The recent shooting at a Seattle Jewish Center has confirmed a fear of mine: that Jews worldwide are beginning to be blamed for Israel’s belligerence in Lebanon. I’ve already spent a fair amount of time defending myself when I was told that all Jews need to act to stop Israel’s behavior, as if we in the U.S. are somehow capable of stopping them. Some people are quite willing to indulge in the old conspiracy theory about how Jews around the world perform collective actions, whether that means making a lot of money or starting wars. It’s a level of ignorance and bigotry that is often brewing just below the surface (or in plain sight) in many parts of the world.
Which means I’m not particularly shocked at Mel’s drunken outburst. When he told a police officer that Jews start all of the wars in the world, and asked the man if he was a Jew, he was expressing a form of bigotry that will not die.
I’m glad, however, that Juan Cole has written about the absurdity of these statements. Despite Cole’s heated opposition to Israel’s war in Lebanon, he has the intelligence to separate the Jewish state from the millions of Jews living around the world.
I wish it wasn’t still necessary for him to lay out the basics of anti-hatred, but he does:
First: It is wrong to corral out a group of people on the basis of some attribute, such as religion, and then blame them collectively for something.
Then, he lays out an argument against Mel’s drunken conspiracy theory:
Second: It is, like, not correct in any way that “Jews” are responsible for wars in the world. I’d say the credit for WW I goes to the Kaiser. WW II? Hitler. And he did not even like Jews. The Korean and Vietnamese wars were rooted in colonial dynamics (Japan and France), in East Asian Communist Parties, and in rising American power along the Pacific Rim. See, hard as I look, I can’t find any evidence of Jewish responsibility here.
Cole then gives a quick summary of the complexities of American multiculturalism, an idea of America that sadly many Americans take issue with:
Finally, defining people is impossible. Human beings cannot be reduced to only one marker of identity. We all have multiple identities. Mel cannot just corral off a group of people and define them in a unidimensional way. And on the other side of things, there is a sense in which the US as a Creole society imbibes a good deal from each of its constituent subcultures. The United States would not have the practical freedoms it does have if it weren’t for the activism in the 20th century of American Jews. We would not have nearly as deep and rich a culture without the profound contribution of Jewish thinkers and artists. We are all partially Jewish in this vague, cultural sharing, and are all much the better for it. But the main thing is, we are all human beings together down here, and need each other, and must respect one another.