Posts tagged ‘Politics’

Do We Stand Together? American Jewish Identity and Voices of Dissent

by Lilah Shapiro

original article posted at The Martin Marty Center, University of Chicago Divinity School

In a recent article in the Jewish Weekly reflecting on the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, a woman is quoted as saying that she envies Israelis because they have a country in which human life is so valued that they are willing to trade thousands of accused criminals to ensure the return of one man. The terms of Shalit’s release, coupled with the recent campaign for Palestinian state recognition by the United Nations, and last month’s UNESCO vote, have generated a renewed feeling of immediacy and urgency within the American Jewish community regarding Israeli-Palestinian relations and Israeli policy. Amongst American Jews there is a widespread interpretation and assertion that the brokering of Shalit’s freedom stands to remind the world of that which is special and unique about Israel as a state founded on and ruled by Jewish values. But this line of reasoning is tenuous. While the Shalit deal has allowed Jews to publicly celebrate the extraordinary value placed on human life by Judaism and, in turn–so the argument goes–Israel, it has also invited comparisons of the Israeli government’s treatment of its Jewish and Palestinian populations. Does Israel (and Judaism) place high value on all human life, or on Jewish life in particular? It is striking that many American Jews, who take great pride in their cultural relativism, outspokenness, and social justice orientation in other realms of their life, do not pose these and other important and self-defining questions. Rather they remain silent or stand firm in their public endorsement of the party line. This raises the question: Why are American Jews reluctant to publicly vocalize any critique of Israel?

I am not taking a political position, that is, I do not adopt a pro-Israel or pro-Palestine stance, although I acknowledge the likelihood that some may attempt to infer one. Instead, my interest is in the negotiation of American Jewish identity vis-à-vis Israel, in particular, highlighting the potential identity conflicts and dilemma that may arise for American Jews who are in the minority and are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. It is with more than a fleeting sense of trepidation that I write this piece. As scholars we are trained to analyze and deconstruct, making sense of and critiquing complex and often potentially controversial subjects. As a Jew, however, I cannot escape the overwhelming sense that I am treading where I should not go, and that many could find what I write to be, at the very least, the violation of a taboo and, at worst, profoundly dangerous.

In the early part of the twentieth century, the American Jewish community was far from unified on the subject of Israel. American Jewish leftists were deeply and vocally opposed to Zionism on ideological grounds, as they stood in opposition to all forms of nationalism. Other segments of the Jewish population were concerned that overly visible support of Israel would lead to suspicions regarding Jewish loyalties. Finally, on-going conflicts and negotiations over Jews’ racial status and acceptance into hegemonic American society figured into the Zionism debate.  The call for Zionistic support hinged on the notion that all Jewish people were somehow fundamentally connected and that this connection existed on a deeper, more primal (possibly biological) plane than that which is engendered by shared practices. Given that Zionism could act to confirm the Jewish people as a “race” unto themselves, and that Zion was often linked to non-western and exotic locales and cultures, there was a concern that, as a movement, Zionism could possibly undermine what was perceived as a Jew’s tenuous position in white America.

In the time since the end of World War II and the formal establishment of Israel as a nation-state, the debate and discourses of dissent surrounding all things Israel have virtually disappeared within the American Jewish community. Somehow, over time, an unmitigated and unconditional support of Israel, at least publicly, have become a fundamental component of being Jewish in America. But do American-Jews in truth uniformly maintain such unwavering and uncritical support of Israel? Many have written about the conflicts within the American Jewish community over whether, how much, and how vocally to aid African Americans prior to the civil rights movement. The arguments vary in their detail, but generally concur that in the early part of the twentieth century the liberal Jewish sensibility generated a desire to ally with African Americans, with whom many Jews identified as a co-suffering minority. However, the need to not complicate and threaten their own status within majority American culture prevented American Jews on the whole from publicly acting on this impulse. Currently, the situation of the Palestinian people has created a similar dilemma for many American Jews. However, the risk for those who harbor Palestinian sympathies is not that their status within American society may be called into question, but that they will face criticism and ostracism from their fellow Jews. To support the Palestinian cause challenges and undermines one’s status as a Jew.

