Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Rant of a Royally Pissed Off Jew

Apparently, it is socially acceptable to be anti-Semitic so long as you're fashionable about it, and what could be more fashionable than an essay in The New York Times? The article in question begins as follows:

Despite the fragmented and incomplete historical record, experts pretty much agree that some popular beliefs about Jewish history simply don’t hold up... modern Jews owe their ancestry as much to converts from the first millennium and early Middle Ages as to the Jews of antiquity.

Attacks on whether Jews are truly descended from ancient Israelites have a particularly disgusting pedigree. Not only are they used today by anti-Zionists to challenge the Jewish claim over the State of Israel, but they have frequently been utilized in attempts to disparage Hebrews as a nation, since a shared ethnic as well as religious bond has always been a crucial component of that identity. Indeed, the author admits as much when she admits that the anti-Jewish book which she has chosen to review, The Invention of the Jewish People, was written by a man who:

... candidly states his aim is to undercut the Jews’ claims to the land of Israel by demonstrating that they do not constitute “a people,” with a shared racial or biological past.

In the eyes of a normal critic, this fact alone would at the very least call into question the author's objectivity. The author of The New York Times article, however, quickly minimizes the relevance of that fact by equating those who disagree with the author with those who take his side:

The book has been extravagantly denounced and praised, often on the basis of whether or not the reader agrees with his politics.

Examples of shoddy logic abound in the paper that has all the news which is fit to print. In fact, not a single one of the arguments used to support the "controversial" idea that Jews aren't descended from ancient Israelites has anything remotely resembling decent substantiation. First, there are the opening paragraphs:

Despite the fragmented and incomplete historical record, experts pretty much agree that some popular beliefs about Jewish history simply don’t hold up: there was no sudden expulsion of all Jews from Jerusalem in A.D. 70, for instance. What’s more, modern Jews owe their ancestry as much to converts from the first millennium and early Middle Ages as to the Jews of antiquity.

Other theories, like the notion that many of today’s Palestinians can legitimately claim to be descended from the ancient Jews, are familiar and serious subjects of study, even if no definitive answer yet exists.

Considering that the meat of the article focuses around the question of Jewish ancestry, there is something sketchy about the author's effort to open by challenging the supposedly "popular belief" that "there was a sudden expulsion of all Jews from Jerusalem in A.D. 70". Considering that most historians actually do agree that the Jewish explusion from the ancient Judean state occurred over a period of many years, lumping that largely undisputed fact with two very controversial ones - particularly when it is clear the author has no intention of bringing it up at any other point in the piece - makes it painfully obvious that her motive was to lend a false sense of validity to the rest of her claims.

There is also this choice passage, which is presented with the strong implication that it constitutes strong evidence:

Nearly a century ago, early Zionists and Arab nationalists touted the blood relationship as the basis of a potential alliance in their respective struggles for independence. Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, and Yitzhak Ben Zvi, Israel’s longest-serving president, made this very argument in a book they wrote together in 1918. The next year, Emir Feisal, who organized the Arab revolt against the Ottoman empire and tried to create a united Arab nation, signed a cooperation agreement with the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann that declared the two were “mindful of the racial kinship and ancient bonds existing between the Arabs and the Jewish people.”

Both sides later dropped the subject when they realized it was not furthering their political goals.

Once again, The New York Times mistakes political agenda with verifiable evidence. After all, one can find any number of dubious claims made a century ago about racial and ethnic identities, all of which were intended to promote given ideological or social goals. Are any of them cited as scholarly valid proof today? If so, I can imagine that quacks from phrenologists to Nazi scientists can dance little jigs right now.

I also was struck by this excerpt:

He resurrects a theory first raised by 19th-century historians, that the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe, to whom 90 percent of American Jews trace their roots, are descended from the Khazars, a Turkic people who apparently converted to Judaism and created an empire in the Caucasus in the eighth century. This idea has long intrigued writers and historians (emphasis added). In 1976, Arthur Koestler wrote “The Thirteenth Tribe” in the hopes it would combat anti-Semitism; if contemporary Jews were descended from the Khazars, he argued, they could not be held responsible for Jesus’ Crucifixion.

After devoting so much space to propping up that hypothesis, the author is kind enough to throw in a few words - not even half as many - for the other side:

... experts who specialize in the subject have repeatedly rejected the theory, concluding that the shards of evidence are inconclusive or misleading, said Michael Terry, the chief librarian of the Jewish division of the New York Public Library. Dr. Ostrer said the genetics also did not support the Khazar theory.

Of course, there are the repeated references in this article to the idea that its propositions are agreed upon by "experts", "scholars", or some other form of authoritative majority. There is the ever-so-insignificant fact that the names of these founts of truth are never actually given, save only those who even The New York Times has to admit are of rather dubious dependability. Even so, the general fact that nameless, unidentifiable and seemingly inarguable "majorities" exist in support of the grey lady's position is supposed to be enough to shut up dissenters.

