Category Archives: Yiddishkeit

About that Zyklon, B

alpine

Not Antifa

Cowardice is failure to rise to the occasion. It happens to the best of us; it happens to the worst of us. Hiding behind an avatar and a screen name while blithely applauding the misfortunes of anonymous strangers, however—or wishing misfortune upon them—is lower than cowardice. True, I’m hiding behind an avatar myself, but I’ve got mouths to feed, and I’m not trolling anybody.

I’ve been heavily engaged with alt-right ideas for about five years now. Obviously, and like anything else nowadays, elements of this movement may be controlled opposition, but there’s a certain incredulousness to it as well, and the whole thing seems to portend societal breakdown in ways that are mostly unprecedented in living memory. The alt-right has certainly shed welcome light upon taboo ideas—more often its truths and not its falsehoods are what prove jarring to detractors, and that says a lot. But if the unhinged malice that’s plain to see online among the alt-right rank-and-file were ever to be transmogrified into real world behavior, it would have to be violently discouraged—at least by the likes of this here half-breed, no matter how legitimate the underpinning grievances are. Because I worship the God of the motherfucking Hebrews, and you don’t have to like me.

Speaking of grievances, I defy anyone on the alt-right to read my oeuvre and tell me I’m anti-white or, indeed, that I’m not pro-white; that I defend Jews reflexively or indiscriminately; that I’m in favor of Israeli dependence on US lucre, or of any other unfair transfer of goyische resources into the hands of bnei yisrael; that the respect I show to what is sacred to others of any faith is less than the respect I would ask that others show to mine; that I mischaracterize counter-arguments; that I sympathize one iota with the forces of sexual degeneracy or economic exploitation, or that I am insufficiently vociferous in my support for freedom of conscience and expression. But the alt-right only wants those things for itself—no sensible man would rather be a dissident under a fascist regime than under the present American oligarchy, and alt-right talk about distancing the movement from Blues Brothers-grade Nazism is just that: talk.

There is much of the alt-right worldview that I’ll readily concede. Nevertheless, in aggregate the alt-right is plainly a ressentiment rabble, and the fact is, ninety-nine percent of online political discourse is just lurid entertainment anyway. I like mental exercise as much as the next man, but how much of this shit has anything to do with putting food on the table? You have to be bored out of your gourd and rather empty as a person to want to take political yippity-yap to the next level.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with racism prima facie as a worldview—the idea that there are innate, heritable racial differences and disparities that precede culture and are relevant in social relations. I’m not sure there’s really anyone who doesn’t believe this on some level. So if your skin’s thicker than papier mache you’ve got no excuse for being averse to expressions of racism that aren’t wholly malicious and intended to provoke superfluous violence. The funnier or more well-reasoned, the better, of course. In the famous words of Thomas Jefferson, “There is not a truth existing which I fear or would wish unknown to the whole world.” It is possible for a false narrative to simply be a snippet of truth, framed or decontextualized. But if it’s 100-proof, I say bring it on.

Political anti-Semitism, on the other hand, tends first of all to manifest in the form of prosecutorial briefs (framed) and litanies (decontextualized) worked up to a frothy lather (dopamine), the logic of which veers unmistakably toward physical aggression, so much so that any political anti-Semite who disavows a violent solution is probably either not serious about his ideas, or is being disingenuous about what he’d like to have happen. The conviction that the Jews in toto are the perennial antagonist in world affairs begs the question of what is to be done, and the answers tend to narrow themselves down considerably. So when you view the arrival at this conclusion as fundamental to fully informed civic engagement, you’re putting a target on my back. And you don’t fuckin’ know me. And one of the reasons you don’t know me is because I’ve never done you any harm. But I can, if you’d like.

Now, if you’re some anonymous person out clickity-clacking on the internet, the harm that is liable to accrue to me from your activities is negligible. But over time and in the aggregate, this may not always be the case. If so, you can certainly congratulate yourself for having an impact, and bask a bit in the glory of being a part of something bigger than yourself. You may indeed be part of a thousands-deep movement that’s making its way into the streets and winning scuffles with body-positive Antifa androgynes, but that does me no harm and (unless you’re one of the retweet-counting, shekel-grubbing attention whores leading the movement) it does you no good. So as long as you’re feeling smug about expending energy to make yourselves known in this manner, you’ll get no objection from me. Hell, I’ll fight for your right to assemble and have your say non-violently. If you’re attacked, by all means, defend yourselves—I don’t care against whom. But every one of those “kikes to the gas” comment threads that sticks in my craw is a chicken that’ll be home to roost the minute you ask for it in the real world. Because I’ve been there.

Crypto-fascist, Crypto-Jew

zionism-equals-nazism

Bro I wish

Part II of a series in progress….. Part I here, Part III forthcoming

I.

When I was eighteen, I beat up a white power skinhead. My late-adolescent self-seeking had taken a schlocky, Daniel Deronda kind of turn, so any opportunity to defend Jewish honor I felt I had to take, no matter how contrived. I guess I fancied myself a little like the Jewboy Schwartz in Porky’s. 

Anyway, as I was standing with a gaggle of crust punks one weekday afternoon on a downtown corner across from the bus station, a sinewy little guy with a shorn pate and narrow mustache strolled up in boots, braces, beater and bomber, drew one of my punker compadres aside and transacted a drug deal inconspicuously. Then he started back on his way—that is, until I shoved him, hard, from behind. On that day I decided I would simply refuse to accept that neo-Nazis should make themselves visible.

He turned around to face me, breathing through his open mouth, his incisors streaked a scummy, bacterial yellow. He had grimy pores and crusted-over scabs, his fingers were nicotine stained and filthy under the nails. There were little SS lighting bolt runes tattooed on one side of his neck, an iron cross on the other.

I stepped forward and poked him in the chest. Fear flashed momentarily across his eyes but he steadied his gaze, grinning as he reached into his beater and flipped out a brass swastika on a long, thin chain around his neck. That was when I hauled off.

I managed to land a solid several thumps upside his noggin as he flailed, until suddenly he surged into me at chest level, Hail Mary-like—head down, forearms up blocking. He managed to back me up a few steps, grabbing me by the shirt collar as he poked his little radish head up to bite me, square on the nose. The shock of this lent him the further momentum to bare down and take me tumbling to the pavement, back first. I almost rolled him but he bore down hard again, straddling my chest as he tried to strangle me. He overplayed his hand, though: as he wound back to clock me point blank, I availed myself of the empty space between my sternum and his groin, gripped him square in the nether region with one hand and up under an armpit with the other, then pulled him sideways into my chest and flipped him square on his back.

I mounted, I grounded, I pounded. Quite often the toughness of recidivist scumbags has more to do with the capacity to absorb a beating than to mete one out. He struggled, quivering with desperate futility, like a live fish held down for gutting.

Then suddenly I heard a crisp “snap!” I thought the sound was his nose breaking, which it was. Although I didn’t feel the pain immediately, it would also turn out to be the distal metacarpals on my mean right shattering in several places each. The pain settled in a second later, as I looked down and noticed that my opponent, though conscious, had given up, and was bleeding profusely from his nose and mouth.

Just then, someone yelled “cops!”

I looked up to see two peace officers, a man and a woman, sprinting towards us down the sidewalk some fifty yards off. I hopped up, bolted and rounded the nearest corner. Within two blocks I’d completely lost my pursuers and cut through the parking lot of a gated condo complex to a corner hamburger shack on the other side that had a pay phone booth in its back parking lot, out of view of the street. My dad was just getting off work and I called him for a ride.

II.

