I am Jewish.
Excuse me? Are you talking about me
Sorry, but I think “I” is the consciousness I woke up with this morning. And I think that’s more or less the awareness that I wake up with every day and that I’ve woken up with every day since I was born. Law? And my consciousness has no race.
Now. I am connected to my body. Somehow. But it’s complicated. Very complicated. When I walk down the street and see “me” in the mirror of a shop window, I ask: “Who is that?” and I answer: “Oh yes. It’s that guy again. ”
But this guy was assigned to me. There is a connection there. He is connected to me. He is “my” body. If you hit him I suffer. When you stroke him, I am comforted. If you torture him he will almost become me – almost – I don’t have much left than the pain he is feeling. And if you kill him I’ll be gone. Still, he’s a body and I’m not. He’s not me
And yes, my body has a story behind it. It is what it is because of its genes. It made itself little by little according to the instructions of its genes. And the genes gave their instructions according to some very strict laws. So – where do the genes come from, I wonder? Did you come from Israel? Is my body jewish? Did my gene come from some people who called themselves “Jews”?
Well – since it was around 3300 BC. There were no people at all who called themselves “Jews”, obviously my genes did not come entirely from them. About 3300 BC. There weren’t any Jews, but there were other people who called other things or nothing, and the genes of the Jews came from them. The Jews didn’t invent their own genes. The Jews inherited their genes from their ancestors who, like all other ancestors, were descendants of early humans, our original ancestors who lived in Africa. Most of my genes are direct copies of the genes from my African ancestors. But, of course, the African ancestors got most of their genes from proto-humans and various primates and early mammals and early fish-like creatures.
If you want, you can say that my genes came from different people, some Jewish and some not – or you could say that they came from cells, from egg cells and sperm, cells that had developed in certain human bodies without Interestingly, any intervention by the people, the personalities associated with these bodies. In other words, the genes didn’t know whose body they were in, and the people who carried those genes didn’t know where their genes came from or how they got there.
I I was sitting at my breakfast table and it was November 25, 2020, six months before the day George Floyd, an African American father of five, was suffocated on a public street by Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police officer. I finished my breakfast and was reading two things at the same time. There was a cereal box on one side of me and my open computer on the other. The cereal box in bold letters proudly declared that the cereal it contained was “Made From American Corn”. And the computer was open to the morning email and specifically to one of the many newsletters I seem to receive every morning from various Jewish organizations. The assassination of George Floyd and the extraordinary reaction it provoked had made me – and probably almost everyone in the United States – overly conscious of the subject of race, and so idly this morning I wondered if it was daily The appearance of these newsletters meant my name was somewhere on a list of people determined to be members of the Jewish “race”. At the same time, I wondered about the cereal box and inevitably asked myself: Can corn really be “American”? Yes, the corn used for the grain in the box can be grown in America, but can an ear of wheat actually be American? Can it be American even though it doesn’t know it is? The ear of corn has a complex ancestry that goes back to the origin of life in the primeval ocean. And instead of saying it’s linked to America, couldn’t you just as easily say it’s linked to the Primordial Ocean? And of course my body also has a complex lineage. For example, along with the question: is my body connected to people who called themselves Jews? One might ask: isn’t my body equally connected to these remarkable fish that figured out how to survive on land? And I could also ask: if I say that I am Jewish, does that mean, for example, that my liver is Jewish? What if some of the genes that served as the blueprint for my liver came from ancestors who called themselves non-Jews? Would I then have an alien, non-Jewish liver in a Jewish body?
If a dog was born in America, is the dog American?
Or is my body African? Am i african
If a horse is born in the State of Israel, is the horse Jewish?
The theme of this Jewish newsletter is primarily anti-Semitism. Not for the most part the horrific murders of Jews that have happened in Europe and the United States in recent years, or the desecrations of Jewish cemeteries or the swastikas on the walls – most newsletters have a lot more room for clues or outright explanation that certain people, including various American and British politicians, are anti-Semitic.
We live in a world that is racially obsessed, a world where people are repeatedly killed because of race. But what exactly is “race”?
T.The idea of ”race” itself first became popular in the 18th century, but long before “race” was invented, people learned how to categorize themselves – and especially how to categorize each other. Individuals learned to see themselves as belonging to a certain group, to formulate the idea that the people in their own group were very, very different from the people in other groups, and also to imagine that the people in other groups were inferior – bad, ugly, dangerous, disgusting, terrifying, maybe terribly disturbing. And yet this ability to categorize, along with the ability to like and dislike, remains the key to how we function, and strangely enough, these capabilities work independently of our will, in fact they work in a part of our mind that we do not belong to. I have no conscious access. That is, they live in that part of our mind that is hidden from our own consciousness and that we ourselves did not create. So when a pigeon lands on my windowsill, I feel happy and think, “Hello! I like you “but when a pigeon lands there I feel slightly repulsed and think,” Oh, I don’t like you, can you please go away? “And why do I have these special feelings? I have absolutely no idea. Whoever put these feelings into me, it wasn’t me.
