Monday, May 10, 2010

Generalizations about Culture and Antisemitism

Rob isn't happy with the reviews of the Anthony Julius book I linked to yesterday. (Goldblog has even read the book, and speaks highly of it today). He makes three comments, one aimed at me:
3. Yaacov, please try not to make big sweeping comments about the UK. There is something childish about looking at the world through a prism of we-win-you-lose, we're-up-you're-down.
He could be right about me, of course, but I think not. Here are some thoughts abut the matter of culture, personal actions and responsibility, and generalizations.

1. The decisions of the individual are always that: decisions of an individual. Living in a society infused with hatred, or love, or indifference or whatever can never be a justification or condemnation of what a person does. If everyone thinks a certain way, the individual still has the obligation to think for themselves and to do what's right. This is a moral position, but also a description of history. No matter what the situation, there are always some people who can think for themselves, even if they're a small minority, and their existence proves that others could have thought similarly. Even in deeply antisemitic societies there are always some who don't succumb.

2. Culture matters. It's no coincidence that antisemitism insists on re-appearing (or never disappearing) in some cultures, while other have always been immune or grow so over time. (Europe, China and the USA respectively). The culture we live in informs us in myriad ways, and it's not easy to see through those influences. We don't need the new Julius book to know that detestation of the Jews is deeply embedded in much of European culture, including of course in England (though the book apparently describes this exceptionally well).

3. Cultures are not monolithic. At the precise moment in the late 19th century when antisemitism was taking off in Germany, there was a group of Germans who set themselves the goal of combating it with all rational tools. (They failed). Societies are complicated things. This doesn't negate the previous point about how culture informs and forms us, it merely adds that sometime this can go in more than one direction simultaneously.

4. Antisemitism is an emotion, not a rational thought system. Cultures are good at inculcating emotions.


Anonymous said...

"Cultures are good at inculcating emotions."

and that's why I wanted to start biting my nails with frustration when I saw this picture - why not an Israeli, you must have something exotic left - there is a need for that - in Germany there is a desert guide playing a mouth organ claiming an unlocatable PhD plus a debunked professor getting a peace price and I assume making the eyes of older women sparkle.

- I think in the half-nude this Prince of Persia doesn't look quite as enticing as in the picture - but still - grrrr!

as to generalizing comments about other countries go ahead
- when we were 18 different citizenships in an office of 300 we generalized all the time and joined in the pub at night with no ill effects from it i.e. go on venting your "prejudices" - the blog is YOUR home turf after all


NormanF said...

One should not make cultural generalizations However there is glaring exception to that rule in our world today. One cultural generalization IS indisputable: Arab hatred of the Jews has remained with us from the time of Mohammed and barring unforeseen changes in Islamic theology, or its demise, will remain with us until the arrival of the Messiah.

Anonymous said...

Norman F

I can't help enjoying it more than a bit being called a "despicable kraut"
of course that is totally non-PC but very very refreshing also


Anonymous said...

" in a summary that leaves you wondering if it is possible for a properly-educated Englishman to avoid harboring certain stereotypical views of Jews, stereotypes and assumptions that manifest themselves in disproportionate hostility whenever Jews behave in ways the English find at all disagreeable. "

not to exculpate the English, far from it, their behaviour with Daniel Ayalon at the LSE was way beyond anything tolerable, but what Jeffrey Goldberg says in the above applies just as much to their constant snide asides on the French. The snide aside in itself seems to be a lot more acceptable to them as I would find it amongst us. The problem thus is to decide where do they cross the line when it comes to the Jews (and/or Israel) and if they do, like Niall Ferguson clearly does to my mind in the "Ascent of Money" are they aware that they do?

The Brits I had to deal with all considered themselves to have as impeccable manners and moral bearing as Jane Austen's Emma's Mr. Knightley, to enlighten them that their actual behaviour doesn't quite sync with their self-image may be a first step to help them retrieve their bearing.

PS: I know that I'm indulging in delusions again but miracles are said to happen ... sometimes

Rob said...
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Rob said...
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AKUS said...

There is an excellent review of the book by Harold Bloom at the NYT. I haven't read the book, but after this review almost feel as if I do not need to:

The Jewish Question: British Anti-Semitism

Rob said...

"Rob isn't happy with the reviews of the Anthony Julius book I linked to yesterday." - Factually incorrect Yaakov. Re-read my comment.

As I said, actions speak louder than words: Julius will not be leaving the country which has made him who and what he is, despite all of it's allegedly alarming antisemitism. QED.

And I stand by my main point: you are prone to statements which reinforce your own stereotypes. For every 'orrible English antisemite I will show you an obnoxious Israeli who affects me much more negatively than the former.

Gavin said...

