Jews’ Sense of Themselves Flies in the Face of Today’s Identity Politics

Earlier in his career, Edward Rothstein spent much time criticizing the influence of postmodernism (or “PoMO”)—and its stepchild, postcolonialism (“PoCo”)—on the arts, and on American intellectual life in general. But now, Rothstein writes, the relativism of the 1990s has been supplanted by the moralistic and censorious set of ideas commonly dubbed as “woke,” or, as Rothstein has it, Woko. Woko ideology tends to embrace identity politics, and urges every group (white males excepted) to define itself by how it has been oppressed. Rothstein then asks us to “consider the Jews.”

Why? Because here is an identity that has weathered the millennia by developing a very different perspective on history and memory. In a Woko world of atomistic identities, surely we should find some archetypal characteristics here. Among Jews there are often regional physical resemblances that have remained stable over centuries. Male Jews have been given an indelible mark of their distinction for millennia. The identity has been maintained during extensive interactions with other civilizations and cultures. And if accompanied by religious observance, it affects every aspect of life. Moreover, as in identities celebrated by Woko, those who embrace this identity have also been singled out over centuries for hostility, massacre, and sometimes enslavement.

But to all of these identities and the purposes to which they are put by Woko, the example of the Jews offers a profound systemic challenge. Jewish identity is not created in reaction to the Other or because of a shared fate in encountering the Other. It is based on a set of ideas and beliefs and obligations originating in the Hebrew Bible and the commentaries on it, including a commitment to the land from which the Jews were once exiled, but to which they began to return in numbers beginning in the late-19th century. There is really a different form of memory at work here—and a different kind of self-definition.

Every Passover, Jews are instructed to recall what Pharaoh did in enslaving the Israelites, and how the people were then led to freedom. In many ways, the Exodus tale provides the narrative model for today’s identity museums. The point of the Passover story, though, is quite different. The emphasis is not on the suffering endured. Nor is the end a celebration of the politics of identity. The emphasis is on a process of redemption, which is far from simple and actually imposes obligations on the people.

Read more at Sapir

More about: Jewish identity, Passover, Political correctness, Postmodernism

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood