Eli Valley mocks Kryptonite, thinks he’s funny

Well, I’ve now read some of the exchanges between Eli Valley and some of my readers, and the long interview with Valley in the Comics Journal which Eli himself recommended to us as a good representation of his positions, especially on the issues of “pride and self-hatred.”

I know that some of my readers will roll their eyes at what I’m about to do, but I’d like to try and reason with you Eli about your arguments and positions. I do so because I think it’s important to take people seriously, even people who pretend not to take themselves so seriously.

Let me start out by saying that I was a big fan of Mad Magazine in my youth, although I think at some point I found its humor a bit fatuous, so that while I can appreciate your admiration for its work in the 50s and 60s, I don’t quite share your awarding them an iconic status. Indeed, if you wanted to increase the pungency and depth of your satire, I’d consider doing a satire of Mad Magazine. It might help you get rid of some puerile baggage.

Second, I’d like to address your attribution to modern Jews of a kind of superpower status. You say, for example:

But I don’t believe we’re powerless.  Paradoxically, that might be the chief difference between my critics and me.  A couple times I’ve been accused in the comments of being a “Ghetto Jew,” scurrying around trying to curry favor from “the Gentiles.”  I like this comment because I think it’s a bit of a projection.  I’d argue that my comics reflect Jewish confidence, not ghetto-like fear.  A ghetto mentality is afraid of open discussion of communal problems, because that might lead to a pogrom.  We have the power of superheroes but we perceive ourselves as shlemiels.

This is closely reminiscent of much of the “progressive” attitude towards the modern West and its democracies, and a distinctive mark of the Israeli left who believe that Israel is “strong enough to take it,” and therefore they virtually ‘prove’ Israel’s strength by their remorseless self-criticism. The abandon with which such critics, in Israel and in the West insist that we tolerate the intolerant (deeply regressive) speech and behavior of Islamists in our midst “in order to prove our tolerance” strikes me as based on a) a fallacy about how strong – indeed invulnerable – democracy is… itself a deeply flawed reading of the nature and vulnerabilities of democratic systems, and b) a teenage fantasy of immortality, akin to someone drunk, high on drugs, driving a motorcycle at top speed through mountain roads on an icy night without a helmet: nothing can hurt me.

If I sound harsh on this one, it’s because this attitude, as irresponsible as it is somehow attractive – who doesn’t at some level admire James Dean? – lies at the heart of much of your satirical “art.” It’s only if Jews had superhuman strength, so that your attacks would be a) warranted, and b) funny. If we’re not, or if we are, but surrounded by Kryptonite, then it’s a different story. From my point of view, you’re looking at Superman hit by Kryptonite and laughing at him: “stop faking it you phony.”

Here’s a good example:

You can’t satirize the powerless.  It’s like a rich person mocking a beggar in the street.  It might be humorous to some, but it’s not satire.  And I don’t see my community as beggars.  That’s a good thing, and it’s why I think satire – and a community’s capacity to embrace satire – is actually a sign of communal vitality.

To take the criticisms at face value, though, I feel strongly that if we allow anti-Semites to define the parameters of Jewish critical inquiry, then we’re basically surrendering Jewish civilization to the nutjobs and proclaiming our culture to be dead. It’s like the relativist defense of Israel – Israel is faultless because unlike Iran, it hasn’t criminalized homosexuality.  Really, is that the standard Herzl dreamt of?  Or to use the example of the comment regarding the Iranian press, should the fact that Iran is governed by Jew-haters mean we should prohibit all self-criticism?  What does that say about our confidence in Jewish sovereignty?  No culture can thrive when it contorts and constrains itself like that.  And honestly, I think some in our community wouldn’t mind if that were to happen – their ideal Jewish world is one in which questions aren’t asked and authority isn’t questioned.

Allow me to fisk that paragraph.

