March 17, 2010 4:23 pm
Recently I was rummaging through the living mess of papers in my office--my nachlass, however hard-driven, will not be a hard drive--when I discovered a fading sheet I had not seen in decades. It was a copy of a letter that was given to me by a little man in the municipal hall in Hebron in 1980. I had traveled to Hebron to look into an incident that occurred a few days earlier on Purim, a triumphalist holiday on which Jews are enjoined to revel in inversions and to drink themselves out of their capacity to distinguish between good and evil. In the course of their bacchanal, some of the settlers at Beit Hadassah, the formerly Jewish house in the center of town that they were claiming for themselves, had opened their windows and urinated on Palestinians in the street below.
The mayor of Hebron convened a public meeting for the victims of the abuse to tell their stories. It was there that the little man rose to express his grievance. To demonstrate the ugliness of what was done to him, he read from an old letter written in Hebrew on the stationery of a metalworking company in Jerusalem. It stated (this is my translation): “To Whom It May Concern: I the undersigned, Moses Joseph ben Jacob Ezra, born in Hebron, hereby declare that the family of Rajib Hassan Al Badr, with whom we lived in the same quarter in Hebron, protected my family in [the riots of] 1929 and again in [the riots of] 1936, and until 1947, while we were still in Hebron, we enjoyed good neighborly relations and constant protection by the Al Badr family generally. I would be deeply grateful for any human assistance that might be extended to them.” So it was the scion of that good and brave family whom the yarmulked hooligans had soiled.
I remembered this wrenching document a few weeks ago when Yedioth Ahronoth posted a video on its website of a Purim party in Sheikh Jarrah, an Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem, at which religious militants boorishly sang a song of praise to the memory of Baruch Goldstein, who slaughtered twenty-nine Palestinians at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron: “Dr. Goldstein. Dr. Goldstein, there is no one like you in the whole world.” The stone house in which the punks dishonored their tradition with an anthem to murder had recently belonged to the El Ghawis, a Palestinian family that was expelled from it last August.
Sheikh Jarrah is a place with a run-down but real magic, rather like Naples. You can still see the glory beneath the grime, the fine imperial picturesque--the porticos and the gardens of old Palestine, the material elegance of the Muslim gentry in the calm between the storms. There is a mosque at the tomb of a medieval Muslim saint named Hussein ibn Isa Al Jarrah, and nearby it is the tomb of Simon the Just, the high priest in Jerusalem around 200 B.C.E. and according to legend the founder of the Jewish liturgy, whose sacerdotal splendor was described swooningly by Ben Sira; and there is the Shepherd Hotel, a grand villa built by the mufti of Jerusalem, once inhabited by George Antonius, and in the 1980s acquired by a rich Jewish bingo-king in Florida for the purpose of expelling Palestinians from the area and installing Jews; and there is the American Colony Hotel, whose bougainvillea has often given me asylum from the respective fervors of my brothers and sisters in the western part of the city. In 1948, Arab forces in Sheikh Jarrah ambushed a convoy of Jewish doctors and nurses on their way to the hospital on Mount Scopus and committed a massacre.
Sheikh Jarrah came under Israeli control in 1967, and a few years later Jewish groups went to court with old Jewish deeds to various properties, even though no Jews had lived there since 1948. The court upheld their ownership, but ruled that the Palestinians who resided there could remain as long as they paid rent. The Palestinian families disputed the authenticity of the Jewish documents, and refused to pay. They were finally evicted this past year, and the drunken disciples of Dr. Goldstein moved in.
The dream of reversing history has been a cause of both greatness and depravity. It is right for people not to acquiesce in their own wretchedness, to reject all the quietisms and the fatalisms that teach them to do nothing for themselves. Zionism owed its moral and historical force in large measure to its refusal to accept the irreversibility of Jewish exile, and its attendant misery; and the national self-reliance now exemplified for the Palestinians by Salam Fayyad--in a culture of jusqu’au-boutisme, the technocrat is the revolutionary--represents a similar refusal of historical passivity. But not everything can, or should, be reversed.
