Thursday, January 22, 2015

"Jews Lose": Big Media David Edition

Tablet Magazine invited me to write an essay on the "Jews Lose" doctrine I wrote about previously on this blog. It's obviously exciting to see my name in the big lights, and as an academic I am quite intrigued by this whole "being paid for my articles" concept.

There was one chunk of the article which was cut for space reasons that I wanted to share with you on this space (consider it the "director's cut"). One prominent theme I tried to explore in my essay was this prevailing sense that Jews are the quintessential anti-discrimination "winners". Unfortunately, this label (not accurate to begin with, as my essay demonstrates) isn't always viewed magnanimously, but rather often is presented as an example of unfairness -- why are Jews given so much when other groups have so little? As a result, we get this weird phenomenon where alleged injustices perpetrated against Muslims by non-Jewish institutions (e.g., satirical cartoons mocking Islam) are met with attacks against Jews. A few years ago, we saw this in Holland, where Muslims angry that authorities dropped a hate crimes prosecution against (non-Jewish) Geert Wilders (whose filmed allegedly mocked Mohammed) responded by putting up cartoons mocking the Holocaust.

The broader issue is that presenting Jews as anti-discrimination "haves" often comes in the form of resentment and almost invariably washes away the actual particularities of the Jewish experience. Consider Falguni Sheth’s Salon article exploring the history of Muslim vilification in the context of the recent Paris massacres. She notes that “terrorism” is a “loaded term” that often seems to arbitrarily include only Muslim acts of mass murder. Clearly she has a point, one strikingly illustrated when a former CIA Deputy Director seemingly forgot about Anders Breivik’s massacre in Norway as an example of terrorism in Europe. She also makes the accurate observations that Muslims face considerable pressure to “assimilate” into French society rather than maintain a conspicuous identity as a separate minority group, and that while Charlie Hebdo did satirize Christianity, those cartoons are hardly analogous to those which mock Muslims. Why? Because unlike Muslims, “Christians are neither religious nor ethnic minorities. Christians are not politically vulnerable in the Republic of France; they are the opposite — secure and fully capable.”

All valid points. But then we get to Professor Sheth’s concluding question: “What if the Charlie Hebdo massacre had been committed by Catholic or Jewish extremists?” Wait, what? How did we get roped into this? Are Jews not a distinctive religious group who have faced considerable pressure to assimilate into an unmarked “French” identity? Are they not a religious and ethnic minority experiencing considerable vulnerability, not the least of which is their propensity to be targeted in precisely these sorts of massacres?

The belated appearance of Jews at the end of Professor Sheth’s article does little to advance her argument—it would have just as much force if it solely compared Muslims against a social class that actually was “secure” in its French status. Rather, Professor Sheth seems to include Jews as a means of emphasizing the unjustness of Jews supposedly possessing something other minorities don’t—they apparently do not experience and are not at risk of experiencing the mass vilification and bigotry that Muslims must endure when individual Muslims commit acts of violence. This assertion seems difficult to back up. While thankfully we have not seen a Jewish-initiated mass murder in the West in quite some time, it is notable that we need not wait that long to refute Professor Sheth’s prediction.

Jews don’t have to perpetrate a murderous strike against a vulnerable minority in order for the spotlight to shine on alleged Jewish bad behavior—such rhetoric is a standard part of the conversation any time Jews are the victims of mass political violence. Sometimes it is a BBC reporter lecturing a French Jew at a rally commemorating her murdered peers that “many critics of Israel’s policy would suggest that the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands as well,” sometimes it is a British parliamentarian whose idea of solidarity with those slaughtered at a Kosher market was to tweet “Je suis Palestinian”, And that does not even get into those who are convinced that Jews are actually responsible for the terror in France—a group that includes the mayor of Ankara, leaders of the Free Gaza movement, the International Business Times (since taken down), and the Ron Paul Institute. My twitter feed may be right that a murder commented by a white guy will be attributed to a “disturbed loner” while a Muslim killer is invariably a “terrorist.” But it is also true that regardless of whether the finger on the trigger is white, black, Asian, Arab, or Polynesian, someone will always be there to insist that the Mossad really did it.

I don't think Professor Sheth wishes that people would attack Jews as a group for individual Jewish sins. But the fact that she doesn't recognize that we do experience this, regularly, for sins real and imagined is worrisome. It demonstrates the power of the assumption that Jews win; even coming in the face of a very high-profile loss of Jewish life that was nonetheless met with the usual discussions about bad behavior by other Jews elsewhere.

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