As American as Passover

A few more idle thoughts on the preeminence of American Jewry:

It’s not as if Jews haven’t played important roles in government before now – I once read that Charlemagne relied heavily on Jewish functionaries, who were entirely dependent on the Emperor’s patronage and therefore apt to remain loyal. But as Weiss notes, the interesting thing about Kagan’s appointment to the Supreme Court is that her religious background is almost entirely unremarked upon, except for the odd lament that we’re running out of Protestant jurists (how nice it is to finally get to be a member of an embattled minority!).

I also think we tend to underestimate how new this development is in American history. I can’t find the exact quote, but I vividly recall a passage from Theodore Rex that described Roosevelt’s Secretary of State as “jovially anti-Semitic.” Which is a pretty awful thing to say about anyone, much less a cabinet member of one of our most celebrated presidencies.

The arc of Kagan’s family (Weiss: “Elena Kagan’s parents’ generation experienced anti-Semitism in seeking position, but her generation experienced no such discrimination.”) also interests me. Would Kagan’s faith receive more attention if American Judaism retained some of its cultural or ethnic distinctiveness? If elite American Jews are basically indistinguishable from elite American atheists or elite American Protestants, is Kagan’s appointment to the Supreme Court really a triumph of liberal inclusion?

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
Share

22 thoughts on “As American as Passover

  1. The article talks about all of the Jews on the leftist establishment and in the Obama administration, and while that’s certainly true, nearly all of the most strident and famous free market economists post-Smith and Menger, were also Jewish. (Hayek, Mises, Rothbard, Rand, Friedman).

    But of course all of these except rand were libertarians and thus are generally held at arm’s length by the conservative establishment while evangelical preachers have been put at the forefront. Reagan’s “Fusionism” had Friedman, but Bush, of course, totally abandoned and libertarian side of the equation and thus supported the Utopian christian imperialism and domestic progressivism of the evangelical preachers.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  2. I find that Weiss’s thoughts are reasonable. Nobody in their right mind could claim underdog status for Jews today, although, for Jews today, underdog status is still a living memory.

    It’s true that the still-rising status of Jews in the US is analogous to that of Jews in late-nineteenth century Europe, when the anti-Jewish laws were wiped off the books in Western Europe and Jews proceeded to claim leadership status in the professions, in academia and in business. The sequel, what Weiss calls an anti-Semitic reaction, (better known as a rising wave of pograms ending in the Holocaust) is well known.

    This “can’t happen here,” even if it is a cliche for sticking one’s head in the sand. For one thing, the US has over two hundred years of democratic tradition, while Europe (aside from GB) had only decades, in the best of cases, and none in most of the worst cases, by the end of the nineteenth century. Even today, in Europe, anti-Semitic speech is banned by government. In the US this is not the case because it’s not necessary. Anti-Semitic speech will be just laughed off the public stage here.

    Sadly this situation is not shared in the rest of the world, where rabid and vulgar anti-Semitism is still a legitimate form of political discourse, especially in the Arab and Muslim world and those parts of Europe inhabited by immigrants from the Arab and Muslim world.

    However, this rabid and violent form of Antisemitism is not the problem. It’s only a fringe element in politics, as it was even in the worst days of Nazi Germany (even if it was shared by Hitler, Goebbles, et al). The problem is the “polite” Antisemitism. In Nazi Germany, polite society was ashamed and disgusted at the excesses of the Chrystal Night, for example. Many Germans actively helped their Jewish neighbors at the time. But at the same time, they agreed that Jews must have their status reduced by law and ideally must be isolated and pushed out of the country. There was no law and order in the Chrystal Night. But polite society could support the apartheid-like Nuremberg laws and the even worse laws that followed Chrystal Night. That was legal and orderly. Not vulgar and low-class Jew-baiting etc etc.

    Is the following analogous to Nazi Germany’s “polite” anti-Semitism?

    We have reached our rendezvous with destiny, and this means coming to terms as equals with the people whom Jews in rising have most dispossessed, Palestinians. [The conclusion of the Weiss article]

    What could Weiss mean by “come to terms?” Could it possibly be “making more concessions” to the Palestinians? Israel has offered to recognize a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza repeatedly in the past. The UN specifically offered a state to them in 1947, which they refused. If they had accepted, then today nobody would be running around “dispossessed” and claiming to be the “righteous victim” (to use Benny Morris’s phrase).

