An Antisemitic Joke From My Youth, and What It Says About the Elite

on 31 Comments

Another thing historian Ilan Pappe said is that the "elites" of the world have made a mess of Israel/Palestine. He meant the American elite too, the political establishment, the Israel lobby. I went for a walk today and got thinking about my own meritocratic elite.

Back when I was in college, at Harvard, I was friends of a very WASPy kid from New England who was the subject of some fascination to my urban Jewish friends and me. He was a hipster but incredibly preppie too, and he had a very WASPy name. He was nice enough to be friends with us, but he was 150 proof gentile. I’m not going to identify him because this story could only hurt people. He had a dry friendly manner. One time he corrected my grammar, saying, "If Shakespeare had used ‘like’ as a conjunction he would have written ‘Like You Like It.’" Anyway, one day I was visiting him when he showed me a book of political cartoons that had an antisemitic cartoon in it. In the first frame, an Indian guy was standing on a cliff surveying his domain, then an English colonist crept up out of the bushes and pushed him off the cliff. In the third frame the colonist was fat and happy, looking out over his domain, and then in the fourth frame a Jewish guy came up out of the bushes. Ha ha. I found it upsetting, to see this thing in Kirkland House.

I bring it up because my old friend is today married to a very influential person, also nameless, who is Jewish. They’re an emblematic couple: The prejudice and stereotype among gentiles of my generation was not so engrained or virulent that they would refuse to join with Jews in the elite. I saw all that happen in my lifetime. It ought to be celebrated. But doing that would mean acknowledging that Jews aren’t outsiders in American society; and many Jews like that status…

31 Responses

  1. Concerned
    January 22, 2008, 11:08 pm

    My only guess here is that Phil's wife has finally left him an he's spent the past 48 hours on a cocaine binge. His recent posts make absolutely no sense. Naqba Museum? Harvard school buddies? What the hell is so upsetting about that mild, if unfunny, cartoon? Phil types far more aggressively antisemitic things than that before breakfast most days!
    It might be time for an Intervention.

  2. the sword of gideon
    January 22, 2008, 11:31 pm

    That is one seriously sheltered life. And the horror of the moment has stayed with him since college.

  3. CJ Harwood
    January 22, 2008, 11:31 pm

    > Naqba Museum?
    If you don't see the need for a Naqba Museum, then I guess the nearly 800,000 Palestinians uprooted, 531 villages destroyed, 11 urban neighborhoods emptied, by Jews in 6 months, in 1948, implementing the March 10 "Plan D" —
    I guess those Palestinians deserved what they got, including the ones murdered by Jews in cold blood, in the process. And so too since then, the land confiscations since June 11 1967.
    Do I understand you right, "Concerned"?

  4. Concerned
    January 23, 2008, 12:20 am

    "800,000 Palestinians uprooted, 531 villages destroyed, 11 urban neighborhoods emptied, by Jews in 6 months, in 1948"

    Wow, those must have been some badass Jews!

  5. Leila
    January 23, 2008, 2:10 am

    Re: the Harvard friend… People evolve as the culture evolves and I don't know which comes first. Jokes and attitudes that were socially acceptable in the 1950s are anathema now. Think about children's books – some classics just don't get read any more because of changing mores – Little Black Sambo is one example.

    I had a WASPy friend at college in NYC in the early 1980s who told me that although people often mistook her for Jewish because of her looks, she was really glad not to be, because Jews are blah blah blah. (I think it was "neurotic" and "too intense" – trailing off into "well, you know!") It was one of the few times I heard an American say something obviously anti-Semitic. Now 20 years later that friend is married to a Jewish guy and writes about race and ethnicity. I am sure she doesn't even remember saying what she said when she was nineteen.

    I lived in Egypt for a year in 1983, took up with an Egyptian from the elite, and married him; at some point in that brief marriage I wrote a short story set in Alexandria that I could not publish today as is. The crowd scenes of Arabs on the docks are Orientalist, "essentialist", mocking and full of a kind of tourist-guide superiority that makes me shudder now. I would not want my Arab-American literary colleagues to read such characterizations of the Arab street. My view then was shaped by my own callow Americanness and the sheltered, elitist world of the Egyptians I knew, who were all children of diplomats, cabinet ministers and financiers. My middle class/upper middle class background showed like dirty underdrawers.

