Sunday, August 30, 2009

Here's a Lesson For You

It is difficult to find more offensive tropes packed into one statement than was accomplished by Desmond Tutu. First, he lectures Jews on what the Holocaust means:
“The lesson that Israel must learn from the Holocaust is that it can never get security through fences, walls and guns,” Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of South Africa told Haaretz Thursday.

No, Mr. Archbishop, that is not the lesson of the Holocaust. Indeed, that is a lesson that could be drawn only by someone who either knows nothing about the Holocaust, or someone who is perfectly willing to contort it into a political cudgel at the expense of the actual lived experience of the Jews who were victimized by it. The Jews who perished in the Holocaust did not do so in spite of their many fences, walls, and guns. They were slaughtered, at least in part, because they lacked these things. There are other historical events which demonstrate that guns alone do not guarantee security. But the lesson of the Holocaust, for Jews at least, is that depending on the goodwill and magnanimity of the Gentile world alone will never give Jews security either.

Human rights are essential to security, I agree, and there will never be security in the Middle East as long as the human rights of any party is threatened. But human rights need to be defended -- so security is likewise essential to human rights. Jews simply aren't and never have been in a position where they can afford to stake their security on abstract appeals to human rights. To be perfectly blunt, the lesson of the Holocaust is that this discussion will only be viable when Jews have some big fucking tanks backing them up.

His next statement is also Holocaust related, lamenting that the Palestinians are the ones now paying the price for a European sin. Not only is the implied equivalency ("Germany is guilty of two wrongs. One was what they did to the Jews. And now the suffering of the Palestinians.") appalling, but it also ignores the fact that the entire world, including Palestinians, were complicit in this massive crime against humanity -- and many non-Europeans, including Palestinians, actively helped enable it. I bow to nobody in demanding that Europe face up to its anti-Semitic legacy. But I absolutely refuse to let revisionists try and minimize the scope and gravity of the Holocaust by pretending like it was a provincial European affair. It is a sin that stained us all.

After that, Tutu makes the cliched complaint about how the big bad Jews are silencing him, then pivots to the classic "I'm a better Jew than the Jews are" claim:
He also slammed Jewish organizations in the United States, saying they intimidate anyone who criticizes the occupation and rush to accuse these critics of anti-Semitism. Tutu recalled how such organizations pressured U.S. universities to cancel his appearances on their campuses.

“That is unfortunate, because my own positions are actually derived from the Torah. You know God created you in God’s image. And we have a God who is always biased in favor of the oppressed.”

Now, regardless of how we should react to it (e.g., irrespective of whether we should press to cancel Tutu's speeches), I think it is beyond clear that Archbishop Tutu does not hold egalitarian views towards Jews. That isn't to say that he consciously harbors hate in his heart for them. It does mean that he is completely blind to the notion of gentile privilege, is completely disinterested in viewing things from a Jewish perspective or taking our voice and experience seriously as something as valuable, and views it as an affront if anyone calls him on it or attempts to inform him that his views are not unimpeachable on the subject. This, of course, is an extremely common conceit and perhaps the heart of gentile privilege as it is now expressed -- an insistence that I am fair to the Jews, coupled with an absolute refusal to listen when Jews say that might not be true and a shrill insistence that any Jew who has the temerity to make the claim is the real bad guy in the equation. In other words, talking about anti-Semitism in the same sentence as Archbishop Tutu is perfectly justified. And what Tutu is depending on to deflect that accusation -- the knowledge that the "anti-Semitism card card" is a perfect trump in a world that fundamentally views Jewish claims with disdain -- is itself a manifestation of the disease.

Moving forward, Tutu expresses sympathy with the BDS campaign. I've already explained why this is likely to make the situation worse. I'll only note here that Tutu's expressive justification for sanctions ("[I]t gave hope to our people that the world cared. You know. That this was a form of identification.") puts at a strong risk of devolving into moral hatred -- something we're beginning to see already.

And finally, Tutu is asked about the Petah Tikva controversy, where several private Orthodox academies have refused to enroll Ethiopian children. Tutu merely said "I hope that your society will evolve." Justified words, if there was any indication that this was reflective of Israeli society writ large. But the contrary: while the behavior of these schools is flagrantly and unambiguously racist, the response of the Israeli government has been equally unambiguous condemnation: stripping the schools of all their funding and (per Prime Minister Netanyahu) decrying their behavior as "an attack on our morals, contradicting our ethos as a country, as a society, as Jews and as Israelis."

9 comments:

PG said...

A bit of a selective quotation here; according to your link, Tutu actually said, "I once met a German ambassador who said Germany is guilty of two wrongs. One was what they did to the Jews. And now the suffering of the Palestinians.”

In other words, talking about anti-Semitism in the same sentence as Archbishop Tutu is perfectly justified.

I'm not quite sure I understand what that means. You're saying it's justified to call Tutu an anti-Semite? Or that it's justified to say that some of his remarks have been anti-Semitic?

