Thursday, February 18, 2010

Goldfarb's Ghetto

Phillip Adam's interview with American journalist and author Michael Goldfarb (Late Night Live, Radio National, 15/2/10) was a sad affair indeed. Such were Adams' philosemitic gushings that, had Ariel Sharon been within earshot, they would surely have had the comatose war criminal blushing. But then we've sort of grown used to Adams' on this score. Haven't we? No, the greater worry this time around was Goldfarb, who had come to these shores to promote his new (2009) book, Emancipation: How Liberating Europe's Jews from the Ghetto Led to Revolution & Renaissance.

Goldfarb's subject is an important one: Napoleon's opening of the ghetto gates and the gradual integration and assimilation of Western Europe's Jews into the wider, non-Jewish European society. And all was well (Adams excepted) until Goldfarb said this: "In 1806 Napoleon decides to convene the Jewish leadership in Paris and he calls it the Grand Sanhedrin... and puts to them 12 questions about what it means to be Jewish... What is your first allegience? Is it to France or is it to the return to Palestine? These are very important questions..."

In fact, Napoleon asked no such question. His 6th question, which addressed the issue of national allegience, reads as follows: "Do the Jews born in France, and treated by the law as French citizens, acknowledge France as their country? Are they bound to obey the laws and follow the directions of the Civil Code?" (Napoleon Bonaparte's 'Grand Sanhedrin', In none of his 12 questions did the French emperor make any reference to Palestine or the idea of Jews 'returning' there. Nor do the relevant pages (97-99) in Goldfarb's book refer to them. What then possessed Goldfarb, would-be historian of the Jewish emancipation, to perpetrate such a Zionist distortion of the historical record? At least part of the answer emerges in the following dialogue:

Adams: What does Israel mean to you, Michael? Let's go back to this ancient argument about where does your loyalty lie. What does Israel mean to Michael Goldfarb?

Goldfarb: Mm... Let me give you the irrational one first. Um... 5 years before I was born Auschwitz was in existence. I feel that the existence of the state of Israel is as good a guarantee as I can possibly have that that will never happen again. Not because it's a militaristic state - a nuclear-armed Jewish state makes me feel, atheist that I am, secular and integrated as I am, assimilated, a little bit safer. I acknowledge to a very considerable degree that's irrational.

Incredibly, in 2010, for this comfortable and feted American journalist and pseudo scholar, the theft of Palestine and the 62-year ordeal of its inhabitants is completely eclipsed by an admittedly irrational self-serving invocation of Auschwitz and a narcissistic notion that the existence of Israel, presumably as a Jewish state, makes Michael Goldfarb feel somehow safer. And for that, the fate of the Palestinians and their fundamental right to a peaceful and secure life in their own land is as remote from his essentially tribal concern as the fate of the fabled dodo. As it is equally for Adams:

Adams: And I would concur with that. As a young man, when I learned about the Holocaust, I fully understood emotionally the need for a Jewish state, but now?

At this point Goldfarb offers an even lamer excuse and descends into utter gibberish:

Goldfarb: Now, you know, for me - I've reported from there, I've visited, I have Israeli colleagues. It is an interesting part of my identity because it's become such a source of argument and litmus test within the Jewish community what your attitudes to Israel are. Do you support the government full stop? Do you take the Likud point of view at all times? And it can lead to very unpleasant arguments...

Adams: Well you don't, I know...

Goldfarb: I don't know... Probably not... You know, I don't. [!!!] But look, um...I think that the most interesting thing I could say about this is I would like to have, as a Jew, the same right as an Israeli, which is to join any one of 3,575 political parties and vote for the person of my choice... I'm exaggerating that number for people who aren't Jewish and don't follow Israeli politics, but there's a huge number of parties and points of view across the political spectrum in Israel that somehow Jews who don't live in Israel are not allowed to have that same range of points of view which bothers me. Um... but you know the most interesting thing...

That Goldfarb has in fact returned to a ghetto more closed and claustrophobic than any in Western Europe before the emancipation - the ghetto of political Zionism - occurs neither to him nor to Adams. On the one hand, he lauds the German poet Heinrich Heine as the "first real Jewish genius," and extols his message, "What is the task of our age? It is the emancipation of the whole world," explaining it as "the idea that the Jewish people should lead not just for their emancipation, but for the emancipation of women, of slaves, at that point of time, of the Irish under the jackboot of the English oppressor..." On the other, he and his unctuous urger, Adams, maintain a deafening silence about the desperate need for Palestinian emancipation.

"And that [emancipatory] tradition," chirps Adams, "continued right through the civil rights movement." But then, says Goldfarb, "for many local reasons it began to dissipate," before paraphrasing Eric Hobsbawm to the effect that (irony of ironies), "as many modern Jews are not orthodox and they've lost the ability to practice religion, Israel has become like religion... the equivalent of faith..."

Sadly, for all Goldfarb's celebration of the cultural and intellectual heroes of the Jewish emancipation and renaissance, universalists like Moses Mendelssohn and Heinrich Heine (the true heirs of whom are those Jewish Israelis who share the struggle of the Palestinian defenders of West Bank villages such as Nil'in and Bil'in or those Jews who fight the lies and distortions of Zionism on university campuses, in print and in cyberspace in the countries of their birth), his bottom line is really no more sophisticated than that of a local teenage Zionist blogger (who shall remain unreferenced) who believes that "when the chips are down, it's Israel, not Australia, who'll save us from the angry Jihadis because we know that it'll kick more ass than Australia."


Anonymous said...

I was waiting for Adams to pick up Goldfarb hollower about "first allegience" - what with him being an all-knowing fan of such matters, but not a sausage.

As for Adams' gushing, I started to worry that this was anti-semitism in such reverse that it ends up plaining right into the racist narrative that be turned into a very nasty weapon. If one listened only to Adams, one could get the impression that Jewish people are not entirely normal human beings - that, disturbingly, Adams was effectively de-humanising Jewish people.

Anonymous said...

I heard the last part of the ABC "The Conversation Hour" recently,I think it is on Podcast, for some real self inflicted injury. Goldfarb complained that the Ghetto was imposed on the Jews at the insistence of the local rulers, presumably from the ancient Jewish ghettos of Cairo, Alexandria, Cordova to the Ghettoes of Portugal,established in 1412 at Jewish request, to the Ghettoes of Poland,Russia and Germany. The Ghetto was a prison of the mind,from the first Ghetto in Babylon to the current Ghetto, complete with Ghetto wall, with its claws at the throat of the Palestinians. To call for the full liberation and emancipation of the segregated, confined and coralled Ghetto dwellers,from the ancient to the present Ghetto, is always painted as persecution or anti-semitic.Goldfarb is a peddler of propaganda, guilt and exceptionalism,a sure sign he is indeed a prisoner of the Ghetto of the mind.