Wednesday, November 03, 2021

Blindness or Short-Sighted Caution: Memmi on the Jew-of-the-Right

 "How can a man be a Rightist when he is a Jew?," Albert Memmi asked in A Portrait of the Jew.

The alliance of Jewry with Right wing movements can never be anything but temporary . . . To preserve the existing order, the Right has to stiffen and emphasize differences while at the same time having no respect for what is different. To preserve itself as a privileged group, it must repulse, restrict and repress other groups. Now it may be that a Jew may desire the survival of a given social order in which, by chance, he is not too unhappy. But in addition, he wants the differences between himself and the non-Jews in that class to be forgotten or at least minimized. The Right, either openly or covertly, drives the Jew back to his Jewishness and can only condemn and burden his Jewishness. Not to speak of times of crisis when the Rightist doctrine, whipped to a frenzy, is driven to violent solutions, to the use of sentiments and methods that debase the lives of Jews (218-19).

In his next book, The Liberation of the Jew, Memmi reiterated the point more bluntly: "[A] Jew is conservative only out of blindness of some short-sighted caution" (228). If you are a Jew and you find right-wing movements appealing, it's because you're not paying attention, or because you aren't looking more than six inches in front of your own feet. The end of the story is all too predictable, only an idiot could not see it coming. And this is an observation Memmi makes in the midst of a searing critique of the left and its treatment of the Jews. That critique notwithstanding, Memmi still wants to be crystal clear that the Jew-of-the-right is a fool.

Much has been made over the way in which the anti-CRT frenzy, first confined to local offices like school boards, may have accounted for major conservative victories in the elections yesterday. Juxtapose that account with this story, also from this week, about how that rhetoric is playing out in one such school board meeting in Arizona:

During the public comment portion of the meeting of the Chandler Unified School District board, a woman who identified herself as Melanie Rettler spoke for over a minute about critical race theory and vaccines — topics not listed on the meeting agenda but at the center of heated public debate nationwide.

Her comment crescendoed with an antisemitic claim drenched in the language of right-wing conspiracy theories.

“Every one of these things, the deep state, the cabal, the swamp, the elite — you can’t mention it, but I will — there is one race that owns all the pharmaceutical companies and these vaccines aren’t safe, they aren’t effective and they aren’t free,” Rettler said. “You know that you’re paying for it through the increase in gas prices, the increase in food prices — you’re paying for this and it’s being taken from your money and being given to these pharmaceutical companies and if you want to bring race into this: It’s the Jews.”

If you think for a second that this anti-CRT hysteria is even going to slow down, let alone reverse course, insofar as it predictably breeds rank hatred like this (not to mention both-sidesing the Holocaust, and banning books on the Holocaust, and blocking an antisemitism envoy for the crime of opposing antisemitism ...) you are out to lunch. Whatever faint concern some conservatives might have for Jews and Jewish safety won't even be a speed bump in their race to power by way of right-wing authoritarianism. To cozy up to this darkness out of blindness or short-sighted fear -- well, fortunately most Jews know better. But every group has its idiots and its fools, and I suppose we are no different.

1 comment:

DL said...

Memmi is such a challenge these days. He was also blunt on the topic of colonialism... what a challenge it is to consider that minorities had it better under colonialism than they did before it, or after it. Would we talk about it the same way if it was acknowledged that overthrowing one oppressor resulted in a worse one? And that you might be shunned from pleasant company if you say it out loud?

The Mizrahi experience disrupts all, so you may want to keep it buried... What would people think if they saw that today's calls for equity seem to be pulled verbatim in some cases from decolonial and Marxist arguments in the 1950s that Jews should be excluded from universities and entire classes of jobs in the name of, you guessed it, equity, in the newly independent North Africa? How to struggle with making that real experience fit with today's calls for justice? Especially when antisemites know they will be welcome by the left today, as they were in Memmi's era? Sources abound, but just try to mention them.

Maybe you should quote Memmi next time you give some oxygen to anti-Zionists.