The concept of “race” is based on the belief that humanity is made up of a few distinct groups of people who evolved rather separately from one another in separate geographic areas. Bringing the belief in “race” into the language of genetics would mean claiming that each of the groups or “races” is genetically different, such that the individuals in each race are genetically similar and individuals are genetically dissimilar from other races . Those who believe in “race” believe that any particular race has certain infallibly defining physical markers such as skin color and certain facial features. And, of course, some “race” followers believe that members of each race share different inherited moral qualities. Adolf Hitler’s officials routinely measured different parts of the body of people to determine whether or not those people were members of the Jewish “race”, and when it was found that they were, Hitler believed that they inevitably had inherited various despicable moral traits and deserves to be killed even if it were children or toddlers who had no chance at all of manifesting many traits.
There has never been any evidence that moral traits are found in our genes or that moral traits could be inherited. When bodies are born, they have no beliefs, customs or moral attributes. And the study of human prehistory has shown that our particular diversity of people, far from snuggling into any particular geographic area as “racial theory” suggests, possesses a wild and dynamic restlessness. Constantly disintegrating and splitting into different groups, moving from one place to another, repeatedly crossing amazing distances to reach distant continents, and because of the strange nature of sexual desire and the terrifying brutality of human man when these groups collapsed up into still other groups, some stayed in their old places, others moved on as they traveled, explored, tried to avoid hunger, sought a better life, plundered, fought, conquered, formed new communities, met other groups, and sometimes closed they embraced them when they got married and raped, and their genes kept jumping crazy over every mountain, river and desert. Some groups settled down long enough for genetic mutations to spread through the group so that almost everyone in the group had the same distinctive eyebrows, but somehow, a few thousand years later, people with the same eyebrows could be found a few thousand miles away. To date, very few people on the planet have genes that come from only one group or only one geographic area. In any event, it turns out that people belonging to a particular “race”, as defined by their skin color, facial features, or other measurable traits, may have fewer genes in common with members of “their own” “race” than you have with humans who are not members of their “race” at all, so in other words the whole idea of ”race” is based on a series of misunderstandings and relates to something that actually does not exist.
Still, for most of us today, the main obsession with categorization remains categorization by race. Indeed, the idea of race remains so invincibly powerful that it floods the basement of our minds, the unconscious part, and affects our behavior when we are not aware of it, and it is woven through the semi-conscious thoughts that are our mundane Last when we go through every day.
B.whether enters a room. Joe is already sitting there. Bob’s grandmother was from China and Bob spent many years of his childhood in China and was heavily influenced by Chinese culture. But the laws of genetics gave him his father’s dark skin. So Joe thinks, “There is Bob. Bob is black.” Joe thinks he is “white” himself, and Bob thinks that Joe is “white”. Bob lives in a country where most people are identified as “white”. Bob is less aware that Joe is “white” than that Joe is “black”. The situation is potentially scary for Bob and the country he lives in is a scary place for Bob because Bob can be shot because people think he is “black”. But Bob is not black. Bob has genes from all of his ancestors. Some of his ancestors were slaves. Some of them were slave masters. And some of them were neither masters nor slaves. Some were Chinese. The laws of genetics gave Bob’s skin the very specific color it was that was not black, and the same laws gave Joe’s skin the very specific color he was that was not white.
If you know the color of Bob’s skin and the shape of his facial features, you know nothing about Bob as a human. If you know the color of Joe’s skin and the shape of his features, you know nothing about Joe as a human. But Bob and Joe cannot escape the power of the “racing” idea.
Bob and Joe are both professors. Joe is sitting in the faculty lounge. Bob and Joe have met a couple of times, but they don’t know each other. Bob walks up to Joe and says, “Hey, do you have the meeting tomorrow?” and Joe replies, “No, it will be Friday.” But when Bob approaches him, Joe thinks, “Here comes Bob. Bob is black. Black black black black black,” although he tries not to think so, and Bob because he lives in a world where most people live People he meets every day, people he thinks white, isn’t so surprised Joe is someone he thinks is white, but Bob is quite a worn-out guy because he has hundreds of encounters every day , and each is an effort. Bob and Joe both wish that their encounters could be relaxed, easy, carefree, unconscious, casual, spontaneous, and effortless, that is, without an awareness of “race”, without an awareness of manner How unlucky to be seen as “black” and good luck as “white” and unaware of the fact that Bob may feel angry with people considered “white” or Joe may be afraid of people that are considered “black” en “Or do you feel guilty about people who are considered” black “or both, and both of them are likely to say to each other,” Don’t think about all of that. “But we’re rarely very successful when we say, ‘Don’t think about X’ or ‘Don’t feel a Y’. And when I’m poor and you’re rich, although under certain circumstances it could be much better for both of us if We both forget these facts, the problem is that if I stay poor it will really only be one thing before I rediscover the situation and think, “Hey, you’re rich.”
