by Jennifer Blowdryer and Alvin Orloff, Zeek
For years and years, hipsters and avant garde types (at least here in America) liked Jews…a lot. Jews were the chosen people of hip rebellion: antisemitism was the preserve of bigots in small towns, and genteel stuffed shirts from Connecticut. You’d no more hear blood libel off the lips of a beatnik than the Battle Hymn of the Republic. All that, we are sorry to have to inform you, has changed.
With Jennifer’s cute button nose, she is able to pass as gentile at cocktail parties and hipster soirées. Since she loves her Mediterranean-looking Jewish mother dearly, far more than her cocktail-swilling patriarchal line, this is not something she revels in. Nevertheless, she is frequently a fly on the wall at social events full of offbeat types where the Jew-baiting remarks crop up, and crop up they do, with increasing frequency and with alarming use of the old stereotypes.
A tattoo artist refers to another tattoo artist as someone who worries a lot because, you know, she’s Jewish.
Or: It figured Jennifer was Jewish, said I., an SSI recipient just one step away from the streets, since she had a low-income co-op. This street urchin, hiding her middle-class white origins with coveralls and a rasta name, was accusing the Jew of a preternatural cunning. And yet, while it is hard to find a place in Manhattan, one somehow doesn’t imagine the many thousands of gentiles living in rent-controlled or low-income accommodation being called “cunning” for having an affordable roof over their head.
Or: A gay synthpop musician mentioned he was only being nice to a Jewish producer because he had to “play the game” while his art curator boyfriend claimed another friend of theirs talked a lot because, yes, he was Jewish.
Nor is the plague confined to gentiles. One composer of unusual chamber music threatened to hit Alvin for referring to him as a Jew. “It’s a religion and I’m an atheist.” Alvin’s suggestion that Jewishness (as distinct from Judaism) is an ethnicity was met with a petulant silence. This attitude was rendered all the more ironic by the fact that the composer in question is a hook-nosed Hebrew descendant of Holocaust survivors who issued his ludicrous denials in second-generation Yiddish inflections.
There have always been frustrated, jealous, intolerant people looking for scapegoats. These are just a few contemporary examples. What’s worrying is that they feel free to express themselves in openly racist ways here and now—even to deny their own visible heritage. Why is it so unhip to dig the Jews?
It’s unhip because the hip people from the Left—avant garde’s traditional partner in subversion—are scapegoating the Jews. Although sometimes beginning as justifiable opposition to certain Israeli policies, leftist anti-Zionism frequently slips into opposition to Israel’s right to exist, which then gets extended to Jews generally. If, as German socialist August Bebel once said, antisemitism is the socialism of fools, then the Left is now in serious danger of extreme foolishness. Legitimate criticism of Israel, on occasion, slides into Jew-baiting. Some examples:
— After the attacks of 9-11, literary relic Amira Baraka claimed that the Israelis were responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center. This libel was not met with snorts of derisive laughter from his beatnik-era cohorts, but impassioned defenses of his inalienable right to self-expression and to be poet laureate of New Jersey. It was left to solid citizens and the state government to argue that racism was squaresville.
— Israel’s influence in American politics is also exaggerated to outlandish extents. Ralph Nader, for example, recently characterized Bush and the Congress as “puppets” of Ariel Sharon. Why the largest and most powerful empire in the history of the world would take orders from the small, albeit feisty, nation of Israel would seem to pose quite a conundrum—unless one believes in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion or some watered-down contemporary alternative. When questioned, Nader claimed that he was only denouncing the influence of the American Israeli Political Action Committee, something commonly done in the pages of the New York Times. Nader’s statement was met with cheers from both his earnest progressive supporters and the neo-Nazis of the “National Stormfront.”
— Adbusters, a magazine popular amongst anti-capitalists, ran a list of prominent neo-conservatives with asterisks next to the names of the Jews. Why, oh why, the article asked, was it wrong to point out that the architects of the Bush administration’s Middle East policies were disproportionately Jewish? Of course, one might ask: Was there an accompanying list of anti-war leaders with asterisks next to the disproportionately high number of Jewish names? Nope.
— And recently, we walked into a bookstore in San Francisco and discovered a series of satiric anti-rightwing stickers (you know the ones, “Bush/Cheney, four more wars”) and found one that read “Palestinians out of Palestine, Jews for Genocide”—implicating all Jews in a demonized Zionism. Of course it was supposed to be humorous overstatement. Ha, ha, ha. Unlike, say, witches or female-to-male transsexuals, Jews are now fair game in the über-trendy Mission district. If these people are at the cutting edge of the culture, what is it that the culture is going to end up cutting?
In the future, this hipster antisemitism is only going to get worse. As the Middle East Crisis (or Middle East Culture, as one wag prefers to call it) gets bloodier and more apocalyptic, and memories of the Holocaust and general Jewish victimhood fade, those who instinctively side with the underdog will become less sympathetic, churning out worse and worse message stickers. How to respond?
One strategy is to infiltrate, like the nonracist, skinhead, punk gag band, Jewdriver. With Aryan Sharon on bass, the band performs signature songs like “Don’t Jew Me Like That.” Their official band drink? Cherry Manishewitz. They don’t let a little thing like being Jewish interfere with being skinheads. We like this strategy. Getting huffy and confronting racists—ADL-style—is less likely to produce more of a softening of feeling than say, an all-Jewish episode of Elimidate. And why hold your next Young Jewish Voices event at the Sol Goldman Y? Instead, impose it on an unsuspecting general public, perhaps in restaurant-type setting. The great Hasidic Jews of New York have begun to show up not just at lap-dancing parlors, but at gay clubs, open mics, and poetry slams. These inter-minglings still create a festive air (that hat, those curls!) but soon it’ll become such an everyday thing that nobody will notice or object. Here we defer to Quentin Crisp’s dictum that true integration comes not through outraged protest, but boredom.
To end on a hopeful note, the turnaround from hipsterdom to mainstream is about five years (see bell-bottoms and nose rings). This means that antisemitism will be back in vogue amongst the suburban masses before the end of this decade, and hence, anathema to the hipster, who will once again love Jews. After all, what’s not to love?
This piece first appeared in the January 2005 edition of Zeek: A Journal of Jewish Thought and Culture. We felt this was an all too appropriate time to reprint it, given the global anti-Jewish backlash in the wake of Israel’s Gaza aggression.
August Bebel page from the Marxists Internet Archive
“Stormfront” neo-Nazis dig Ralph Nader
From our Daily Report:
Venezuela: gunmen ransack Caracas synagogue
World War 4 Report, Feb. 1, 2009
Reprinted by World War 4 Report, Feb. 1, 2009
Reprinting permissible with attribution