It seems that almost nobody can mention Jews without making an inadvertent or deliberate ass of themselves. Most recently, Richard Dawkins put his foot in it in this Guardian article. He said:
When you think about how fantastically successful the Jewish lobby has been, though, in fact, they are less numerous I am told – religious Jews anyway – than atheists and [yet they] more or less monopolise American foreign policy as far as many people can see. So if atheists could achieve a small fraction of that influence, the world would be a better place.
Now, I know what he’s trying to say here. He wants to say that if atheists had the influence that a religious lobby had, atheism could be much better accepted. But that’s not what he said.
The group he is referring to is not a Jewish lobby, but a pro-Israeli lobby. There’s a difference, even if all the members of the latter are Jewish. Many Jews, religious or not, do not think that everything Israel does in its foreign and domestic policy is to be supported. And as we have heard over the years, many members of the Pro-Israel lobby in Washington are motivated not by being Jewish, but by being Millenarian fundamentalist Christians.
I seem to have a number of Jewish friends, but I am rarely aware of it. I wish I could claim some moral high ground here, but I am usually unaware of the personal and ethnic properties of all my friends: gays, bigots, etc., until they say something. And those who are Jewish who I know are equally blind to my Anglo-Irish heritage. I suppose they, too, sometimes wake up with the realisation that “Hey. One of my best friends is a WASP”, but then again they may not.
So I find it hard to understand why anyone needs to identify people by their ethnic or religious affiliations. Like sexual orientation, it’s the least interesting fact about a person, unless one wants to convert them (or in the case of sexual orientation, get them into bed). And for some reason, people have a particular blind spot about Jews. As I think Chaim Potok once had a character say, “People either love Jews too much, or hate them too much”. I’ve been there. I once tried to convert (largely because I was reading Potok and the Harry Kemelman rabbi detective stories), and was told by a wise rabbi at Temple Beth Israel in Melbourne to come back in seven years, if I still wanted to convert.
So why is what Dawkins said so wrong? Because he identifies one particular political lobby with an entire religion and more, an entire set of ethnic groupings. Even if it were true (and it’s truer than I like) that American foreign policy is monopolised by the pro-Israeli lobby, this is not the same as making it something that Jews do. Its a fallacy of composition.
An even more worrying trend is the vilification of Arabs. This is not something that is post-9/11. It has been going on for some time. Let’s get it straight: not all Arabs, or Muslims, support terrorism. There is a general term for those people: terrorists. Those who do not support terrorism are not “friendly Arabs” either, they are just people. We should not demonise groups, or religions. And this goes also for atheists – why should they have a bloc that influences American policy? Shouldn’t it be the goal to remove special interest lobbies rather than add to them?
I think we long ago lost our democratic nature, and replaced it, in Australia as in the US, with a lobbocracy. And the tendency to put people in nice general classes that we can have a canned attitude towards, removing the necessity for taking people as they come and having to actually think about them, is a malign and irrational approach we should not encourage. The latest example of it in Australia is the current (and we hope soon to be ex-) government’s decision not to allow any more Sudanese immigrants because they don’t “integrate”. It’s pure racism, despite the denials, because he is assessing individuals in terms of the group “traits”. If we want to have people integrate, give them the resources, screen people (not just from Sudan) for predictor characteristics, whatever. But don’t demonise an entire people. I am aghast at this in this day and age, and in my supposedly liberal country.
I’m fairly sure that I have made an ass of myself here, mentioning Jews (and gays, and Sudanese) but at least I’m trying not to be a prototypical WASP. Don’t demonise me, either.