Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Shylock, Fagin, and Finkler: Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question

Fink – "an unpleasant, contemptible person"; "a strikebreaker"; "an informer". The slang word is an Americanism, which may have Germanic roots, and is not common in England.

Move over Shylock and Fagin -there is a new star in the firmament of negative Jewish characters in English Literature, the anti-Zionist Jew of Howard Jacobson's new novel, The Finkler Question. While he is in his anti-Zionist phase, Samuel Finkler has only two positive character traits: Like Shylock, he is concerned with the pursuit of justice (though not for his own people); like Fagin he is faithful to his friends (but not to his people, or his wife.) Until Finkler becomes disenchanted with anti-Zionism he is an odious fellow; selfish, arrogant, hypocritical. A professional philosopher specializing in ethics (since he is an amoralist he can rationalize cheating on his wife), Finkler relishes his role as public intellectual, talking head, and household name. He gladly accepts an invitation to appear on the BBC program Desert Island Discs, despite the fact that he knows little and cares less about music; for him the appearance is a "career move." And when Finkler announces on the show that he is ashamed of being a Jew because of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians (after duly noting about how important Judaism is to him), he joins a club of "ASHamed Jews" -- not because he has serious ideological affinities with the members but because some of them are quasi-celebs who admire his "courage" for speaking out. In the company of Jews who are ashamed about Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, Finkler finds his Jewish m├ętier; indeed, only as a self-hating anti-Zionist Jew can Finkler be truly Jewish. As his wife, a convert to Judaism, puts it,

Have you forgotten that you don't like Jews? You shun the company of Jews. You have publically proclaimed yourself disgusted by Jews because they throw their weight around and then tell you they believe in a compassionate God. And now because a few mediocre half household-name Jews have decided to come out and agree with you, you're mad for them. Was that all it ever needed? Would you have been the goodest of all good Jewish boys if only the other Jewish boys had loved you earlier? I don't get it. It makes no sense. Becoming an enthusiastic Jew again in order to turn on them…Remember what it is you really want, Samuel…Sam! And what you really want isn't the attention of Jews. There aren't enough of them.

In Jacobson's universe, the main reason a Jew concerns himself with the human rights of Palestinians – not just their welfare but their rights – is to curry favor with the goyyim. Later in the book he speculations that Jewish critics of Israel may judge their own by higher standards. For Jacobson, the only Jews who are ashamed of the behavior of Israel are Jews like Finkler – or worse, Jews who are entirely ignorant of what Judaism has traditionally been about

The group was nothing if not heterogeneous. It included Jews like Finkler, whose shame comprehended the whole Jew caboodle and who didn't give a hoot about a High Holy Day, and Jews who knew nothing of any of it, who had been brought up as Marxists and atheists, or whose parents had changed their names and gone to live in rural Berkshire where they kept horses, and who only assumed the mantle of Jewishness so they could throw it up…to be an ASHamed Jew did not require that you had been knowingly Jewish all your life.

In short, ASHamed is a group of self-hating-unJewish-Jews, offended to their core by the label, an assortment of caricatures that are grist for the satirist's mill. And what of those Jews whose Jewish identity consists solely in their being proud of Israel? What of the Israeli hasbara-niks? Are they not the proper butts of satire? They don't appear in this book.

Were Sam Finkler to remain an anti-Zionist he would be no more dimensional than the stereotypes that are members of the ASHamed Jews club. But as one of the three main characters of the novel he is required to possess some depth, something to distinguish him from the easier targets of the author's satire. So Jacobson has Finkler undergo a conversion from moderate anti-Zionism to moderate pro-Israelism, a conversion or return to the fold that (surprise, surprise) washes away his previous character flaws. Once Finkler is partially redeemed we hear no more of his odious character. For Maimonides there could be no moral atheist; for Jacobson there can be no moral anti-Zionist (unless she is a Palestinian, or an overly moral Jew).