A recent poll conducted by JStreet, a political organization that describes itself as pro-Israel and pro-peace, reveals deep conflict and contradictions regarding the Palestinian question within the American Jewish community. The poll respondents, a predominantly ideologically liberal group, indicate that they overwhelmingly want the United States to take an active role in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, however support for such involvement drops to 44 percent when public criticism of Israel and Israeli policy is factored in as a variable. To some extent this may be a generational issue. Recent research by sociologist Steven M. Cohen on behalf of the Jewish Theological Seminary found that current rabbinical students, while exhibiting feelings of a salient and strong bond with Israel, on the whole have a more nuanced understanding of Israel’s standing and policies in the Middle East than do their older, ordained rabbinic counterparts. Similarly, the JStreet poll shows that younger American-Jews are less likely to believe that the United Nations treats Israel unfairly and are more inclined to support the notion of the U.S. voting in favor of the recognition of a Palestinian state. These sets of findings notwithstanding, there is little to no discourse on a wide-spread, public level that allows for the discussion and dissemination of this counter-narrative, even among the younger generation. The prevailing message is that Israel is at risk and that criticism and public debate will complicate and exacerbate the danger. All Jews must be steadfast and resolute in their support of Israel, firmly conveying that “we stand together.”

Without question there is a real threat to the safety and integrity of the state of Israel originating from some sections of the Arab world. Without question the seeds of anti-Semitism still, and undoubtedly will continue to, flourish in some corners of the world, both in America and abroad.  However, American Jews today enjoy a level of unprecedented success, security and stability.  When the “American” half of the identity hyphen is highlighted, American Jews frequently and productively engage in debate and critique regarding the positions and practices of their own and other governments and peoples. They do so freely, without concern for how such dialogue might impact their status, safety, or identity as Americans or Jews. When the “Jewish” portion of their identity comes into play, however, a different approach is engaged. On this one issue, the subject of Israel, a culture of fear seems to continue to hold considerable sway and, as a result, there is an expectation that support of Israel is absolute and unquestioning. For many in mainstream Jewish culture, the slightest critique of Israel, even a potentially constructive one, is construed as an anti-Semitic attack. In this context, the labeling of a person or commentary as “anti-Semitic” acts as a powerful tool to delegitimize content and, more importantly, the individual. Many Jews, regardless of personal views, choose to silence their voices rather than face potential devaluation in the eyes of their community.

There are preliminary rumblings of discontent seeping into the popular American Jewish imagination. The 2008 founding of JStreet suggests that, perhaps, a public dialogue of counter-opinions is taking shape. Some in the popular press are beginning to introduce the possibility of a critical conversation, arguing that such discourse can only serve to strengthen the Jewish people and the position of Israel. This indicates that there are some who are willing to publicly promote a position that one can be pro-peace, pro-Palestinian rights, critical of aspects of Israeli policy, and still be a valuable and productive member of the Jewish collective. However, JStreet’s current membership represents, at most, only three percent of the American Jewish population and, further, those who publicize such positions are still most often faced with a barrage of criticism and vitriol from within. Most in American Jewish society continue to perceive an overwhelming message that American Jews are not only expected, but required to project “rock solid” and “wall-to-wall” support for Israel. Put simply, for the majority of the American Jewish populace, unwavering support is seen as a foundational element not only of being an American Jew, but of being a good Jew. These themes are among the most dominant in the American Jewish master narrative. If there is little-to-no safe space to publicly express a counter-opinion, one is left to wonder about the identity implications for those who are not comfortable with the current expectations and available normative roles. For now, they are left out of the story.

References

A. Butler-Smith, “Diaspora Nationality vs. Diaspora Nationalism: American Jewish Identity and Zionism After the Jewish State,” Israel Affairs 15(2), April 2009.

S. M. Cohen, “JTS Rabbis Then and Now: The 2011 Survey of JTS Ordained Rabbis and Current Students,” Jewish Theological Seminary, 16 September 2011.