I think Tutu exhibits a problem that I have seen among others but that is still relatively uncommon: viewing Jews as obligated to be *especially* moral and good, and therefore expressing outsized disappointment when the Jewish State falls short of these expectations, when he does not have these expectations of any other group. What I can't tell, with Tutu and with other people who take this stance, is whether they are sincere or whether it's a cover for just wanting to deprive Israel of the same tools any other nation-state would use.

Also, is The Forward dominated by Ashkenazi, European-descended Jews? I was surprised that they would title an article, "‘Crazy’ Eddie’s Cousin, a Former Fraudster, Speaks Out on Syrian ‘Subculture of Crime.’" It sounds like exactly what Phoebe thought was happening in a NYT article: separating out Those Other Jews. (Though in the case of the NYT, I thought she might be over-reading, whereas there doesn't seem to be any way to over-read the Forward's headline and framing.)

ansel said...

According to the linked article, Tutu was responding to a recent comment by Netanyahu that the lesson was that "Israel must defend itself." He was responding to a political statement. Remember too that Tutu believes strongly in non-violence, that he insisted the anti-apartheid struggle in S. Africa be non-violent. In that context Tutu's comment appears less arrogant or somehow indifferent to Jewish opinion. He was stressing that militarization and occupation will not end the conflict.

"I think it is beyond clear that Archbishop Tutu does not hold egalitarian views towards Jews. That isn't to say that he consciously harbors hate in his heart for them. It does mean that he is completely blind to the notion of gentile privilege, is completely disinterested in viewing things from a Jewish perspective or taking our voice and experience seriously as something as valuable, and views it as an affront if anyone calls him on it or attempts to inform him that his views are not unimpeachable on the subject."

You "think it is beyond clear"? It isn't. On what basis do you say any of this?

Tutu opened a 2002 opinion piece this way:

"In our struggle against apartheid, the great supporters were Jewish people. They almost instinctively had to be on the side of the disenfranchised, of the voiceless ones, fighting injustice, oppression and evil. I have continued to feel strongly with the Jews. I am patron of a Holocaust centre in South Africa. I believe Israel has a right to secure borders."

David Schraub said...

Ansel, you did not just attempt to demonstrate that someone doesn't have prejudiced views because they claimed that they don't, and said nice things about the group in question. You're not that credulous, you're not that naive, and I can't believe you'd let anyone else get off that easy. I mean for God's sake, that piece you linked to was framed as "I'm not an anti-Semite, but..." I think you need to soul-search for why a form of argument that I can't believe you'd find compelling in any other context suddenly becomes persuasive when applied against Jews. The temptation to string-cite to approximately 900 National Review columns which pull that same bullshit is overwhelming right now.

This post pointed out the many, many ways Archbishop Tutu is employing tropes that showcase a fundamental disrespect for Jews and their experience. The contortion of the Holocaust so it fits his preferred political point-scoring (I have no idea why the fact that he's "responding to Netanyahu" justifies ascribing to the Holocaust a "lesson" that it really clearly doesn't admit. Tutu can still take Gandhi view as to what Jews should have done in the Holocaust if he'd like, but I'd be forgiven for telling him to fuck off). The minimization of the scope of the Holocaust, both in terms of equivalency ("two victims") and geography (whitewashing the complicity of the non-European world). The "I'm better at being Jewish than Jews are" claim (which has a long Christian pedigree, to extremely ill ends). The unwillingness to even consider that Jewish critics who say he's harboring anti-Semitic impulses may have a point, a brush off he justifies (as best I can tell) because "I'm Desmond fucking Tutu", and the concurrent claim that Jews who do have the temerity to make such a claim are conversation-killers. The slander of Israeli society vis-a-vis the Petah Tikvah event, wherein I'd say the Israeli government reacted exactly as you'd hope an "evolved society" would (certainly, the school's behavior is atrocious, but it's a cheap shot to use it condemn a "society" when said society has been vociferous in word and deed in condemning it).

The anti-Semitism inlaid in such arguments is quite clear to me. But to be honest, Ansel, anti-Semitism never seems to be clear to you. It always seems to come in blurry, with its caveats and its warrants and its apologias. But why is that an indictment of us? Why is it that we always have to be the one's to yield to the gentile's superior knowledge of what is and is not anti-Semitism? Why do you appropriate the right to know more about our situation than we do? Could it be ... privilege? I think so.

ansel said...

"Ansel, you did not just attempt to demonstrate that someone doesn't have prejudiced views because they claimed that they don't, and said nice things about the group in question."

You're right, I didn't. I shared a quote and a link.

"But why is that an indictment of us? Why is it that we always have to be the one's to yield to the gentile's superior knowledge of what is and is not anti-Semitism? Why do you appropriate the right to know more about our situation than we do?"

We? My last name is Her z. I don't practice Judaism now but my dad's side of the family is German-Jewish and I grew up celebrating Hanukkah and Passover. My grandparents lost family members in the Holocaust. I talk about Israel with them often.