Awhile after that, once my broken hand had mended, I saw a member of the same local clique of white power skinheads strolling past me on the same downtown block. He was wearing a trucker hat on which he’d stenciled an iconic punk-rock anti-fascist symbol….

keepctryt

Only $12.99 on Angry, Young & Poor LMFAO

….only in his rendition, the stick figure was trashing a Star of David, not a swastika. I was so shocked by this meager display of literacy that I doubted what I had seen until he was well out of sight, but twenty minutes later he came back in the opposite direction with a slice of pizza in one hand.

As he passed by I snorted, ‘Nice hat.’ He turned to see who’d paid him the compliment and I mean-mugged him like I intended to do him harm. He froze, gazing back indecisively, whereupon I decked him in the face with my skateboard, an act I hadn’t planned nor even anticipated from myself. His pizza slice went flying as he dropped, hard, straight back. As soon as he hit the pavement he began seizing violently. I found out later that I had actually cracked his eye socket.

If you go out of your way to seriously insult strangers, you should probably be better prepared for a backlash than this guy was. But then, if you set out to harm everyone who says stuff you don’t like, you’d better know your limits a little better than I knew mine. I’d been reading a lot about the Irgun and Murder, Inc., but imitating them didn’t feel so good. I had beaten people with fists before, but this was the first time I used a weapon. In an instant I had become a more brutal creature than I realized I was, or ever had been. Frozen in shock, staring down at my victim, I experienced the disembodying sensation of a strong compassionate impulse concurrent with the realization that I had now forfeited my right to feel it. When I reemerged into linear time I heard shouting, and glanced up just soon enough to outrun bus station security.

I was less than six months out of high school then, and while I was heavily into pot and earning C grades at the local community college on my Jew-doctor daddy’s dime, my best friend Max (a goy, if you must know, and a profoundly goyische one, at that) was getting heavily into meth. He used to flop at a mutual friend’s apartment, where a female roommate was dating one of the skinheads, who also happened to be meth retailers. They would party there too, and crash on weekend nights. Word got back to me from Max that the White Power crew was looking for me and that their leader, a hardened ex-con by the nom de guerre of ‘Panther,’ had vowed to handle me personally. I didn’t know what Panther looked like, but he sounded fearsome.

III.

At that time I was also running a moderately lucrative sideline in pot (re-upping weekly by the quarter-pound), and one of my occasional customers was a six-and-a-half foot homeless high-yellow, also an ex-con, who bore an uncanny resemblance to Lawrence Fishburne—pockmarks and all—and went by a nom de guerre of his own, ‘The Reverend.’

In some visceral, sub-conscious nether region I understood perfectly well how predatory and aggressive the poor can be—must be, oftentimes—and I certainly recognized all the ways this tends to manifest among blacks. But at that age the psychic patina of racial pathos and Pavlovian guilt-inculcation at the hands nearly two decades’ worth of Hollywood movies and civics lessons prevented me from metabolizing this information to the full benefit of my survival instincts. If defending Jewish honor was a legacy passion project, evasion of actual danger was a work in progress.

Perhaps intentionally, The Reverend dressed a lot like Morpheus from The Matrix, in a ratty trench coat over an unwashed hoodie, with greasy cargo pants and army boots. His hustle was fortune telling for racially solicitous post-pinko granolas at a card table he used to set up in front of a health food store on the downtown strip, with a purple velvet table cloth where he’d lay out crystals for sale. Obsequious in characteristically downtrodden-black fashion, with that opportunistic malice lurking plainly underneath, The Reverend used to call me ‘Young Buck,’ and I showed my appreciation for his backhanded flattery by over-weighing his twomp sacks by a half-gram. Sometimes I’d smoke a joint with him just to be friendly. I was listening to a lot of rap music at that age.

One day as I was making my rounds on the downtown strip, I passed by The Reverend’s tarot table when he hailed me. I was carrying a bag of fruits and vegetables I’d just purchased from the health food store. He asked if I had any bud for sale, and slid a twenty spot onto the table. I snapped up the bill, slid my backpack down one arm and fished out a half-eighth (about half a gram more than I normally charged twenty for). But The Reverend gave a pensive, dissatisfied grimace and deadpanned, ‘Now why you tryin’ ta short me, homie?’ My balls dropped a bit as it dawned on me exactly what The Reverend took me for—ironically, this Morpheus-lookalike kind of redpilled me that day. As I returned the weed to my backpack and tossed his twenty-spot back onto the table I told him, “Go fuck your mother you shitty fuckin’ nigger.” It was the first (and second to last) time in my life I availed myself of that epithet in the second person.

Well that must not’ve made The Reverend’s day, because no sooner had I made my way half a block up from where he sat than I heard someone murmur, “The fuck you say to me?” and when I looked back over my shoulder, there was The Reverend in hot pursuit. I turned, snarling to face him and he stopped about three feet shy of me.

The Reverend was fairly big. He probably could have fucked me up; he probably could have fucked me. A crowd gathered ’round as we stared each other down, but this didn’t register immediately. All that was going through my head was that fight-or-flight electric slow-mo, and while (relative to his size) I might not have had the ablest fight in me, there was no flight. On that day—in spite of the stifling, kumbaya college-town atmosphere and the gaping hipsters and granolas gathered ’round to spectate—I simply refused to accept that I owed a predatory hustler anything but flagrant contempt.

The Reverend looked around at the assembled throng and decided to go for a half-measure: kicking around the back of my shins in big circular motions, trying to trip me. I jumped, took a step back, and grabbed an apple out of the grocery bag I had dangling from my wrist. My side-hand curve went ‘thwap!’ upside The Reverend’s head and dropped to the sidewalk broken open, dripping juice; then I hurled another, and another, each one landing with a ‘thwap!’ as we danced around in circles like a folk jig, him still trying to trip me, until I was out of apples.

Realizing, I suppose, that this spectacle was liable to cost him business, after a minute or so The Reverend stopped, hung his head sullenly, and skulked back to his tarot table to pack up his things. As I moved on up the strip, the atmosphere around me seemed to inflate with a laden tingling of shame. Had anyone heard me say nigger? Would word get around? Would I now be labelled a racist?

In just a few short months, The Reverend had made himself such a figure in town that at one point, about a month prior, he officiated a well-attended, interactive ‘white privilege’ self-flagellation demo organized by some intrepid sociology students at the university campus. It even got written up in the local weekly. But after our confrontation I never saw him in town again.

But the day of our confrontation, as I tender-hoofed my way up the strip and away from the scene, the strangest thing happened. A lousy, shirtless, sunburned little man with a shorn pate, wearing blue jeans, combat boots and braces came straggling along behind me. When he caught up he blurted out, breathless, ‘Are you having trouble with that nigger?’ Unsure of his intentions and leery of being judged by any proximate third-parties who might’ve seen what just happened, I replied ‘Hey man, that’s some pretty strong language right there.’ But when I glanced over I noticed that he was covered from torso to neck in Nazi tattoos. This dude intended to lend me moral support on the grounds of white solidarity. ‘Man, I hate that fuckin’ nigger. Just out here preyin’ on dumb fucks in this town. You don’t have to take that shit.’

‘I don’t know if you wanna take my part, bro. I’m Jewish.’

‘Well…..’ He paused. ‘I don’t have anything against Jews. I just have a problem with certain Zionists.’ I was taken aback, not at the note of acceptance but at the vocabulary, and not because it was impressive, but because it existed at all.

‘Name’s Panther.’ He extended a hand and we shook. Panther was small enough I could’ve picked him up and tossed him in a trash compactor. ‘Stay out of trouble, brother. Just look at me’—he was pretty haggard—‘it ain’t worth it.’ And off he went into the evening.

The Examined Life: Robin Williams Edition

brooks_was_here__by_joeruff-d59h1ju

Quit bein’ so goddamned serious

“You’re just depressed.” But am I wrong?

“You’re overthinking things.” Really? Where’s the limit and who sets it?

