Today is Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, in Israel. Oh the occasion, Edward R. Murrow’s report from Buchenwald. Extraordinary.
The extraordinary 1975 Daniel Patrick Moynihan speech, in response to the madness of the “Zionism equals racism” resolution that had passed. There are no Moynihans now, I fear, and more and more fools who think that Zionism is racism. (I’m related to a few.)
Daniel Pearl’s father wrote a column a few years ago in which he lamented the “normalization of evil.” He was quite right, and as Significant Other said upon reading those words, “there is also the evil-ization of normal.” One normal thing now made to appear evil is supporting Israel.
Listen to this speech, the moral clarity, the understanding of history. It makes me so miss my brother Alan – he was one of the few people (and even fewer relatives) with whom I could have serious discussions about politics and history.
The column in question is ostensibly about why we should all become Jews. Of course, Cohen isn’t really suggesting we should, although Significant Other and I often say that we will have to join the Israel Army one of these days…if they would have two middle-aged out of shape folks.
It’s a column about the pathology of anti-Semitism and how far it is spreading, in particular its grip on much of the political left.
But consider how many leftwing activists, institutions or academics would agree with a politer version [of blatant anti-Semitism].
Western governments are the main source of the ills of the world. The “Israel lobby” controls western foreign policy. Israel itself is the “root cause” of all the terrors of the Middle East, from the Iraq war to Islamic State. Polite racism turns the Jews, once again, into demons with the supernatural power to manipulate and destroy nations. Or as the Swedish foreign minister, Margot Wallström, who sees herself as a feminist rather than a racial conspiracist, explained recently, Islamist attacks in Paris were the fault of Israeli occupiers in the West Bank.
(Oh man, I know so many people — some to whom I am related — who buy such nonsense. Depressing. As my late brother used to say, “the ’60s have a lot for which to answer.”)
Cohen writes of his own experiences (his father was Jewish, not his mother) growing up with a Jewish name and in particular of the temptation — which he resisted — to become a self-loathing Jew.
He does suggest one pretend to be Jewish to see how people’s reactions to you change. It’s fascinating, because when I was in Italy in 2014, there was this awful woman who was always very mean to me and I remember one day she asked me if I was Jewish. I just knew that if I answered “yes,” she would have hated me even more, but I thought the fact that she suspected it (as though it were a crime) was revealing.
Roger Cohen is a bit late to have noticed this, but glad he wrote this fine column. I have relatives who suffer from what he calls “anti-Zionism derangement syndrome.” But as my late brother — who was far too smart to suffer from it — used to say, you can’t reason with people who have this affliction, as they have no interest in facts. Sadly, I am not surprised that much of this derangement has flourished in academia. (Occasionally, I consider going back to school to get my PhD, but then I talk to friends of mine working in academia and reconsider.)
What is striking about the anti-Zionism derangement syndrome that spills over into anti-Semitism is its ahistorical nature. It denies the long Jewish presence in, and bond with, the Holy Land. It disregards the fundamental link between murderous European anti-Semitism and the decision of surviving Jews to embrace Zionism in the conviction that only a Jewish homeland could keep them safe. It dismisses the legal basis for the modern Jewish state in United Nations Resolution 181 of 1947. This was not “colonialism” but the post-Holocaust will of the world: Arab armies went to war against it and lost.
So simple, really. I don’t understand the difficulty people have grasping this, but I think Bernard Lewis was right when he called anti-Semitism a pathology, a mental illness. It isn’t rational.
I mention it because of the vote condemning BDS in the House of Commons last week. To no one’s surprise, Elizabeth May, renowned half-wit and terrorist-apologist, said she would vote against the motion and then, perhaps also to no one’s surprise, she skipped the vote (the Green Party would be a lot less pitiful if it got itself a leader with a 3-digit IQ. I suspect some Greens are sane and I do agree with them on rather more issues than one might expect).
