Our cross to bear

Israel/Palestine
on 105 Comments

chosenReaders may remember the Jewish novelist Michael Chabon’s strange article in the New York Times days after the Mavi Marmara debacle. In his op-ed, “Chosen, but Not Special”, Chabon claims that recent evidence of Israeli “stupidity”, namely the massacre of civilians in international waters, should put an end to the illusion that Jews are somehow more enlightened than others; an illusion which, Chabon hastens to add, has done the Jewish state no favors. Paradoxically, Chabon points out, Israel claims to be a “light unto nations”, yet protests loudly against those who hold Israel to a “higher standard” than other states. Of course, Chabon provides no evidence of those who hold Israel to a “higher standard”, as virtually all diplomatic reaction to the Mavi Marmara affair bitterly criticized Israel’s behavior not because it fell short of some lofty theological ideal, but because it was an egregious violation of international law. Certainly a comparative framework was used to highlight Israeli lawlessness, but for most commentators it was the real-world precedent of Somali piracy that proved germane. I do not recall anyone arguing that Jewish “chosenness” was the proper standard by which Israeli behavior should be judged.

Nevertheless, Chabon’s argument that Jews should basically eschew the idea of their essential uniqueness caused predictable reaction. Todd Gitlin and Liel Leibovitz, authors of the new book The Chosen Peoples: America, Israel, and the Ordeals of Divine Election, responded in the online magazine Tablet with an article entitled “the Centrality of Jewish Chosenness”. Gitlin and Leibovitz argue that a renunciation of Jewish chosenness is not only implausible, but also undesirable. To them, chosenness is “foundational”; for who are the Jews, they ask, “if not people that believe that their ancestor [Abraham] was singled out…by God?” Indeed, Jewish chosenness is not simply a central aspect of Judaism, but to Gitlin and Leibovitz, its rasion d’etre: “In a way”, Gitlin and Leibovitz write, “the Jewish people have invented the idea of chosenness, but in truth, chosenness has invented the idea of the Jewish people. Such is Judaism’s wonderfully inverted logic: First comes redemption, only then reasons.”

Whatever the theological merits of Gitlin and Leibovitz’ argument, a reader of their article might be somewhat puzzled by the subtitle of their new book. “America, Israel and the Ordeals of Divine Election”? How can the “rich and strange idea” of chosenness, as the author’s call it in their Tablet article, be so problematic? Certainly it is seductive enough to be embraced by two admittedly secular writers like Gitlin and Leibovitz. The “ordeal”, then, must be the experience of the other side—those who have had the unlucky fortune, from the Bible onwards, to get in the way of the both the chosen people and the “almost chosen people”, as Abraham Lincoln famously labeled the Americans.

Yet the reader of The Chosen Peoples quickly discovers that the “ordeal” is, in fact, essentially our own. True, Gitlin and Leibovitz do discuss the unfortunate effect the idea of “divine election” has had on the lives of the “unchosen”. And they do set up the useful, if not exactly novel, analogy between American treatment of the indigenous population and Israeli behavior in the Occupied Territories. But Gitlin and Leibovitz are careful not to push things too far, and eagerly mitigate whatever negative conclusions the reader might come to about the idea of “divine election”. Thus, for those of us who had the good fortune to learn about the postmodern concept of the “contrapuntal” in Comp Lit class, we know what Gitlin and Leibovitz mean when they tell us that “[t]he chosen and unchosen are entangled together by resentment and resignation, mercy and anger, humor and heartbreak, cacophony and harmony.” But if that’s not exactly clear to the reader who has just read about one-sided land theft and expropriation (the authors avoid, in their discussion of American Indians, the issue of genocide), Gitlin and Leibovitz further remind us that “the relationship between the chosen people and those whom they dispossess…is partly an extended war dance, but it is also a sequence of movements, sometimes slow, sometimes stormy, in which the vanquished, while never triumphant, nonetheless help determine the rhythm of history.” I’m sure the remaining descendants of American Indians and present-day Palestinians in refugee camps will take comfort in this discovery of their role in history. Current students of Gitlin’s at Columbia University’s School of Journalism, however, might want to start working on their term papers as soon as possible.

Keeping to the theme of the “extended war dance”, Gitlin and Leibovitz show us that the “unchosen” are also susceptible to the same Manichean worldview as the “chosen”. The authors denounce the influence of Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth and its impact on the “third-worldist left”, the Palestinians in particular. “Hapless when Israel crushed the Arab armies in 1967”, Gitlin and Leibovitz inform us, these ‘victims of the victims’, as [Edward] Said called the Palestinians, were now ready-made to be cast as the wretched whose destiny—manifest destiny, one might have said—under Yasir Arafat was to inherit the occupied earth.” Thus the playing field is essentially leveled, as the Palestinian quest for statehood in their historic homeland is shown to be not entirely different from American expansionism abroad. For good measure, the authors also distance themselves from Noam Chomsky, “who has for decades been so exercised by American and American-sponsored power and violence as to overlook or minimize or explain away the depredations committed by others.” Of course, no evidence is given to support this accusation, but the contour of the argument is clear: that in the “obsessive hatreds” of America and Israel (never enumerated), the authors hear “not so much love for justice, or the dispossessed, as the curses cast by Paul and Mohammad at their most unforgiving, the faith and fury that herald the passing of the mantle of chosenness from some of God’s children to others.” Present-day examples of this phenomenon aren’t given.

If all this seems somewhat convoluted, it isn’t surprising, because a clear assessment of the historical record is not Gitlin and Leibovitz’ objective. Indeed, what useful history is in the book is merely a prelude to what Gitlin and Leibovitz call their “unexpected conclusion”, which is essentially that the United States and Israel must embrace the idea of chosenness “in a different key”. In their Tablet article, the authors claim they set out to write a book challenging the idea of chosenness, whether Jewish or American. I very much doubt this was their intention, for throughout The Chosen Peoples, Gitlin and Leibovitz can only wax grandiloquent about “divine election”. In one place, we are told about “the deep power and exquisite beauty of divine election” and “the profound merits of chosenness”; elsewhere, despite its apparent “beauty”, we are told that chosenness has been “an ordeal, closer to a curse than a blessing” and that, for example, “contemporary Israelis groan beneath the ancient burden, compelled to make sense of chosenness, queasy about unchecked territorial expansion.” (Recent polls of Israeli public opinion, however, suggest that Israelis may be less reticent about expansion that Gitlin and Leibovitz like to believe).  Whether good or bad, what these examples clearly point to is the fact that the authors fully subscribe to the reality of chosenness: how else to explain their studied avoidance, throughout the book, of words like “myth” and “illusion”?

Of course, Gitlin and Leibovitz, as proper bien-pensant intellectuals, cannot admit that they simply love the idea of “divine election”. To do so would be politically incorrect and embarrassing. Instead, they do what evasive people often do: they cast their advocacy in the language of analysis. “The clock cannot be reset to zero”, Gitlin and Leibovitz write; “we cannot choose to be unchosen”. Furthermore, “the cycles of race hatred, revenge, and war cannot be rescinded, erased from memory. History is unsparing”. This is why “it is no use trying to bludgeon the notion [of chosenness] into nonexistence”, which is fortunate given that it is an “extraordinary, entrancing, ancient [and] deep” notion to begin with.  Thus the authors’ preferred conclusion is the inevitable one: “we must, like the Israelites of old, willingly bear the immense burden of membership in a tribe many of whom feel, and have long felt, chosen by God”. Gitlin and Leibovitz are speaking as Jews here; where this leaves America’s sense of “divine election” is anyone’s guess.

