Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Comment trail:

@ Bob's: More Thoughts about Gnome Chomsky

(who has recently been knighted as a "Righteous Jew" by Prof. Mearsheimer).

I may yet work it into a full-fledged post but for now I'm just reposting my comments on that thread:

It would be quite silly and frankly, irrational, for any Jew to consider his/her "Jewishness as an objective or "racial" condition"(as if being Jewish is some sort of a disease, or a genetic deformity). But only a Jewish hyper-sensitive mega-narcissist would make such a fuss about it. Like Atzmon trying to cure himself or Levi, by imagining he is so morally superior to all others, for allowing Atzmon his personal choices.

Poor Levi cannot tolerate to live in the real world where no one, not even one, gives a muck about him or his "progressive" idiosyncrasies.


"Your defence of CC's sheer dishonesty regarding Atzmon is ludicrous given that s/he didn't offer the excuse that you're offering. It was a clear attempt at accusing critics of Israel of antisemitism. "

I don't understand where levi sees dishonesty. Atzmon is an antisemite, not because he denies he is a Jew, (that would be a matter for psychologists to decide) but because he hates Jews and cooperates with anyone who is dedicated to the demise of Israel, which is 85% Jewish. It is not through sheer coincidence that he chooses Israel and Jews as the object of his hatred and activism. They matter most to him, precisely because he still feels a Jew.

Gilad atzmon reminds me of the man who hated his father in Heidrich's story, as recounted in "Conspiracy" through the actor Kenneth Branagh. When the father dies, the son who hated him grieved the most for him. Why? Because that hatred had shaped his life and given meaning to his existence. The fictional Heidrich was telling the story as a cautionary tale about why it is important not to hate the Jews even as he was orchestrating their destruction. It's not about hatred. It's about utopia and efficiency. In an ironic, twisted sort of way, it is Atzmon's very hatred that humanizes him and inspires pity for him. He is Quasimodo gazing in the mirror and horrified at the misshapen image his eyes perceive. He is like the anorexic teenager who, having starved herself to skin and bone, looks in the mirror and sees an obese body. Gilad is a man in search of his humanity and antisemitism is his means

of finding it.


Bob: I'm not sure I agree with the conflation you make between Mearsheimer's "Righteous Jews" and Arendt's "Exceptiopnal Jews". I'll try to think of a good way of explaining my intuitive rejection of this analogy.

In the meantime, I just want to say this:

"Righteous Jews", to my ear, is a precise echo of "Righteous Gentiles" which carries a deeply symbolic meaning in modern Jewish history. It's not condescension, unless you think that any recognition of an act of heroism is condescension. It is homage paid to otherwise unsung heroes and also a reminder that antisemitism is not an irresistible impulse or a force of nature. That all other things being equal, some people could act in ways that re-affirmed common humanity.

By choosing the term "Righteous Jews" Mearsheimer aimed at precisely this ironic mirroring of a deeply revered Jewish tradition of gratitude and acknowledgment of goodness. It was a malevolent attempt to create a balance between saviours of Jews and some of the ugliest advocates of Palestinians (who act against the survival and well-being of Jews). The most cursory comparison will reveal the inadequacy and contempt encapsulated in this formulation, another over-stretching of the rhetorical fallacy Amis called "The fetishization of balance".

"I didn't say... "

I was not responding to you or anything specific you were saying. Your kinds of thoughts and arguments require too many mental contortions and ethical acrobatics, with very little returns.

Gilad Atzmon is an interesting case and every once in a while when his name is mentioned I take one more shot at understanding what he represents.

You, Levi, are not interesting. You are nothing but a stereotype and a boring one, as all stereotypes are. One way of recognizing a stereotype is its predictability. And predictability is discerned through the resort to cliches, ad homs, Reductio ad Hitlerum, to name but a few features.

Please don't take that as an insult.


"You were addressing me or at least what I said, you ridiculous liar. You misrepresented what I said and you got caught and previously you had dishonestly tried to place Atzmon and his antisemitism in the same camp as serious Jewish critics of the State of Israel."

Serious? You mean like you?

From where I'm standing, I cannot see much difference between you and Atzmon. I understand a little better now since YOU believe the difference is he is no longer Jewish while you are. Any other difference I should be aware of?

