Monday, October 20, 2003
Mickey Kaus has his own thoughts on the Easterbrook affair. I basically agree with him, but I have to quibble with two points.
(1) Kaus hypothesizes on what was going on in Easterbrook's head when he made the argument: "Trying to come up with some new weapon for his side, Easterbrook has the religion writer's idea--did I mention he also wrote a book about God?--of trying to shame studio executives Michael Eisner and Harvey Weinstein for betraying their faiths, the way he'd tried to shame Mel Gibson a week earlier. (This is in fact what Easterbrook says he was trying to do.) But Weinstein and Eisner are Jewish--and you can't just assume that they are especially religious Jews, the way Gibson is openly religious. Nor, perhaps, does Easterbrook have at his fingertips the particular Jewish teachings he might want to charge the two executives with flouting."
Apart from the last point - why shouldn't he have them at his fingertips? Doesn't he use Google? - the real problem with this is that it implies that you can't "shame" Jews by saying they are being false to their moral heritage. Or, rather, that only Jews can - or only religious Jews to other religious Jews. Or something. As a matter of ettiquette, maybe so. But how does this relate to anti-Semitism? Suppose Easterbrook, in good faith, wanted to say: shame on you Jewish executives for falling so far short of righteous Jewish teaching! What's offensive about that? Should we now tar and feather every non-Christian who accuses someone of behaving in an "un-Christian" manner? Should we, for that matter, be unable to discuss whether suicide bombing is a perversion of Islam in public? There's an implicit double-standard in here, and if you spell it out it's pretty offensive in itself, at least to me.
(2) He then quotes Leon Wieseltier as follows: "Insofar as Gregg's comments impute Jewish motives for everything that Jews do, insofar as they suggest that everything any Jew does is intrinsically a Jewish thing, they are objectively anti-Semitic."
Wieseltier may have thought longer and harder than Kaus has, but what on earth does this mean? I understand the first part: everything that Jews do does *not* spring from a Jewish motivation. But what does the second part mean? If it just means the same as the first part, fine. But I think it means something different. I think it means: holding Jews responsible, as Jews, for their actions is itself anti-Semitic (and "objectively" so, no less!). But this implies, in effect, that a Jew's Jewishness somehow floats apart from him, untouched by any action he takes. And that can't be what Wieseltier believes. He can't believe that one can both claim membership in a group *and* believe that one's actions should never be construed to reflect on the group. It can't be anti-Semitic to say: this Jew is behaving appallingly, and he should stop, because his actions reflect badly on all Jews. (Note: I am *not* saying that Jews have a special obligation to refute stereotypes imputed to them. That *is* offensive. I'm saying that you can't, on the one hand, take pride in membership in the Jewish people and, on the other, say that no one should associate your own actions with that people.)
But all this is irrelevant because Easterbrook did *not* say that Eisner et al should be ashamed for Kill Bill because their actions reflect badly on the Jews, much less that their actions sprang from Jewish motives. (He did not, for example, say that they "love money above all else" because they are Jews.) He said that they should be ashamed because their actions are, effectively, spitting on the legacy of Jewish suffering. He was saying that as Jews they should know better.
What is offensive about this? I admit, I'm at a loss. The best I can come up with is that this is the kind of thing you say in private, not in public; the kind of thing you say to friends, not strangers. It is, in a way, the kind of thing a *Jew* should properly say. And for Easterbrook to say it means he's crossing interfaith lines, and might rub people the wrong way. I'll admit, the first time *I* read Easterbrook's blog entry I was taken aback. But after only brief reflection, I understood what he was getting at, and I didn't find it offensive. If I'd been his editor, I would definitely have made him change the wording (not an option in blog land, of course). But I wouldn't say, as Kaus does, that Easterbrook is guilty of anything more than a poor choice of wording. He tried to say a difficult thing in what must be considered deliberately provocative language, and he screwed up. That's it.
Look, I've been here before as well. It's easy to make comments in a blog that, upon reflection, say things you wish you had not said, even if you think that at bottom you had a legitimate point. You apologize, you repent, and hopefully you are forgiven. Easterbrook's sin is not so great. At least Easterbrook can rest assured that Eisner and Weinstein are losing no sleep over this matter; the post wasn't that personal. He should be forgiven.