Finally, what are we to make of the attractiveness of “divine election” for secular intellectuals who are, on a day-to-day basis, otherwise committed to egalitarianism? Many years ago, in an essay for the now defunct journal Grand Street, Noam Chomsky sought to locate the appeal of the Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr for postwar American elites, especially liberals. Unimpressed by the intellectual level of most of Niebuhr’s work, Chomsky found that Niebuhr’s influence lay elsewhere—namely, in his concept of “the paradox of grace”. “The paradox of grace” basically holds that Man’s actions are inevitably tainted by self-interest, yet in a world of sin, moral men must risk doing evil for the greater good. Chomsky quotes Niebuhr’s biographer Richard Fox, who notes that for Kennedy liberals, Niebuhr “helped them maintain faith in themselves as political actors in a troubled—what he termed a sinful—world…responsibility meant taking risks: Niebuhr taught that moral men had to play hardball.”

I would suggest that a similar appeal lies in “divine election”. Like the “paradox of grace”, we are encouraged by Gitlin and Leibovitz to assume a great deal of “responsibility”, which in turn obviates the need for accountability. Indeed, if we err, as Gitlin and Leibovitz admit we have done on occasion, it can always be attributed to the “afflictions of chosenness”—afflictions we may not have invited, but are nonetheless at a loss to undo. This is quite useful for those who fear a more unassuming role for America and Israel in the world— a role that, as the authors remind us over and over again, is basically inconceivable anyway.  “Even if it were possible for the Jews of Israel to accept the modest project of living normally”, Gitlin and Leibovitz tell us, “it is hard to see how they can reconcile themselves to the belief that their new mission consists of getting by. Logically possible it might be, but psychologically? Not very likely.” In other words, there is no “exquisite beauty” to be found in abiding by international law, or showing, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.” Better to indulge in fantasies about a “burden to be gladly shouldered”, which, it should be clear to any reader relying on common sense, must obviously be no kind of burden at all—at least not for us, anyway.

Matthew Phillips is a twenty-five year old New Yorker pursuing an MA in Middle East studies. He previously reviewed Invisible War: The United States and the Iraq Sanctions for Mondoweiss.

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105 Responses

  1. mig
    September 21, 2010, 10:23 am

    Well well. I served in Unifil in Lebanon a year. Some times when im reading IDF being worlds most moral army, i dont know laugh or cry. Many times when i was on leave in Israel, i met lots of young Israelis, soon entering to IDF to do their service. Pretty much 70 – 80 % of them said quite honestly that they cant hardly wait until they get rifle in their hand and get shoot to some arabs. And what did say arab youngsters ? Same. Can we learn something from this ?

    Its the result of the conflict. Longer the conflict lasts, moral comes even more loose. In the end, nobody is innocent. If ever was.

    • Mooser
      September 21, 2010, 1:17 pm

      “And what did say arab youngsters ? Same.”

      You betcha! And the huge Palstinian Army, armed with the money of the greatest superpower in the world, shows they are as good as their word, huh?
      And then those angry Arabs got hold of the ultimate weapons rocks!
      Of course, the horrific sin of happening to live in Zion when the Jews wanted it is a mark of shame which will haunt the Arabs forever!

      You can take that equivalence hasbara</i. and stuff in the caves of Gallilee.

      • mig
        September 21, 2010, 5:11 pm

        I cant quite get it what you mean in this context that hasbara. Care to read my reply again ?

      • mig
        September 22, 2010, 10:15 am

        Pos. 9-36 in Litani river, Akiya bridge. In 1991-1992 Dec.

      • Mooser
        September 22, 2010, 10:19 am

        Any implication that the rage of “arabs” is somehow equivalent to the rapaciousness of Israelis gets me angry.
        And anything implying that the “arabs” have a military capacity equal to the Israelis is ridiculous.

      • mig
        September 22, 2010, 4:49 pm

        “”Any implication that the rage of “arabs” is somehow equivalent to the rapaciousness of Israelis gets me angry.””

        ++++ I didnt do or give any of such.

        “”And anything implying that the “arabs” have a military capacity equal to the Israelis is ridiculous.””

        ++++ I didnt even say so. Sorry to say but maybe you draw little too far reaching conclusions or interpretation what i really meant.

      • Avi
        September 22, 2010, 5:32 pm

        Pos. 9-36 in Litani river, Akiya bridge. In 1991-1992 Dec.

        So you’re from Norway or Sweden?

      • potsherd
        September 22, 2010, 6:48 pm

        Mooser, I think you misread that post.

      • mig
        September 23, 2010, 7:40 am

        Finland.

      • Avi
        September 23, 2010, 1:01 pm

        mig September 23, 2010 at 7:40 am

        Finland.

        Welcome aboard, mig.

        I think your participation on this website will be a nice addition. It will be interesting to hear about your experiences in Lebanon, especially from the perspective of a third party participant in the conflict.

      • mig
        September 23, 2010, 5:09 pm

        Oh my pants and Thank You. Well i served in Lebanon a year, and in that time happened quite a lot. Sometimes there was allmost full pause of any kind of a “action” to any direction, and then there was times when there was full scale conflicts & shootings weeks straight.

        Example : Hezbollah or Amal installed roadside bomb, to target passing SLA/DFF troops/IDF troops.

        SLA : South- Lebanon Army ( General Lahad ), which we UN troops called DFF : De Facto Forces.

        Bomb went off, killing/wounding SLA/IDF soldiers. About 30 min – 1 hour later, revenge shootings started a’la IDF artillery or IAF or combined. Sometimes shootings were done by SLA with mortars & MG fire. Targets were usually lebanese villages, but also sometimes example shepherd or passing cars or vehicles.

        If target was lebanese village, options were two. Even shoot straight to village, or close to village. Little depends how many SLA/IDF soldiers were killed/wounded or was it just one of those days.

        Main guns to do the job, was M109 howitzer. IAF did overflights, and send sometimes cobras to shoot missiles. Jets didnt were involved, only overflights and in night time, drop flares to lighten area.

        If heavy artillery shot to villages, mainly they didnt cause much casualty to villagers. They left the village or went to shelter. Militants maybe give warning, that they are doing some attack, so heads down after you hear BOOM.

        Damages to houses were also relatively limited, usually firing lasted only few minutes, tops 10 min.

        Sometimes revenge was also that SLA/IDF did ambush, and shot car with driver or and passengers, and usually we have to clean the mess. Carry dead bodies to close village or to our hospital. If wounded, give medical assistance what ever we can.

        Hezbollah also installed katyusha rockets with clock devise, trying to aim some SLA/IDF pos. or to Israel. Metulla or Kiryat Shmona. I would say that at least 70 to 80 % from those rockets landed Lebanese side, missed target in Lebanon completely or in Israel. Few hit the target in Israel while i was there, or even close.

        Here are few examples our “normal” day in Lebanon. Maybe later more, but now i have meeting with the sandman ;).

    • Avi
      September 21, 2010, 4:30 pm

      mig,

      Where were you stationed with UNIFIL in Lebanon?

  2. annie
    September 21, 2010, 10:43 am

    mathew, it’s only been very recently i found out anyone besides religious kooks believed jews were chosen. how delusional. phil’s written about his own experience. the idea a secular person could buy into this myth is unfathomable. whatever.

    “we must, like the Israelis of old, willingly bear the immense burden of membership in a tribe many of whom feel, and have long felt, chosen by God”

    lol. oh yes, the immense burden!

    • Shingo
      September 21, 2010, 2:37 pm

      “mathew, it’s only been very recently i found out anyone besides religious kooks believed jews were chosen. how delusional. phil’s written about his own experience. the idea a secular person could buy into this myth is unfathomable. whatever.”

      The odd thing is that these secular Israelis will often insist they do not believe in Biblical myths, while paradixucaaly failing to realize that their century is based on Biblical myth.

    • Kathleen
      September 21, 2010, 9:16 pm

      When people are brought up with something and it is repeated one begins to believe it…well for awhile anyway.