    What could he mean by “dispossessed?” Is he talking about the Arabs who left Israel as the war began upon the 1947 UN partition? They were either pushed out by the Israelis or pulled out by the Arabs themselves. More importantly, they were refused legal status by the nations they settled in because to do so would have been to recognize the Jewish state. They have been kept in a state of permanent dispossession but this cannot be blamed on Israel. The blame has to fall on the Arab nations they live in today, where they could have become full citizens with all the rights (or rather the lack of rights) afforded to citizens of Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and so forth. They are kept “dispossessed” so that Arabs can display an open wound to the world in perpetuity.

    Weiss ignores the glaring fact that the major obstacle to peace in the Middle East is not Israeli intransigence in “coming to terms” with the Arabs. They have repeatedly done so, only to be repeatedly rebuffed. The major obstacle is Arab refusal to recognize a Jewish state in their midst. This was the problem in 1947 and it hasn’t changed at all in the intervening years.

    Israel today is in danger of extinction on different fronts. If one takes sides with those advocating its extinction, by demanding more concessions out of Israel instead of the Arabs then is one taking sides in favor of Israel’s extinction as well? Is one then an equivalent of Nazi Germany’s “polite” anti-Semite? One is not demanding that Israel be wiped off the map, or calling Jews baby-eaters, as in the official discourse of Arab and Muslim nations. That would be laughed off the stage in the US. Things should have a legal background, grounded in human rights. So Israel must be forced into conceding more and more and the Arabs must be bolstered, all of which tends towards the extinction of Israel, in line with Arab and Muslim strategy, but not because Jews are evil. One is only advocating for human rights, after all. Is the fact that doing so supports those whose goal is extermination enough to show Antisemitism, even if some of one’s best friends are Jews and if there are Jews on the Supreme Court, or even if one is a Jew oneself, etc etc?

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • @Rufus, This seems like wishful thinking a bit. Antisemitism in the polite company of our public sphere was retired in the 50s, but I bet you’d be hard-pressed to find a Jew who doesn’t live in a major metropolitan area who has not experienced some very real, in-your-face antisemitism in his life. Although I may be biased on this point, having grown up in the south and from a long line of southern Jews.

        Quote  Link

      Report

        • @Will, I think it must depend where you come from. I was a camp counselor at a Jewish summer camp in northeast Georgia for about 6 years, and we drew kids from all over the southeast. The kids from south Florida probably didn’t even know what the word ‘antisemitism’ meant. But in Alabama, Texas, Missouri, Mississippi, Georgia, etc., if you came from a town that was 5 figures or fewer in size, you probably had a pretty good idea. Then again, maybe it skews more toward young people – high schoolers are vicious no matter who you are.

          Then there’s questions of your personal background and the circles you run in. My own grandparents on the Christian side of my family were antisemitic as hell, so again maybe I’ve got a bias there.

            Quote  Link

          Report

  3. The melting pot works, if you let it.

    Through the magic of the melting pot, in America, “Jewish” means “just another crazy background”. They have their own recipes, they have their own music, they have their own religious tradition… which means that they have their own versions of Saint Paddy’s Day. “What do you do on particular holy day?” “We eat, drink maybe, talk about being Jewish.” “Dude. We should totally start doing that too, minus the talking about being Jewish.” And thus the Jews, like the Irish and Italians and Greeks become just like everybody else.

    Multiculturalism done right *WORKS*. We need more of it.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • @Jaybird, Very true. It’s why “it can’t happen here.”

      One quibble: The “melting pot” is not equivalent to “multiculturalism.” In fact, “multiculturalism” is antagonistic to the “melting pot.” The “melting pot” is not a government policy, it is the absence of government policy where immigrants are expected to assimilate at their own pace, either as individuals or as a group. “Multiculturalism” is an official government policy that this means keeping ethnicity separate, giving different entitlements to different ethnic groups. See the Canadian law in this regard. The “melting pot” is a metaphor for “assimilation.” Advocates of “multiculturalism” will consider assimilation to be a form of oppression of a minority ethnic group, where they are forced to give up their ethnic identity and become, as you say, “just another crazy background.”

      This is what “works,” not multiculturalism. For proof of that, consider that Europe has decades of multicultural policies and antisemitism is steadily rising, along with many other social problems, to the extent that nations like the Netherlands and Denmark are today reversing their multicultural policies and aiming for an American-style assimilation one.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • @Roque Nuevo, I think my definition of “multiculturalism” is diametrically opposite of the governments.

