Thursday, January 17, 2013

Ruth Wisse

Mike L.

{Cross-posted at Geoffff's Joint, Bar and Grill.}

Ruth Wisse is a professor of Yiddish and Comparative Literature at Harvard University and the author of Jews and Power which I would very much recommend.  Over at Divestthis!, Jon Haber's most recent piece centers around Wisse's work, although in ways very different from my own.  However since I, too, have some familiarity with her writings I thought that I would publish the video above and post it to the right sidebar for awhile.  Her talk is about an hour long and worth every moment of it.

In her discussion of contemporary anti-Semitism she makes any number of excellent points, but I would like to briefly discuss two of them.

The first is her criticism of Jewish unwillingness to acknowledge and confront genocidal anti-Semitism and the second concerns criticism of the Jewish State.

Per the first, looking at the history of Jewish attempts at assimilation and history of Jewish persecution she notes, as does Barry Rubin, that Jews have generally sought to prove themselves worthy of admittance into the larger culture rather than through the demand for rights.  Because of this Jews have traditionally been reluctant to go on the offensive toward those who may be attacking them, whether in their own culture or other cultures.  What this means, and meant, is that there was rarely a price to be paid for political anti-Semitism.  In fact, because there was no price to pay for anti-Semitism, it meant that political groups could bridge divisions among themselves through genocidal Jew hatred and lose nothing due to that hatred.

This is what we saw in Germany during the early part of the last century and it is what we are seeing today in the Arab-Muslim worlds which are absolutely rife with the most virulent sorts of race hatred toward Jews.  However because western Jews tend to be interested in things like Tikkun Olam and issues of social justice, for reasons having to do with the history of Jewish persecution, we tend bend over backwards to accommodate and understand our very harshest critics and are often much more interested in seeking justice for others rather than justice for ourselves.

This she argues is a terrific mistake because, per the title of one of her other books, if we are not for ourselves who will be for us?  She thereby castigates the Jewish progressive tendency to almost entirely overlook Arab-Muslim genocidal racism toward us and the tendency to attack our fellow Jews who seek to point it out and to fight back.  Although she doesn't discuss Pamela Geller, per se, anyone who is the least bit familiar with the truly vicious attacks against Geller by some Jews of the left understands that Wisse makes a terrific point.  Progressive-left Jews honestly believe that to point out genocidal racism toward us from many Arabs and Muslims represents a form of racism against Arabs and Muslims.

But this is one reason why genocidal anti-Semitism persists, because we can't bring ourselves to really defend ourselves against it and, thus, there is no price to be paid for it.  I find it counterproductive and stupid, but there is no doubt that it is the case.  This does not mean that we should not pursue social justice for others, but that our enemy is not Pam Geller.  Again, when I post a video of some fascist mullah in Iran screaming for Jewish blood, on the progressive-left it makes me the racist.  This is beyond stupidity.  It's practically suicidal because the truth of the matter is that the Arab-Muslim world uses murderous Nazi-like anti-Semitism as a way to bridge the tensions between the various divisions in their societies.

They do it, but we need not go along with it.  This is what Wisse is recommending and she is absolutely right.  We must stand up for ourselves and those of us who would spit hatred at someone like Geller are doing the Jewish people a terrible disservice.  It's one thing to disagree with Geller, but it's another thing entirely to demean the woman and call her a "racist."

Another point that Wisse makes in the video above is concerned with criticism of Israel by those who claim to be friends of Israel.  She points out that it is often said that there is nothing wrong with criticizing any country and who would disagree?  All governments are subject to criticism and Israel is no different than any other country in that regard.

However, she uses a metaphor to underline a somewhat different point of view.  Imagine, she says, that you are not doing a very good job of keeping your front yard clean and a neighbor complains about it.  Well, that may very well be a perfectly reasonable criticism, right?  Why should this be a problem?  Fair is fair and if you need to clean up your yard a little than you need to clean up your yard a little.

Now imagine that all your other neighbors' yards are in far, far worse condition and, in fact, these people not only do not want you living among them, but are constantly throwing rocks and garbage through your windows and vocally threatening the lives of your children.  What would you think of that one neighbor's complaint then?  Would you not suspect that this neighbor is simply joining with the others in laying the ground for the persecution of you and your children.

This is why there is so much vitriol towards people like Peter Beinart and organizations like J-Street within the larger Jewish community.  At a time when the Muslim Brotherhood has taken power in Egypt, with a little help from Barack Obama, and Iran is driving toward nuclear weaponry and the Middle East is absolutely seething with hatred toward us, Beinart blames Israel for the hatred leveled against it.  Beinart is like the neighbor criticizing your yard-work while the rest of the neighborhood wants to see you dead.

This doesn't mean that someone like Beinart has no right to complain or shouldn't complain, but it does mean that he should voice his complaints with compassion and understanding rather than haughty contempt.

You guys should give Wisse a close listen.


  1. The 'lawn care' metaphor is a great one. You really can picture it, unfortunately, at most if not all 'progressive' internet venues whenever the Arab-Israel conflict comes up.

    Which speaks to the ugly environment these people create, even as they pretend to be above this very same tendency which they decry in their political opponents on the right. Without realizing that in this situation and others, they are simply mirror images of each other.

