Dominique Strauss-Kahn Is Jewish. So?

If you couldn’t tell by the last name, numerous sources will confirm that Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, is Jewish. 

“Dominique Strauss-Kahn was born on 25 April 1949 in the wealthy Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine, Hauts-de-Seine. He is the son of Gilbert Strauss-Kahn, a legal and tax advisor and member of the Grand Orient de France, and Russian/Tunisian journalist Jacqueline Fellus. His family is of mixed Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jewish origin,” according to Wikipedia.

Strauss-Kahn has been an outspoken supporter of Israel, a sharp critic of French anti-Semitism, the founder of the Socialisme et Judaisme movement and the Leon Blum circle within French socialist circles. He is married to the French journalist Anne Sinclair, born Anne-Élise Schwartz.  Her father was one of the country’s major art dealers.

Strauss-Kahn was arrested yesterday in New York and accused of sexually assaulting a 32-year-old chambermaid at his hotel. 

According to The New York Times:  “‘The defendant restrained a hotel employee inside of his room,’ said John McConnell, an assistant district attorney. ‘He sexually assaulted her and attemepted to forcibly rape her,’ and when that failed, he forced her to perform oral sex.”

His lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, said he intends to plead not guilty. (Yes, Brafman is also Jewish.  Orthodox. Son of Austrian Jews who witnessed Kristallnacht and escaped Hitler in 1938.)

But what does it matter that Strauss-Kahn is Jewish?

If you’re an unhinged neo-Nazi (sorry, redundant), the fact is additional proof that depraved Jews are running and ruining the economy, preventing you from getting that big house and pretty life you otherwise deserve because, well, you are white, and Christian.

If you’re a radical Islamist, it’s proof that those who support Israel also like to rape young women.  As if this weren’t just obvious.  The Web site Radio Islam flags Strauss-Kahn as an “agent of Israel” as if to support the rights of a sovereign nation is a crime against humanity.

If you’re a Jew, it depends.  Some Jews are naturally embarrassed or appalled when a co-religionist is implicated in scandal, just as they are proud when one of their own wins a Nobel Prize or, say, gets picked to head the International Monetary Fund. Other Jews pass it off with a shrug:  What does he have to do with me?  People are people.  He didn’t rape (or not) on behalf of the Jewish people. I never gave him permission. 

The truth is, most Jews fall into the former category.  We feel something when one of us is elevated, or implicated. We can’t help it.  It’s a reflex of the minority, partly because we have to worry what larger and more powerful groups think of us, and we recognize it is the rare human who doesn’t occasionally think it terms of “them,” rather than just “him.” According to The New York Times, the guilt of inside trader Raj Rajaratnam captivated the South Asian community.

“I think there will be for a while this cloud hanging over the South Asian community,” one of their leaders said.

With Jews, the reflex is also more than tribal, it’s textual—right there in one of our founding stories, when Cain asks, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” We know it’s rhetorical, because we know at some level, whether we like it or not, the answer is yes. That means whether or not we are responsible for the actions of other Jews, we can’t help but feel a bit responsible.  Jewish pride and Jewish guilt aren’t opposites, they’re twins.  At its most useful, the idea provokes us to look at the values and teachings of our communities and make sure they themselves aren’t misdirecting or misleading people.  It pushes us to take responsibility where we can, and act to prevent misdeeds.  It allows us to take a small portion of otherwise undeserved pride in accomplishments that we had nothing to do with (Sandy Koufax, anyone?).  It reinforces that larger idea of Oneness, that not just we Jews, or we South Asians, but we humans, are in this together.

Anyway, this cultural reflex has been with us for thousands of years, from Cain to Koufax to Strauss-Kahn.  Sometimes it’s just easier to swallow.