        We need more spicy foods, we need more restaurants, we need more music, we need more brightly colored fabrics made into more goofy outfits, we need more holy men publicly giving a short prayer before an official event (“May Thors’s Hammer ring out victory for these graduating students! Now let me introduce the Zoroastrian…”), more, more, and more!

        That’s what I mean by multiculturalism. The whole “it’s awesome to be (insert nationality here)” as official policy is only as true as the amount of garlic in the gravy.

          Quote  Link

        Report

          • @Roque Nuevo, I reckon that that particular kind of multiculturalism isn’t sustainable in the long term.

            Those people left whatever culture they left for a lot of reasons. To come here and recreate it? Ugh. That’s a recipe for disaster. Bring the food, bring the spices, bring the dances, bring the prayers. Leave the wacky shit where you left it.

              Quote  Link

            Report

        • @Jaybird, Roque is correct re: Canada’s attitude towards assimilation. The Canadian position is that they strive for a “Salad bowl” rather than a melting pot. That is to say that every component remains distinct with its own flavors rather than melting into uniformity.
          It’s a problematic position when confronted with militant retrograde cultural mores but, on the other hand, in the case of Canada the “Salad Bowl” policy is pretty much vital for the nations survival as the very idea of a Canadian “Melting Pot” would send Quebec screaming for the eject button.

            Quote  Link

          Report

          • @North, how good is Quebec at recognizing non-English cultures? Is it a safe haven for, say, folks from Trinidad who want to be multi-culti in Canada or does Quebec do the “multiculturalism means the rest of Canada has to put up with *US*, it doesn’t mean we have to put up with *YOU*” thing?

              Quote  Link

            Report

          • @North, Jay, Quebec barely even tolerates English culture, let alone other non-french cultures. So there is a certain do as I say not as I do flavor to the Quebec/Rest of Canada relationship. Still the country in general (except some nutbars in Alberta) doesn’t want to have a secession chrisis so it’s tolerated.

            In fairness to Quebec, they are a very welcoming people and things have eased up a lot over the last couple decades. (Of course it could just be that the First Nations in Northern Quebec essentially laid a severed horsehead on the Seperatists doorstep last time there was serious talk of seperation).

              Quote  Link

            Report

            • @North, that’s my understanding as well… (Maribou told me a story about what happened when Quebec pushed for official recognition of French sub-culture and the First Nations showed up on the same day demanding Quebec recognize Native Canadian sub-culture and the hilarity that ensued).

                Quote  Link

              Report

              • @Jaybird, Maribou has excellent taste in political humor. If you were to look at a map of Quebec and put your thumb on the St. Lawrence river pointing north. Draw a line along the north shore of the river roughly one thumb joint wide all the was along the river. Everything north of that line would arguably end up with the in the hands of the First Nations if Quebec seperated. We’re talking almost all of their hydro power and mineral wealth. Watching Jacques Parizeau’s jowels wobble frenetically as he declared over and over that Quebec is “indivisable” made me a happy young man. He looked like a bulldog having a seizure.

                  Quote  Link

                Report

          • And their kids learn English anyway, if for no other reason that they want to date the cute boys and girls that don’t speak their language, that *their* kids know the old language at most as what their parents speak to keep things from them. Multilingualism is only a problem for the impatient, same as it ever was. (I speak as someone who had great-uncles and great-aunts who lived in the US and spoke only Yiddish during the week and Hebrew on Shabbes, and knows just enough Yiddish to call W a schmuck and Cheney a putz.)

              Quote  Link

            Report

  4. It has always fascinated me how unique the situation of Jews in the US is. I teach a 4th grade Sunday school at my Temple, and it alternately pleases me and breaks my heart how utterly my students feel that their place in society is a 100% given. Part of that is their youth, but for many of them their parents feel the same way.

    It’s different in the city than it was for me growing up, but that’s just a hair’s breadth of difference compared to my own grandparents. I recently attended my fiancee’s cousin’s bat mitzvah at a country club in at Atlanta, where my grandparents have lived most of their lives. When they were in their prime, you could forget about having a bat mitzvah at this place — Jews weren’t even allowed in the door. When I told them where we were going, they were gobsmacked. They are much more aware of how tenuous these changes are; they remember when it was different.

    I don’t look a gift horse in the mouth and I don’t like it when it seems like other people are just looking for a reason to complain or disagree, but I wonder whether the triumphant spirit in which these comments (and others like them around the web) are written isn’t premature.

      Quote  Link

    Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *