The Jewish Threat — real or imaginary?|
trying to learn the truth
Mark Bruzonsky, Joe Bageant, Ray McGovern
March 25 - April 9, 2005
this page is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/Discus/2005-04-09.htm
I’ve been working on what I intended to be my next rant, tentatively titled “The Pageantry of Joe Bageantry”, but I’m putting that aside for the moment because of the urgency of trying to prevent a threatening attack against Iran — over which ominous war clouds are forming, or more accurately, being stirred up.
Joe Bageant’s recent essay, “Drink, Pray, Fuck, Fight: How the Scots-Irish screwed up America”, was posted on a number of internet sites, as were many of his essays during the past year. One of the sites that I think has them all, The Smirking Chimp, invites readers to post their reactions on the site immediately following an article. Joe got taken to task by some of his readers for framing his essay in terms, as they saw it, of the influence of Scots-Irish blood-lines, which he said had penetrated a large fraction (almost a third) of the American population. He wrote,
... look back 450 years to a group of Celtic cattle thieves killing one another in the mud along Hadrian’s Wall -- the Borderers. Fanatically religious and war loving, these Scottish Protestants made their way first to Ireland as the “Ulster Scots,” then to American shores during the early 18th century. Known to most Americans as the Scots Irish or Scotch Irish, the Borderers brought cultural values that govern (some would say screw up) the political emotions of millions of Americans to this day.
Not surprisingly, among Bageant’s critics were people who identified themselves with that ethnicity, some of whom really let him have it. What struck me as I read the comments was the ease with which blood and culture might be mixed up, particularly by those who agreed with him. One critic wrote,
Let's face the facts, this whole article is a true fact of life. People don't act a certain way for NO reason. I trace 1/4 of my family heritage to these people. But they were northerners and fought for the north thank god. But I'm tempered with 3/4 Swedish heritage so have the political outlook of a good Swede. I fear for peole who are still living in this mad Scots/Irish mind set. But this article explains a lot about who these crazy Bushites are.
Though ambiguous, because the term heritage is inclusive, this might mean: Three-quarters good Swedish blood tempers one-quarter bad Scots-Irish blood. Fact is, I haven’t read anything by Joe Bageant that isn’t first rate. In this age of leaden prose, his outspoken style is as refreshing as Hunter Thompson’s, and it’s all done with great gusto, humor and honesty. When he’s portraying his culture — southern white working class — he’s as authentic as it’s possible to be, but in this essay I think he let bloodlines get a little too close to culture, or, I should say it the other way, he lets culture get a little too close to bloodlines. Better yet, he doesn’t draw a sharp line between bloodlines and culture.
Still, I know where he’s coming from. “His” people he both loves and finds impossibly ideologized — they just don’t grasp reality. And their ignorance is contributing to the destruction of the America he desperately wishes for. That’s the way I feel about “my” people, or at least many of them. I’m an American Jew. When I was teaching at Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota a student asked what tribe I belonged to. I answered, truthfully, “I’m a full-blooded Ashkenazi.” Most American Jews, whether they’re “full-blooded” or “half- or lesser-breeds” — “bloods” or “breeds” they say on the res — , as are my grand children, carry “Ashkenazi blood.” What does that imply about them individually as human beings? Practically nothing. All their social qualities are products of the culture they grew up in. Just like Bageant’s “full-blooded” Scots-Irish southern white crackers.
As Joe well knows, blood doesn’t explain shit. And yet, as we all also know, it’s often put forward as a supposed explanation for some quality or other. In fact, what this little essay is about is my effort not to fall into the trap of hating those American Jews who have closed their minds to the terrible suffering caused the Palestinian people by the Jewish conquest of their lands. Every tortured person represents a crime against humanity. Every American Jew I know is as aware as he or she is willing to be of the horrors being perpetrated by the nation-state of Israel. And of the critical support provided Israel by the United States and by much of the American Jewish “community.” Those with open minds, and there are many, are on “my” side, but there is an appalling number who parrot the propaganda and ideology promulgated by influential wealthy “pro-Israel” groups and the corporate U.S. mass media. Why? Is it crude Ashkenazi tribalism? Fear of another Judeocide, another Jewish holocaust?
I used to hate Germans. As an early teenager growing up in Far Rockaway, a small town on Long Island at the outer edge of Queens County (one of the five boroughs that make up New York City), I was somewhat aware of the persecution of Jews in Germany. A schoolmate and friend, Kurt Kahn, was a “pre-refugee”, I think from Austria, but am unsure. His family, probably reasonably well-to-do, had opted to come to America some time before 1939. It’s not that Kurt and I dwelt on what was happening, or even that we knew much at that time, but neither were we totally ignorant. Then in Brooklyn Technical High School, where I was from 1939 to 1943, I took three years of German — the language to study if you thought you wanted to be a scientist — taught by a short stocky little drill meister, Herr Radenhausen, who I became convinced was, at the least, very sympathetic to the Nazis. Now, 66 years later, I can still conjugate a few verbs. My hatred for Germans was spurred, of course, by the Jewish holocaust, and my stereotypical notion that categorized Germans — with some exceptions — as a group of people to be despised.
That generalized hatred persisted for a long time. In spite of the fact that I met and really liked some individuals, like Willie Jentschke – probably Wilhelm, though he was Willie to everyone – a physics faculty member at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana when I was a graduate student there from 1949 to 1953. Well, you know there were “good Jews” too, so why not “good Germans”? Stereotypes can be pretty impervious to “exceptions.” Though I was in western Europe on various occasions, including two year-long stays at major scientific laboratories, I never went or wanted to go to Germany. Not until 1980, when I went with my wife for cancer treatment at the Issels Clinic in Weissach, southern Bavaria, did I see how baseless was my stereotypical view. Hell, Germans were just like everyone else, I finally discovered. Having “German blood” was meaningless for knowing anything significant about a person.
So what about all this “Ashkenazi blood” that American Jews tote around in our veins? Does it make us different? Not at all, I deeply believe. Still, even if that’s true (and of course I can’t prove it), the significant questions remain: Are Jews different? And if so, Is there a Jewish Threat?
Every distinguishable cultural, ethnic, religious, or national group is obviously different in various ways from other groups, and that holds for Jews too. So in this trivial sense of course Jews are different. Each group exists in a complex culture determined by its historical circumstances, in which an enormous number of factors play significant roles. In the history of American Jews anti-Semitism is one of those factors. In a talk he gave in 2002, Noam Chomsky said,