  3. Mooser
    September 21, 2010, 10:48 am

    My parents and my Rabbi lied to me! Those lousy no-good prevaricators. And I, the gullible young boychik, all around schmendrick and nudnik that I am, believed them!
    But here I will expose them! Do you know what they told me about the whole “chosen” smear? They told me the Jews were chosen for a burden they must bear, the burden of the law. A moral burden.
    And I swallowed that line wholesale. Just to make my confession complete, I’ll admit the worst, I thought any other interpretation of “chosen” was offensive, and completely at odds with our history. (Either that or God really screwed up or fell asleep or something)
    Now I see the “burden” was one of exclusion from responsibility, an idea I would have condemned out of hand as self-serving and unworthy.
    Wow, am I dumb.

    • MRW
      September 21, 2010, 1:17 pm

      They told me the Jews were chosen for a burden they must bear, the burden of the law. A moral burden.

      I like that.

      • annie
        September 21, 2010, 5:37 pm

        A moral burden.

        unlike the rest of us who have no morals.

      • Mooser
        September 22, 2010, 10:22 am

        “unlike the rest of us who have no morals”

        I know. Some people have all the luck. Do me a favor and don’t rub it in.

    • Antidote
      September 21, 2010, 4:03 pm

      now, now, mooser, didn’t it occur to you that applying higher moral standards to Jews, not to mention Israelis, was antisemitic?

      Seriously: great post

      Reminded me of this:

      link to theonion.com

      • Mooser
        September 22, 2010, 10:24 am

        “now, now, mooser, didn’t it occur to you that applying higher moral standards to Jews, not to mention Israelis, was antisemitic?”

        I only applied them to myself, which I guess makes me a self-hater.
        I was hoping my nose would turn up at myself, but no luck there.

      • LeaNder
        September 28, 2010, 1:19 pm

        Great, dear, if you allow me to simulate the Brits.
        Let’s be honest, who would voluntarily want to obey all the 613 mitzvot plus the 7 rabbinic commandments? What a comparatively brilliant invention is the Christian idea of grace:

        grace, in Christian theology, the spontaneous, unmerited gift of the divine favour in the salvation of sinners, and the divine influence operating in man for his regeneration and sanctification. The English term is the usual translation for the Greek charis

        Imagine: Unmerited! If it is unmerited do you really need to obey any laws at all? Not even resort to blackmailish prayers? Like: See I pray, so you must let me win in the lottery? Or make other things happen?

  4. Citizen
    September 21, 2010, 10:53 am

    A guide to the perplexed regarding why Israel does not wish to be normal and abide by international law, a series of lessons: link to ygurvitz.net

    • Surcouf
      September 21, 2010, 12:53 pm

      Citizen – Thanks for the link.
      This is a very informative insider’s view about Israeli society.
      We don’t get to hear that perspective very often and how the brain washing is engineered. One senses that the pressure to conform to the ”norms” must be so strong.

    • marc b.
      September 21, 2010, 1:14 pm

      nice pick up citizen. i should visit gurvitz’s site more often.

      • marc b.
        September 21, 2010, 1:22 pm

        and evidence of my position that jewishness as an ideology, if not a religion, must play a central role in the israeli enterprise, while some argue that zionism is simply another homogenous example of european colonialism. it isn’t, anymore than French conduct in Algeria can be superficially conflated with all European colonialist ventures in Africa, for example.

      • Antidote
        September 21, 2010, 7:04 pm

        Thanks for the link. I read this and several other posts by Gurvitz. Not to mention his pictures on flickr (see link on his page). Amazing stuff

  5. Psychopathic god
    September 21, 2010, 11:02 am

    Three disparate points in response to this very important concept — Jewish choseness — that Matthew Phillips has courageously raised:

    1. Also in reaction to the Chapon essay, Amy Klein wrote an interesting assessment of Jewish choseness on Huffington Post a few months ago.

    :http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amy-klein/the-real-myth—-and-gift_b_604649.html So too with the story at Mount Sinai. Some rabbis suggest that God actually went to each nation and offered them the Torah and be his one and only. But they all said no – this one nation liked murder, another liked their cheeseburgers. Then God went to Israel — hence the phrase, “Save the best for last” — and made his offer to them. One commentator suggests, though, that God lifted and held Mount Sinai over the Jews’ heads if they would not accept the Torah. He coerced them to into becoming Jews. Now that sounds more like the God I know from the Old Testament.

    Whatever story you believe — if you believe any of it at all – there’s no way that the moral takeaway should be that the Jews are “chosen” — as in “exhalted” or “superior.” Jews might be “chosen” like a fat kid is “chosen” last for the baseball team, like one “chooses” to eat an apple. “Chosen” in the case of the Jews simply means selected, singled out — not superior, just picked.

    Now isn’t that the brilliance of the Jewish people? Jews turned the simple act of being selected into a concept of being chosen. It’s one of the first of many Jewish public relations coups. Throughout history we told ourselves that everyone hated us because they were jealous of us. We weren’t different — we were unique. How else could we survive all these years of persecution?

    In her tongue-in-cheekiness, Klein suggested that younger Jews might be able to understand that the great unchosen are willing to muddle through their own lives without the benefit of Jewish wisdom to help them find the perfect path to whatevah, preferring moral autonomy to a divine guarantee of success should one follow the path of the chosen. (btw, that “success” thing — how’s it working out so far; anyone keeping score?)

    2. Yesterday I posted a link to a comment by

    Barbara Lerner Spectre, who runs a government-funded Jewish study group in Sweden, makes the following remarkable statement—remarkable because she does not attribute anti-Jewish attitudes to irrational prejudices or even Muslims who hate Israel. Instead she says that it’s because of the “leading role” played by Jews in the movement toward multiculturalism:

    I think there is a resurgence of anti-Semitism because at this point in time Europe has not yet learned how to be multicultural. And I think we are going to be part of the throes of that transformation, which must take place. Europe is not going to be the monolithic societies they once were in the last century. Jews are going to be at the centre of that. It’s a huge transformation for Europe to make. They are now going into a multicultural mode and Jews will be resented because of our leading role. But without that leading role and without that transformation, Europe will not survive.

    Her comment is an example of the age-old Jewish self-concept of a “Light Unto the Nations”: Jews saving Europe by leading it to multiculturalism. . . .

    As if on cue, Lerner Spectre stated her willingness to “take up the cross” of Jewish choseness in service of the program of leading benighted Europe into the glories of multiculturalism. After all, Israel, the Jewish and democratic state, has realized extraordinary success in multiculturalism; why not spread the success abroad?

    Some months ago I posted a reference to an 1881 essay by a German commentator of that time, who complained that Jews had flocked to Germany to take advantage — or take over — Germany’s euphoria at unification in the aftermath of victory in the Franco-Prussian war. I posed the thesis that German resentment of Jewish imposition of Jewish ‘choseness” on the German people was a proximate cause of the holocaust. I maintain that the thesis is entitled to further, honest, consideration.

    3. Israel and zionists enjoy pointing to America’s treatment of indigenous Americans as a moral equivalent to Israel’s conquest of Palestine and Israel’s treatment of Palestinian Arabs. Israelis have even mounted demonstrations on Palestinian land, dressed in Native American dress.

    Okay, let’s ‘fess up: We, the people of the United States, have done grievous harm to indigenous American people.

    Why, then, are American taxpayers subsidizing Jewish people to perform the same bad acts against another set of indigenous people: a. do two wrongs make a right? and b. shouldn’t the American people use their resources and wealth and assets to make reparations to the American indigenous people? We own nothing to the Jewish people; Americans did not harm the Jewish people, American aided them. We should immediately rescind all forms of aid and guilt money to Israel & Jews and redirect the money to its morally rightful place — reparations to indigenous Americans as well as to African Americans who were brought to this land against their will and developed this land without compensation or restitution.
    We, Americans, owe this to those we have harmed.

    Jewish people, as the beacon of morality, will surely see the justice of this cause and will return to the US taxpayer, with interest, the hundred billion dollars in US funds that have inappropriately flowed to Israel.

    • Shingo
      September 21, 2010, 2:43 pm

      “I think there is a resurgence of anti-Semitism because at this point in time Europe has not yet learned how to be multicultural. And I think we are going to be part of the throes of that transformation, which must take place”

      That’s interesting. Ghe young people Max Blumenthal interviewed in Jerusalem recently criticized the US for being multicultural.

