protocols and other matters

Get ready for fun times: Rachel Shukert of Jewcy is starting a biweekly column called The Protocols, which will examine internalized anti-Semitism among young Jews. “All of our mothers were right,” she explains.

My generation, we American Jews in our 20’s and 30’s, may have missed having taunts and dirt clods thrown at our heads as we waited for the school bus, but you don’t have to look very far to find our people held in general contempt. In fact, don’t look hard at all—just look in the comments section of any major internet blog that so much as mentions the State of Israel, the Holocaust, Steven Spielberg, or boiled chicken.

So welcome to The Protocols, named of course for the famous (and forged) Protocols of the Elders of Zion, or as I like to think of it, the book that started the international craze, the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone of twentieth century anti-Semitism. Here, I’ll strive to answer the important questions—not so much “Why do they hate us?” but “So what if they hate us?” I’ll look at how Jews have, for better and for worse, internalized the tenets of anti-Semitism and turned them inside out, how Jews judge other Jews, and what it means to be a self-hating Jew (as opposed to a Jewish self-hater.) I’ll examine anti-Semites through history, anti-Semites in the news, and once every few weeks or so, anti-Semites we love. (And yes, I’m taking recommendations.)

Funny that she mentions anti-Semitic comments on blogs, because – and this is so perfect that I almost can’t believe it’s authentic – the second comment in the thread is by a real live anti-Semite, claiming that the Zionists orchestrated World War II in order to facilitate the creation of Israel. IT’S ALL SO CLEAR TO ME NOW! The Jews were behind it all! And to think – we accomplished it with no collateral damage!

Quite honestly, do you know who I think was behind WWII? The Shriners. That’s right – I said it. You know you were thinking it. Those little cars? That constant insistence that “they’re” “helping” “children?” Isn’t it obvious? Next they’ll come after YOU.

Ahem. Anyway, the column should be interesting; the line between reclaiming anti-Semitic rhetoric and succumbing to it is often so blurry as to be nonexistent, and I think that’s a topic well worth exploring.

Meanwhile, Marco Greenberg at Haaretz has his own take on anti-Semitism in the States:

The truth is I think the overt kind of anti-Semitism is quite rare across the board in the U.S. There are a few factors that come into play to create this situation. Partly it is the more tolerant and multicultural times we live in; partly the largely urban geography of Jewish life – the historic and sizeable presence of Jewish communities in so many of the major U.S. cities; and partly because, frankly, in the age of Larry David, Adam Sandler and even Amy Winehouse, it’s cool to be a Jew.

It was a very different reality for the Russians in my IDF unit who were beaten up in the Red Army for no reason other than being born a Jew, or the Iranians and Ethiopians who walked hundreds of miles from oppression to freedom. Furthermore, if you’re looking for truly dangerous anti-Semites simply go look on the Web, and type in the search term ‘Jew’ or explore what the radical Islamic world is saying.

In America, the worse it usually gets is occasional and subtle ‘code’. In the case of this small town in Western Massachusetts, when people speak of ‘New Yorkers’, the meaning is usually clear: Jews. In other areas, it might be adjectives like ‘aggressive’ or ‘loud’. Is the implicit code for other minorities, e.g. African Americans as ‘urban’, or Hispanic Americans as ‘immigrants’, any less offensive?

…Are people claiming it is? And are there really American Jews who think we’ve got it as bad as Ethiopians? Okay, well, I’m sure you can find a few – but the rest of us don’t take them very seriously. My point is this: why take such pains to draw a line between overt and implicit prejudice? On one level, it seems to be stating the obvious – listening to rhetoric about “the Zionists” is never going to be as harmful as getting beaten to death. On another level, it denies the fact that both forms come from the same source, and seemingly innocuous situations have the potential to escalate quite rapidly. My great-grandparents were among the most successful residents of their village before their synagogue was shot at. A sizable Jewish presence in a multicultural city presents as much potential for danger as for solidarity.

And, you know, he’s dead on about the New Yorker thing. If I have to read one more blog talking about the “east coast liberals” and “New York liberals” and “coastal liberals” responsible for that awful New Yorker cover, I’m going to scream. Do I think most people in the blogosphere are actually blaming Jews for the cover? No. But why have those specific terms become such ubiquitous buzzwords when New Yorker readers and contributors can be found all over the country? Are, say, Iowan liberals excused? How about moderates? I’ve decided to (charitably) read most of the references as sloppy shorthand, but don’t these people know about the term’s anti-Semitic connotations? If they do, and are using it anyway – isn’t that worth worrying about?