The NDP voted against the motion, as well. I expected this from most of the NDP, but I was disappointed in Mulcair. Does he want to remain leader so desperately that he will sell out on the one area where he had some integrity? Sheesh. The irony is, it won’t save him. I suspect they will ditch him and get a new leader, possibly from the growing, totally-crackpot-when-it-concerns-the-Middle-East branch of the party. (Remember that lovely candidate of theirs who made jokes about Auschwitz?)
And, of course, the Bloc voted against the motion. Does it even need to be said?
As for the Liberals, I am glad for the way they voted — although it must be remembered that some of them abstained — but they are all over the map on support for Israel. I suspect it is because they have few guiding principles. On the one hand, they seem to want to go back to the “glory days” of getting invited to UN cocktail parties and hanging out with dictators. Hence, the spouting of drivel about “honest brokers” and blah blah blah. On the other, they voted in a morally sound way on BDS.
So make of that what you will. And read Terry Glavin’s great column about why BDS does not help anyone, least of all any Palestinians.
Years ago, I lived in France on Boulevard Voltaire, not far from the Bataclan. I never went to the Bataclan because I was never groovy. I did go to see Etienne Daho at Bercy Stadium one time. My apartment was near Place Leon Blum, named after the French politician who, prior to World War II had been the Prime Minister of France and then during the war had been deported (he was Jewish) to Buchenwald and Dachau and Tyrol and then after the war became Prime Minister again. Seriously. Only in France. (I believe his brother died in Auschwitz.)
In 2005, on a trip to Israel, I visited a kibbutz named after Blum – Kfar Blum, it was called. I was with a group of journalists and I shocked them all by knowing who Blum was. I also shocked the lady from the kibbutz who was tasked with taking us around the place — she told me that no one other than French visitors ever knew who Leon Blum was. (I shocked her even more the next morning when I took a whole mess of fish from our breakfast buffet and fed it to Kfar Blum’s many stray cats.)
A few doors down from my apartment on Boulevard Voltaire there was a convenience store run by a Moroccan family. The father had come to France from North Africa but his sons were all born and raised Frenchmen. They were terribly nice and used to help us (my roommates and me) with our bags and suitcases and such when we returned home from trips. I remember that they loved wearing muscle shirts and showing off their good looks. (Why should youth not be so?) They were terribly sweet and I was grateful for their store because, at the time, it was very difficult to find a grocery store open after 7 p.m. in Paris (not the case now). So I had somewhere to go to buy bottles of wine and Lindt bars.
I keep thinking about that time in my life and about Mustapha Dupont, a Gilbert Becaud song from 1984. I moved to France in the late ‘80s and stayed there nearly five years; long a Becaud fan, I enjoyed that song and its idealism regarding French Muslims, an idealism which one could be forgiven for now considering rather quaint.
Some of the lyrics:
Il est né entre Constantine
C’est un bon Français
Comme toi et moi
Il a vu le jour entre Fez
Durand Mohamed Français cent pour cent
De A… à Z…
Son père est tombé en ’44
En plein mois d’août
Mamadou Abdou il est bien d’chez nous
Comme toi, comme nous
C’est ça la couleur d’ l’ équipe de France
Entre bleu d’outre-mer et d’ Provence
Tu prends un Lillois, Marseillais
Un Rital un peu polonais
C’est rouge orange, jaune, vert, bleu
If you don’t speak French, those lyrics talk about three French Muslims who are all ‘bon Francais’ (good Frenchmen), one of whose father died in World War II fighting (one presumes, given the date of the action and the point of the song) for France. The repeated lyric, at the end, is about the colours of “Team France.” Every colour, says Becaud. Team France is red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.
I bring this song up because I was at a dinner the other night where someone said that France was basically getting what it deserved – in regards terror attacks — for not having properly integrated Muslims. Um, wtf??? Apart from the victim-blaming of the comment, it simply isn’t true. While there is no question that European countries, in general, are not anywhere as good as we (meaning Canada and the United States) are at integration, the vast majority of French Muslims are just that, integrated and very well so. And while I have no doubt that many French Muslims have had to deal with stupid comments or other forms of ignorance, saying France is getting what it deserves is, well, stupid. As though a natural response to discrimination is to shoot up a restaurant, a magazine, a nightclub, a Kosher supermarket. Further, French Jews experience far more hate-based attacks than any other group (French Jews make up 1% of the population but are the victims of 51% of hate-based attacks in France) and I don’t seem them shooting up innocents.