    • Antidote
      September 21, 2010, 8:01 pm

      “Why, then, are American taxpayers subsidizing Jewish people to perform the same bad acts against another set of indigenous people: a. do two wrongs make a right?”

      No, but it may be comforting for Americans to know that other people, including people that were subjected to anti-Semitism in the early 2oth century in the US, are no better, and prone to commit the same wrongs?

      A great many Jews in Tel Aviv during the 1930s were American Jews, for instance, so I don’t quite know what period you refer to when you write: “Americans did not harm the Jewish people, American aided them.”

      Why did post-war Germany become Israel’s ‘best friend’, second only to the US, and keeps supporting the occupation and Gaza blockade diplomatically and with military aid (some recent fissures in that relationship, but true up to then)? Not that I would proclaim such moral or psychological benefits as paramount, but I do sometimes wonder to what extent they play a role.

    • MRW
      September 21, 2010, 8:29 pm

      PG,

      Never thought about your #3 item in those terms. But you’re damn right.

    • Antidote
      September 21, 2010, 8:48 pm

      “Some months ago I posted a reference to an 1881 essay by a German commentator of that time…”

      Could you please post the link again, PG, or the name of the author/title?

  6. yourstruly
    September 21, 2010, 11:14 am

    This chosen people notion is aryan white supremacy wrapped in ancient holy scrolls of unknown authorship and authenticity and used to justify existing power relations. As such it should be rejected in its entirety by all justice and freedom loving people.

  7. Antidote
    September 21, 2010, 11:16 am

    excellent review, Matthew.

    revealing citation:

    “we must, like the Israelis of old, willingly bear the immense burden of membership in a tribe many of whom feel, and have long felt, chosen by God”

    Shouldn’t that read “Israelites”, rather than “Israelis”?

  8. Psychopathic god
    September 21, 2010, 11:23 am

    simply have to say it again: this essay by Matthew Phillips is brilliant, and very important.

    In an attempt to come to grips with the impact of antisemitism, I had a discussion with a Jewish friend. He validated many of my resentments of declarations of Juwish superiority and triumphalism and “choseness.” Of Polish and Lithuanian origin, my Jewish friend explained that “Jewish” arrogance was manifested against him and his Jewish peers by German Jews.

    In other words, as many Jewish people insist to non-Jews, Jews are not monolithic (despite the implied claims of Gitlin and Leibovitz, as well as of Barbara Lerner Spectre). Some Jews are arrogant beyond tolerance, and exercise that arrogance toward other Jews (Haggai Ram’s thesis in “Iranophobia”) as well as against non-Jews. Some Christians and Catholics and Christian zionists consider themselves called by god to bear the “white man’s burder.”
    Time to call their moral posture exactly what it is: overweaning pride, which, as I recall my Sunday school lessons, was the premier sin of mankind.

    Ann Lewis, political advisor to Bill Clinton, earned my enduring respect and affection when she repeated her belief of the essence of Jewishness: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly; to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

    • MRW
      September 21, 2010, 1:54 pm

      PG

      Ann Lewis, political advisor to Bill Clinton, earned my enduring respect and affection when she repeated her belief of the essence of Jewishness: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly; to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

      Lewis also said: “The role of the president of the United States is to support the decisions that are made by the people of Israel. It is not up to us to pick and choose from among the political parties.”
      link to washingtonpost.com

      • Psychopathic god
        September 21, 2010, 2:52 pm

        ugh
        so much for trying to prove my fair mindedness.

    • RoHa
      September 22, 2010, 1:48 am

      “the essence of Jewishness: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly; to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” ”

      The rest of us never do justly, love mercy, or walk humbly with our God(s). That’s the essence of Jewishness; it’s what makes Jews special.

  9. MRW
    September 21, 2010, 11:24 am

    Nice takedown of these grandees, Matthew. Basically, you’re saying Gitlin and Leibovitz are full of themselves and full of crap.

    • Psychopathic god
      September 21, 2010, 3:18 pm

      yeah, “nice takedown” and gratifying to see such blowhards deflated, but that doesn’t really solve any problems. A lot of people with a lot of wealth and access to levers of influence find concepts such as choseness useful for creating a constituency, an army of soldiers as willing to fight for the ‘vanity plate’ “choseness” as Crusader soldiers were motivated to fight for indulgences while the princes and Church hierarchy pocketed the loot. The analogy is the same: Gitlin & Liebovitz’s job is to flog the troops, keep them motivated, on task, thinking supremacist thoughts, while the Sabans and Adelsons and Kagans and lesser lites slurp at the trough.
      When the battle a) erupts and b) results in harm to other Jews as well as anybody else who gets in the way, the elites who paid for the Gitlin Liebovitz Choseness-brand advertising will kick the suckers under the bus as they make their way to the bank.

      It’s happened before.

      The question, the task for the MW community is, what can we do besides gratifying ourselves with “takedowns” of the middlemen, to really and truly cut the legs out from under the moneymen who are driving this choseness nonsense, and profiting from it?

      • eljay
        September 21, 2010, 5:22 pm

        >> The question, the task for the MW community is, what can we do besides gratifying ourselves with “takedowns” of the middlemen, to really and truly cut the legs out from under the moneymen who are driving this choseness nonsense, and profiting from it?

        Ummm…how about “Tuez-les tous, Dieu reconnaîtra les siens.”? :-)

  10. marc b.
    September 21, 2010, 12:35 pm

    brilliant article, Matthew. but Chabon, Good god, the f*cking arrogance of Chabon and that stupid, insular rag, the New York Times. Only Jews in conversation with other Jews are permitted to come to the conclusion that Jews might not be superior beings.

    Citizens of other nations have long since resigned themselves, of course, to sailing those crowded waters [of the Sea of Stupidity], but for Israelis — and, indeed, for Jews everywhere — this felt like headline news.

    The history of Israel, nay the history of ‘Jews everywhere’, prior to the senseless murder of civilians sailing international waters, was thought devoid of ‘stupidity’ (or even a hint of ‘stupidity’, since Chabon equivocates that the homogenous ‘we’ of Judaism hasn’t yet collectively decided to ‘condemn or to defend the botched raid on the Mavi Marmara’). And then this:

    Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic cast his startled regard back along the length of Jewish history looking for a parallel example of arrant stupidity and found, instead, what Jews around the world have long been accustomed to find in contemplating ourselves and that history: an inborn, half-legendary agility of intellect, amounting almost to a magical power.

    So Michael Chabon, the author of mediocre fiction, relies on a sub-mediocre journalist as his foil to set the analytical table, Goldberg being an expert on 4,000 years of ‘Jewish history’. (And I have news for you Chabon, Goldberg’s regard would be perpetually ‘startled’ if he had an even an inkling of his own intellectual shortcomings.) Thusly Goldberg, the supremacist and apparatchik, a man who has never met an Israeli atrocity he couldn’t justify, casts his startled regard and finds . . .? He has near-magical powers, one of which must be the ability to invisibly cloak his near-magical powers in a jumble of grammatical errors, historical fictions and ad hominems posing an analysis.

    Chabon later wonders whether Jews may or may not be intellectually superior ‘in the aggregate’, but he admits, as a personal aside, that ‘- God love them –‘, not everyone at the Passover table of his childhood was a ‘Maimonides, Albert Einstein, Jonas Salk and Meyer Lansky’. What a concession! Each and every member of his extended family had not posited the theory of relativity, invented the polio vaccine, or had been an instrumental player in the financing of the mafia. Some, we might only imagine, were mere doctors, lawyers, or screenwriters.

    And when Chabon finally lets a gentile chime in on the debate, what does he discovery to his shock? Gentiles who have adopted the Jewish stereotype of Jewish intellectual superiority are, just to pick a few random examples, discredited racists and holocaust deniers. Oh, woe unto his people, for even admirers of the Jews are in the end closet eugenicists and Nazi sympathizers.

    For we Jews are not, it turns out, entirely comfortable living with the consequences of this myth, as becomes clear from the squirming and throat-clearing that take place among us whenever some non-Jew pipes up with his own observations about how clever and smart we are in our yiddishe kops. These include people like the political scientist Charles Murray, author of an influential essay titled “Jewish Genius,” or Kevin B. MacDonald, a psychology professor at California State University at Long Beach who argues that Jews essentially undertook a centuries-long program of self-breeding, selecting for traits of intelligence, guile and skill at calculation, as a kind of evolutionary adaptation to the buffetings of history and exile.

    Such claims, in mouths of gentiles, are a disturbing echo of the charges of the pogrom-stokers, the genocidalists, the Father Coughlins, who come to sharpen their knives against the same grindstone of generalization on which we Jews have long polished the magnifying lenses of our self-regard. The man who praises you for your history of accomplishment may someday seek therein the grounds for your destruction.

    There’s only so much fecklessness one can stand. Why do prominent ‘news’ outlets continue to rush to this shallow well of talent? There’s no one more qualified than Michael Chabon and his Janus-head Jeffrey Goldberg to speak on the topic?

    • Mooser
      September 21, 2010, 1:06 pm

      “These include people like the political scientist Charles Murray, author of an influential essay titled “Jewish Genius,”

      And “The Bell Curve”, let’s not forget that wonderful ouvre!
      Nothing gives a “political scientist” credibility like a de-bunked racist tome.

      • marc b.
        September 21, 2010, 1:17 pm

        yes, well, mooser, jewish assumption of jewish superiority is merely ‘nonsense’, but gentile assumption of the same principle is evidence of racism, or in macdonald’s case, nazism.

      • Mooser
        September 21, 2010, 3:45 pm

        Did I say that? Jewish assumptions of superiority would be nonsense if they were limited to an overweening pride in inventing the bagel, or having large beautiful noses (size does matter). But when this nonsensical pride is employed for purposes like Zionism, it has the potential to equal
        the atrocities of any other group professing the same superiority.
        Now, we haven’t, quite yet, but damn it, we’re doing our best. It’s only been sixty years!

      • eljay
        September 21, 2010, 6:06 pm

        >> … jewish assumption of jewish superiority is merely ‘nonsense’, but gentile assumption of the same principle is evidence of racism, or in macdonald’s case, nazism.

        The only people qualified to criticize Jews are Muslims. It says so right in the Qur’an:
        ——————————–
        link to thereligionofpeace.com

        Qur’an (3:118) – “O you who believe! do not take for intimate friends from among others than your own people, they do not fall short of inflicting loss upon you; they love what distresses you; vehement hatred has already appeared from out of their mouths, and what their breasts conceal is greater still; indeed, We have made the communications clear to you, if you will understand.”
        ——————————–

        Ooops! I mean:
        ——————————–
        link to quranicstudies.com

        The Qur’an implies that the term “Jew” did not exist before Moses or, more precisely, the Torah. In other words, it was coined by God Himself, as He coined the term “Muslim” (22.78). The following verses confirm this fact by stressing that neither Abraham nor any of his sons and grandsons, including Israel (Jacob), could have been a “Jew” or Nasrani (Christian), because both the Torah and the Injil, where these terms came from, were revealed after them:

        O People of the Book! Why do you argue about Abraham, when the Torah and the Injil were not sent down till after him? Have you no sense? (3.65) You have argued about things that you have knowledge of, so why do you argue about what you have no knowledge of? Allah knows and you do not know. (3.66) Abraham was not a Jew or Christian, but he was upright, a Muslim (someone who surrenders to God), and he was not one of the polytheists. (3.67) The people who are most worthy of Abraham are those who followed him, this Prophet (Muhammad), and those who believed [in Muhammad]. Allah is the patron of the believers. (3.68)
        ——————————–

        :-)

      • ahmed
        September 21, 2010, 9:49 pm

        Not sure what you’re getting at here. But 22:78 says “…. It is He Who has named you Muslims, both before and in this (Revelation); that the Messenger may be a witness for you, and ye be witnesses for mankind!”

        The idea is that all the prophets were Muslims… it was only later that their followers came to be known as as Jews or Christians.
        Some Muslims, especially in former British colonies, for a while referred to themselves as Mohammedans, since that’s what they were called by Western colonialists.

      • occupyresist
        September 21, 2010, 10:34 pm

        ahmed,

        I’m re-reading eljay’s post, for the 6th time. I’m really, really trying hard to get the point of his post.

        Must be my Islamic-brainwashing at work :).

      • RoHa
        September 22, 2010, 1:54 am

        I like good bagels, and I think the inventor(s) should feel at least the proper level of pride. But the Jews were not the inventors.

        One or two Jews (you might know the actual names) invented the bagel.

        The rest just eat the things, and have no right to feel any pride at all in the invention.

      • marc b.
        September 22, 2010, 8:03 am

        Did I say that?

        no, no. not you. that dolt Chabon/Jamon.

      • eljay
        September 22, 2010, 9:47 am

        >> I’m re-reading eljay’s post, for the 6th time. I’m really, really trying hard to get the point of his post.

        Brain fart. Here’s how it went:
        – I misread “jewish assumption of jewish superiority is merely ‘nonsense’, but gentile assumption of the same principle is evidence of racism, or in macdonald’s case, nazism” to mean that gentile assumption of jewish superiority is evidence of racism.
        – My brain equated “gentile” with “white / Christian”.
        – Hence my comment that only Muslims are qualified to comment on / criticize Jews.

        >> The idea is that all the prophets were Muslims… it was only later that their followers came to be known as as Jews or Christians.

        I’ve heard this assertion and I find it amusing: “Jews were Muslims all along – they just didn’t know it!” :-) Wait ’til Muslims find out that they’ve actually been Scientologists all this time! ;-)

      • Mooser
        September 22, 2010, 10:28 am

        Thanks for responding, marc b. I’m glad I didn’t say that, and wasn’t trying to.

  11. Mooser
    September 21, 2010, 12:54 pm

    But wait a minute. If I’m not mistaken, didn’t the whole “chosen” thing with the Jews and God turn bad at the end? This is like reading only the first few chapters of “Gone With the Wind” and saying how wonderful the ante-bellum South was.
    If, again, I’m not mistaken, didn’t God’s “patience” with us Jews committing adultery and “whoring after false Gods” run out? And then the priesthood got fired, the burnt-offering privileges revoked, and the Jews, bereft of their great protector and ally, launched into the great cruel world in the diaspora? And it sure does seem that our history after that would confirm this.
    But now Israel has had a big sixty years of troubled existence, so God is on our side again? We proved ourselves to Him by dispossesing the Palestinians, political minipulation, martial prowess in the ME, and the ability to raise money?
    Talk about creating God in your own image!

    • Mooser
      September 21, 2010, 1:02 pm

      Of course, I am admitting my religious ignorance here. If anyone wants to show me how Zionism proves that everything is hunky-dory between the Jews and God now, I’ll be glad to hear it.

      In my ignorance, tho, it sure sounds like we were getting tired of seeing all those Gentiles who were saved from sin and death by the power of Jesus, and decided we could redeem ourselves, too. (And in pretty much the same way.) Or possibly Jewish theologians have discovered that what God really loves is a fast-talking, racist bully, with a healthy dose of religious obscurantism.

    • Shingo
      September 21, 2010, 2:52 pm

      Brilliant post Mooser

      • Mooser
        September 21, 2010, 3:54 pm

        Brilliant? I thought it was basic, grade school Judaism. I thought that failure and rejection was the source of Jewish guilt. Hell, the Gentile kids used to lord it over me that they were saved and I was not, lessen I accepted Jesus, of course.
        Sure, those were the days, we could get the sun stopped, the waters parted, make the walls come a-tumbling down. But things went downhill, and eventually God seemed to hand us the mitten, and give us the good old miss-in-baulk.
        I mean look, if God hasn’t withdrawn, in some fashion, His favor from us, what am I supposed to conclude? That the Romans are more powerful than God? That those ferschlunkener Nazis scared Him away? That can’t possibly be so.
        So all we can do is our best, wait hope and pray (and eat). Makes perfect sense to me, but I’m Jewish.
        Of course, being a Jew, I think the rest of humanity is pretty much in the same boat, but just doesn’t know it yet.

