Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Disorganized thoughts coming out of the Nock post and discussion

-Jews and whiteness: Rather than just asking, are Jews white, we should also ask if this is really the question that tells you most about what it means to be Jewish in a given context. So if the context is one of heightened racial tensions, where 'race' means 'black' or 'white' only, then yes, this is of utmost importance. But if we're talking about one of very few Jews in a sea of Lilly Pulitzer'd WASPness, Jews 'whiteness' is really the least important thing about their experience. It's a bit like asking whether gay white people are 'really' white - yes, they're white, and yes, that matters, but no, that's not necessarily what you want to hone in on if trying to examine their experience. Meaning, it's hard to say that in America, any divide has mattered as much, elicited as much violence, as black-white (and if it has, it would be male-female and not Jewish-gentile, but as male-female is not a divide most wish wouldn't exist, it's a bit of a different story). There needs to be some way of understanding that the privilege inherent in being non-black does not necessarily translate into the carefree, unselfconscious, undifferentiated-American existence the word 'white' implies.

-Jews as 'Orientals': Rather than just asking whether early Zionists were historically accurate in their claims that modern-day European Jews had hereditary roots in Palestine, we should also ask what about the idea might have seemed non-nonsensical to European Jews at the time. Meaning, casual discussions of Zionism, if they refer to the influence of non-Jewish Europeans at all, mention of European anti-Semitism, but rarely give a central role to the commonly-accepted (or so it seems from much I've read about France) view among European Christians that Jews, yes, even the modern-day ones, had an original homeland and that this homeland was Palestine. Because we can argue today that, aha!, the Zionists were wrong, the Jews were not, after all, an unchanging people of non-mingled blood. But if they were wrong according to our own myth-shattering ideals today, they were simply agreeing with what was common knowledge at the time. There was no great danger, for European gentiles up until the advent of modern political Zionism, in referring to the Jews as 'from Palestine' - it had no implications for the current residents of Palestine, and only served to reinforce the idea that the Jews living in Europe were fundamentally non-European. For Jews to be foreign, they had to be 'from elsewhere.' Elsewhere was sometimes Germany, Poland, etc., but ultimately came down to one spot: Palestine. I get that it takes away almighty Agency from the early Zionists to point this out.

3 comments:

Matt said...

Somehow this seems relevant to this post and to the blog more generally (There's even a French connection, though a fairly weak on, in it!) I don't have much opinion on it except that it's usually true that people's beloved origin stories are often enough largely mythical and to point out that whether Jews are "a nation" is not, I think, plausibly relevant in either direction to the Israel/Palestine issue, and that the same, of course, goes for Palestinians.

Matt said...

Oops- either I didn't put in the link or it was taken out: I meant this:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/24/books/24jews.html?ref=books

Sorry.

Phoebe said...

Yes, I link to that article in the post, but I suppose it wasn't very clear...