Sunday, April 03, 2011

The disconnect between liberalism associated with Judaism in the United States and sensitivity about support for Israel, Facebook being sued

For one billion dollars. First off, the lawsuit, where a guy is suing Facebook for feeling personally threatened because the site supposedly didn't take down a page in Arabic calling for the murder of all jews, seems absurd. I say this as someone who isn't Jewish but who dislikes things like houses being bulldozed in illegal land seizures, which on the face of it suggests a deep hypocrisy between the liberal stand taken by many people who are culturally and/or religiously jewish regarding issues in the United States, but very conservative, even reactionary, when it comes to Israel. But is it such a contradiction, really? Is it hypocrisy in its regular form or is that perception based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the issue?

In my opinion, the error comes from relating a political position that's based on a history of oppression to some sort of essential nature of an ethnic or religious group. Folks whose families have been traditionally persecuted have plenty of reason to support religious and political liberty in general, but just as being African American doesn't mean that one supports the entire Democratic Party platform, including for example gay rights, being jewish shouldn't be taken as necessarily meaning that a person supports liberalism on all fronts. Despite attempts to link judaism with some sort of fundamentally liberal doctrine, say with the freeing of slaves from Egypt, historically speaking there's been plenty of conservative doctrine within judaism and by extension within jewish culture as a whole. Traditional gender roles, patriarchy, restrictive religious commandments, the pronouncement of idolatry for people who want to paint or sculpt people, enforced modesty in dress, these are things that don't speak to personal freedom in the sense that folks mean it today but something different. And it's this aspect of culture that appears to predominate in Israel.

The conflict, then, isn't based on a contradiction, but on a false expectation: that simple ethnic and religious interest will always lead to liberal values and conduct. The evangelical church thrives within the African American community, and preaches very conservative values, although also practicing a theology of liberation, yet this doesn't stop African Americans from supporting the Democratic Party, because it's clear where many people on the other side stand. Why expect something different from other groups? Especially when the twin values of religion and ethnic heritage are involved. These are things that run deep with folks.

Plenty of people who are religiously jewish are liberal in general, not only with regards to things outside of religion, and the same goes for people who are culturally jewish who are largely secular and for whom it's not really that big a part of life. On the other hand, it's a very important part of many people's identity, so much so that there are Judaica sections in most big bookstores that sell not only religious but cultural books, while there aren't corresponding "Italian" or "Greek" sections of bookstores. Sections with Catholic books don't give histories of Ireland. To expect any group of people to necessarily support a philosophy unquestioningly only sets one up for trouble.

We live in a multi-cultural society, and our diversity of cultural backgrounds and religious traditions is one of are core strengths. No one should feel that they have to leave their religious beliefs at the door, or feel that they will be accused of 'dual loyalty' if they don't. But it's also unreasonable, then, to act like folks who are conservative with regards to Israel are really as liberal and tolerant as they seem, and no amount of mental acrobatics will erase that fact, any more than a person supporting Greek nationalism would probably be regarded as less than perfectly liberal with regards to all aspects of life.

No comments: