Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Prejudicial inversions

Find what: Jew. Replace with: Zionist. Result? Through the power of this handy editing tool, you have an article ready for posting on Comment is Rancid. On this occasion it happens to be courtesy of Deborah Orr on the subject of the Israel-Hamas prisoner exchange deal.

I would reiterate Norm's rebuttal of her prejudical inversions - but in rather less subtle and understated terms than the ones he has chosen.

It works something like this: imagine Hamas offered to exchange Gilad Shalit for one Palestinian prisoner. Then imagine the Israelis respond by saying, "This is absolutely unacceptable to us! We absolutely insist that we release many hundreds more of your lot. We are, after all, the Chosen People and such an exchange would be a more accurate reflection of our true value."

Can you imagine such a thought experiment corresponds to reality? Welcome to the world of Deborah Orr. Norm doesn't think it needs spelling out like this. I hope he's right but I fear the opposite.

I've been wondering what it is about this concept of being Chosen - the Elect - that some people seem to find so offensive? By asking this, I trust it is understood that I am in no way conceding that this was a motivating factor in the case discussed above.

The contribution of Christianity to anti-Semitism is well-understood. Or rather, it should be well-understood. But beyond what is familiar about traditional Christian anti-Semitism - the Blood Libel, the conspiracies - there's an aspect that is rarely discussed but which I'm convinced is historically enormously significant, which has to do with this concept of the Elect. For it is not an idea that is unique to Judaism but which is shared by all the monotheistic salvation religions. Given that Christians and Muslims - if they are in any way remotely orthodox - also consider themselves to be the Chosen Ones, why should it cause so much offence when it appears in Jewish thought?

I'm wondering if the answer doesn't lie in a paradox that exists in Western liberal thinking? Because for the modern student of history, proselytizing zeal is something that carries connotations of cultural arrogance, imperialism, domination and genocide - and for good reason. But one wonders if some Christian ideas aren't prowling around the minds of modern Western men like the ghosts of dead religious beliefs? In Christianity the invitation to join the Elect is universal, as it is in Islam. Not so with Judaism. Could it be the problem some people seem to have with the concept of Judaic election is simply that they haven't been invited?

So, what might be considered to be a virtue of Judaism - the absence of a desire to convert - has this, is this, held against the Jews? Unsure but surely it's plausible? What is certainly the case historically is that Jewish disinclination to convert has been bitterly resented - a feeling that has been expressed with fire on numerous occasions in European history.

Whatever the heart of the historical matter, there's another inversion that is being played out in front of our eyes. As an explicit and genetic result of a disposition to proselytize, in human history the responsibility for blood-letting in the name of winning souls for the One God can surely be ranked in an order that no reasonable person would contest? It's Christians first, then Muslims, then Jews. But when it comes to being the subject of prejudice and persecution? This is obviously more contentious but I'd argue that it has been exactly the other way around.

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