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Day 4 (Paul Gottfried): Is it Time for Jews to Vote Republican?

From: Paul Gottfried To: Jonathan Gottfried Subject: Nativity scenes and pogroms Jonathan, The American intervention in the Balkans, under President Clinton, was even less warranted than the invasion of Iraq. Exhaustive studies have shown that the media in France, England, … Read More

By / January 8, 2007

From: Paul Gottfried To: Jonathan Gottfried Subject: Nativity scenes and pogroms

Jonathan,

The American intervention in the Balkans, under President Clinton, was even less warranted than the invasion of Iraq. Exhaustive studies have shown that the media in France, England, and the U.S. glaringly exaggerated Serb “massacres,” while playing down those committed by their Muslim foes. Thus a military confrontation between the two sides at Racak, Kosovo, in January 1999, was spun to place all the blame on the Serbs and to justify NATO bombing of the Serb forces.

Please note that I am not defending Serb behavior. I am rather suggesting moral parity between them and their Muslim enemies. On the other hand, I would not suggest anything of the kind between Saddam Hussein and those whom he victimized.

You seem to believe that my parents’ generation’s failure to object to public displays of religiosity came from their insecurity. You think this older generation of Jews was afraid of not being regarded as sufficiently American and therefore failed to stand up to bigoted goyim.

My own read is entirely different. Firstly, none of the people in question would have been offended by the Religious Right’s opposition to gay marriage or partial-birth abortion, or its desire to invoke the deity in public classrooms, since among my Jewish acquaintances no one thought differently on any of these matters. Although I knew Jewish “liberals” who protested segregation in the American South or the puniness of the minimum wage, and although some of my parents’ friends were effusively grateful to the Soviets for having fought the Nazis, I never met any Jews of my parents’ generation who professed the views of tod
ay’s secular liberals.

Also, most of the older Jews I knew had escaped from the Nazis by their skin of their teeth; they were not likely to equate having to pass a nativity scene on public property with running into Nazi hooligans or with incitement of a pogrom. Most importantly, those Jews did not have to reinforce their collective identity by fantasizing about or exaggerating a white Christian danger to their group. Their strong ethnic identity allowed them to function collectively without reference to a convenient adversary.

Last year I was thunderstruck when I received a message from the national Hillel organization providing advice on how to tell gentiles that one is not coming to class or work because of the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur holidays. Apparently some of the respondents had worked themselves up strategizing about this problem.

Although I am now almost 65 and have spent most of my life in predominantly non-Jewish areas, never once have I encountered the Christian wall of prejudice and insensitivity that these young Jewish students are being helped to confront. In fact it is hard for me to imagine that these supposedly anxious people are being racked by fears of anything as counterfactual as what they suggest is out
there. What may be happening is that going into fits about antisemitism has replaced more traditional expressions of Jewish identity.

In my early thirties, I belonged to a synagogue in Westfield, New Jersey, whose members became livid when a Protestant missionary crossed public school property to hand out copies of the New Testament. These concerned members then distributed a statement of outrage that was intended for a local official. When asked to sign it, I shocked everyone by refusing. I joked that given the foolishness that went on at local schools, the copy of an ancient text might help to concentrate the minds of students. But I was also genuinely astonished by this disproportionate reaction to the offer of a mainstream religious text to students who could easily turn it down.

Being then naïve, I did not know that the missionary’s misstep violated the most important constitutional protection for my fellow congregants, albeit one based on a selective reading of a privileged phrase of the judicially privileged First Amendment. This phrase, prohibiting Congress from establishing a national religion, has been turned into a vehicle for making secularism into the national religion. And while the Jewish contribution to this process cannot be understated, the Jewish liberal elites that have pushed both the secularization of the U.S. and various forms of multiculturalism were simply not part of my youth.

In any case, I thought that my fellow Jews in Westfield were acting more weirdly than the missionary against whom they were taking up arms. When I spoke about this a few days later to an Israeli friend, he shrugged his shoulders in amusement and then explained to me: “That’s what happens when life is too good. These American Jews should try to live with our neighbors.”

Dad

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