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Notes on Philo-Semitism Notes on Philo-Semitism
by Joseph Gatt
2020-10-13 07:50:02
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Notes on philo-Semitism, or an “affection” for the Jewish people, in no particular order.

-A lot of countries and ethnic peoples like to promote their ethnicity and use “soft power” when promoting their ethnicity.

-So you have Koreans promoting “Korea” as a group, China promoting the Chinese as a group, Arab nations promoting their people as a group and so on.

-The goals the Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, Arabs or other people have in using such soft-power tends to be to “lecture” people about their culture, and to gain fans of their culture. However, such countries tend to dislike those who investigate or try to gain too deep an understanding of their culture.

jud00001_400-Jews in general, and Israelis in particular, dislike being praised just for “being Jewish” or “being Israeli.” Jews tend to believe that “you're not great just because you come from a great people.”

-So Jews and Israelis would rather be praised as individuals, independently from their Jewish identity or culture, or their belonging to the Jewish faith and tribe.

-So Jews will tend to identify themselves as individuals, and tend to avoid linking their actions or behavior, likes or dislikes to their Jewish faith or ethnic belonging.

-One thing philo-Semites should keep in mind is that Jewish culture is very fragmented. Just to give you a quick example, Woody Allen has little in common with Jerry Seinfeld or Larry David or Paul Reiser, even less in common with Steven Spielberg or Darren Aronofsky.

-Yet another thing philo-Semites should keep in mind is that it's hard to define a “stereotypical Jew.” Some are talkative, others are shy. Some like to joke around, others are more serious. Some are smart, others ummm... not so much. Some are rich, others (like me) don't know how to put food on their plates tomorrow. Some work as bankers or financiers, others work as cashiers, bar tenders or waiters. Some drive taxis, others sweep the streets, others own multi-billion dollar businesses.

-In sum, Koreans like to be praised for being Korean. Algerians or Moroccans like to be praised for belonging to those nations. Jews would rather be praised as individuals, and would rather leave Judaism out of the equation.

-I've encountered philo-Semites over the years. Let's say that there are three categories (roughly). There are those interested in discussing the Old Testament and the religion itself. There are those interested in discussing the conflict between Israel and Palestine. And there are those who assume that I being Jewish, I have lots of connections to show business, elite politics or elite business, and that I could introduce them to a lot of powerful people.

-I've never encountered a philo-Semite who understands Israel and/or Judaism and modern Jewish society in all its complexities. Most philo-Semites' understanding of Judaism tends to be limited to Seinfeld or perhaps Woody Allen or more recently Larry David. And then to Israeli Prime Ministers, the Six Day War and the Kippur War and the Intifadas. But that's not really Judaism, and further reinforces my point that Jews like to be treated like individuals.

-In the case of the Old Testament, I've met quite a few people who think that modern Israelis live like Israelis (or Judeans) in the Old Testament. I'm not trying to make fun of anyone, but quite a few people have asked me questions about things that are in the Bible and ask me if things really work like that in Israel. So promoting Israel as “the start-up nation” is not a bad idea after all.

-In the case of the Old Testament, quite a few people start off by praising Judaism, before gradually trying to get me to reject the Old Testament and join their religion (either Christianity or Islam, or any other religion). What starts off as praise, becomes my friends being offended that I refuse to join their Mosque or Church.

-In the case of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, or the history of Israel, a lot of people will start praising Israel. But, in some cases, the conversation gradually shifts to trying to get me to adopt more pro-Palestinian stances. I try to explain to them that the “shachshuch” (conflict in Hebrew) is not a soccer game where you either support Israel or Palestine. It's a lot more complicated, with so many variables involved that there are no winners or losers. Just two peoples trying to go about their day to day life safely, with different definitions of what “safety” means.

-In the case of “show business” or “big business” or trying to get me to connect those to big people, I try hard to explain that being Jewish is never a ticket to show business. Never was, never will be.

-It just happens that there's a large Jewish community in LA and New York City and Paris and London, and that because those Jews in show business happen to be brilliant, and to live in the right city, they eventually work their way up into show business. Judaism is not a ticket to show business or to the elites.

-Then there are philo-Semites, who, when they are disappointed to find out that Judaism is not an elite religion where every believer is a member of the elites, that Jews brag about being individuals, not Jews, and that Jews want people to understand the conflict in its complexities, not to summarize it to a 90 minute soccer game where one team will outperform the other, those philo-Semites become disappointed, and start embracing anti-Semitic theories. Happens sometimes.

-So why don't Jews or Israelis try to use “soft-power” to their advantage? Because of all the complexities of Jewish culture and society, we don't try too hard to promote our image.

-And I say that Israel and Judaism should learn a lesson from Korean “soft-power.” You have Koreans promoting an image of Korea via movies, music and soap operas, the image is such an idealized version of Korea, that when those Korean culture fans deal with actual Koreans, a lot of times they reject all things Korean. Or, in some cases, Korean wave fans will stop interacting with Koreans, but try to make their millions by studying and writing about Korean cultural products and history, without interacting with Koreans, or limiting those interactions. Perhaps they hope to get a job with Korean cultural institutions or universities, but there isn't much money to be made doing that either.

-So, in Judaism and in Israel, we try to let individuals promote themselves as individuals (or their version of Judaism if they wish to) but we don't associate ourselves to those individuals' definition of Israel or Judaism. 


   
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