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

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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…

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