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January 31, 2005

Ward of the State U - IV

Ah, it gets better. It turns out that DU has access to an extended academic database, where I can limit my searches to refereed publications. There, I did find one other pre-tenure piece, bringing the total to two, I believe. Possibly three. (Note that the stated publication date on the UCTP site is 1991, making it possibly one of the sounds, reasoned arguments that earned Mr. Churchill his tenure.)

What really caught my eye, though, was "Deconstructing the Columbus myth: was the "great discoverer" Italian or Spanish, Nazi or Jew?", which made it into Social Justice, Summer 1992 v19 n2 p39(17).

The question of Columbus' possible Jewishness nonetheless remained intriguing, not because I held it to be especially important in its own right, but because I was (and am still) mystified about why any ethnic group, especially one that has suffered genocide, might be avid to lay claim either to the man or to his legacy....

For Jews, at least those who have adopted the Zionist perspective, a "unique historical suffering" under Nazism translates into fulfillment of a Biblical prophecy that they are "the chosen," entitled by virtue of the destiny of a special persecution to assume a rarefied status among -- and to consequently enjoy preferential treatment from -- the remainder of humanity. In essence, this translates into a demand that the Jewish segment of the Holocaust's victims must now be allowed to participate equally in the very system that once victimized them and to receive an equitable share of the spoils accruing from it. To this end, Zionist scholars such as Irving Louis Horowitz and Elie Weisel have labored long and mightily, defining genocide in terms exclusively related to the forms it assumed under Nazism. In their version of "truth," one must literally see smoke pouring from the chimneys of Auschwitz to apprehend that a genocide, per se, is occurring.(1) Conversely, they have coined terms such as "ethnocide" to encompass the fates inflicted upon other peoples throughout history.(2) Such semantics have served, not as tools of understanding, but as an expedient means of arbitrarily differentiating the experience of their people -- both qualitatively and quantitatively -- from that of any other. To approach things in any other fashion would, it must be admitted, tend to undercut ideas like the "moral right" of the Israeli settler state to impose itself directly atop the Palestinian Arab homeland.

This is, not to put too fine a point on it, garbage. It practically qualifies as an intellectual landfill all on its own.

There was a point in time, back when I was growing up, that certain Jews felt it necessary to try to prove Jewish connections to as many Western figures as possible. As the song says "But what kind of nut would you have to be/ To borrow a ship and put out to sea/When you don't know what's on the other side". Say what you will, it takes a special kind of courage to point your ship towards the open sea at a time when everyone else is creeping down the African coast, afraid that their ships will spontaneously combust when you get too far south. Freberg was making fun, but my guess is that we learn more from his history than from Churchill's.

As for his understanding of Jewish theology, the concept of "chosenness," and practically every event in Jewish history since 1933, he's got enough problems in his own field before venturing out into that world. I'm sure he doesn't get out much, but he might have taken in a high school version of "Fiddler on the Rez." You know, the one where Tevye looks up at God and asks, "Couldn't you choose someone else once in a while?" Chosenness isn't a virtue, it's an obligation. The hostility of the Nations is a biblical concept, and goes back just a wee bit further than even Columbus.

As for Zionism, it's an idea with many currents. But in its dominant form in the 1930s and 40s, its purpose wassn't to exempt Jews from history - we'd had quite enough of that for a few millenia, thank you very much - it was to mainstream Jews back into history.

Most Jews I know are perfectly comfortable calling Darfur a "genocide," far more comfortable than the UN is, for instance. It's the term "holocaust" that we want to preserve as evidence of a unique event. The costs of not doing so were on display in last week's London Auschwitz commemorations, as Muslim organizations variously declined to participate, objected to the whole thing, or did go based on the notion that other people died too, so it was ok to look past the Jews. Someone who's immoderately protective of ethnic identity should certainly be sensitive to others' history being stolen.

Posted by joshuasharf at January 31, 2005 12:17 PM | TrackBack

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