Sunday, April 09, 2017

Is This a Bit?

Reza Aslan says he's "worried about Israel's future" because of the growing numbers of Haredi Jews. The article (which apparently is a version of a segment he's presenting on CNN's "Believer"), notes the high birth rates of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel and suggests that they will do unto Israel what political Islamists did to Iran in the late 1970s.

I have to say, though, I don't think the objective of this piece is to express deep concerns about Israel. I don't even think it's to make genuine observations about Haredi Jewry. Rather, this pieces reads to me like Aslan wanted to do something of a bit: taking well-worn tropes about how people talk about Muslims, Islam, and Islamism, and applying them to Jews.

I'm not a huge fan of this sort of writing, particularly when (as here) it isn't clearly satirical. Indeed, if anything the problem is that it's too earnest -- it speaks in a way that seems to be less about showing the absurdity of certain ways we talk about Muslims, and more in a way that seeks to (further) legitimate talking that way of talking about Jews. Overall, the presentation is done in such a way as to otherize and (dare I say) orientalize religious Jewry. Take the following passage:
[A]ccording to the Pew Research Center, a staggering 86% of ultra-Orthodox Jews want Israel to be a theocratic state governed by Jewish law, known as "halakha."
If the way he's talking about "halakha" sounds exactly like how countless articles talk about "sharia law", it should, because it does. If it makes you cringe to hear halakha presented as simply a force of backwards inegalitarian theocracy then every article which talks about sharia in the same way should make you cringe; and if you cringe at articles which portray sharia as univocally representing the most reactionary and anti-modernist forms of Islam then you should cringe at this piece as well.

To be clear: there are things to be worried about regarding growing Haredi influence in Israel. Their politics aren't mine, and they openly discriminate and subordinate Jews like myself and my partner. Judaism, like Islam, is as it does, and so we as Jews have an obligation to act out Jewishness in ways that are consistent with ethical commitments and to resist those wings of Judaism that are inconsistent with modern, egalitarian forms of life. At the same time, in a world beset by horrible stereotypes of what it means to be Jewish (or Muslim), it should not offend us that these are delicate conversations that need to be handled with considerable grace and care. Broad-brush strokes which seek to delegitimize huge swaths of the faith community en masse are inappropriate, do more harm than good, and often seem more motivated by exclusionary impulses than genuine efforts to facilitate inclusion.


Rebecca said...

I also find it creepy that he and others point to the high birth rate among Haredim as being a threat, as if there is something inherently wrong in Haredim in particular having large families. I think that having such large families is often very difficult for Haredim, and it puts a big and unfair burden on women, but that there is something racist about insisting upon the danger of large Haredi families.

Anonymous said...

Here is some more info on Aslan that might help you understand where he's coming from:

Long story short, he's a one stater. He doesn't "worry about Israel's future". He thinks Israel should have no future.