Friday, May 23, 2008

Hagee

I often get a weird feeling when people talk about John Hagee. The exception is Rebecca Lesses over at Mystical Politics. Or rapper, Y-Love. But when someone like Sunny Hundal does it, it can bug me.

I don't mean to pick on Hundal, but I'm partly more aware of what he says because I listen more to and appreciate his work more than a lot of other people. His article is far less troubling than it could have been, and is based particularly on a talk2action post that I appreciate wholeheartedly. But I do think what I say is relevant to his article. He doesn't have the same record talk2action has.

Hagee is illiberal in a million ways, all deserving of criticism. He's Islamophobic and homophobic. He's perversely anti-Catholic. He expresses a Christian worldview that's fundamentally intolerant. He blamed Hurricane Katrina on the immorality of the people of New Orleans. It's no surprise now that he blames the Holocaust, in part, on the Jews. So do the fundamentalist Jewish (and anti-Zionist) group Natura Kartei (known for participating in Iran's Holocaust Denial festival). It's a consequence of a fundamentalism that deals simplistically with the matter of a benevolent G-d allowing bad things to happen to good people. Right-wing fundamentalists like Hagee and NK, simply refuse to accept that these were good people in an essential way.

Hagee is more powerful and important in this world than NK, so it makes sense to pick on him. And when Barack Obama's pastor, Jeremiah Wright, was attacked, it makes sense to point to Hagee, whose endorsement John McCain had sought out. Hagee should be attacked. And McCain should suffer politically for his association.

But why do gentiles pick, of all Hagee's sins, his antisemitism to highlight? Sometimes it goes further than merely highlighting his antisemitism, so that Hagee is used as a weapon against Jews. I think there's a hidden assumption about the role of Jews in politics -that antisemitic theme of Jewish power- that needs to be unpacked. In any case, it places Jews at the center of politics, promoting such a view of Jewish power.

Though I think relatively few Jews actually like Hagee, some do because of his hawkish views on Israel. His beliefs about Israel stem some both from honest repentance for Christian antisemitism and from a view of Jews as pawns in a Christian apocalyptic story. Usually, only the apocalyptic side is mentioned. In a hostile world, Jews often feel the need to seek protection from a less immediate threat, and some find Hagee to be less immediately threatening than some of the folks who hate Hagee. Hagee offers at least the promise of protection tinged with a patronizing, antisemitic fantasy that's difficult to take seriously. Many of those who attack him have a fantasy of dismantling Israel that's difficult not to take seriously.

It doesn't suggest to me that I've an ally in the fight against antisemitism when gentiles attack Hagee's antisemitism. It makes me feel used, for someone else's political agenda. Like antisemitism is worth fighting just because it's a weapon against the right (a right identified with Jews). At a time when Jews are feeling particularly abandoned by the Left, it's especially hurtful. It's an asterisk at the end of "We care about antisemitism, too" that belies the statement.

6 comments:

sunny said...

Hello!

this is an interesting post.

Firstly, the article I wrote first on Hagee, on Liberal conspiracy, mentions his views on gays, blacks after Katrina and Catholics, rather than Jews.

So I;m not trying to elevate Jews to a central position in the political discourse... as if anti-semitism is the biggest crime of all.

And you're right in that Jews are used as a political tool too. I wrote a piece for PP not long ago on Christian Zionism, mentioning Hagee, which said the same thing. I don't think Hagee cares for Jews or Israel. It just so happens that they fit into his world-view and he jumps on the bandwagon for his own political purposes.

The fact that AIPAc and others pander to him on that basis only makes it worse.

Matt said...

Thanks, Sunny. I appreciate your reply. Especially the concern you show with the issues I raised.

As for Hagee, though, as I said I think his views are mixed. I do think he is genuinely troubled by antisemitism (as he understands it), and I don't think he understands quite what the implications are of his other views. I'm comfortable calling those views antisemitic, but when I say something like that about anyone, I usually get a standard privileged response: "I'm a liberal, one of the good guys, and you're abusing the charge of antisemitism." So I'm maybe still trying to figure some stuff out about that - when to emphasize that I appreciate the trying and when to emphasize that I'm troubled by the falling short of an ideal.

In a way, AIPAC does make things worse. But it also makes things worse when people attack AIPAC. I think we really have to understand how AIPAC exists as part of a much larger "coerced discourse," where gentiles decide which Jews they'll listen to. Then Jews pick which of the lesser evil they're willing to let exploit them. So the left that doesn't take antisemitism seriously, that drives some Jews to Hagee, is every bit as much a part of the larger problem as Hagee is. In so many ways, Jews are privileged, and don't face the same issues as other oppressed groups, but still Jews do not have a voice powerful enough to speak for ourselves.

sunny said...

So I'm maybe still trying to figure some stuff out about that - when to emphasize that I appreciate the trying and when to emphasize that I'm troubled by the falling short of an ideal.

I think the problem here is again that you're more concerned with how others see what they're saying (and how they justify it) than having your own standards and then applying them. Otherwise, surely that old adage... "some of my best friends are black..." thing would throw you every time?

On Hagee, I'm not sure if he's troubled by any form of xenophobia... he'll simply justify everything through the word of the Bible. I'd imagine thats how he justified the Holocaust.

In a way, AIPAC does make things worse. But it also makes things worse when people attack AIPAC. I think we really have to understand how AIPAC exists as part of a much larger "coerced discourse," where gentiles decide which Jews they'll listen to.

Yes, I agree, and that will apply to any minority group. Any lobby group, even for example the Muslim council of Britain, will be subject to criticism if they make choices that the majority doesn't like. I see that as inescapable. AIPAC is a lobby and it shouldn't be above criticism.

Surely though, it should balance the need to make alliances with people that make things worse? If some lefties are guilty of playing "my enemy's enemy is my friends", then surely that is what AIPAC is doing too?

Matt said...

I think the problem here is again that you're more concerned with how others see what they're saying (and how they justify it) than having your own standards and then applying them. No, I think the problem is that I have to be concerned with how I'm perceived and how effective I can be. I have to adjust for others' privileged stances. And I've been shut out of conversations before because I wasn't afraid to state the obvious.

If some lefties are guilty of playing "my enemy's enemy is my friends", then surely that is what AIPAC is doing too? But those lefties aren't making those decisions under the same circumstances. In fact, criticize them for what they actually do, and often the response is that I, a Jew, am siding with David Horowitz in the culture wars against the left. I think it's important to criticize AIPAC, but it's also important to pay attention to how it's done and to describe AIPAC accurately. They aren't "the most powerful lobby in Washington." They're the typical example of Jews set up as scapegoats. I think the best way for gentiles to do that is probably not to draw attention to their Jewishness and how it influences their positions, but to focus very tightly on the issues.

sunny said...

Well, I don't think you've said anything I disagree with. Its a fine line though, and sometimes people are perceived to have over-stepped it when in their minds they haven't.

Brown Shoes said...

I noticed you asked me what makes me think anti-Semitism isn't institutionalized in America, and as much as it embarrasses me to admit, I completely forgot about what tends to go on in universities and how the left tends to deal with Jews on the whole. I'm certainly not unaware of these things, especially as you mention them in this post, which makes it all the more embarrassing to admit such a temporary blindspot.