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Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Not In My Name

Racism as a problem is nothing new; it can likely be traced to the times immemorial. We mostly notice it when we find ourselves being the target of racists; that is also not particularly surprising as we the humans always possess a certain measure of self-centeredness. But what goes around comes around, and whatever behaviour you consider morally wrong is wrong universally, regardless of whether it is your group that is practicing that behaviour, or some other group. The same goes for racism.

Racists tend to seek legitimacy by claiming that they are spiritually best endowed members of their ethnic or religious group. They tend to view those who do not hold their radical views as apostates. Quite in agreement with that pattern of behaviour, Jewish racists claim to be the
truest Jews ever to tread the Earth. On a number of occasions, people of that mold informed me that they consider me not to be a real Jew. I disagree with that assessment, and I also consider racism incompatible with true morality. Sometimes extreme expressions of bigotry and prejudice make me feel that I must no longer remain silent, and thus I feel that I have to make my views known. Later in this piece I am going to address the radical publication whose existence ended up being a catalyst in motivating me to write this piece. It is just that I believe that silence in the face of extremism can sometimes be viewed as acquiescence,- and on the part of myself and hopefully many others, there is no acquiescence here.

I have recently come across the name of Rabbi Saadya Grama who had authored a Hebrew book titled "Romemut Yisrael Ufarashat Hagalut" (one possible translation: "The Grandeur of Israel and the Issue of Exile"). Among other things the book establishes the idea of Jewish superiority.
The book was written in Hebrew and proved controversial enough for the only bookstore in Brooklyn, New York that was for a brief period of time selling it to pull it off the shelf. One would be correct in saying that I did not put in as much effort as I could have in obtaining the book and checking it out for myself. I certainly did not; I have reason to believe, however, that that book is not something which I would want to spend much effort locating, or much money subsidizing by way of purchase. So I am relying on third-party translations and quotes in forming my opinion of this book.

In its December 19, 2003 issue "Forward" published an article about the book titled "Charedi Rabbis Rush To Disavow Anti-Gentile Book". This, along with other "Forward" articles, is the source I am using for my analysis of Rabbi Grama's book. It is worth noting that some of the Rabbis denouncing the book had earlier endorsed it. Thus it appears incorrect to claim that this book can be dismissed as an opinion of one individual, not supported by anybody of import.

However, Rabbi Grama and his book is just a side-show to the topic that I would like to address: the Jewish racism. Just like any other form of racism, it takes many forms and varies in its intensity as well as in its choice of a target. Based on what I get to see the prevalent strain is the idea of superiority of Jews and inferiority of others, derisively referred to as "goyim". Rabbi Grama, whose racism is radical and uncommon in its intensity, formulates it thusly:

The difference between the people of Israel and the nations of the world is an essential one. The Jew by his source and in his very essence is entirely good. The goy, by his source and in his very essence is completely evil. This is not simply a matter of religious distinction, but rather of two completely different species.
This is clearly a justification for a racist view of the world. While few Jews would openly make this kind of a racist statement, a certain percentage of them appear to follow this sort of notion in some way or other. Some believe that Jews in Diaspora should avoid certain jobs that are not sufficiently prestigious. Some think that Jews should only abide by Jewish morals and customs, disregarding moral norms and customs of other societies even if they happen to reside in those societies. Some radicals believe that Jewish interests simply override any moral obligations towards the non-Jews. Racism is a complex phenomena; so is Jewish racism, and the list of its manifestations could be continued.

It would certainly be wrong to say that racism is a universal affliction amongst the Jews; I would think that it is only a minority that shares this sort of worldview. Jews as a people know
as well as anybody what the toll of racism can be. That may be why Jews have been so active in many liberation movements, such as the civil rights struggle of the Black Americans in the US. And Jews have every right to fight the new wave of anti-Semitism today.

However, to bolster the morality of our demand that racism directed against us be stopped, we must first stop racism emanating from us. To that end, I would like to unequivocally state that Rabbi Grama does not speak in my name. I hope the majority of other Jews share this perception.

Unfortunately, the racist minority receives a tacit support of a silent majority that is too complacent to denounce them. Or, in some cases, that majority may be too selfish to denounce them, thinking that bigots promoting Jews are "good bigots". This perception is myopic and wrong, both from a moral perspective and from a pragmatic one. Jewish racism must be denounced,- and neither the tragic Jewish historical experience, nor the rabid racism of Israel's enemies can be used as an excuse.

As extremist minorities often are, the one proclaiming Jewish superiority as the cornerstone of its political agenda is very active politically and has enough influence to affect millions of people, both Jews and non-Jews. Those who view Arabs as subhumans certainly help perpetuate oppression of the Palestinians in the occupied territories and lack of equal rights for the Israeli Arab citizens. To the cohorts of those racists belong such prominent Israelis as the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, late Rehavam Zeevi and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. It only appears logical, following their racist assumptions, to conclude that the suffering of the lower race (Arabs) should not be viewed as a priority problem and can be allowed to continue indefinitely so long as the master race (Jews) is not affected. That sort of sentiment is also heard at times from ordinary Jews, Israeli and otherwise, who, when pondering the various aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, only concern themselves with the well-being of Jews without giving any thought as to what the other side's circumstances are.

Even if a racist ideology can win a momentary success at any given point, it corrupts the society that succumbs to bigotry and is likely to cause more suffering and misery in the future. Those who seek to humiliate others always humiliate themselves in the process. It also helps to keep in mind that victims tend to have a long memory and they are likely to try to get their payback when an opportunity presents itself. That is yet more reason for the Jews to fight racism, not espouse it.

We as Jews must send a clear message to the world that we are ready and willing to build ties with other ethnic and religious groups based upon equality and respect. That we are ready to shoulder the same responsibilities as those shouldered by others. That whether in Israel
or in Diaspora we demand no special rights or privilleges not afforded to others, nor accept special responsibilities not shared by others; nor do we view ourselves superior to non-Jews. Not only is defeating the racism emanating from the Jews our collective moral duty,- it is also an integral part of the struggle against anti-Semitism.

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