Disavow, Renounce, Didn’t Hear

Gershom Gorenberg

Just in case I’m ever struck by the mad thought of running for political office in Israel, I’d like to set the record straight: I don’t agree with the prophet Isaiah’s political views. He doesn’t speak for me. No way.

It’s true that I’ve enjoyed some of his sermons, and I took some comfort from the spiritual stuff, like that vision of heaven, with the six-winged creatures praising God. But I attended to Isaiah strictly for the religion, not for the politics. I mean, I’m a patriotic Israeli (even if my lapel pin got lost in the wash, honestly).

I’m pretty sure I wasn’t even there the day he said,

Ah, sinful nation!
People laden with iniquity!
Brood of evildoers!
Depraved children!
They have forsaken the Lord,
spurned the Holy One of Israel,
Turned their backs on Him!

but if I was there, I slept through the sermon. Otherwise, I would have told him that I might just run for office, and therefore I cannot tolerate him cursing my country.

Actually, now that I look for the first time at the transcripts (thank God there’s no YouTube clip) I can see it gets even worse.

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Wright, Race and Contested Stories

Gershom Gorenberg

If you want to understand why Rev. Jeremiah Wright said the US government invented Aids, or what Barack Obama sought to accomplish in his Philadelphia speech on race, the best commentary is political scientist Marc Howard Ross’s book “Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict” – even if it never mentions Obama or Wright.

I described Ross’s book in my recent American Prospect piece about the smears against on Robert Malley and the shoutfest over Israeli-Palestinian history. Ross describes the critical role of the stories that

…ethnic groups build to explain their past, their present, and their relation to their opponents. The narratives are “compelling, coherent” and link “specific events to that group’s general understandings.”

They are also selective and inaccurate. Disagreement with a group’s memory is often perceived as an attack on its identity, if not its existence.

Ross certainly isn’t the first to talk about a shared narrative as part of ethnic identity. In Israel, there’s constant discussion in the tenure-track class of the Israeli narrative and the Palestinian narrative and how they don’t fit together. For Israelis, 1948 means independence; for Palestinians, the same date equals catastrophe. For Israelis, the southeast corner of Jerusalem’s Old City is the Temple Mount, proof of Jews’ ancient connection to their land; for Palestinians, the same place is Al-Aqsa Mosque, the place where Islam and Palestinian nationalism are fused together.

But Ross gives the best description I’ve seen yet of how such narratives are put together,

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