      • Mooser
        September 21, 2010, 4:09 pm

        ” Hell, the Gentile kids used to lord it over me that they were saved and I was not, lessen I accepted Jesus, of course.”

        Of course, that was pre-67 war.

    • piotr
      September 21, 2010, 6:59 pm

      Bible (as I can glean using Google) is clear: the Covenant that gave Canaan to Jews has no conditions of good behavior attached and it is FOREVER. That Assyrians, Babylonians and Romans could expel Jews was not an act of God and has no legal validity.

      More and more it seems to me that people like Itzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur interpret religious law correctly, and the whole idea that religion is a valid source of morality should be simply discarded. 11th Commandment: “Never Mind”. How to explain intelligently Book of Esther without concluding that killing 20,000 enemies for unspecified offenses is not a great reason for joy and celebration? How to avoid marrying our brother’s widow (as a second or third wife, if that would be the case) without incurring Lord’s wrath (and you must have sex with her too, no shirking there)? Assuming that Torah should guide your life forces us to do bizarre stuff: either by following it literally, or by committing feats of sophistry that convert it to something reasonable.

      So a tribal god chose his tribe, and enacted some totems and taboos. Not terribly original.

  12. eljay
    September 21, 2010, 12:55 pm

    >> Gitlin and Leibovitz argue that a renunciation of Jewish chosenness is not only implausible, but also undesirable. … Indeed, Jewish chosenness is not simply a central aspect of Judaism, but to Gitlin and Leibovitz, its rasion d’etre …

    Until it can actually be proved that…
    – i) there actually is a gawd,
    – ii) this gawd actually gives a rat’s @ss about the human parasites on the microscopic blue turd in the massive toilet bowl* that is the universe, and
    – iii) this gawd has actually chosen “the Jews” for something (which can be explained in a way that makes some kind of sense)
    …it is a truly pathetic thing to define one’s life and one’s self by a clearly human-devised, tribal-based, millennia-old mythology.

    (*It can’t just be coincidence that the universe’s cycle of collapse-and-expand is so similar to a toilet’s “flush and fill” cycle.)

    • eljay
      September 21, 2010, 1:03 pm

      >> …it is a truly pathetic thing to define one’s life and one’s self by a clearly human-devised, tribal-based, millennia-old mythology.

      Two comments/clarification:
      – If you need or get off on religion and prayer, more power to you. Just don’t use your mythology as a basis for any kind of serious decision-making.
      – This applies to all religions. Islam, though smart for making itself the “Final Word” on monotheistic gawds and prophets, is no less mythological and no more useful than any other religion.
      (Given the centuries of advancement since the invention of Judaism, Islam is actually a pretty disappointing step backward. Explicable, but disappointing.)

    • Mooser
      September 21, 2010, 1:11 pm

      eljay, I cannot accept your Godless universe. Of course God chose us. Problem is, we failed to make the grade, and got pretty much layed off from the position. Sure, with hopes of returning to His good graces, but a huge burden and a long way to go before we get there, if He even cares.
      I thought that was the central fact of the Jewish religion as it exists in the Diaspora. And it sure seems to hook up with the way things went.
      Ah, but maybe a sucessful crusade entitles you to all kinds indulgences?

      • Citizen
        September 22, 2010, 4:30 am

        The answer of course is YES! The crusade is on-going! It unites American and Zionist exceptionalism. It’s fruit is everywhere, and you will really see its better viewing than Pulp Fiction:
        link to sites.google.com

    • Pamela Olson
      September 21, 2010, 1:25 pm

      A devastatingly apt critique by Mr. Phillips. Of course, it’s like nuking fish in a barrel, but somebody’s gotta do it.

      it is a truly pathetic thing to define one’s life and one’s self by a clearly human-devised, tribal-based, millennia-old mythology.

      Not just pathetic, it’s incomprehensibly dumb. I mean, really? Some piece of mythological literature is the basis of a modern nation-state, their way of justifying flagrant violations of law and human decency?

      And then Chabon comes along and feels a need to point out that not all Jews are geniuses. Just imagine if, after the unmitigated clusterf–k of the Iraq War, I wrote an apologia that said, “Give us a break, not all Christians are Martin Luther King, Jr.”

      Sorry, this is too embarrassingly dumb. I can’t go any further. I get squirmy and flushed reading things that are so embarrassingly dumb. Good on you, Mr. Phillips, for having the patience to dismantle their idiocy with such panache.

      • Pamela Olson
        September 21, 2010, 1:25 pm

        * The italics should have ended after I quote eljay

      • MRW
        September 21, 2010, 1:38 pm

        Multi-millennia-old mythology.

    • marc b.
      September 21, 2010, 1:26 pm

      i’ve heard of the ‘big bang’ theory, but the ‘big flush’ theory? really, eljay, a ‘God’ created the universe. there is no other explanation, and there won’t be. unfortunately the hubris of ‘man’ includes ‘his’ unwillingness to admit that there are some things ‘he’ will never be able to explain. i’m not a deist, but the question of how much he/she meddles in our affairs is another matter.

      • Mooser
        September 21, 2010, 4:04 pm

        “there is no other explanation,”

        “Oh, of course, sure, makes perfect sense, how could it be otherwise?” I thought, backing away slowly, never taking my eyes off him. “Why only a person as smart as you could see that!” I said. Good, I’ve got about 10 feet on him, now turn and run like hell!!

        Just give me three steps….

      • marc b.
        September 22, 2010, 8:21 am

        now, mooser, that i believe in a ‘God’ who was the prime mover, as they say, for all of this isn’t a significant guiding principle in my day-to-day affairs. simple american mythology, such as equality before the law, social mobility, and rooting for the underdog, suits me fine. unfortunately as a matter of public policy it is just a myth. kinda like the ‘big bang theory’.

      • eljay
        September 21, 2010, 5:20 pm

        >> unfortunately the hubris of ‘man’ includes ‘his’ unwillingness to admit that there are some things ‘he’ will never be able to explain.

        I have no problem whatsoever with “I don’t know.”

        I do have a problem with “I don’t know…so it must be this inexplicable thing I’ll call “X” that humans concocted centuries ago. Sure, I can’t prove that X is actually real, but I believe it to be true, so it must be. And that makes be better than you, because you don’t believe in X or, perhaps even worse, you believe in Y.”

      • Citizen
        September 22, 2010, 4:36 am

        Oh poppy-cock! You forget the obvious, i.e., that hubris is a Greek concept, you know, from the original culture from which came western civilization (which the Romans then literally engineered)? Chutzpah is the opposing Jewish concept.

  13. eljay
    September 21, 2010, 1:28 pm

    >> eljay, I cannot accept your Godless universe.

    Fair enough. :-)

    >> Ah, but maybe a sucessful crusade entitles you to all kinds indulgences?
    —————————–http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=1054&CFID=51340282&CFTOKEN=45944911
    >> According to the current Code of Canon Law: “An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment for sins the guilt of which has already been forgiven, which a properly disposed member of the Christian faithful obtains under certain and definite conditions with the help of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies authoritatively the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints”.
    —————————–
    Well, since I don’t believe in gawd, the Church or “sin”, I have no need for any indulgences, so I have no need to Crusade for anything.

    • Psychopathic god
      September 21, 2010, 3:01 pm

      Indulgence inshmulgence Eljay; the Crusades made a pile of loot for popes, Venetians, Genoese, and Milanese, among others. Indulgences were the cardinals’ way of inducing poor suckers to carry out the scam, er, scheme; a kind of G I Bill reward for undertaking a patriotic/religious mission.

