Friday, June 05, 2009

Kol Yisrael Arevim

I post this because it is getting some traction in the blogosphere, and because it finely articulates why I struggle with Zionism and kol yisrael arevim.

For a moment I will engage my mother, who will no doubt respond along these lines: So they are stupid?! There are lots of stupid people in the world. Why let stupid people alter your identity?! The problem is that according to normative religious/cultural principles I actually share a community with these people. Why can't I construct a community which cleaves along the lines of smart/stupid as opposed to Jewish/non-Jewish (granted my life is far more heavily weighted the former already)? Why would I want to share anything with bigots?

The best rebuttal I can offer at this moment is that maybe God wants us to take responsibility for stupid people. Maybe that's the point of community. Living together in a diverse environment in order to understand the baseness and transcendence of the human spirit. I think it was St. Thomas who argues this, but how can we appreciate the beautiful without the ugly?


Yehuda said...

Zev, I think one of the commentators on the YouTube site said it best about this video: "they are not representative of anyone, except what they are, drunk kids. this video is pointless." What can you learn from this video? That 16 year old kids when drunk will say outrageous things? That will make you want to "construct" a new community?

Btw, people can and have constructed communities without people they don't like. Just think of extremely aristocratic countries like Saudia Arabia or Qatar, where people not in the right families have no rights and opportunities. You can also join an exclusive club that can keep out people you don't like. Perhaps you could have a synagogue that only admits the stylishly left as members. They have such synagogues in Jerusalem (no, I'm not a member of any of them).

Of course, the easiest way to avoid such stupidities is to stop watching these videos on YouTube.

Zev said...

Read the Chabad answer.

Firstly, my main point is to question a notion that one's Jewish identity/affiliation ought to be their dominant one. Secondly, though, I agree with you Yehuda (the Atlantic blog post mentions your point and by and large I agree). But there is a kind of racism that I hear in the Jewish community (particularly frum) that I just never hear anywhere else. I was in Oak Park this shabbes (yeshivish neighborhood of Detroit suburbs) and one of the older gentlemen what telling me, "Look what happens when we elect a shvartza!" This is just the YouTube version of a relatively common (but minority) sentiment.

For what it's worth, I am not considering moving to Saudi Arabia either. And why do you equate leftists with good people? Surely there must be some good conservatives ;) (Insert "some of my best friends" joke here)

Yehuda said...

I am in a minority, but I believe that actions speak louder than words. While this Chabadnik is apparently advocating to "Kill men, women and children," I have yet to meet an actual Lubavitcher who would be capable of or even interested in doing such a thing.
In a sense the same is true of racism among Jews. I have heard orthodox Jews make racist jokes or comments, but have seen little evidence of racist actions. Orthodox Jews who call Obama by a racist term, still seem to be on good terms with other Orthodox Jews who voted for Obama. I have never heard of Jews denying opportunity to Blacks because they are black. Of course some Orthodox Jews feel they should hire Jews more than non-Jews, but when it comes to hiring non-Jews I have never heard of or seen any evidence of actual discrimination.
In contrast, in the South, where I grew up, you will never hear racist remarks. Never. Yet blacks have fewer opportunities and are educated less well than whites.

How much stock can we really place in nice words? The current trend is to think that politeness and oratorical "political" correctness can substitute for wars or negotiations. I suspect this will be a short lived trend.

Anonymous said...

Zev, you seem to determine that these depicted folks are racist, bigoted, and stupid based on the virulent profanity and occasional ethnic slur directed at President Obama. Would your head explode if you should discover that Obama has ever used profanity or an ethnic slur? I would assume that you were beside yourself when Obama appointed that noted pottymouth Chief of Staff, but I recall otherwise.

You seem to even want to reject a notion of community with or responsibility for fellow jews who engage in this behavior. Is it just jews, though? Do you also reject any responsibility for or community with non-jewish groups that have at least as much a prevalence of profanity and ethnic slurs. I would be mighty surprised if your political philosophy did so discriminate between the deserving and undeserving groups.