J. J. Goldberg, “Conservatives reject call to leave Israel out of campaign,” Forward, October 27, 2011.

JStreet, National Survey of American Jews, July 2001.

E. Goldstein, The Price of Whiteness (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006).

G. Gorenberg, “Anti-Dissent Disorder,” The American Prospect, June 6, 2011.

A. Pickus “Gilad and Me,” The Jewish Week, November 1, 2011.

M. Walzer, “American Jews and Israel,” Dissent, Spring 2011.

Lilah Shapiro is a PhD candidate in the Department of Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago and a Junior Fellow in the Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religion. Her dissertation is entitled “Driven to Orthodoxy: Jewish identity, narratives of achievement, and family dynamics in American-Jewish culture as motivations for Teshuvah.”

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November 17, 2011 at 9:42 am Leave a comment

Dear red states…

Dear Red States…

We’ve decided we’re leaving. We intend to form our own country, and we’re  taking the other Blue States with  us.

In case you aren’t aware, that includes Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and the entire Northeast. You get Texas, Oklahoma and all the slave states.  We get stem cell research and the best beaches. You get Ken Lay.

We get the Statue of Liberty. You get Dollywood.  We get Intel, Apple and Microsoft. You get WorldCom. We get Harvard. You get Ole’ Miss. We get 85 percent of America’s venture capital and entrepreneurs. You get Alabama. We get two-thirds of the tax revenue; you get to make the red states pay their fair share.

Since our aggregate divorce rate is 22 percent lower than the Christian Coalition’s, we get a bunch of happy families. You get a bunch of single moms.

Please be aware that Nuevo California will be pro-choice and anti-war, and we will want all our citizens back from Iraq at once. If you need people to fight, ask your evangelicals. They have kids they’re apparently willing to send to their deaths for no purpose, and they don’t care if you don’t show pictures of their children’s caskets coming home. We do wish you success in Iraq, and hope that the WMDs turn up, but we’re not willing to spend our resources in Bush’s  Quagmire.

With  the Blue States in hand, we will have firm control of 80 percent of the  country’s fresh water, more than 90 percent of the pineapple and lettuce,  92 percent of the nation’s fresh fruit, 95 percent of America’s quality  wines, 90 percent of all  cheese, 90 percent of the high tech industry, most of the U.S. low-sulfur  coal, all living redwoods, sequoias and condors, all the Ivy and Seven  Sister schools, plus Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Cal Tech and  MIT. We get Hollywood and Yosemite, thank you.

With the Red States, on the other hand, you will have to cope with 88 percent of all obese Americans (and their projected health care costs),  92 percent of all U.S. mosquitoes, nearly 100 percent of  the  tornadoes, 90 percent of the hurricanes, 99 percent of all Southern  Baptists, virtually 100 percent of all televangelists, Rush Limbaugh, Bob Jones University, Clemson and the University  of Georgia.

Additionally, you will enjoy those 38% who believe Jonah was actually swallowed by a whale, 62 percent who believe life is sacred unless we’re  discussing the death penalty or gun laws, 44% who say that evolution  is only a theory, 53 percent that Saddam was  involved in 9/11 and  61 percent of you believe you are people with higher morals than we  lefties.

Peace out, Blue States

anonymous… someone brilliant!

October 21, 2008 at 8:07 pm 4 comments

Criminal Behavior

I don’t know where this came from (someone forwarded it to me) but it’s brilliant! 

10. Alberto Gonzales

Crimes: The most truckling, amoral flunky to ever serve as Attorney General. A jurisprudent organelle, he manifests no concept of the law independent of its expediency to the president. Would smilingly accuse himself of providing material support to al Qaeda at President Bush’s request, hurriedly plead guilty, sign his own death warrant and flip the switch himself. His testimony before congressional committees is to public service what cholera is to the small intestine. As first Hispanic Attorney General, Gonzo typifies the self-betrayal and ethical compromise necessary for minorities to become successful Republicans. Been felching sweet approval from Bush’s lily-white ass since Texas. A conscienceless, memo-drafting, loophole-crafting liar for hire, pushing for all the worst administration policies, including nixing habeas corpus, denying and then defending rendition, torture, political firings, and a ton of other evil stuff. He even visited a seriously ill and disoriented John Ashcroft at the hospital, attempting to coax him into reauthorizing a clearly illegal wiretapping program. The only Attorney General who ever could have made John Ashcroft a sympathetic character by contrast.