You can’t satirize the powerless.  It’s like a rich person mocking a beggar in the street.  It might be humorous to some, but it’s not satire. And I don’t see my community as beggars.  That’s a good thing, and it’s why I think satire – and a community’s capacity to embrace satire – is actually a sign of communal vitality.

Here you’re arguing that the Jews are powerful and that mocking them is a sign of their strength. Others might feel you’ve written your epitaph here: “It might be humorous to some, but it’s not satire.”

You seem to be caught up in what I might call a (post-)modernist fallacy. You (as did I) grew up in the American post-Holocaust bubble. My guess is that the number of times you experienced real anti-semitism were vastly outweighed by the number of times you experienced genuine tolerance for you as a Jew, in America. And when you looked around at how influential Jews had become in that period of tolerance, you at once embraced your Jewish identity and felt that the long nightmare of gentile anti-semitism was over. In America, Jews have arrived. They are powerful. Israel is powerful. And, as good Jews, whose long history, even in powerlessness, had them mocking themselves with their self-depracating humor, it’s incumbent on us to continue that tradition.

The main difference between you and me, is that I consider the bubble we grew up in to be a bubble of dubious strength, whereas you seem to consider it iron-cast. Now is a testing time, and you’re of the belief that the more you pound at it, the stronger it becomes (or the more you prove it’s strong?).

I see anti-semitism as a serious threat not only to Jews but to democratic and tolerant states, which are, in the big picture of history, extremely rare and from the perspective of centuries, very fragile. You see it as an excuse people like me use to silence criticism. I consider criticism the life-blood of civil polities, Jewish and otherwise, but hyper-self criticism a form of self-destruction; you consider any effort to suppress even the most violent criticism as a form of fascism.

To take the criticisms at face value, though, I feel strongly that if we allow anti-Semites to define the parameters of Jewish critical inquiry, then we’re basically surrendering Jewish civilization to the nutjobs and proclaiming our culture to be dead.

This is totalistic and deeply self-serving language. If I might translate: if we pay any attention to the way that the anti-semitic nutjobs use our most severe self-criticism (and therefore tone it down), then we’ve killed our culture. The problem with this formulation is its utter lack of nuance. Any impact that worrying how say, Al Jazeera’s use of Norman Finkelstein might intensify virulent anti-Semitism among 350 million Arabs, might have on any Jew’s right to say anything, is the equivalent of surrendering Jewish civilization.

Actually, Jewish civilization is considerably stronger than you seem to imagine here, and whether or not you, or Norman, or Atzmon, or Noam Chomsky get to bloviate or not about the alleged sins of powerful Jews, it will continue. Self-criticism is in the DNA of the Jews – look at the incredibly self-critical accounts of the founding fathers and the whining Israelites in the Torah – and modulating its public face (i.e., what gets said in public before people who might abuse that self-criticism for hostile purposes), is hardly going to make a dent in Jewish civilization. It may make a dent in your ability to get paid and admired for trashing Jews who have the nerve to come to the defense of what you consider a mighty and sinful Jewish state, but don’t make the mistake of confusing your personal career with the fate of the Jewish people.

It’s like the relativist defense of Israel – Israel is faultless because unlike Iran, it hasn’t criminalized homosexuality.  Really, is that the standard Herzl dreamt of?

Really? Is that what you think the relativist defense is? Is this the straw man among your people to whom you’ve set yourself up as the brave opponent? Are you really that shallow? (To judge from your cartoons, alas, I’d have to say, this seems like a rather revealing statement.) Do you really think Herzl would be fatuous enough to return to the 21st century and boil down Israel’s accomplishments to being superior to Iran? Don’t you think such an argument worthy of withering satire?

The relativist defense of Israel runs something like this: Israel is not spotless. No one is. But compared not only to its neighbors (like Iran), but even to its fellow democracies, Israel stands out as the greatest champion of tolerance and paragon of self-criticism in the history of civilization, including the modern period (ie. that of modern democracies). Compare (here’s what relative perspectives do) Israel with France or the USA.

