On June 24th, 2018, the New York Post published a piece by Jonathan Neumann entitled “Scar of David”. The thrust of his article was that American Judaism was broken, and that the fixation of the left leaning portion of American Jewry on the principle of tikkun olam (repair of the world) was at the heart of the problem. Originally part of a prayer, the above referenced phrase has, as he sees it, been co-opted by the progressive elements of Judaism and become almost a religious order unto itself. Acknowledging in advance that I am not a religiously observant man, and so suffer the limitations of expertise that come with that status, I found his take on things a bit overstated. Being a member of an ethnic group with a total population of roughly fourteen million people I think that an unjust world is more likely to be a danger to myself and others in my religious cohort. Simple self interest, if not a loftier ethical outlook, provides a strong motivation to take a stand in service of a more equitable planet. That being said, some of his assertions resonated with me, even if in an incomplete way. Although I am not necessarily of one mind with him, Neumann’s essential point regarding the Jewish people is one I have often thought of myself. In trying to show others how wonderful we are, we often seem to forget we are a small minority and can already be easily dismissed without making the job any simpler for other people by being painfully obvious in our need to secure the good opinion of the wider world. Neumann is, in my estimation, not wrong in seeing the danger in the position of the Jewish left. The obsessive fascination with current liberal politics is an open door to the kind of exploitation I’ll touch on later. His appeal is limited to me because it seems that he misses the larger issue: when we assign our loyalty to either side of the aisle without holding the players to certain standards of behavior and rhetoric, we are letting the involved parties know that our need to be liked obviates their need to act responsibly. That would be a bad idea in general, but is of particular danger when we make our desperation more palpable by letting a candidate or official from “our side” off the hook while skewering somebody that plays for “the other team” for transgressions that are similar, if not actually the same. If a tendency to look the other way has a partisan, selective quality we not only devalue ourselves in the eyes of whomever is on the receiving end of that weakness, but also communicate a pointlessness in reaching out to us by members of the opposition.
During the 2016 presidential campaign there was no shortage of noise, both from the press and the vox populi, concerning the anti-Semitic aroma emanating from a number of candidate Trump’s more vocal backers. He was inconsistent in his disavowal of former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard and Holocaust denier David Duke’s support. The Trump campaign originally submitted William Johnson’s name on a list of delegates in California. Johnson is the chairman of the American Freedom Party, a white nationalist group with a paranoid slant on Jews that reads like a first draft of a Kristallnacht manifesto. He resigned the position and the campaign blamed his initial inclusion on database error. Journalists Julia Ioffe, Bethany Mandel, and Jonathan Weisman came under internet assault, at various times, in the form of what could only be reasonably described as an avalanche of anti-Semitic invective the intensity of which is difficult to accurately describe, except to say that had he still been alive I can imagine Joseph Goebbels issuing a somewhat abashed, “hey fellas, take it easy” as a response. I could go on but there isn’t any need. If you were alive and of adult years during the run up to the 2016 election I’m sure you have your own greatest hits collection in mind. In the interest of being fair I guess it’s important to mention that the president’s daughter, son-in-law and their three children are Jewish, and that he himself has never been heard to utter any incontrovertibly anti-Semitic statements himself. Nevertheless, if I had blundered into making a slogan with an ugly anti-Jewish history to it (America First) the philosophical heart of my electoral run I would have made it my business to quickly and emphatically distance myself from the support of anyone like the above listed losers, as well as shit stirring neo-Nazi websites like the Daily Stormer and any other fans of der Fuhrer that stuck their beaks into things. In the face of all that, he still received twenty-five percent of the Jewish vote. In this instance I think the mentation being reflected in that behavior is, at the surface, a sort of false pride in which those voters could claim to have risen above the disgusting behavior of the great unwashed and committed their numbers to a candidate they believed in. On a deeper level I suspect motivations ran in a more petulant direction. Regardless of the undeniable bigotry of a percentage of the president’s supporters, their unabashed anti-pc approach to everything (much like Trump’s own modus operandi) must have had an irresistible appeal to the more conservative portion of the Jewish electorate. The opportunity to raise a middle finger to the sort of moral posturing to which they are routinely subjected seems to have been a temptation they couldn’t turn down. To a certain extant I can see their point. Although I didn’t (and wouldn’t) vote for him I have to admit the one emotional upside of Donald Trump’s election has been the misery it brought to some of the more hypocritical people I know who have been rather selective in the way they’ve chosen to play the cards of Jewish outrage and ethnic awareness. It strikes me that more than a few people who’ve taken umbrage at the President’s less savory political bedfellows haven’t demonstrated the same ethnic sensitivity when the offender in question was associated with a candidate or official of the other party.