Beyond the “race”, we continue our compulsive categorization into smaller groups. In the United States, where I live, everyone categorizes all day boring and pointless based on national background and race. People of Spanish descent may have a skin color that is the same as a person of French ancestry, but people of French ancestry are said to be “white” while people of Spanish ancestry are said to be “not white” or “Hispanic”. And for each racial or national category there are different corresponding stereotypes and prejudices. So when person X looks at person Y through the lens of a negative prejudice or prejudice because of their presumed background or origin, we call this “racism”, even if the prejudice is background or nationality, not “race”.
A Freund promised to give me a book and he said the book was written by a man who was a physicist. When he gave me the book, I had a moment of surprise. I was surprised to see that the author had an Italian name. I just didn’t expect the physicist to be Italian. After a few microseconds, I remembered that many of the greatest scientists in the world were Italian and that there was no reason to be surprised that this physicist was Italian. But the moment of surprise showed an unconscious attitude. I wouldn’t have been surprised if an opera singer turned out to be Italian, but apparently I was surprised that a physicist turned out to be Italian. If someone had asked me if I was surprised that the author of the book, the physicist, was Italian, I would surely have denied it. And I would have denied it with some sense of sincerity, since my conscious self was not surprised – not after the seemingly meaningless first moment of surprise. And it’s not the kind of moment I would normally mention or remind myself or even explicitly admit to anyone else.
The unconscious, the basement happens to be the largest room in most of our homes, and the stereotypes, fears, and beliefs about various groups that have been dumped into this basement like some kind of terribly unhealthy dishwater since childhood are all part of the vast oceanic chaos of our unconscious mind, along with countless irrational taboos, the folklore about sex, the eccentric and inaccurate stories about people we know and don’t know, the books that we read but I don’t remember the lessons from school about the weather and the solar system, the old comics, the old TV shows and all the thoughts that have ever been expressed to us. It is very easy for thoughts to get into the basement of our minds, but because we don’t have direct access to it, it is not so easy for us to reach into that basement and get thoughts out, and that goes for all of us, no matter how enlightened or well-meaning or intelligent or shrewd we may think we are. Moreover, the prejudices and stereotypes and other ridiculous ideas in our unconscious minds aren’t even the most current. Although I was born in the 1940s, I consider myself extremely hip and at home in the 2020s world that I live in today. However, when I look at them objectively, my conscious thoughts, on average, are typical thoughts of the 1990s. My unconscious thoughts are probably typical 1950s thoughts on average. And of course my conscious thoughts wrestle with my unconscious thoughts every day. Sometimes they win and sometimes they lose. But the unconscious thoughts do not evaporate when they are defeated. They just hide in a deeper part of the basement waiting for a day that I hope will never come, when the worst parts of me somehow activate and I become the horrible person I know about that I am able to.
And given the very real problems that have always threatened us – hunger, disease, hunger and now the rising temperatures, the rising seas – it is a fantastic and almost unbelievable fact that humanity has invented a ridiculous and completely unnecessary problem for itself , Racism. And it’s also mind-boggling that around the world and over the years, and especially today, grotesquely boastful, bloated creatures dubbed political “leaders” have actually persuaded large numbers of people to absolutely love and to them worship by encouraging those who do Listen to them to drink deeper and deeper from the cup of racism. But in order to add the dire facts about this unnecessary invention, racism, we must not only state that racism is terrible, but that many of the most natural reactions to it are terrible.
To speak of myself, although my genes came from countless different people, many of them were people who called themselves “Jews,” and my parents and most of my relatives, with varying degrees of interest, commitment, or enthusiasm, thought of themselves as ” Jews ”, and when I happen to walk into a room and smell a lighted cigar, I have a feeling of warmth and cosiness because my Jewish grandfather and uncles smoked cigars, and indeed I even have a hint at certain moments felt of pleasure and perhaps almost pride when someone said something like, “Hey, did you know that Camille Pissarro is Jewish?” But basically, for the most part, I’ve given too little thought to my origins, and days and weeks go by without thinking about whether I’m Jewish or not – or even thinking the word “Jew” for any reason.
IIt is natural for everyone to ask themselves from time to time: “What am I?” And in my life so far, I’ve pondered this topic every now and then in the privacy of my own mind. But there are moments in history when other people – racists in the last few centuries – try to answer the question for us.
If I had been born eighty or ninety years ago, anti-Semites would have simply and without hesitation defined me as “Jew” based on my origins and facial features. And when, because I had been defined as a Jew, I lost my job and had to live in a ghetto and was forced to wear a yellow star on my clothes and I was surrounded by people everywhere who showed and showed contempt for me spit on and beaten up in the street, and my aunts and uncles, my parents, my brothers and sisters had been arrested or shot or confiscated and taken to concentration camps at dawn – well then I would of course have been obsessed with my Judaism. I would have thought about it every minute of every day because it would have dominated my life every minute of every day. I could not have ignored the issue of my “race” just as an African American in the United States today may not have ignored the issue of their “race”.
