For those who are home, and for those who are on the way. For those who support the historic and just return of the land of Israel to its people, forever loyal to their inheritance, and its restoration.
Thursday, July 5, 2012
What does Friedman mean? A teachable moment.
04 July '12..
(As an opening post to the new blog "Mistress Power", Wow!)
As much as I’d prefer to not dignify writing and thinking as muddled as that of Thomas Friedman, I am going to risk doing so in the hopes that Mr. Friedman’s latest ‘contribution’ to the ever expanding corpus of material discussing the Jewish state will prove to be a ‘teachable moment’. It seems to me that there are two major problems with this article:
1)Friedman’s ‘analysis’ and understanding of, well, everything.
2)The use of now classic Judeophobic characterizations of Jews as scheming and anti-democratic that form the basis of the work and analysis of Leon Wiseltier, which provides the bulk and meat of the rest of Mr. Friedman’s article.
According to Mr. Wieseltier, the Jews have historically “preferred vertical alliances to horizontal ones”, preferring “to have a relationship with the king of the bishop so as not to have to engage with the general population.” If we translate this into less cagey language, basically, the Jews, according to Mr. Wieseltier, deal in private deals with authoritarian, absolute leaders and, we are to understand, disdain democracy. He allows that “they often had reason to be distrustful” of the non-Jewish majority, but we shouldn’t let that distract us from the fact that they “preferred” to deal undemocratically with “bishops and kings” as opposed to democratically with...oh, wait, in medieval Europe -- the last time there were really kings and bishops to petition for rights or protection -- there wasn’t actually a democratic alternative. So, basically Mr. Wieseltier is accusing the Jews who were the targets of popular pogroms, blood-libels, inquisitions and near-complete social and economic exclusion in the middle ages and pre-modern period of CHOOSING to eschew the non-existent ‘democratic’ popularity contest by dealing with the only leaders that existed at the time: religious and political.
In case you haven’t been following along, I’ll be explicit: the accusation itself makes no logical sense. Jews could not have chosen “democratic” relations with the majority population in Medieval Europe even if they’d wanted to. There simply weren’t any democratic institutions with which Jews could have dealt or in which they could have worked. So what the heck is actually going on here? The assertion makes as much sense as me admonishing Voltaire for "preferring" his anachronistic horse and carriage over high-speed rail trains available in Europe today. What is Mr. Wieseltier doing and how come no one, including Mr. Friedman, seems to have caught onto the historical and logical impossibility of Mr. Wieseltier’s ‘historical observation’?
Here’s where Judeophobia steps in to patch in the holes of flawed reasoning and simply nonsensical historiography. One of the major themes of modern Judeophobia is that of the Jew as secret schemer and enemy of the people. Indeed, the Jews-as-undemocratic slur only made sense after the watershed moments of democratic modernity such as the storming of the Bastille or the Boston Tea Party. Around the time that Herder was theorizing the unique and beautiful nature of the volk -- as the basis of democratic self-rule -- people began viewing the Jew as outside the volk and thus as a dangerous and inherently anti-democratic element. We know this libel so well and so instinctually that we follow its logic even backward to a time before democracy or anything even resembling democratic self-rule or nation-states. We knew this un-logic even before it was infamously enshrined in the Russian-forgered Protocols of the Elders of Zion. We know this un-logic so well that it just makes sense when we read about the suspicously powerful “Israel Lobby” working behind the scenes -- and thus undemocratically -- to undermine American democracy. It doesn’t matter that lobbying is a central touchstone of American democratic institutions; when Jews do it, it’s anti-democratic.
Thus with a sophistic slight-of-hand made possible by a now centuries-old tenet of modern Judeophobia, Mr. Wieseltier is able to project the Jew’s essentialized anti-democracy back into a pre-modern, pre-democratic age and then use the new a-history as ‘proof’ of modern Israel’s contempt for democracy and the volksgemeinschaft.
Whew, what a feat! I suppose I can’t really blame Mr. Friedman for going along with it. The idea that Jews prefer to work against the people is so understood, so common-sense at this point, that it’s not simply an invisible assumption; it’s a structuring component of our collective analytic framework. It’s an illogic that allows for a broader, somewhat simplified, world view to remain firmly in place.
What happens if the Jews are no more or less democratic than any other minority group (or majority volk in the Jewish nation-state)? Should the Jew [state] have refused to make peace with any of its neighbouring states until they were all turned into nice western liberal nation-states and constitutional democracies?
Friedman and Wieseltier assert that Israel wanted the Obama administration to intervene against the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ in Egypt as part of its fear/disdain for the Egyptian people and democracy. Perhaps my google-fu is waning, but I could find no evidence of such a demand from Israel. Yet, we’re supposed to just go along with Friedman when he claims that Bibi’s government thought that Obama could have “intervened to ‘save’ President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and he [Obama] was just too naïve to do so.” Lacking our common-sense Judeophobic ‘patch’, this just wouldn’t make any sense. Yes, Bibi and many others were anticipating the Muslim Brotherhood’s exploitation of the social unrest and yes, they’re likely very right to be concerned about the future of the peace treaty with Egypt as a result, but that doesn’t mean that that Bibi expected or hoped for American forces to come in and ‘save’ Mubarak from his people. The only way that such an accusation makes sense is if we all instinctually understand that the Jew [state] “prefer[s] vertical alliances to horizontal ones”.
Sadly, if we take away the illogic of Judeophobia that forms the plaster keeping this analysis together, you’re left with the very complex, and frankly downright shitty reality that the Jewish state faces. Friedman seems to be throwing down the gauntlet demanding that Israel change its behaviour to win over the hearts and minds of Egyptians, as if Egypt is now a modern constitutional democracy and as though the Egyptians themselves haven’t imbibed the most virulent of Judephobic screed in everything from their nightly news to weekly/daily sermons to entertainment t.v. mini-series based on the Protocols.
Truly, if Mr. Friedman or Wieseltier have some advice on how to win that popularity contest, I’d love to hear it. Sadly, it would take challenging and rejecting the very Judeophobic assumptions that frame and structure their own analysis and are even more violent and explicitly dear to the hearts and minds of Egyptians.
And in the mean time, while Mr. Friedman thinks that the Jew [state] should be staring into the mirror, blinking through tears of painful rejection demanding, once again, “why don’t they like me???”, actual state and IDF leaders have to go about the business of trying to keep their population safe as Egyptian-supplied rockets flow freely into Hamas-stan and vital pipelines are repeatedly disrupted in the Egyptian-controlled Sinai and the government of the actually democratic nation-state of Israel can do little but carefully wait to see what move the openly anti-Zionist “democratically elected leader” of Egypt will do next.
I visited Hevron in November 2000 after the outbreak of the Rosh Hashanah War to see what could be done to assist in the face of the growing daily attacks on the community. After returning to work for the community in the summer of 2001, a bond and a love was forged that grows to this day. My wife Melody and I merited to be married at Ma'arat HaMachpela and now host visitors from throughout the world every Shabbat as well as during the week. Our goal, "Time to come Home!"