With no shortage of possibilities from the Democrat party I thought I’d start with the somewhat obscure and move on to more high profile examples. In February and March, 2018, Washington DC Councilman Trayon White made several statements in which he put forward the idea that the Rothschild banking family was manipulating the weather so that they could spread their influence and take control of cities. For those of you who don’t know, the Rothschilds are members of a small religious minority. They’re not Quakers. Believing, I guess, that a performance like that demands an encore, this imbecile then made a conciliatory trip to the Holocaust Museum where, after viewing some disturbing documentary footage he made the suggestion that a Jewish woman marching to her death under stormtrooper guard was actually being protected by them. Salvador Dali on a three day hashish bender would not have had the requisite imagination to concoct this insanity. The reaction of the local Jewish community was a great deal more forgiving than one might imagine it having been if Councilman White had been elected as a Republican. They took his apology at face value which raises the question of whether they were stupid enough to believe that or just hoped nobody was really looking. On a personal note I have to say that anyone who can plead ignorance at that level and pass a polygraph should have their association with government activity restricted to changing the camphor in the men’s room urinals at the Capitol.
Taking a superficially more nuanced, and so, potentially more pernicious approach is Ilhan Omar, a freshly minted member of the house of representatives, from Minnesota. Unconflicted in her anti-Israel bias, she has attempted to paint herself as a friend of the Jewish people. This is, in practical terms, a distinction without a difference. Not that one can’t be critical of Israel without being an anti-Semite. Certainly I have heard plenty of people raise reasonable objections to the actions and/or policies of the country without crossing the line into bigotry. I have, on a number of occasions been harshly critical of something Israel has done myself. Criticism shifts to anti-Semitism when someone either holds Israel to a standard they would not impose on another country, or engages in an inflammatory level of rhetoric that they wouldn’t think of leveling in any other direction. That in mind, representative Omar’s more sensational statements tend to speak for themselves. “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel”. That is not a sober statement attempting to hold another nation’s government to account. That is not a momentary, emotionally driven lapse in temperament. That is the kind of calumny that calls to mind The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. She has since made an attempt to apologize for her choice of words. Believe what you want. I doubt she makes it to Memorial day without another incident of equal if not surpassing ugliness.
Rounding out the picture is Rashida Tlaib. The newly elected representative from Michigan has had an auspicious start to her congressional career. Speaking in opposition to a proposed bill combatting the boycott, sanction, and divestment (BDS) movement she suggested that the members of the Senate who were in favor of the bill had demonstrated a dual loyalty, and that “they forgot what country they represent”, referring to what she appears to think is the hold that Israel has on Jews (and others) who have sworn to defend and uphold the Constitution of the United States. Tabling the argument over the validity of the BDS movement for another time, Ms. Tlaib could have argued against any prohibition of speech without calling into question the patriotism of a particular religious group. I might be inclined to push myself a little harder to give her the benefit of the doubt except that the map of the world that sits in her congressional office has a post-it covering up the nation of Israel, with the word Palestine on it. My guess is that it’s not terribly far from where a photo of her swearing in either is, or soon will be. That’s the ceremony she attended draped in the Palestinian flag. Thank God her loyalties are clearly undivided.
