The smoke has cleared and the good guys won, but rather than any sense of justice done or victory over evil, I’m tense, depressed and waiting for the other shoe to fall. In case you missed the news, the anti-semitic “Stop Israel’s War Crimes” bus-side billboards were pulled just a few days before they were scheduled to debut here in Seattle.
Seattle is one of the most liberal cities in America with almost limitless tolerance for everyone. It goes out of its way to be inoffensive. It surely tops 11 on the pc-o-meter! If you hadn’t already read about it, it was deliberately chosen (along with Albuquerque, Houston and several other cities) as a test-market, purchasing side-of-bus and free-standing billboards depicting a presumably war-demolished building and terrified Palestinian children, along with the accusation that Israel receives thirty billion dollars of US taxpayers money in order to commit war crimes. Seattle, just because it is a bastion of free-speech and relativism, seemed a perfect place to try to sneak vile hate-speech under the radar of those “freedoms”
Although the county bus authority finally showed the courage to pull these ads, the episode revealed a level of hate I, naively, never imagined was possible in post-war, post-civil-rights-act America. That it was ever even conceived of as acceptable has been one of my life’s most painful moments. Several good-hearted county council members had the courage to denounce these ads for what they were, but the decision to pull them only came when the possible threat of inciting local violence was invoked. If, like all of us, you have a short memory, it was only a couple years ago that a local terrorist decided to kill some Jews and broke into the local Federation office and started shooting, killing one woman and injuring several other people.
I’m scared and depressed, unable to transform this article into something positive and hopeful, as is my wont. I’m shocked that any American entertained for even a moment that this kind of public hate-speech is ok. That this was initially approved, not to mention cancelled for any reason other than it was just, plain unacceptable, terrifies me. It’s only a matter of time until this sort of message pops up, spreads and becomes acceptable as “a valid narrative”.
This, of course, is the reason a city like Seattle is such fertile ground. Going out of our way to be “non-judgmental”, as radical philosophy dictates, there is no longer any such thing as truth, only “competing narratives”. Once you are able to camouflage your agenda as a “narrative”, it’s now equal to all other “narratives”.
It all sounds so polite, until you remember the ancient Jewish wisdom, “He who is kind to the cruel is cruel to the kind”. Maybe not yet, thank God, today, but tomorrow our villainization will become an acceptable “narrative”, even here in America.
Dear Rabbi Zeitlin,
Seattle was not chosen simply for its tolerance, but for its growing intolerance for any positive idea about Israel. The term “progressive” is becoming synonymous with anti-Israel, anti-Jewish sentiment. I have been a pioneer in focusing the spotlight on the suppression of pro-Israel opinion at Evergreen State College, home of the misguided idealist Rachel Corrie. The community is now making a concerted effort to open up this tax-funded institution to proper academic standards.
It’s a very sad, alarming and growing phenomenon.
the “newspeak” of the BDS crowd ( a perversion of the otherwise worthy terms “progressive” and ‘human rights’) are based on 2 major flawed premises:
1 : “miserable” ( as in ‘palestinians’) = “morally superior”
2: the corollary is an ironic sort of anti- ARAB racism that holds palestinians/arabs/ muslims endlessly unaccountable for the consequences of their own behaviors ( sort of like idiot children) and views Israelis/Jews as SUPERIOR, indeed potentially saintly, beings, who are somehow supposed to endlessly turn cheeks even when all 4 have been used up!
I ponder the disconnect which has made “liberal” and “progressive” synonymous with anti-Israel. Ultimately, I agree with what seems to be your premise, that it’s based on a very patronizing view of “the less privileged”. Why, however, it’s most strongly applied against Jews is another mystery. Although, historically, there have been highly unusual periods where Jews have been successful, for the most part we’ve been by far the least privileged, most oppressed people on earth. Are we being “punished” for breaking that pattern? The next question is why do so many progressive Jews join, if not lead, the BDS bandwagon?
These are all very interesting intellectual questions, but the pressing issues is how do we survive. Personally, I think the answer is, and my plans are for, Israel. If we lose this opportunity because we’re too lazy or too complacent to vote with our feet, perhaps we’re just not ready for this gift.
Dear rabbi–here in ann arbor ( where a number of us have pretty well succeeded in marginalizing them in assorted venues, and NOT by turning the other cheek as some officials in the jewish establishment have ) some of the most vitriolic of the BDS-ers are in fact jews themselves, at least pre their addled ‘ activist’ epiphanies.
From my own knowledge of them ( which is considerable!), alot of it comes down to ‘ad hominem’ stuff…bad marriages, rifts with parents , and just plain ‘mishugass’ …rather than grand philosophical /historical themes…since most have a rather lousy grasp of history, be it world, jewish , regional or islamic ( the latter actually being my academic specialty before i retired).
In short ‘the banality of evil’, whether intentional or not…..
