Thursday, November 09, 2006

Selma… or Skokie???


[Note: I don't think I've ever published a guest post as awful and as wrongheaded as this one. I'll be a good host, though, and explain my objections in the comments.]

Selma… or Skokie???
Just Who’s the Oppressed Minority Here?
BY Chaim G.

There has been a long, rich and sometimes cynical history of pretenders to the Jewish Throne. From classic X-tian replacement theology (continuing unabated at least among contemporary Mormons) through southern slaves through, insanely, Master-Race Nazis to Homeland-less Palestinians, many nations, movements and races have validated the rueful prediction of the Chachmei HaMidrosh that asidin HoUmos lihyos omrim onu haim Yisroel, onu bonuv shel mokom=”in the future the nations of the world will say ‘we are Israel, we are the sons of the Place’ (= HaShem)”. While many of these pretensions have benefited the pretenders, few if any have been good for the Jews.

It is relatively easy to understand a certain conflation or even reversal of roles that informs current progressive Jews thinking. When the world offers a group the following devils bargain “be like us… or disappear” it resonates of the two choices offered Jews throughout our long, bitter Diaspora. “Be like us”-through conversion (sometimes overt conversion would do, “if you must be Jewish do it in your cellars and behind closed doors”), or, in it’s newer incarnation in western democracies “you may gain admittance into the (formerly) exclusive clubs of the Government, the Academy and the Corporation but be sure to check your authenticity and values at the door on the way in ”. “Or disappear” through ghettoizing, no access to education, landlessness, confiscatory taxation, marginalizing poverty and, ultimately, genocide. And so it is relatively easy to understand a certain conflation, or even reversal of roles, that informs fashionable progressive Jews’ thinking. The accepted wisdom goes that if the Gays are not “the new Jews” they at least ought to be shown some sympathy and solidarity by the old ones. After all, weren’t we all, they with their lavender triangles and we with our double yellow triangles, victims of the same crematoria?

It’s debatable whether or not this conflation was ever historically valid. In November 2006 it clearly is not. Maintaining this wooly-headed confusion is stoking the heat surrounding the gay pride parade debate when what’s needed is less heat and more light.

Concerning the upcoming Pride parade and the protests it has evoked, Theists, Agnostics, Atheists and Ethicists can (and probably will) disagree about who is right and wrong, moral and immoral, spiritual and materialistic, idealistic and cynical until kingdom come. But what I believe any fair-minded individual from across the spectrum must agree upon is clearly identifying who the oppressed are and who the oppressors are.

Though gay rights and marriage are contentious, divisive issues throughout the western world gays and the causes they champion enjoy broad support and are lionized in many quarters among the influential “landed gentry” of urbane, moneyed, power-wielding sophisticates. There are literally hundreds of high profile gay enclaves throughout the western world. There are fewer than a minyan of high profile Charedi enclaves. There are 10K walks and fund-raisers to fund H.I.V research. There are no comparable events to stamp out Tay-Sachs or Charedi poverty. There are high profile influential gays in the high-arts, politics, business and finance, popular entertainment, sports and academia. I suspect that there are even a good number of low profile, closeted, influential gays in the military. There are few (arguably no) Charedim in any of these fields. Gay culture has never been identified with intractable poverty or magical thinking and, in recent decades, has gained wide understanding by and acceptance among straights. Charedi society is still identified with all of these off-putting stereotypes and continues to be utterly shrouded in mystery and misunderstanding by outsiders. In short; whereas gays are no longer politically or socially impotent Charedim continue to be a universally despised, marginalized and oppressed minority.

Lately DovBear has been making the specious argument that Friday’s upcoming gay Pride parade and the attendant escalating violence (anticipatory protests have been going on for more than a week) will be a 2006 version of Selma. If there is any comparison at all to Selma it is this: In Selma the vicious bigoted police were on the side of the oppressors. In Jerusalem on Friday they still will be. To be sure the “Universal Policeman” will still be cracking skulls come “bloody Friday”. But if I were a betting man I’d be willing to wager that as they did in Selma, it will be the skulls of the powerless “blacks” they’ll be pulverizing, blacks that clothe themselves in black coats instead of black skins. Selma’s marchers marched for liberation, equality and voting rights. Fridays Jerusalem marchers will be marching for the deeper marginalization and demonization of an oppressed powerless minority. Paradoxically, though I suspect that the vast majority of the marchers are antiseptically secular, they will in fact be marching for religious coercion. Religious coercion is just as ugly when it emanates form the left as when it emanates from the right.

In the late 70s the national Socialist Party of America (an offshoot of the American Nazi Party) planned a rally in Marquette Park in Chicago. The city government promptly banned all demonstrations in the park. Seeking another location for their free speech and assembly exercise the Nazis opted for Skokie. Not coincidentally, among the many suburbs surrounding Chicago, Skokie probably had the highest concentration of Holocaust survivors. Counting on low-risk, (re: posing little or no actual physical danger to themselves) the maxing out of offensiveness and psychic pain-infliction, and the great disturbance of the peace and free publicity that the inevitable counter-demonstrations would bring, the NSPA cynically chose to march through Skokie.

I’m ambivalent and have some issues with the tone and tactics of the anti-parade protests. I’ve always believed that a religiously conservative Jew is merely a religiously liberal Jew who’s been hugged. I would have preferred to see prayer rallies and /or peaceful counter-marches. But I’m not there and I’m not them. One thing I’m crystal clear on though is that the Charedim are the oppressed and that the Gays and the municipal and judicial power structure aiding and abetting them are the oppressors. Friday in Jerusalem as a reprise of Selma? Hardly! I think it’s much closer to a rerun of Skokie.


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