An Obnoxious Chauvinist

Paradox, hypocrisy, and chavinism rule in the interview, Judaism as a way of being, as Yale professor David Gelernter tells the public radio audience, in an hour-long discussion with Tom Ashbrook of Boston, that Jews are the originators of Western culture and everything good in it. The interview is concerning Gelernter’s book Judaism: A Way of Life.

According to the Yale computer scientist and frequent contributor to the neoconservative Weekly Standard, Jews are the pivot upon which world history turns. Jews invented the ideas of acceptance, loving one’s neighbor, social justice, and tolerance. Jews love the stranger, because they are themselves strangers among mankind.

It is a “fact of history,” Gelernter tells Ashbrook, that Jews are the choosen people, and anybody who disagrees with that “fact,” or criticizes the IDF, which Gelernter characterizes as the “most moral army in the world,” is an anti-Semite and a liar. But such criticism is to be expected, he laments, because nobody wants to hear the truth. Yahweh has called upon the Jews to preach truth to the world (apparently truth is another idea the Jews came up with). And any Jew who disagrees with this is obviously filled with self-hatred and self loathing. It is the curse of the Jews, according to Gelernter, that the people who hate Judaism the most are also Jews. And Jewish criticism of Israel state policy is part of the big lie.

At the beginning of the interview, Ashbrook asked Gelernter to talk about his concept of separatism, which he discusses in the book. Gelernter obliges arguing that Judaism calls upon Jews to be separate themselves from other groups. Jews are part of mankind, he said, of course, but because Jews are specifically enjoined by Yahweh to help all of mankind find god, they have to remain a separate nation and a separate spiritual entity. Thus conscious and willful segregation is called for.

If a non-Jew were to observe that Jews were clannish, he would immediately be accused of anti-Semitism, since one of the hallmarks of anti-Semitism, we are told, is the stereotype of Jews as clannish. Okay, so maybe Jews can say things about themselves that non-Jews cannot. But would not a Jew applying a Jewish stereotype not be an instance of self-loathing? For if it is a fact that Jews are told to be clannish, then how can it be racist to simply observe that fact?

At any rate, according to Gelernter, while Jews may wish to be like everybody else, they must never allow themselves to be. To be sure, this is one of the sources of anti-Semitism, he says. People hate Jews because Jews insist on speaking the truth. Jews are hated for the mission Jews have been called to join, namely the duty to teach mankind values, because the origin of these values are Jewish. But teach Jews must. Jews are told to be be obnoxious, to get in other people’s faces. We know Jews are the chosen people because everybody pays attention to them and everybody hates them. Gelernter makes other claims, as well. Poetry is a Jewish creation. And, if you judge Israel from the point of view of the United Nations, Israel is the source of evil in the world.

I can’t believe that any more than a handful of American Jews listening to this program thought Gelernter’s speech constituted an accurate representation of Jewish beliefs. At least I certainly hope not, because it didn’t sound good. In fact, it sounded racist. Had the interviewee been an African-American professor from Yale talking about how African culture was the pivot upon which history turned (more true than Gelernter’s claims in at least one way, namely the original human being was African, not Jewish), or, worse, a white Christian professor from Harvard crediting the church with having created everything moral in the world, I can’t imagine anything less than a substantial proportion of public radio listeners finding the chavinism distinctly racist. In any case, it was definitely bad from a public relations standpoint – that is, if anybody gave a shit.

I’m surprised that Ashbrook sat there and listened without taking Gelernter to task more than he did. He got a bit frisky at the end, but otherwise he let Gelernter have the hour (an extraordinary amount of time considering the topic). The best I can figure out is that Ashbrook was giving Gelernter enough rope to hang himself. By the end, Ashbrook even led Gelernter into unapologetically calling for women to recognize their duty to be homemakers and understand that men were to be in charge of in public life. If this were an exercise in helping Gelernter make a complete fool of his himself, then it was a brilliantly executed plan.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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