You might be interested in a series of articles ( collectively called “false witnesses’) on these michigan iterations ( who have harassed a local synagogue for 7 years!) which appeared in the WASHTENAW JEWISH NEWS in the jan, feb and march 2010 issuesand are googleable online: ( the jan one is the lead article by reporter Art Aisner). In Feb are 2..one by me ( False witnesses II) ;one by a defector from the BDS cult ( laurel federbush) called “the few and the just” , and in march are 2 more…one by dan cutler; one by henry brysk ( a holocaust survivor) that dissect aspects of BDS doctrine .
I don’t advocate “turning the other cheek”, but I am interested in understanding them. Obviously, their grasp of history is minimal, like most Americans for that matter.
Jewish participation, let alone leadership, in the anti-Israel movement disturbs me on many levels. This isn’t to say that every Jew is obligated to support every decision of the Israeli government, although I would argue that we should wash our laundry in private–another unpopular attitude these days. There are, of course, historical precedents of self-hating Jews, but I’m more interested in how to deal with those in the present. They’re certainly not absent from Israel either.
I wouldn’t argue your observation that many have loose screws, but there are also political, especially in the academic world, structures that nurture those with psychological issues into the delegitimize camp.
I’m not that old, only late 50s, and I already see revised “history” that absolutely contradicts my direct experience.
Thanks for your insights.
The academic slant you refer to has a dominant source: the ascension , as the template of middle east scholarship, of the work of palestinian -american scholar Edward Said , whose book “orientalism” , published at the height of vietnam era soul searching, was able to cast israel/palestine as yet another ( evil) ‘colonial” war against the ( noble) ‘natives’…..
academics weaned on this rather slanted perspective are now senior tenured people who are cloning successive generations of same.
Columbia U., said’s alma mater, has been an ongoing microcosm of the tempest this sort of thing can stir up..
my own academic career sort of spanned earlier perspectives and the Said one, which i once bought into more than now.
Also i worked in frontier pakistan and the horn of africa and got to see tribal islam…ala the taliban etc… ‘in the raw’ long before these regions became front page news, which in turn made me alot more sympathetic to israel’s problems and critical of the Saidian one. ( and although jewish, im not remotely religious and my overall strongly ,but not uncritically pro-israel stance ,has far more to do with the intellectual issues/emprical relative merits of the protagonists —native and non–in the middle east controversies.
I think that Said’s work was pivotal, in creating this atmosphere, but I’d argue that the stage was set with the ascendance of deconstructionism, the decline of facts and the rise of “competing narratives”. It’s legitimized the transformation of murderous terrorists into “freedom fighters”.
Although I am deeply religious, I don’t think that makes me knee-jerk. The Israeli government is far from perfect and makes numerous errors. The issue, however, is Israel’s right to exist as the Jewish homeland. Under incessant attack in one form or another since its inception, her leaders and citizens live with pressure unimaginable to the extremely sheltered folks in academia.
There is also an attitude that comes from seeing oneself as the “intellectual elite”, that “we know better” and are, therefore, justified in imposing our vision on the “ignorant”, i.e. whoever disagrees. It’s actually a rather totalitarian sort of “liberalism”.
I agree that the whole academic shift from ‘logical positivism’ to the assorted ‘postmodern’, ‘equally valid competing narratives’ stuff is certainly relevant to the question as to whether Said was the chicken or the egg.
A related phenomenon is the whole misconstrual of what “cultural relativusm” should mean.
At one level it’s an undeniable emprical fact: i.e different cultures have different standards..period!
But sadly its been extended to mean something alot more: i.e that just because
different cultures/groups have differnt standard all are equally valid…or even worse: that the more ‘suffering’ a group is ( even if by their own hands/values) the MORE valid their standards.
My own field—anthropology…is as guilty as any in contributing to this muddle and the jargon of discourse .
Fortunately im retired and no longer have to hew to such a ‘party line’ , even though by inclination, and all things being equal, im quite a relativist/liberal fellow.
The ‘retirement’ factor may also be relevant, in that middle east scholars who still want visas to Islamic regions cannot be publically seen as pro-israel.
retired folks like me no longer give a ‘rats tuchas’ about such visas ( been there-done that!)..and , perhaps not coincidentally, the pro-israel academic organization “Scholars for Peace in the Middle east”/ SPME ( of which im an active member) contain a number of my longish in the tooth age-mates in the ‘biz”.
Thanks for the lead about SPME!
It’s pretty expected, that different cultures have different values. Also, not surprising that they’re biased towards themselves. Nonetheless, I don’t think that means that “anything goes”, at least when there’s the attempt to export it, i.e. force it on others.
You also hit the nail on the head about the culture of self-serving victimhood.
This’ll be my last post on this thread ( i really don’t like computers and retired before ‘power point’ and 24/7 student access to prof s. by e-mail became ubiquitous) and i use computers mostly to engage/enrage local BDS types online….and have a bit of a local ‘following ‘ in both friensd and enemy camps…and to communicate with near and dear..
but feel free to e-mail me directly ( firstname.lastname@example.org)
Like you somewhat i have had a dual career in the arts , in my case as a sculptor in bronze…alot of my stuff is viewable in assorted gallery sites etc online, (although ive resisted my own website), by googling ‘steve pastner sculpture’…..and im also a quite avid longtime musician: renaissance lute, guitar, 5-string banjo)