From outside one will always triumphantly impress theories upon the world and then fall straight into the ditch one has dug, but only from inside will one keep oneself and the world quiet and true. /FK (Contact: TBONotebooks at fastmail.fm. The Blue Octavo Notebooks welcomes mail, although we cannot guarantee a response. Your email may be posted in part on The Blue Octavo Notebooks unless otherwise requested.) Please enjoy the notebook entries, and thanks for reading.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Following is a slightly updated version of an email I sent to my cousin late last night. I’m working on a more updated and thorough account of my experience yesterday evening, and I’ll post it shortly.

Here’s the email:

I’m a Yahoodi but…

I’m not a Jew, because I’m not religious. Judaism is a religion, NOTHING else, not a culture or an ethnicity. “Read your BOOK, man. Read your Tor-Ah!” Oh.

Well, thank goodness I attended the opening session of the OSU Palestine Solidarity Conference tonight, or I would never have had this identity issue so neatly and simply resolved for me, and all courtesy of several oh-so friendly keffiyah-garbed fellows who obviously know so much more about both myself and Judaism than I do. Thank god that such stellar intellects exist for the benefit of humanity. But goodness, who knew that encapsulating a Yahoodi and several thousand years of Jewish culture—I mean, religion, oopsy, it’s not a culture!—was so easy? Not this Yahoodi. Luckily, I know enough so that when someone calls me “Yahoodi, Yahoodi” behind my back, I know what he’s talking about and can ask him if there’s a problem. Uh, er, umm, eh, uh, no, of course there’s no problem. (Then why did you say it, hmmm?)

You should have seen the look on the fellow’s face. "Uh, you just look like a Jew, that's all." (Yeh, and you suddenly look just like a punk and an asshole, but I don’t have to open my Yahoodi mouth about it like you did, see? Not that I said that, of course. But I digress.) Maybe it’s just me, but spouting off behind the back of someone you don’t even know, whom you’ve never even seen before, because he LOOKS like he might belong to a particular religion (not ethnic group, mind you, but religion) seems rather bad form. And, indeed, if I “look like a Jew,” are you not conceding that Judaism has a non-religious component? Physiognomy might be a component of ethnicity but it has no connection to religion, now does it? Tip to bigots, especially those wearing white and black keffiyehs on university property: Don’t make snotty comments about a Jewish dude behind his back if the Jew--er, Yahoodi--knows what you’re talking about. After all, when he turns around, nods his head, and says to you, “Yahoodi, that means Jew,” the stupid expression suddenly occupying your face might make you look even more like a two-bit bigot than you already are. Plus, next time the Yahoodi might not be such a nice guy. Just a tip.

(Part of me feels sorry for the guy and his mates. It must be rather a craven and sullen sphere of existence where attacking strangers based on what you assume is their religion somehow offers amusement or an opportunity for moral righteousness. I tried to approach this conference with an open mind and a sense of tolerance, yet within minutes I was being mocked and denigrated. Go figure.)

Yahoodi, indeed. I mean, really, where was I, France? Saudi Arabia? No, just the Ohio State University student union.

And this snide little interpellation occurred, oh, two minutes after I’d walked into the building. The resulting conversation with him and some of his mates, while some of their pals looked on in enjoyment, went downhill. One young scholar, who I recognized as being from OSU (she’d been holding up a sign at the Dershowitz talk), giggled several times, although I didn’t see anything especially humorous about, say, being told that I was an idol worshipper. But I guess there’s no accounting for taste, especially when it comes to mockery of Yahoodis. Luckily, I know they were being merely anti-Zionist in their crude comments about me and not, perish the thought, anti-Semitic! I, for one, appreciate such subtle ideological distinctions, even in the course of having such spiteful looks and comments directed at me. Charming behavior, to be sure, and I can certainly see why any progressive, intelligent, open-minded person would want to jump on their bandwagon.