Fortunately, Finkler's conversion has nothing to do with any good argument; the one that Jacobson has him making at a public meeting in a climactic passage ("How dare a European gentile single out Israel for moral opprobrium") would be enough for him to be kicked out of any philosophy department. No, the process is more tribal. At first, Finkler draws the line of his anti-Israel activism at boycott – not just academic boycott (which would make sense for an academic) but any partial boycott or divestment, even of the Occupied Territories. And why? Because Finkler is struck by his older Jewish friend Libor's rhetorical question, "Whoever boycotted his own family?" Libor, we are told, is a proud Jew from the Austro-Hungarian empire (Libor would have been only a few years old when that empire dissolved, but no matter; such liberties, like calling an Israeli male philosopher "Avital," or having ideological settlers wear black hats, will not be noticed by most readers.) If Libor knows anything about Jews at all, he should know that they have been boycotting each other since the days of the patriarchs. And, more to the point, Finkler has been boycotting them all his life. So why Libor's anti-boycott sentiments would have an effect on him makes no sense to me.

Whatever. The next step of Finkler's road from anti-Zion occurs – where else? – at a feast of Jewish delicacies. It seems that Finkler prefers eating cholent, tsimmes, and pastrami to arguing in favor of the "anti-Semitic members" of his club. As often with secular Jewish writers of my generation, Jacobson locates the yiddishe neshomoh somewhere within the digestive system. A more serious step is when Finkler, hearing that his son has knocked off an orthodox Jew's black hat after a debate at the Oxford Union over Israel's right to exist, calls him a "fucking anti-Semite" and sees in his progeny the revenge of his betrayed wife. Forget Divine retribution amd The Merchant of Venice -- the retribution of the Jewish people is now Measure for Measure (middah ke-neged middah).

I wouldn't mind so much the negative stereotyping of Finkler (in his anti-Zionist phase) and his fellow "ashamed Jews" were Jacobson a bad Jewish writer or a good gentile writer; after all, there is a "distinguished" British literary tradition of anti-Semitic tropes and stereotypes, as well as anti-Semitic writers. What disturbs me is that Jacobson is a very good Jewish writer who purports to care about Jews and Judaism. I haven't read a lot of his work, I am sorry to say, but I did read and love Roots,Schmoots, his Jewish travelogue. My pleasure in reading his account of his tangle with Phil Chernofsky and other rightwing American Israelis at the orthodox NCSY Center in Jerusalem was enhanced by my acquaintance with the people involved. But now I am saddened that in his writing – both novelistic and publicistic – he has gone the way of the American playwright David Mamet in demonizing and trivializing Jews who, as Jews, are critical of Israel's human rights record, or of Zionism. Sure, it is easy to satirize them, as it is easy to satirize anybody. And I don't doubt that Jacobson genuinely believes that many of them are self-hating Jewish ignoramuses. And, yes, he wrote this after Gaza, when the folks at Engage were working full-time to combat the "new anti-Semitism." Who knows? Were he to hear some of the same sentiments of ASHamed coming from me, he may be more indulgent. "Oh, Jerry, you are different; you live in Israel; you and your children have served in the army; you are orthodox; you are a professor of Jewish studies." Or, "You are American; you have no idea how anti-Semitic the campaign to delegitimize Israel in Britain has become."

I am tired of both those responses. Jacobson excludes from his Jewish universe the principled Jewish critics of Israel's policies and some of the uglier aspects of Zionism; more, he ridicules them into cherem/ostracism Now, cherem by ridicule is not without precedent in Jewish history. When the maskilim/enlighteners used it against the hasidim (see Joseph Perl's Revealer of Secrets) it failed miserably. As long as Israel behaves the way it has behaved towards Palestinians, Jacobson's ridicule will also fail.

But how I wish that ridicule was turned against better targets by a writer of Jacobson's talents! There are a lot more Phil Chernofskys (and worse) out there, Howard, than there were when you wrote about them. You want to do something for the Jewish people? Please write your next novel about them and stop demonizing the Jewish anti-Zionists and critics of Israel.

30 comments:

Sydney Nestel said...

Jerry

Thought you might like to write about this.

http://www.thestar.com/news/article/902572--u-of-t-slammed-over-jewish-racism-thesis

https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/bitstream/1807/24619/1/Peto_Jennifer_201006_MA_thesis.pdf

http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/house-proceedings/house_detail.do;jsessionid=c72d607830d76e8d5a5d64b54addaa35fdb44bf11d3a.e3eQbNaNa3eRe3aOaNyNaN0ObO1ynknvrkLOlQzNp65In0?locale=en&Date=2010-12-07&detailPage=/house-proceedings/transcripts/files_html/07-DEC-2010_L080.htm&Parl=39&Sess=2#P199_52597

(search for second occurance of "Jewish" )

yosef said...

