Thursday, July 29, 2010

Does anyone have a mirror?

One hesitates to get involved in family quarrels, but the Decents are getting all enthusiastic about Howard Jacobson's latest psychologising screed in the Jewish Chronicle. Jacobson writes:

When it comes to Jewish anti-Zionists, their Jew-hatred is barely disguised, not in what they say about Israel but in the contempt they show for the motives and feelings of fellow-Jews who do not think as they do.

So why is Jacobson, in showing contempt (as he does) for fellow Jews who do not think as he does, not (by his own lights) also displaying "barely disguised" Jew-hatred?


Anonymous dd said...

good lord:

The mood of those months [ie, Q1 2009 -dd] inevitably found its way into my novel. I wanted to record what it was like being Jewish in this country then, when it seemed reasonable to ask whether loathing of Israel would spill into loathing of Jews - such a thing is not beyond the bounds of possibility - and whether a new Kristallnacht was in the offing.

Is John Rentoul going to be reviewing the book, do you think?

(PS: Jacobson wrote the exact same article during the Lebanon invasion, so allowing that his emotions are presumably genuine, the surprise surely isn't)

7/29/2010 10:59:00 AM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

Yeah, he's a real piece of work - and being beardy-artsy, he comes out of left field too.

7/29/2010 11:08:00 AM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

Tim, yes that's true. I mean in many ways he is an admirable guy - the documentary he did a while ago on the birth of Christianity from a Jewish perspective was fascinating. But then he just turns into Melanie Phillips.

7/29/2010 12:25:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Yeah Jacobson has form in this - for someone who styles himself as thoughtful, his opinions on the matter, whether voiced in relatively short articles or interminably long ones, are depressingly one-note.

In some cases, the antisemitism to which anti-Zionism gives succour is inadvertent. I'd be surprised if Caryl Churchill, author of that odious piece of propaganda, Seven Jewish Children, turned out to be antisemitic in her person. But language has a mind of its own, and sanctimoniousness is catching.

well, that can easily be turned against him as well, but I still don't get the general furore over that play. It is very clear what Churchill is doing in the play - it can only be construed as antisemitic if you read it with the presupposition that it is and if you ignore almost everything about it. witness:

In its unquestioning affiliations, her poisoned playlet snagged on every cliché in the anti-Zionist commonplace book and came up with a medieval version of the blood-sucking Jew whom she claims -and I believe her - it was never her intention to portray.

Well, it didn't really. one of the characters in it seems to be a hardline, religious, right-wing Israeli who doesn't want to reveal to her children (iirc the character was female) the true human cost of the bombardment she's taught them to endorse. Nothing 'bloodsucking' about it - he's just made that part up. The other claim, iirc, was that one of the characters says 'tell them we're the chosen race' - fair enough, often voiced by antisemites, but often voiced by, er, religiously observant Jews too. also the 'medival' thing is very odd. the characters sure as hell don't spoeak like meieval people, for instance.

I'd have a lot more time for him - and those who have a beef with CC's play - if they didn't all seem to ignore the text and its form and just make stuff up about it.

Weird thing is that I thought the idea for this latest novel was a pretty good one - i thought it'd be a satire, sending up the Amis/Hitchens lot who start to consider themselves Jewish in later life for some inexplicable reason. Sadly, everything Jacobson has said about it has put me off reading it - he doesn't think it's a satire and seems to actively side with the character who aspires to Jewishness.

And what is it with these ageing Decent-affiliated novelists becoming so fucking didatic? witness:

It is a bitter irony that he protests his admiration for all things Jewish just as many Jews are protesting their desire not to be Jewish at all. As the rats desert the sinking ship, he alone - it might appear - is left to clamber aboard.

also there are a lot of boring old male novelists using their new novels as 'evidence' in opinion pieces at the moment.

7/29/2010 01:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See also the word "asajew" Harry's Place routinely uses of people who dare to take positions with which they disagree.


7/29/2010 01:33:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

and whether a new Kristallnacht was in the offing.

Do me a fucking favour Howard eh?

7/29/2010 02:27:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

OC - Maybe it's derived thus: callously belligerent -> bloodthirsty -> bloodsucking.

By making it two smaller non-seqs instead of one huge one, you can reduce the average degree of idiocy to half, possibly even the square root, of the original.

7/29/2010 02:31:00 PM  
Anonymous saucy jack said...

