Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Life Imitating Art... Again

I was watching reruns of "Chapelle's Show" on Comedy Central after Colbert tonight, and one of the sketches was the hilarious bit about the blind black man who becomes a white supremacist. I had seen it before, and I personally think it's one of the funniest sketches I've ever seen.

The sketch also reminds me of something the illustrious Mr. Stark told me this weekend. According to this report from Indiana University's Alvin Rosenfeld, I hate Jews.

Wait a minute, my faithful readers are now saying. You're a proud Jew. How the hell can you hate Jews? Mr. Rosenfeld gives us the answer: because I'm often critical of Israel.

Of course, most of the folks who Mr. Rosenfeld accuses of anti-Semitism go beyond my often harsh criticism of Israel's government and policies and criticize Zionism and the existence of the Jewish state itself. His premise is that anti-Zionism is equal to anti-Semitism and that Jews who participate in anti-Zionist activities are as good as anti-Semites. While this premise is understandable since many non-Jews use distaste for Israel as an excuse for anti-Semitism, it remains deeply flawed.

I'll type this slowly: you can dislike Israel and still like Jews. Just as you can think Jesus was a douche and still like Christians. Just as you can hate Los Angeles (as I do) and think Angelenos are, all in all, perfectly swell people (as I do). It is obvious that Mr. Rosenfeld's Jewish identity is so wrapped up in the idea of Israel that the two are almost inextricable. Mr. Rosenfeld has forgotten that being Jewish and being Zionist are two different things. They are often associated with one another, but they are distinct philosophies. It is not contradictory to be Jewish and anti-Zionist, or even Zionist and anti-Jewish (ask Jerry Falwell). To use genetics terms, the Jewish and Zionist genes are linked but there are a significant amount of recombinants.

Mr. Rosenfeld doesn't limit his distaste to people who think Israel should not exist, however. He makes sure to classify every form of harsh criticism of the state from without as "anti-Zionism." He even goes so far as to include Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, one of the more ardently Zionist columnists out there, of being anti-Zionist for criticizing last summer's bombing of southern Lebanon. (Never mind that, at this moment, a debate is raging within Israel about that same military operation.) And other criticisms of Israel as an apartheid state, as an aggressor, or as a cruel occupier also fall under Mr. Rosenfeld's umbrella, even though they are not existential criticisms of the Jewish state but criticisms of the policies of the state (however hyperbolic or absurd these criticisms may be).

The fact is that many anti-Zionist Jews are anti-Zionist because of their Judaism, or at least because of their interpretation of their Judaism. This includes folks such as the ultra-Orthodox Neturei Karta, who believe that a Jewish state should not exist until the Messiah has come, and the progressive Jews that so draw Mr. Rosenfeld's ire. To these progressive Jews, distilling Judaism into a state form necessarily forces Jewish values to be compromised. As such, a Jewish state will necessarily, at some point, betray Jewish values. (My own opinion is similar, except that I don't believe that a government necessarily must sacrifice Jewish values to function. I just think Israel all too often falls short of living Jewish values. That doesn't make it evil; it just means there's a lot of room for improvement.)

But that's neither here nor there. The point is that the anti-Zionism Mr. Rosenfeld talks about comes from proud, dedicated, often deeply religious Jews. As a result, anti-Zionism cannot be considered a form of anti-Semitism, and Mr. Rosenfeld's argument falls apart. The most frustrating part of Mr. Rosenfeld's report is that he recognizes this fact and proceeds to draw the conclusion anyway. Mr. Rosenfeld relies heavily on statements from people who love Judaism and take great pride in it, but are repulsed or ashamed by the actions of the Jewish state. It is obvious to the most casual reader that the Jews Mr. Rosenfeld accuses of anti-Semitism are nothing of the sort.

I often whine that a reasoned debate on Israel is impossible in the American Jewish community. It is people like Mr. Rosenfeld that make this so. Until Mr. Rosenfeld and his ilk learn to cool it, quit with the overemotional non-sequitur attacks, and start engaging Jewish critics of Israel as Jews and not as anti-Semites, this will continue to be so. And if we as a community continue to associate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, it will turn our campaign against the latter into self-parody - and that is a real danger.

A caveat - this is not the first time I have been accused of anti-Semitism by an ignorant moron. Some fool apparently wrote a letter to then-Slant editor Mike accusing us of anti-Semitism for a piece I wrote entitled "Study Shows Jews Don't Believe In Jesus." (Honestly, readers, you have no idea how often I get asked about whether I believe in Jesus or not since I'm Jewish. It's mildly disturbing.)

As for Cohen, he responds in his excellent column, which says basically what I'm saying except more eloquently.


Matthew B. Novak said...

Well written. I can't stand it when people conflate two distinct views into one. Especially when they are often found together but not necessarily so; it's an insidious and intellectually dishonest way of marginalizing what are often legitimate views.

Also, I too hate Los Angeles, though I must admit I've never been.

Mike said...

I lived in Los Angeles for three years (well, summers, since I was in college the rest of the time) and I can assure you it's hateworthy. The opposite works too - I loved Paris, but I wasn't a huge fan of Parisians.

Jeff, I can only assume that, being a student of history, you reply to the religiously moronic that you do, in fact, believe in Jesus, just to mess with their heads. Because I know you believe in Jesus, in the sense that a man called Jeshua ben-Joseph existed about 2000 years ago and did stuff. I hate the "believe in Jesus" phrasing - it's not the man you believe or don't believe in, its whether or not He is the divine son of God. Which reminds me of that study revealing that 87% of Christians believed in the resurrection. What the other 13% believe in is anyone's guess.

Ah, stupid people. Life would be so much more mundane without them.