Monday, June 06, 2011

Akin Gump and Primitive Anti-Semitism

I worked as a paralegal at the law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld for three years, from 1988 to 1991. I believe that I was subjected to unlawful harassment by the firm's staff during my employment.  Rumors of my homosexuality and other emasculating behaviors were a feature of the harassment, or so I believed.  If I was in fact a victim of anti-Semitic harassment, that harassment was primitive indeed.  The anti-Semitic view of Jewish men as effeminate is one that has not been current for a hundred years or so.  Apparently, anti-Semites have moved on.  Jews are no longer homosexuals; they are now gun-toting Zionists who prey on innocent Palestinian women and children.  Yes, even prejudice evolves, keeping pace with the scientific and technological changes of the twenty-first century.

For those of you who no longer remember the good old days, here's a refresher.  In a paper titled "Re-Masculinizing the Jew: Gender and Zionism Until the First World War," the author, Rachael Byrne, discusses the anti-Semitic stereotype of Jewish men as effeminate prevalent in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the emergence of Zionism to address the emasculated view of the Jew.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Zionism emerged not only as a political and colonial mission to create the Jewish state of Israel as a safe-haven from anti-Semitism, but also as a means to address the very anti-Semitic stereotypes attributed to the European Jewish population. Especially, Zionism sought to replace the effeminacy attributed to Jewish men with a masculinity defined by European gentiles, thus avoiding assimilation into their diasporic countries (and thus losing culture and religion), while actually assimilating into the colonial world order as a means to gain legitimacy from the very European nation-states that drove Jewish people out through anti-Semitic discrimination. The vehicles used to re-masculinize Jewish men include: socialism as seen with the kibbutzim, settler colonialism thereafter, re-embodiment through gymnastics and agriculture, and the induction of Jewish men into violent European culture through dueling and militarism. These venues used an Orientalist framework, abjecting anti-Semitic stereotypes while at the same time projecting similar or identical versions of these stereotypes onto the native Arab population in Palestine. Thus, Zionism not only pushed to build a colonial state, but also to build the future subjects of this state as re-embodied, re-masculinized Jewish men.

And with that, I'm off to the gym!


Gary Freedman said...

In an unusually insightful observation in my self-study The Caliban Complex that I wrote in 1988, one finds the following at footnote 9. (Apparently my thinking was a little too advanced for the experts in expert opinions!)

(Compare the age-old aspiration of the Jews, which found practical expression in the Zionists’ goal: the end of Jews’ exile from their ancient homeland, or “motherland,” and the revival of a lost Hebrew (phallic) identity. Interpreted psychoanalytically, exile for the Jews meant a traumatic separation from a symbolic nurturing mother, resulting in a collective identity loss in the form of a regression, on a cultural level, to a pre-phallic stage. Return of the Jews transformed the Jewish identity into an Israeli identity (and indeed transformed the whole region, once so stagnant). “The Israeli is now possessed of a sovereign state, whose power, though objectively not great, represents for the unconscious a phallus like any other The Israeli, by living in his own land, has thus refound the mother and forms with her a couple, as is the case with most other peoples. He lives, not in a vacuum like the Jew, but in a material (as Freud remarked, the words materia and mater have the same derivation) world that is governed and organized.” Grunberger, B. “The Anti-Semite and the Oedipal Conflict.” International Journal of Psychoanalysis 45: 380-385, at 384-385 (1964). And “[i]n his ‘homeland,’ and tilling his very home soil,” Erikson notes, “the ‘ingathered’ Jew was to overcome such evil identities as result from eternal wandering . . . and intellectualizing and was to become whole again in body and mind. . . .” Erikson, E.H. Identity and the Life Cycle (1959), at 172 (Norton: 1980)).

Gary Freedman said...

IDF -- name of the Israeli Defense Force -- actually stands for "I don't fuck around."