Monday, October 13, 2008

The Great Pander, The Racist Schlep:
Fighting Racism with More Racism

Is a youth movement that attempts to bring truth and tolerance to its elders actually encouraging the deep-rooted bigotry of the very population it is hoping to influence? Can the movement’s good intentions be undermined by its own unconscious racism?

As Sarah Palin would say, "You betcha!"

The last several weeks have seen a growing mobilization on the part of the Jewish Council for Education and Research and its election year pet project JewsVote to get out a pro-Obama elderly Jewish vote in the Sunshine State come November 4th. It's called The Great Schlep and is, as its own website states, aimed at having "Jewish grandchildren visit their grandparents in Florida, educate them about Obama, and therefore swing the crucial Florida vote in his favor." The grassroots campaign is supposedly focused on discrediting false information, allaying undue fear, and dispelling mudslung mythologies about the Junior Senator from Illinois.

Unfortunately, The Great Schlep's seemingly noble concept, whimsical Yiddish name, and immensely popular endorsement video by comedienne Sarah Silverman hides a disappointing truth. Not only are many of the grandparents of self-described progressive Jews apparently extremely racist, xenophobic, and ill-informed, but their grandchildren, who are signing on to this project in droves, are hardly any better informed - they just think they are.

The Great Schlep is explicitly Rovian in its desire to exploit cultural bias in a coordinated effort to manipulate a specific demographic to vote a certain way come election time. It makes no attempt to dismantle the general racist ideologies of certain elderly Jews or to actually disseminate any factual information or analysis beyond simple ethnocentric bullet points. The tact of appealing to the lowest common denominators of Jewish and American exceptionalism and extreme Zionist jingoism is troubling and does a great disservice to the project's mantra of education, truth-telling, and myth-debunking.

According to its own helpful Talking Points guide, aimed at facilitating a discussion with one's elders by having fun facts at the ready, The Great Schlep's Weltanschauung is that of noble American imperialism and hegemony, frightening and untrustworthy schwartzes, evil Arab terrorists, and Israeli righteousness - essentially the exact world view shared by the ignorant "Country First" crowd. Pandering to the fears and racist beliefs of this segment of the population, even in order to swing a vote from the inevitable Fascism of a McCain administration to the slightly better pseudo-Fascism of an Obama administration, is dishonest and serves only to solidify and further enable the offensive ideologies of a misinformed community.

These Talking Points, as well as Silverman's video clip, are awash with pandering statements and arguments, made-to-order for a discussion based on incorrect assumptions and oft-repeated lies, all which carefully (and purposefully) side-step the underlying issues of whether or not the assumptions themselves are false and racist. The Great Schlep, in a bombshell, affirms American (not only elderly Jewish) racism while attempting to project Barack Obama as "one of us" rather than the scary and unpredictable "one of them." Obama is shown to be a friend to the Jews, intent on blindly supporting Israel, a black man cut from a whiter cloth than those radical activists who fought for equal rights and the abolition of segregation. Obama is presented as safe and palatable for an audience (and citizenry) who prefers white American and Israeli superiority to continue to dominate the globe, while avoiding criticism, resistance, or outrage. The Great Schlep is designed not to promote Obama's unifying strengths over racial and divisions, but instead to fit Obama's political platforms and statements into an already established racist framework. Rather than demonstrating Barack's ability to transcend race, it proves that he can be just as racist as you are. At the bottom of some squalid cesspool in hell, George Wallace is laughing his ass off.


According to The Great Schlep's organizers, the only type of black man fit for the highest office is one who will strengthen American hegemony, disassociate himself from the black community, and credit his success and the progress of the civil right movements to American Jews. Basically, this means a black guy who behaves like a Zionist white guy. This effort to whitewash Barack Obama's true ethnicity is evident in bullet points such as this one from the Talking Points memo:
Obama represents a different kind of black leadership, less interested in the confrontational tactics favored by many who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s.
It is obvious that a community that idolizes Theodor Herzl, David Ben-Gurion, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Ariel Sharon for promoting ethnic cleansing and selective democracy would shun or denounce the tactics of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Medger Evers and Bobby Seale that fought against discrimination, white supremacy, police brutality, and espoused a primarily socialist ideology? Perhaps Florida Jews should pay more attention to the Guess Who's Coming To Dinner style comments of self-described Zionist Joe Biden, who referred to Obama as "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy."

The Schlep's Talking Points, too, clearly point out that Barack Obama is a new breed of educated black man, someone different than Jesse Jackson and Jeremiah Wright, one passive enough to ignore the glaring injustices in this country but will pledge undying fealty to Zionism and the oppression of foreigners, intent on "dramatically increas[ing] America’s influence with other nations" and unafraid to engage in "aggressive diplomacy coupled with a willingness to use force when necessary." Peaceful candidates need not apply. The language of violent nationalism and military intervention apparently speaks to those elderly folks who suffered from perhaps the most horrific ethnic oppression and racially-motivated genocide in modern history.