    1. I gotta tell ya, man, the screenshot that they chose for the video... presuming it was actually chosen... makes her look like some crazed grandma.

      The thing of it is when someone is kicking your ass a friend is not one who stands by with his arms folded on his chest saying, "Yeah, I think that you pretty much suck, as well."

      That's what Israel's situation is like.

      Israel is a strong country, but it is the country of the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors and also a country that is perpetually under siege and threat of war in which every Jew has to send his kid into the military.

      All those people want is to be left the hell alone to pursue their lives and, yet, millions upon millions of the surrounding Arabs blame them for virtually everything and scream to the world how they intend to kill them.

      And our friends on the political left honestly believe that it is the Jews of the Middle East that are primarily guilty for the hostility toward them.

      It's just sick, dude.

      And now we have a president of the United States who seem to honestly believe, hard as this may be to imagine, that the primary reason that Arabs can't stop trying to kill Jews is because Jews are building houses and day care centers and primary schools and second bathrooms in Judea.

      Wisse says that the great attraction of anti-Semitism is that it is a bridge across political divisions.

      That makes considerable sense.

  2. Thanks for this Mike

    I'm going to snitch the metaphor word for word.

  3. Furthermore:

    Imagine that you keep your lawn in a condition that is better than the condition in which all other people keep their lawns. And imagine that your immediate neighbors are throwing rocks at your windows, breaking your windows, and are throwing garage on your lawn, and are screaming at you that they are going to kill you and your family, and are screaming at you that they are going to take your house from you, and are telling everyone else a lie that you are not keeping your lawn clean, and are telling everyone else a lie that you stole your house from them. And imagine that everyone else, including your family members who don't live with you in your house, are now telling you that you should keep your lawn clean, and that your immediate neighbors have a right to throw rocks at your windows, and that if you don't clean your lawn, and that if you don't give half of your house to your immediate neighbors (who are currently occupying part of half of your house), your immediate neighbors have a right to take your house from you.

    This is the situation that Israel is in.

    The main reason that Israel is in this situation is because the leaders of the government of Israel have not told the facts of the history and current reality of the situation that Israel is in.

    1. " sixty-two years -- we will be celebrating next month -- the accomplishments and achievements that the state of Israel [has accomplished and achieved]...can be an example to...the entire Western world. Believe me, that's not an exaggeration, it's a fact. ..."

      -- Ishmael Khaldi,

      "...After much soul searching, I knew what I had once believed was wrong. I had to stand with Israel, with this tiny nation, free, democratic, making huge strides in medicine, research and development, yet the victim of the same lies and hatred that nearly consumed me. ..."

      -- Kasim Hafeez, From antisemite to Zionist

      "...I support Israel, because no other state is vilified that way it is, no other state has the lies passed as fact about it as Israel does, I've experienced the real israel and more importantly once we say no [to] the hatred and try and find a balance, that's when we can talk and that's how peace begins. ..."

      -- Kasim Hafeez,

      "...Now, if you look at the restrictions, let's say, [to coming into Israel from 'the West Bank' and 'the Gaza strip'] that have been put in over a number of years, they didn't come instantly post-1967. They have been in response to terrorism breaches. It's like this issue with...ambulances being stopped at checkpoints. Prior to a Palestinian [a 'Palestinian' Arab] ambulance volunteer using it to transport suicide bombers they weren't checked. I mean, it's an awful -- it's an awful -- situation. And, again, it highlights the uniqueness of Israel's security dilemma. And this is the thing -- when people talk about the security fence -- the security fence has only come into existence because of terrorism -- because of suicide bombings. So the issue really lies with: when the hatred stops -- when the terror stops -- checkpoints can come down, walls can come down, but those people who have died in terrorism, you can't...they can't come back. And that's really the thing...."

      "...My main issue with Israel is their drivers in Tel Aviv. They're absolutely crazy. That's a huge imperfection. They need to really work on that. ..."

      "...My support for Israel isn't based on religion. It's based on: it's a liberal democracy. ...It champions the values I hold dear as a citizen of the United Kingdom, and it's, you know, without being too cliche, it really is a country striving to be a light among nations in a very dark region. ..."

      -- Kasim Hafeez,

    2. Note:

      The occupiers to whom I referred are the Nazi organization Fatah-PLO and the Muslim Brotherhood organization Hamas.


      The PLO Charter calls for the destruction of what the PLO Charter calls "the Zionist" "occupation" of "Palestine".

      The Hamas Charter (the Hamas Covenant) calls for the murder of every Jewish person in the world.

      The 1964 PLO Charter (

      The 1968 revised, and current, PLO Charter (

      The Hamas Charter (The Hamas Covenant) (


      "I knew nothing about the fact that Jews were killed without any rational cause. I did not know that antisemites do not need a cause in order to kill.

      "As a result of such ignorance, I blamed Israeli policies for the alleged despair of the Munich terrorists. If Israel stopped its policies, I believed, Palestinian terrorism would stop as well. That was how I thought and, as a result, I joined the anti-Zionist Left in Germany. If I had known more about the Holocaust and its lessons, I would probably have reached different conclusions."

      -- Matthias Küntzel

    3. Correction:

      I wrote "garage", which should be "garbage".