Mike the Mad Biologist

Blood Libel, Jews, and the Democratic Party

Like clockwork, every time an election rolls around, Republican-leaning pundits and political operatives, in their infinite wisdom, predict that this election will be the election wherein Jews abandon the Democratic Party. And then, like clockwork, Jews overwhelmingly vote Democratic. One reason has to do with the Republican Party’s exclusionary identity politics: even if Jews were disposed to vote Republican based on political ideology, the strong ties to the Christian theopolitical right are…offputting. But there’s another reason too, that has to do with, well, Judaism. Being Jewish might actually have something to do with it.

Rabbi Susan Heschel, while discussing Sarah Palin’s recent ‘blood libel‘ utterance, describes an important Jewish perspective on morality that seems germane (italics mine):

Palin also quoted a portion of then-Governor Ronald Reagan’s 1968 speech to the Republican National Convention, in which he asserted that:

We must reject the idea that every time a law is broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.

His words, too, run counter to the fundamental precept of the prophets, whose message, according to my father, theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel, is clear: “in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”

Yes, the gunman who pulled the trigger is the one put on trial, but almost instantly we all began a profound and very moving period of collective soul-searching. How might we have contributed to an atmosphere in which such a heinous act could take place? What can we do to change the ugliness of our language? Do our words and tone indicate a bitterness of heart and an anger in our spirits that is damaging to ourselves and our entire society?

“Our society.” The phrase reveals the gulf between a civilized society and the world advocated by Palin. Civilized people strive for ways to coexist and seek moral principles that achieve peace and prosperity for all, not just for ourselves. Palin’s insistence on freedom seems to suggest freedom for oneself, without assuming any responsibility for others; a perspective that would create a wild realm in which each person looks out for herself, not for the collective. Yet again, that is not the message of the Bible. When God points out immoral behavior, it is of the collective people, not individuals.

I do not believe that the Bible or the Talmud lend much (or any) insight as to marginal tax rates or the implications of fiat currency. But both wrongdoing and the establishment of justice, as far back as the Temple era over two millenia ago, were always viewed as a communal enterprise. Injustice wasn’t only a personal fault, but a blemish on the entire House of Israel. Likewise, Jewish law, both Biblical and Talmudic, is replete with communal obligations, as well as obligations of the community towards individuals.

The radical Galtian/Randian pseudo-theology that has engulfed the Republican Party is the antiethical opposite of this worldview. Hell, even morally bankrupt Jews like Ivan Boesky and Bernie Madoff felt external pressures to support the larger community.

This obviously isn’t the whole story, but it is part of it: Jews behave the way they do because they’re Jews.

Comments

  1. #1 Chuck
    January 29, 2011

    You know I always thought christians were supposedly a people of community, shared humanity and forgiveness.
    Silly me.

  2. #2 Roman
    January 30, 2011

    “Jews behave the way they do because they’re Jews.”

    You know how easy it is for someone to conclude “… and therefore every Jews is suspect”?

  3. #3 Drivebyposter
    January 30, 2011

    You know how easy it is for someone to conclude “… and therefore every Jews is suspect”?

    Are you telling me Jews aren’t already suspect? Here in America at least?
    This is Sacha Baron Cohen (he’s Jewish) singing a song in a country themed bar in Tucson.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vb3IMTJjzfo
    It shouldn’t be that easy to start an anti-Semitic sing-along if there wasn’t an already existing suspicion/hatred.
    Either they hate Jews enough to sing about it, or they are able to detect and enjoy the satirical nature of the performance.

  4. #4 Roman
    January 31, 2011

    “Are you telling me Jews aren’t already suspect?”

    I’m saying that using ethnic labels to describe and explain behaviours (“Jews do X because they’re Jews”) is dangerous. It’s the way racists think.

    Basically, different Jews are different. To pick on one example, I do not believe that Madoff had any sense of social responsibility. His charity involvement was certainly for PR reasons and to draw attention away from his scam.

  5. #5 Wow
    January 31, 2011

    “We must reject the idea that every time a law is broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.”

    But not when it comes to Muslims, I take it..? You know, the muslims that want a Mosque in NYC are as guilty as the Saudis who flew into the towers, right?

    Whereas when it’s a Christian shooting a doctor dead, then he’s just a nutter.

  6. #6 Roman
    January 31, 2011

    “You know, the muslims that want a Mosque in NYC are as guilty as the Saudis who flew into the towers, right?”

    If they were, they’d be put on the death row, surely?