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry Zev. The question "Would your head explode" carries with it a disdain for you that I just don't feel. I should not have phrased it that way. That said, I just don't see why that clip is significant. I do not think it remarkable in our society that youths utter cusswords and even an occasional ethnic slur especially towards a disliked national leader. Unlike your representation of your mother, I do not even conclude the people portrayed are stupid. I would speculate that they are probably of above average IQ. It would not surprise me if Obama, among others, had behaved similarly as a youth. I know you to have freely and willingly associated with pottymouths in the past. I suspect the difference is that you are a strongly partisan supporter of Obama and that Jews saying swears about Obama and Jews saying slurs about Obama fills you with shame and outrage in a way that the swears and slurs of others about others do not.


Anonymous said...

Yehuda: "but when it comes to hiring non-Jews I have never heard of or seen any evidence of actual discrimination. "

i don't think this is true. and while i can't bring "evidence" you did say "have never heard," and, well, i have.
i think many orthodox jews treat hispanic domestic help worse than they would treat a non-jewish, non-hispanic white person (in both wages, which may be a marketwide consequence of immigration policies, but also in terms of basic courtesy). i also think they discriminate between non-jewish whites and non-whites as landlords. I am also nearly certain that many yeshivas that would consider hiring a non-jewish teacher for secular studies (in a pinch or otherwise) would not hire a black nonjew (or probably a black jew, for that matter...).

also, i agree it is hard to find a chabadnik who would actually kill ppl, but i think it's pretty clear that the exaggerated rhetoric does lead to real, if lesser, abuses (eg, financial, dignitary). if you think about it, really, how could it not?


Yehuda said...

I'm happy to see that the comments section is alive and well again.

Miriam, as you said, I was only pointing to my experience. I have not had any experience of the kind you mentioned. I am not of course in the "Yeshiva" world and the only people I know who have hispanic cleaners (that I know of) are my parents.

You are right, of course, that this Chabadnik's comments, especially as they are posted on Moment, can lead to real consequences, just as people who vote for Obama or anyone else share a certain degree of responsibility for what happens. Nevertheless, there is so much real evil in the world and so much true barbarism in every corner of the globe that I prefer to save my outrage for the truly deserving.

Josh M. said...

One can similarly ask why the Torah gave special preference to the kohanim, be they smart or stupid, over the best and brightest of a cross-section of the nation.

You appear to be focusing on the bnei "brit goral" of RYBS rather on the bnei "brit yi'ud". This doesn't impact the validity of your question, but can serve as a partial consolation.

Anonymous said...

Borat takes Israel! As usual, I couldn't get through the entire thing, but I was surprised these (presumably American?) teenagers didn't know who Netanyahu was, but were confident Obama was a "shithead." Maybe they should read a fucking book or two.

For those of you not bothered by the Chabad rabbi's remarks, remember that Israel has nuclear weapons. (They are part of an elite club of nations that withdrew from or never signed the NPT: North Korea, Pakistan and India are the others.) If an Irani cleric made similar remarks, I suspect you would be outraged; and they don't have weapons of mass destruction.

Since so much is at stake, I think we ought to oppose genocidal rhetoric with more than a limp denial that "I have never met an actual Lubavitcher ..."


Yehuda said...


I do not see how that Lubavitcher's remarks could be constituted as "genocidal." He seemed to be talking about a small group of disrupters of the peace and possibly their families. I am not outraged when the Saudis fight terror in their own country even when they kill some innocents accidentally when doing so. I am afraid there is a significant difference between this person's remarks and calls to war or genocide. Also, the fact that he is a Lubavitcher is non-essential. He is not espousing a Lubavitch position and the response of 770 to his remarks attests to that fact.

For the record, I am opposed to this person's rhetoric, but I must point out that it is unlikely to have any effect on actual policy since I have heard of no one in the Israeli government who shares his position.

Yehuda said...

Sam, to be honest I find your moral equivalences quite disturbing. You seem to imply that Israel's having nuclear weapons is somehow comparable to North Korea's possession of nuclear weapons. And that an unaffiliated Lubavitcher's inflammatory comments can be compared with those of an Iranian Mullah who is in a position of authority in the state. By your same argument, I should be equally concerned about the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's comments, since the US has nuclear weapons. Or perhaps since the US has signed non proliferation treaties I needn't worry? How much stock do you place in those treatises? Do you seriously think they will prevent Russia or China from using nuclear weapons in the future?

Anonymous said...

