Of Grease Monkeys and Birthers

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It happened in the body shop.

With trepidation, I’d delivered my badly wounded car, (more exactly, the tow truck had), and now, while waiting for my rental car to be delivered, I was chatting with the owner of the body shop, a very well-spoken man on whose mercy I now depended and whose expertise was impressive.

Along the way, I asked him whether he favored Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. He chose Romney, and when I asked whether he was at all troubled by Romney’s secrecy regarding his tax returns, his answer was, “And what about Obama’s birth certificate?” Nor was that the whole of it: “And whatever he says, I don’t believe he ever converted to Christianity; he’s still a Muslim. Plus do you know that no one who was at Columbia when he says he was studying there remembers him, there are no academic records of his time there, there are no pictures of him while there?”

I’d heard about people with such views, of course, and had seen snippets of them from time to time on television, but this was my first up-close encounter. I was, to put it mildly, astonished. I briefly — very briefly — considered finding a different body shop, but decided that I could not in conscience subject all prospective craftspeople to an ideological test.

Mulling over the matter the next day (the matter being a way of thinking that is mean-spirited, irrational and disrespectful), I returned to my own weekly experience of abusive response to stuff I’ve written — in particular, the habit of so many bloggers to impute base motives to me. I’ve been called a kapo, a man on a mission to destroy Israel and, of course, a self-hating Jew. Just a few of the less inflammatory examples:

Here, I might have launched into yet another sermon on civility, but as it happens, such a sermon was preached by someone with whom I’ve had major differences in the past. I am referring to Rabbi Daniel Gordis, who was among the 41 people gathered by the Israel Policy Forum to express their vehement opposition to the conclusions of the Levy Commission report, the report that insisted on Israel’s sovereignty from the Mediterranean to the Jordan river. Gordis, writing in Tablet magazine on July 26, says, “[W]hat has genuinely shocked me has been the level of vitriol, blatant intellectual dishonesty, and expectations of conformity.” And his illustrations are more chilling than my examples:

Or, as Giulio Meotti an Italian journalist, declared:

Or: [A] widely read blogger taken seriously by some people I take seriously, Tweeted, “Daniel Gordis loses all credibility by signing on to pro-Hamas group Israel Policy Forum’s letter.”

And then Gordis goes on to observe, “Even if we ignore the absurdity and incitement of calling the IPF ‘pro-Hamas,’ there’s an important issue here: If a person makes one move with which you disagree, must they immediately ‘lose all credibility’? For some, apparently so.”

Why had Gordis signed the letter in the first place? “I saw no reason to breed further hemorrhaging of American Jewish support for Israel or an international outcry by adopting a report that many would see as cementing the current status quo, leading to rampant accusations that Israel is becoming an apartheid society. Israel does not need that.”

And he concludes, “[A]s Tisha B’Av looms, we would do well, I think, to ask ourselves what kind of a Jewish world we’re defending and whether, even if we’re successful at preserving the Jewish State, those whose loyalty we desperately need will want to have anything to do with us.”

Bravo, Daniel Gordis. Birthers and those who maliciously or simply sloppily accuse others of “self-hatred” or “hypocrisy” pollute discourse. If they are too dense to be ashamed of themselves, the rest of us should resolutely shame them.

Contact Leonard Fein at feedback@forward.com

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Leonard Fein

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Of Grease Monkeys and Birthers

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