The Last Word: “As A Jew…”
Oct 27, 2009 | Jeremy Jones
One of the many nasty internet sites devoted to promoting antisemitic stereotypes, myths and hatred is labelled “Jew Watch”.
The individual or individuals who provide content to it are seemingly obsessed with Jewish people who are engaged in actual or imagined wrong-doing, to promote a template for understanding the world’s ills as all having their source in the malevolent workings of Jews.
If those seeking to populate the site’s pages with material from Australia which used the word “Jew” or “Jewish” as a descriptor for behaviour presented as repugnant, one site in particular would prove a gold-mine.
It is with no national pride that I observe that an Australian website titles a link to an article by a Christian journalist who is concerned with Iranian bellicosity “Some Jews missing the art of bombing foreigners”; also links to a long essay on anarchism – which barely mentioned Jews – labelled “Jewish murderers: a perspective”; Israelis who allegedly daubed anti-Arab graffiti on vehicles are described as “the modern descendants of Hitler”; and where readers are told “destruction is a Jewish trait”.
The person responsible for this, and much more, is not a contributor to “Jew Watch” but someone who has carved out an international niche as a Jewish person who expresses views which are – how can I put it gently? – not widely shared within Jewish communities.
If the self-described top-selling author was not born to Jewish parents, I doubt there would be any ambiguity in labelling his rantings as antisemitic. Instead he is one of a collection of characters who preface statements with “as a Jew”, as if that gives them intellectual, philosophic or moral authority.
Even inveterate antisemites constituting groups such as “The Bible Believers” find Jews to bolster their prejudices, with British-based musician Gilad Atzmon a popular choice.
Amongst those intellectually dishonest advocates of the claim Israel is a current incarnation of Nazism, Norman Finkelstein is a pet source of vitriol.
The phenomenon of people who are, to quote lawyer and academic Anthony Julius QC, “proud to be ashamed to be Jewish” and often seem to have criticisms of Jews and/or Israel as the only component of their Jewish identity, prompted one cynical observer to commence a project called “ ‘As a Jew’ Watch”.
The first individual to earn a place of dishonour in that “As a Jew” gallery was Mary-Kay Wilmers, editor of the London Review of Books, who boasted “I’m unambiguously hostile to Israel because it’s a mendacious state. They do things that are just so immoral and counter-productive and, as a Jew, especially as a Jew you can’t justify that”. Challenged on an apparent lack of concern with terrorism which wasn’t “Zionist”, she commented “I just think we get worked up about the wrong things, and there is more wrong on one side”.
The British moral philosopher Norm Geras, on reading this comment, observed, “‘As a Jew…’ she says. Well, yes. Jews are just people. So you can expect the same mix of qualities amongst them as you can amongst other sorts of people. Unambiguous hostility to Israel for being ‘mendacious’; levels of mendacity of other states in the Middle East not a topic for comment. As a Jew you can’t justify Jewish immorality; but Palestinian terrorism you can skate past (and do worse than skate past)… Such are the constituents of responsible moral judgement. Not as a Jew but just as a person, I know the odour of that kind of ‘responsibility’.”
Not every “as a Jew” Jew is driven by the same impulses, but most are distinguished by a high self-opinion not justified by any achievement or objective criteria.
But regardless of the motivation, whether or not an individual argues “as a Jew”, “as a human”, “as a scientist” or whatever else, it is essential that comments concerning the Jewish community and Israel are judged on logic and reason, not on the self-deception of those who make them.