      • Mooser
        September 21, 2010, 4:06 pm

        Exactly PG, why shouldn’t we Jews get in on the action?

      • Citizen
        September 22, 2010, 4:38 am

        Do you really want to be a priest caught sodomizing?

  14. MRW
    September 21, 2010, 1:35 pm

    [BTW, Mooser, on fire again today, I see. ;-)]

    This ‘Chosen’ stuff is just like the eat no pork edict. The Muslims and Jews had to tell their uneducated peasants a good story to keep them from getting trichinosis, and disemboweling themselves. With no refrigerators until the 20th C, and ice not likely to last in the desert, pork was out. Ditto shellfish. Stank too.

    The Catholics did the same thing in the Middle Ages. The fishmongers couldn’t keep the fish fresh over the weekend so they (the Pope and his businessmen Dukes) concocted a saint story to make it mandatory to eat fish on Friday, no meat. (If I remember correctly, because this saint got a fishbone caught in his throat, all the Catholics had to follow suit to honor him…no wonder the Inquisition took hold with such felicity.)

    Since Catholics thought they ruled the world, and they had the numbers before the big Henry VIII-Lutheran-Protestant breakout, they didn’t have to roll out a Chosen tag; they just had to exist and obey the Pope. For Jews, and their smaller numbers, being The Chosen was the ultimate vanity license plate, you could feel special but apart, and you had a whole community who agreed with your wonderfulness.

    • Psychopathic god
      September 21, 2010, 3:06 pm

      how does choseness square with that other Jewish mantra, “never again?”

      ie. as noted above, Barbara Lerner Spectre KNOWS that the “centrality of Jews” in leading backward Europe to the splendor of multiculturalism (presumably in the Israel model) will raise a s*&tstorm of antisemitic backlash, but it has to be done.

      So for Lerner Spectre, another holocaust is worth the price of Jewish leadership in the multiculturalisation of Europe, even if Europe AND Jews are destroyed in the process, and ‘never again’ is last week’s gefilte fish.

    • piotr
      September 21, 2010, 8:15 pm

      I read a much better explanations of taboo laws that explains prohibitions of pork, shrimp, mixed threads etc. When hill folks in what became later Judah and Israel started to proliferate and organize after demographic hiatus of 13th century BC, they needed explanation as to

      why they should stick together without killing each other (common ancestry, Jacob etc.)

      why they are better than the other people, so shifting tribal aliances would not include other folks against other Jews

      and why is it OK to kill other people (given opportunity, that is)

      So the folks for the coast were unclean and thus inferior on the account of eating and dressing differently. Plus, some priest in the Babylon exile went to the ancient version of McDonald’s and left the premises with abiding hatred of cheeseburgers. Or was it chicken Kiev? Beef Stroganoff? Perhaps he tried and detested all of them.

    • Kathleen
      September 21, 2010, 9:09 pm

      Raised Catholic never heard we were chosen. A good thing.

      I have asked most of my Jewish friends if they were told they were “chosen” when they were growing up. Whether there was an undertone of being better than others . All felt uncomfortable with the question. They all eventually answered yes.

      This is not a good thing to tell anyone.

      • Mooser
        September 22, 2010, 10:49 am

        Kathleen, did they tell you confession and penance could absolve sin?
        And is being told you are “chosen” any better or worse then being told you are “saved”?

  15. radii
    September 21, 2010, 3:57 pm

    anyone who believes this nonsense about “chosenness” has chosen for themselves to be stupid

    what is of more interest is the latest unbelievable gambit by israel: to swap spy Jonathon Pollard for a settlement freeze (like they’d ever honor it) … they just never give up trying to get this scumbag back!

    link to news.antiwar.com

    • Kathleen
      September 21, 2010, 9:05 pm

      Israel needs to give back all of the territory in the West Bank (get the settlements out of there, right of return, and get out of E Jerusalem.

      headed for one state with apartheid becoming more and more apparent to all

    • Citizen
      September 22, 2010, 4:52 am

      The spin by various pro-Pollard groups here is that treatment of Pollard shows the usual discriminatory treatment where Israel/Jews are concerned in that, they say, most captured spies for an ally of Uncle Sam’s are given at most 5 or 6 years of prison, while poor widdle Pollard (sitting near Madoff in that fluffy park-like prison) has been stuck in jail for decades!

  16. lareineblanche
    September 21, 2010, 4:11 pm

    That’s a nice karate chop into what seems to be a pretty spongy piece of cake!

    “The clock cannot be reset to zero”, Gitlin and Leibovitz write; “we cannot choose to be unchosen”. Furthermore, “the cycles of race hatred, revenge, and war cannot be rescinded, erased from memory. History is unsparing”. This is why “it is no use trying to bludgeon the notion [of chosenness] into nonexistence”, which is fortunate given that it is an “extraordinary, entrancing, ancient [and] deep” notion to begin with.

    – ugh. Pretentious. I’m glad I don’t have to read this stuff!

    Like the “paradox of grace”, we are encouraged by Gitlin and Leibovitz to assume a great deal of “responsibility”, which in turn obviates the need for accountability.

    – Nailed it. Another version of “American exceptionalism”, which basically means the privilege of not having to answer for any wrongdoings, except with a summary “f-ck off”.

  17. Mooser
    September 21, 2010, 4:12 pm

    Can’t wait til Witty and Wondering weigh in on this. It’ll be better than all-you-can-eat at Sizzler! Beta-carotene and vitamin D for weeks! Break out the oil and vinegar!

  18. DICKERSON3870
    September 21, 2010, 5:03 pm

    RE: This is why “it is no use trying to bludgeon the notion [of chosenness] into nonexistence”, which is fortunate given that it is an “extraordinary, entrancing, ancient [and] deep” notion to begin with. – Gitlin and Leibovitz
    MY COMMENT: I “betcha” you guys will be singing an entirely different tune when Hagee’s Rapture™ finally gets here! Me, I couldn’t care less.

  19. David Samel
    September 21, 2010, 7:51 pm

    I had a Conservative Jewish upbringing, Hebrew School and all that, and I honestly don’t recall chosenness being emphasized. Is the perception that Jews consider themselves “chosen” more than others really accurate? Don’t other religions claim to be the one true religion? Don’t many Christians believe that failure to accept Jesus Christ condemns one to an eternity in Hell? Doesn’t Islam make similar claims to superiority over other religions? I used to wince as a kid when I watched The Wizard of OZ and Auntie Em said something about being a “Christian woman” as if that were nobler than non-Christians. I can’t remember a single Jew I know personally to articulate the notion of “chosen people” seriously.

    • Citizen
      September 22, 2010, 5:22 am

      Last time I looked I didn’t see anything tribal about being a Christian. Personally, I quit the Catholic Church forever when I was an altar boy in the seventh grade–purely my own decision. Why? It was merely an internal decision–I cringed inside when I saw the adults kneel at the altar and hold out their tongues to accept the tasteless wafer; the incense was
      horribly smelly; and, back stage afterward, the monsignor bending over in his cassock dress was ridiculous. Even the wine in the cruet was cheap and tasted horribly. The body and blood of Jesus Christ? Amo, Amas, Amat, I only learned Latin to prove to my father I could–he dared me, bet me! So Jesus was chosen? Our cross to bear? Religion from the door of a humvee, or from one of the new F-35s we are giving to Israel so Israeli pilots can brag some more on the Military Channel about their dog fights in our jets? David, did you read this: link to ygurvitz.net

      • Kathleen
        September 22, 2010, 11:45 am

        Damn tribal when some Christians think they will be going to heaven (ugh) and those who do not accept Jesus as the savior will not be going. Not based on a cultural or ethnic premise. Just the Jesus thing.

