When political correctness meets pop slang meets provincialism by mattsteinglass
June 27, 2009, 1:14 pm
Filed under: Africa, Jews, Russia

A lot of people are giggling that the new GazProm-Nigerian joint venture company has selected the name “NiGaz”. This seems to me to say more about American hangups than about anything else. The word for “black person” in Russian is негр (“nyegr”), from the French nègre; it uses the letter combination n-e-g rather than n-i-g. As for Nigerians, obviously, if n-i-g tripped any insulting connotations for them, they would have selected a different name for their country. “Nigeria” comes from the name of the River Niger, whose etymology is unclear but likely stems from the Tuareg phrase gher n gheren, “river of rivers”, shortened to ngher. It almost certainly has no relation to the Latin root “niger”. The fact that southern American whites took the French word nègre, pronounced it with their own accent, then transcribed that as nigger, that this word acquired the derogatory connotations one might expect in racist American society, that American blacks then reappropriated the word and creatively misspelled it as part of a pop-music subculture — this is something neither Nigerians nor Russians should really be expected to keep track of.

More generally, it’s really not possible to keep track of which words in your language might be offensive in other people’s languages. In modern English, we identify people as “Jews”, from the root j-u-d (from the Hebrew yehuda, Judah or Judea); if someone called me “a Hebrew” I’d think they were either archaic or aristocratically anti-semitic or joking, and indeed “hebe” is an out-of-date anti-semitic slur that’s now been reappropriated as the American Jewish version of “nigga”. In Russian, the opposite is true: the neutral word is еврей (yevrei), from “Hebrew”, while the word жид (zhid), from the j-u-d yehuda/Judea root, is an anti-semitic slur.


Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) thinks he is a friend of Israel by mattsteinglass
June 5, 2009, 2:19 pm
Filed under: Israel, Jews

If Gary Ackerman thinks he’s helping anyone in Israel out with statements like this, he’d better think again:

“I do not support a settlement freeze that calls on Israeli families not to grow, get married, or forces them to throw away their grandparents. Telling people not to have children is unthinkable and inhumane.”

This is ridiculous. If Israeli settlers want to have kids and need a bigger house, they can do what people in America do: move. Nobody has a God-given right to build an extension on their house, as people in Cape Cod will be happy to tell you. You especially don’t have a right to build an extension on your house if you’re squatting on land that doesn’t belong to you. And if you’re squatting on land that doesn’t belong to you in a fashion that drives the people you stole it from to engage in guerrilla warfare against your country, you should leave, not build an extension on your house.

Ackerman needs to ask himself the age-old question: is this good for the Jews? Is it good for the Jews to have fanatical theocons stealing more and more land from Palestinians? No. That’s not good for the Jews.

Weird adventures in family trees by mattsteinglass
August 12, 2008, 5:18 pm
Filed under: Jews

As a result of coming in contact with some long-lost relatives via Facebook, I became aware of a probable great-uncle, Meyer Steinglass, who was the longtime publicity director of Israel Bonds. It further seems that back in 1936, Meyer Steinglass published an interview with a then-famous biographer and recent convert to Zionism named Emil Ludwig, in which Ludwig said he was grateful Hitler had come along to show Jews that assimilation would never work, and predicted Hitler would be soon forgotten but that his main historical legacy would be the success of a Jewish state in Palestine. (Apologies to John Hagee for any implication he invented this meme.)

But the really weird part is that this interview of Emil Ludwig by Meyer Steinglass in 1936 seems to have become a fixture of anti-Zionist literature and can now be found in Bahassa-language anti-Zionist websites based in Malaysia.

But the Jews themselves are always saying it’s “God’s punishment”…! by mattsteinglass
May 22, 2008, 4:32 pm
Filed under: Israel, Jews, United States | Tags: , ,

Certain people seem to have a hard time understanding why the fact that some Jewish theologians have speculated that the Holocaust was God’s will does not make it okay for an ubergoy like John Hagee to say the same thing.

Here’s a simple way of explaining it. If I tell you that the reason I did not get promoted is because I’m too short, that is evidence of my tragic inferiority complex. If you tell me that the reason I did not get promoted is because I’m too short, that is evidence of your repulsive arrogance.

If Rev. Jeremiah Wright speculates that black children are incapable of learning math, that is evidence of his tragic inferiority complex, and he should be criticized for spreading such destructive views. If [White Person X] speculates that black children are incapable of learning math as well as white children, that is evidence that [White Person X] is a racist son of a bitch.

If I say, “You know us Yids, always greedy for the money,” that is a self-deprecating joke. If [Goy X] says, “You know those Yids, always greedy for the money,” that is anti-semitic.

The idea that God sent Hitler either to punish the Jews for trying to assimilate, or (as Hagee has it) to herd the Jews like some kind of SS sheepdog towards Palestine, is equally stupid and evil whether it comes from Jews or Christians. But it is one thing to say “It is God’s will that I suffer,” and something else entirely to say “It is God’s will that you suffer.” I know this is hard for people who have never been a cultural minority to grasp, but take it on faith that when Jews hear a Rev. Hagee say stuff like this, it does indeed encourage us to support Israel — people like him really underline the need for a separate Jewish nuclear deterrent.

When is criticizing Israel anti-Semitic? by mattsteinglass
February 1, 2007, 10:09 am
Filed under: Israel, Jews

I’m going to refrain from going after the more objectionable aspects of Alvin Rosenfeld’s long essay on the “new” anti-Semitism and its supposed Jewish sympathizers. Basically, the essay is an attempt to recast serious opposition to right-wing Israeli ideology as equivalent to anti-Zionism, and anti-Zionism as equivalent to anti-Semitism. None of those equals signs are legit. Here’s the point in the piece which I think sums it up:

Israel’s policy of encouraging Jewish settlement in Gaza (which it
abandoned in 2005) and the West Bank has long been a flash point
of dispute, and its sometimes harsh treatment of Palestinian Arabs
living in those areas has also drawn a great deal of negative attention.
Criticizing such policies and actions is, in itself, not anti-
Semitic. To call Israel a Nazi state, however, as is commonly done
today, or to accuse it of fostering South African-style apartheid rule
or engaging in ethnic cleansing or wholesale genocide goes well
beyond legitimate criticism.

In fact, “calling Israel a Nazi state” is not “commonly done today” by anyone on the American political scene, and certainly not by any Jews. Accusing Israel of “fostering South African-style apartheid rule” is a perfectly legitimate argument and has nothing to do with anti-Semitism. Accusing it of “engaging in ethnic cleansing” is similarly a legitimate claim; it may be accurate or inaccurate, but it is certainly not an “illegitimate” critique. Accusing Israel of “wholesale genocide” is clearly inaccurate, and one might say “illegitimate”, and should not be lumped in with the other accusations.

Interestingly, Rosenfeld doesn’t mention any of the many Israeli left-wing groups who compare Israeli policy in the territories to apartheid. Presumably he doesn’t feel he has the street cred to accuse Israelis of being anti-Semitic.