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Monday, July 28, 2014

Zionism, Equality, and Ice


Two essays in the August 14, 2014 issue of The New York Review of Books light the fire of moral meditation and invite despair.  Who needs a fire at the very peak of summer in New Orleans?

Jonathan Freedland’s “The Liberal Zionist” (20, 22, 24) and Gordon Woods’s “A Different Idea of Our Declaration” (37-38) incite thinking.  Walking us through the mindscape of conflict between the Palestinians and Israel with Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, John B. Judis’s Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict, and Norman G. Finkelstein’s Old Wine, Broken Bottle: Ari Shavit’s Promised Land as guidebooks, Freedland points out the beautiful horrors of hasbara, yorim u’vochim, mizrachim, and the Holocaust as demonic prototypes for Israeli fascism.

Two of Freedland’s sentences are especially disconcerting: [1] “On this Shavit and Judis agree: Zionism’s founding fathers were afflicted by selective blindness, unable or unwilling to register what was in front of their eyes: the presence of another people in the Land of Israel” (22) and [2] “In November 1929, Brandeis wrote: ‘The situation reminds me of that in America when the settlers who founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony had to protect themselves against the Indians’.” (22)

The latter sentence is a bridge to Gordon Woods’s ideas about Danielle Allen’s Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality. Woods’s review of what he describes as Allen’s “tour de force of close textual analysis” (38) is less disturbing than what Freedland had to say about liberal Zionists, but it does contain one fatal flaw in choice of language. Woods makes a brief reference to Allen’s “background as a mixed-race African-American woman” (37). He should have written that Allen’s background is that of a “mixed-race WASP-American woman.” It is embarrassing that he denies Allen the entitlements and equality of her WASP ancestry, that he is as colorblind and insensitive as the Declaration of Independence in acknowledging how the construction of race in the United States constipates thinking. I am led to wonder if Allen notes anywhere in her book that the American concept of equality is predicated, in part, on ethnic cleansing and enslavement. Perhaps she does not, because “she wants to make the ‘encounter with the Declaration easier for readers who have not yet built up a deep historical knowledge base’” (38).

Who needs a fire at the very peak of summer in New Orleans?  I do. The two essays leave me as cold as the Arctic Circle. They freeze me into thinking the indigenous peoples of the United States and the Palestinians are merely items in a lexicon used to justify American and Israeli moral corruptions. They employ biblical mythology to tempt me into assigning Palestinians and indigenous peoples to oblivion. The language of the two essays makes me shiver as Thomas Jefferson did when he considered that God might indeed be just, for I must weigh the possibility that contemporary Americans are losing the capacity to shiver.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                                            July 28, 2014

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