We’re all agreed then, we’re all anti-Semites now but lurking underneath are the questions: What is a Jew? And, once a Jew, always a Jew?
Up till now, or at least for the last 6 or 7 years, I’ve seen Jewish specialness as a voluntary condition (albeit a pretty hard one to shake off) and I’ve noticed that it ranges all the way from the religious Jew’s ‘light unto the nations’ to the Marxist Jew’s ‘workers of the world unite’. But in the discussion around the article “We’re all anti-Semites now” some opposition was voiced – and from some surprising sources.
Gilad reminded me that my comparison of a Jew to a cauliflower wasn’t quite right. He pointed out that a cauliflower lacks consciousness and is therefore unable to relinquish its cauliflowerness but, by implication, a Jew can.
But he also noted “that Jewish culture lacks the means to restrain Jewishness – something to do with an inherent exceptionalist structure.” So, it’s in the nature of Jewishness to find it hard to give it up. I’ll buy that.
Then Dr. Mathis pointed out that Edith Stein’s conversion to Catholicism did not stop the National Socialists from assaulting her as a Jew. As Dr Mathis himself said, “You can deny your Jewishness as much as you want, but someone is always going to come along and remind you anyway”. I’ll buy that too.
But Dr. Mathis also told me that I’m Jewish because my parents were Jewish and when I asked exactly what was it I had inherited from my parents, he answered in a word: Identity.
“But surely”, I protested, “I can relinquish that identity”,
To which he answered “Ask Ernst Zundel if you can do that. Or Ingrid Rimland.”
So it seems that Ernst Zundel and his wife Ingrid, two supposed ‘Nazis’, also don’t quite see things my way.
And it’s true. In an email exchange with Ingrid some years back she reminded me of the story of the scorpion and the frog crossing the river toParadise. The scorpion tries to persuade a frog to take him on its back. ”But” says the frog, ”You’re a scorpion. If I carry you on my back, you’ll only sting me and kill me.”
“Of course I won’t sting you.” answers the scorpion, “If I stung you, you’d die but I’d also drown, so what would be the good of that?” Finally the frog agrees and the scorpion climbs aboard and off they go.
Halfway across the river, surprise, surprise, the scorpion stings the frog and, as both frog and scorpion sink beneath the waves, the frog, in his death agony looking first to heaven, then to the scorpion asks, “Why, why, why?”
To which the scorpion replies, “Why? Because I’m a scorpion.”
So, for Ingrid, just as a scorpion will never change, so a Jew will never change, simply because they can never change.
So, once a Jew…?
Now, a lot of people are now going to be jumping up and down yelling “Racist!” and “Nazi!” And certainly, when Ingrid first suggested this, I was a bit put out myself. “Are you saying that a Jew is a kind of human, like a scorpion is a kind of insect?” I asked. To which she answered ”Come on, Paul. Did I say that Gentiles are like frogs? Fables are shortcuts to facets of human nature.”
Well, I certainly don’t believe that a Jew will forever act in a certain way, but still, figuratively and allegorically there’s a lot in that tale. Jews often do seem to share certain chracteristics and they do seem remarkably resistant to change.
I suppose Ingrid and Ernst would say that different groups who have lived together for a long time will inevitably develop some shared characteristics. For example, I remember once when she claimed that, like so many Germans, she had no sense of humour (actually, she does and it’s quite delightful) and, when I protested, she asked me whether I had ever met a German stand-up comic (BTW, there is one now on the circuit in Britain but his celebrity rests very much on the fact that he’s a German) I think she also asked me if I had ever met a Jew who could write a poem to a tree.
Another time I was describing to her how, at times I found it quite thrilling to be the centre of attention. She thought that this was very Jewish indeed (I can’t disagree), but that for her, being the centre of attention was what she most disliked. She wrote how she had on so many occasions appeared before huge and rapturous audiences and each time, as they applauded, her heart was as stone. This essential difference between us was she felt, partly due to our respective Jewishness and German-ness.
Did I agree? Not entirely, but it was interesting and there is some truth in it.
I think people like her are far more subtle in their thinking than is often thought. They believe that these characteristics are the product of many subtle and interacting factors – including some biological ones. After all, people who live together, breed together.
Of course none of the above means that all Jews are funny and self-obsessed or that all Germans are dour and diffident or anything else for that matter…… or does it?
So there we have it from three totally different sources – A celebrated artist/anti-Zionist activist, a Jewish- Zionist academic/activist and a couple of ‘Nazis’ – Once a Jew, always a Jew.
What do you think?