Exhibit A: “The fact that the Constitution — again, there is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution. There is a prohibition against taking it away.”

Sentence: Death by dull guillotine, head bent by Beckham.

9. You

Charges: You believe in freedom of speech, until someone says something that offends you. You suddenly give a damn about border integrity, because the automated voice system at your pharmacy asked you to press 9 for Spanish. You cling to every scrap of bullshit you can find to support your ludicrous belief system, and reject all empirical evidence to the contrary. You know the difference between patriotism and nationalism — it’s nationalism when foreigners do it. You hate anyone who seems smarter than you. You care more about zygotes than actual people. You love to blame people for their misfortunes, even if it means screwing yourself over. You still think Republicans favor limited government. Your knowledge of politics and government are dwarfed by your concern for Britney Spears’ children. You think buying Chinese goods stimulates our economy. You think you’re going to get universal health care. You tolerate the phrase “enhanced interrogation techniques.” You think the government is actually trying to improve education. You think watching CNN makes you smarter. You think two parties is enough. You can’t spell. You think $9 trillion in debt is manageable. You believe in an afterlife for the sole reason that you don’t want to die. You think lowering taxes raises revenue. You think the economy’s doing well. You’re an idiot.

Exhibit A: You couldn’t get enough Anna Nicole Smith coverage.

Sentence: A gradual decline into abject poverty as you continue to vote against your own self-interest. Death by an easily treated disorder that your health insurance doesn’t cover. You deserve it, chump.

8. Michael Chertoff

Charges: Looks and acts like a man who sleeps in a coffin. As the head, or should we say skull, of our latest redundant security bureaucracy, the Department of Homeland Security, Chertoff used 2007 to further Rumsfeld’s purportedly defunct policy of “Total Information Awareness,” ordering U.S. military satellites be trained on American soil for first time in history. Beyond that, DHS seems to function as a corruption farm, spending billions on programs that either don’t work or are never implemented, often lobbied for by former DHS employees. If the terror threat really is as dire as Chertoff says, then he is criminally negligent.

Exhibit A: Habitually references his “gut feeling” that the next terror attack is imminent.

Sentence: Gut feeling is actually stomach cancer.

7. Erik Prince

Charges: Priming Baghdad’s streets for American imperialism by making them pristinely wog-free. Prince’s Iraq is one massive free-fire zone for his bullet-sweating mercenaries, a Hogan’s Alley in which everyone dusky is blithely expendable, rape is a mischievous dalliance, and accountability an inside joke. Remarkably, enabling the US occupation and simultaneously fomenting destabilizing enmity. Bringing the privatization of warfare to full fruition — next time, Exxon can just invade a country directly.

Exhibit A: Blackwater Vice Chairman Cofer Black is Mitt Romney’s campaign counterterrorism policy adviser. The company’s website also hawks infant onesies.

Sentence: Tanned and tethered outside Baghdad’s Green Zone after curfew. Whatever happens, happens.

6. Rudy Giuliani

Charges: 9/11 Tourette’s syndrome, compounded by compulsive lying. Despite the ’93 WTC bombing, didn’t act to put all first responders on the same radio frequency and chose to house his Emergency Command Center on the 23rd floor of WTC 7. Giuliani Partners consulting firm routinely did business with a Qatar ministry run by royal Abdallah bin Khalid al-Thani, a man whose farm has seen guests the likes of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and Osama bin Laden. Wooed mistress and future wife with an NYPD chauffeur and trips to Southampton on NYC taxpayers’ dime. Ruined the prospect of a Times Square tug-job.