Take France. In the course of three years after proclaiming a democratic state dedicated to human rights and equality, but surrounded by retrograde states that, threatened by these democratic values, martialed its forces against it, the revolutionaries went from democracy to totalitarian terror. They killed hundreds of thousands of its own people, often out of pure paranoia and lust for revenge. In particular, internal critics were labeled traitors, and in particular, journalists, specifically protected by the 11th of the 17 “universal human rights” were the target of purification drives aimed at retaining the achievements of the revolution. And, in the larger picture of revolutionary victories, France resisted longer and killed fewer than, say, the Russians, Chinese, Cubans, Cambodians, etc.

Israel is about to enter the 64th year of resisting these very powerful pulls towards totalitarian violence and its allergy to any kind of criticism. Now that may not be enough for you. You want more. You want Israel to be the super-hero you’ve declared it. But don’t confuse your totalistic language with the “relativist position” you claim to be criticizing.

Or to use the example of the comment regarding the Iranian press, should the fact that Iran is governed by Jew-haters mean we should prohibit all self-criticism?

All? So far, I know of very few Jews in favor of “prohibiting” any criticism. Criticizing? Yes. I, for example, think that someone like Gilad Atzmon, who writes in al Jazeera, that the Israelis are not only as bad as, but worse than the Nazis (no Holocaust denier he, the Nazis were evil, the Israelis worse), should be shunned as a (to use your word) nutjob, and that any sane Jew would have nothing to do with him, no matter how good his music is. Does that make me hostile to any criticism of Israel? Only someone tone-deaf could make that argument. And being tone-deaf is fatal to someone who pretends to want to do good satire.

What does that say about our confidence in Jewish sovereignty?  No culture can thrive when it contorts and constrains itself like that.

What does it say about our over-confidence in our invulnerability? No culture can thrive when its intellectuals (you do have that pretence) insists on walking out into a storm dressed in a bathing suit and calling anyone who wears some protective clothing a bunch of fascists.

And honestly, I think some in our community wouldn’t mind if that were to happen – their ideal Jewish world is one in which questions aren’t asked and authority isn’t questioned.

There’s not a Jew I know who would want such a thing. Your willingness to project fascist traits onto people you disagree with is unsettling to say the least. It corresponds closely to the totalistic language you use to belittle others who disagree with you, and at the same time, exalting yourself as a heroic upholder of endangered standards of criticism. If you want to read something at once funny and penetrating, I recommend Harold Jacobsen’s The Finkler Question. There’s some worthy satire to meditate on. (Or is laughing at yourself too painful for you?)

Jacobsen recently wrote something you might spend a minute thinking about:

Myself, I wouldn’t bet heavily on there being good times ahead for Jews. Anti-Zionists can assure me all they like that their position entails no harm to Jews – only witness how many Jews are themselves anti-Zionist, they say – I no longer believe them. Individually, it is of course possible to care little for Israel and to care a great deal for Jews. But in the movement of events individuals lose their voice. What carries the day is consensus, and consensus is of necessity unsubtle.

If you want to do a cartoon, here’s a suggestion. Israel as a tiny weightlifter, holding up enormous barbells loaded on one side with criticism, on the other with self-criticism, and in the back a sign saying “Democracy Weight-Lifting Champions.” In the background, the Iranians and the Arab countries with huge styrofoam weights scream “Nazis” and European candidates, with much lighter loads look on and say, “I don’t know, I don’t think you’ve got enough weight on that bar,” while Jewish critics (maybe the author of a certain comic) jeer: “That’s nothing. I’ll put some more on. What kind of a wuss are you.”

Good luck with your career. As a historian, I’d say your headed for the curiosity shop of little horrors, not the hall of fame. But who knows? Maybe you can start satirizing yourself and your friends and actually say something interesting?