I have read the book also, and you are very different from Finkler. The difference is that you have skin in the game. As an Israeli, I don't agree with you but I respect your right to voice your views because you have agreed to share a common destiny. What happens to me in Israel, happens to you.

The Finkler type Jews are those like Phil Weiss. They are not concerned with the well being of Israel but with the future of their community in the US and their status there. For them, Israel is a pawn in US internal politics or a pawn in the internal discussion in American Jewish circles about who the thought leaders will be.

yosef said...

I have read the book also, and you are very different from Finkler. The difference is that you have skin in the game. As an Israeli, I don't agree with you but I respect your right to voice your views because you have agreed to share a common destiny. What happens to me in Israel, happens to you.

The Finkler type Jews are those like Phil Weiss. They are not concerned with the well being of Israel but with the future of their community in the US and their status there. For them, Israel is a pawn in US internal politics or a pawn in the internal discussion in American Jewish circles about who the thought leaders will be.

Jerry Haber said...

yosef,

You are wrong about Weiss and you are wrong about me (though thank you, anyway). I see no daylight on many issues between Phil and me. Aside from the fact that we had the same teacher for our bar mitzvah (it *is* a small world, Virginia), Phil is deeply committed to his Jewishness and deeply committed to Israel. If he weren't he wouldn't be driving himself crazy with his blog.

By deeply committed to Israel, I don't deeply committed to the State of Israel. I mean deeply committed to the Jewish people.

Halfway through the book Jacobson allows that anti-Zionists can have some good motives, Jewish motives. In his book, they range from evil to clueless. That's a pity.

Michael W. said...

Jerry,

I have to disagree with you on one point about Phil Weiss - "deeply committed to his Jewishness and deeply committed to Israel." I can't say that I fully understand his views on these topics but it seems to me that he is far more concerned about his identity as a Jew vs. his identity as an American liberal.

He writes a lot more about how Jewish identity plays out in public and behind the scenes, rather than how the Jewish tradition fulfills his life. I'm not quite sure what his position is on assimilation, but he advocates it to the point of destroying the kinship among Jews. He wants to reduce Jewish brotherhood because it is at the heart of Zionism, and he believes it stops American Jews from criticizing Israel. He is sacrificing one large part of Jewishness, for the sake of bolstering another part of Judaism, Tikkun Olam. Apart from that, his knowledge of the Jewish tradition (Tanakh, Talmud, and other Jewish literature) seems limited. To him, Judaism consists of the past two centuries, and a few stories from the Bible. I think this limited knowledge of Jewish literature is the cause for his non-Zionism because there is a huge gap between biblical times and the 19th century for him.

He may be committed to the Jewish people, but his mission is to force the Israelis to be his type of Jew, a type of Jew contradictory in many ways to the "new Jew" Zionism created. And his way of doing it through politics as a foreigner, rather than drawing from the Jewish tradition.

I think his type of Jew wouldn't survive outside the comforts of the US, at least not in any consistent moral way. His type of Jew would submit to Arab nationalism and Islamism. He doesn't understand the problems most Israelis are facing and what they care about.

Jerry Haber said...

Michael, I don't recognize your take on Phil at all. As for the statement,

"To him, Judaism consists of the past two centuries, and a few stories from the Bible. I think this limited knowledge of Jewish literature is the cause for his non-Zionism because there is a huge gap between biblical times and the 19th century for him."

Over 80% of Israelis accept the understanding of Judaism you impute to Phil. (Actually, he is more knowledgable about liturgy and shul than they are). And they are all Zionist; in fact, their Jewish nationalism is devoid of any religious or even cultural content.

Anyway, we should stay on topic, which is Howard Jacobson's Finkler.

bacci40 said...

nice to see an alleged frum jew getting upset during chanuka regarding one hellinized yid making fun of a fictional hellinized yid

and can you give one example of phillip weiss' committment to judaism?

yosef said...

