The Gatekeepers of Jewishness

Jamelle points out that, contrary to a weirdly resilient misconception, President Obama enjoys relative popularity among American Jews. But he’s only mostly right–or, to borrow the stats from his post, he’s only 55-78% right. And I think it’s important to understand why this misconception exists.

It has to do with the DC-New York political bubble. Now, I don’t have hard numbers on this, but I highly doubt that the majority of Jewish journos, pols and related players are conservatives, Israel hard-liners, or Obama-is-an-anti-Semite conspiracy theorists. However, the minority of Jews that do hold some of those views include Anti-Defamation League head Abe Foxman, the good people at Commentary (which, remember, used to be one of the leading lights of American-Jewish thought and literature), and folks like Charles Krauthammer who are much more willing to talk about Israel and assert their Jewish identity in print than, say, Paul Krugman. So while these folks are a minority in the American Jewish community, they’ve managed to construct a public persona as the arbiters of authentic Jewishness.

So, true, Obama doesn’t have a Jewish problem. But if you listen to the right, he’s vastly unpopular among “real” Jews.

So a conservative minority of American Jews attempt to stifle healthy debate and diversity in the larger community by foisting their atavistic values on us and calling them the only values an authentic Jew can reasonably hold. Those who dissent are self-haters who perpetuate anti-Semitism through their vitriol and foolishness. But the funny thing about this argument is how those who so blithely embrace it are the ones engaging in good old-fashioned Jew-bashing. Sometimes, as I’ve written before, it’s decontextualized, turning old stereotypes of sneaky Yids into broader caricatures of coastal elites. Other times, the authentic Jews just go ahead and attack the rest of the tribe:

While the left exploits your adherence to bagel-and-lox Judaism by appealing to your watered-down and perverted “tikkun olam” sensibilities, you are enabling your own destruction.

It’s a postmodern spin on a classic routine: Jews hating on the Jewish community because the Jewish community isn’t really Jewish. Jews hating on the Jewish community because the Jewish community is self-hating. The rhetorical contortions of these self-styled defenders of the faith would be kind of funny if they weren’t just grist for the real anti-Semites.


4 Responses

  1. Excellent excellent analysis.

  2. Reminds me of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy.

  3. NEEEEEEEEDDDDDDDDDDDD!!!!!!!!!! Apparently this whole thing started because Elie Wiesel took out full page ads in multiple (!) newspapers criticizing Obama for his stance against Jerusalem housing. Night has the distinction of being one of the best books I read in high school, so I was hoping he’d be diplomatic about the whole thing, which apparently he was at lunch, but it still kinda sucks he’s been such a noob about the whole thing.

  4. […] *Explanation of the term here. […]

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