Sometimes there is wisdom also in acceptance, and in the power that it confers to move on. In the name of justice, one may destroy peace, and forget that peace, too, is an element of justice. The idea of beginning again is often a savage idea. Since the Palestinian right of return, and its premise that restoration is preferable to reconciliation, would undo the Jewish state, Israel is right to deny it. But if, in the name of moral realism, and so that they do not delude themselves with catastrophic fantasies of starting over, Palestinians are not to be granted a right to return to what was theirs before 1948, then neither should such a right be granted to Jews.
When Jews fled Sheikh Jarrah, they fled to a Jewish state, which should have been worth the loss of their property; and the same would have been true of the Palestinians, if their Arab brethren had allowed the state of Palestine to come into being. But the lunatic Jews who insist that a Jew must live anywhere a Jew ever lived do not see that they, too, are re-opening 1948 and the legitimacy of what it established. Why does the Israeli government allow the argument for a unified Jerusalem to be mistaken for the heartless revanchism of these settlers? Whatever arrangements about Jerusalem are eventually made in a peace agreement, and I no longer expect to see one in my lifetime, Jerusalem will remain both the capital of Israel and a demographically mottled city.
It makes no sense to show contempt for the people with whom you are destined to live. It is not only cruel, it is stupid. So the dispossession of the El Ghawis is a disgrace. And a Jewish disgrace, because it was Simon the Just, the legendary leader buried in an ancient cave not far from the El Ghawis’ house, who famously taught that one of the things which supports the world in existence is the practice of kindness.
Wieseltier's article is a perfect illustration of the anti-Semitism of the left in- its imposition of a radically different standard upon Jews than upon the rest of the world- its grossly disproportionate treatment of offenses committed by Jews compared to offenses commited against them.
TNR.Reader, respectfully, you may want to take a whack at at being a rereader.
It misunderstands Wieseltier and misconceives what he wrote to think, if you do that he is of the left, and if you don't think that, that his piece exemplifies anti Semitism of the left. He is making no claims of moral equivalence, no equating of respective evils. Rather, his is, finally, a Cri de Coeur, a plea for decency and kindness, a wish to encroach on demonization and otherness.
There is plenty to criticize in Settler Messianiasm; and what Wieseltier describes instances patterns of some appalling conduct and attitudes, which see Palestinians as the easily dispensable other. This s not answered by citing greater instances of injustice leveled against Jews by Arabs. The issue is not a balance sheet of comparable rights and wrongs: the issue is kindness trumping otherness as an irreducible human starting point.
For such little hope as there is for a resolution as opposed to an outcome, without that starting
point, there is no hope at all.
"In my opinion, AsAJews like Wieseltier encourage Arab intransigeance and exaggerated sense of grievance and so further the bloodshed."
Wieseltier's piece is not intended for an Arab audience. It is meant to re-assert his credentials as a leftist writer and thinker so as to reassure such TNR readers as we sometimes encounter here that he knows who a good Jew is and why.
He is not antisemitic by any means but his article here does serve some of their vital concerns.
TNR Reader makes a very valid point about the absence of any concern for the injustice done to Oriental Jews in this piece. It might be a reflection of a certain intra-Jewish bias on the part of Wieseltier. Mizrahim in Israel often wonder why Ashkenazi elite intellectuals in America can show such dogged and principled and vociferous compassion and caring for poor Palestinians while they maintain almost complete silence about Mizrahi history.
Noga, how do you know what Wieseltier’s is meant to do other than say what he said? You don’t of course. And the absurdity of your comment that he is trying to shine up his “good Jew” credentials as a is as unbelievable as it offensive.
That absurdity is made blastingly evident by the fact you cannot know what his motives are. He, in fact, devastatingly took Andrew Sullivan apart for doing the very thing you assign to him: essentializing –read objectifying--Jewishness and saying that there are good/acceptable/right thinking Jews and bad/unacceptable/wrong thinking Jews.