“That’s just the way things are, you’re gonna have to get used to it.” am used to it. Is that not a reason to discern, to describe, to investigate? How long are we to maintain one opinion, or none? 

Don’t worry. We’re all here; we all care. We’re all… watching. You’ll get things right, no doubt. After all, there’s just one fix.

You have to be assertive, self-assured, domineering (more spur, more riding crop, more moxy!)

See?

more tactful, sensitive, empathetic (more courteous, more caring, more moral). Nowadays the other man’s sensitivities can be myriad, you know, and you’ve got to anticipate everything.

So while you may not realize it, it isn’t questions you have, it’s a health issue. It’s not your fault. Lots of others have been where you are and come through productive, and carefree. I myself get paid to make these pronouncements.

So productivity is the end-goal of health? Of existence? Productive of what, exactly? And if it doesn’t matter, then why do my feelings? Wherefore uniformity in the things one ought or ought not to care about? Who decides? Do they have a mailing address? IS ANYBODY LISTENING?!?

One God, no Masters

04arouchlarge

Don’t ever stop throwing punches

But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me. (Luke 19:27)

But the rest of the world they confront with a contempt reserved for enemies.                                   (Tacitus, Histories 5:2-5)

‘Tis the season of Mars retrograde reactionary chic. I have only one horse in this manger and he most assuredly is not the messiah.

The Jewish sojourn lo these past couple millennia is ironic in that it mirrors the Gospel themes of stripes, stigmata, and resurrection. But while many an archetype has been cast in legend or approximated by a given personage in history, and while every nation has its spirits, gods and peculiarities, it’s rare for a literary archetype to be embodied in an entire people.

The alleged inimicality of Judaism or the Semitic spirit, on the one hand, and the Aryan or aristocratic spirit on the other, is a long-established cliché. Nietzsche called it master versus slave morality; Spengler described the Western as opposed to the Magian cultures. Conservative Catholic apologists still ascribe the insurrectionary personality of Barabbas to the Jewish people as a whole—instead prescribing Christ-like meekness (or torture, as necessary—and they’re right. I myself would indubitably have preferred Barabbas). Evola juxtaposed the emphasis on penitence and mortification inherent in primitive Semitic and Babylonian traditions with the crucible of knighthood he identified as embodying their Indo-Aryan counterpart.

But just how far are Judaism and yiddishkeit removed from the “world of Tradition” as Evola conceived it? Are the Jews merely the bearers of a fossilized culture, as Arnold Toynbee suggested? Or are we vectors of dissolutive modernity, its materialism and revolutionary ferment? If it’s the latter, this would be a sort of revenge of the nerds: the intelligentsia are the villains in any good critique of modernity. In The Cherry Tree, Chekhov even gave his ruined old nobles a sendoff by a “Jewish orchestra.”

Well, no one will deny that the Jews are a clever bunch, given to smarting disdainfully under every kind of regime—behavior that can’t be all that incidental to the biblical narrative of slave revolt. And I’ll buy the theory that yiddishkeit has a lot to do with contrarianism (“a stiff-necked people”). But envy, rebellion and cyclical decay of the social order are deeply human universals, so how specifically do the Jews factor into the erosion of the “world of tradition” and the onset of vapid, discombobulated modernity?

According to Nietzsche,

the Jews achieved that miracle of inversion of values thanks to which life on earth has for a couple millennia acquired a new and dangerous fascination—their prophets fused ‘rich’, ‘godless’, ‘evil’, ‘violent’, ‘sensual’ into one and were the first to coin the word ‘world’ as a term of infamy. It is this inversion of values (with which is involved the employment of the word for ‘poor’ as a synonym for ‘holy’ and ‘friend’) that the significance of the Jewish people resides: with them there begins the slave revolt in morals.

But which Jews are these? The Essenes, or the zealots? Of course we know which of these the Romans co-opted, and which they repressed.

When reading Nietzsche it provides crucial context to recall that he contracted his syphilis from a boy hireling. So did the Jews despise hellenistic bacchanalia because they hated life, or because they wanted to live? Did turn-of-the-millennium Jews despise wealth for it’s own sake? Of course not: they were being taxed to starvation by quislings—the Parable of the Ten Minas is not a nod to the poor, the humble or the meek, either it’s a public service reminder to pay your taxes and keep your fucking mouth shut, or it’s incomprehensible garbage.

So there was quite a bit of ressentiment of Judea on the part of Rome, was there not? “It belongs to human nature to hate those whom we have injured,” to quote the noble Roman. Somehow, slave driving just isn’t the portrait of well-being Nietzsche takes it for, and something in his cosmology smacks of reverse victimology. You got taken by slaves? I wouldn’t complain too loud about that if I was you.

As Voltaire said, a sucker plays himself:

We hold the Jews in horror, and we insist that all which has been written by them, and collected by us, bears the stamp of Divinity. There never was so palpable a contradiction.

Indeed. But how is that Harold Abraham’s problem? That I wrote the tune you imbibe to makes me neither an alcoholic nor a barkeep. If your religion of kindness is based around critiquing the moral turpitude of a far-off people fighting yesteryear for its life against debauched aristocrats, then I don’t know what to tell you. Next time, get your own damn fables.

In any case, the Jews inflicted more damage on the Roman military than the efforts of any subjugant people, and they managed this well after the bulk of the defeats that Nietzsche credits with providing the impetus for their supposed inversion of values. When the Jews decided “to be at any cost”, they made one helluva downpayment. How many times does your empire have to be shaken by Judean resistance before you realize the problem is you? So what Nietzsche remains insufficient to explain is how so heady a brew of values-inversion as the Hebrew scriptures could have been adopted by such bloodthirsty fishers of men.

No: this great scaffolding of ressentiment is a red herring. Our choices are always plain, the only overcoming that’s needed is to pluck them back from out the hands of those who would requisition them. If there’s never a shortage of self-proclaimed intermediaries, it’s because no one wants things to be that simple. Thus the wishful but not unfounded reading of Nietzsche that so animated the Nazis was to suppose that a kind of savior is being thwarted.

The Jewish sojourn lo these past couple millennia is indeed ironic, in that it mirrors the Gospel themes of stripes, stigmata, and resurrection. More ironic still is that at the first laxening of Christian resolve we became christian ourselves in all but name, and the death of god brought out our priesthood like hack satirists. Genocide and intermarriage got nothin’ on sanctimony.

Fatherland Über Alles

Say goodnight to the bad guy

Say goodnight to the bad guy

“Military cemeteries in every corner of the world are silent testimony to the failure of national leaders to sanctify human life.” (Yitzhak Rabin)

The light in his heart blinded his sight; the longing for peace deafened his ears. And there’s something depressingly totalitarian in the notion that the sanctification of human life is the responsibility of the men in charge (=”national leaders”). A business like that could get real selective.

But since everywhere it already is and always has been, when it comes to Number One the only explanations for laxity are hubris, subterfuge or infirmity. And when it comes to the country Rabin led, you’re either for it, against it, or indifferent. There’s no moderate position that means anything.

To wit,

If Israel were to relinquish the West Bank, 80 per cent of its population and most of its industry would be within range of light artillery, mortars and even rifles positioned on the high ground of the Samarian and Judean ridges. These ridges cannot be effectively demilitarized or adequately inspected….

and

Those… who claim that modern military technology has made obsolete the need for… critical terrain…. are simply spouting ignorance. As weapons of war become more sophisticated these factors assume a greater and not a lesser importance…

Air defence radar situated on the [West Bank] affords the Israeli Air Force approximately 15 minutes’ warning time in the event of… air attack. Without these installations, the IAF would only have about four minutes in which to scramble its fighters…

[Furthermore,] no amount of electronic gadgetry could possibly substitute for control of… in-place defences against… guerrilla forces infiltrating across torturous borders. Between 1949 and 1967 the IDF devoted much of its resources against [such] infiltration. That these efforts were essentially not successful is clearly attested by the large number of Jews killed and wounded and property damage sustained during this period.