    People change. Unfortunately, since 9/11, American culture overall has regressed – the improved attitude towards Arabs I saw in the 90s has given way to stereotyping and prejudice much worse than any I ever faced in the 1970s. It's now socially acceptable to fear, despise and vilify Muslims and Arabs in many "elite" and civilized circles. But I think this too shall pass.

    Doris Lessing once wrote that Americans are subject to fevers – and they do pass. She was talking about the 1950s and McCarthyism – the same applies to the current anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hysteria.

  6. Richard Witty
    January 23, 2008, 5:47 am

    We had an easy life Phil.

    Not everyone does. My in-laws experienced slave labor camps. Most of my wife's father's family were exterminated.

    In the long-term, our experiences (not all as nice as yours) are not yet the norm.

    There is NO guarantee that dissenters will speak to defend when the racists again come knocking. More likely, they will be afraid to or just not inclined to.

    They don't have such universalistic attitudes. Consider that the Ku Klux Klan evolved from populist movements in the states.

    You know, "Jews are capitalists", er "Jews are communists", er "Jews control the media", er "Jews control the banks", er "Jews killed Jesus", er "Jews rejected Allah when Allah gave the law to Moses by their worshipping the golden calf".

    One can hope that the values of mutual decency are so deep that they sustain, that neither politics nor religion nor economy can deter Americans from adopting the values of universal decency.

    In particular, the agitation that is suggested by discussion of "disloyalty" (misinterpretation of your discussion of "dual loyalty"), illustrates the dilemma.

  7. Jim Haygood
    January 23, 2008, 6:42 am

    "Historian Ilan Pappe said that the 'elites' of the world have made a mess of Israel/Palestine."

    Boy, THAT'S for damned sure. Just look at today's amazing story of the Rafah wall falling, all seven miles of it. As (not 'like') when the Berlin wall fell on 9 Nov 1989, the inmates behind it just wanted to come out and shop.

    I love this quote: "An off-duty Hamas security officer who identified himself as Abdel Rahman, 29, said this was his first time out of Gaza. 'I can smell the freedom,' he said. 'We need no border after today.'"

    link to

    Of course, the lesson learnt by Mr. Rahman is that the U.S., Israel and the Quartet were his jailers; the Gazans found a little liberty by taking matters into their own hands with some people power.

    All the tendentious blather about "democracy" from the U.S. and Israel rings hollow after they nullified the results of Gaza's democratic election and implemented a cruel siege.

    What a cool coincidence, that Gaza Liberation Day happened to fall on Martin Luther King day in the U.S. There is a God! And he just told us that zionism is racism. As ol' Moses used to say … LET MY PEOPLE GO!

  8. Charles Keating
    January 23, 2008, 8:08 am

    So, who is Underdog today?

  9. Charles Keating
    January 23, 2008, 8:10 am

    Who lurks in the bush?

  10. David Seaton
    January 23, 2008, 8:55 am

    A Berliner moment in Gaza?
    A revolution brewing in Cairo?

  11. Concerned
    January 23, 2008, 8:58 am

    Nice to see those Egyptians going home . . .

  12. Jim Haygood
    January 23, 2008, 9:07 am

    If Obama wants to emulate Reagan, here's his chance to boldly step forward and say, "Mr. Mubarak — TEAR DOWN THIS WALL!"

  13. Chuck
    January 23, 2008, 9:43 am

    "Values of mutual decency"!?! Is that what is being inflicted upon the Gazans so similar to what occurred in the Warsaw Ghetto 60 years ago.

    By the way, almost all the stereotyping and degradation of Arab peoples that I witness orginates from people like Jonah Goldberg and David Horowitz. So let's not have their Zionist brethren such as the insufferable Richard Witty lecturing the rest of us about racism in America until they end their own practice of it. The best way to commence with ending the practice will be to stop the flow of money from American taxpayers to the Zionist State, along with a termination of building subsidies to synagogues under the phony guise of "Homeland Security." I'm still waiting for the so called ACLU to file a lawsuit against either one of these practices for violating the nowhere to be found in the US Constitution phrase of "Separation of Church and State."

  14. Richard Witty
    January 23, 2008, 9:50 am

    When dissent engages in indecency, it deserves to be called on it.

    We need improvement in how we treat each other, not just shifting who gets dumped on.

    Justice is "NOBODY GETS DUMPED ON".

  15. Richard Witty
    January 23, 2008, 9:51 am

    What is your opinion on shelling Israeli civilians?

    A good thing? An understandable thing? A mistaken tactic? Morally reprehensible? Baiting?

  16. observer
    January 23, 2008, 10:17 am

    Chuck: "almost all the stereotyping and degradation of Arab peoples that I witness orginates from people like Jonah Goldberg and David Horowitz."

    More inane bs from you…

  17. David Seaton
    January 23, 2008, 11:16 am

    This is from George Washington's farewell address:

    “A passionate attachment of one Nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite Nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest, in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter, without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite Nation of privileges denied to others, which is apt doubly to injure the Nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained; and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens, (who devote themselves to the favorite nation,) facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation."

    Neat, huh?

  18. the sword of gideon
    January 23, 2008, 11:40 am

    I was eight years old. And I was going to buy some baseball cards at the local candy store. Met what I thought was a friend of mine out front who was also eight. I thought he said "did jew" bring the money. It has seared my soul to this very day and kept me up at night. He says that he said "did you" bring the money. But it has stayed with me all these years and has affected me deeply.

  19. David Seaton
    January 23, 2008, 12:22 pm

    Do you think you'll ever get over such searing pain? Poor fellow, what a trauma! I guess it's up to the Palestinians to do all they can to make up for what your friend said or maybe didn't say.

  20. Charles Keating
    January 23, 2008, 12:44 pm

    He said "Pal, I dine in a nini–"

    "No soup for you." was the response.

  21. the sword of gideon
    January 23, 2008, 1:12 pm

    Who can get over an insult like that Dave. The horror, the horror!

  22. the sword of gideon
    January 23, 2008, 1:34 pm

    Another incident from just last week. I was in my local bagel place and the guy asked, "hey pal what can I get you" some might take this has a classic NY question. But did he really mean that. Was he calling me a Palestinian. Certainly I don't look like a terrorist but was it a backhanded insult directed at me being Jewish. This too has tortured my soul.

  23. Concerned
    January 23, 2008, 2:45 pm

    I'm here to support the stories sword of gideon and Philip have bravely been sharing. A few weeks ago I received a parking ticket, for only the second time in my life. I can't help but think that this is, somehow, payback for the way Israelis have treated Palestinians. I am filled with guilt over this, of course, but I am also angry that my fellow Jews, who, out of some misguided fear of the Holocaust and guilt over their lack of action during those years, have allowed this to happen to me. The suffering they underwent during the Nazi era is no excuse for the oppression of Palestinians, nor indeed does it excuse making me suffer. In fact, what has happened to me, with my second parking ticket, and what has been happening to the Palestinians may in the future be understood to dwarf the suffering of Jews many years ago. The time is near when American Jews, as comfortable members of the elite, will no longer tolerate parking tickets.

  24. Charles Keating
    January 23, 2008, 3:51 pm

    Kharma or poetic justice doesn't really happen. Of course that's from an individualistic POV. The truth is: one injustice births a new injustice.

  25. Joshua
    January 23, 2008, 10:52 pm

    I wouldn't put too much faith in dear young Obama. Here's a letter to ambassador Khalilzad:

    "Dear Ambassador Khalilzad,

    I understand that today the UN Security Council met regarding the situation in Gaza, and that a resolution or statement could be forthcoming from the Council in short order.

    I urge you to ensure that the Security Council issue no statement and pass no resolution on this matter that does not fully condenm the rocket assault Hamas has been conducting on civilians in southern Israel…

    All of us are concerned about the impact of closed border crossings on Palestinian families. However, we have to understand why Israel is forced to do this… Israel has the right to respond while seeking to minimize any impact on civilians.

    The Security Council should clearly and unequivocally condemn the rocket attacks… If it cannot bring itself to make these common sense points, I urge you to ensure that it does not speak at all.