I have always found Jacobson's column in the Independent incomprehensible and unreadable. My one consolation is that if he is banging on about Israel at least he will not be banging on about his sex life, or Manchester coffee bars in the early 60s.

7/29/2010 02:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

I understand the sentiment underlying the Kristallnacht comment, although I don't condone Jacobson banging on about it - taking himself seriously, as it were (but then, he generally does). I get the impression that, among many Jewish Zionists, there is a really heightened level of investment in the security of Israel, coupled with an equally heightened level of sensitivity to any possible sign of resurgent anti-semitism. I remember a Jewish friend of mine saying that after September 11th they'd stepped up the volunteer security patrols at his son's school, and that they felt they were waiting for "the other shoe to drop". Even now I don't know what specifically he had in mind, and at the time I was completely baffled - it had never occurred to me to imagine that jihadist terrorism in New York might be the precursor to pogroms in Cheshire. But I think a lot of people genuinely do have that "here it comes again" reaction to any kind of threat to Israel, or to the standing of Israel in Britain, or to Zionism, or to the respectability of Zionism in Britain, and so on. I think those feelings are wrong and irrational approximately 99.9% of the time, of course, and people like Jacobson should know better than to validate them.

7/29/2010 03:20:00 PM  
Anonymous dd said...

I think it's totally comprehensible why Jewish people have these fears - they consume a lot of media in which politically motivated people try to produce them. Jacobson is part of this; the "Kristallnacht" fear (which part of me wants to take as a really quite unpleasant ethnic slur on myself as a British person - is that really how he thinks of me?) isn't just an affliction from which he suffers - it's also a product he's producing.

7/29/2010 03:32:00 PM  
Blogger flyingrodent said...

the "Kristallnacht" fear... isn't just an affliction from which he suffers - it's also a product he's producing.

Well, yes. You'll notice there's none more ravenously hungry for stories about the imminent destruction of Israel than Israel's own ruling class, which also happens to be the primary source of many of them. I'm reminded of the old stick about how a drug dealer is usually his own best customer.

Mind, if some of the crazy things that are said about the Israelis on the internet were being said about Scotland, I might take it pretty seriously too.

OTOH, "OMG imminent genocide" as a rhetorical gambit is pretty clearly as much of a "belligerent idiot" thing as it is a religious/historical one. It's also politically useful in that it a)is very emotive, b) precludes the need for thought or reason and c) justifies pretty much anything you wanted to do in the first place.

7/29/2010 05:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Kristallnacht was the turning point for the British from accepting Munich to opposing the Nazis. It was certainly central to the Bridgwater by-election, galvinizing an until then lacklustre campaign by the Popular Front candidate and ensuring his victory.

Politically, it was the turning point in Britain.


7/29/2010 06:04:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

But who would play the role of SA, and the SS? I'm not sure I understand the sentiment, the concept of state sponsored pogrom was surely not even imaginable in the UK in January 2009.

7/29/2010 06:39:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Sorry, delete word 'sponsored'.

7/29/2010 06:40:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

First, how ironic is Jacobson? Is the Groucho Club reference to that establishment's having taken its name from Julius Marx's famous quip (I sent the club a wire stating, PLEASE ACCEPT MY RESIGNATION. I DON'T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB THAT WILL ACCEPT ME AS A MEMBER), itself a reference to Jews not being accepted for membership of WASP clubs. This came to mind because not all anti-Semitism ends in Kristallnacht. There is a history of anti-Semitism in both the US and the UK, but there haven't been pogroms in the English-speaking world for a very long time.

The Kristallnacht thing seems a very poor choice - there is evidence that anti-Semitism is increasing, but crying "Nazis!" is hyperbolic.

There was, as there remains, a chorus of jeering Jewish voices warning against crying wolf.

As Jacobson says, "language has a mind of its own". I don't think he realises that he portrays those he disagrees with as "jeering" - or he doesn't realise how his portrayal of them fits his portrayal of their portrayal of his side.

It is a bitter irony that he protests his admiration for all things Jewish just as many Jews are protesting their desire not to be Jewish at all. As the rats desert the sinking ship, he alone - it might appear - is left to clamber aboard.
The ostensible cause of these defections is, of course, Israel. Not the actual Israel. For the purposes of my narrative, Israel exists only poetically, in the imaginations of those who cannot adequately describe themselves without it.