These are the expert analyses of disinterested military professionals, known to US policymakers since 1967. There’s an obvious inference to be made from them: that the moment Israel accepts a two-state solution, its viability, i.e., the lives of its people, becomes wholly dependent on feckless outside brokerage. How well has that worked out for other US collaborators? For the Jews? Consequently, Israel negotiates only in bad faith; it relinquishes territory only under immense outside pressure.

And so today, a lower-grade, more intractable intifada is upon us, the latest stage in an unresolved 1948 real estate dispute turned bitterly personal. Though Big Brother’s take on the matter rings unmistakably millenarian, machiavellian dispassion is still the best approach to it.

The standard premises run as follows: (1) The Jews are the aggressors whose bad behavior (“the occupation”) provokes these recurrent flare-ups. Redress this bad behavior and the problem solves itself. (2) The Arabs are the aggressors whose bad behavior (“terrorism”) provokes these recurrent flare-ups. Redress this bad behavior and the problem solves itself. (3) Each side has fair claims and unreasonable demands. Empower the reasonable people on each side (“civil society”), disempower the recalcitrants (the electorates), and the problem solves itself.

But all three run into each other, because nobody who has any real power is willing to endorse either of the first two (otherwise the matter would be settled), and the third can be modified to suit the purposes of any of the myriad stakeholders who appear to have real power.

A recent example, this one dressed up in IDF fatigues, appears this month in the Atlantic from the pen of one Jeffery Goldberg—like me, an American of Hebrewish provenance who as a youth served in the Israeli army only to return to the US with his tail between his legs.

Over the years, most of Goldberg’s journalistic efforts have been exerted (with preciously thin impartiality) on behalf of der judenstaat. But as a DC correspondent, a credentialed establishment man, he is innately straight-jacketed by the millenarian paradigm.

Because today this consensus so heavily emphasizes The Occupation and the Despair(TM), Goldberg wants the morally immaculate Atlantic demographic informed that in addition to its anti-colonial aspect, Palestinian nationalism is replete with dehumanization of The Other, based on decades of misapprehending (because Israel was conceived in peace and dedicated to the proposition that peace peace peace) but nonetheless egregiously insensitive sectarian chauvinism that handily predates the Jewish state in all its inadvertent excesses.

Shocking, no? Now that Goldberg has blown this thing open, will the Palestinians’ blood-curdling judenhaas cost them any street-cred? Of course not: the Jews are Franco to Orwell’s Catalonia here, haven’t you read the playbill? Only NPR granolas still think they see Israel anywhere near the progressive fold, and only glorified bloggers like the Atlantic house neocon believe that a death threat is exactly that, when The International Community(TM) is adamant it’s just a cry for help.

The Serbs were laboring under the same unwary naïveté when they went out to battle the unrepentant sons of ustashi and the traveling remnants of Charlie Wilson’s jihad, only to have The Rule of Law(TM) rain bombs on their children and old people. The slightly more sophisticated Goldberg understands that the Frantz Fannon approach to Levantine affairs is sold out, he just hasn’t figured out that there’s no return policy. Ever the sectarian partisan, ever the lamenting liberal, if he wants to keep selling himself as a moderate and conceiving of himself one of the good guys, then neither of his two conflicted faces may blurt out what they’d like, even when they’ve just said it. So he wraps up with this:

There will not be peace between Israelis and Palestinians so long as parties on both sides of the conflict continue to deny the national and religious rights of the other.

Aw, truly. And horses will not fly until they sprout wings. “Parties on both sides of the conflict”=the other guy. What we have here is The People’s Court, Uncle Sam presiding.

Thus the real hangup—of Arab, Jew and Earnest Liberal alike—reveals itself, and it isn’t tribe or talisman. For when we deploy the debate-stopping language of Rights, we whitewash our innate imperatives as creatures, not only to train up a tree in the way it should grow, but to fuck, suck, eat and shit.

Clearly, the Palestine Arabs were there first, minding their own business. They say they have the right to Palestine, to be its sole proprietors and never have this status challenged by covetous interlopers (their leaders sing different, but it’s a show tune). As rights go, this one is self-evident, devolving to the Palestinians in accordance with the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.

The only problem is that God doesn’t seem to give a shit. Neither does He seem too terribly anxious to hear we Zionists’ case regarding our putative right to pluck a fig and dig a latrine free from the capricious imperium of crescent and cross, because every time we set to digging, something explodes, and the Supreme Judge of the World admonishes us to exercise restraint. Perhaps it’s God’s silent stinkers alighting this tinderbox year after year, ha-Shem’s way of weeping over our rights and their apparent illusoriness. Though I’m disinclined to blame human foibles on the Creator, I don’t know. I’m not a theologian.

What I can declare self-evident is that the promulgation of sacred liberties, of rights, never seems to involve their simple extension, but their usurpation. It’s the greatest pretext ever devised, not for ceding power but for seizing it.

Al Pacino said it best as Tony Montana, but he may as well have been speaking for Israel:

What you lookin’ at? You all a bunch of fuckin’ assholes. You know why? You don’t have the guts to be what you wanna be. You need people like me. You need people like me so you can point your fuckin’ fingers and say, “That’s the bad guy.” So… what that make you? Good? You’re not good. You just know how to hide, how to lie….

In the moral lexicon of the Milennium, Israel is a sectarian anachronism, rooted in ethnic cleansing; a gangster state that espouses no principle higher than self-interest, its own and no one else’s.

Not bad for the most neurotic people on the planet!

A year or two back I saw an illustrative exchange on Meet the Press between Andrea Mitchell and Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer. Mitchell played a clip of Israeli border guards kicking the crap out of a supine Arab youth, then primly asked the ambassador, “What do you say to those who cherish Israel, but who see it as potentially losing its soul?” Its soul? You’re looking at it, lady. Were they not beating the kid hard enough?

Zionism is anachronistic not because it misreads the fundamentals of the human condition, but because it’s an expression of the emancipated, secular Jew’s yearning to be respected by a virile Aryan who’s going extinct, whose own enfeebled descendants disdain him. Not for any lack of democratic spirit, Zionism is a characteristically vindictive early-twentieth century totalitarian movement that somehow slipped under the radar of the postwar, its contours visible in Israel’s counter-modern racial insularity, its mid-20th century youth-brigade collectivism preserved into the 21st, its Soviet-style tenements, ubiquitous war memorials and winking toleration of extra-legal impunity, evidenced by the fixated recurrence in Israeli film of vigilantist themes.

Pursuit of the bourgeois good life is already eroding all of these tendencies, and Judaism will continue reverting to an exilic creed, clung to at high cost by a neurotic few, rather than the unitarianism it has become in the US and the facile vote for self-preservation it represents in the modern democracy of Israel (the 20th century’s totalitarian movements tended to enjoy majority support). But when this brittle triumph of the “if you will it” finally erodes and washes into the sea, something fascinating will have been lost: a most passionate manifestation of collective man at his best, and his worst, simultaneous.

Israel’s detractors accuse it of being the tip of the Western spear in the Third World’s hide, while Israel-apologists imagine it’s a forward outpost of democracy in Kipling’s orient. But the tide of democracy tends to wash over such outposts (Algeria, Rhodesia), and the whole “Who’s got your six?” gag rings tinny when Uncle Sam’s already got the Confederacy pullin’ fireguard for Pride. The difference between Israel and the West whose back it thinks it has is the difference between Futurism and Flashbacks; between New Soviet Man and 90s Man. Between cowboy morality and midnight cowboy morality, the Milennium and the God of the Copybook Headings.

