So, my latest column is up at the The Ann Arbor Chronicle: In it for the Money: Chosen People.
It’s about my own personal experience of being a Jew in the midwest, and by extension (in an imperfect way) about being a Jew in America in the 21st Century. It is likely best summarized by this sentence, pulled from near the end of the column:
“Here and now, in this place, this is as good as it will ever get for the Children of Israel – and still, my daughter’s daycare needs an armed guard and blast-proof windows.”
The Chronicle allows comments, which are moderated by the editor or publisher prior to becoming made publicly viewable. As you might imagine, some of the responses to this column have not made it out of the moderation queue, and likely never will. Out of about 16 comments (at the time of this writing), only half were shit-canned (which isn’t to say all criticism was quashed; as you can see at the link, both critical and supportive comments were published).
But the unpublished comments are fairly indicative of the kinds of responses I’m used to seeing to pieces like this, so I thought it might be instructive to share some of those sentiments.
THE FOUR ANTI-SEMITES YOU MEET IN THE COMMENT THREAD
1) Straight Up Hate-Speakers:
Here I group both generic Phelps-ian “God Hates Jews! Hitler Had the Right Idea!” stuff and specifically-targeted “IM GONNA MURDER-RAPE YOUR JEW FAMILY, DAVID ERIK NESLON!!1!” notes. (PRO-TIP: Specific threats get immediately forwarded to the authorities and email@example.com; email and online comments are far from anonymous, folks, and this is shit up with which I will not put). In response to this column there was a little tiny bit of the former, but none of the latter (thus far), so that’s been nice. I mean, yeah, it’s maybe sorta fucked up to say “It’s pretty nice that no one is directly threatening to kill my family in response to an essay I wrote,” but for real, I’m pretty relieved.
2) Victim Blamers
These tend to come in the guise of Rational Debaters, but instead of rationally addressing anything I’ve said–by, for example, questioning if the incidence of violence against American Jews is high enough to justify the expense of the security, or asking what the sample size of this or that poll was–they instead choose to raise something like a “kernel of truth” argument: If so many folks hate Jews, they *must* have a valid reason, right? There’s almost certainly something the Jews did to earn this despise, right?
They tend to work their way around to suggesting that the real problem, for example, is that I choose to send my girl to a “Jew-only” daycare (PRO-TIP: JCCs are not limited to Jews–just as YMCAs aren’t limited to young Christian males. Our JCC daycare includes non-Jewish children [and staff, for that matter], and I know that JCCs in other cities are very popular with local gentiles who happen to like the quality of the daycare or gym facilities or whatever, and just dismiss the religious part with a multi-cultural shrug [as I myself so often do]).
I.e., the Victim Blamers are running in to point out–as I myself did *in the fucking article*–that if I’d just stop being such a fucking Jew, I wouldn’t have to worry about people hurting my family because we’re Jewish. Pardon me, but even if I hadn’t myself made this point, shouldn’t it be self-evident? And doesn’t the need to rely on circular reasoning draw into question the possible existence of a reasonable explanation for this animosity? In other words, the kernel of truth at the center of your circular argument is, in fact, a void–’cause that’s the thing in the center of a circle.
Nonetheless, these commentors treat this point as though it constitutes a stunning rhetorical victory, possibly because they are sort of gob-smackingly dense.
3) Palestine Enthusiasts:
There’s a tendency among some American Jews to treat any criticism of Israel as inherently anti-Semitic. In case you need me to go on record: I’m not one of those Jews. There are scads of things you can say about Israel that are critical, yet do not denigrate anyone’s ethno-racial creed. Go ahead, knock yourselves out.
But observant (read: functionally literate) readers will note that *my column was not about Israel*; it was about the United States. In 3,000+words I mention the nation of Israel exactly *three times*: Once to point out Nazi war criminals go to trial there, once to point out I get nervous when Israel does bad things because I’m afraid everyone is going to blame me and my kids, and once to say “[don’t] give Israel a pass on their awful domestic policies.”
Nonetheless, some folks race to the comment threads and their blogs to talk about all of the things I’m evidently saying in favor of Israel and against Palestine.
These are Palestine Enthusiasts. No matter what, once a Jew starts talking as a Jew, Palestine Enthusiasts desperately, desperately need that conversation to be about Israel. I spent more words in this column talking about a skinned cat than I did talking about Israel, and yet something like half the published comments focus mostly on Israel/Palestine.
Palestine Enthusiasts don’t think of themselves as anti-Semites–heck, some portion of them are in fact Jews–but the insistence that every Jew has something meaningful to say about Israel and shares some special responsibility for actions taken by Israel or on Israel’s behalf is inherently racist.
I am an American-born Jew. I have never crossed the Atlantic in my life, nor had any desire to do so, let alone go anywhere *near* Israel. Like most of my fellow citizens, I’m *woefully* under-informed on international politics. I’ve never taken any position on much anything that Israel has done or suffered–apart from generally supporting all humans finding non-violent resolutions to their conflicts. The only Israelis I know, or have ever known, are *ones who left Israel* (obviously, since I’ve *never been to Isreal and have no desire to go,* and thus couldn’t have met any Israelis in Israel).
I’m sorry to be tedious, but I evidently have to bend over backward to make it clear how little I have to do with Israel. In fact, that’s why I *didn’t* write a column about Israel: Because it doesn’t interest me, and I have nothing of value to share on the topic.
