Monday, October 20, 2003

Sign This Petition

There's an online petition to save Gregg Easterbrook's job at ESPN. I've signed it. So should you. Click here
UPDATE: A good friend pointed out to me that perhaps the petition goes too far, in that it calls on prospective employers not to consider negatively Easterbrook's anti-Semitic rant. Indeed, that formulation does go too far (as my own post below implies). Of course employers may, indeed should consider it. But they should consider it fairly, which means weighing it against a quarter century's work that gives the lie to any characterization of Easterbrook that could be drawn solely from the offending piece. That said, I don't regret signing the petition, because I agree with what I take to be its goal -- saving Easterbrook from consequences out of proportion to his actions. The reputational harm he has suffered I think is lasting, and I think sufficient.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Higher Standards, Chosen-ness, and All That Jazz

One blogger, the aptly named Isntapundit defended Gregg Easterbrook’s anti-semitic raving last week on the grounds that “he wants to hold Jews to a higher moral standard, which any rational person would take as a compliment.” Well, we don’t view it as a compliment, and we’re not irrational. The higher standard is a form of a hatred, plain and simple. We’re human beings, just like the rest of you. Which means we’ve a hard enough time, just like everyone else, of living up to the common standard. That should be obvious enough not to need saying. So holding us to a higher standard than everyone else is merely an excuse to bash us, because we’ll inevitably fail to meet it. Isntapundit isn’t backing down, either.

But then we Jews need to recognize too that this double standard has its roots in our own self conception. We are to God “am segulah” a treasured people. On festivals, we sanctify the day over a glass of wine, recounting in joyful song that God has chosen us from among all the peoples, exalted our language (Hebrew) from among all the languages. The concept of the Jews as a Chosen People has of course been the source of much misunderstanding over the centuries. It has consistently been misconstrued by anti-semites as a form of haughtiness, a claim to status as Uebermenschen. From the Jewish perspective, it is, of course, nothing of the kind. Herman Wouk has written the best explanation of the concept in English that I’ve ever read, in his masterful book This Is My God (which I commend to everyone who hasn’t read it, Jew and non-Jew alike, as the most concise and complete and readable explanation of Judaism ever written). He writes:
Where then is the chosen aspect of the Jews? Is it solely in their own minds? That would make them no different from the in groups all over the world, the Babbitts of Zenith, . . . blissfully sure that theirs is the best way of life, and that they are the best people. If the ”chosen people” meant no more than that, it would be part of the common folly of man, and not worth discussing. . . . What then becomes of the choice of Israel? It remains, as the Bible puts it, an election of Abraham’s family to special disciplines and duties in the service of God. . . .Jewry’s failure to measure up to its mission is the burden of Jeremiah and Isaiah, as well as of country club chatter.
. Therein lies the rub. God himself holds us to a different standard than that he applies to the rest of humanity. They are bound only by the seven Noachide laws, and faithful obedience to them ensures the Gentile a share in the World to Come (Wouk points out that Job, the example par excellence of righteousness is, in the Jewish tradition, not himself a Jew). We Jews, on the other hand, are bound by 613 commandments. It is a decidedly higher standard. We get upset when non-Jews purport to remind us of this, and I think we’re entitled to be upset. Easterbrook, after all, is not himself God, nor even Jeremiah or Isaiah (and Isntapundit isn’t even Easterbrook). He’s a human just like us, so we’ll thank him to leave it to God whether we Jews are living up to the standard He sets for us. Perhaps Easterbrook would do well, rather than upbraiding Jews for not living up to their calling, to heed the words of his own God: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” (The Gospel According to Matthew, 7:1).

Evil Simple-minded Pandering Nitwits

I bet Gregg Easterbrook never imagined the tempest he'd whip up when he penned his pan of Kill Bill. I've got a few thoughts on the matter. First, Sullivan and InstaPundit both minimize what Easterbrook did in posts this weekend by linking to the text of the Malaysian Prime Minister's hate-filled diatribe at the OIC this past week, and calling that "real anti-semitism." What they're saying is, if you stop short of calling for the extermination of the Jews, you're not quite an anti-Semite. I think that sets the bar for what constitutes "real anti-semitism" a mite too high (or too low). I agree with them that what Easterbrook wrote isn't in the same league as what Mahathir Mohammed said, and to suggest otherwise would border on libeling Easterbrook. But that doesn't absolve Easterbrook of the charge of anti-semitism.

Second, if Sullivan and InstaPundit underestimate the wrongfulness and the hurtfulness of what Easterbrook wrote (and it was hurtful, especially because it came from the pen -- and the mind and heart -- of one whom I'd never have suspected of harboring such awful views), then ESPN went way over the top in firing him. The blogosphere has been near unanimous in their view that ESPN's firing of Easterbrook was cowardly, sinister, and wrong-headed (InstaPundit rounds up the links here. In saying why the firing was wrong, Sully and InstaPundit do some shoddy analysis. They both think it significant that the comments for which ESPN presumably fired Easterbrook (ESPN hasn't explained its decision, or even announced it; they've just purged his stuff from the site, Soviet-like) weren't even written for ESPN, but were published elsewhere. Dan Drezner agrees To see why that's insignificant, imagine the comments were somewhat harsher and more evil than they were. Assume for the sake of argument that Easterbrook had written on his blog things along the lines of Mahathir Muhammad's speech. Any doubt that ESPN would be justified in firing him out of concern for its own reputation? I don't think so. So ESPN's firing of Easterbrook wasn't wrong because Easterbrook wrote the comments elsewhere; ESPN has the perfect right to offer its forum only to people it believes will enhance its reputation for excellence in sports journalism, and to deny space to people they think will detract from that reputation. No, their firing of Easterbrook was wrong because what Easterbrook wrote was out for character for him (can't say the same about Rush); and because Easterbrook recognized (sort of) the wrongfulness of what he wrote, and he apologized for it (can't say the same for Rush). His weekly TMQ column is the best football commentary available in any medium anywhere, and its absence from ESPN will detract heavily from the network's value to its readers. (I'm going elsewhere for sports commentary unless and until and they reinstate him. I've told ESPN as much, and you can too, here). I'll post separately my views about the substance of what Easterbrook wrote. In the meantime, check out the several posts on this subject over at Meryl's place, where Easterbrook's piece was first exposed to the light of day, and at Roger Simon's.