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Jewish Journal

Lamenting Jewish ‘exceptionalism’

by Brad A. Greenberg

August 27, 2007 | 12:50 pm

I like prodding my wife, who is not of Jewish descent, with claims of a special Jewish intelligence. I bring home issues of The Jewish Journal like this one and e-mail her essays like Charles Murray’s “Jewish Genius.”

But in this week’s New Jersey Jewish News (hat tip: Bintel Blog), Editor-in-Chief Andrew Silow-Carroll laments Jewish exceptionalism.

Of course, we have no one to blame but ourselves for the inordinate amount of attention we attract. We learned a lot of things in the desert but never quite got the hang of camouflage. When fate was handing out professions we picked finance, law, medicine, and movie-making. When God was handing out land, we said sure, we’ll take that one, the one sitting in the middle of about a gazillion Muslims. Maybe they won’t notice.

And we make our own claims for exceptionalism, proudly but not always wisely. We’re happy to be included among the world’s “Three Great Religions,” and then we’re shocked by “God’s Warriors,” a six-hour series on CNN that devotes as much time to our crazies as it does to the Muslims’ and Christians’. I’d be happy to be demoted to the list of the world’s Not-So-Great Religions if it meant never having to suffer through another Christiane Amanpour interview with a Jewish extremist who is best known for failing to blow up the Dome of the Rock.

But that’s the price of exceptionalism: Specious comparisons between a tiny people’s relatively marginal record of terrorism, versus state-sponsored mass murderers who have destroyed untold numbers of mosques and shrines in Iraq and Hindu temples in India and Pakistan, not to mention the occasional synagogue.

The problem I have with this statement begins with “When God was handing out land.” I don’t recall God saying to Moses, “Where do you want to build my kingdom?” It was: “That occupied land over there—yeah, the one with the giants living in it. That’s where I want you to live. Go take it.” Secondly, there were no Muslims then, and there wouldn’t be until 500-plus years after the destruction of the Second Temple. Nonetheless, Silow-Carroll‘s point is an important one: Jews seems to suffer more as a group and are held to a higher standard than others. Like Silow-Carroll, a lot of Jews have been bemoaning the attention dedicated to the Jewish extremists in “God’s Jewish Warriors.” Here was what Robert J. Avrech, a Orthodox screenwriter, had to say at his blog, Seraphic Secret:

The whole two hours of this Al Jazeera program is such typical, and poisonous Arab propaganda that Karen and I are kind of fascinated. This huge lady [Christiane Amanpour] with the really bad hair interviews guess who as experts on Israel? Jimmy Carter. Karen Armstrong.  John Mearsheimer. There’s the obligatory angry loser from Peace Now — dude, clean your office, it looks like cat litter. And a couple of Israeli lefties who are so far gone they might as well be living in Damascus. Gee-willikers, Al Jazeera lady forgot to interview Hizbullah/Iranian-proxy strongman Hassan Nasrallah; his views on Israel are pretty much the same as the usual suspects above. He’s always ranting about the evils of the Israeli occupation. And he vehemently denies that he’s a Jew-hater. Like Carter, Armstrong and Mearsheimer he insists that he’s merely anti-Zionist.Yup, Nasrallah gets positively indignant when he’s accused of being an anti-Semite. Sheesh, can’t anyone criticize and bomb Israel without being accused of being a Jew-hater? There’s this long segment on the — horror musical sting here — Israel lobby. Obligatory shots of well-dressed, um Jews, tables of food, which I suppose is proof of evil, people chatting and looking, y’know, conspiratorial. I’m waiting for Al Jazeera lady to start quoting The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, because that’s really what this segment is all about, but I suppose she’s too cool for that. This is after all Al Jazeera. They are , allegedly, civilized.   Then fullback lady pulls out the big guns: Actual Jewish terrorists. She comes up with Baruch Goldstein, Yigal Amir, and a group who rigged explosives to the car of an Arab Mayor they suspected of aiding terrorists and who planned on blowing up an Arab girl’s school, Disgusting and wrong, but they were caught and arrested, by Jewish cops, thank G-d.  That’s it for Jewish terror. Personally, I think the Jewish people have shown remarkable restraint in the face of a genocidal enemy.
Back to Silow-Carroll, who notes that Yiddish scholar Ruth Wisse “thinks the world insists on Jewish exceptionalism as part of a ‘culture of blame’ — as a way for countries and cultures to distract their followers from their real problems.” He then concludes with this:

I’m proud of the Jews. I really am. But sometimes I’m with Tevye. “I know, I know. We are Your chosen people,” says the hero of Fiddler on the Roof. “But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?”
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Since launching the blog in 2007, I’ve referred to myself as “a God-fearing Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks.” The description, I’d say, is an accurate one,...

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