        Bought part of this myth up until about 8 or 9. Remembering being out in the playhouse in the back yard with friends who were Jewish and a few Baptist and tried to get them to say the Rosary with me. Not so much that I believed totally just thought I don’t want my friends going to hell. I’ll give it a shot. That was it for my recruitment years. Even though I was surrounded (Catholic school, church, priest rectory and nuns home across the alley) by the Catholics the lightbulbs went off in my head watching what went on out back of the rectory and the hypocritical acts of many of the parishioners. Although those 1960’s Nortre Dame nuns that took us to see Martin Luther King speak and to several civil rights marches turned on some other lights. Am thankful.

        So appreciate George Carlin’s views on religion. He is one of my gurus. Along with Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Ram Dass.

        I tried really hard to believe. Nothing worked.

        Watch and laugh

    • Mooser
      September 22, 2010, 10:55 am

      “I had a Conservative Jewish upbringing, Hebrew School and all that, and I honestly don’t recall chosenness being emphasized.”

      And there’s a central Jewish religious authourity which co-ordinates the cirriculum at Hebrew schools? Like any other religious thing, the eternal truths change moment to moment.

      “I can’t remember a single Jew I know personally…” David Samel, meet Todd Gitlin and Liel Leibovitz, David, say hello to Todd, Liel, this is David.

  20. Palmyra
    September 21, 2010, 7:59 pm

    Well, well. Not much to say that hasn’t already been said. Great post Mr Phillips, and there should be a new sort of chosen sainthood for They Who Undertake The Readings So We Don’t Have To.

  21. tommy
    September 21, 2010, 8:18 pm

    Americans love the idea of being chosen by their deity. The residents of the house on the hill cannot have this hubris positively reinforced enough, which creates opportunities for exploiting them. Americans have been exploited by their clergy, American Zionists and Israel with the idea of being divinely elected. This type of proselytizing is not only lucrative but has the power to entice generally regular people into supporting crimes that would otherwise outrage them. Of course, regular people everywhere are susceptible to righteousness, but the enormous wealth of the US combined with the militant voracity for expanding national power and territories of the Israelis has made these two special friends, which is how their supporters like to consider themselves, enter into a compact of militant oppression. A covenant for war. One huge lesson from the Twentieth Century, seemingly forgotten in the first decade of the Twenty-first, is that what special peoples do is wage war to eliminate whole peoples and nations.

    • Mooser
      September 22, 2010, 11:01 am

      Oh tommy, don’t worry! It usually takes massive unemployment and social and economic displacement before you can actually get the kids up off the couch to go fight, and their parents to want them to. So at the present, there’s no danger at all, right?

  22. sherbrsi
    September 21, 2010, 8:20 pm

    More romanticist apologies for Zionism and its entailing and synonymous policies of ethnic cleansing and colonialism.

    When the “unchosen” expelled, murdered and oppressed the “chosen,” it was known as racism, hatred, pograms, hell on earth. They coined a special word for it, anti-semitism (which applies only to the “chosen ones”, despite a significant and larger population of the world’s “unchosen” belonging to the same categorization).

    But when the “chosen” do the same to the “unchosen,” the same activities become a “war dance” and “the rhythm of history.”

    Nothing more than pseudo-intellectuals writing self-congratulatory whitewashes of Israel’s history and policies of oppression and expulsion, all the while exemplifying Jewish victim-hood.

    • Citizen
      September 22, 2010, 5:29 am

      Pretty soon the Palestinians will realize that to reach Joe & Jane 6-pack Americans here in America, they need to capitalize on the fact that 97.5% of them are actual semites and that some of them are Christians–yell it out everytime somebody is critical of Israeli policy and is shouted down as an “anti-semite.” They could also point out that the Israeli leaders and
      the girls of Brand Israel sure don’t look typically semitic.

    • Psychopathic god
      September 22, 2010, 7:40 am

      At a J Street meetup the other day, exquisite outrage was expressed at the noive of Ahmadinejad to equate zionism with racism. The notion was blasted out of the hemisphere: zionism is NOT racism.

      Then it was explained that it is perfectly appropriate for Israel to give special privileges to Jews because Jews deserve it, and anyway, anybody else who wants to become a citizen of Israel can do so by going through the usual process, just like any other state.

      Finally, one person reminded his fellows that Jews in Israel are not really enduring imminent threat of annihilation: he cited the numbers of Jews in Israel who have been killed by Palestinians: from 1000 in Intifada, to 400 a few years ago, to one Jew killed by a Palestinian last year (I did not fact-check his data; the proportions are the point).

      The other point, though, is that NOBODY in the room noted the number of Palestinians killed by Jews in Israel.*

      Palestinian lives don’t count.

      That’s racism.
      Just like Ahmadinejad said.

      *In “Iranophobia,” Haggai Ram observes that the numbers of Jewish Israeli acts of aggression and violence against Palestinians — and consequent numbers of deaths of innocent Palestinians at Jewish Israeli hands — rose precipitously in the immediate aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center and the Global War on Terror. The trend line from that point remains upward.
      I’s a burden to endure, but somebody’s gotta bear that cross.

      • eljay
        September 22, 2010, 12:10 pm

        >> Finally, one person … cited the numbers of Jews in Israel who have been killed by Palestinians …
        . . .
        … NOBODY in the room noted the number of Palestinians killed by Jews in Israel.

        As long as the number of Palestinians-to-Israelis killed remains at or below the 100:1 ratio, “justice” tells us that there’s no ‘splainin’ that needs to be done. Heck, it’s all part of invigorating an admirably resilient and energetic Palestinian society!

        Above that ratio, even “humanists” would find it difficult (but likely not impossible) to justify the slaughter.

  23. Kathleen
    September 21, 2010, 8:58 pm

    the myth..A guy in the sky told some Jewish guys that they and their people were “chosen” What a bunch of bull.

    A collective superiority complex that has been taught. Just plain old silly and so unnecessary

    I

  24. Kathleen
    September 21, 2010, 9:01 pm

    “Indeed, Jewish chosenness is not simply a central aspect of Judaism, but to Gitlin and Leibovitz, its rasion d’etre: “In a way”, Gitlin and Leibovitz write, “the Jewish people have invented the idea of chosenness, but in truth, chosenness has invented the idea of the Jewish people.”

    Of course they want to maintain this myth. Then the same rules, agreements that apply to others do not apply to the “chosen people”

    • Citizen
      September 22, 2010, 5:31 am

      Typical, as if an idea can invent another idea. What anthropomorphic gibberage. Why, it’s downright biblical in nature.

  25. VR
    September 22, 2010, 1:05 am

    “How can the “rich and strange idea” of chosenness, as the author’s call it in their Tablet article, be so problematic? Certainly it is seductive enough to be embraced by two admittedly secular writers like Gitlin and Leibovitz.”

    The secular cannot survive without the religious nuts in Israel –

    “Religious tradition provided the only legitimation for the zionist colonisation of Palestine. Zionism could not afford to alienate its religious adherents, because in their absence it would lose the ideological justification for the zionist project in Palestine.”

    RELIGION, ZIONISM AND SECULARISM

    Circa 1980 – in other words, it has been going on a long, long, time – and this is just the latest salvo.

    • VR
      September 22, 2010, 1:34 am

      Further excerpt from above linked article –

      “For zionism and the Jewish religion are tied to each other ideologically as well as in practice. If zionism were to lose its last ideological line of defence, which is provided by religion, then its true nature would be exposed even to its own adherents – its nature as a colonisatory, xenophobic and racist movement.”

      • Antidote
        September 22, 2010, 11:57 pm

        In other words: You have to find people who are willing to live in a permanent war zone, and in a country which is politically and ecologically unstable. By constructing some divine command, they are able to convince themselves that they are better than their enemies and victims, and that it’s all worthwhile in the great scheme of things.

  26. Citizen
    September 22, 2010, 9:25 am

    Zionism needs anti-semitism like any parasite needs its host.

    • Antidote
      September 22, 2010, 11:40 pm

      That works nicely in the sense that the host (AS) does not need the parasite (Z) to exist. A parasite always feeds to the detriment of the host: does Zionism diminish or worsen AS?

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