It does not matter that you and Phil agree on most issues. That is not the distinction. The distinction is the personal consequences of your world views. For example, both of you may support a 2 state solution with full sovereignty for the Palestinians. However, if the Palestinians abuse their sovereignty to fire missiles at Israel, you will pay a personal price while Phil won't. You are playing a fair game. Phil is playing a "heads I win, tails you lose" game.

Same for the one state solution. Is Phil going to be here if it fails and we are sucked into a civil war? No, but you are.

So maybe Phil has the best intentions, but for me he is a Finkler because he is more interested in abstract concepts such as "Jewish identity" and "justice" than the welfare of the Jews in Israel.

Michael W. said...

Jerry,

I'm not talking about the kibbutznik Zionist. I grew up in an ultra-secular kibbutz and I agree that it is devoid of any religious content. But kibbutzniks are only about 3% of the population. It is the kinship that is important to Zionists.

I was talking about the religious Zionists. I am talking about the Yaacov Lozowik* Zionists. Jews who believe we Jews are a people.

Weiss understanding of Jewish history is like Shlomo Sand's.**
I'd like to hear what you think of Weiss' thoughts on Sand.

When I described Jewish history as the last two centuries and a few biblical stories, I was trying to point to omission of all the time in between which is still important to Jewish history. Sand and Weiss believe the Zionists created Jewish nationalism based on biblical myths, but they believe it is actually evident in the entirety of Jewish history.

The Zionists believe that the Jews have always been a people. To Israelis and many Diaspora Jews, this kinship is something that Weiss is trying to break even though it goes against what Zionists believe as entire Jewish history. If he wants to fight Jewish moral failings, he should use the strength of Jewish kinship and promote Tikkun Olam in different ways to the secular and religious Israeli Jews.

A Jew can embrace any nationality (French, American, etc.), but history has shown that the nations of the world don't always embrace their Jews. So what's wrong with knowing that there is one people that will accept you, a Jew, no matter what.

Herzl saw the failings of European liberalism, and European nationalism. These failings cost the Jewish people dearly in the first half of the 20th century like other mass movements cost the Jews dearly throughout history.

Sand and Weiss, and perhaps you too, are willing to change Jewish identity for the sake of lofty political goals. Rather, you should highlight the positives of the Jewish-Zionist religious-secular spectrum. Promote Jewish kinship and secular Israeli identity that Arabs like the Druze can embrace. You can promote Jewish people-hood, while condemning settlements in the West Bank as unnecessary. You don't have to deny any Jewish connection to East Jerusalem to compromise with the Palestinians. You can promote dual ownership, but don't mistaken it as a road to bi-nationalism, but a road when Jews and Arabs can find self-determination away from the autocrats (mostly Arab autocrats).

*http://yaacovlozowick.blogspot.com/
**http://mondoweiss.net/2009/10/at-nyu-devilish-shlomo-sand-predicts-the-jewish-past-and-pastes-the-zionists.html

Anne said...

OK, well, not on the topic of the book, but: Maybe people, whether Jewish or not, criticize Israel, and Zionism along with it, because of the injustice they see that the Zionist state perpetrates against the Palestinians. Maybe some Jews oppose Zionism because they believe that by definition, a Zionist, that is Jewish, state, cannot be democratic and provide justice for all its citizens. Maybe such Jews know Tanakh, maybe they don't. Maybe they live in Israel, and maybe they don't. And maybe Yosef and Michael don't agree with the assessment that the Zionist state cannot be a just one. But Jews are entitled to criticize Zionism, based on the empiric evidence, without being psychoanalyzed about the true cause of their beliefs. If you disagree with Phil Weiss, for example, just say what the disagreement is - and duke out the ideas based on their merits.

As for having to have "skin in the game" to garner your respect, yosef, for for criticism of Zionism, there is no rational basis for that. Anyone can and should speak out against injustice when they see it. And by the way, if the Israeli flag is going to use the Jewish star, call it self a Jewish state, then yeah, I think Jews anywhere can criticize Zionism - and in fact, they may indeed have "skin in the game."

Shmuel said...

The trite stereotype of the Jewish anti-Zionist as a self-hating Jew is based on the false premise that supporting Israel is somehow an essential component of contemporary Judaism - more than any other aspect of Jewish identity.

Jacobson describes his own Judaism as follows (from Wiki; sorry, Professor): "I'm not by any means conventionally Jewish. I don't go to shul. What I feel is that I have a Jewish mind, I have a Jewish intelligence. I feel linked to previous Jewish minds of the past."