Look, I’m as tormented by hypertrophied self-awareness as Franz Kafka, as sexually maladjusted as Alan Ginsburg, as gullible as Vassily Grossman, as conflicted in my affinities as Hannah Arendt. And White City Bauhaus is just the bee’s knees. But Israel without reaction (Josef Trumeldor), fascism (Vladimir Jabotinsky), pugilism (Imi Lichtenfeld) and gangsterism (Bugsy Siegel) is no Israel at all.

Of course there’s something deeply romantic about all these shades of grey, but there comes a time to put aside childish things. And the Jewish deficiencies Israel was intended to exorcise—the clannish solipsism, the conniving, the ruthless mercantilism, the sniveling refusal to bear calamity without castigating fortune—though counterbalanced by a robust militarism, these tendencies are rife among Israelis, and after five decades of police action frozen on autopilot, that now bureaucratized militarism has overtaken the gangster volatility and iconoclasm of early 20th century Zionism, until nearly all that’s left is conformity, and spite.

The same deterioration is taking place among the Arabs, who’ve gone from devout tribes of incorrigible bandits to effete, mealy-mouthed holy-rollers, hogging the airwaves with their tiresome identity crises and felching oversees lucre for their hair-trigger bloodfeuding.

Yet despite our smug superiority, throughout the past century of Arab-Jewish reprisals, from time to time a visceral disconcertion tends to arise among Jews over everything the backward old Levant (our patrimony, which will only and forever be defined by the Arabs no matter how long we persist there, just as their religion will forever be defined by us, no matter how mad our impudence drives them) has to recommend it that Christendom never did and modernity never will. There’s an odd familiarity to the Arabs that transcends the present enmity.

So I don’t disparage the Palestinians as terrorists or any other empty epithet. Obviously their more conspicuous tactics (indiscriminate stabbings, shootings and bombings of civilian targets) are rather chickenshit, and my hypothesis would be that this has as much to do with inchoate rage of irrelevant etiology as it does with any tactical desperation born of power asymmetry. But it is also provoked, not by Israel’s putative brutality but by the acrid scent of that congenital Jewish tendency, at this late date unvanquished by Zionist instruction, to panic and duck for shelter.

As far as any possible moral dimension to how an adversary plays the field in a zero-sum contest, it isn’t worth my time and isn’t mine to look into. As for the many US Jews who couldn’t care less about Judaism and the welfare of Israel: that’s their prerogative. They’re no more useless to Israel than my sentiments are, and they don’t owe allegiance to their co-ethnics if they don’t feel any. A true blue Jewish state, with traffic jams and lawsuits and punk kids, kind of takes the piss out of tribal comradery anyway, and to the extent I hew to the ancient faith I do so for personal reasons, as a source of strength, and a form of oriental ancestor worship. If that strikes you as arcane or narrow-minded, well, there’s no accounting for taste. But lean forward too far and you might end up taking a dick (like this poor, dumb bastard—in the words of Milan Kundera, “He wanted the Kingdom of Heaven”). The only reason to sacrifice a thousand-odd women and children on the rancid alter of pretend International Norms(TM) every decade is to avoid the Serbia treatment. Which either tells you who isn’t really running things, or is a piss-poor commentary on the value of intra-ethnic solidarity in the aftermath of the 20th century.

Maimonides is purported to’ve said, “The messiah will come, though he may tarry.” Well, let that sanctimonious cocksucker drag his feet. It’s still more interesting down here without Him.

Acute Jew

sic semper tyrannis

sic semper tyrannis

I.

May I recommend the Israeli author Etgar Keret? His work has been widely translated from the Hebrew and he writes occasional columns in the New Yorker and the Guardian. He stands accused by certain reviewers of solipsism and misogyny, but the first is outweighed by likability and the second is guilt-ridden enough to temper its vulgarity. With punk succinctness (the bulk of his oeuvre is novellas) he lays down an incredulous exasperation, twinkling through lurking shades of methodical mental illness and characteristically verbal-abusive Jewish impudence. We see these same psychic fistulae in other artists whose work cannot be fully understood without reference to yiddishkeit—Babel, Kafka, Seinfeld. The Jews have the same relationship with senility as the Catholics have with epilepsy. Half Jews like Vladimir Visotsky and JD Salinger belong in a slightly different category—the mold is broken, the hybrid vigor overwhelming. “Justice, justice you shall pursue”….. St. Paul was driven by this madness, as were Freud and Trotsky and Lenny Bruce—mold-breakers, if not half-breeds. Not counting plagiarism (which those last four were richly guilty of), their scruples precluded the kind of emotional opportunism one encounters all over Keret’s Israel. Either way, it’s easy to see why these people are difficult to live with; we can barely live with ourselves. Borderline Personality Disorder might just as accurately be labelled Acute Jew.

What is interesting to observe about Keret, though, isn’t this characteristic Jewishness, but that it seems to subsist without much reference to Gentile influence. To understand Kafka, you have to understand pre-war mitteleuropa; to understand Babel, you need some sense of the Russian arch. You cannot appreciate Seinfeld without first appreciating America. But Keret presents entirely as a product of Jewish civilization—Yitzhak Ben-Tzvi would be proud, if uncomprehending. He plays entirely on effects that went indissoluble in exile, reemerging in the Levant one fine day to resume their invidious solipsism as if the intervening centuries were nothing but an aberration.

This is an awkward thing to behold. You meet bourgeois, well-travelled Israelis, and oftentimes the most they can tell you about modern Europe is its orientation toward Jews and Israel, or the skiing, or the prices (especially the prices). The most they can tell you about Americans is that we tend to overpay unreflectively, that we haven’t any good, fresh bread, that we act friendly but we’re just pretending. The most they can tell you about Kafka or Einstein is that they were Yidden. They smart at any notion that breaches the nationalist programing they received in primary school. It isn’t that they disagree; they can’t fathom such things. They’re in step with the most liberal current ideas about sexuality, abreast of the very latest technology. They insist that their country is on the front line of the West and of modernity in a benighted corner of the globe with a rich, Western heritage that only they, through hard luck and gumption, are suited to defend. Yet with the exception of a handful of times and places in the Western experience where Jews were heavily involved, their upbringing has utterly de-emphasized nearly every benchmark that otherwise lends commonality to the identities and intellectual traditions of the West across dozens of other cultures and languages.

Of course, Keret is of above-average worldliness, which is why I referenced him. The hucksters and harpies who populate his pages make the mundane maddening to an extent no other Israeli writer has achieved. His fiction bears traces of Chekhov’s influence, and it entirely lacks the deadening mimicry of America that one so often finds along the bourgeois cutting edge of other highly modern, marginally Western societies. But the overwhelming sense one gets from his work is the reemergence of an ancient cast of misanthropes who’ve nothing but flagrant disregard for all the rich commotion that has been taking place, aboveground, without them.

And yet, what makes this separatism remarkable is not so much its longevity, but the packing of bags it entailed. The Nazis and the Fascists were just like any other penny-ante pack of bandits whose meagre vocabularies tended to over-employ the word respect. Vladimir Putin has this in common with your run-of-the-mill, twentysomething male Wal-Martian. The Zionists are little better, but at least they took their ball and went home. Where communism, progressivism and Christianity propose to alter the world for the benefit of various handicapped classes, where other romantic nationalisms proposed to redraw the lines around various peoples, Zionism proposed to redraw the Jew himself.

