Monday, July 20, 2009

Fundamental Historical Baggage

Maureeen Dowd's regular column in the NYT deals this week with the hypocrisy of Republican politicians. The content doesn't particular interest me one way or the other. It's a litany of things Dowd doesn't like abut the behavior of various Republican politicians, and it's probably very interesting if you're into the minutiae of such things; I expect - without knowing, mind you - that a similar list could be made about Democratic politicians, or British Labor ones, or German CDU ones, or Israelis of any political stripe. Polticians in democracies, rather like apparatchiks in tyrannies, are rarely paragons of moral greatness.

The reason I'm linking to her piece is because of its title: Pharisees on the Potomac. For Dowd, brought up in a Christian culture even though she herself may well be secular, agnostic, athiest or whatever, the term Pharisee resonates as a deeply negative description. It goes back 2000 years, and is so profoundly a part of her cultural conditioning she's totally unaware of it. It simply "is".

For any educated Jew, on the other hand, the same word resonates very differently. The Pharisees were the group of Jews in Judea, 2000 years ago, who came out on top of the generations of severe religious and cultural strife. The Pharisees won the cultural war against the Saducees, first and foremost, but also the essenes, the early Christians (=Minim), and various other splinter groups of the time. Which means, the Pharisees: that's US. And proud of it, too. This isn't a remote and insignificant factoid from 2000 years ago: it's how we identify ourselves whenever we deal with those 2000-year-old texts which are the living fundament of what many of us are today, in July 2009.

I'm not saying Maureen Dowd is an antisemite. She isn't. But even Maureen Dowd, an unthinking and superficial liberal in an American society which is broadly free of antisemitism, can't quite get rid of the cultural baggage she has inherited from millenia of cultural forbears.

Nor can we.


Anonymous said...

I hope you don't mind, Yaacov, but I have a question relating to an older posting on 24 June called 'Roadblocks on the West Bank'.

In that post, you say that most WBank roadblocks have been removed, linking to a Haaretz piece that states as much.

But today (20 July) in JPost, there's an article which suggests there are still 100s of roadblocks:

Can you clarify the situation for me? Is the apparent mismatch something to do with different types of roadbloack?

It's a key issue when discussing Israel-Palestine with people whose default position is that Israel is always evil.

So any help you can give would be appreciated.


JG Campbell,
Bristol, UK

Anonymous said...

... and even though we non-Jews in the West now constantly claim our Judeo-Christian heritage we seem to know less about where Jews have a rightful claim to being touchy than we do about Muslim sensibilities ...
I remember in I, Claudius there is a long passage based on Josephus which hopefully explains those culture wars to me in an enjoyable read

rashkov said...

JG: See Yaacov's post here:

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Rashkov.

But it's in that post of 24 June that Yaacov says that most of the roadblocks have now been removed.

But in this article on JPost that I read today, we're told by Yaakov Katz that there are still 100s of roadblocks in the WBank:

So I'm confused!


Anonymous said...

Walk a mile...

Anonymous said...

Given the post-enlightenment lack of faith in magic, aren't we all 'Sadducismus Triumphatus'?

Philo-Semite said...

Yaacoov, Dowd is definitely anti-Semitic, a combination of her up-bringing and the anti-Semitism of the American left.

I have noticed her blaming Perle, Feith, and Wolfowitz for the Iraq war. Now, these three are third-level advisers. None of the first level (President) and second level (Cabinet) are Jewish. Yet Dowd played the game of find-the-Jew so as to find Jews to blame. It is a common trick of the American left.

Of course, Bush, Rice, Powell, Rumsfeld, Cheney are not Jewish. And Perle isn't even a government employee; he was a member of a volunteer, civilian advisory board.

Dowd's Pharisee formulation means she has combined Christian anti-Semitism with the American (and European) far left's anti-war, anti-Zionist anti-Semitism.