Although I was born Jewish, my parents were not so much liberal as permissive when it came to religious observance, and I have never really regarded my faith as part of my identity. I always remember the late writer and journalist John Diamond being interviewed about his Jewishness. “What does being Jewish mean to you?” he was asked. “Well,” he responded, hesitantly, “I suppose it’s about being funny and clever.”
So wait. Simon doesn’t have a religion. He has a vague identity as someone who’s funny and clever, but no knowledge of, or interest in, Judaism. And he - as a Jew - is in a position to tell people what is and isn’t offensive to Judaism (i.e., “his religion”)? This raises an interesting problem. Is Simon serious? Or is this an Onion piece?
I would never be as presumptuous as that [! sic], but do I know what, for me, being Jewish doesn’t mean. It means not getting offended every time someone makes a critical remark about the policies of the Israeli government, deeming it be an attack on all Jewish people and hurling accusations of anti-semitism.
The classic trope: “every time… a critical remark…” Shades of Letty Pogrebin and the rest of the “progressive” circle, playing down vicious attacks – Israel as Nazi, blood libels – as mere “criticism. Now it’s hard to know just how to interpret this folly this late in the game.
My position on the politics of the Middle East is neither unusual nor contradictory: I believe that the state of Israel has a right to exist, but I think the monstrous injustice that has been visited on the Palestinian people shames the civilised world. So I’m afraid I see any attack on Israeli actions through this particular prism.
The “monstrous injustice visited on the Palestinian people shames the civilized world.”
This statement implies two major points, both of them problematic to say the least. First, the “monstrous injustice visited upon the Israeli people,” suggests that the author gets most of his information from the two fonts of DurahJournalism, the Guardian and the BBC, with their blaring headlines about Israeli war crimes and their breaking heart for the victims of those war crimes. In the scale of both history and current events, the Israeli treatment of Palestinians hardly comes near “monstrous” (Sri Lanka and the Tamil, China and the Tibetans, Democratic Republic of Congo and everyone unfortunate enough to inhabit those fields of slaughter), a fortiori what Arabs do to others (Sudanese Arabs and both the inhabitants of the south and the Darfuris) and to each other (Syrians and Iraqis and their opposition). Indeed in three years the Syrian civil war has killed more people than 65 years of Arab-Israeli wars (60-50,000 dead). Indeed, a close look at what the Israelis had done to the “Palestinians” would reveal matter far from monstrous, and only believing exclusively in the lethal narratives the Palestinians peddle to anyone who will listen – “the Israelis are the Nazis, we are the Jewish victims” – could come up with so inaccurate a formulation.
Which brings us to the second part of Kellner’s statement about shaming the civilized world. That may offer us a key to his selective concerns. If I understand correctly, a reader like Kellner would have responded to my previous passage by telling me not to change the subject and try and “Assadwash
” the Israelis, whose behavior towards the Palestinians is in question, regardless
of how others behave. In other words, the really monstrous injustices visited on the Palestinian people by Arabs (Lebanese
, Jordanians, Kuwaitis
) doesn’t shame the civilized world since they’re not civilized. So this is really about Kellner’s moral narcissism. He has the kind of moral contempt for Arabs and Muslims so scathingly described by Pat Condel
l, and his “shame” is reserved for those he holds to civilized standards.
I have been accused of being self-hating Jew more times than I care to remember. (My friend, the novelist Howard Jacobson, was indignant about this. “Him?” he said. “A self-hating Jew? Certainly not. He loves himself”.)
Precisely: you’re self-loving, but you loathe other Jews, Jews not as refined of sentiment as yourself, and “as-a-Jew” you freely self-degrade in front of your fellow progressives to prove what a great and moral person you are and how awful all those “Israel-firsters” are. Jews who embarrass and dismay you by not embracing the accusations hurled at them by malevolent people. And you do so by eagerly believing any Palestinian lethal narrative passed on by the press (“monstrous crimes”), by openly embracing them in front of others. It’s not the civilized world that’s being shamed by Israel, it’s you.
And so, you separate yourself from those crude, regressively patriotic Jews. You make yourself look big – look how self-critical I am, look how civilized I am – by making your fellow Jews look smaller. Of course you don’t feel this Scarfe drawing attacks your religion, because you have no sense of history or any historical relationship to your people. So when people like Scarfe invoke blood libels, you don’t feel a thing. Anomie, anyone?
Anyway, all these issues have come to the fore in recent days as I observed the minor controversy over a cartoon by the veteran draughtsman Gerald Scarfe in the latest issue of the Sunday Times. It depicted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu building a wall, and squeezed between the bricks are Palestinian bodies. He is using blood to hold the wall together, and the caption on the drawing is “Will cementing the peace continue?” It is a powerful statement. Scarfe, like many who plough the same furrow, is not one to pull his punches.
It’s only a powerful statement to those foolish enough to think that the wall – built to keep out suicide terrorists driven by a ideology of genocidal hatred, who have no commitment to peace whatsoever – is there to prevent peace. Only a systematic process of auto-stupefaction could possibly lead someone to ignore the Palestinian “contribution” to the conflict and find this drawing “powerful.” Powerfully stupid, yes.
The cartoon was published on Holocaust Memorial Day, which even Scarfe himself thought was insensitive, but I examined my reaction on seeing it for the first time. I was taken aback. I winced. It made me think.
Really? What did you think? “Gee, that’s deep. The Israelis really are mean to the Palestinians?” Like Lindsay Graham’s questions to Chuck Hagel (“name someone ‘intimidated’ by the “Jewish Lobby,” and “name one stupid thing that the ‘Jewish Lobby’ has led the USA to do”), please answer, “Name one concrete instance that this drawing made you think of.” My bet is, that they are either the products of DurahJournalism (Jenin, Kafr Qana, Mavi Marmara), or, in the scale of behaviors in this conflict, of such minor significance that none of them could justify so grotesque an unpulled punch.
I imagine Scarfe would think that, in my case, he had done his job. At no stage did I think it was an assault on my religion.
You’ve just told us you don’t have a religion. So what would you know? But your formulation does permit an important observation. What about all the other cases where Scarfe’s job was “done.” What about the people – non-Jews, Muslims, for example, who didn’t wince in shame, but who responded in anger, whose pity for the poor Palestinians and hatred of the evil Israelis was moved? People like Mohamed Merah, who kill little Jewish children to avenge the treatment of his cousins in Palestine? Or is the only thing that matters to you, your own moral purity: “not in my name?”
There were plenty, however, who thought precisely the opposite, and they swung quickly into action – I have been on the wrong side of the Jewish lobby at various times in my career, and they’re a pretty formidable bunch. Rupert Murdoch, no less, was forced to tweet an apology. “Gerald Scarfe’s has never reflected the opinions of the Sunday Times”, he wrote. “Nevertheless, we owe a major apology for grotesque, offensive cartoon.” Of course it’s grotesque. Has he never seen a Scarfe cartoon before? But offensive? I can’t find any impulse, emotionally or intellectually, that causes me to be offended. Does this make me a bad Jew?
Not bad, not a Jew, just a self-indulgent fool who thinks that going “ouch” makes him a moral person, a post-modern masochist who thinks “their side right or wrong” is a moral stance, and who thinks that “as a Jew” he’s in a position to not only propound his weightless opinion, but look askance at those who don’t share it.
Maybe it does, but I do think the world would be a better place if people were able to tell the difference between a political comment and a religious insult.
Maybe civil polities would not be so vulnerable if moral narcissists who think that if everyone were as fatuously tolerant as they, the world would be a better place.