I think the second paragraph there is spot on. Every online discussion about Israel sooner or later gets into 'poetic' territory, and only Israel as symbol gets discussed. And as different sides don't agree on what Israel symbolises, they talk past each other even more than normal.

The first paragraph is the odd one: this is a good portrait of Chas Newkey-Burden, Julie Burchill, Richard Littlejohn, and other latter day acolytes of Zionism. But I'm not sure that Jacobson sees what they're projecting onto the canvas.

The widowers are Jewish, the third man is not. But he would like to be. He envies his Jewish friends their warmth, their cleverness, the love they have inspired, and even their bereavement.

I envy the blacks I know their natural rhythm, their simple, childlike natures, and their physical endowment. I say this in the spirit that I also envy Henry Kissinger and Bernie Madoff their warmth and the love they've inspired. And I envy Melanie Phillips' cleverness.

7/29/2010 06:41:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

just on the kirstallnacht thing. I recently re-read Dorian Gray. i still think it's brilliant but my word, you couldn't get away with the horrendous antisemitic cliche therein in the present day.

there is still antisemitism in this country, but it's so much less prevalent than at most other points in this country's history. not to downplay it, but compared with bigotry against other groups (see the EDL, which some Decent affiliates openly admire) it's really not all that serious.

it's a shame, as I said, since there's enormous potential in skewering the Newkey-Burden types, as CC says, but the book actually seems to be a tedious satire 'taking apart' IJV.

the route the book is going seems slightly odd, too, in the 'warmth, cleverness, love' business, but i haven't read it so don't want to pre-judge. it also seems pretty ropey in terms of satirising celebrity intellectuals...

incidentally, Adam Thirlwell has written two very brilliant Anglo-Jewish novels. don't let private eye opposition put you off them. oh and Keith Gessen's novel is also brilliant, in terms of satirisng views on Israel/Palestine.

7/30/2010 10:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"So why is Jacobson, in showing contempt (as he does) for fellow Jews who do not think as he does, not (by his own lights) also displaying "barely disguised" Jew-hatred?"

This is one of those quirks of politics. The Liberal-Left is always expected to think about the feelings of others before expressing an opinion or committing any political act: other groups' actions and words can be completely dictated by their own feelings.


7/30/2010 01:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Lobby Ludd said...

"When it comes to Jewish anti-Zionists, their Jew-hatred is barely disguised, not in what they say about Israel but in the contempt they show for the motives and feelings of fellow-Jews who do not think as they do. "

So where is the "Jew-hatred" in all this, apart from the fact that the objects of their 'hatred' happen to be Jews?

As a WASP, does my 'hatred' of 'fellow-WASP' nationalists, say, make me guilty of 'WASP-hatred'?

Looks like a variation on the 'self-hating Jew' to me.

7/30/2010 08:47:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

I came across Norman Spinrad's blog (via Twitter). I like this:

So what should American policy be? For the same reasons that cops do not want to involve themselves in domestic disputes, the United States should make it abundantly clear in no uncertain terms that it is up to the Palestinians and the Israelis to negotiate a settlement among themselves. And indeed, with Sadat’s dramatic trip to Israel, the Oslo accords hosted by mighty Norway, and King Hussein of Jordan’s approach to Israel, only when the initiative has come from one of the principals has any progress towards peace been made in the Middle East.

You don’t make peace with your friends, you have to make peace with your enemies. And you have to grow up and do it yourself without Big Brother standing behind you with a baseball bat. Of course if bilateral negotiations reach a stage where binding arbitration is the only way to settle the final details of a deal, and both sides request it, the United States should agree to supply an arbitrator as a friend of the family.

Other than that, don’t call us, and we won’t call you.

If you read the rest, he isn't a fan of Arabs in general, especially the 'Arab Street'. But even opinions like this get knocked by Jacobson. As far as I can see, all US support for Israel has been symbolic; it hasn't ever done any good for actual Israelis (not counting politicians). Yet say this, and you're among the Israel haters. It's bizarre.

7/31/2010 05:55:00 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

I've often wondered what the police, to say nothing of the Decents, would think if parents at a heavily Muslim state school decided to organise their own volunteer security patrols and hold classes about what to do when They attack.

No doubt the CSF is doing some good work, but if we've learned nothing else from the last 10 years it's that there is a fine line between "security precautions" and "maintaining a permanent war atmosphere".

8/07/2010 09:51:00 AM  

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