Blaming the Jews

February 26, 2004

Reader YS worries:

Whether or not Jewish leaders were in some way complicit in Jesus’ crucifixion is not the issue. The fact that Europe used that possible compicity to brutally persecute millions of Jews for 2000 years is the issue.That 2000 history would be unequivocally irredeemable even if Christians could prove the alleged complicity beyond any shadow of a doubt, and I think that is what you should be arguing. Arguing it the other way opens the door for validating the persecution if one can validate the history.

She has a point. However, I think we can argue about actionability seperately. My point was that blaming the Jews has been a tool of oppressive authorities to perserve their power for millenia.

The modern version of “The Jews killed Jesus,” in the Arab world, takes the form of, The Jews Killed the Palestinians with exactly the same graphic depiction of suffering and with the same absence of any political context.

Even if Jews did kill Palestinians, it does not justify the hating and killing of Jewish civilians either in the Middle East or elsewhere. Nonetheless Arab media thrives on Palestinian Passion plays that follows the exact same formula Gibson and the Church have already used for centuries.


The Passion of Mel Gibson

February 25, 2004

Yesterday I got a call from a buddy of mine. A friend of his is a NY Post reporter who was looking for people to see Mel Gibson’s new Passion movie, get photographed, and provide quotes. We met up at the AMC25. They bought us popcorn and soda and we went in.

Mel Gibson presents the Jewish leadership as wanting Jesus dead because they veiwed him as a blasphemer. A subset of them bribe Judas, have Jesus captured, try him in a midnight kangaroo council, beat him up, and hand him over to the Romans. They then proceed to threaten Pontius Pilate with disorder if he does not order Jesus crucified. He eventually does so and the second half of the movie is graphic depiction of the Roman’s torturing and eventually crucifying and killing Jesus.

So objectively, it was ROMAN Pontius Pilate who ordered Jesus crucified and it was ROMAN soliders that then tortured and killed him. Nonetheless Mel Gibson tries to make the Jews take the fall — as if the ONLY reason Pilate had Jesus crucified was because the Jews wanted it and wouldn’t/couldn’t do it themselves.

However Gibson’s presentation of Pilate’s motives are at odds with our historical intuition. The Jews are not known for wanting anyone crucified (it is a Roman invention). The Romans are not known for kowtowing to the sensitivities of their subject populations. An alternative interpetation more consistent with the facts is thiat Pilate was having trouble contending with the power of the Jewish leadership in the region — would the people be loyal to Rome or the Jews? He became aware of an increasingly popular figure in the population names Jesus. He figures he can weaken loyalty to this leadership if it becomes know that they are responsible for the death of Jesus. Since they won’t kill Jesus themselves, the only alternative is for him to order it and claim it was at their behest.

In this context, Mel Gibson’s movie comes accross as a Roman propaganda piece. The Jewish leadership is portrayed as utterly venal. The torture and death portrayed completely graphically generating moral outrage among the audiece to lay at the Jews feet. I don’t know why he is doing it. Perhaps it is doing this to make money, perhaps he is working out his relationship with his father.
Either way, in a world of increasing anti-semitism, it is sad.

What concerns me is that the propoganda is effective. Some of my fellow movie goers cried. In speaking to them afterwards it was clear that many of them believed Mel’s presentation as historical fact. Most of them were probably unware that even though the screneplay was written by Gibson the substitles STILL didn’t match the aramaic. OH well.

Anyway, check out my photo in tomorrow’s NYPOST!
Update: The online version is here.

What happens if we don’t do it?

February 2, 2004

One of the comments on David Medienkritik discussion about German anti-amercanism claims that it is the result of differences in the willingness to trade risk for reward (attitudes towards personal responsibility).

Perhaps the reason is that Americans are consistently more lucky (see prior post on how to get lucky more often) and that causes resentment. But I don’t even think this luck sufficiently characterizes the picture. We are a country of immigrants desparate to escape from terrible conditions in other countries. It would be hard to say that the early colonists attempting to escape religious wars in europe were optimists or that they are less risk-averse.

Fleeing immigrants are not more optimisti or less risk-averse. Instead, they just view the status quo as more risky. They are just much more likely to ask “what are the risks of doing nothing?” When presented with a proposal for action, they are more likely to ask “What are the risks of not doing it?”

The result is less trust in government and institutions in solving their problems and more trust things will only improve if they take care of it themselves. The debate around the recent Iraq war and the larger issues of post-9/11 basically have this form.

Pro-war people asked “what happens if we don’t do something about Iraq now?” Anti-war people asked “what happens if we do?” Anti-war folks generally trust international institutions to solve problems when they emerge and are willing to allow things to progress much further before overcoming their preference for the status quo. Pro-war people generally don’t trust to get anything done and therefore believe it is more necessary for the US to go it alone and work with a “coalition of the willing.”

The difference is also apparent is the different levels of individual generosity. Americans are much more likely to give individually and to worry less about the risk of free-riders. Europeans are less likely to give individually and worry quite a bit more about free-riders.

Some might say that attitudes toward the environment contradict the above (with Europeans more likely to be green). But, if you look at the actual examples, you’ll see that, even here, the Europeans are much more predisposed towards international institutions and much less predisposed to changing behavior themselves and then exhorting others to do the same.