I think Rob does have a point in that generalisations are unproductive & often unfair. There's nothing inherent in British culture that leads to anti-semiticism else the likes of Australia, Canada, New Zealand etc would mirror Britain. If it was cultural then I'd say it was only a number of smaller sub-cultures of British society that is latently anti-semitic. The likes of Iralend and Spain seem to source their anti-Jewish antipathy from religion (Catholicism) whereas the most noticeable British source is the 'born to rule' types such as the intelligentsia & private school aristocracy. Their anti-semiticism seems to be derived more from a perceived threat to their own place in society. Jews don't fit in a feudal system and the liberal leftie 'intellectual' of today is just another feudal baron in the making.... albeit a more benevolent one.

I'm a long way from there now but my father is a Pom & I've lived in the UK, I'd hesitate at labelling the mainstream British citizen as antisemitic. If the media there settled down I think the UK would too.

Cheers, Gavin

Joe in Australia said...

England's self-image (and to a lesser extent that of the UK as a whole) is still very much tied up with the idea of class. I think its relations with Jews have always been defined by a fear of Jewish social mobility eroding the class system. This is why modern English antisemitism is associated with the upper class: lots of people without money or titles are taken to be members of the upper class because of their social relationships - who they know, where they live, what schools they go to and all that. Jewish social mobility is seen as an assault upon these relationships; an attempt to wrest them from their rightful owners. This is why English antisemites portray Jews as social climbers, name-droppers, people who don't quite know how to fit in, people with their own secret social network. These are the things that threaten the lower reaches of the upper class. The class system didn't thrive outside the UK, and neither did English antisemitism. Jews did not stand out in a country where everyone was socially mobile.

European antisemitism is different: it permeates the society much more deeply because it's associated with nationalist and xenophobic sentiments. To many people it's almost axiomatic that Jews cannot really be Hungarian or Austrian or whatever - because they're Jews! This form of antisemitism didn't thrive in the New World either - Jews can't be defined as "un-Australian" or "un-Canadian" when these national identities have been so recently constructed. This is not to say that you can't find antisemites in the New World - of course you can - but people see it as being on a par with other forms of xenophobia, not as as something identifiable (and understandable) in its own right.

Barry Meislin said...

I'm not sure one can generalize about any culture at all, especially now that people are so enlightened, the world over, and are fed ongoing messages of love, tolerance and forbearance by the global media (and in the relevant case, especially the UK Global Media).

As for England, how can a country that has basically plastered unceasingly the following article over its newspapers, and radio, TV and web broadcasts be accused of anti-Semitism:


Israeli doctors have saved the life of the three-year-old daughter of a top Hamas leader in Gaza, but instead he told Arab media that Jordan had saved her.

After the daughter of Hamas Interior Minister Elham Fathi Hammad was the victim of an unsuccessful heart operation in Gaza, the Israeli army rushed her for treatment to Barzilai Hospital in the nearby Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon, which has been bombed many times by Hamas. There, Israeli doctors worked round the night to repair the damage from her earlier surgery and to stabilize her.

A Jordanian helicopter then picked her up and escorted her for recuperation in Amman. Hammad later issued a public statement thanking Jordan. He did not mention Israel at all.

(From the Tom Gross Media site)

The very idea is repellent and symptomatic that we Jews have really gone off the rails. Remember: Anti-Zionism is NOT Anti-Semitism (and don't you forget it!!) And if for some reason, there is massive hostility against Israel and Jews, it is certainly not because of anti-Semitism (how could it possibly be?), but because the world, led by Israel's Partners-in-Peace (Inc.), loves Jews so much, cares about Jews so much, that the world believes it must go out of its way to try to convince, persuade, cojole, compel us to behave in our own (true) interests.

We should be flattered we should be thankful; and yet so many of us seem to think of it as a kind of "ETHIK MACHT FREI".

Surely, we are incorrigible.

Anonymous said...

the discussion reminded me that one of the books that helped us women getting uppity way back then was Kate Millett objecting to how women were portrayed in famous books by revered authors

- thus I hope that Julius' book has a similarly incendiary effect and finds followers and supporters the same way Millett's book did i.e. authors chiming in with other observations from all over the spectrum

(never mind later excesses, Jews certainly won't fall for that trap ;-)

there was also a lot on the book some months? ago in the London Times

Rob said...

Sorry but there really isn't any dramatic "new" news in all of this. Julius's book is no doubt interesting enough but, just like his book on TS Eliot's antisemitism, it won't change the world.

There is so much more to life than an obsession with isms. This blog may be animated by the author's Zion-ism and Juda-ism but it is at its most interesting when he takes a more nuanced, less jingoistic view of things.

Barry Meislin said...

Here's a question:

Did Julius write the book for the sake of the Jews?

Or did he, patriot that he is, write the book for the sake England?

Wonder away....

Sergio said...

So, let's make some profound changes. Instead of Zionism, let's call it Zionetics. And antisemitism, we call Judenhass, or judeophobia, as before Marr.

There, things now take a new prism...oops,
I did it again.