Yehuda, what do you think about, e.g., Avigdor Lieberman and Meir Kahane? The Chabad rabbi (Rabbi Manis Friedman) in Zev's link talked about killing "men, women and children", "civilians", even "cattle." Saying that this he is just referring to a "small group of disrupters of the peace" is, frankly, a whitewash of his original remarks.

I agree that the fact that this rabbi is a Lubavitcher is immaterial; I only pointed it out to distinguish his response from the other eight in the article. Re your anecdotal experience, I realize that what I wrote may have been offensive. I wasn't trying to make a point about Lubavitchers in particular.

Finally, I wasn't positing a "moral equivalence" between Iran or North Korea and Israel, whatever that means. (I couldn't resist pointing out that Israel, as a non-signatory to the NPT, is in some sense a rogue state along with India, Pakistan and North Korea.) At any rate, you are obviously concerned that Iran might develop nuclear weapons and then use them against Israel or continental Europe. It is not hard to find threatening translations (and notorious mistranslations) of remarks of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, etc. to this end on the web.

Why aren't you concerned that Israel might use its sizable arsenal? Because it isn't run by madmen? Since Israel has the power to annihilate entire cities nearly instantaneously, I think we should be concerned about any hint of genocidal rhetoric, G-d forbid someone who thinks the way this R. Friedman does ever takes office. Of course it's unlikely, but it could be catastrophic. (Incidentally, if I remember correctly, based on a reading of Kissinger's memoirs Benny Morris suggests in "Righteous Victims" that the Israelis threatened to deploy their nuclear arsenal during the Yom Kippur War in order to get Nixon to resupply the Israeli military.)

If you want to debate the USA's arsenal, or the NPT (which is supposed to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, not their use) I think that's a separate issue. What Reverend Wright has to do with this is beyond me; can you point to any sort of warmongering "comments" of his?


Yehuda said...


I was expecting you to bring up Lieberman, whom everyone loves to hate. But he is not genocidal. If I recall correctly, the most offensive thing he said was that population and territory transfer would be a way to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You may not agree, but it is hard to argue that a method that has been used to end nearly every conflict of the 20th century is illegitimate. Even if you think it illegitimate, it is not genocidal.

The point about Rev. Wright need not concern Rev. Wright per se. The point was simply that countries with nuclear weapons have people in them who express opinions that you and I may find offensive. That does not reflect on the country or its policies. You need to find actual evidence that Israel is planning to annihilate cities before you can accuse her of desiring to do so. Even if Meir Kahana would have supported such acts of annihilation, which I highly doubt, he is dead, his party is outlawed from government, and I can hardly see how that bears any significance on current Israeli policy.

Also, I might add that it does not bother me that Israel was considering using nuclear weapons in the middle of a war in which her survival was threatened. That is the point of having nuclear weapons.

I am not concerned that Israel will use her arsenal (who knows how sizeable it actually is?) because I believe that if she does, it will be justified. I am not of the opinion that all nuclear attacks are bad. Nuclear weapons are a fact of life nowadays and we will see increased use of them in our lifetime. With Russia and North Korea spreading these things around the world, I cannot see how there will not be awful nuclear wars in the future. I do not think they will be initiated by Israel, but I am confident that Israel will do what she can to protect herself. Let us hope that will be enough.

Anonymous said...

I was thinking about Avigdor Lieberman's threat to bomb the Aswan Dam about eight years ago (presumably with conventional weapons), although this comment may be apocryphal; I can't find a source right now. He certainly made an ominous remark about fighting Hamas the way the US fought Japan (you can find this in the Jerusalem Post).

I know that Kahane is dead and that his party is outlawed, but my point is that he was once elected to Knesset, and some of his followers are responsible for notorious acts of violence. This is not simply a matter of having offensive "opinions." You dismissed the Chabad rabbi's original comment, because he's not in government. You seem to think that this outrageous sentiment is of no consequence; some people have rotten opinions, but so what? Do you remember Baruch Goldstein's massacre? The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin?

Perhaps I haven't been clear. I am not accusing Israel of planning to use its arsenal (although they may have threatened to do so decades ago). I am saying that one reason we should condemn extremist rhetoric is because Israel has the weapons that could bring about such a nightmare. Of course it's unlikely that Israel's WMD would fall into the hands of extremists, but it isn't impossible.

By the way, I do think forced transfer is "illegitimate", literally. It is a violation of international law.