In short, there is a deeper problem here, a sort of mass pathology, as Paul Berman wrote about so eloquently here.
A couple more useful links here and here, and my own observations when I returned to France in 2014 and 2015, regarding what I viewed as a clear improvement in just how well integrated the French Muslim population had become.
Of course, there are neighbourhoods that are a mess — Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 riots erupted, comes to mind. To some degree this is the result of a “hands-off” approach – a big mistake that comes from cultural relativism, moral equivalency, political correctness…and fear, I imagine. A bad idea by any other name is a bad idea. We in the West have become cowards (I blame Baby Boomers). We are unwilling to protect values that have been centuries in the making, values from which every group could benefit. This is currently playing out in Germany and other parts of Europe. When people won’t integrate or obey the law, there is nothing unreasonable or bigoted about jailing them or deporting them if they are not legal or talking honestly about the problem, rather than trying to hide it for fear of appearing intolerant. Islamism is not Islam and it shouldn’t be difficult to say as much.
I believe such an approach would make life better for those who want to assimilate (and by assimilate, I don’t mean giving up one’s religion or freedom of worship). There is also nothing unreasonable with making sure refugees/immigrants are carefully vetted.
I am an idealist. I see no reason that Becaud’s lyrics can’t reflect reality. And in many ways I think they do.
See here two pictures taken last March, when I was in Paris. The first is a plaque from inside the Grand Mosque of Paris, commemorating Muslim soldiers who died for France in World War II. The second is a plaque honouring a ‘spahi’ – regiments of the French army recruited primarily from the Maghred – who died during the liberation of Paris.
I don’t usually do book recommendations on my site but today I will. I read insane amounts — mostly non-fiction but some fiction — and the fact that I am taking time to write about these two books tells you what they meant to me.
The books are Bettyville, by George Hodgman, and The Hare with Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal. In a way, they are similar: both stories about family, about the past, about loss and love and about being grateful in the present. But they are different, of course.
The Hare with Amber Eyes is drawn against the painful backdrop of the relentless (and seemingly endless) persecution of Jews in Europe, the sickness of the Holocaust, and also has a strong art history focus (something I really appreciated).
De Waal is English, but a descendant of the (originally Russian) Ephrussi family, for a time on a par with the Rothschilds (even related by marriage to them) in terms of wealth and influence in parts of Europe. Proust’s Swann is said to have been based on Charles Ephrussi.
When de Waal inherits some “netsuke” from a favorite relative (he represents the fifth generation of his family to inherit them), he decides to trace their journey, which includes stops in Paris and Japan and Vienna. And it is truly something, particularly when you discover how the netsuke escaped being stolen by the Nazis, while pretty much all the rest of the Ephrussi art was taken.
In some ways, the book reminded me of the brilliant movie, “Woman in Gold”, though the former unfolds over a much longer period of time.
Bettyville is, on the surface, a memoir with less grandeur, but Hodgman’s portrait of his mother, Betty, is mighty grand. My own mom died, just short of her 93rd birthday, last year, and I saw so much of her in Betty. Same generation, same decency, work ethic, wit, and a similar stubborn dance with declining independence. The same good, strong people.
Hodgman is a successful editor and writer who, after growing up in Missouri in the ’60s and ’70s as a clever — though struggling and often bullied — gay kid, moved to New York. Along with an enviable career, he got into drugs, went into rehab, had some dysfunctional relationships, all of which he writes about with tremendous humor and no self-pity.
When his mother began fading, he moved back, initially to find someone else to care for her, but then decided to see her home, as he says, himself. In the process he finds “home”, in a manner. It is certainly touching to see him discover Missouri — fly-over country — as an adult, after having felt out of place so often as a kid and teenager. Honestly, I laughed, I laughed so hard I cried, and I just plain cried.
Read them both!