Don't you get it that the ideological nuances that seem so important to you are really lost on anyone who has not adopted your rabid leftist dogmas? You make a career of demonizing Israel and her supporters (as is very nicely illustrated in this little discussion right here in this thread) and you complain that the demonized does not make an effort to figure out the quantum nuance that separates your thinking from Atzmon's?

You are both quite loathsome. But in Atzmon's case I can find some mitigation in the fact that he is slightly less hypocritical about his motivations. And he is a gifted artist. What's your excuse?


The only one here who has been obsessing over ethno-religious supremacies and such is levi0000. He is the living proof that the myth of Jewish genius is, alas, exactly that, a myth.

But I've always maintained that Jews have every right to be as stupid, petty, bigoted, pompous, sanctimonious and hypocritical, as anybody else, without being subject to special ridicule over it. So I'll try to abide by my own principle in this matter.


"...but at the same time I've always been a little uncomfortable with it."

Don't think that I don't understand, Bob. It can be the subject of a whole dissertation, in fact. I have a few thoughts:

There is a very lavish program produced by CNN which is called "CNN Heroes". Here is the description from wiki:

"CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute is an annual television special created by CNN to honor individuals who make extraordinary contributions to help others. It is hosted by Anderson Cooper. It started in 2007 and continues now, with the awards show aired at the end of the year.

Over the course of the year, viewers can nominate and vote for the heroes they want to nominate for recognition and honoring."

I watch a few minutes before I turn away from it. It is done in a very glitzy fashion, with film stars presenting the awards, almost like an Oscars night. It makes me squirm in discomfort. I'm not exactly sure about the message it conveys. It's like rewarding what should the standard, expected behaviour. Why is there a need for it? Why is it necessary to keep reminding people that helping others may come with a piece of candy at the end of it?

On the other hand, how do we teach people learn to appreciate such goodness if not by public acknowledgment and reward?

Reward is just the obverse side of punishment. If a famous person is caught doing something immoral, even if not illegal, he/she gets publicly humiliated in the media's attention and no one cares a fig. Yet when an unknown person is recognized for doing something good, we feel uncomfortable when he/she is publicly thanked for it. There is a lack of balance here that tips towards the celebration of the negative and dismissal of the positive.

Perhaps we feel uncomfortable exactly because we are taught that we need to behave ethically and charitably as a rule and not for a reward. In Maimonedes' Eight Degrees of Charity, the second highest level of charity is the one who gives tzedaka to the poor, but does not know to whom he gives, nor does the recipient know his benefactor. Thus assistance is rendered without recognition or expectation of a reward or gratitude. This principle affirms the discomfort that we feel with such customs as the regulation of appreciation for "Righteous Gentiles" (carried out in a much more dignified and low-key ceremony in Yad Vashem than CNN's heroes celebration).

Jane Austen had something to say about it, in "Sense & Sensibility":

"Colonel Brandon's character," said Elinor, "as an excellent man, is well established."
"I know it is," replied her mother … “his coming for me as he did, with such active, such ready friendship, is enough to prove him one of the worthiest of men."
"His character, however," answered Elinor, "does not rest on one act of kindness, to which his affection for Marianne, were humanity out of the case, would have prompted him. To Mrs. Jennings, to the Middletons, he has been long and intimately known; they equally love and respect him; and even my own knowledge of him, though lately acquired, is very considerable; and so highly do I value and esteem him…”

Elinor's view corresponds to the higher principle that decency and goodness ought to be the norm, not the exception that requires special recognition. But it is her mother who exemplifies the more prevalent and instinctive inclination to confer special significance on an act of kindness.

So I have to wonder which is the greater condescension, the actual acknowledgment of righteousness as a somewhat unusual human achievement, or the dismissal of those who will consider it worthy of a special notice?

Elinor does not pour scorn on her mother for the special gratitude she expresses towards Brandon, just as Maimonedes does not degrade the lowest level of charity giving, when assistance is openly given and openly acknowledged.


By the way, here is another unexpected wrinkle on the subject. The quote is from a comment on an article in "The Tablet":

"By the way, Lithuanians escaped lots of Jews from Vilnius ghetto… Did Jews escaped any people from Soviet prisons?"


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