But he's a Zionist, so that's ok. He's got a hechsher from the va'ad harabonim of the BZF, and has even taken the liberty of appointing himself mashgiach and arbiter of all things Jewish. Were he (B-G forbid) an anti-Zionist, he'd be fair game for the Phil Weiss treatment.

Michael W. said...

bacci40,

If you are talking about me, I'm not frum, I am extremely secular.

Just check Weiss' website, he talks about it constantly.

yosef said...

Shmuel,

Phil Weiss is not self hating. Finkler clearly is enamored with himself. The argument Jacobson makes is more subtle. Why is Finkler "ashamed" of Israel and not of the UK? Why is Phil for BDS against Israel and not for BDS against the US? Why can't Phil just say, Israel does not speak for me just as what happens in China does not reflect on me? How many Chinese in the diaspora do you see trying to BDS companies that help the occupation of Tibet?

Of course Phil and Finkler are entitled to do what they believe. But aren't other Jews entitled to be suspicious of their motives?

Jerry Haber said...

yosef,

The argument Jacobson makes against Finkler and you make against Weiss is shown to be invalid in my post, On Singling Israel Out for Moral Opprobrium

http://www.jeremiahhaber.com/2007/09/singling-out-israel-for-moral.html

I also imply that people making the accusation are moral hypocrites for doing so. If you have difficult understanding that point, let me know.

yosef said...

Jerry,

I am not making the "singling out argument". Take your Pete and Paul story. One way to solve the problem is to talk to Pete and make him change his mind. Another option is to sanction him to move. If Pete represents Israeli public opinion, the first option means reasoning and convincing and second is asking for outside interference and working outside Israeli democratic norms.

The first method implicitly acknowledges that as part of the tribe one respects the collective decision of the tribe. The second method implies that the person knows better than the tribe what to do. In fact, that is putting oneself outside the tribe. It is contradictory in my opinion to say that you care so much about the tribe that you plan to ignore the democratic decision the tribe has reached reached after a free and open discussion.

As always when dealing with philosophical issues, let's use common sense as a reference or starting point. Why is it that there are virtually no Chinese that support sanctions against China until Tibet is freed and democracy established? Because in my opinion Finklerism is so far a Jewish phenomenon. Why do liberal Chinese respect their compatriots fear of sudden change in China but some Jews like Phil Weiss utterly reject their tribe members unwillingness to take chances that they believe are wrong to take?

Shmuel said...

Yosef,

You can question motives 'til the cows come home, but it's still a cheap and presumptuous ad hominem argument.

Jerry Haber said...

Yosef, if the tribe is wrong, then it is a mitzvah to disagree -- we are commanded not to follow an evil majority.

But let's calm down a bit. Surely you don't want to claim that rightwing settlers forfeit their right to protest or to advocate their views known because the majority of Israelis want something else. Phil Weiss is allowed to advocate for views that the majority of Israelis don't like, or for that matter, the majority of Jews don't like. Even if there were a way of discovering the latter (polls are notoriously unreliable), what would that have to do with anything.

In fact,your scenario begs the question. For if Chinese dissidents joined forces with American and European human rights activists against the Chinese government, you would surely not argue that those dissidents are acting improperly -- because they do not accept the view of their tribe. That there is an essential difference between Israel and China has to be argued, not posited as self-evident But in any event, Phil's position -- which justifies moral criticism of the majority in both cases -- is entirely consistent, whereas the onus is on you to offer a convincing and relevant ground for distinguishing the cases

bacci40 said...

michael,

all of my comments are directed at jerry

very few of those that visit his blog are frum....

and philip weiss does nothing for the jewish community...he is as secular as you are

Daniel Waweru said...

@yosef,

It is contradictory in my opinion to say that you care so much about the tribe that you plan to ignore the democratic decision the tribe has reached reached after a free and open discussion.

This is the kind of plain speaking which clarifies things. For the tribalist, your rule is self-evident; for those who aren't, it's self-evidently evil -- after all, thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil, even if the multitude has reached its decision democratically.

yosef said...

