Jewish Fanaticism

By | Jun 05, 2009

By Jeremy Gillick

In the wake of the Manis Friedman controversy, some suggested that Moment should have censored itself in order to protect the Jewish community’s image. Abe Foxman, for example, the controversial director of the Anti-Defamation League, told the Forward that, while he was “not shocked that there would be a rabbi who would have these views,” he was “shocked that Moment would give up all editorial discretion and good sense to publish this as representative of Chabad.” (In Moment’s defense, Manis Friedman is a regular “Ask the Rabbis” contributor: see his former responses here, here and here.)

But if it’s fair to silence the extremism within when it’s a merely a fringe phenomenon limited to a few radical rabbis, surely it’s wrong not to publicize–and criticize–it when it appears to be widespread and cross-denominational. Here’s a remarkable, repulsive and, sadly, illuminating video from Max Blumenthal, an investigative journalist and blogger, that I just came across at New Voices.

Filmed on the streets of Jerusalem in advance of President Obama’s speech in Cairo, Blumenthal and Joseph Dana “encountered rowdy groups of beer sodden twenty-somethings, many from the United States, and all eager to vent their visceral, even violent hatred of Barack Obama and his policies towards Israel. Usually I offer a brief commentary on my video reports,” writes Blumenthal, “but this one requires no comment at all. Quite simply, it contains some of the most shocking footage I have ever filmed.”

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5 thoughts on “Jewish Fanaticism

  1. R.S says:

    To Rabbi Manis Friedman


    God says in the Koran, the Christians and Jews will not be satisfied until you follow their religion

    This is proof from the God that you are not satisfied with the Muslim people

    I wish from the great God to guide to the right way and the right direction .

    killing the Arab children , old women and the , destroying the mosques will not solve the problems .

    dialogue is the best way, weapons , war and destruction will not solve the problems , the best solution is setting together and discussing by this the Muslim and the Jews will clear out all the stock issues.

    Kindest regards


  2. Evan Derkacz says:

    This is embarrassing, sure. But it would be a mistake to think that this video tells us much of anything. It’s a shocking portrayal of a few drunken frat boys and sorority girls betraying their ignorance.

    While it’s difficult to say how the speech was received in Israel, opinion seems to be mixed.

    Rather than rely on a few regrettable comments from Ohioans on a birthright trip it might be advisable to at least balance it with responses from the Israeli media:

    1. jgillick says:

      Evan, of course these hooligans don’t reflect public opinion among Jews in either Israel or America. That wasn’t the point of posting the video. Instead, I posted it because it indicates that there are elements of the Jewish communities both in Israel and the United States where virulent racism and blind nationalism are tolerated, if not openly encouraged. These aren’t issues that Jews want to talk about, understandably. But at a certain point, doesn’t confronting the extremism within become more important than protecting the community from potential backlash?

  3. Evan Derkacz says:

    Absolutely, on the question of exposing and confronting extremism I think we’re in agreement. In fact, I seem to be jumping into a discussion in progress. For that I apologize.

    But you do call the video “remarkable” and “illuminating.” Perhaps it’s a difference in perspective but coming from Long Island and Manhattan I grew up with many Jews of this stripe. It’s nothing new to me. In fact, in many cases it’s intrinsic to the way these kids seem to understand themselves as Jews.

    It may as well be team colors as a religio-ethnic identity.

    And this feeds back into the earlier discussion about what to show and what not to show. It’s a very delicate line, of course, but pulling out the “c” word drops a bomb on the discussion.

    it’s not necessarily a question of putting the best Jewish face forward but rather of putting the varying perspectives into context.

    To feature a sensational video with the alpha kappa dumbass fraternity in all their racist glory likewise drops a bomb on your ability to depict the Jewish community as a complex one. Readers are unlikely to leave with a balanced view if the moderate or liberal voices are then simply written about or embedded inside a messy cluster of statistics. They don’t stand a chance next to this kind of video.

    So I’m not really down on you for running the video, per se, but it’s extremely difficult for different media to come together in the interest of forming a detailed, nuanced and complex picture.

    1. jgillick says:

      No worries. Hopefully it will be a discussion that continues in a serious way and doesn’t quickly drop off the radar.

      It certainly is a different perspective, though I readily confess to having encountered this type before. But I think that’s the point. It may be “nothing new to you,” but I don’t see why we should assume it isn’t new for others. I think it is. For many, it is remarkable and illuminating. And sometimes, even for those who are familiar, it takes a little external prodding to make people fully conscious of problems that they’ve become immune to by immersion. If so many people knew about this phenomenon–be it team colors or religio-ethnic identity or something else–why hasn’t anyone made a stink about it? I wish the conversation could have been prompted by something other than this video, but for whatever reason, it wasn’t. Then again, maybe the resulting conversation won’t be quite the one we want to have. So on a tactical level, yes, a sensational video all on its lonesome may be a mistake.

      But while I agree that context is important–the Manis Friedman comment, for example, came amidst multiple opposing remarks–I also think most readers are fully aware that Jews, at least in the U.S., are overwhelmingly liberal. So, in a way, the video serves as a qualifier: most Jews are liberal, but yes, there is still racism and fanaticism. Very few people leave the page thinking that Jews are monsters, and those who do probably thought that before they showed up. And anybody who reads Moment knows that it does try to present a nuanced picture of Jews. Anyway, I think we’re mostly on the same page. Nice website, by the way.

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