When a person has been defined by others as a member of a disadvantaged group and that group is vilified by everyone around them, they can respond by accepting the negative description of themselves and they can become depressed and fall into a state of passivity, they can despise themselves and feel worthless, powerless and weak. On the other hand, people around them who speak contemptuously of their group might respond by wanting to honor their group. Or when others try to take away from them the cooking styles, the songs, the games that they associate with their childhood, their relatives, their family, they may feel motivated to cherish and adore these cultural treasures. And when she and the people around her face a collective attack, their response may be to identify with the community at risk. In certain circumstances of threat or danger, it wouldn’t even be something a person would need to think about. The identification would be automatic and complete.
The killing of Jews in Europe in very large numbers began in the 12th century. The myth spread that Jews used the blood of Christian children in their rituals, and for this mythical crime, for example, 38 Jews were burned at the stake in the small French town of Blois in 1171. And as the black plague spread throughout Europe, Jews were accused of causing the plague by poisoning wells in the 14th century, and Jews were massacred across Europe. If they weren’t massacred, they were often evicted from the places where they lived. Eventually “the Jew” became a symbol for many Christians of all that was common, even if fewer and fewer Christians had the opportunity to meet a Jew in the course of their lives. So this kind of thing has been going on for a very, very long time. Remarkably, Jews have also gathered with other Jews for a very, very long time trying to maintain their faith, culture, and community. Some Jews also tried, in a sense, to form a community with other long-dead Jews, with all Jews who had lived in the past five thousand years.
The idea of maintaining or fortifying a five-thousand-year-old Jewish community today takes various forms. There are Jews in countries around the world who show respect to Jewish ancestors by celebrating Jewish holidays and observing Jewish customs. Others visit synagogues, study Jewish texts or practice the religion of Judaism. And still others focus their lives on participating in small closed societies made up entirely of Jews. For some, the “we” of the 5,000 year old Jewish community is far more important to their daily experience than their personal “me”. These individuals teach their children to recite the prayers and practice the customs that they believe are consistent with the prayers and customs their ancestors recited and practiced, and they tell their children with the mighty word “ours.” “:” These are our prayers and customs. These are our beliefs. These are the prayers, beliefs, and customs that my parents passed on to me and that you will pass on to your own children. “They believe they have the same attitudes towards life as their ancient ancestors, and some even dress like Jews of the Middle Ages. The identification can be so complete that even when telling their children – and encouraging their children to tell their own future children – they use the word “we” without reservation or confidence, “We had a great kingdom, we were warriors ‘We were invincible, we were persecuted, we were slaves, we suffered, we were killed. ”
In the modern world, when a person tries to say and do things that a medieval Jew could have said or done, of course, he does not make him a medieval Jew. If a person imitates an owl, it is not an owl. And the fact that a person is descended from a unicellular organism does not make them a unicellular organism. Just as medieval pronunciation and context and associations of words used in medieval prayers are guessed but not known, so attitudes to the life of medieval Jews can be guessed but not known. And while children can be taught to consider themselves part of a group, they are not born members of a group. European racists believed that a person’s physical lineage, the lineage of their body, determined what kind of person they would be, and if they were born to Jewish parents, the racists believed they would be terrible people. Some of the more devoted protectors of the 5,000 year old Jewish community also believe in ancestral destiny, but they believe that if a person is born to Jewish parents, they will be born Jewish as if the customs, prayers, and beliefs were part of their physical heritage inherent in the newborn’s body.
After the murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazis, after many decades of preparation, a more ambitious attempt was organized to protect the Jewish community. And you might think that after what happened in World War I, and certainly after what happened in World War II, every thoughtful person on earth would very seriously have begun to question the value of the nation-state. Certainly the notion that a nation state provides physical security to its citizens has been thoroughly and decisively proven wrong. Nonetheless, by the end of the 19th century, many Jews had already come to the conclusion that in a world of nation states, founding their own nation state was the only way to offer the Jewish people permanent security. und viele der zerstörten Juden, die nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg noch lebten, verfolgten dieses Ziel weiter. Die meisten Regierungen der überlebenden Nationalstaaten unterstützten die Idee, sogar Regierungen, die die Qual der in den Lagern ermordeten Juden und die Bitten derjenigen, die darum baten, als Flüchtlinge in sicherere Länder aufgenommen zu werden, kalt ignoriert hatten. So erlaubte die Welt die Gründung des Staates Israel in Palästina, und so wie die Juden in den vergangenen Jahrhunderten einst von so vielen Orten vertrieben worden waren, vertrieben die Juden nach Jahrhunderten die palästinensischen Araber aus ihren Häusern und ihrem Land und die Juden Als Opfer von Rassismus und Ungerechtigkeit lernten sie zunehmend, Rassismus und Ungerechtigkeit selbst zu praktizieren. Die zielstrebige Hingabe an die Erhaltung der jüdischen Gemeinde hatte zur Unterwerfung der arabischen Bewohner Palästinas geführt, eine Unterwerfung, die sich im Laufe der Jahre durch viele Ereignisse zu einem bekannten permanenten Regime bösartiger und arroganter Grausamkeit entwickelt hat und Herzlosigkeit zeigt das entspricht dem vieler der schlimmsten Regierungen der Welt. Natürlich gibt es viele Menschen, Juden und Nichtjuden, die immer noch nicht glauben können, dass dies der Fall ist, und die versuchen, nicht zu viel über die Situation zu lernen oder zu viel darüber nachzudenken. Und dann gibt es andere, die alles darüber wissen, aber versuchen, alles in einem positiven Licht zu interpretieren.
