Monday, January 15, 2007

NogaNote:



It is said in the Talmud there are three circumstances in which a man’s true being is recognized for what it is: money, alcohol and anger.

A C Grayling’s opinion article is written in anger. There is rightful anger and there is righteous
anger. Both kinds of anger are manifest in this article.

Grayling’s is rightfully angry when he speaks most forcefully against those who are actively seeking to forestall the anti-discrimination regulations, on the grounds that “people who run cafes and B&Bs who do not wish to serve gay people ("because it makes them condone gay sex" contrary to the morality devised in the sixth century BC) will be forced to quit their jobs and do something else. Tough. If they do not wish to treat other human beings equally, let them indeed do something else. That is exactly what we would say if they refused to serve black people, women, or Jews. The discrimination is the same, the unacceptability of discrimination is the same, and the contempt one feels for them is the same.”

But Grayling anger becomes righteous when he singles out one group, and one group only, among the anti-anti-discrimination regulations activists. Guess who that group is? Right, the “Jews”.

And on the subject of Jews: what a disgrace that the stone-agers outside parliament tonight will include a Jewish group. If anyone should be against discrimination of any kind, it is a Jew. Alongside the Jews murdered in Auschwitz were homosexuals, wearing a pink patch where the Jews wore a Star of David. The despairing implication of the fact that Jews are joining Christian and Muslims - the usual standard bearers of intolerance and reaction - in this campaign is that too many people learn too little, never connect the dots, and repeat the ghastly errors of the past, when under the thought-inhibiting influence of such toxins as religious belief.”

It is thoroughly depressing to read Grayling’s self-justification in applying a different, stricter moral yardstick to Jews. What he says is very simple: Jews, by virtue of being the greatest victims in history of prejudice and discrimination, are required, all of them, to a person, to uphold a loftier level of morality, no matter what their actual beliefs are. They are expected to be better, nobler, wiser human beings than all others.

I totally reject Grayling’s monolithic condemnation and I particularly resent that he has put me and other Jewish persons in an untenable position; due to this Jews-only expectation of a higher order of humanity, we feel we have to defend the rights of even Jews to hold anti-liberal ideals.

So instead of pooling in all our energies, regardless of any specific identity we happen to have, into the good fight against discrimination of Gays, we are forced to divert some of them into what is a “bad” and reluctant fight of defending the rights of some, (or quite a few, or many, or a marginal few), Jews to diverge from the stereotype that others expect them to be.

In her article “Individuality, Nationality, and the Jewish Question” Joan Cocks writes about Isiah Berlin:

“Berlin repeatedly represents England as a liberal and tolerant society in which Jews could feel themselves equal to all other citizens. Nevertheless, the realities of English anti-Semitism should make us wonder … Berlin resembles the assimilating Jews he describes in "Jewish Slavery and Emancipation," who for survival's sake had "to make themselves familiar with the habits and modes of behaviour" of Gentile society, to "get this right" and "not miscalculate." … Berlin’s remark, so incongruous with his long and happy existence at the pinnacle of English society, that Marilyn Berger reports in her New York Times obituary for him. "... one has to behave particularly well ... [or] they won't like us." When.. "it was suggested to him that he was surely the exception ... he had an immediate response: 'Nevertheless, I'm not an Englishman, and if I behave badly...'" (my emphasis).

Jews are not allowed to behave badly, or hold illiberal or unpopular opinions. In his article, Grayling encircles a segment in society whose opinions about homosexuality he finds egregious. Within that group, he circumscribes another group, of Jews, as meriting a special opprobrium and an extra intensity of scorn.

What’s a Jewish person to do? How do I compromise my primary ethical inclination to resist intolerance in any shape or form, with my intuitive rejection of Grayling’s particular and sanctimonious assault upon Jews?

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