Sunday, September 24, 2006

"Lumping together," on the Right and the Left

Political Theory Daily Review, with its tendency to group together several articles all concerning the same subject, makes this sort of post all the more likely, since it (helpfully) allows problems and topics to emerge that would not otherwise be readily apparent in scattered, dispersed articles. In this week's weekend edition, two back-to-back articles, this book review at National Review Online (I know, I know, I can't get enough of these guys) and this review of David Mamet's startling new book at the Jewish Daily Forward, brought this troublesome trope to my attention: the stereotype of the "self-hating Jew." I will touch upon this subject briefly before exploring what I think were the greater problems inherent in these articles, and then relating those problems to similar instances on the Left.

To speak very briefly about the "self-hating Jew" trope, we see it called to use in the National Review article primarily as a means of discrediting Jewish intellectuals who criticize Israeli policy. Furthermore, the author Emanuele Ottolenghi says, the "self-hating Jew" often wittingly or unwittingly perpetuates anti-Jewish stereotypes among anti-Semites, including notions of "blood libel" and the "wandering Jew." The problem with this strategy, it seems to me, is that it itself relies upon a stereotype, precisely that of the "self-hating Jew." "The phenomenon of self-hatred among Jews is not new," says Ottolenghi. "Jewish self-loathing," says Mamet, "will not be overcome by revelation...only habit will suffice." Admittedly, there are two different strategies at work here. Ottolenghi wishes to discredit "self-hating Jews" by showing that they are not really Jews at all, i.e. that their claims to be taking part in a "self-critical tradition" in Judaisim are hypocritical. Mamet, on the other hand, wishes to say that "self-hating Jews" (by which he seems to mean any that are remotely secular or independent-minded) are the worst sorts of "turncoats," "neurotics," and "Epicureans," who have no claim to legitimacy because they don't conform to what Jews "must be," seemingly by inherent (racial?) definition. In both cases, however, we are presented a "type" of Jew, easily recognizable, who seeks to "subvert" and "undermine" his or her society owing to some inherent flaw, that is, the "eternal" problem of Jewish self-hatred. Does anyone else find this, um, problematic?

My second, but primary, topic is that of "lumping together." Obviously, both articles are rife with this tendency, as Ottolenghi wants to show how Jews who are critical of Israel are no better than the most disgusting, racist anti-Semites and Mamet says (even more extremely, I think) that Jews who favor a two-state solution seek "the end of Israel." Leaving aside for a moment the question that is constantly begged throughout Ottolenghi's article, namely "Is Jewish criticism of Israel even possible for you?", we see in these instances a tactic that has been utilized extensively by the American Right over the past few years, that of equating one's critics with one's enemies. Of course this is not a new thing, but I find the current escalation of its use in American discourse probably the most disturbing instance of it since McCarthyism. It has come to the point where a millionaire businessman like Ned Lamont, a beneficiary of the American system if there ever was one, "encourages al-Qaeda types," according to the Vice President.

This is hardly a centrist call for brotherly love, because I can guarantee that I hold opinions far more radical than those of Ned Lamont. The point is that if he is a terrorist appeaser, I am practically a terrorist in the minds of these people. Indeed, anyone who is against the Iraq War in principle, as opposed to holding to the ridiculous propagandistic line that it is a "noble effort gone wrong," can expect this kind of reception. One has to accept the "civilizing mission tragically ruined" canard in order to enter into the "acceptable" terms of "dialogue" about Iraq, insofar as dialogue is allowed at all. turn the tables a little bit. The subject line says "on the Right and the Left," after all, so this is where I make my "responsible" criticisms of what I see as excesses by the other side. But seriously, the flip side of "lumping" together your critics and your enemies is lumping together your friends and your opponents. In that regard, how are we to take statements such as Judith Butler's that "Hezbollah and Hamas are part of the global left"? Or the regular Hezbollah flag-waving over at left-wing blogs like Lenin's Tomb? Or pronunciations at rallies that "We are all Hezbollah" and the like? Of course, stray comments by bloggers and academics can in no way compare to the power wielded by the United States government, but insofar as we think that anti-war movements are important, and that they can effect real change, we want to get our alliances right. And I should state right off the bat (not that it really matters to anyone) that I do not consider Hamas part of the "global left."

I realize this may sound like similar statements from members of the "decent left" who end up acting more or less as mouthpieces for Bush and Blair (Christopher Hitchens, anyone?). But in all seriousness, where does one go from here? Is there a viable (left, progressive) alternative at this point both to the odious policies of the United States and the equally disturbing prospect of societies based on fundamentalist religious law? Feel free to castigate me if I have misframed the question or if I am leaving out some important consideration.


Blogger Josh the Hippie Killer said...

I would label my personal position as more pro-Israel than anti-Israel, but nothing pisses me off more than when people equate criticism of Israel/Israeli policies with anti-Semitism. Or similar judgments on any issue…

5:40 PM  
Blogger Scantron said...

I was also saying that to label a Jewish critic of Israel as a "self-hating Jew" is itself a nasty tactic.

5:59 PM  
Blogger Josh the Hippie Killer said...


7:45 PM  
Blogger Robot said...

Perhaps no single individual articulates what I personally feel about being Jewish vis-a-vis Israel than Matthew Yglesias. This recent post
Is really checking out. What's not worth checking out? Yom Kippur services in Madrid, which my father has been urging me to go to. Religion is, like, universal, right? So it's the same here as it is everywhere else, and because I don't go at home why would I have to go here? That's my excuse, at least.

11:52 AM  
Blogger Scantron said...

For my part, the only reason I would go to church services in Spain would be to hear them say "senior Jesus"--"Lord Jesus"--which I have always playfully heard as "Mr. Jesus."

5:54 PM  
Blogger Scantron said...

I'd probably just wait around long enough to hear "Senior Jesus" and then get up and leave, though. Ain't got shit else to do on Sunday.

6:10 PM  

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