    Barack Obama
    United States Senator"

    link to

  26. Richard Witty
    January 24, 2008, 5:34 am

    He just earned my vote.

    Hamas and PRC are shelling civilians. Do you get that?

  27. Charles Keating
    January 24, 2008, 8:33 am

    link to
    Israeli security forces killed 810 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in 2006 and 2007, Shin Bet security service chief Yuval Diskin reported Sunday at the weekly cabinet briefing in Jerusalem. He estimated that some 200 of those killed were not clearly linked to terrorist organizations.

    However, an examination by Haaretz reveals that the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces stands at 816 during those two years, and that of them, 360 were civilians who were not affiliated with any armed organizations. Data from B'Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, show that 152 of the casualties were under age 18, and 48 were under the age of 14.

  28. MM
    January 24, 2008, 12:39 pm

    Civilians dying on both sides, and disproportionately more on the non-Chosen one. Look which civilian deaths matter to Richard Witty, and which he bends over backwards to indirectly justify.

    We ALL have blood ties to EVERYONE, on both sides. We are all, even Alan fucking Dershowitz, homo sapiens. (Dershowitz has been studied in a lab right? It's confirmed then? OK) Human rights, international law, the Geneva conventions apply to ALL, not just one's own team, one's own side in the war… Witty's fundamentalist, tribal worldview is anachronistic in the 21st century Western society.

    If Israel's $3 billion annual check from Uncle Sam went straight to Gaza, for infrastructure and nothing more, and was considered reparations for the 94% of their homeland that was never paid for by their new Jewish supremacist neighbors, do you think the rockets would still continue? At $3 billion a year Gazans would be buying buses, not bombing them. Not to mention repairing the airport and railroads destroyed by their neighbor.

    As for Witty's need to see us condemning the rocket attacks, sure, I'll condemn them. I don't think Hamas should be using fireworks to try to maim and kill people. I've always been against that. I would recommend that they instead do like the Israelis, and raise funds for some tanks, jets, hell, some nuclear warheads, too. I bet they'd get their state and a definite border a lot quicker. After all the Zionists are convinced that the only language humans understand is FORCE, right?

    Witty actually wants us to cry for Goliath. Not to mention that the UN Security Council, and the American empire that subsidizes the Zionist fantasy, have already condemned David on a zillion other occasions. And they could just as easily author another resolution condemning the rockets, separately. But the Zionists (Barack among them) want to neutralize the WAR CRIME of collective punishment of 1.4 million people, by equating it with pathetic, misguided, immoral dead-end attempts to inflict damages on the Israeli population with equipment more appropriate for entertainment purposes, that have tragically and inexcuseably killed what comparatively amounts to a mere handful of civilians? Let's then do the math.

    By Wittyan, Obamian alegbra, that comes to:

    12 Jewish Zionists = 1,400,000 Gazans

  29. Hussein Ahmadov
    January 26, 2008, 6:31 am

    sword in your tuchus: "Was he calling me a Palestinian. Certainly I don't look like a terrorist"

    I like the way you equate Palestinian with "terrorist" in that sentence. Very funny. Jackie Mason's got nothing on you. Now please go play in traffic.

  30. the sword of gideon
    January 26, 2008, 10:12 pm

    Well Hussein, like they say, if the kaffiyeh fits…..

  31. arrgh
    January 28, 2008, 10:54 am

    MM – let me put you at ease. I don't think more than two or three (2 or 3) citizens of Sderot were killed by the Kassam rockets for all the last 7 (seven) years of shelling. Not 12, only 2 or 3.

    This despite being entertained by daily explosions in their city, for last several days before the closure of Gaza reaching 50 (FIFTY) Kassam rocets fired at the city of Sderot. IN A DAY.

    Dozens of houses blown. Explosions FEET away from day care center full of little children. Blowing off the top floors of many houses, with many miraculously saved by leaving a room few seconds before it was hit by a rocket. Or mother taking her child out of a bath which exploded only seconds afterwards.

    Very entertaining stuff.

    Ot should it actually make you angrier. So small a number of Zionists killed by these MISGUIDED PATHETIC attempts. Kinda makes you feel sorry for them, right?

    You should really help them be more PRODUCTIVE why don't you. BE consistent.

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