All in all, I’m with Shukert on this one – I don’t think our culture considers it “cool to be a Jew.” Amy Winehouse isn’t cool because she’s Jewish, and while I know Sandler’s Hanukkah song was played like a billion times and all, it didn’t certainly never made me feel any cooler (although it did earn me the nickname “Jewy J___” in high school). I’m not advocating that American Jews sit around and bite our nails, of course. It’s just worrisome when I see people telling strawmen to calm the hell down.

In any case, I’m looking forward to reading Shukert’s column. She wrote a better ending than I can manage on a weeknight, so I’m going to steal it:

So, my fellow filthy Christ-killers, if you can stop counting your golden ingots and draining your neighbor’s kids of their blood long enough to actually read something, I hope you’ll join me. We may not win any hearts and minds, but in the words of the immortal G.I. Joe, knowing is half the battle.

And after all, we’re supposed to be so smart.

Cheers to that.

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6 Responses

  1. Sounds very interesting. I went to a Jewish school (in London, UK) and so many of the kids used ‘Jew’ as a verb meaning to cheat someone out of something. If you refused tohand over your money to someone for sweets etc after school they would almost always roll their eyes and say ‘ugh, you’re SO Jewish.’ I think my generation really has internalised that self hatred, we’ve all learnt that being Jewish automatically makes you not ‘cool.’

  2. I agree, TGD . Personally, though, I don’t think we do a very good job of dealing with these issues. I posted For a more radical anti-antisemitism, with reference to this and to the Jewcy post.

    Any sort of modern anti-racism work begins by noting how individual interactions are bathed in a very subtle racism, hard to recognize and dangerous to challenge because to respond always seems way out of proportion. This is what we need to challenge, and it’s explicitly what we’re not challenging.

    Talking about the Protocols doesn’t really get at some important parts of the problem.

  3. Yeah… I think part of the problem is that Jewcy has to maintain their ironic, irreverent tone no matter what they’re talking about, so it’s not the best source for real critique. As for our response to the subtle racism underneath individual reactions – how exactly do we respond to that effectively? Whenever I try, I seem to come up short. It’s not that I don’t recognize deeper prejudice; it’s that it’s hard to articulate it without – as you said – coming off as overreacting.

  4. I guess the question is why is ‘coming off as overreacting’ a bad thing? I mean, I think I might get it – you want people to take you seriously, sure, but it comes back to the “why are you so angry” refrain.

    I dunno, I think I tend to not properly fulfill the mitzvah of optimism this way, I suppose – I’m not inclined to believe that people would be willing to listen regardless, so we get our points across however we can without trying to make concessions to the sensibilites of the majority.

    I mean, I guess it’s not for me to say either way, but the short form of what I’m saying is, you shouldn’t HAVE to worry about coming off as overreacting.

  5. I think a lot of the work of anti-antisemitism hasn’t been done yet, and that’s a big part of the reason it’s so hard to critique subtler manifestations. Cultural studies started in the wake of the Holocaust, but never really got around to Jewish issues.

    I mean, I guess it’s not for me to say either way, but the short form of what I’m saying is, you shouldn’t HAVE to worry about coming off as overreacting.

    We shouldn’t. But it’s a particular stereotype that Jews overreact to everything, and I think a lot of us are scared to reinforce that. (I still haven’t read Memoirs of an Antisemite, but it was revelatory to me when Christopher Hitchens titled a review of “The 2,000-Year-Old Panic.” I can at least say the review is worth reading.) Look at the way Alan Dershowitz and Abraham Foxman are portrayed. We don’t want to be seen like they are.

    Maybe that’s the nub, or maybe not, but I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere unless we take that head on. So long as we try to earn capital with “I’m not Dershowitz” we reinforce the stereotypical perception of Jews who do speak out. I becomes an increasingly difficult test until only the most antisemitic Jew isn’t tarred.

  6. Yeah, I think you’re right – I was just thinking along the lines of this sort of being analogous to black people and Malcolm X, and it’s like, we would (I hope) call out that bullshit for what it is if people come down on them for not being “articulate” enough, but why is it OK for us to fall into that trap of “we’re not shrill, honest”?

    Anyway, your last paragraph is definitely along the lines of what I was thinking – we shouldn’t have to play into those rules to be taken seriously. Instead of arguing within that frame we should be using a new one, if that makes sense.

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