As his first endeavor in film directing takes hold on viewers nationwide, Jon Stewart recently used an interview at a Canadian film festival to unload on his fellow Jews who accuse him of being of the “self-hating” variety of Jew. I cannot think of a single worse thing to be in life than a self-hating anything, but Jon Stewart has shown me the light. By his use of the Holocaust as his defense, which is what practically every single left-wing, Israel-bashing, BDS movement-supporting Jew does these days, Jon Stewart has fallen down the slippery slope and joined the wrong side in the fight. His somewhat nuanced take on the “some of my best friends are Jewish” theme is what anti-Semites use, intentionally or not, to claim they are not biased, when in point of fact, they are biased. The obvious problem with this belief is that instead of addressing his own duality as a Jew, he lashes out at the wrong people.
By blaming right-wing, presumably religious types for calling him a self-hating Jew, he has exposed his own conflicts with himself. I cannot speak as to his childhood in New Jersey, but I can attest to his exposure to non-Jews in education from a personal standpoint. The easiest way to do that would be to describe something that occurred while I was attending college. It was a very long time ago and our student union was showing a recently-released “Blazing Saddles.” When it came to the segment in the film where Mel Brooks does his Yiddish-spouting American Indian schtick, only three people in the audience laughed˗myself and two fellow students from my hometown who also happened to be Jewish. I mention this event because Jon Stewart went to the same college I attended, The College of William and Mary. Being one of only a handful of anything in a college full of “others” left its mark on me and I am sure it would on Jon Stewart later on when he matriculated there.
There is another point worth mentioning. Jon spent the entire summer last year in Jordan making a film. As far as I know, he did not visit here on his way into or out of Jordan. If he has relatives that died in the Holocaust, then he surely must also have relatives here who survived it that he could visit, schedule permitting. It is possible he feels no connection with Israel and that is a great shame, both for Jon and for others, who likewise, feel no reason to see what their relatives created out of nothing. It is a hell of a lot more awe-inspiring than a trip to Petra in Jordan which was built by the Nabateans and is not linked to modern Jordanians. This fact is why there are groups like Nefesh B’Nefesh and Birthright.
Granted, nothing excuses misappropriation of Holocaust imagery, whether it is by the relatives of survivors or those who had nothing to do with it. Invoking the Holocaust to make a point damages the memory of the victims and it should be discouraged, whatever the motives behind its usage.
Furthermore, to call folks on the carpet for being “oppressive” and “fascistic” misses the mark entirely. Nobody is telling Jon Stewart what kind of Jew to be. He is an adult and can make his choices as he sees fit. He is married to a Catholic and has two children, and yet nobody stopped him from becoming one of the greatest satirists of his day; in fact, his Jewish background, his constantly challenging barriers and his ability to make people laugh at themselves and others are hallmarks of Jewish entertainers. It is our secet coping device in a world full of people, many of whom wish us dead, on a daily basis. When forced to make uniforms for the German army, Auschwitz work camp inmates sewed zippers shut on Nazi uniforms. This is how we cope with a world full of anti-Semites. It is what we are. It is how we have survived thousands of years of oppression, defeat and despair.
As Jews, we like to argue, but we are not close-minded to opposing views. And Jon Stewart is permitted to express his views, even his bone-headed ones, to his heart’s content. That is also one of the hallmarks of our religious traditions. It is the reason my childhood rabbi used to roll his eyes at me whenever I walked into his classroom. It is also the reason Jon Stewart is perceived to hate his own people by many of his fellow Jews. No one says we have to agree in lock-step with each other because everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and opinions. But unlike so many others, it really helps to have some facts under your belt before saying anything. Frankly, it does appear that Jon Stewart is not balanced on his comments regarding Israel. Rarely, if ever, does he call the Palestinians out for their attacks on Israeli citizens. You are more likely to see pro-Israel and pro-Jewish acknowledgments emanating from Stephen Colbert than Stewart. Before the High Holidays and their vacation break, Colbert wished his viewers a “chag sameach.” Stewart didn’t bother. And he does bash Israel’s politicians frequently; but then again, so do we whenever it is necessary. It’s that whole democracy thing, after all.
I profoundly hope that Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz comes for a real visit to Israel. Instead of referring constantly to the “Palestinians” and their “homeland” he could come and see what it looks like when modern people are in their actual ancient homeland and make it the “light unto the nations” it was meant to be.