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POETRYETC  2002

POETRYETC 2002

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Subject:

'Complex History' (was Re: Killer Jews)

From:

Libby Hart <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Poetryetc provides a venue for a dialogue relating to poetry and poetics <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 19 Apr 2002 10:32:19 +1000

Content-Type:

text/plain

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when i spoke of testosterone i was reflecting on the language used and not the actions.

libby



>>> [log in to unmask] 19/04/02 9:13:08 am >>>
<snip>
(and can I add an overdose of testosterone?) [LH]
<snip>

Let's avoid essentialism. Gender essentialism. Racial and cultural
essentialism. It doesn't help.

In April 1981, in Brixton, cars were being burnt. Immanuel Jakobovits (then
Britain's Chief Rabbi) delivered a Pesach message: 'We Jews,' he seemed to
be saying (I paraphrase a little), 'certainly had our sufferings. But did
_we_ riot?'

Unfortunately, the reply he wished to elicit was not 'Did we riot!'

Today (April 19) is the anniversary of the beginning of the uprising in the
Warsaw Ghetto, just as May 16 will be the anniversary of its ending. And
now, 59 years further on and still no wiser, what significance does one find
in the mound containing the rubble of Mila 18? Is it moral high ground -
because almost everyone died (victimhood as a cult of ethical virginity;
*Jenin was insufficiently _frum_ where peace is concerned, a low sort of
town, so its inhabitants cannot be victims* is the chiral inversion of
this); because some fought back (Anielewicz as ethnic hero: a Polish Bar
Kochba), or because they fought back bravely and _then_ died (heroic
victimhood: chastity defended, history as spectacle)?

Or is it (stripped of the attributions required for it by various competing
emotional teleologies) just a mound? As though we were simply beasts,
herbivorous and not.

And if we are to talk now of 'complex history', but without ducking into
some sort of *they made us do it* version of Jenin (pace Ivy), then Mr
Sharon comes out of a (quasi) fascist tradition which exists within Zionism,
or at least runs parallel with it. Not a fact acknowledged all that often:
Vladimir Jabotinsky and his brownshirts. Individual, religion, nation,
leader as coextensive terms.

Mr Sharon's insistence, urgently expressed and (once again) with murder, to
escape from others' moral impositions isn't absolved by references to
history or even to Arab anti-Semitism. But nor can it be dismissed, for all
that, simply by viewing it as the articulation of moral turpitude, the
expression of hormonal rage, proof of Zionism's injustice or suchlike. At
some level he _must_ be correct: full moral autonomy, the right to make a
choice, _requires_ the *right* (which he has sedulously taken up) to behave
disgracefully.

There's a bitter Israeli joke, also from the 1980s, about the execrable Kach
party, banned not for murdering Arabs but for playing cheerleader to the
murder of Mr Rabin. Meir Kahane is interviewing prospective members. 'To
join us you have to be prepared to kill at least two Palestinians plus a
cat,' says Kahane. ('Palestinian' here is a flexible term.) 'Why a cat?'
asks one applicant. 'Welcome,' says Kahane. 'Your membership card,' he
flashes a welcoming smile, 'should be with you in a day.'

Let me stress the point of that joke, because it's important: bigotry and
prejudice pass unseen - in the questions that _aren't_ asked and in the
answers not supplied. You don't discover bigotry, in other words, simply by
checking the fences and the gates. You merely ban Kahane for murdering the
cat.

It was the series of *me too* reactions to Douglas's 'killer Jews' that
dismayed me much more than the phrase itself. The phrase _was_ shocking. Not
because it was anti-Semitic but because its force depended on its being an
oxymoron, as when a freesheet delivered to where I live referred to a
mentally ill child murderer as a 'killer Gran'. (Grans are old, have white
hair and specs and can't kill for toffee. Ditto Jews. Except their hair is
black and every single one is a yeshiva bokher unless she's a Jewish
Mother.) Here the unasked questions, the answers unsupplied, concern the
extent to which taxonomies shared by Jews and Gentiles can allow Jews to be
genuinely wicked. As is the case, I think, with Mr Sharon.

Christopher Walker

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