31 July 2014

The Danzer corollary: ‘Speaking as a Jew…’

Well, I’m sure I’m not the first person who has said this or even articulated it in this way. I don’t want to take personal credit for this, but the principle needs to be clearly articulated. So, in memory and on behalf of my late Jewish grandmother Vera Danzer (may God make her memory to be eternal) I am hereby naming it the Danzer Corollary to the Arendt Imperative.

Hannah Arendt, the brilliant philosopher of direct democracy and anti-totalitarianism, once said this in a conversation with the journalist Günter Gaus:
If one is attacked as a Jew, one must defend oneself as a Jew. Not as a German, not as a world-citizen, not as an upholder of the Rights of Man, or whatever. But: What can I specifically do as a Jew?
It was a call to a kind of collective responsibility, a collective defence against an historically oppressed and marginalised people who were routinely and often systematically pressured into conforming with the dominant surrounding culture and religion. It is probably fair to suppose that Arendt’s work speaking out against Nazi anti-Semitism during the Second World War informed much of her subsequent work theorising and opposing totalitarianism in general. But to this statement she made to Gaus I want to add the Danzer corollary as follows:
If one sees a Jew committing to’eva or an evil act, and defending it in the name of Jewishness, one must speak out against it as a Jew. Not as an American, not as a world-citizen, not as a defender of human rights, or whatever. But: specifically as a Jew one should uphold the good name of Jews.
It is as much a collective responsibility to speak out against the unlawful behaviours of one’s own group, particularly if that group is taken to have a special calling in the world, as it is to speak out in one’s own defence. Particularly now: Jews are no longer subject to the pressures of conformity in the lands that used to oppress us, and moreover, we have a homeland should we choose to go there. Hamas, for one thing, would doubtless consider me a Jew. Also, since my father never formally apostasised from Judaism (and neither did I), if I applied for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return I would probably have a fairly good case. I admit that the thread which ties me to the Jewish identity through my father’s mother hangs rather loosely. I also add the caveat that I do not live in Israel, nor do I live with the reality of needing to take refuge in a bomb shelter on a regular basis as Hamas fires rockets in my direction. But that reality is not a carte blanche; it can only excuse so much. It is often particularly in the last few weeks that I feel it incumbent upon myself to say, ‘not in my name! This must not be done!’ And particularly with regard to the slaughter of women and children in an offensive military action that has neither a valid pretext nor a cogent aim, ‘this must not be done!’ I hereby say this as a Jew.

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