ADies bringt mich zu den Organisationen, deren Newsletter ich erhalte, und zu ihren Vorwürfen des Antisemitismus. Und in gewisser Weise ist es entsetzlich, dass eine Person wie ich, die nichts als Glück in ihrem Leben hatte und wenig gelitten hat, eine Person ohne große emotionale Tiefe, die bequem an seinem Tisch sitzt und ein angenehmes Frühstück beendet, davon ausgehen sollte, zu urteilen oder kritisieren die Newsletter dieser Organisationen, die in vielen Fällen von Menschen verfasst wurden, die entweder selbst stark gelitten haben oder deren Eltern und Großeltern gelitten haben und in vielen Fällen ihre Familien aufgrund des mörderischen Verhaltens von Antisemiten verloren haben. Während ich mir die Erlaubnis gebe, die Meinung zu den in diesen verschiedenen Newslettern behandelten Themen richtig zu vertreten, erinnere ich mich gleichzeitig daran, dass das, was in ihnen geschrieben steht – insbesondere in den Abschnitten, die ich am unmöglichsten zu akzeptieren finde -. wird geschrieben, weil die Autoren durch die Angst, die früheren Generationen ihrer Familien zugefügt wurde, emotional gequält, verwundet und verdreht wurden. Marx benutzte den wunderbaren Ausdruck „erstarrte Arbeit“, um uns an die Arbeiter zu erinnern, deren schwieriger Kampf untrennbar in die physischen Gegenstände eingebrannt war, die wir jeden Tag beiläufig benutzen, und wir können über die von diesen Organisationen verschickten Newsletter sagen, dass ihre Strafen den erstarrten Terror enthalten und der erstarrte Kummer von Generationen von Verfolgten. Aus diesem Grund müssen wir uns daran erinnern, nicht zu viel Freude daran zu haben, die möglichen Irrtümer und Sophisterien dieser heimgesuchten Schriftsteller aufzudecken. Die allgemein wohlmeinende Öffentlichkeit in der Generation vor mir, überwältigt von der Schande darüber, was mit den Juden geschehen durfte, akzeptierte ohne Frage viele der Annahmen, die die Verfasser dieser Newsletter noch teilten. Und natürlich gibt es eine Art triumphierendes, transgressives Vergnügen, das uns einfallen kann, wenn wir uns der konventionellen Weisheit einer früheren Generation widersetzen, insbesondere einer früheren Generation, die eine große Anzahl selbstzufriedener Menschen enthielt, die eine selbstgefällige Haltung gegenüber hatten die Welt ignorierte aber viele Dinge. But that pleasure is itself self-satisfied and preposterously self-congratulatory. Let’s try to remember that the whole story is tragic.
If your view of the world is that there are Jews and then there are non-Jews, and if your view of your role in life is that you are a defender of the Jews, then if non-Jews are denouncing Jews, you may not pay that much attention to which Jews are being denounced and the various reasons the non-Jews give for their denunciations. And so you may well miss some of the distinctions between non-Jewish opponent A and non-Jewish opponent B. And indeed the central mandate of the organizations whose newsletters I receive at my breakfast-table is to ignore those distinctions with steely determination. But from any perspective on life other than theirs, the distinctions matter. Hitler denounced Jews because he believed in an insane fantasy about race. Contemporary Palestinians denounce the Israelis because the Israelis have stolen their land, killed their children, bulldozed their homes, made their daily lives unbearable, and starved them. To accuse contemporary Palestinians of anti-Semitism would be almost funny, as if one had said that Jews despised Hitler because they had an anti-Austrian prejudice.
In other words, the writers of the newsletters believe that the Jews have always had enemies and always will have enemies, that the enemies are all in a way interchangeable, and that paying attention to the differences between them would merely indicate that one had been duped; they’re all anti-Semites, and they’re anti-Semites because they hate Jews.