I’ve never extended Israel any political, material, or even vocal support (apart from my mealy-mouthed pacifist bullshit, which I basically offer all humans free-of-charge, because I’m a shaggy hippie).
And yet somehow I need to atone for Israel’s actions.
If you want to argue that, as an American taxpayer, I’ve supported Israel with my tax dollars, I think that’s a totally valid claim, and I agree that, like it or not, I have indeed done so–just like every other non-tax-refusing American citizen. So, I ask the gentiles in the audience: As a tax-payer, when was the last time someone asked *you* to explain anything about Israel, or personally apologize for something Israel did, or defend Israeli policy, or accused you of being a Zionist, or wanted you to “stick up for and protect those who need protecting in the occupied territories of Palestine”? Why don’t the Victim Blamers from #2 blame *you* as much as they blame *my toddler*? ’cause *she* doesn’t materially support Israel–she doesn’t even know what a nation *is*–but you do, and you do support that nation by paying taxes. Israel is as much your fault as mine–probably more so, because there are a ton more of you than there are of us, and to believe we–a scant 2% of the voting population–have some magical influence over US policy as pertains to Israel simply by virtue of our being Jews is a plain endorsement of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and all its heirs. There’s simply no way around it.
The fact is Israel seems to be overwhelmingly a White Christian-American issue, not a Jewish-American one. And those numbers are worse than they sound, because we’re talking about percentages of populations of very different sizes. In the end, that works out to 65 million White Evangelical Christians with a mad-on for Israel, vs. only 2.4 million Jews. Do you really think politicians are kowtowing to those 2.4 million Jewish voters, or is it maybe just possible that it’s the 65 million Christians that impress them?
Nonetheless, Israel is my daughter’s problem and not yours, and if someone wants to shoot her over it . . . well, shit, she maybe might just have it coming, according to those crack logicians in Group #2 above. We should really talk that all out, rationally, because every perspective is equally valid. Fair, balanced, etc.
When was the last time a writer talking about Christmas shopping or Hobby Lobby’s day in court saw his or her comment thread hijacked by questions about why the Greens hate Palestinian children?
Exactly *never,* because the Greens are rich-ass tax-paying Christians, and we all know that Israeli and US policy basically falls entirely under the purview of my toddler and wife and the folks we hang with one Friday Night each month. We share some prayers, drink some wine, nosh our challah and quinoa salad and potluck lasagna, then troop down into the secret vaults, don our black robes, fire up our babies’-blood-fueled Macs, and plot out Israel’s next move. That’s just *exactly* how the world works. Thanks for chiming in.
4) “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” Truthers:
These are folks eager to out the “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was a hoax” hoax. They are also Holocaust deniers–or deny that it was *really* that bad, or what have you. It would be sort of funny, if it wasn’t also sort of terrifying. I include this example (I found the link among the unpublished comments, twice I believe) for a few reasons:
1. It was briefly syndicated by various like-minded blogs.
2. It’s a really interestingly bizarre alternate-reality reading of what I wrote (as is generally the case in this genre).
3. I like that I’m described like so:
“Detroit-born David Erik Nelson (Jewish) is an award-winning science fiction author and essayist.”
That’s inaccurate (I was born *near,* not *in* Detroit, and have never stated otherwise), but it’s nice that even the haters feel obliged to give me my propers.
Bonus: “Not All Gentiles!” Gentiles
Every time there’s an online discussion of sexism or race in America, a White dude has to swing in shouting “Not All Men!” or “Not All White People!”–as though the fact that not *all* of the Majority are *purposefully* doing something to harm the folks in these Protected Classes somehow lessens the hurt. “Yes, you were raped–but Not by All Men!” That must be super comforting. I don’t want to dwell on it, but I guess being brutalized by all of a major portion of the population is indeed worse than getting brutalized by some smaller subset of that portion. Thanks, “Not All Men!” Guy! You put it all in perspective!
I want to be clear that I feel where the “Not All Men” Men are coming from. First because, agreed: It’s not *all* men; according to reasonable figures something like 94 percent of all men don’t sexually assault anyone. But it certainly is *some* men, and it’s the awkward inaction of the Majority of men that gives that small percentage cover to go on being rapists and assailants.
Beyond that, I think the “Not All Men!” Men are maybe like the Righteous Gentiles that get huffy when we talk about the lingering face of anti-Semitism: Basically good folks who want the world to be basically good, and feel bad that the world continues to often be pretty shitty, and frustrated that they seem to be able to do so little about this state of affairs. Also, I think that sitting and just listening–which, really, is all you *can* do when someone is telling you about horrible things they’ve suffered at the hands of folks who look and act like you–feels like being scolded, and the “Not All Men!” Men need to make clear that they are *not* these guys, these bigots, these rapists, that these are things they would never, ever do or contribute to.
Again, it is because they have basically good (if naive) hearts that the “Not All Men!” Men make assholes of themselves and come off as totally insensitive jerks.
Anyway, I note the conspicuous lack of “Not All Gentiles!” commentors. Heck, I don’ think I’ve *ever* seen a gentile feel the need to rush in and point out that not *all* gentiles take pot shots at Lubavitchers walking to synagogue, or what have you. I don’t know what to do with that little kernel. It just sits there, being what it is: A very interesting silence.