You fall into the same fallacy as does TNR Reader. Look at the reductio ad absurdum your line of reasoning, premised on the same misreading of this piece as that of TNR Reader, leads to. Wieseltier is to be faulted for not mentioning unjust conduct x: but then what about unjust conduct y and z and x1, y1 and z1? Where does it end?
To repeat the obvious that I’m surprised you misconceive : the point is the fundamental one of a plea for human decency and kindness amongst people destined to be neighbors, not an enumeration of their comparative wrongdoing.
Finally this is just weird and virtually paranoid: “He is not antisemitic by any means but his article here does serve some of their vital concerns.” This is functionally analogous to the ridiculous notion that any criticism of Israel or Israelis is tantamount to anti Semitism.
Basman: "He is making no claims of moral equivalence, no equating of respective evils."
The equation is done not in commission but in omission. Wieseltier wrote an article of hundreds of words to describe what are minor offenses to Arab dignity, with not a single reference to the bloody or even murderous "indignities" visited by Muslims upon the Mizrahim for the past 14 centuries, nor to the eliminationist threat some Muslims (including some Palestinians) still intend today, nor to the eliminationist past (such collaboration in the Shoah).
Every minority in every country will endure some indignities. It is absurd (and indeed anti-Semitic) to expect perfection of Jews, and Jews only.
Why does the Israeli government allow the argument for a unified Jerusalem to be mistaken for the heartless revanchism of these settlers?
What does Wieseltier know of heartless revanchism? Heartless revanchism would be- de jure formally relegating the Arab on that sole basis to subordinate legal status, a reverse dhimmitude- forced conversion to Judaism of Muslim orphans- a systematic pogrom or farhud whenever one or another Arab deigned to rise above his station, such as aspiring to a seat on the Supreme Court or in the Knesset- requiring that Muslim schools be headed by a Jew, the inverse of Iran or Turkey- requiring Arabs to step off the pavement when a Jew passes- blood libel trials of Arabs- designation of the Arab as inherently unclean to contact Jewish food, the inverse of Yemen- forcing the Muslim to wear identifying, humiliating clothing- murder or religious edicts to murder any Muslim who "insults" Judaism- declarations of intent to eliminate Muslims world-wide.
religious militants boorishly sang a song of praise to the memory of Baruch Goldstein
So far as I know, singing a song, no matter how poor the taste, is not criminal. Indeed, there are millions of Jews who would have thanked God had the worst Islam (and Christianity) done to them, were the occasional boorish song.
The anti-Semitism of Wieseltier's article is the same as that expressed by those of the Islamist-leftist alliance who compare modern "Islamophobia" in western Europe to the treatment of Jews in Germany; it is such a gross distortion of proportion as to figuratively piss on the memory of the many Jews murdered by Muslim and Christian mobs.
Noga, I am familiar with the Jewish Refugees blog. Wieseltier ought to spend more time reading it.
TNR Reader: you have exhausted my interest and my patience.
You have merely "doubled down" on what you said before and I see nothing productive in essentially repeating myself.
Believe what you want including that Wiesltier has written an anti Semitic screed.
But great defence of the singers of the song praising Baruch Goldstein, btw.
Your rabidity is showing.
basman, I air my intuitive understandings here based on my personal encounters and experience. I am very interested in your lawyerly logic but that type of thinking often falls short of covering all aspects of the human mind. There is little doubt in my mind that Wieseltier's piece here appeals to those who had not words enough to pillory him for his Sullivan piece. That bothers me.
In the story W. tells opens with Jews urinating on Palestinians, followed by a tale of a very virtuous Palestinian who has a letter attesting to the historical righteousness of his family. Ugly drunk vulgar Jews urinating from high up on noble, long suffering Palestinians. Notice that the virtuous Palestinian is a "little man". People who have very tenuous grasp over the historical facts, the events submereged in that letter of good character, are left with this gist of the story. That's the Palestinian narrative, fully-digested.
