Public Comment

Into the Fray

By Joanna Graham
Thursday January 21, 2010 - 09:34:00 AM

Now that the Jew-on-Jew battle has reached the screechy stage (“Your side helped the Nazis!” “No we didn’t! You’re a Nazi for saying so!”), I strongly suggest that it’s time for Becky O’Malley to impose some filters; there’s no reason why the Berkely Daily Planet should provide a platform for a three-thousand-year-old-and-still-ongoing family argument. 

  However, since I’ve been personally attacked twice—once by name and once unnamed—I do feel the need to jump into the gutter and duke it out before O’Malley (hopefully) shuts down the current free-for-all. 

  Ann Emerson (Daily Planet, Jan. 14) suggests that I might not be a full-blooded Jew! “May have had some Jewish ancestry,” she says slightingly (to make things worse, like Amadinejad) and “may have some Jewish genetic heritage.” This raises the enthralling question, under chronic evaluation in the “Jewish state,” of who is a Jew anyway. Emerson obviously agrees with Herr Hitler that the category is racial—not only in the blood (now genetics) but capable of being analyzed by degree! John Gertz, on the other hand, although he knows when folks “look classically Jewish” (Daily Planet, Nov. 26, 2008), argues on the DP Watchdog website, that “Judaism is an affiliation and not a race,” a club people can join (“Jews by choice”) or drift from (“assimilate away”) or lose their membership therein by “converting to something else, like Catholicism or Marxism.” 

  Perhaps both Emerson and Gertz should check the current rules in the state they so passionately support: a Jew is a person whose mother is/was Jewish, as long as s/he has not converted to another religion (the Brother Daniel case, 1962). So Ann, you’re a Jew if you’re one-half Jewish, as long as it’s the right half, and John, you do opt out by becoming a Catholic, but not a Marxist, since Marxism is not a recognized religion. It’s impossible, however, to opt in, unless one undergoes an orthodox conversion and continuously observes “the hundreds of mitzvoth, or commandments, that govern an observant Jew’s daily life” (see the sad case of “Yael,” Washington Post, Aug. 30, 2008). 

  Just to set the record straight in my own case, I am a Jew because my mother is a Jew. Although irrelevant, so too was my father, all four of my grandparents, and all eight of my great-grandparents, which is as far back as I know, although I presume my family were all Jews for countless generations before that. 

  But not since the time of Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel. An analysis of my mitochondrial DNA (yes, Ann, there is genetics) reveals that my mother’s line (the one that determines my “Jewishness”) is paleolithic European. Thousands of years ago, my maternal ancestress was not dwelling in desert tents but watching the boys paint bisons on the walls of Spanish caves; thus, conversion at some point is indicated—as is the case with the 80 percent of the world’s Jews who, like my great-grandparents, lived in Eastern Europe about a hundred years ago and whose origins and unique culture remain unexplored because the Zionists don’t want to know that most, if not all, modern Jews are the descendents of converts (see Shlomo Sand’s remarkable book, The Invention of the Jewish People). 

  My husband, on the other hand, who self-identifies as border Scotch (and lapsed Presbyterian), turns out to be, on his father’s side, of Middle Eastern origin. Yes, he has that famous “Jewish gene”! It’s a little hard to know after a couple of millennia who really has a claim to Eretz Israel, isn’t it? 

  About my husband. I’m pretty sure that Bernstein, Brandt, Litman, Raj, and Wozniak (Daily Planet, Dec. 23) were referring to me when, while itemizing Daily Planet offenses, they wrote, “A writer once gloated that she was lucky that she did not marry a Jew.” That sounds pretty awful. Straight out of the “Völkischer Beobachter.” Let’s see how they got there. I wrote (Daily Planet, Oct. 23, 2008) that “my grandparents and great-grandparents came here, just like all the rest of America’s immigrants, specifically to assimilate. It was called the American dream—and if, when the meshiach comes, they rise from their graves and see in how few generations their progeny became doctors and lawyers and college professors, I think they will be glad and proud, even if most of us did marry blue-eyed, blond-haired goyim.” I was using my very typical family experience to illustrate an argument I was making: that the extraordinary success of Jews in America has led to a high rate of intermarriage with a consequent loss of identity. This highly compressed point—one that is a source of great anxiety in the Jewish establishment—was transmuted by John Gertz on his website into this: “Graham goes further to rejoice that, although her parents were born Jewish they assimilated out of the religion, and that she herself therefore had the good fortune to be able to marry a blue-eyed, blond-haired gentile.” Bye-bye to “even if”; thence to “rejoicing”; onward to “gloating”—and the BBLRW quote. 

  I find the whole sequence hilarious in a weird way, like what results from one of those pass-it-on games, but it’s also deadly serious. One thing we learn from this is that BBLRW—and possibly others—are getting their information about what appears in the Daily Planet, not from the Daily Planet itself, but from the DP Watchdog website. It’s fine to read both, but they shouldn’t mix them up and they should be careful to source their quotations. This group of folks now, as so often before, provide that teachable moment. Just as in the infamous Blue Star PR UC graffiti incident, they show the way in which, if you want anti-Semitism and you need anti-Semitism, you can always find it—even if you have to make some yourself. 


Joanna Graham is a Berkeley resident.