Monday, January 14, 2008

Arun Gandhi's poor attempt at not being racist

(If this is the first you're hearing of this, see below for details.)

There are many things wrong with Arun Gandhi's post, that many people have noted. It's terribly insensitive to the memory of the Holocaust; it's pretty ignorant of the facts of the Israeli-Palestinian situation; it's utterly bizarre in how it puts Jews in the center of global violence.. I'd like to note one thing that I haven't seen and which is elementary to any sort of anti-racism. When Mr. Gandhi writes about a "Jewish identity," this is an essentialist understanding of what it means to be Jewish. In other words, if he allows exceptions (and allowing exceptions is nothing new to racism), it is for people who "aren't so Jewish," people lacking what Mr. Gandhi sees as a "Jewish identity," people who aren't like most Jews. In other words, his apology does not change what he said about most Jews - that the problem is their Jewishness. [Update: this blog post does a good job of explaining this.]

But how did he come to understand this "Jewish identity"? Did he go out asking lots of different Jews - of all walks of life, from all different parts of the globe, of all ages and denominations - what it means to each of them to be Jewish. Did he then base his conclusion on hearing from an overwhelming majority, "It's about the Holocaust"? No, he didn't. That's what being Jewish means to him. Undoubtedly, this notion of a Jewish identity serves as an excuse for being dismissive of Jews, for not taking the arguments Jews make seriously. Undoubtedly, that's how he arrived at such a distorted view of the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

Funny how so many of my posts about antisemitism wind up referencing Edward Said.
Jewish identity in the past has been locked into the holocaust experience -- a German burden that the Jews have not been able to shed.
We have created a culture of violence (Israel and the Jews are the biggest players) and that Culture of Violence is eventually going to destroy humanity.
In the apology Arun Gandhi wrote for having written such things, he said:
I do not believe and should not have implied that the policies of the Israeli government are reflective of the views of all Jewish people.
The ADL wrote that the apology was hardly enough:
We believe you owe a true apology to the Jewish people for your insensitive and offensive remarks about the Holocaust, and your suggestion that the memory of its victims is being misused to advance a nation's violent behavior. This is a classic attempt to blame the victim.
On Bintel Blog, Daniel Treiman, web editor for The Forward, agreed:
The ADL is, quite rightly, not impressed.
Inside Higher Ed has an almost disturbingly neutral characterization of the matter that notes that Joel Seligman, President of the University of Rochester, where the M.K. Gandhi Institute which Arun Gandhi founded is located said:
his subsequent apology inadequately explains his stated views, which seem fundamentally inconsistent with the core values of the University of Rochester... This kind of stereotyping is inconsistent with our core values and would be inappropriate when applied to any race, any religion, any nationality, or either gender.

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