“It’s been an interesting week or two for Jews,” begins New York Times blogger Stanley Fish’s latest post, titled, “What’s Up With the Jews?” The anti-Semite Mel Gibson has a new film out; Lars Von Trier had his Hitler-sympathizing controversy at Cannes. “Then there is Dominique Strauss-Kahn,” Fish continues, “poised to become France’s first Jewish president,” and we all know what happened with him. More: “Designer John Galliano is facing trial in France and has been fired by Dior” because of anti-Semitic comments. And:
Of course there is the story that will live forever, even after its protagonist dies, the story of Bernie Madoff (a Strauss-Kahn lookalike, or is it the other way around?) who perpetrated the biggest scam in history (will he replace Meyer Lansky as the chief exhibit in the bad-guy Jewish Hall of Fame?) and ruined thousands of people, many of them fellow Jews.
At the same time, Fish notes, Jews are disproportionately wealthy. “So which is it?” Fish asks. “Jews are victims (expulsions, pogroms, the Holocaust), or Jews are victimizers (rapacious bankers, shyster lawyers, land-grabbers and ethnic cleansers)? Jews are devils and sub-human vermin (a Nazi trope), or Jews are God’s chosen people?” This, Fish concludes, makes the Israel question particularly complicated: “Those who offer the criticism can never quite be sure that their distaste for Israel’s actions with respect to the Palestinians is entirely innocent of the influence of centuries of vilification.”
I have some more questions for the distinguished English professor:
What’s Up With the Blacks? They run hip-hop, and they’ve got one of their own in the White House (will he replace Martin Luther King, Jr., as the chief exhibit in the good-guy Black Hall of Fame?), yet some people still want to lynch them. What’s up with that?
What’s Up With the Tibetans? They seem poor, and yet they’ve colonized the labor ranks of the Union Square Farmer’s Market stands. Paradox!
What’s Up With the French? They celebrate a libertine sexual culture and are praised by sophisticated people everywhere. But then one of the most prominent exemplars of this culture is accused of rape, and that, apparently, is uncool. Contradiction?
What’s Up With the Vampires? They are more popular than ever, what with True Blood and the Twilight series, yet they remain at their core a blood-sucking people who fundamentally thrive on killing God-fearing decent human beings (the Jews’ lookalike, or is it the other way around?). How odd!
What’s Up With Stanley Fish? The only work of scholarly importance he ever did, on John Milton, is quite different from the reader-response movement he served as a mascot for, which has been out-of-date for 20 years, and yet he is still received as some sort of cultural and political authority. What gives?
What’s Up With the New York Times? They are the world’s greatest newspaper, and yet they also pay Stanley Fish to write blog posts for which the description “inane” is far too high a compliment. Why?
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.