I stand by what I said about Wieseltier's piece. Of course I cannot prove what his intention was, I doubt he himself is fully aware. But that tone, that selectiveness, that incontinent need to find the most graphic images by which to describe ugly Jews behaving badly, all these suggest the he is writing a defensive piece here. And who is he defending himself against?
...Jews need to see themselves as merely human beings with a right to live in peace in their own country and not be held to a higher or lower standard.
Wieseltier's article (while I agree with his criticism of the unseemly behavior of some of the settlers) unfortunately tries to hold the Jews to a higher standard. This isn’t helpful. Jews are just human being and will do as good and as bad human being do. Here he is merely whistletiering in the dark...
I agree with Jdyer's posts...except that I read Wieseltier's piece differently and don't think he's trying to hold Jews to a higher standard and don't see what in the text supports that reading of it. My contention is that he expects from Jews behaviour no different than he would expect from others. That expectation does not obviate a plea for, and heart felt appeal, to our common humanity.
It was not "incontinent" as such for Wieseltier to briefly depict the urination. That was a self conscious and self assured writing choice. And if I was teaching his piece to a class I would talk about how rivetingly and concretely and heart breakingly Wiesletier developed his theme, how he brought it home to his readers, in contrast to the abstractions of otherness. He shattered otherness.
“So the dispossession of the El Ghawis is a disgrace. And a Jewish disgrace, because it was Simon the Just, the legendary leader buried in an ancient cave not far from the El Ghawis’ house, who famously taught that one of the things which supports the world in existence is the practice of kindness.” Wieseltier
Well, Simon the Just was a saintly, man who did hold Jews to a higher standard.
There is no need to appeal to saintly man in order to make the point that one should treat one’s neighbors with kindness.
"He shattered otherness."
Not the way I see it.
I agree that he used highly effective and affective language in describing a moment in time in which, according to his story, the balance of power between oppressor and oppressed was crystallized. Here are the Jews, the oppressors, urinating on Palestinians, the suffering oppressed. And not only are they oppressed but they are also virtuous. And here comes the proof for that virtue: the Palestinian who has a bona fide testimony that his grandfather helped to save a family of Jews. Thereby the outrage W excites is doubled and tripled: The virtuous, oppressed Palestinian contrasted with the ingrate Jew oppressor urinator on other human beings.
And the effect of this article is to re enforce the image that these urinators represent all settlers and that settlers are a stand-in for Israel, and by extension, for all Jews.
I don't see any shattering of otherness in this piece. If anything, it contributes its share to the obfuscation of both history and moral principle.
History, that hides the extent of the horror of the event that the letter refers to, the massacre of 67 completely innocent Jews, the result of incitement and relentless hammering of hate propaganda. The definitive aspect of that event was not that an Arab gave shelter to a Jewish family. The definitive aspect of the event is the massacre (which btw the Arab world knows nothing about). But you don't get that information in W's piece; you get the impression that this was the norm.
Moral principle: that the oppressed should not be urinated upon, not because it is simply wrong to do so, but because they are virtuous. I disagree. It should not matter that those very Palestinians might have celebrated the bombing of buses and pizzerias. It does not matter whether they admired their terrorists or not, as far as their human dignity is concerned. Human beings should not be urinated upon, whatever they feel or think about you and your dead.
W seems to believe that Palestinians should not be urinated upon because in the past someone did something to help a Jew.
Shattered otherness? I don't think so.
"Why does the Israeli government allow the argument for a unified Jerusalem to be mistaken for the heartless revanchism of these settlers?"
Does it? Does W think that the Israeli government should arrest those people who were singing their praises to Goldstein?
Is this song taught in schools, kindergartens? Is it sung in the media? Is it sung on TV? Is there a public square in Tel Aviv named after Goldstein? Does the government of Israel encourage the cult of Goldstein?
W looks at Israel and sees "the drunken disciples of Dr. Goldstein". This is what he reports about it. This is how he contributes his little bit to the entrenchment of Palestinian narrative.
Jack, thanks for responding. And Noga you as well, and this is by way of response to you as well.
