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"My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west." — Yehudah Ha-Levi

Jews on NPR: “I’m Amitai Etzioni, but please don’t tell anyone that I’m Jewish/Israeli!”

Posted by Oyster on October 16, 2006

Amitai EtzioniLook, is wanting a UFC cage-match between Michael Krasny (KQED) and John Rothmann (KGO) just asking for too much?

On the way to work the other morning I was listening to Forum, and they had on this sociologist named Amitai Etzioni. As soon as I heard his name, I was, like, “Jew! Israeli! What what!!” Cool, I thought.

He came on the air to talk about the nature of identity politics, and especially concerning how most of the American political apparatus is doing a great disservice to many by lumping everyone from south of the border in the USA as ‘Hispanic’. Now, aside from that label being problematic in and of itself, he argues that the political machines of the Republican and Democratic parties are not getting the results that they want from reaching out to ‘Hispanics’, because that term refers to a non-existant ‘race’, and they’d be better served in treating everyone as individuals from their country of origin. The political tendencies of Cuban-Americans and Mexican-Americans are completely different, as he states.

So, I’m listening to the program attentively, waiting for him to talk about anything relating to Jewish identity, which is a fav topic of mine (don’t get me started!). So, he uses his family as an example at one point, and states that, “from my wife my children will inherit a Latina ethnic identity, and from me, they will… inherit my ethnicity”. Or something to that effect. What?! Dude, with a name like that, you gotta be proud. It’s ridiculous; like Flannery O’Conner trying to avoid the fact that he’s she’s as Irish as the Blarney Stone.

And later on in the program, a Russian dude name ‘Vlad’ from Oakland called, and asked to talk about Russian Jewish identity, since it is very different than just the ‘religion’ that most of the West tries to brain-wash Jews into thinking. For Russian Jews, being Jewish was always a distinct ethnic grouping. In fact, in the USSR (and perhaps till today?) their national identity card would list them as “Jewish” for their nationality within the USSR. I’ll spare y’all the details, but my view is that the Jewish people are a nation, so Jewishness is a nationality. It incorporates religious, historical, linguistic, cultural, and intellectual aspects of identity. A nation in (partial) exile, but a nation all the same.

Okay, so Amitai? Don’t be so evasive about your roots and represent!

Oh, and I disagreed with Amitai on his views of ‘Hispanics’ not viewing themselves as a ‘race’. Google ‘la raza’ and look what turns up. Clubs, newspapers, radio programs, websites, etc. Perhaps they aren’t a ‘race’, but it sure looks like they’re trying to construct such an identity in the US. Another example? What do they call ‘Colombus Day’ in certain parts of Latin America? ‘Dia de la Raza‘. Enough said; (K)QED, mofo! 🙂


8 Responses to “Jews on NPR: “I’m Amitai Etzioni, but please don’t tell anyone that I’m Jewish/Israeli!””

  1. mishgolden said

    Maybe someone named Amitai Etzioni thinks it’s needless to say that he’s Jewish?… I don’t know; I think I agree with you more — that he almost sounds as if he were hiding it.

    About Hispanics (Latinos, I think, is better) I agree somewhat with Etzioni and somewhat with you. That they’re not a race like blacks is patently obvious (even to the Census Bureau), since there are Latinos whiter than you and ones as black as Sammy Sosa and everything in between — pure Africans, pure Indians, pure Europeans, and all kinds of racial mixes. That Cubans are different from Mexicans is also easy to see. Different countries have very different dialects of Spanish, including mutually-unintellgeable slang (as I’ve found out the hard way while serving Latinos from different countries), vastly different cuisines (Mexican is rather an outlier, it seems), etc. So they’re not one, for sure. And yet there is, at least in the US, a separate Latino identity, stemming from large real commonalities in culture, in how non-Latino Americans treat them, and (not insiginificantly) the fact that a very large majority really does come from one country — Mexico.
    (I wouldn’t rely too much on La Raza. From speaking with several Latinos about it, I understand that many perceive it not so much as a unity organization as one with a particular, and not entirely uncontroversial, political agenda. I’ll risk overstating my point with an analogy — La Raza is less like a Federation and more like the ZOA.)

  2. Katie said

    First, just a technical detail, Flannery O’Connor is a woman.

    Second, I agree that Hispanics are definitely constructing an identity that seems to be a racial one.

    Third, I heartily agree that Jews are a nation, and this definition includes a broad range of things, from culture to religion. The stick us in a cubby hole so people feel more comfortable about themselves is a great injustice.

    Fourth, Amitai Etzioni is a German Jew. How does this give him a Latino ethnicity to pass on to his children?

  3. shiduri said

    i assume he married a latina woman.

  4. Oyster said

    MG: In my very Bezerkeley class “Poetry for the People”, we were forced to use the horrific expression “Latino/Latina/Chicano/Chicana”, or “Latino/a & Chicano/a”, to make sure that we weren’t saying ‘Hispanic’. 🙂 Sometimes you can be too precise… well, too politically-correct in this case.

    Katie: Whoa, my bad! I had Flannery representin’ a whole nother gender! And it tickles me pink that you agree with me on the ‘Jewish nation’ concept. 🙂

    Shiduri: Rock on, you got it. In the program (which you can listen to from the link I provided), he mentioned that his wife is ‘Latina’.

  5. Oyster said

    Katie: Whoa, whoa, whoa: he’s a yekke? 🙂

  6. katie said

    Yeah, that’s why I don’t understand how he can pass on a latina heritage, I mean maybe he married a Latina woman, but he’s still passing on a Latina/Jewish heritage. If you’re a jew, represent!


  7. Oyster said

    Katie: Thanks for the linkage! And he should definitely be representin’.

    Jew-Unit, what-what?!

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