Truth to be told, blithely ignoring this sort of thing is not new behavior for the left leaning American Jewish population. I can still remember being exhorted to vote for Jesse Jackson by friends whose ethnic background was the same as mine. Reminding them that Reverend Jackson had referred to us as citizens of “Hymietown” did not seem to have the power of dissuasion I was hoping for. You don’t have to go back that far. As I recall we’ve had a recent chief executive in this country that spent a majority of his Sunday mornings from 1992 through 2008 in the presence of a foaming at the mouth anti-Semite and generally hate filled bigot in the form of Jeremiah Wright. Counting on the voting public not calling him on it (the mendacity of hope, if you will) Barack Obama was eventually cornered into denouncing Wright. Sort of. Every Jew I know that voted for him (78% in 2008, 69% in 2012) found a way to un-see that.
I work with more than one Jewish person that spent a fair part of the 2016 campaign railing against the garbage I cited at the beginning of this piece. As soon as they have something to say about Ms. Omar, Tlaib,or for that matter Mr. White, I’ll let you know. This sort of selective sanctimony from my ethnic and religious cohort isn’t just irritating, it’s likely to become dangerous, if it hasn’t already gotten there. When we serve an ulterior motive in our political fealty, regardless of whether it’s petty vengeance or a brittle vanity masquerading as pride, we are apt to be doing ourselves a profound disservice, no matter what story we tell.
6 thoughts on “Jewish When Convenient: That Special Tuesday in November”
The rhetoric on both sides has been laced with prejudices & blatant racism, yet since the election of Agent Orange to the White House people seem emboldened to spew their hateful rhetoric especially in the media of today. Old prejudices rear their ugly head, and people feel that they need to broadcast their vile hate filled speech against all people they feel they need to attack. 1939 should have been a warning, but we say it can’t happen here. We are deluding ourselves if we think not. Democracy is the hardest form of government as Churchill said. We ALL must be involved and shout down the extremists, and if we must DEFEND others whose rights are being violated. The phrase “NEVER AGAIN” has been permanently etched in my DNA. It should be in everyone else’s as well. It is unfortunate that in todays political climate we have forgotten that lesson of history.
Hi Karl, as always, thanks again for taking the time to read. As someone who’s been on the business end of a lot of the crap you’re talking about, I can tell you that there was no shortage of people who felt comfortable airing their uglier side way before our current imbecile in chief took the oath. Much as I can understand the impulse, I don’t think “shouting down” anybody moves the needle in the right direction. On a happier note I hope that you and your family are well, and I still look forward to meeting up somehow. Till then be well and thanks again
Hey there!!! American Judaism Broken? I don’t really think so and also believe this is overstated. However, as always, you made some good points. When we skewer the person that plays for the other team and not the ” official from our side” it’s similar to not wanting to bash your own family member in public but hopefully it gets handled behind closed doors. It’s a weak point but an attempt to understand the reason people behave the way they do. White, Omar, Tlaib are glaring examples of officials that have not been adequately hammered by American Jews.
“When someone holds Israel to a standard……” Another outstanding point!!!
I think American Jews have a tendency to lean the way they do for historic painful reasons and the idea of tikkun Olam is beautiful, but not at our own detriment.
Fanatics??? They just screw everything up for everyone.
Thx Dan. When we look the other way for our team we couldn’t be sending a clearer message to the world.
Hey, Martin, it is Paul from Twitter. Finally got to read your article! I really enjoyed it. You are a very intelligent man. I may disagree with you on some issues but I believe this is a topic we both agree on.
I am a big supporter of Israel and not just because I believe USA was built on Judeo Christian values but because it is one of the only countries in the Middle East where gays, Christians, Jews and Muslims are not persecuted.
The rise ofbantisemitism here in USA is following the rise in Europe. Different people will blame different people or things. Some say white supremacists, others say Muslim extremists.
I just hope more Jewish people wake up to the left’s tolerance of antisemitism. If a Republican said the things Omar said they would be labeling them Hitler or a Nazi.
Thanks Paul. Glad you enjoyed the piece. I really appreciate you taking the time to comment. Stay safe