Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Jewish Identity in Politics

Adam Serwer thinks some American Jewish pundits are using identity templates borrowed from the African-American experience. Apparently he's being derogatory. I don't know enough about it to comment one way or the other, but I'd like to draw attention to some peculiarities on the edge of his argument.

The first is his thrice repeated allegation that Netanyahu called David Axelrod and Rahm Emanual "self hating Jews". This is very important to Serwer, and he gets quite worked up about it. Of course he has no source for the statement; nobody does. It's a cannard which fits lots of peoples' idea of how things should be, irrelevant of whether they are or not, and so gets repeated so many times it acquires the immunity of an article of faith.

Netanyahu's office has denied he made the statement (no, I have no link. It was on the radio). Also, contrary to what the media tells you, had he said it it would have been uncharacteristic of him, but as we say in Hebrew, try to prove you don't have a sister.

The second thing that saddened me was this
In the blogosphere, conservative Jews have a term for a group of prominent liberal Jewish bloggers who have been critical of Israel’s behavior in the region: the “Juicebox Mafia.” Two weeks ago, Jamie Kirchick, a blogger for Commentary and The New Republic, wrote that the “Juicebox Mafia crew” was motivated by “a visceral hatred” of its “Jewish heritage,” prompting Matthew Yglesias to assert his love of knishes and Woody Allen.
And so it has come to this. A prominent American Jewish blogger thinks there's a connection between knishes and liking Woody Allen, and being seriously Jewish; even if he was being facetious, Serwer takes him seriously.

Which, if you think about it for a moment, is far more damning than that "self-hating" line.


Anonymous said...

What exactly is meant by "juicebox mafia"? Is he dismissing them as kids?

As for the serious point you raise, what exactly is comic about the reference to knishes and Woody Allen as "Jewish Heritage"? Those are cultural signposts and I am not sure they are all that different from whatever else people might say is essential about being Jewish. Except of course, the religion part. True, the religion part IS the critical element, but most non-religious Jews aren't terribly comfortable with considering that which they reject to be essential to their identity.


Yaacov said...

To be honest, Doc, I have no idea what the term means.

As for the essential baggage of being Jewish: there can be a variety of types. The religious part, as in believing, is almsot certainly not the most important and hasn't been, for many centuries at the least. The learning part is more significant, and the way-of-life part. In the late 19th century a growing number of secular Jews felt all those parts were no longer satisfying them, so they re-emphasised the national parts, and the specific geographical parts, at the time deeply embued with their reading of the Bible - now that's an important part.

Knishes are not Jewish. I dont know where they come from, and I've never encountered them in any significant part of Judaism; I'd hazard that a majority of Jews living today don't eat them and don't know about them. Some Eastern European immigrants to the US held them in high esteem, probably as a feeble nostalgic sign for the mothers whom they'd left behind.

Woody Allen is an icon of some form of American Jewishness; he has no significance for the rest of us. This is not to denigrate American Jews in any way; but if that's what left of their Jewishness, and it's not even something the rest of us recognize, we've got a problem.

Which was my original point.

Anonymous said...

Ouch. Ouch. Yaacov, I think you really nailed something here.

Unknown said...

I recently overheard a girl telling a questioning friend, "Yeah, I'm Jewish, I mean I like lox and bagels". It saddened me, but it also me think its better I wasn't born Jewish and found it on my own instead. I hope I can instill in my future children a much stronger sense of Jewishness than that girl.