Adam Kirsch has a good tragic piece up at Tablet on a conference at Yivo on Jews and the left. Jews aren't on the left any more, Kirsch concludes, wisely, because of Israel:
For the first two-thirds of the 20th century, from the first immigrant generation through the baby boom, the radical and revolutionary left played a hugely important role in defining how the rest of America saw Jews and how Jews saw themselves....
If the historical Jewish association with the left has become a source of such profound doubt, it is possibly because the current relationship between Jews and the left is so troubled. One reason for that trouble, of course, is the State of Israel, which over the last 10 years has become the target of automatic condemnation and outright hostility on the left.
Well this is true. And Obama is likely to get 62 percent of the Jewish vote, down from 78, Pew says. That's a big drop. Though Kirsch should mention the sociological rise, too, Jewish success. Success makes people identify with the power structure.
Kirsch is on the conservative team. A Zionist, he wants to wish away the Jewish universalist tradition as a blip of the last 100 years. So does Michael Walzer. The man who helped desegregate the south in the pages of Dissent now says he was only doing it for the Jews:
If the left in Europe and, increasingly, the United States is so hospitable to anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic ideas, what does that mean for the future of “Jews and the Left”? Michael Walzer explained the historical Jewish affinity for the left as a straightforward matter: “We have supported the people who support us.”
We supported the people who support us? This is very cynical. It would upset my mother (who bridles when I say that many Jews supported the blacks in the south as proxies). It sounds like Norman Podhoretz, Is it good for the Jews; and I don't think he is right. There is clearly an altruistic tradition in Judaism, eloquently stated by Rabbi Hillel, If I am not for others, who am I? Or read Michael Walzer's 1960 paean in Dissent to direct action and nonviolent resistance in the South:
Everyone seemed to feel a deep need finally to act in the name of all the theories of equality. Once the sitdowns had begun, marching into Woolworth's or picketing outside became obvious, necessary, inevitable activities....
[Inside the church, t]he chant [was] begun by Martin Luther King: We just want to be free. A religion which seizes upon, dramatizes, and even explains the suffering of the Negro people is joined here to an essentially political movement to end that suffering. Out of that combination, I believe, comes the stamina, the endurance so necessary for passive, non-violent resistance.
Act in the name of all the theories of equality! I see that living altruistic tradition in people like Sarah Schulman, Hannah Schwarzschild, Adam Horowitz. It has been cast aside in favor of the importance of self interest, which Hillel also prescribed: If I am not for myself, who will be?
It seems that Walzer has allowed his Zionism to affect his reading of his personal history and Jewish history-- in which he abandons the prophetic tradition, the social justice tradition, for a top-down legalistic one. Kirsch:
In his YIVO speech, he listed six central features of traditional Judaism that made it a conservative force, including the very idea of Jews as a chosen people—an idea that cannot easily be made to harmonize with universalism and egalitarianism.
Where the Greek tradition made room for public decision-making, Walzer argues, the same space in the Bible is filled entirely by God: All historical and legal initiatives must come from the deity, or appear to do so....When the prophets called for justice, they didn’t mean a redistribution of power but a society-wide submission to God: “God’s message overrode the wisdom of men.”
There goes the Jewish enlightenment. As if a fundamentalist reading of the Jewish bible should inform our choices. Graven images, homosexuality? Some traditions get cashiered for a reason. As if the idea of chosenness can survive Israeli militarism and second-class citizenship for Palestinians.