Given that my early political development was on the Left, I believe the earliest experiences exposing me to a macro view of Jewish political behavior were in debates on circumcision.
The matter seemed pretty clear cut to me for this reason: even if the proposed benefits of infant circumcision were real, they were still only even supposed to materialize in those who (a) were incapable of basic hygiene, or (b) were highly promiscuous.
Even these benefits have been seriously questioned: a 2007 meta-analysis concluded that the impact of circumcision on HPV is non-existent; yet, apart from HIV, HPV was always used as the strongest evidence point for the efficacy of circumcision in disease-prevention because the evidence for an effect in other STDs is much, much weaker. There is quite strong evidence to suggest that circumcision reduces the risk of HIV, but I’ve just discussed in two recent articles how difficult HIV actually is to catch in the first place—HIV is a disease that generally only affects the most extreme of the extremely promiscuous. And it’s not irrelevant to note that the strongest evidence for the efficacy of circumcision in reducing risks of HIV comes from Africa: it isn’t white first world children who have lost their right to keep their foreskins by anal raping their way into mass epidemics of HIV.
Since there are at least some documented harms in at least some cases resulting from infant circumcision—evidence quite strongly suggests average reductions in sexual functioning and satisfaction in both men and women, even if not every single circumcised individual is harmed—why should the rule be to circumcise infants instead of waiting to target the intervention towards those whose unclean or extremely promiscuous behavior marks them as actually bearing high risks of facing the conditions that circumcision might benefit? How does it make sense to automatically circumcise every single infant at birth, reducing the sexual functioning of some of them, so that over a decade later the most extremely promiscuous will be less likely to acquire a disease through their own actively chosen behavior? Think about it: the argument here quite literally is that we should rescue people from their own poor choices by punishing their betters in infancy.
Inevitably, accusations of anti-Semitism would encroach into this debate.
Those who know me, I believe, would rank me as being capable of an unusually high degree of calm diplomacy in religious and political discussions of all kinds (even if I don’t always exercise that capacity to the absolute best of my ability). During this phase of my life, I was almost never an intentionally offensive edgelord, but I did wade deliberately into a very wide range of controversial topics out of curiosity. I found that I could ask questions and spur intriguing conversations with almost anyone, almost regardless of their point of view. Despite that, from the very beginning of these interactions it became clear to me that something about Jewish psychology was very unique.
I began to reply to the prevalent Jewish accusation that the anti-circumcision movement was motivated by anti-Semitism like so. When faced with the argument that the anti-circumcision movement was anti-religious freedom, I would ask: what if Christian parents were demanding the right to ink or scar Christian crosses all the way down their infants’ backs?
Would any of us feel the same way if the argument we were having was on whether Christian parents have the right to brand their children with Christian tattoos? The obvious answer is: of course we wouldn’t. In fact, even the most extreme Christians I’ve ever come to know in my personal life would never defend something like this.
To the extent that “religious freedom” is the real concern in this equation, shouldn’t that specifically be a reason to oppose the practice? Properly applied, shouldn’t that right belong to children who should have the freedom to grow up and choose their own religious beliefs and not be branded with the permanent religious symbols of their parents, and not the parents who so want to brand them?
Thus, to the extent that circumcision was a matter of “religious freedom” and not any purportedly objective medical benefits to the procedure, it seemed clear to me that this “religious freedom” argument was faulty. And in this case, no less, I was applying that principle specifically to include ethnically Jewish children themselves. At this time, my premises were still universalistic enough that I really did mean this with the utmost sincerity. So I tried to spur continued thought, discussion, and reasoning through the use of this particular analogy.
I was probing for an open, philosophically oriented conversation of a kind that I had found that I could, by and large, have with most people on almost any side of almost any argument I had encountered yet, from animal rights topics to environmentalism. Exceptions to this trend existed, of course, but they were always in the minority. Most Christians would engage with my sincere critical questions about Christianity by granting sincerity in return. Most libertarians would engage with my sincere critical questions about the libertarian stance on environmentalism by granting sincerity in return.
Yet, I found that no matter how calmly or politely I tried to challenge this view that the anti-circumcision movement was being fundamentally driven by hatred of Jews, the very fact that I was even trying to challenge that argument at all simply meant that I also hated Jews. I had, quite earnestly, never encountered a debate on any other topic in which any party to it was simultaneously so hostile and aggressive towards the other parties involved and yet also so hair-trigger sensitive to see themselves as the innocent, aggrieved victims of abuse themselves.
This was the beginning of a long string of experiences of which I never noticed the obvious pattern until much later. There was the Jewish girl I spent hours talking to and almost formed a significant relationship with who suddenly snapped into a violent, abusive top-of-the-lung screaming fit I could do absolutely nothing to pull her out of when I made a very brief, tepid joke comparing someone whose authoritarianism we were bonding over our mutual dislike towards with Hitler. During the entire screaming fit in which she ranted about how I didn’t understand Jewish people, I just couldn’t stop facing the irony that she had far more privilege in her individual life than I ever came close to having—her parents had been able to afford sending her overseas more than once, and were able to pay to get her into a really good college; these were things that I could only dream of.
