The one sentence remark I made about the violence in Gaza triggered a long, complex anonymous three – part comment that in turn has provoked some responses. I do not really want to engage with the author, especially since he or she fails to identify himself or herself. It had occurred to me to make a comment about Native Americans, who have been on the North American continent for roughly 15,000 years, during the first 14,500 of which they were the sole human occupants, but someone got there first. Surely the impassioned author of that long comment will at least agree that Americans are under no obligation to contribute annually to the military expenses of Israel. But what struck me most powerfully was the unexamined assumption that there is something called “the Jewish people” who in all of their diasporic wanderings and intermarriages have remained unified, unadulterated, and somehow during all of this time the rightful owners of some particular stretch of land. That is not in any shape or form a political or historical or geographic observation, it is a religious claim and one therefore, as an atheist, I have nothing to say about.
I am nominally Jewish although neither I nor my father nor my father’s father was bar mitzvah. I have no idea at all whether I can trace my patrilineage to the people of the Old Testament. My father’s father’s family came from Northeast Poland by way of Paris in the last third of the 19th century. Their name then was Zarembovitch (changed to Wolff by an immigration official at Castle Garden in 1879). That is not a Hebrew name but a Slavic name of some sort. My father’s mother’s maiden name was Nislovski, also Slavic, and the family came from Vilna. My mother’s parents’ names were Ornstein and Perlmutter, and they came from Romania. If I could construct a family tree going back 2500 years, for all I know somewhere on it one would find Julius Caesar but I do not think I would lay claim to squatter’s rights in the Coliseum. Thirty of my relatives on my father’s side died in Auschwitz, a fact I only discovered 10 years ago when I met the two remaining members of the Zarembovitch clan in Paris. I am saddened and angered by that discovery but it would never cross my mind to think that it gave me a right to hold 2 million Palestinians prisoner.