Jerry,

Please do not trivialize my argument. I am not against disagreement nor against fierce criticism. What I am against is the next step taken by the "Finklers". It is the going outside the tribe to influence the tribe. It is the lack of respect for the democratic discussion and the struggling with difficult problems that is going on. It is the insistence that a small group of persons is morally superior or more knowledgeable than an informed collective going through an open discussion and electing leaders that reflect the will of the people.

The Finklers disrespect this process, are not willing to work within its limitations, and seek help outside the tribe to influence it. BDS is one such example.

yosef said...

Shmuel,

Phil Weiss is a public advocate and as such questioning his intentions is quite fair just as questioning the intentions of Netanyahu regarding peace is fair also.

Jerry Haber said...

yosef,

I wrote a serious response to your claim (not argument), and you called it "trivializing your argument". Unless you write a serious defense of your claim, you cannot be expected to be taken seriously. Tribes can have long and protracted debates in a civil fashion and come to wrong conclusions. Isn't that obvious? Do you want a list of tribes?

Again, had the Soviet Union democratically decided to keep Jews from leaving in the 1970s, would it have been inappropriate for Soviet refuseniks to appeal to the West to put pressure on the government to change its policy? How about relatives of Soviet refuseniks living in the United States. Had Phil Weiss demonstrated, with hard-core anti-Soviets against this policy, would you have criticized him for that? Do you have one law for the Jewish tribe and another law for the Russian tribe?

yosef said...

Jerry,

The Soviet Union was not a democracy in the 1970's. Furthermore, the refuseniks did not see themselves as Russians.

Israel is a democracy and has frequent elections. Trying to coerce fellow Jews using outside influence is playing outside the rules of democracy. Either you accept those rules or you are not part of the tribe. Is it legitimate for any group of Jews not happy with election results in Israel to use outside forces to reach their goals instead of trying democratic means?

yosef said...

Let me just make clear again. I am not against Phil advocating his views. I am against him using non-democratic means to influence the majority that does not agree with him. He can criticize as much as he pleases. But when he calls for BDS, he is disrespecting the informed and democratic decision of the tribe. The tribe rethinks its position every election cycle in Israel. That is how change should be implemented, by convincing Israelis to vote differently, not by employing outside forces to try to coerce them.

Jerry Haber said...

yosef,

So were Russia today to disallow (democratically) Russian Jews from leaving the country, you would find it inappropriate for Russian citizens with a strong Jewish identity to call upon outside help in its struggle.

Were the Israeli government to decide to withdraw from East Jerusalem and the Western Wall, you would oppose Jews enlisting the help of other Jews and fundamentalist Christians to protest, non-violently, and try to influence the reversal of that decision.

Of course, you thought that the rightwing protest against Oslo, or withdrawal from the Golan, where rightwing politicians called upon the help of their allies outside of Israel, was inappropriate.

Just making sure you know what you are committing yourself to.

Shmuel said...

Yosef,

There are a number of flaws in your argument, but I'd like to point out two in particular.

1. You are arguing in the name of democracy, while in effect referring to a very peculiar kind of democracy, in which Jews from all over the world may participate (but not non-Jews), in which structural and de facto limitations are placed on the participation of native non-Jews, and in which certain views are placed beyond the pale through regular legislation, Basic Laws, legal practice and precedent, democratic form without content, etc. You are also arguing in the name of majority rule (although a peculiar kind of majority rule, as explained above), but ignoring the other principles of democracy, which include equality before the law, human rights, international law, and so forth.

2. You presume that Israel's actions are Israel's business. Israel's actions affect Israelis, Palestinians, Jews around the world, Muslims. Christians, Americans, Europeans, and many others, in many different ways. Jerry referred you to his wonderful post on "Singling Israel out for Moral Opprobium", in which he explains why many different kinds of people may feel they have a particular stake in what goes on in I/P, yet you chose only to comment on the Peter-Paul story, which makes another point entirely. Jews such as Phil Weiss have enough reasons to be concerned about what goes on in I/P, without searching for nefarious, psychological, or illegitimate ulterior motives. If you won't argue the issues, at least apply a little common sense to your motive-questioning - unless of course you are out to smear rather than to engage in honest discussion.

yosef said...

Jerry,

If Israel decided to leave the Golan or East Jerusalem, of course I would be against anyone trying to BDS Israel not to do so. Asking foreign leaders or people to voice their opinion is fine. Non violent demonstrations are fine. But coercion via BDS is not.

