Sometimes movie lines stick with me decades after I hear them, and I don’t always know why. I have half of “Tootsie” in my head, bits of “Thelma and Louise” (“Darryl does it, how hard can it be?”), “Steel Magnolias” (“I haven’t left home without Lycra on these thighs since I was twelve”), “The Corn Is Green” (“A female Master of Arts? How long is this going to last?”) and dozens of others.
One, though, that I can safely say I understand is a speech Jimmy Rabbitte has in “The Commitments” (1991). It goes something like this: “The Irish are the Blacks of Europe. Dubliners are the Blacks of Ireland, and the northside Dubliners are the Blacks of Dublin. So say it once, say it loud: I’m Black, and I’m proud.”
This is not to say that I’m anything but European in descent, but I get what Jimmy’s saying. The Irish were always the undesirables, the unsavory element, looked down on as low-class and troublesome. When they were snatched off the boats in New York and sent to fight the Mexicans (1846-48), many of them saw a bitter irony in being sent to fight for the WASPy US government against fellow Catholics who stood to lose their land at the hands of an imperial juggernaut. It was all too familiar to them. Some even risked hanging and changed sides.
As Jimmy describes the Irish, so I’ve followed a similar trail of suspicious alliance and membership in a reviled people. First I converted to Judaism, which made me very different from most Americans (and sometimes suspect, especially to secular born-Jews). Then I made aliyah. Then I moved to the West Bank. If our kids’ educational needs could be met by living in Hebron, we might even have entertained the thought of moving there. (But I also don’t feel great about packing a pistol with very young children in the house and for me, that would be a given living in Hebron.)
Think this is hyperbole? Jews in the Diaspora are finding some of their core practices under attack, including circumcision in San Francisco and kashrut in the Netherlands. (It’s already outlawed in several European countries). Within Israel, there is alarm on the political Left at the surge of religious Zionists serving in the IDF (due in part to their own draft-dodging, but that seems to have eluded them as a possible cause). The strengthened political Right as a result of failed Oslo, Arab terrorism, and the refusal by the Arabs of every peace proposal made them in the last 11 years has become a cause of concern to the Left. I actually thought the Left had vanished as a result of the Arab Terror War (aka Second Intifada), but it seems there are at least enough left to write articles ruing their alienation of the haredi population (whose numbers and anti-Zionist philosophy they think could have helped them overcome the influence of religious Zionists in government), to call for European boycotts of Israeli universities (and themselves in the case of Leftist academics), and calling for open war (i.e. violence) against settlers. That, of course, brings me to the view of settlers in Israel. The narrative that has entranced Obama, Europe, and much of the world — that if the settlers just packed up and left their homes (or were brutally massacred, whichever is more expedient), there would be peace on earth, goodwill toward men — has also been adopted by the Israeli Left, and the chorus of incitement against settlers seems to be echoed by the Israeli Police, who are nominally here to keep order. (Check out this video at the Muqata of police brutality against unarmed settlers in Amona. The editing to include clips of Nazis beating Jews in beside the point; the point is really how the police treat religious Israelis here.) According to my friend Nadia Matar of Women In Green, if there is an altercation between a Jew and an Arab out where we live, the army will take 20 minutes to arrive; the police will take three, but only if you tell them a Jew is attacking an Arab.
The day the beit din agreed to convert me, one of the rabbis told me, “The Jews are not a popular people.” And that man had a cushy job at a university Hillel in the genteel city of Boston. (To his credit, he is also a Shoah survivor, so he knows what he’s talking about.) There was no need to tell me that then, and certainly no need to tell me now. Then, as now, the hatred of Jews is more indicative of the pathology of the hater than due to anything Jews (or religious Zionists, or settlers) are or do.
I’m Black, and I’m proud.