Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Peter Beinart's New Norm for Gauging Jewish Humanism:

Peter Beinart has been pontificating to Israelis and ("hawkish" American Jews) about showing concern for the 500 Palestinians whose death was carefully engineered by their Hamas leaders to be blamed on Israel's military strikes.

"I've noticed that the people enthusiastically supporting this war rarely link to the names of Palestinian dead, even when their deaths are reported by reputable news agencies in stories that contain no overt political spin. When forced to talk about the Palestinian dead, hawks insist that Hamas and only Hamas bears culpability for their deaths. But if they really believe that, they should be broadcasting the names of the Palestinian dead--all the better to show how wicked Hamas is. And yet they almost never do. Which makes me suspect that although they want to believe that Hamas bears sole responsibility, they fear they might not be able to sustain that claim if forced to look hard at the circumstances in which Palestinians have died, and at the names and faces of the people torn limb from limb. I think that fear is well-founded. Which is why I hope the people who support this war--many of whom I know from personal experience are decent and well-meaning--will use their social media platforms to publicize the names of the Palestinian as well as Israeli dead. If they truly believe Israel had no choice, they should have no hesitation."
What's he saying? Why should Israelis recite the names of Palestinian victims, many of whom are Hamas operatives and combatants? Has he gone on record demanding that Americans recite to themselves the names of the many innocent Afghans, Pakistanis, Iraqis who were killed by US armed forces during war? Is it some sort of a new standard for one's humanism that he is trying to impose on Jews and none other except Jews? A new method by which to shame them? There is a certain megalomaniac pathology at work here.

Joan Cocks , in “Individuality, Nationality, and the Jewish Question Social Research,  Winter, 1999 , explains the moral complexity an "exceptional Jew" is faced with. She takes Isaiah Berlin’s special darling status in the terms that Arendt set forth:

“Arendt provides a Proustian account of French salon society, which found exceptional Jews magnetic and the mass of Jews obnoxious. 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." … The figure of the exceptional Jew as Arendt analyses it would help explain 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. "Of course assimilation might be a quite good thing, but it doesn't work. Never has worked, never will. There isn't a Jew in the world known to me who somewhere inside him does not have a tiny drop of uneasiness vis-à-vis them, the majority among whom they live ... 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...'" Arendt might have phrased the point somewhat differently: "I'm not an Englishman but an exceptional Jew, and that is precisely one reason why they salute me. But if I act like an ordinary Jew..."

There is a great deal of bitter insight in these attempts to understand and describe how some Jews try to manage and negotiate their Jewishness in a world which has become fed-up with and unsympathetic to, Jewish history. Unfortunately, with such baggage, carried by both the purveyors of “antizionism”, as well as their intended and unintended, audiences there is so much pain and noise interfering that even if there is a kernel of useful value in what they preach, it gets lost in the ruckus.

The "proud Jew and Zionist" business that Beinart resorts to is quite pathetic and self-defeating.

 "When I go to Israel--and see a vibrant, incredibly creative, Jewish civilization built less than a century after our people came so close to extermination--I am literally moved to tears. I am a Zionist in a very simple, almost childlike, way. As a Jew, I consider Israel a miracle for our people. But I also know that in our history, Jews have won sovereignty before, and lost it because of moral corruption. And I see controlling millions of people who lack basic rights for almost 50 years as moral corruption. I have seen it up close in the West Bank. I have seen what it has done to Palestinian friends of mine. And that fills me with as much anger and sadness as Israel's existence fills me with joy. I don't want our joy, our rebirth to be built on the suffering and humiliation of others. I want us to have our state--to revel in it, and for Palestinians to have theirs as well. I'm not naive enough to think that will entirely end this conflict. But it will provide some measure of justice to both us and them. For me, that will be Israel's greatest triumph. And it will ensure that this precious gift handed us by previous generations--at such a terrible cost--endures for our children."
 Such is the discomfiture perfectly described once by Leon Wieseltier, (Beinart's old colleague in the New Republic) speaking of another self-styled "proud Jew": "I detect the scars of dinners and conferences". It's the same dismay at being associated with a despised country and an insecure parvenu people (American Jewry, which Beinart is attempting to "re-educate" into being better Jews, or Americans, or Zionists, who knows? ) that Arendt detected in prominent German Jews, when they needed to put as much distance as they could between their own elegance and German-worthiness and the squalor and poverty of alien Polish Shtetl Jews who were part of their Germany.


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