Exhibit A: Stages phone calls from his wife during campaign stops-to show ’em he’s got family values. Family values apparently do not include rudimentary put-it-on-vibrate cell phone etiquette. Invoked 9/11 to explain this.

Sentence: Victim of the next 9/11, which consists of two radio-controlled hobby planes smashing into his face.

5. Nancy Pelosi & Harry Reid

Charges: Graduates of the Neville Chamberlain school of appeasement, the Democratic leadership continues to ignore the constitution-and the American people-by keeping impeachment “off the table” and refusing to defund the war. True pushovers, they’re too stupid, cowardly, weak and outmatched politically to accomplish anything substantive, their “strategy” essentially boiling down to whining a lot while handing Bush whatever the hell he wants. There is just no way that appearing this weak and ineffectual could be any better for them politically than impeachment. Everything that the White House gets away with, it gets away with because congress allows it.

Exhibit A: Failure to woo the two thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto is moot: They could defund the war with a 41-senator budgetary filibuster. But that would take guts and conviction.

Sentence: 2 cups anthrax bisque.

4. Seung-Hui Cho

Charges: A useless fucking nerd who shot a bunch of better people because he couldn’t get laid. Take note, all you pent-up losers out there: If you think you’re about to go on a murderous rampage, either take up a drug habit, find a hooker, or just kill yourself. Your inability to cope with a comfortable life in a developed nation is nobody else’s fault, except maybe your parents. Nothing says “I have a tiny penis” like a douchebag taking pictures of himself with a gun.

Exhibit A: Cho’s infamous “disturbing” stories are only disturbing in how completely terrible they are, but now every kid with an imagination is going to be hauled off to the nuthouse if he expresses himself.

Sentence: Used as kindling at bonfire kegger for rich, popular kids.

3. Fred Phelps

Charges: Leads a picketing campaign so hyperoffensive that his Church is unanimously reviled by queers and Bible thumping homophobes alike. Along with daughter Shirley, will drag hate into the public spotlight wherever it might seem least helpful or appropriate as long as it garners his “cause” attention. Harasses widows of heterosexual soldiers at funerals because their beloved were employed by a government that does not stone fags. Torments loved ones of those murdered in anti-gay violence. Is almost definitely gay himself.

Exhibit A: He is such an effective, soul-sucking brainwasher that Fred’s granddaughter declines relationships because of her delusion that world will end in her lifetime.

Sentence: Finally comes out of closet and is immediately killed by his followers.

2. Dick Cheney

Charges: Worst president ever. So openly horrible, he now makes jokes about being Darth Vader. Unashamedly advocating for executive abuse of power and corporate theft. In and out of public office since his congressional internship during the Nixon Administration. Didn’t care about the quagmire he foresaw in ’94, because since then he’d deftly maneuvered to profit from it. Polling lower than HPV.

Exhibit A: His Halliburton stock options rose 3000% in value from 2004-2005. No joke.

Punishment: Raped by the sun.

1. George W. Bush

Charges: Is it a civil rights milestone to have a retarded president? Maybe it would be, if he were ever legitimately elected. You can practically hear the whole nation holding its breath, hoping this guy will just fucking leave come January ’09 and not declare martial law. Only supporters left are the ones who would worship a fucking turnip if it promised to kill foreigners. Is so clearly not in charge of his own White House that his feeble attempts to define himself as “decider” or “commander guy” are the equivalent of a five-year-old kid sitting on his dad’s Harley and saying “vroom vroom!” Has lost so many disgusted staffers that all he’s left with are the kids from Jesus Camp. The first president who is so visibly stupid he can say “I didn’t know what was in the National Intelligence Estimate until last week” and sound plausible. Inarguably a major criminal and a much greater threat to the future of America than any Muslim terrorist.

Exhibit A: “And there is distrust in Washington. I am surprised, frankly, at the amount of distrust that exists in this town. And I’m sorry it’s the case, and I’ll work hard to try to elevate it.”

Sentence: Dismembered, limbs donated to injured veterans.

January 3, 2008 at 10:14 pm 1 comment


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