What the National Museum of African American History and Culture Gets Wrong, What It Gets Right, and What Jewish Museums Can Learn from It

“Typically,” wrote Edward Rothstein in a 2016 essay in Mosaic, “the contemporary American identity museum tells of a group’s distinctiveness” as well as its “grievous sufferings,” and then concludes by showing how, “by fully embracing its own identity and aggressively affirming its rights, the group begins to undermine the rigid prejudices of the surrounding culture and to attain freedom on its own terms.” The exception, Rothstein argued, are Jewish museums, which inevitably embrace the universal over the particular. To Chloe Valdary, a comparison between the Smithsonian’s Museum of African American History and Jewish museums confirms Rothstein’s thesis—and that’s generally to the former’s credit:

[B]y balancing a focus on the particular with an aspiration toward the American vision of equality and freedom, the DC museum is far more inclusive than one that overstates the virtues of universalism. . . . The National Museum of African American History and Culture should serve as a template and moral vision for others. What we all ought to seek is not universalism but transcendence, which cannot be achieved without honoring the particular. Transcendence cannot come from romanticizing the suffering of a people or by universalizing it—which is ultimately a form of ignoring it.

This is not to say that there is no danger in overdoing a focus on the particular; too much individuality to the exclusion of others leads to atomization and disintegration of the spirit. This is perhaps most strikingly manifested in the Nation of Islam (NOI) exhibit which is included in the museum’s discussion of the religious traditions of black America. NOI’s inclusion isn’t problematic per se—after all, it is part of [African American] history—but NOI’s theology is entirely antithetical to the spirit of the museum.

[Thus] it’s not surprising that the museum makes no mention of the specifics of Muhammad’s teachings. In order to be true to itself though, it ought to be self-critical about this chapter in its history.

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More about: African Americans, Jewish museums, Museums, Nation of Islam

Condemning Terrorism in Jerusalem—and Efforts to Stop It

Jan. 30 2023

On Friday night, a Palestinian opened fire at a group of Israelis standing outside a Jerusalem synagogue, killing seven and wounding several others. The day before, the IDF had been drawn into a gunfight in the West Bank city of Jenin while trying to arrest members of a terrorist cell. Of the nine Palestinians killed in the raid, only one appears to have been a noncombatant. Lahav Harkov compares the responses to the two events, beginning with the more recent:

President Joe Biden called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to denounce the attack, offer his condolences, and express his commitment to Israel’s security. Other leaders released supportive statements as well. Governments across Europe condemned the attack. Turkey’s foreign ministry did the same, as did Israel’s Abraham Accords partners the UAE and Bahrain. Even Saudi Arabia released a statement against the killing of civilians in Jerusalem.

It feels wrong to criticize those statements. . . . But the condemnations should be full-throated, not spoken out of one side of the mouth while the other is wishy-washy about what it takes to stave off terrorism. These very same leaders and ministries were tsk-tsking at Israel for doing just that only a day before the attacks in Jerusalem.

The context didn’t seem to matter to some countries that are friendly to Israel. It didn’t matter that Israel was trying to stop jihadists from attacking civilians; it didn’t matter that IDF soldiers were attacked on the way.

It’s very easy for some to be sad when Jews are murdered. Yet, at the same time, so many of them are uncomfortable with Jews asserting themselves, protecting themselves, arming themselves against the bloodthirsty horde that would hand out bonbons to celebrate their deaths. It’s a reminder of how important it is that we do just that, and how essential the state of Israel is.

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Read more at Lahav’s Newsletter

More about: Jerusalem, Palestinian terror