (Links to the web sites of Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel, Not in My Name, Jews Against the Occupation and Brit Tzedik v'Shalom are listed below.) Thus far, they seem to have made little impact. Their activities get almost no coverage in the press and few members of Congress consider them the same kind of threat as the militant right or the neocons.
Perhaps they've been too polite. Perhaps they will have to start making the same kind of noise that has so frightened Chuck Schumer and so many other powerful people in Washington. Perhaps they will have to remind those politicians that they also vote and write checks, and that of all the things you can accuse us Jews of there is at least one that is true: we remember.
Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel
Not in My Name
Jews Against the Occupation
Brit Tzedik v'Shalom: Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
Bruce Jackson is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Samuel P. Capen Professor of American Culture at University of Buffalo. He edits Buffalo Report.
His email address is [email protected].
Originally posted at counterpunch www.counterpunch.org/jackson04182003.html