Not surprisingly, the “I want Palestine from the River to the Sea, from the River to the Sea” Palestinian guy who was at the ISM booth at the Community Festival back in June was standing right next to this guy the whole time this was happening. I’m pretty sure he recognized me, but I didn’t say anything to him, and he didn’t open his mouth. This was the fellow I told you about, who explained to me that every Israeli is a military reservist, and that most of the people who ride public buses in Israel are military reservists, and that no Israeli school kids have even been killed on bombed buses. Last night, he was wearing a Palestinian flag tied around his shoulders, as a cape. Only problem was that it was too long for him, and the bottom few inches were dragging along the ground and getting under his shoes, which had really sullied the bottom of the flag. I guess using his flag for a cape didn’t bother him, much less walking on it and getting it dirty. Whatever. If he’d opened his mouth, I was going to ask him if he’d looked up Abigail Leitner, since back in June he’d never heard of her.

There were some other “bombs of filth” spit at me during the course of this conversation, if it can even be called that. I wrote it all down right after it happened, while it was all still fresh (rotten, actually) in my mind. I’ll send you a more updated version when I type it all up. (“Do you know what 'Kufr' means, man?” Uh, yeah.) I was stunned during this little display of malevolence and spitefulness being directed at me--I had just walked in, I’d just gotten there, and already I’d had Yahoodi-Yahoodi thrown at me (behind my back, of course)—but now a few hours later, having collected my thoughts about it and replayed it in my mind, I'm just saddened and angry. How utterly worthless and repugnant.

I'll keep you updated, although I'm not sure if I'll be going back to this pathetic excuse of a conference tomorrow or Sunday. Not because I was intimidated, to be sure, as I wasn't--disgusted and sickened, and caught off guard, sure--but because from what I saw tonight the conference is an utter waste of time and offers nothing of any remote positive worth. The whole thing is a crock is a shit, more so than I even expected--you would not believe some of the dribble and nonsense some of the speakers were retching up. Well, actually, you probably would, as it was all so cliched and tendentious and predictable, although seeing it in person rather than reading about it really gives an appreciation for the depths and intensity of such anti-Israel fervor, as hollow as it is. Anyway, the people organizing this gratuitous, boorish stunt forfeited their credibility a while back. Life is just too short.

On a positive note, I did learn tonight that this movement and the people behind are almost entirely all bluster, which I suppose is one reason they're so loud and vehement. (And there’s almost a sort of erotic tinge or quality to it. Perhaps that’s not the exact word for it, but it just seemed that people were enjoying a sort of pleasure hearing and talking about how awful Israel is. I was watching one woman across from me, and she was just glowing. Let me think about that one some more.) It’s all rather self-indulgent, and makes for nice group displays of mutual self-righteousness and validation, but on paper (I’m reading over my notes) the same language looks really… lame. Alan Dershowitz should have his house bulldozed? It’s a good rallying cry, but grow up, already. I'm very glad to know all this, as now I know these folks are not worth wasting an iota of concern or worry on. Just because these folks have a big presence on the Internet, for example, doesn’t mean they have any comparable presence in the real world. To paraphrase Shakespeare, theirs is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Less than nothing, in fact, because this asinine conference will likely end up even further discrediting them and their cause, and bolstering support for Israel. These people manufacture so much support for Israel, while at the same time damaging and discrediting their own putative positions, you'd think they were ardent Zionists. (Hell, maybe at some repressed psychological level they are, and all this dippy anti-Zionist drivel is just a massive coping mechanism to keep their love for Israel repressed and suppressed. But I digress.) So I'll keep tabs on them, but only in the way one would keep tabs on cockroaches should they ever turn up in the kitchen. It's good to know where they are and to keep the light on them, but they're hardly important, except maybe to themselves. After all, people have been dealing with bugs for millennia.

Well, if Jean-Paul Sartre was right (and he wasn't) that a Jew isn’t a Jew until somebody else calls him one, then I guess tonight I was definitely a Jew. Or at least a Yahoodi.

Sorry for the rant, but it’s not everyday I get called a Yahoodi behind my back and then informed I’m not actually Jewish… And to think that some people have to live where this sort of garbage and dimwitted contempt are government policy.

I'll email you some more soon. Best,

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