What will you do if we let you go home / And the plastic’s all melted / And so is the chrome? / Who are the brain police? – Frank Zappa, Who Are The Brain Police, 1966
One of the many ways we get into trouble as a society is when we issue sanctions on semantics. Acts can be evil. Thoughts can provoke bad acts – but thoughts can prevent bad actions as well. We can deal with the bad thoughts if we stay vigilant and use our brains from time to time.
Controlling the language has been an effective means of political persuasion. One of the reasons I admire the LGBTQ movements is that they seized the words gay and queer, turning insults into advocacy. This started about six decades ago, so we’ve had a couple generations of Americans who do not automatically perceive those terms in their original discriminatory context. We’ve got a way to go; change takes time and commitment.
I am often bewildered by the statements made by our president, and by “often” I mean “at least every day.” Because he gets his beliefs from Fox News and Vlad Putin, our dickhead-in-chief buys into the axiom that Jews are a monolithic group who are compelled by a hive-mind. This is a complete misunderstanding of the Jewish culture. As a group, Jews love to debate and discuss, generally with open-minds (I exempt the most fundamentalist of persuasions from this argument) but usually with great passion. I was raised in a Jewish environment, and I truly enjoy this exchange. Judaism as a culture encourages debate between the religious elders and their flocks. “Rabbi” means teacher. A teacher who is willing to discuss and debate.
Therefore, there is no such thing as a Jewish group think. According to the religious rules, services cannot take place unless there is a minion of 10 adults (10 men, to the orthodox, 10 people to the rest). And, as I love to point out, for every 10 Jews there are at least 13 different opinions on every matter. If you re-poll a half hour later, at least half of those opinions will have changed or evolved.
I am not suggesting this is good, or bad, or even sane. There is such a thing as the Jewish atheist – “cultural Jews” because, as noted, language is power. As such, there are a whole lot of us cultural Jews.
Contrary to popular opinion, we are not united on Israeli politics or the current Palestinian issues. This is even true in Israel. The argument is driven by history that has little to do with anybody’s day-to-day lives. I’m a student of history, but I try to live in present reality.
So I find Mr. Trump’s pronouncement this past Tuesday to be quite troubling. It betrays his stupidity and his bigotry, but if you haven’t been aware of that already you bailed out of this column at the headline.
Trump declared he was about to sign an executive order defining Judaism as a nationality, thereby creating a philosophical ghetto. And Jews are not alone in our knowledge of what happens after you create a ghetto.
Trump’s order will officially conflate anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel, which means criticism of Trump’s pal, far-right-wing dictator Benjamin Netanyahu. I don’t know why Donald – well, Vlad – thinks this is a good idea. Right now, Benji’s got enough of his own problems.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act issues sanctions against discrimination based on race, color and national origin at colleges and universities that receive federal funding. So if you work at a federally funded school and you want to discuss Israel from the perspective of a plurality opinion, you are likely to get fired lest the school lose its funding.
According to the New York Post, which, amusingly, is owned by the same vultures who run Fox News, “Jeremy Ben-Ami, who heads the progressive Jewish advocacy group J Street, argued that the order was designed to have a ‘chilling effect on free speech and to crack down on campus critics of Israel’ rather than fight anti-Semitism.
“We feel it is misguided and harmful for the White House to unilaterally declare a broad range of nonviolent campus criticism of Israel to be anti-Semitic, especially at a time when the prime driver of anti-Semitism in this country is the xenophobic, white nationalist far-right,” he said in a statement.”
So much for the flow of ideas. Freedom of expression be damned. Walk the line, professor. Walk the line.
You should be used to that by now.
Cause a fire in the street / Ain’t like a fire in the heart / And in the eyes of all these people / Don’t you know that this could start / On any street in any town / In any state if any clown / Decides that now’s the time to fight / For some ideal he thinks is right. – Frank Zappa, Trouble Comin’ Every Day, 1966.