Why Should I Bring Up a Writer’s Jewishness?

My most frequent commenter, a Mr. Anonymous, calls me a “Judenrat” for noting that Leonard Greene, the inventor who takes out ads against the killing of Muslims, is Jewish. Anon goes on:

What difference does it make what religion Leonard Greene is? In the name of fair reporting, why not report the religion of every person mentioned in every article about the Middle East—like Mearsheimer, Walt and Rachel Corrie? Maybe you can put a little yellow star next to the Jews, and a red one next to the ones with “Jewish sounding names”.

Anonymous has a good point. Issues should be discussed on their merits. Whereas I’m being ad hominem, talking about the man. This is a hard one to think through. Some answers:

1. It’s a blog. Blogging is personal in a way that print is not. That’s why it’s been so liberating to speech, also why it’s maintained its subterranean status with respect to the main discourse.

2. All of us think ethnicity is relevant. When we read the letters in the Times about a Middle East story, we always look at the byline and think, Is he Jewish? Is he Muslim? Where’s he coming from?

3. We do that because these issues are to some degree informed by these matters. My hobbyhorse (well one of them, anyway) is the way that the Jewish community has by and large shifted right over foreign policy, to support the most hawkish policies, because of Israel. I’m always thankful for the exceptions. Hence: Greene.

4. Maybe the discourse needs more transparency over precisely this question. When Zbigniew Brzezinski laments in Foreign Policy

“Arab Americans by and large have been excluded from serious participation in the U.S. policy process,”

he is talking about ethnicity—and fairminded people at once see the justice of his point. One thing I admire about Elliott Abrams and Norman Podhoretz is that they speak plainly and openly of their Jewishness in defending Israel. Abrams wrote (nine years ago, before he went into deep cover in the White House):

Outside the land of Israel, there can be no doubt that Jews, faithful to the covenant between God and Abraham, are to stand apart from the nation in which they live. It is the very nature of being Jewish to be apart—except in Israel—from the rest of the population…. It implies…a state of mind in which Jews acknowledge their participation in a covenant now five thousand years old and extending endlessly into the future.

One of the reasons I’m a bad Jew is that I was recruited in this nationalism myself as a young man, especially after the ’67 war, when we danced over the Israeli victory and my parents’ best friends moved to Israel to support the state, but then I fell off the 5000-year-old nationalist covenant wagon in my assimilating adulthood. I call myself bad because I have struggled with those historically-engraved feelings that Abrams invokes so forcefully and plainly. And this is precisely what I don’t admire about David Frum, Paul Berman, and Tom Friedman. I sense to varying degrees that a devotion to Israel was a key part of their political and emotional education, as it was to mine and Abrams’s. Why else does Berman never use the word “occupation” in his book on these matters, and belittles Palestinian aspirations with the mocking suggestion that the Israeli settlements “had driven masses of Palestinians out of their minds.” I believe Israel is very important to these writers. Shouldn’t they now and then be open about this?