More recently, there was the debacle in which Jewish realtor Tanya Gersh initiated contact with Sherry Spencer—Richard Spencer’s mother—and began demanding she sell her apartment building and donate some portion of the proceeds to pro-diversity and pro-Jewish causes. In Ms. Spencer’s own words:
On November 22, Gersh and I spoke on the phone. She relayed to me that if I did not sell my building, 200 protesters and national media would show up outside — which would drive down the property value — until I complied.
Quite rightly, our people as well as people who have nothing to do with us saw the injustice of attacking the man’s mother because of her son’s political views. In a different world, these people would be celebrated for their sense of justice towards women and refusal to accept punishing a woman for the (supposed) sins of a man. And so people spoke out in large numbers to call this what it was: extortion.
Tanya Gersh ended up appearing in a video for VICE News in which she made bewildered complaints about the supposed “anti-Semitism” she faced as a result of her supposedly innocent behavior. Yet, even when VICE News pre-selects the supposedly most racist examples of horrific hate mail Ms. Gersh received, we can pause the frames for ourselves and see just exactly how chilling this supposed racist hate mail actually is. At 5m33s into this clip, a prime example reads:
“Dear Tanya, You must have realized by now that what you did to Mrs. Spencer was not only illegal, but very, very ugly . . . Perhaps your heartfelt and public apologies are in order. What do you think? This is not the intolerant (sic) attitude towards others that you embrace. Stop hating. Two wrongs do not make a right. Bob.”
At 5m28s, another example reads:
“Dear Mrs. Gersh: Thanks to your attempts to extort money from Sherry Spencer, a private citizen of Whitefish, by threatening political protests because you disagree with the political beliefs of her son, please understand that outraged Americans (NOT NEO-NAZIS) find your conduct un-American and unbecoming . . .”
And yet, despite the fact that extortion is in fact exactly the accurate description for the behavior Mrs. Gersh employed towards Mrs. Spencer, the mainstream American media has never given any sympathetic display of the plight faced by Mrs. Spencer, attacked for views they have no reason whatsoever to believe she personally holds—but Mrs. Gersh is allowed to cry on air about how awful it was to receive letters that simply described her behavior accurately.
There is a saying dating all the way back to the 19th century in Poland that goes, “The Jew cries out as he strikes you.” If I were exposed to this kind of statement earlier on in my youth, I would have immediately recoiled at what would have felt like bizarrely blatant racism. And were Mrs. Gersh herself to read these words, I’m quite certain the fact that I’ve mentioned it would totally discredit any soul-searching she might possibly have been otherwise inclined to consider performing over her behaviors towards Mrs. Spencer, while only further validating in her mind the notion that only livid Jew-haters could possibly object to the way she behaved towards an innocent mother.
But at some point, I simply couldn’t help wondering if it was merely coincidence that a saying that came all the way from the 19th-century in Poland applied perfectly to my experiences in the 21st century in America. How could a statement derived in such a vastly different time and place be so obviously apt here and now? Here Tanya Gersh was literally crying as she struck someone on TV right in front of me.
I could see Jews crying out as oppressed victims as they demanded that we continue cutting up infant penises, even dropping the pretense of claiming medical benefits to the procedure to explicitly advance the argument that the bottom line is that branding a child with symbols of the parents’ religion should be a fundamental religious right. And I could see them crying out at my supposed hatred as they struck me for seeing children as the most important parties here and attempting to engage in a sincere debate about where the appropriate limits of “religious freedom” in a humanistic democracy ought to lie. I could see Jews crying out that books authored by other Jews detailing the impact of the Israel lobby on U.S. foreign policy were anti-Semitic even as they organized to advocate for striking innocents in foreign country after foreign country with bombs. Now I see Tanya Gersh crying out that sincere letters that merely ask her to refrain from her manipulative behavior are abusive even as she strikes an innocent mother with extortionist threats.
One might want to argue that this psychological and behavioral tendency developed as a particular historical response to the Holocaust, let’s say. In doing so, one would be giving the tendency a contingent explanation rooted to a particular place and time. But how then to explain that the exact same observation really was made two centuries ago in a completely different part of the Earth?
It took years before I was finally willing to acknowledge this overwhelming pattern in my own first-hand experiences—for a long time I simply took these kinds of issues one by one. I would work to the best of my ability to convince Jews concerned about anti-Semitism in the circumcision debate that I really was concerned about giving justice to Jewish children as much as anyone else. And then I would work to the best of my ability to convince Jews concerned about anti-Semitism in the foreign policy debate that I really was simply concerned about the mass bombing of innocents, and would be concerned to oppose an Arab lobby advocating that we bomb Israel as strongly as I was concerned about the Israeli lobby at present. And then I would work to the best of my ability to get across to someone like Tanya Gersh why she ought to empathize more with the kind of experience she put Sherry Spencer through if her own experiences was as understandably traumatizing for her as it was.
It should go without saying here, of course, that none of this ever worked despite how genuine my sincerity always was. Jordan Peterson has argued that one of the best ways to damage a person psychologically is not to ignore them, and not to punish them too harshly for doing bad things, but to punish them for doing good things. My sincerest desires for humanism were hounded with verbal abuse to the point that they eventually underwent outright behavioral extinction. Yet, I still never once consciously formed racial stereotypes of these behaviors. But after a lifetime of experiences like these, I eventually became someone who was at least willing to listen to more fundamental explanations for why these kinds of behavioral trends exist when I was finally presented with them …
(To be continued…)