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Facing the Legacies of Power

What a week for confusing politics and conflicting ideas! Wednesday night, I had the extreme pleasure of seeing Ruth Wisse’s Jews and Power being released. I know I’ve written about it before, but now is the time to pick this book up and give it a read, because it falls into that small and precious category of readings that, even if you hate them, will make you smarter. The book delves into perhaps the most pressing issue regarding the psychology of modern Jewry: how much power is “right”? It’s an honest accounting of how political systems work, and it essentially repeats the Zionist idea that Jews can be a nation like other nations—and provides ample evidence that the insistence that Jews supercede even their own strict moral codes evolved during history into something dangerously pathological. It’s not the easiest theory to swallow coming from a liberal political perspective, but it’s compellingly argued. This is, of course, a most simplistic rendering of her arguments, so go read the book yourself.

Thursday night, however, was something of an antidote: the Jewcy protest at the 92nd street Y.

The protesters—not just Jewcyniks, but any number of really excellent, articulate folks from the Armenian National Committee had been spurred to action by Joey Kurtzman’s inflammatory and totally right-on post on Abe Foxman, the ADL and the legacy of the Armenian genocide. There is currently a resolution in the House of Representatives (HR106) that would formally recognize the Armenian genocide as such (that is, not approximating genocide, or tantamount to genocide, or any other slips o’ the semantic tongue)—something the U.S. hasn’t done yet. And the ADL does not support such legislation. Their stated reason is that it’s not in the strategic interests of Israel, what with the fact that it’ll piss Turkey off something mighty; I have a sneaking suspicion that the ADL doesn’t like giving the moral currency of the word “genocide” to anybody else (for more on that, read on). And, remarkably, the resolution hasn’t passed yet. I don’t think you have to be a conspiracy theorist to note that the ADL really does have a lot of power; read Joey’s post and you’ll see that nobody is particularly inflamed about the fact that the ADL has power—it’s the flagrant misuse that has people upset.

Are these two political events really so diametrically opposed? Of course not. Ruth Wisse is arguing for Israel’s right to full political sovereignty and Jewcy wants the ADL to live up to its highly moral
history. In fact, given the primacy of the Holocaust to Ruth Wisse’s argument, keeping the ADL honest to its mission actually works in her favor.

I can deal with the complexities of power and the Jewish community, but what we’ve really got to work on is the unsettlingly common phenomenon I encountered talking to people on the other side of the street from the protest, entering the Y:
Mel: “Hi, are you going to hear Abe Foxman speak?”
Older woman: “Yes. Is that what that’s about?”
Mel: “Yes! Are you familiar with—”
Older woman: “Are those Palestinians?”
Mel: “Um, no. They’re protesting the ADL’s position on the Armenian—”
Older woman: “Oh, that’s fine! As long as they’re not Palestinians!”

Advanced dialogue, it wasn’t. Our work is laid out ahead of us.

–Mel Weiss