Noel Ignatiev's Blog

Memoir of an Ex-Jew 10

The Judaic religion and Talmudic Law contain many ugly elements: the atrocities proudly chronicled in Deuteronomy; the annual Passover celebration of the slaughter of the first-born; the dual standard of conduct depending on whether it involves Jews or gentiles[1]; the tribalism that defines Jehovah as a jealous god who will have no other gods before him; the repression of the sort of exalted sentiments that led Handel to write “The Messiah.” (Felix Mendelssohn, born into a notable Jewish family, was a Christian.) All religions contain ugly elements, but unlike Christianism and Islam Judaism rejects the notion of the Brotherhood of Man (a noble idea notwithstanding that it has become cant) that leads those faiths to welcome as equals, at least in theory, all who accept them. Judaism is, quite literally, not a universal faith but “the religion of the Jewish people.”

Most infuriating of all is the constant complaining and whining in Jewish discourse. This kvetching reached a crescendo during the discussion at Berkeley over the resolution to have the University of California sell off its stock in two companies deemed to be especially responsible for Zionist atrocities in Gaza. A number of students who identified themselves as Jewish said that the resolution made them “uncomfortable”—as if their discomfort could somehow equal the discomfort of those whose homes had been blown up and families killed by white phosphorous bombs. Not long ago a Jewish professor at the school where I teach declared at a faculty meeting that the “Holocaust” was the worst crime in human history. One of the other professors, a black West Indian, looked at him in disbelief. The “Jewish” attitude was captured by a pseudonymous blogger on Mondoweiss:

the “oooh, poor jews have been persecuted for longer than forever” schtick is old, tired, UNTRUE, unsupported by actual facts, and, NOBODY CARES anyhow!

even if you think your god told you so, you are NOT the gravitational force around which the world revolves.

You will become full-fledged members of the human race when you don’t NEED to be hated, and even more than that, when you can expend your energies on activities other than cataloging (or inventing) who and when and how much and how long engaged in ‘hating’ you.

I shall not attempt here to correct the version of the past that every Jewish boy and girl inhales from childhood, the tales of unremitting persecution for two thousand years. It is a fable equaled only by George W. Bush’s claim that “they hate us for our freedoms.” Those who want to discover the facts can do so by reading any serious history of daily life in medieval Europe.[2] For now I limit myself to pointing out a fact that seems to me beyond dispute: in Europe up to 1933 it was on the average better to be a Jew than a peasant.

Can Zionism be blamed on the Judaic religion or Jewish culture? For an answer I take the comment of Victor Serge: to those who blamed Lenin for the crimes of Stalin, Serge replied (I quote from memory) that yes, one could find the seeds of Stalin in Lenin, but many other seeds existed alongside them, and that it was the historical context that determined which seeds sprouted and bore fruit and which died. A disproportionately large number of outstanding individuals have been of Jewish origin, a fact that must be a result of their being outsiders in Europe. These great figures—Spinoza, Marx, Heine, Freud, Einstein, Rosa Luxemburg and Trotsky—were part of a humanist tradition powerful enough to penetrate the darkness of the shtetl mired in backwardness and superstition. All of them, without exception, broke with Jewish tribalism and ceased to think of themselves as Jews.

I grew up in the afterglow of that humanist tradition. I remember the gentleness, the ironic humor, the universalism of the Yiddish-speaking working-class intellectuals, the garment workers who pooled their wages to pay one of their number to read to them during their long hours of sweatshop labor—read not the Talmud but Darwin and Tolstoy and Marx, the best of modern thought—and their children, the people who attended concerts where Paul Robeson sang of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and Joe Hill and Go Down, Moses.

Zionism did not create those people. The Zionist movement is a century old, and has ruled Palestine for sixty years. What has it given the world? Begin, Jabotinsky, Sharon, Netanyahu and Dershowitz. No surprise, since from the beginning the Zionists made it clear that their aim was to destroy Jews and create “Israelis.” And they have done so; they have done away with the people of The Book and replaced them with the people of the tank. I once asked my mother what accounted for the decline of progressive values among American Jews. “Israel,” she answered, “Israel ruined the Jews.”[3]

A journalist travels through various countries, asking the same question in each: “Excuse me,” he says, “I’m taking a survey of public opinion. What do you think of the meat shortage?” He gets the following answers:

From a Russian: Public opinion? What is public opinion?
From a Pole: Meat? What is meat?
From a German: Shortage? What is shortage?
From an Israeli: Excuse me? What is excuse me?

The triumph of Zionism has done more than Hitler did to destroy whatever was of value in Jewish culture. A few years ago I attended a conference that brought together individuals from the Arab world, Europe and North America, all claiming to oppose the Zionist regime. Especially interesting were the attendees from inside “Israel” who considered themselves Jews: one fellow agonizing over his feelings of guilt, another going on about his divided soul; it was as if Freud’s entire practice had been gathered in one room and told to free-associate. I said to myself, that place is too small for a country and too large for a lunatic asylum.   

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[1] See Shahak, op  cit.

[2] See, for instance, Fernand Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, especially volume 2.

[3] There is more to it than that. James Baldwin wrote somewhere that Jews used the black civil rights struggle as a battering ram to open doors for themselves. Jewish liberalism back to the days of Julius Rosenwald always contained an element of condescension, which spilled over to Communist Party policy after the rise of Hitler and especially after the Popular Front. Harold Cruse blamed Jews for CP opportunism on black liberation; he oversimplified, but it was definitely a factor: half of national CP membership was in New York City and Jews probably made up more than half of non-black Party membership nationally. Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Chester Himes and LeRoi Jones have all depicted CP black-Jewish tensions in literature. Extended treatment of the subject is beyond the scope of this memoir; I merely note it here.

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