Sunday, June 07, 2009

Essentializing Jews

The Community Security Trust has started a blog. This is good! And I really like their first substantive post, though unfortunately its about something infuriating -- namely, The Independent's coverage of Obama's Cairo speech:
A double page spread on President Obama’s Cairo speech is headlined, “President stings Israel with swipe at settlements”. The sub-title tells us how brave this is, “White House shows willingness to ignore US Jewish lobby by risking confrontation with Netanyahu over Palestinian statehood”.

The opening paragraph tells us breathlessly:
THE CORDS [sic] that connect Israel to the United States were under unprecedented strain last night after Barack Obama risked the wrath of the Jewish lobby in the US by publicly chiding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu…

Two paragraphs later, we hear that “Mr Obama showed he is willing, perhaps more than any US president before him, to ignore the Jewish lobby domestically by getting firm with Israel. Thus he made public a festering and personal argument with Mr Netanyahu, who is refusing to heed his demands for a halt to all new settlements in the occupied West Bank”.

This reminds me of that Greek newspaper which celebrated Obama's victory as "the end of Jewish domination." I wrote that, were that the case, the 78% of Jews who voted for him must be very confused. Here, we see a similar game at work, with the Independent's writer assuming that American Jews (or their "lobby", whatever that means) are hell-bent on defending the settlements and will broke no criticism directed towards Israel in any way, shape or form. This would come as a tremendous surprise to the majority of Jews which oppose the settlements -- and to my knowledge none of the major pro-Israel organizations (with the possible exception of the ZOA) has ever invested any effort in trying to defend them. But bah! What does it matter what Jews actually think about thinks, when it is so much more satisfying to stereotype them as incorrigible warmongers so we can get the satisfaction of standing up to them!

Likewise, there has been virtually no indication that the American Jewish community as a whole, or the Israeli Jewish community for that matter, views Obama's speech as putting any sort of strain on America's relationship with Israel or that it was in any way contrary to the positions of mainline Jewish organizations. That's not to say that every Jew liked Obama's speech -- as difficult as this may be for entities invested in the view that Jews are a united, hive-like cabal (apparently like the Independent), Jews have diverse opinions about things -- but my reading was that the weight of the reactions leaned positive, though not ecstatic (which, for reasons I may or may not have time to get into, is roughly my reaction too).

The Jewish community is not a pack of neoconservative thugs (with occasional brave dissenter signing on to boycott positions). It represents a diverse array of views, perspectives, positions, and experiences. And though most Jews and most Jewish organizations do identify as "pro-Israel" in one form or another, that, too encompasses a wide range of stances that stretch well beyond the tired caricatures the Independent draws. Most Jews don't hold the opinions that critics of Jews ascribe to them. The fact that a newspaper like the Independent sees no problem in simply asserting Jewish views without thinking to ask whether or not we hold them is typical of the arrogant presumptuousness I have to deal with each and every day.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

How is that a sic.

Among other things the speech is the latest chapter in Obama's push on settlements and two states...I don't know how anyone could not view Obama's approach as straining the relationship, for better or for worse.

It's depressing that you can say "Jewish Lobby" in Britain. More political correctness!

Rebecca said...

I think a poll of Jews on Israel-related political positions would be a really worthwhile thing. I'm sick of the rightists acting as if they represent the sum of Jewish opinion.

David Schraub said...

I'm even more sick of leftists acting like rightists represent the sum of Jewish opinion. I can understand why one would say "my position is the right Jewish position". It's another thing to say "I'm going to ignore all the other Jews making arguments so I can better bash the remainder."

Rebecca said...

That's true of both sides.

David Schraub said...

Is it? It's pretty rare to see someone from the outside essentialize Jews as being universal adherents of left-wing positions (on Israel, anyway, on other issues it is much more common).

The point is there is a qualitative difference, I think, between an internal debate amongst Jews about what should be the (range of) Jewish position(s) on a subject; and outsiders falsely imputing a consensus when there isn't one (and, to the extent there is, it is opposite the conclusion they draw!).

Rebecca said...

I was referring more to the latter hypothetical-quote in your last comment - just as some leftists ignore the range of Jewish opinion in order to bash the rightist hypothetical-majority, some rightists ignore the range of Jewish opinion in order to treat leftists or indeed anyone who doesn't fall into lockstep as an outcast. (I've just been having this conversation with someone in my temple, too, about how it's so necessary for the wide range of positions to become common knowledge.)

Though your point about external views of Jewish opinion is taken.

David Schraub said...

Ah. Then yeah, we're in agreement.

PG said...

I didn't get the sic either.

David Schraub said...

I didn't either, but I didn't want to sic their sic.