So then we have to consider the fact that there are unusual individuals in every country who habitually stand on the side of the un-privileged, the un-lucky, the weak, and the subjugated. And these defenders of the weak can often be particularly courageous people. Some of them routinely risk prison and even death because of standing up for oppressed people. And indeed, one might well say that these champions of the un-privileged are among the most admirable people in every country. And yet, consistently, because of their sympathy and support for the Palestinians, these are the very people repeatedly singled out for contempt and vilified as anti-Semites in my daily newsletters, even though no one can point to any particular things that they’ve said or actions that they’ve taken that would indicate that they have a prejudice against Jews or that their support for the Palestinians is based on a prejudice against Jews. Many of them are Jews themselves, almost all of them work side by side every day with Jews, and a few of them even have pictures of Jews like Karl Marx hanging on their walls.
And the accusation of anti-Semitism is a terrible and terrifying accusation. It casts a cloud of suspicion and doubt around a person that may be almost impossible to dispel, because the rumor that any given person secretly harbors a horrible and revolting inner hatred is weirdly easy to believe and impossible to decisively disprove. And the very word “anti-Semite” carries the association of the gas chambers and crematoria of Auschwitz, and it places the person accused of it in the same category as those who slaughtered 6 million people.
Because human beings are mysterious entities, or I would say fundamentally un-knowable, it was easy, in medieval times, for a Christian to subject his neighbor, a Jew, to an entirely superstitious, utterly unscientific, and completely subjective form of observation and to conclude that the neighbor had literally made a personal arrangement with the Devil and had agreed to do the Devil’s bidding on earth, and it’s easy today for any one of us to suspect that our neighbor shows signs of prejudice, and in the right circumstances it’s not hard to convince others to share our suspicions. Prejudice comes of course in many flavors. There’s a spectrum that runs all the way from ignoring or vaguely not noticing members of a certain group all the way on up through mild disdain, distaste, disgust, fear, horror, and loathing. And for those who move through the world with the sense that a large proportion of the people they meet feel a certain disdain for them, much less some variety of disgust or loathing, life can become exhausting and demoralizing and eventually even unbearable. The problem is that, because we all grew up in a world full of prejudice, and because we are all victims of our own not-conscious minds, and because we do not have the ability to transform ourselves into the people we’d ideally like to be, we are all at least a little bit prejudiced towards various well-defined or ill-defined groups. Quite apart from groups coming from different ancestries, we have irrational feelings about people who are by some standard over-weight or people who are short or people whose pronunciation of certain sounds is slightly abnormal and to us infuriating. So prejudice is very real. And those of us who belong to groups that have frequently been disliked or despised can’t lightly dismiss the suggestion that a given individual may be prejudiced against our group. Under certain circumstances, we can easily begin to feel more and more convinced that a certain person, or two people, or a lot of people, are looking down on us, and we can even persuade others in our group to feel the same. And history tells us that some who have felt that way have basically been right. But it’s also possible to feel that way and be wrong.
Of course the more we believe that our group is the object of prejudice, and the closer our identification becomes with the group, the greater is the danger that we will incorrectly believe ourselves to have more in common with the other members of the group than we really have, and less in common with individuals outside the group than we really have. And the truth is that we humans are not only not good at making guesses about the inner life of our fellow humans, we are absolutely terrible at it. We’re wrong even about those we know well, those we live with and see every day. And so, yes, if a certain individual makes anti-Jewish statements or jokes, or if they discriminate against Jews in their personal or professional behavior, then undoubtedly we can feel confident in considering them to one degree or another anti-Semitic. But when we try to speculate about individuals apart from their words and their deeds, when we try to guess what they feel inside, we may very well be wrong about them, and we may very well make the mistake of categorizing as an enemy someone who in fact is a good-hearted person who could potentially be a friend.
A lot of what we consider human progress has occurred because various individual members of mis-treated groups identified passionately with their group and figured out how to fight for their group. If human beings had lacked the capacity for group identification, if human individuals had lacked the ability to see that they and their neighbor were both suffering under the same intolerable conditions, all of us today would probably be living as slaves under one or another pharaoh, and there would be no hope for anything better for us. All the same, to form an unconditional bond with a collective entity—to answer the question “What am I?” by referring to a “race,” a nation, a group, a community—is always a very dangerous choice. In other words, in my opinion the B Minor Mass of Johann Sebastian Bach is great. And in my opinion Angela Merkel’s decision to welcome the Syrian refugees in 2015 was great. But I don’t think that “Germany” is great. I don’t think “the United States” is great. I don’t think “Great Britain” is great. I don’t think “the German people” are great. I don’t think “the American people” are great. And I don’t think “the British people” are great. No nation is great, and no group of people is great. A passionate admiration for one’s own group can somewhat easily turn into some kind of contempt for others, and if one is speaking of “races” or national groups, it can even sometimes lead to the very type of racist contempt that was a necessary condition for British and European imperialism, slavery, and countless cases of the slaughter of the innocent down to our own day.