As for the Russian example, if the Jews wanting to leave saw themselves still as Russians also, I would not support BDS against the Russian state to allow them to leave. If they say, that they are Jews, not Russians, they are not bound anymore to play by the democratic rules of the Russian collective and then BDS is fine.

If the Jews that support BDS, renounce their Judaism, then their position is not contradictory anymore. However, they will not. They want to claim to be part of the community while disrespecting the democratic decision process in the community. Their position is untenable.

yosef said...

Shmuel,

Let me address your points.

1) Does the fact that a democratic system is not perfect provide an a justified excuse to ignore that system? No, it does not. It justifies working within the system to improve it. Again, the basic flaw in your thinking is that you believe you are entitled to decide for the whole collective what is the right decision process while ignoring the fact that the collective has a good (not perfect) decision process that needs to be respected, IF YOU DEFINE YOURSELF AS PART OF THE COLLECTIVE. Again, if you do not see yourself as a Jews, you are not bound by this principal.

2)In a connected world, the decisions of significant collectives naturally influences many others. How is that relevant to the discussion? The point you ignore is that our collective has a democratic decision process. If you see yourself as part of the collective, join the process. If you do not, do whatever you like. But don't claim to be part of the collective while not willing to respect its democratic decision process. The two are contradictory.

Joachim Martillo said...

Hasn't the genre of The Finkler Question been around for a really long time?

An Island Within by Ludwig Lewisohn belongs to the same class of books. Naomi Ragen generates a fairly low-brow version of this stuff, and I keep reading articles about Polish gentiles that begin to practice Judaism after discovering a technically Jewish mother.

I have not read Jacobson's new book, but I suppose I must at some point. Jeremiah Haber's blog entry seems to miss some of the main issues of Jewish (Zionist) "shuvah/teshuvah."

There are generally a lot more benefits to returning to the Jewish Zionist fold or becoming part of it than there are in taking a principled stand against Zionism and against a lot of the behavior of the organized Jewish community.

Larry Summers seems to have improved his bank account tremendously since he dumped his gentile wife, married a Holocaust literature specialist, thwarted Sheikh Zayed's contribution to the Harvard Law School, etc.

On Wall Street there are vast Jewish Zionist social networks (networks of trust, flex-nets), whose members share insider info and protect one another.

Whenever I do a contract in the finance industry, someone always tries to recruit me.

One could easily argue that Jews breaking with the Jewish community like Jacob Brafman evince much more real courage than the fictional Finkler. After all the Gintsburg Circle seems to have attempted with some success to bad-mouth and to persecute Brafman.

As for the question: "Whoever boycotted his own family?"

Didn't Marlene Dietrich do precisely that long before the major German Nazi atrocities yet at a time when many Jewish Soviets were bloody with mass murder and ethnic cleansing?

Generally, Dietrich is considered a hero.

Arguments about the bravery or cowardice of people like Finkler, Dietrich, Brafman, the Gintsburg Circle strike me as pilpul in situational or tribal ethics.

They all did what they thought they had to do.

It is more important to look at the results of ideologies like Zionism or Marxism and to understand the real goal of literature like The Finkler Question.

Shmuel said...

No, Yosef, "our collective" does not have a democratic decision-making process. A part of the collective (which happens to intersect with other collectives the wishes and needs of which it chooses to disregard) has a process that does not respect the principle of equality before the law and places artificial limits on legitimate discourse (see e.g. "Basic Law: The Knesset") - all the while claiming to represent the entire Jewish collective.

Furthermore, a majority of the Jewish collective cannot even participate in this very limited form of democracy - unless they decide to join the sub-collective of Jewish citizens of Israel. Saying that they have the theoretical possibility of doing so is no better than saying that non-Jews can convert and immigrate if they want to influence Israeli politics.

And what about an Israeli citizen like Jerry (or myself, for that matter)? We can participate in Israeli elections, yet some of us choose to support BDS. Should we renounce our Israeli citizenship and turn in our Jew cards? Mi samkha?

It's not about "democratic" options or "skin in the game". It is Jewish pluralism and freedom of opinion and action you seem to have a problem with, inventing rules as you go along, to exclude those you don't like.