Anyone who has had their brush with Israeli culture knows this effort has been hit-or-miss. Of course, through Israel, Jews have demonstrated martial prowess, but perhaps all this proves is that the cobwebs needed brushing aside. Animals and men go mad in cages; a long enough litany of military setbacks will turn even a Yule Brenner into a Peter Lorre. Where various empires furnished the bars, the Sages made up the gilding. Modernity did away with both, but it couldn’t digest man’s tendency for tribalism. And while early 20th-century Zionism fixated on altering the Jew, under inescapable American tutelage Zionism today makes its most stringent and irrational demands of the Arab; not only does it invade his home, it demands his acceptance. This is pure insanity—the manic optimism and febrile entitlement of Democratic Man, held up by airport security off somewhere in literal East Jesus.

II.

Contrast this schizoid opportunism with Catholicism and Islam, religions that share a strong emphasis on man’s intrinsic capacity for reason, which each claims to satisfy perfectly and to the exclusion of all other ideas. Though I doubt these claims, I agree that a person’s full, healthy development depends on the opportunity to discern reason from faith, and weigh the two against one another.

A sweet, dim-witted old Adventist once told me something I liked. She told me, “You are the priest of your family.” In Judaism, the nearest approximation of this and other dissenter sects of Christianity is Karaism, whose practitioners are required to draw their own conclusions from scripture (within specified guidelines), rather than defer to experts.

Though an orthodox Rabbinic (i.e., not a Karaite) Jew, my grandfather conducted himself as though he was the priest of our family. He taught my brother, cousin and I (paternal half-breeds, all, and therefore not Jewish under Rabbinic law) basic Hebrew liturgy and scripture, as well as a smattering of Mishnah, and started officiating his own holy day services at home with a small circle of friends and family when he came into political conflict with the local rabbi. He was our last direct link in an unbroken chain of tradition.

Now I am married to an Orthodox Christian. To our marriage she brought along a sweet, gregarious and fair-minded little boy, the product of a previous marriage to a fellow Russian. Our son’s natural father was disdainful of religiosity and my wife, a non-practicing believer, opted not to have him baptized. But I understand it as my duty to furnish my children with faith against which to weigh reason—a method for counting the stars, so-to-speak.

Judaism is nothing if not the self-styling of a racial caste, and to transmit it to my unmistakeably Slavic older son would be to paint over a zebra’s stripes and mark him as a permanent outsider. So with his and my wife’s agreement I had him baptized by the nearest Russian Orthodox priest.

Though the humble little church and the manner of worship conducted within it was beautiful and uplifting, the process of getting our son baptized was somewhat uncomfortable—as a matter of course our family’s religious backgrounds were inquired about beforehand, and although I was welcomed in (which I wouldn’t have been in Russia), there was a palpable discomfort at my presence from the deacon and the arthritic old pater, who made it plain he didn’t want me around once he ascertained that I myself was not interested in converting. At one Sunday service we attended, the elderly deacon, Hungarian-born as it happens, informed me that as a child in the 1930s his parents worked in the Rome office of some German company or other, and that along with a handful of SS-officer embassy attachés, they used to host a Jewish business contact and his wife. He said this just goes to show that my background is a trifling thing because, as Christ teaches, people aren’t so different.

Well that just doesn’t make things very interesting, and of course I beg to differ. I recently bought two children’s bibles for my sons, one Christian (The Golden Book Children’s Bible) the other Jewish (The Book of Adam to Moses). The Christian one leaves out almost all the jealous, avaricious intrigues of the Old Testament. Its Queen of Sheeba is a chaste diplomat (and white!). It omits the Song of Songs (always a source of adolescent wood in the shul pews), and its Proverbs has nothing to say about the advisability of joining a gang, of committing a robbery, or of going whoring. Its illustrations are bright and cheery. In contrast, though it uses ambiguous language, its Jewish counterpart omits none of the original’s salacious and morally disturbing details. Its illustrations are black, white, a bit abstract and dissonant.

Dissonance, for most people, is exasperating, and Judaism is as exasperating as the Jews. The first in a trifecta of characteristically Western theodicies that sacralize mankind’s aspirations against nature’s starkness, it fails to follow through and build upon those ideals, neither with the kind of comfort food Christianity holds out, nor the unambiguous finality of Islam. It contains laws, and hidden meanings, but no ready logic, and no real bedtime stories.

The Coen brothers deal with this omission in their updated Book of Job, A Serious Man. In this film, a decent family-man is hamstrung by egregious, unearned misfortune. At the end of his rope, he consults with a series of feckless, indifferent rabbis, only to be told kitschy allegories and peppered with unactionable platitudes. A meticulously fair (read: neurotic) man who expects the world to at least be fair at bottom, he seeks solace from his faith as his misfortunes multiply unabated.

As it happens, there’s an astute review of this film at the pseudo-highbrow white supremacist web journal, Counter-Currents, whose editors are big into Savitra Devi and the Hidden Hitler (or something). Its design gives the feel of a Rothschild coven; one gets the sense they aren’t big fans of Orwell. Most of the pieces they publish are written in the style and at the level of a college admissions essay, but they’ve also got a good many editorial gems and some excellent crib notes on modern European heavyweights like Heidegger. Among the gems is this Serious Man review, by one Trevor Lynch. Check it out; it’s brisk reading, I promise.

Anyhow, the reviewer concludes from A Serious Man that the Coen Brothers are confirming his revulsion of Jews, by breaking their congenital mold to lambast Judaism’s hollow, compulsivity. It apparently never occurs to him that this is not apostasy so much as self-criticism, and though he pinpoints Judaism’s stultifying verbosity and solipsism, he cannot concede that so thorough and ineluctable a capacity for self-criticism is a virtue, nor that it’s indicative of how large a measure of the insights that Jews like the Coens bring to modern storytelling arises from their grappling with the conceits and deficiencies of character peculiar to our kind. But if Judaism, as the reviewer maintains the Coens are saying, offers “no meat and no marrow for the serious man”, perhaps protagonist Larry Gopnik’s mistake is that he takes Judaism, along with everything else, so goddamned seriously. The goy’s teeth (you’ll have to see the film) represent absurdity, which the rabbi and the dentist greet with apprehension but ultimately wave off with a characteristically Jewish shrug, while Larry Gopnik allows himself to nearly be driven insane by it. Not-so-subtleties like these are as lost on the hapless Professor Gopnik as they are on vindictive and equally serious ideologues like Trevor Lynch.

But far from exemplifying a strictly Jewish penchant for platitude, Job is just the Jewish take on a universal theme. The Coens aren’t recapitulating it, as our Aryan brother presumes. They’re augmenting it out of a peculiarly Jewish inventory. This is the yiddishkeit that’s so despised over at Counter Currents, and it will always elude their steely knives. But no religion, no philosophy, no manner of thought or line of inquiry is going to be more or less adequate than any other when it comes to the really big mysteries. Or, its relative adequacy is going to depend in turn upon the deductions of the source and each recipient’s own proclivities, rather than the peculiar merits of the milieu it emerges from. True, relative to other faiths Judaism tends to exacerbate the tensions the great mysteries provoke, rather than ameliorating them. But for Job and A Serious Man, the message (the reviewer’s “meat and marrow”) is real straightforward: suck it up, and lighten up, respectively. If the good Saxons at Counter Currents prefer Marcus Aurelius, that’s up to them, but don’t go barking up my boabab if the message doesn’t tickle your pickle. Like Rabbi Marshak, I’m thinking. That Judaism is replete with nonsense like any religion goes without saying, but Job isn’t it.

Christianity and Islam may not offer entirely satisfying answers either, but in attempting to, they stop the proverbial buck. In contrast, by positing a chosen caste, Judaism demands a measure of self-confidence that Christianity eschews, and Islam overdoes. And while the Hebrew God’s anthrocentricity innervates millennial Western theodicy, in His capriciousness He remains an Eastern God of Nature, the nature of the political animal in the anthropocine epoch. Western politics have their genesis as much along the colonnades of Athens as they do in the tent camps of recriminating Bedouins. In a democracy, we’re all elders of Chelm. Not even by putting words into God’s mouth have the Christians and the Muslims succeeded in stemming man’s internecine cat-scratching, not within families and not between nations. Not for wont of ventriloquy, the Jews have long been rending and gnashing at His silence. Neurotic? Hell yes. But don’t count it out. Buck-stopping imperial religions can run from this dissonance, but they can’t hide.