20 Responses to Eli Valley mocks Kryptonite, thinks he’s funny

  1. RichardNYC says:

    @Richard Landes
    I agree with you about EV, but there’s no point explaining any of this to him. He’s clearly intelligent enough to understand what he’s doing. Like Anna Baltzer, Max Blumenthal, etc., EV prioritized his indie-fame/reputation/edginess over the welfare of Jews. If someone like EV has managed to get our attention, it means he’s already decided to become a hack and there’s no point in treating him with respect. We just have to accept that, in tough times, some Jews are going to decide that they’re better off as traitors. Its not any more productive to sincerely engage EV than it is to sincerely engage Omar “A century of non-violent Palestinian resistance” Barghouti, whose every lie and propagandistic mantra is an insult to his audience.

    • Ray in Seattle says:

      There is truth to what you say. But it sure makes for a good read. I especially liked the word-cartoon of the “Democracy Weight-Lifting Champions”.

    • oao says:

      Richard,

      I am with you.

      Its not any more productive to sincerely engage EV than it is to sincerely engage Omar “A century of non-violent Palestinian resistance” Barghouti, whose every lie and propagandistic mantra is an insult to his audience.

      The audience insults itself by remaining uninformed and unable to reason and, therefore, gullible.

      In fact, my guess would be that EV himself has no clue about the reality in the ME and takes at face value the mainstream media distortions of it. Most of the “good jews” fit this template.

      • Cynic says:

        oao,

        Going by RL’s fisking of … A couple times I’ve been accused in the comments of being a “Ghetto Jew,” scurrying around trying to curry favor from “the Gentiles.”, I can say of my experience and reading the interview, EV has no clue about reality in Europe let alone the Middle East.
        I don’t think he will truly appreciate “The Finkler Question” as he cannot relate.
        “Ghetto Jew” is not necessarily an “ASHamed Jew” but a Kapo is. Maybe one should not use Kapo so freely because not all were ashamed and willing, but frightened to hell.
        So he mocks his roots cause no doubt his antecedents derive from a ghetto at some stage in their travails.
        “Ghetto Jew” so mockingly described as “scurrying” around; a rat or just a mouse perchance? Or maybe just a cockroach?
        With or without the hooked nose?
        Who is this cartoonist to point fingers and criticize those who stand by international agreements while his ilk nonchalantly renege on them?
        He doesn’t understand the ME because he is ignorant of what was signed into International law by the League of Nations, the San Remo Conference and the Treaty of Sèvres and of course UNSC Res 242 and 338.
        Article 80 of the UN Charter states that nothing in the Charter permits one to deduce the right “to alter in any manner” rights conferred by existing international instruments”.
        (Heh, not even George Bush seemed to understand that in statements he made, in the broader sense, at the time about settlements)
        Bet neither he nor George know about the

        Committee on Foreign Relations, Palestine Refugee Program, Hearings before the Subcommittee on the Near East and Africa of the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, Eighty-Third Congress, First Session on the Palestine Refugee Program, May 20, 21, and 25, 1953 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1953), p. 103.

        and the quote Lt. General Sir Alexander Galloway who was an UNWRA official in the early 50s made:

        On 25 May 1953 in testimony before the Subcommittee on Near East and Africa of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the Reverend Karl Baehr, Executive Secretary of the American Christian Palestine Committee stated:

        The political picture within the Arab refugee camps is important to an understanding of the problem, and I must say it is of special significance to this committee.

        In April of 1952, Sir Alexander Galloway, then head of the UNRWA for Jordan, said to our study group, and this is really a direct quote from what he said:

        It is perfectly clear than the Arab nations do not want to solve the Arab refugee problem. They want to keep it as an open sore, as an affront against the United Nations, and as a weapon against Israel.

        Then, by way of emphasis he said:

        Arab leaders don’t give a damn whether the refugees live or die.

        This simple fact has been more and more clearly demonstrated as I have on repeated occasions visited the refugee centers.