And so as I sit here reading my daily newsletters, I find myself gesturing frantically at my breakfast table. I feel almost desperate. I want to speak out loud to the writer of each article I’m reading, to say I know, I know, each step you took in your reasoning over the course of your life was understandable, and each step made sense—in a way. But look at where you’ve ended up—you’re drowning in injustice, you’re defending sadism, and you’re heaping abuse every day on some of the world’s most admirable human beings, people who are not even your enemies. Somehow your thinking must have taken a wrong turn.
First of all, you distanced yourselves from all the other victims of racism and remorseless mass murder that have occurred in our world. Rather than identifying with other victims and trying to comprehend the mechanisms that might lie behind all such cases, you insisted on the uniqueness of the Jewish case. Of course there’s no doubt that the Jewish case is unique in its nature, in its scale, and in its long twisted history. But can you explain what happened to the Rohingya in Burma in 2016 and 2017 or to the Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994? No, you can’t, because each of those cases of racism is also unique, and in fact most cases of racism have unique, long, and twisted histories behind them.
You consistently use a phrase that insists on the separateness of the Jewish case, the phrase “racism and anti-Semitism.” That phrase doesn’t help us at all in any quest for insight, and it ought to be abandoned.
As self-appointed defenders of Israel, you don’t understand why the countries of the world so often vote against Israel in the United Nations and why young people all over the world march in demonstrations against Israel and why so many thoughtful older people are irritated and annoyed by you, the supporters of Israel. Or you simply conclude that this is the way non-Jews have always felt about Jews, it’s based on the same eternal prejudice, and there’s no need for you to think seriously about it. And it’s true that people born in the last seventy years or so may or may not be vividly aware of what happened to the Jewish people in earlier years. But the fact is that if asked to list the groups that have been most tormented during the time that they themselves have been alive, they are likely to mention the people of Vietnam, the people of Iraq, the people of Syria, and many other groups of people, before they mention either Jews around the world or the citizens of Israel, and this is why they don’t accept the way that you seem to claim a unique moral authority, as victims, to be above criticism.
Unfortunately, it’s sad but true that, in part precisely because it so assiduously defends its right to commit the crimes it commits, Israel, very much like apartheid-era South Africa in its day, has become a country that is looked upon with almost unquestioned disdain by people around the world who care about protecting the un-protected and the weak. Some of these people may know a great deal about the current situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories and all the history that led up to the current moment, and some may know very little. But they are not wrong in seeing, for example, the shooting of unarmed protesters and the ghastly collective punishment of almost 2 million people in Gaza as among the current world’s most vicious, systematic, and merciless attempts to dominate or crush a defenseless population. And they resent the techniques you use every day—the endless and varied ways in which you wield the accusation of anti-Semitism—to stop people from criticizing either the state of Israel or you, its tireless defenders.
You’ve really established a preposterous set of rules for anyone who wants to talk or write about this particular subject, and you know just what to say if these rules are broken. If someone wants to criticize a Jewish politician in the United States, for example, if someone wants to say, Well, this particular politician always seems to defend Israel no matter what it does, he uses very deceitful and dishonest arguments and rhetoric, and by the way he receives a large part of his campaign funding from wealthy supporters of Israel, you will reply by saying, Well, the person who says that is clearly anti-Semitic because they’re using ancient and obvious anti-Semitic slurs; they’re saying that this fine politician is more “loyal” to the Jewish people and Israel than he is to his own country, they’re calling him “tricky” and “sneaky,” and they’re saying that rich Jews use their money to try to buy influence, bend people to their will, and control things. And so you do your best to force everyone to talk about whether what’s been said about the politician does or does not echo things that anti-Semites said in various past centuries, and you hope that everyone forgets about the fact that what was said about the politician may simply be true.
You say that people who discuss the negative consequences of the founding of the state of Israel are anti-Semitic, because in mentioning those consequences they’re implying that Jews, and only Jews, had no right to found a state and no right of self-determination, and you say that people who criticize the actions of the state of Israel are anti-Semitic because they hold Israel to a standard of behavior higher than what is asked of any other country. Well, obviously, the hope of various groups to have a nation-state of their own, from the Kurds to the Basques and on and on, forms one of the endless painful themes of political history, but it’s unusual for a group to select a location for their nation-state where they themselves mostly don’t live and where other people do live. And it’s hardly true that Israel is held to a higher standard than other countries. People who think about what’s happening in the world savagely criticize countries other than Israel every hour of every day. They savagely criticize the United States, and in particular its founding. They savagely criticize Russia. They savagely criticize China. But the accusations of anti-Semitism still sting and can still dominate the conversation. They’re arrows whose poison never seems to wear off.
Your obsession with the daily defense of every choice made by the Israeli state is perhaps a consequence of the fact that you’re still reacting much too literal-mindedly to the statements that various ignorant and malevolent people made to your ancestors long ago. The ignorant and malevolent people said, You are Jews, you use the blood of children in rituals, you poison wells, and we’re going to kill you, we’re going to kill you because you’re Jews. And then they tried to kill your ancestors, and they killed millions. But because of their terrible success, you took what they said too seriously. They said, “The problem is Jews, we hate Jews,” so you thought the problem was all about Jews and the hatred of Jews. No—that was a mistake. Anti-Semitism was never really about Jews.