Nazi Hussein

the_lone_gunmen_b

“I and the public know/What all schoolchildren learn…..”*

Part I of a series in progress…. Part II here, Part III forthcoming

In an absolute sense, you never really know what’s true. In the case of second hand stories, you can only relate what you’ve been told.

The year was 2005. I had an eight hour layover in Amsterdam. It was sometime in that cleft between dawn and the start of business hours on a frigid weekday in late winter, and if you’re getting high at that hour it can only be for one of two reasons: because you have a serious drug problem and have been up all night awaiting your chance to smoke, or because you’re a tourist in friggin’ Amsterdam and this just happens to be the time of day your plane landed. Although on that particular day the latter reason was certainly true of me, I was getting high for the former reason.

After a forty-five minute stroll past shuttered storefronts, I happened upon a coffee shop that was open and operating. Beside a squat, bald, mustachioed Turk with greasy facial moles who apparently ran it, the place was empty of customers except for two guys having a conversation in Arabic, whom I sat down next to at the bar.

The one nearest me, on my right, was late-middle aged, stocky but dapper and a tad swarthy, with piercing green eyes, a bulbous nose and a five o’clock shadow. He wore a dark blue trench coat and grey slacks, assiduously polished black leather shoes and a felt fedora, and assessed me guardedly as I pulled out the stool to his left and goofily nodded my unmistakably American amiability. To his right sat a tall, gangly youth with a long, acned face and wavy, greased black hair, wearing skinny jeans, Adidas, and a beige turtle-neck. This younger Arab was adamant about something, intent on his interlocutor and bantering at length a mere inch or two from the right side of the latter’s face. Periodically this older gentleman, staring straight ahead, would indifferently muster a monosyllabic reply before taking a hit off the little green plastic house-bong that stood between them, filthier than a store-sock and giving off little whisps of stale smoke from its top-hole. When the old Arab exhaled, the Turk, stationary behind the bar and leaning against the back wall in front of us with his hands in his pockets, would grimace conspicuously, give a passive-aggressive grunt of objection and slowly, begrudgingly turn his head away from the oncoming cloud.

I paid the harried little Turk for a gram of hashish and set to mixing half of it with the contents of a Winston light, with all the ritualistic lighter-flicking and foil-oragami that entails. Enamored as I was at that age with the contrast Levantine hospitality posed to the American wariness and insincerity I had known all my life, when my mixture was complete I gestured in the direction of the bong and, when the old Arab handed it to me, packet the bowl and passed it back to him. His face registered surprise without breaking the exasperated pallor the younger man’s ranting seemed to have induced, and he lit up, inhaled and passed the bong back to me.

I packed another bowl and offered it to the younger man, who gestured refusal without a let-up in his Arabic banter. So I lit up, and as I exhaled it the older man, in unaccented American, asked “Where you from, kid?”

“From California. I’ve got a layover on my way to Tel Aviv.” That last bit of information was superfluous and intentionally provocative. I have no major objection to the basic Arab view of Israel, at least not on strictly logical grounds. If I was Arab, I’d share it. My objection to that viewpoint, such as it is, is mostly an accident of birth, and I figured that relations with an Arab who isn’t entirely determined to not get along with me are liable, ironically, to be all the more fraternal on that account.

The older man snorted an amused and oddly satisfied chuckle and glanced snidely at his compatriot, frozen of a sudden as though he’d just been slapped in the face.

“Where you guys from?”

“Palestine!” bellowed the youth, also in unaccented American, with a force he perhaps hadn’t anticipated from himself.

“He’s from Los Angeles” the older man, now in better control of his amusement, corrected him. Not being in on the joke, I was starting to feel rather like the object of some conspiratorial roast.

“Oh cool, I’m from Santa Cruz! What do you do in LA?”

The younger man glared at me with unselfconscious hostility. The older one continued, “His family owns some kind of bodega in the hood down there.”

“What brings you to Amsterdam?” I asked the youth.

“I’m on my way to Kuwait” he sullenly replied.

“What’s going on in Kuwait?”

“My uncle owns a business.”

“I see. And is this man your uncle?” I was still concealing my provocations beneath that insoluble veneer of American obliviousness. The older gent let slip a snort that broke into a chuckle.

“No, no, no, we just met in here and this kid” (he pointed with a jerk of his thumb) “started talkin’ Arab at me. I’m from Michigan. Name’s Nazee, nice to meet you.” He extended a hand.

“Likewise; Aaron” I said as we shook hands. His handshake was not lithe but firm and smothering, more midwestern than middle eastern.

“What brings you to Amsterdam?”

“Well, I’m moving to Israel to enlist in the Israeli army.” The younger man’s jaw and brow dropped an inch apiece as if he hadn’t figured his day could get any worse.

“You’re from Santa Cruz and you want to move to the middle east?” asked Nazee. “Why in the hell would you wanna go and do a thing like that?”

“Well, I think it’s a beautiful place.”

“That’s certainly true. But what are you going there to do? I mean, why join the Israeli army? Are you Jewish? Are your parents Israeli?”

“Well, my parents are both American. I’m half-Jewish. A couple years back I lived over there for a few months, and since then I just haven’t been able to think about anything except going back. So I figure, if I learn the language and enlist in the army, that would make me a part of the place. I wouldn’t just be a tourist. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an ideologue. I’ve got nothing against you people, and I can imagine how you must view an American joining the Israeli army. But I figure once I’ve become a real part of the country, I’ll stay out there and pursue peace in my own way, as a journalist and an author. So I dropped out of college and I’m on my way.”

“Well, I agree that nobody really needs college to make it.” A silent moment passed and the youth recovered from his disbelief and resumed ranting in Arabic. I took another bong hit. Pretty soon they got up, and Nazee said, “My pal and I are going to grab a bite if you wanna come.”

A bit surprised, I threw on my huge backpack and set off with them.

We meandered through the red light district and along the canals for about half an hour, occasionally passing a joint between us. Very little was spoken to me in English. Finally we came to an Arab restaurant where we sat and ordered. As their conversation continued, I got the feeling I was the butt of some joke unbeknown to me. When the food came, I dug in with my hands. “He eats like an Arab!” Nazee exclaimed. The conversation switched to English for awhile. At length we paid our tabs—separately, like good Americans—and got up to accompany the young Palestinian to the train station. As Nazee and I were leaving the platform we’d seen him off from, I said blankly, “Well, he was a nice guy.”

“No he wasn’t. He was making fun of you the whole time.”

“Well, I can understand his resentment. I shouldn’t have said anything about Israel.”

“Look, kid. I got two boys your age, that kid’s age. You’re all a bunch of fucking retards. You’re going to Israel, right?”

“Yeah, but it doesn’t mean I can’t respect other people’s feelings.”

“Respect away. But you wanna go work for Sharon and Peres? That’s no joke. Those guys are fucking gangsters, man. Gangsters. Not movie actors, not mixed up kids with silly tattoos. Mass murderers. And you’re softer than rotting fruit. You can’t think the way you do in the place where you’re going.”

Laden with that whole post-9/11 constellation of enemy-of-my-enemy stereotypes, I was still confused about something. “I thought you and that guy were friends.”

“Fuck that guy. What’s the problem with being friendly and just speaking English? All three of us speak fluent English, but he spoke Arab the entire time just to exclude you from the conversation.