        This from A Tale of Two Galloways
        Notes on the Early History of UNRWA and Zionist Historiography

        Ah, those nasty Israeli apes always fighting with their neighbours!

        • oao says:

          Of course he doesn’t know all that, but the point is he does not care. His stance is not about Jews, but about himself. He wants attention and popularity and his instincts tell him that he can get them much easier by being anti-Israel/Jews than the other way around.

          I can guarantee you that if tomorrow the atmosphere would reverse, he’d automatically switch too and would find some rationalization for it. I would bet on it.

  2. aparatchik says:

    Good job but typo: “Gideon” Atzmon – shouldn’t that be “Gilad”?

  3. aparatchik says:

    “their ideal Jewish world is one in which questions aren’t asked and authority isn’t questioned”

    LOL is this guy really a Jew?

  4. sshender says:

    Brilliant!!! Boy, how I missed those fiskings of yours… Especially of theobald Jews.

    Please more of the same (I can supply the material, if needed).

  5. oao says:

    RL,

    There is an old interview with Chomsky where he is asked what drives him to take the positions he takes and his response is seminal: While in school, he witnessed bullying of a boy and initially stood next to him, but then chickened out and left. He felt bad about it and swore that he would never do that again and always would stand with the weak.

    Note very carefully a subtle implication that Chomsky is making–which makes him the anarchist that he is and that also characterizes much of the left: strength is by definition bad, weakness good. Hence: the US and Israel are strong, the Pals are weak –> the former are bad the latter are good. Values are dictated not by content but by the power configuration. This tends to make proponents proud of their courage of “standing with the weak”,

    Chomsky and the liberal left, including Jews, are projecting from domestic circumstances and their own culture–where the left-right continuum applies–to the ME, where it does not. US and, therefore Israel are bad.

    So a flawed ideology and the domestic hatred of the US blinds them to the issue of cultural values and international conflict and makes them feel highly moral.

    Some of that underlies EV, although in his case, mundane self-promotion plays an important role.

    • Joe says:

      Great article, and a greater comment, very interesting viewpoint oao.

    • Cynic says:

      We notice how he defines weak. How he stands with holocaust deniers so he stands with 1 1/2 billion Muslims and the antisemites of Europe against 5 1/2 million Israeli Jews.

      • oao says:

        Read my post more carefully.

        The US is the strongest and therefore the baddest. Israel is its vassal, hence it’s strong and bad. Anybody who is their enemy is weak and therefore good.

        That’s what happens when you see the world in exclusively left-right eyes and impose this frame on the Middle-East.

  6. Sérgio says:

    What is so amazing about Chomsky´s “epyphany” (beyond its religious flavor) is its parochiality which only a gigantic ego could transform into a Universal Saga for Immaculate Humankind, trampling truth, fact, intellectual honesty and sheer decency along the way. And this from a supposed “intellectual”, which just shows the power of disjunctive thinking.

    • oao says:

      I have not referred to it as an epiphany, but rather an important insight into where the core flaw in his thinking is, which explains some of the issues you describe.

      It also explains the support of anti-Israel jews.

      • Sérgio says:

        Maybe “epiphany” is not the right word. I meant a kind of “illumination” or “revelation” experience, with a strong emotional content and meaning (insight doesn´t quite capture it), and which seemed to have served as the motivational basis for his political credo. Because a credo/faith (a millenarist faith?) it is, overturning basically every principle (epistemological, ontological, methodological and axiological) by which an intellectual/academic is supposed to abide.

        • oao says:

          Apparently for him it was.

          Fatal flaw that it is, it has huge explanatory power for both his output and the left’s, including jews.

  7. Cynic says:

    RL,

    I had a comment in your previous post about the 4 Sons which apparently got eaten by the filters.
    I took EV to task for trying equate Mad with his implications.

    • Richard Landes says:

      caught it and posted it. thanks for the heads up. i had over 1000 spam and am loathe to waste time on it, but if you have a comment that’s disappeared, be sure to warn me.

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