So. Please. You've been called on this before, but you don't seem to care. You're actually not the final arbiter of what is anti-Semitic and what isn't, of how Jews should think about Israel or what pro-liberation Jewish politics are. I disagree with you. Other Jews and non-Jews disagree with you. I'm not the one doing the appropriating here. I'm questioning how you can take one statement from Desmond Tutu out of context and jump to the conclusion that he's anti-Semitic. Yeah, this shit is complex and there are caveats. I'd understand if you read the article and thought, "Wow, he's presuming to speak for Jews about the lessons of the Holocaust. That's a deeply insensitive, pretty much anti-Semitic statement." (Jay Smooth 101.) But you went way beyond that and I don't see why.

David Schraub said...

The quote and the link didn't tell me shit. It told me that Tutu doesn't conceptualize himself as someone who harbors hatred for Jews. That's great, and I already conceded as much. But using as a warrant for anything more means nothing to me, and it shouldn't mean anything to you either.

Indeed, the link you share buys into PG's claim about Jews are held to higher standards because we "know better". So now we're up to two statements, and I still fail to see what's "out of context" about the one I'm citing (which itself makes about a half-dozen claims which implicate anti-Semitism, none of which you've offered even a faintly compelling defense of). You asked what basis I had for saying Tutu doesn't have egalitarian attitudes towards Jews. I just listed off a half-dozen from one article, but I'm supposed to discount that because Tutu caveats by saying "but seriously, I like Jews just fine." Just how high of a bar do I have to leap here? Prejudice doesn't always come wrapped in angry, froth-filled bows.

I don't claim an "ultimate" right to say "this is anti-Semitic", just the regular sort: the right that, as a Jew, I have the right to name that which I feel wrongs me and doesn't treat me with due accord for my personhood, with the expectation that it will be taken seriously. "Taken seriously" doesn't mean acquiescence, but it does mean admitting it as a claim worth deliberating over, and Tutu, in his baleful whine about the big bad Jewish lobby and how it "silences" people with (false) accusations of anti-Semitism, doesn't accept that. Denial of that right is one of the most serious ones of all, because it is a rejection not just of the position, but of the right to be part of the conversation.

PG said...

Indeed, the link you share buys into PG's claim about Jews are held to higher standards because we "know better". So now we're up to two statements, and I still fail to see what's "out of context" about the one I'm citing (which itself makes about a half-dozen claims which implicate anti-Semitism, none of which you've offered even a faintly compelling defense of). You asked what basis I had for saying Tutu doesn't have egalitarian attitudes towards Jews.

Uh, just to clarify what I was saying, I was pointing out that it is a form of in-egalitarianism to view "Jews as obligated to be *especially* moral and good, and therefore expressing outsized disappointment when the Jewish State falls short of these expectations, when he does not have these expectations of any other group."

In other words, purporting to put someone on a pedestal and being disappointed when the feet are clay is a form of treating that person unequally, even if it initially takes the appearance of having an extraordinary admiration for that person. (See also Feminism 105: Do Not Be His Civilizing Influence/ Angel of the Hearth, Because (a) You'll Never Get Eaten Out Properly, and (b) You Will Inevitably Disappoint.)

David Schraub said...

Ansel: I do, however, wish to apologize for the implication that you are not legitimately "Jewish" and buying into gentile privilege. That was wrong and uncalled for.

PG: Can Feminism 106 be a special seminar on how to eat out properly?

Kathy said...

To be perfectly blunt, the lesson of the Holocaust is that this discussion will only be viable when Jews have some big fucking tanks backing them up.

I actually thought that Jews (those who are citizens of Israel, at least) DID have "some big fucking tanks backing them up."

I can't see that the big fucking tanks have done Israel much good. I don't think deporting Palestinians en masse will work, either.

I take a bit of exception to your characterization of the winning side in the UC-Berkeley vote as "the good side," because I am sympathetic to the side that wants to divest student funds. Israel's behavior, policies, actions toward the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank are unconscionable. There's no other word that fits, at this point, in my view. And I think a lot of other American Jews feel the same way.

David Schraub said...

And notice how much better Jews with tanks are doing vis-a-vis tank-less Jews on "not being victims of mass slaughter" scoreboard. That's a lesson we've learned rather well from the Holocaust. And in that sense, it's doing Israel and the Jews quite a bit of good. I think Jews not being periodic victims of genocide is a very good and important accomplishment. Others, clearly, find this considerably less important.

I've written at length regarding my views of the BDS movement (search the archives if you will). I think it is morally hideous, and I will reiterate that, and I will reiterate it to both its non-Jewish and its (rather few) Jewish supporters alike. Every ounce of energy expended on the BDS movement is an ounce taken away from TULIP, or One Voice, or Engage. More importantly, many of the folks at the heart of the BDS movement, from Bongani Masuku of COSATU to the originators at PACBI, are folks whose views towards Jews cannot be characterized as egalitarian, and who are working for, not the end of the conflict, but the end of Israel as a Jewish state. PACBI is rather vociferous in declaring both that it is uninterested in peaceful reconciliation, and considers Israel as a Jewish state to be an immoral affront.

You link hands with the devil, don't be surprised when folks call you names.