What fascinates me the most, though, is how the article conveniently buries in its meaty mid-section a simple fact that not only contradicts the essay's central thesis, but actually disproves it. Take this quote from a geneticist at New York University named Harry Ostrer, author of textbooks such as Essentials of Medical Genomics and Non-Mendelian Genetics in Humans:

It’s pretty clear that most Jewish groups have Semitic ancestry, that they originated in the Middle East, and that they’re more closely related to each other than to non-Jewish groups.

Indeed, the closest Ostrer comes to the idea that Jews have non-Israelite ancestry is in recognizing the historically recent trend of intermarrige, one that does not trace back more than a couple of centuries:

The ancient admixed ancestry explains the blond hair and blue eyes of Ashkenazi Jews whose grandparents and great-grandparents all [emphasis added] lived in shtetls two and three generations ago.

Despite this, the author of The New York Times article uses Ostrer's statements to support the conclusion that it is "clear that many Jews are of mixed descent" in a broader sense, as opposed to only over the last couple of generations.

Of course, this isn't to say that the creator of The New York Times libel doesn't cover her bases to avoid direct charges of anti-Semitism. She makes a point of being "balanced" by giving equal weight to the claims of those who assert that Jews are descended from ancient Israelites as she does those who argue otherwise; she throws in some well-placed criticisms against those who question Jewish heritage, just to make sure no one can say she is their lapdog; and she even makes a statement that will no doubt cause the terminally PC everywhere to orgasm in paroxysms of sanctimony:

"Every generation of Jewish historians has faced the same task: to retell and adapt the story to meet the needs of its own situation." The same could be said of all nations and religions.

At the end of the day, though, the author is playing to bald anti-Semitism. Despite her unsubstantiated - but nevertheless oft-repeated - claim that scholars and historians question Jewish heritage, the reality is that that heritage has only been disputed by those with distinct political agendas. Even as The New York Times makes it seem like Jewish insistence on an ancient Israelite lineage is based on religious faith, the article itself demonstrates how cutting edge science overwhelmingly backs up the veracity of their belief, a fact that would in normal circumstances end the debate before it even began. Should science be swept aside, however (a practice that, with the proliferation of creationists and global warming deniers, is all too common these days), there are still other glaringly obvious facts to consider:

- Although the author of this article claims "There is also evidence that in antiquity and the first millennium Judaism was a proselytizing religion that even used force on occasion" (evidence which, incidentally, she never bothers citing), the reality is that Judaism has if anything DISCOURAGED proselytizing throughout its history. Granted, this hasn't necessarily been for the most noble of reasons; the very fact that Jews placed such a high premium on their racial identity often caused them to be suspicious of having their progeny mix with the bloodlines of other stock. Despite this rather admittedly morally repulsive origin, though, claiming that Jews forcibly converted non-Jews goes against the grain of what any cursory reading of Jewish theology or history will yield.

- Up until relatively recently in human history, the descent of the Jewish people was not called into question. Even during the horrors of the Middle Ages and the Inquisition, or in the midst of the pogroms of Eastern Europe and the death chambers of Nazi Germany, the ancestry of the Jews was not questioned (claims that we came from vermin aside). For thousands of years the fact that Jews were descended from ancient Israelites was taken for granted as true. This was not merely the case among the religious, mind you, but among historians, genealogists, and even the very racists who wished death and suffering upon the children of Abraham, and who could have very much benefited from having such scandalous revelations about their background brought to light.

People may become suspicious of your motives if you openly advocate potentially racist claims. On the other hand, if you say that you are merely asking questions - that is, if you present both the racist baloney and the substantive facts as being on an equal platform, and depict yourself merely as the innocent inquirer of truth between the two - then by presenting both possibilities as equally valid, and yourself as ostensibly neutral, you add de facto legitimacy to a position that, when scrutinized with real objectivity, could never be considered legitimate.

So why does the author claim attempt to lend a veneer of respectability to the charge that Jews may not be descended from ancient Israelites? It's the same reason why pieces are written that construct so-called scholarly arguments about Latino immigrants destroying American culture (I'm looking at you Pat Buchanan and Lou Dobbs) or claiming that African-Americans are less intelligent than white people (such as Richard Hernstein and Charles Murray). The explanation is bigotry, plain and simple.

You may have noticed the great pains I have taken to not mention the name of this article's author up until this point. Now is as good a time as any to let it be known that the piece in question was penned by one Patricia Cohen. Based on her surname, I can surmise that she is Jewish (or at least of Jewish descent). Sadly, such things are by no means a hinderance to being an anti-Semite. Patricia Cohen can now follow in a long, sad litany of Jews, tracing all the way back to Nicholas Donin, who intentionally contribute to the hatred of her own people.

For the original article, please see:

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