One of the very first issues for Schleppers to address with their racist elders, we are told, is that Barack Obama "is a Christian and has never been a Muslim." This frantic disassociation with one of the world's most popular religions is disgraceful and offensive. Sure, Obama and his supporters should correct the misperceptions, the simple truth being that, no, Obama is not a Muslim. But this McCarthy-esque statement, echoed emphatically on Obama's own website ("Obama is not and has never been a Muslim"), clearly reveals that being called a Muslim in the current American atmosphere is a "smear" tantamount to being a terrorist, an anti-Semite, and a threat to national security. Nowhere on the Schlep site (or on Obama's site for that matter) does it condemn the broad racism that underlies the statement in the first place. Jews, having been victims of the same kind of blind bigotry, should know better and not be at all susceptible to such racist propaganda. The Great Schlep’s perspective is that being a Muslim is a bad thing, something to be condemned and abhorred, a sign of anti-American and anti-Semitic treachery and malevolence. Whereas John McCain is rightly castigated for claiming that Arabs or Muslims are mutually exclusive of decent, family-oriented, or law-abiding American citizens, elderly Jews seem to get a pass on the same matter, as if the trauma of the Holocaust somehow justifies their anti-Islamic suspicions. For the record, let's just remember that absolutely none of the Germans in concentration camp watchtowers and at gas chamber controls were Arabs or Muslims. They were all Christians.

The xenophobia of both the grandparents and grandchildren involved in The Great Schlep is evident in the following statement by Sarah Silverman in her endorsement:
"You know why your grandparents don't like Barack Obama? Because his name sounds scary, it sounds Muslim, which he's obviously not. Yes, Barack Hussein Obama, it's a super fucking shitty name...The name Barack is a Hebrew word, it means lightening."
Not only does this blithely offensive statement demonstrate the lack of understanding and clarity of the Schlep, but it's also patently untrue. Obama's first name is not the same as the Hebrew word "barak," which does mean "lightening" (though, granted, they sound identical); it is a Swahili derivative ("baraka") of the Arabic word "bariki" meaning "blessing." Its Hebrew equivalent is actually the word "baruch." Sorry, Sarah, you should do your homework.

[Incidentally, Obama's own website feels the need to go one step further by asserting that the candidate's middle name is not Mohammed, a fact they repeat three times in quick succession, with no other explanation: "OBAMA'S MIDDLE NAME IS NOT MOHAMMED. Barack Obama's Middle Name Is Not Mohammed. Barack Obama's middle name is not Mohammed." Check it out, it's weird.]

The most important issue raised by the Schlep (under the Talking Points title: Obama ♥ Israel And So Do You) addresses the actual fears of Jewish retirees from Boca to Palm Beach: Is Barack Obama good for Israel? With this question should come a bevy of counter-queries, rather than a race to scream "Yes!" at the top of one's Zionist lungs. First, is what's good for the United States the same as what's good for Israel? And also, what exactly does "good" mean?

Realistically, can a history and institutionalized policy of genocide, displacement, illegal immigration, land theft, house demolitions, arbitrary incarceration, paramilitary violence, martial law, military conquest, colonial expansionism, occupation, apartheid, limiting freedom of movement, collective punishment, and a total disregard for international law or human rights of a native population be good for Israel?

There is little doubt that two illegal invasions and occupations, the use of private mercenary armies, unconstitutional domestic spying and wiretapping, offshore torture, extraordinary rendition, and an unwillingness to conduct genuine diplomacy with countries that won't backdown to American bullying and aggression has not been good for the United States. Just look at the damage it's done to the economy and our reputation around the world.

Do checkpoints, expanding settlements, segregated roads, and a separation barrier ensure the safety and security of the Israeli population? Is it not obvious that brutal occupation, rampant militarism, cultural destruction, and systematic dehumanization justifiably breed fear, anger, resentment, and resistance in the oppressed society? Shouldn't Jews, with their own tragic history, promote equality and human rights above all else, strive to create a unified society that values and rewards diversity, tolerance, and justice, and eschew fierce nationalism, cultural superiority, and racial exclusion at all costs?

But these questions are never asked. Israeli actions are assumed to be noble. US-backed and bankrolled military strength is paramount. Resistance groups and legitimate political parties like Hamas and Hezbollah are labeled "terrorist" entities. Iran is called an existential threat to the state, and the word “Palestinian” appears nowhere in the Talking Points. What is the result of these repetitive and spurious claims? The organizers and supporters of The Great Schlep become just another conservative mouthpiece, using the language of the Bush administration and the McCain campaign to promote American Empire and Israeli hegemony and reinforcing the long-established framework of dangerous US foreign policy and Zionist mythology. This is not the sort of change we should count on because, obviously, this is no change at all.

In her four-and-a-half minute YouTube presentation, Schlep-supporter Sarah Silverman asserts that "Jews are the most liberal, scrappy, civil-rightsy people there are. Yes, that's true, but you're forgetting a whole, large group of Jews that are not that way.” While she is clearly generalizing and referring only to Jewish septua-, octo-, and nonagenarians living out their twilight years in stubborn suspended animation, Silverman would be more accurate if she just said what the UN General Assembly stated back in 1975: Zionism, by its nature of exclusion, aggression, militarism, colonialism, and nationalism, is “a threat to world peace and security,” a “racist and imperialist ideology,” and “a form of racism and racial discrimination.” Zionists, young or old, liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, are racists.

The Great Schlep's intentions are clearly to sway a vitally important demographic in a key battleground state with a dubious voting history into favoring an obviously superior, more qualified and dignified candidate into the White House. But in its effort to assuage the damage done by McCain's negative rumor mill, the movement absentmindedly adopts the same hateful language and racist prejudice of the very campaign its attempting to defeat. In so doing, The Great Schlep utilizes racial stereotypes to undo others.

And, by legitimizing the hypocrisy of their Jewish elders, Schleppers feed the fires of Jewish nationalism and reaffirm the false and racist mythologies that plague much of the elderly Jewish community. Unfortunately, members of The Great Schlep don’t seek to teach old dogs new tricks, but rather to trick the old dogs into throwing them a bone.


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