I’m reading Norman Podhoretz’s egomaniacal memoir, Ex Friends. It came out 10 years ago. I don’t know how much self-awareness Podhoretz has, but so far he breaks with people over and over about Jewish chauvinism. He’s decided that the question, Is it good for the Jews? is a vital one; so when any Jew doesn’t come up to to that ideal, Norman blackballs them from the charms of his company. (Some punishment! He’s a bit of a grind.) Then he rationalizes the excommunication on some intellectual/literary basis.
The best part of the book so far is about Hannah Arendt, whom Podhoretz sort of adored, till she too was too hard on the Jews. Podhoretz revisits a landmark in Arendt’s career, when she opposed the efforts to desegregate Little Rock schools. Arendt’s piece on the subject, which appeared in Dissent, after it was rejected by Commentary, lit a firestorm of rage in the New York intellectual community. Sidney Hook and what Podhoretz styles "The Family" of New York intellectuals was upset with her. Some cut her off forever.
The episode resonates in Jewish terms along these syllogistic lines:
–Like other groups, Jews are subject to group visions. Communism, Zionism, Freudianism, Shabbataeinism: these utopian belief systems swept up the Jewish community, or many members of it, often to their regret. The civil rights movement was one of these group beliefs. We brag on that today. Even neocons celebrate Goodman and Schwerner’s ultimate sacrifice in Mississippi in 1964, alongside Chaney, in the movement to free the blacks.
–Jewish culture values "rachmones" or compassion. There was a ton of rachmones in the Jewish support for the civil rights movement.
–Whether he is aware of it or not, Podhoretz celebrates the civil rights movement partly because It was good for the Jews. The blacks were our surrogates. We were trying to come inside. It’s hard for us to champion ourselves openly in the American context–we’ve always done financially pretty well, we fear anti-Semitism. So we required surrogates. And some of the civil-rights-movement was selfishness on the Jewish part.
–There is no difference morally between Jim Crow and the situation in Palestine. Millions are oppressed on a racial basis. I’ve been there; it’s a two-tier system, with separate roadways, and routine dispossession and pogroms.
–NY Jews live(d) neither in the South nor the Middle East, but they have had strong opinions about both places. In the first instance, they were religiously righteous on a moral basis about a great injustice. In the second instance, they are at best divided, but generally on the side of the Oppressor, and happy to be there. The very best way to understand that hypocrisy is with this comparison: in ’64 liberal Jewish intellectuals rallied around the black Mississippi Freedom Democrats’ right to be seated in the Democratic Convention in Atlantic City. Today, Israeli governments are regularly formed by absolutely excluding the Arab parties as potential partners, and liberal Jews are silent. This is quite simply, a tragedy for the Jewish people. And everyone else can see it happening.
This post is not going to end in that dark spot.
When I was at AIPAC the first time, in 2008, I observed how much incredible compassion the people in that room had for strangers on the other side of the world. They would do anything for them. That felt to me very Jewish. And good. The problem was, They were only loving the Jews over there.
I think that love can be shifted. With the right visionary ideas–and this website is engaged in that hard wide struggle–young American Jewish intellectuals will see that they can love Jews and Arabs in the Holy Land and bring the world forward without consideration for such 19th century notions as The Jewish State.
When that day comes, when that visionary fever sweeps up my people, the Zionist neocons will be spat out as ruthlessly as burgeoning young neocons spat out Hannah Arendt, when she was dead wrong about Little Rock.