the question of anti-Semitism and all three have different answers. Jewish identity has always been fodder for American writers. Most notably the likes of Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, Michael Chabon, and Woody Allen have taken the issue up and deciphered it in uniquely funny and thought-provoking ways. Yet Jacobson, a British Jew, does it a little differently. His novel is hilarious and all too real, which is perhaps why it won the coveted Man Booker Prize. But like a true Brit, Jacobson writes with a dry wit and an ironic raunchiness. Treslove, for example, refers to Jews as “Finklers” in honor of his friend. When he falls in love with a Jewish woman, he neurotically thinks that a Jewess is someone who “made even punctuation funny.” These sorts of sayings make no sense out of context yet make hilarious observations regarding the Jewish, or Finkler, Question. As I mentioned, anti-Semitism has taken many forms over the years. The medieval belief that Jews would kill children and drink their blood has been transformed into the Swedish newspaper article I cited. Okay, you may say, but these are isolated incidents. They’re not in the mainstream. Oh no? What about the current Israeli/Palestinian debate, one of the most politically mainstream debates in the world? Jacobson makes the claim that being anti-Israeli, or at the very least anti-Zionist, is intrinsically laced with anti-Semitism. Legitimate
concerns over Israel’s treatment of Palestine have morphed into a subconscious hatred of the Jews. For example, Hamas, the current ruling party of the Gaza Strip, frequently cites and propagates anti-Semitic literature, including “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a Czarist-era forgery that supposedly outlines Jewish plans for worlddomination. When the pro-Palestinians admonish Israel’s (and Egypt’s) blockade of
Gaza, do they ever take into account that Israel may have a reason for fearing Gaza’s government? An ASHamed Jew might (and I really do mean might) find that abhorrent but would reply that it is no excuse for Israel’s imperialistic policies. It inevitably raises the question of who you’re talking about when you attack Israel: Jews, Zionists, Israelis, or all three? Although Jacobson doesn’t make the novel into a defense of Israel, he does make the point that critics of the Jewish state are falling into old historical habits of bashing the Jews. He writes of Jews being stabbed, assaulted, and terrorized in England, Spain, Poland – even Canada! – all because of Israeli actions. These aren’t just fragments of his imagination; many of them are based on real-life incidents. And the worst criticism in the book comes from the ASHamed Jews themselves. These anti-Semitic Semites, some of whom are rabbis, are so engulfed with hatred of Israel that they seem to call for its destruction. They produce a play called the “Sons of Abraham,” which compares the gas chambers of Auschwitz to the rubble of Gaza. Coincidently, it’s a hit in London. For one reason or another, people just like to pick on the Jews whether they deserve it or not. And do they deserve it? Jacobson thinks so. Not because of any of the ridiculous and self-righteous reasons a pro-Palestinian might have against Israel but because hatred is part of Jewish identity. Finkler, after becoming disillusioned with the ASHamed
Jews, raises the point of whether Jews boycotting Israel is a good thing. “Whoever boycotted his own family?” he asks. Finkler joined the group because he felt that Jews should know better. But when you put your people on a pedestal, how can you know about anything that’s below you? It’s a difficult question, something the Chosen People have been debating from Maimonides to Jacobson. Part of being Jewish, he supposes, is taking the pain of the world on your shoulders, including the hatred that comes with it. I should note that despite the depressing topic of the book, “The Finkler Question” is still extremely funny. Jacobson writes like Woody Allen in that he’s not afraid of tackling big issues by using immature but pointed humor. It should be obvious by now that he uses Jewish humor, which is aged and neurotic. He makes so many Jewish jokes, mostly from the perspective of Treslove, that he could be mistaken for an antiSemite himself. That’s the point. There’s something about being Jewish that people can’t quite put their finger on and it sparks a variety of emotions, including hatred. Anti-Semitism isn’t funny but the means in which “The Finkler Question” approaches it is a funny and refreshing way of tackling the world’s oldest profession: a Jew-hater.
Published on Dec 7, 2010