I don’t see how quoting Simon the Just’s cardinal and universal injunction to practice kindness—“which supports the world”—goes to a reading of this piece as urging a higher standard of behavior on Jews.
As a Jew himself, Wieseltier lends his writing resonance by laying down the bitter irony of the disgraceful dispossession occurring in the mytho-historical shadow of Simon the Just who taught so much better. I can’t see how the laying down of that resonance sets out a higher standard of conduct for Jews. Where they act objectionably or horribly, they act objectionably or horribly. But the conduct Wieseltier particularizes is of a piece with the Settler Messianism he laments and cries out against. That Messianism, Wieseltier is saying is a particular and tragic making Israeli burden that will need to be surmounted for any possibility of a two state solution.
There is in this no particular demand of Jews not demanded of the Palestinians.
The moral and overarching –and implicitly geopolitical—analysis and prescription is even handed:
....The dream of reversing history has been a cause of both greatness and depravity. It is right for people not to acquiesce in their own wretchedness, to reject all the quietisms and the fatalisms that teach them to do nothing for themselves. Zionism owed its moral and historical force in large measure to its refusal to accept the irreversibility of Jewish exile, and its attendant misery; and the national self-reliance now exemplified for the Palestinians by Salam Fayyad--in a culture of jusqu’au-boutisme, the technocrat is the revolutionary--represents a similar refusal of historical passivity...
...The idea of beginning again is often a savage idea. Since the Palestinian right of return, and its premise that restoration is preferable to reconciliation, would undo the Jewish state, Israel is right to deny it. But if, in the name of moral realism, and so that they do not delude themselves with catastrophic fantasies of starting over, Palestinians are not to be granted a right to return to what was theirs before 1948, then neither should such a right be granted to Jews...
One focus of his piece is this:
...But the lunatic Jews who insist that a Jew must live anywhere a Jew ever lived do not see that they, too, are re-opening 1948 and the legitimacy of what it established. Why does the Israeli government allow the argument for a unified Jerusalem to be mistaken for the heartless revanchism of these settlers...
So as I say, I don’t understand a higher standard of conduct being set for Jews in any of this. For any resolution that might come by way of a two state solution Israel, and therefore Israelis, Wieseltier says, will need to come to terms with both Palestinian peoplehood and statehood. Do you think he is any less conscious of, or demanding of, what Palestinians must do, and come to understand, for any possibility of that resolution? What he does, I suggest (writing as a Jew, for an enlightened audience, made up not insignificantly of Jewish readership) in setting out the loutish, vulgar and unjust behavior he describes is to lay a heartfelt, heart breaking and vivid predicate on the Israeli side for his plea.
Jews and Palestinians, he says, if they are ever to live in peace will necessarily bear inextricabilities. In that their common humanity must compel their mutual respect. In this, there is no assertion, I argue, of a higher standard of conduct. If there is what is it? If it’s present in what Wieseltier has written it eludes me.
Finally, for me, Wieseltier is speaking obviously of something more profound than treating one’s neighbors with kindness—though he is surely saying that. He is indentifying the common humanity, the predominance of the other’s humaness over their otherness, as the true meaning and basis of that kindness.
After all, piss on a man, you eviscerate his humanity. Stand up for a man so pissed on, who with his family once gave you and your family life and succor, you in action help revivify his humanity, as in action you personify the common humanity exemplified in kindness, just as “kind” itself means “class or type of people or things having similar characteristics”.
Jack: one small further note:
...Well, Simon the Just was a saintly, man who did hold Jews to a higher standard...
I missed the point of *your* noting that Simon the Just held Jews to a higher standard. I focused on his injunction. Noting that though, I don't see how it helps your claim.
Assuming it's so, it seems a fairly specialized bit of knowledge that Wieseltier makes no specific reference to--ie not readily apparent to his readers, I don't think. So, again, I see nothing in his text that calls for a higher standard of conduct for Jews.
If there is, where is it, and what does it call for, not expected of others?