People don’t need to know a great deal about Jews in order to be anti-Semites. In fact, they don’t need to know anything. Most anti-Semites have known little or nothing about Jews. Many have never encountered a Jew. You think they hate Jews, and then they try to kill them. No. The truth is that in order for people to kill Jews, they don’t need to hate them. They might hate them, or they might not hate them, or they might not be sure. But whether one looks at the Middle Ages or at Nazified Europe, the Jews weren’t killed because they were Jews. They weren’t killed because of any trait they possessed. They weren’t killed because people hated them. They were killed because history created certain circumstances in which a certain population grew desperate, and. maddened by desperation, sometimes under the sway of demonic leaders, sometimes not, they felt driven to blame a weaker group of people for their problems and their misery. Looking for an appropriate weaker group to blame, the deluded population looked around them, and in Europe the Jews were for centuries by far the most obvious target, because they were easily identifiable, they were alien and mysterious to those outside their community, and they were defenseless. And so the deluded population blamed them, and then they tormented them, and then they killed them.
This is why in a way it really isn’t important whether Adolf Eichmann hated Jews or didn’t hate them. Maybe he hated them on Monday, and on Tuesday he didn’t care. He would have been up to his neck in killing them whether he hated them or not. If Franz Kafka had gone to meet Eichmann in his office, would Eichmann have hated him? We have no idea. In fact, we’ll never know what sorts of odd, bizarre ideas were floating around in Eichmann’s head. He organized transports of Jews to be killed. He wanted to kill Jews. But the Jews that Eichmann wanted to kill or that the citizens of Blois wanted to kill in 1171 were not the suffering human beings they actually killed. The Jews they wanted to kill were made-up fantasy characters. If the best-known and most accessible minority group in 20th century Europe had been the Armenians or the Kurds, Hitler might well have become fixated on the Armenians or the Kurds, and he might well have tried to kill the Armenians or the Kurds. And this is why, yes, it was kind of, sort of, great that after World War II many Germans who would formerly have vilified “the Jews” came to realize that the Jews were not bad people, and concert-goers in Munich cheered Leonard Bernstein. And similarly, in a way, it was kind of, sort of, great that as recent decades passed, many Americans who’d once been very prejudiced against anyone seen as “black” became more accepting of people of color and even elected one to be president of the country. These were victories, and they may have saved lives. But from another point of view they were small victories, because the problem with the human species is not that some people in Germany don’t like Jews, and some people in the United States don’t like people with dark skin, and some people in Egypt don’t like Coptic Christians, and some people in Africa don’t like men who love other men, and some people in Mexico don’t like transgender women, and some people in Indonesia don’t like Communists, and some people in Hungary don’t like immigrants. The problem is that human beings make up categories, put each other into them, and then, they turn the people in some of those categories into made-up fantasy characters, and then, when times are bad, when circumstances are bad, they persecute those people and kill them. And this is why the problem isn’t solved simply by trying to defend Jews.
The horrors caused by the warming of the climate can to some extent be predicted, as can the horrors caused by an uncontrolled disease. The processes that create these problems are to a certain extent understood by science. The opposite is true for the horrors that flow from racism. We can’t predict them, and we’re quite far from understanding them, even though, paradoxically, the developments in the climate and the dangerous diseases come at us from the outside, and racism is a force with which we’re intimately familiar, because some of its currents flow right through us. How close are we to understanding the economic, sociological, and political conditions that create racism in the first place? And how close are we to fully understanding what the historical circumstances are that can turn racism—or prejudice, suspicion, and fear—into a drive towards violence? We don’t understand the murder of old people and children by American soldiers in Vietnam. We don’t understand why Robert Bowers, a citizen of Pennsylvania who’d drawn little attention from his neighbors for 46 years, suddenly drove to a synagogue outside Philadelphia one morning in 2018 and killed 11 worshippers there. We don’t know what was going on in the mind of the Minneapolis policeman, Derek Chauvin, who kneeled on the neck of George Floyd for a minute and 20 seconds after he was dead. And in the very same way, we simply do not understand the murder of the 6 million Jews in the 1940s. We don’t understand it. We can read and reread the facts of the case, just as we can endlessly stare at photographs of the impassive faces of Robert Bowers and Derek Chauvin, but there’s a mystery, a locked box, at the center of these stories. Perhaps by comparing them all, by studying them all at once, we might be able to make some progress in understanding them. But until we do, we live in terrible fear of ourselves, never knowing when one of us, or some of us, may strike. Because unfortunately something is wrong with us. Injustice and misery drive us all too easily into madness, and injustice and misery are everywhere. We are not healthily functioning animals.