“Fucking Arabs, man. They’re always trying to implicate one another in some little pissing contest. You’re suspect unless you’re pledging loyalty over and over. They need Israel though, ’cause they all hate each other. And Israel needs them, ’cause the minute there’s peace you people will be at each other’s throats. How much can a Russian and an Ethiopian really have in common, anyhow?

“That kid’s parents made good in the States”, he continued. “He’s going to make good money living in Kuwait on a US passport. People like him want all the benefits of being American, but they hate America. I live in Michigan, yeah? There’re a lot of Arabs over there. Most of them hate Americans. Not just George Bush; their neighbors, too. Fuck that. I didn’t go to America to just hunker down with my kind.

“I came to America from Syria almost thirty years ago. I was nineteen years old. Back then they took you to the army right out of high school. Still do, as a matter of fact. It was the mid-seventies and there had just been this God-awful war against Israel. I didn’t know a thing about politics, I just couldn’t see the point of dying for the asshole that was in charge over there. So I took a bus to Jordan and found my way to the US embassy. I swept floors at a bakery, slept on the street and just waited in line at the embassy for hours, every day I could get down there, for about nine months.

“By some miracle I finally got in to see this woman, I didn’t know who she was, her title, or what gave her authority to decide my case, but she asked me why didn’t I wanna go back to Syria, and I told her straight up that I didn’t wanna get drafted. She asked what I wanted to do in the US, and I couldn’t tell her, and she looks me right in the eye, something about her voice and the way she’s facing me kinda changes, and she says—I’ll never forget it—she asked me if it mattered to me to marry Muslim, or if I could marry a Christian or a Jewish or a Chinese girl, and I said through the interpreter, I said, lady, I don’t give a rat’s ass, I’ll marry who I love. And she stamped my passport right there.

“I didn’t speak a word of English. I spent three years cleaning toilets and flippin’ burgers by the beach in Miami, almost didn’t eat anything except hamburgers in all that time. But I learned English. Over the years I spoke Arabic with my parents and sisters by phone, but it got harder and harder. The truth is I haven’t really spoken Arabic in thirty years. I don’t know if you noticed that kid was doing most of the talking. I can’t speak much Arabic anymore. It’s too emotional for me.

“I been back to Syria a few times though. I’m considered a deserter, so I gotta fly through Amman, cross overland and pay a shitload of money. I can’t fly straight in or they’ll arrest me at the airport. I paid $10,000 the last time. One time, there was some kind of disturbance at the airport in Jordan, and our flight just circled and circled above Amman for like, half an hour. Finally, the captain got on the intercom and said we may just have to land in Damascus. I almost shit myself, ’cause they would’ve cut my balls off if I showed up at the airport in Damascus. But we ended up landing in Amman.

“My kids don’t have that problem. When they were old enough, I sent them to see their grandparents and cousins. They can just fly right in on US passports. But the police followed them everywhere. Fucking everywhere. That’s why I don’t understand this ghetto mentality a lot of the Arabs around Detroit have, ’cause they don’t have to put up with that over there.”

“But that’s not true!” I interrupted. “What about the PATRIOT Act and all the domestic surveillance of Muslim-Americans?”

“Look man, I got a welding business. Sheet metal fabrication. I work with my sons. All the contractors around town, we all know each other. On 9/11 I was in this lunch spot we all go, and a bunch of these guys were at the counter, they came in without noticing that I was already there at a corner table with my back turned. The World Trade Center was on the TV above the lunch counter for like, the five-thousandth time that day, and they all started talking about the fuckin’ ragheads and how we need to bomb ’em to smithereens.

“Then one of these guys pipes up, he says, ‘Wait a minute, what about Nazee? He’s Arab, ain’t he?’ And someone else says, ‘Yeah, but he’s not like that.’ And they all kinda quieted down after that, maybe they felt like they went too far with what they’d been saying. That’s just the way people are. The PATRIOT Act ain’t about Arabs. Arabs are an excuse, like the Jews used to be. You think they’re just gonna spy on Arabs now? They’re gonna fuck everyone. What you gotta be worried about is not getting fucked! But racism? Racism’s older than prostitution. Get over it. You can hate people’s guts and still get along with ’em if you’re willing to try. Most of the Arab immigrants in my neck of the woods don’t try though, they stick to themselves. They’re hostile. But they want all the benefits. Like that Turkish guy in the coffee shop giving us dirty looks every time we blew smoke. For christsake, asshole—you sell weed for a living!

“Look at this fuckin’ Arab over here” he whispered, jerking his head rightward to indicate a snowy-haired man some meters away, walking along an adjacent canal with a hijab-clad younger woman by his side. “You think they put those grocery bags on their women because they think it’s wrong for a man to stare at girls? Hell no. It’s because they’re busy looking at everyone else’s girls. They come to a place like this so they can do that. Guy probably brought his daughter to the fuckin’ Netherlands and then put a bag over her head and forced her to marry a stranger or a cousin just because the guy’s from the same country. Well stay the fuck over there if all you’re interested in is the old country.

“You got these mass murderers like Sharon—same story. He’d have fit right in at the KGB. It don’t matter for some people what to believe, as long as they can get their little hard-on. You know what they want? Approval. Behind that tough guy stance, they’re only doing what other people let them get away with. They want to be admired, be remembered. Same reason the pharaohs built those pyramids, man. It’s in our DNA to want to leave a legacy, to shape the future, especially for men. So we come up with all these bullshit rules about what’s best for other people, and pretty soon even a mass murderer thinks he’s doing everybody a favor.

“Look, I think it’s stupid for you to go fight with people who ain’t done you any wrong, but you gotta figure that out yourself. Maybe you got a point, a good reason. I can’t know. Maybe, if I’da been born in the states, I’d have gone the opposite direction. I mean, I’m not much smarter than you. But at some point you gotta worry about yourself and stop implicating the whole damn world in your bullshit, stop trying to make the whole world’s bullshit your own. It’s just a matter of making that choice yourself, or being forced to by circumstances.

“You know how easy it is to get along with people? Look, I’ll prove it. My name’s Nazee, right? Nazee Hussein. This is my business card.” He reached into his coat pocket and handed me a little white rectangle of tagboard with blue letters on it that read, “Nazi Hussein and Sons. Sheet metal fabrication.”

“You spell your name Nazi?”

“I spell it like it sounds. Politics aren’t my department.” In his fedora and trenchcoat, the Bogie quote was well played.

We continued in silence for a few minutes and eventually stepped into a little souvenir shop where there was a big glass display case full of iron-on flag patches for backpackers. The clerk sneered as Nazi reached in and took out the little Israeli flag and handed it to me. I looked at the clerk and pointed to the Palestine flag, and she started to reach for it, but Nazi laid a hand gently on her forearm to stop her. “What in the hell do you think you’re doing?” he asked me.

“I want to wear both flags to show that I’m open-minded, that I want peace, that we can all get along. Like you said!”

“You walk into the Tel Aviv airport with a Palestine flag on you and they’re gonna tear open your ass. Think, man! You gotta firm up. We all want peace, but that’s not where you’re going. You want people to be reasonable, but what’s reasonable to a guy who had the good fortune to grow up in the states is different than what’s reasonable for an Israeli kid working airport security who grew up his whole life with his neighbors wanting to kill him. If you wanna be with your people, then be with your people. America’s the opposite direction.”

I paid for my Israeli flag patch, handed Nazi a couple safety pins and turned my back to him while he pinned it on my Jansport. Then we walked back to the train station together and stood on the platform smoking a joint. When the train to the airport came I gave Nazi Hussein a big hug, stepped onboard, and made my way to Israel.

I can’t say that I really strongly countenance or object to any of Nazi’s criticisms of his people—I’ve just never walked in his shoes. But his words have been kicking around my head for over a decade now. They were there when I was living in Israel, when I served in the Israeli army and when I returned to California with my tail between my legs.