Often I’ve wondered what perversity of character I must retain into middle age to want to talk openly about Jewish numbers in the Establishment. For instance, the fact that Jews from Mike Bloomberg to David Steiner to Shael Polakow-Suransky are all over the schools chancellor decision in New York, or that Robert Siegel and Guy Raz on All Things Considered were my Jewish hosts last night, or that Andrea Williams and Jamie Rubin and Chuck Schumer and Richard Cohen and so many other Establishment figures (i.e., people who don’t like Assange) are Jewish, etc. I often think I must not have worked out my power issues with my mother, or that I must be embittered by my own failures on the greasy pole… etc.
And then this week I realized that it’s no personal failure of mine, it’s actually a vital part of the discussion, and here’s why.
The other night my wife and I saw an old Jewish friend.
Since returning from Jerusalem in September, my wife has become somewhat religious in her orientation (she calls herself a post-God Christian, which I will explain some other time) and also very pro-Palestinian. She’d never looked into the Middle East issue before, and now she’s completely on my side– and by the way, my wife is unscriptable. The other night my wife said, “You are seeing Jim Crow before your eyes. Our friend, he’s from a very good Palestinian family, well, first they kicked his family out of their house in 1948 and then the other day they wake up and the bulldozers are in their back yard because Israel wants to expand a road, for Jews…”
The conversation went on for a while and then our old Jewish friend told an anecdote about a Jewish person getting kicked out of one of the old cricket clubs in Philadelphia. Well, my wife grew up going to the Philadelphia Cricket Club. And when we drove back home later, she said she had felt some anti-anti-Semitism in the anecdote, which she finds apocryphal. Anti-anti-Semitism is my wife’s description of anger toward Christians, and she says it was prompted by her comments about Israel.
I tell you, this is the heart of it, the Jewish belief in anti-Semitism as the ongoing condition of Jewish life in the west. It is absolutely core to the Israel conversation.
And it rises again and again when Israel is criticized. It is in Jeffrey Goldberg smearing Walt and Mearsheimer as the second coming of Charles Lindbergh because they have criticized Israel (these men who would save the Jewish state thru a two-state solution). It is in Bernard-Henry Levy’s piece at Huffpo that seems to link the boycott movement with Nazism, “the most rabid of hatreds” directed at the miracle of democracy that is Israel. It is in the famous American Jewish Committee study by Alvin Rosenfeld of 3 years ago: Progressive Jewish thought on Israel = Anti-Semitism. It is in the statement that an old friend in Jerusalem made to me when I told her in September about my work– “They will always hate us, they have always hated us, they always hate the Jews; don’t help them.”
You criticize Israel, you are an anti-Semite.
It is the core issue for two reasons. Because the rationale for Israel is anti-Semitism–as I often say, I would have been a Zionist in the European scene of 100 years ago–and so long as there is anti-Semitism there must be an Israel; and so therefore we will find the anti-Semitism to justify Israel. That whole unconscious tautology.
And core because Jews have emerged in the last two generations from a great genocide, and you cannot address the Israel question without addressing the underlying emotion, and the legitimate Jewish fear of extermination. I am often counseled to show more compassion for my brethren in this regard; and I am trying to take that lesson. You must address Jewish fears. There is a “national psychosis” at work in Israel, as Anshel Pfeffer has said; it goes to Netanyahu and his father and everyone else; and that psychosis extends to American Jewry.
I don’t know how entirely compassionate I can be when I see the American establishment so well represented by Jews. For it gives the lie to the claim that anti-Semitism is an active problem in the U.S. It’s just not functionally a part of our social professional landscape; and the prevalence of Jews in the schools chancellor decision, or in the media, or the Congress, or the White House braintrust underscores my point. And that is why I must make the point: because it is true and Jews are in denial about it and Jewish American identity is still based on a description of ourselves as outsiders that is simply anachronistic. And not just anachronistic but destructive: defining ourselves by the fact that everyone hates us. (Not good, and maybe self-fulfillingly prophetic, too, honey.)
Now you may counter that the last time we had this conversation it ended in the death camps, and I accept the truth of that. But to say that we must censor ourselves now for that reason doesn’t wash. For a whole host of reasons, including the fact of American democracy and idealism; to the fact that Herzl and Kafka wrote about issues of Jewish financial/real-estate achievement in Europe at the turn of the last century and understood this as a basis of resentment toward Jews; to the fact that our success is a true fact and American journalists are supposed to deal in truth and I am an empowered American; to the fact that Jewish success is obviously playing a role in our foreign policy regarding the most dangerous issues on the planet; to the fact that history does not repeat itself, and when it does try and repeat itself the repetition is farce (per Hegel); to the fact that Herzl’s favorite quote in his diaries at the turn of the last century was, “Rien n arrive ni comme on le craint ni come on I’espere: nothing happens the way you fear or the way you hope,” and he is absolutely right about that.
So I’m not going to shut up about this. And when they talk about anti-Semitism I will insist on talking about Jewish success, and how marvelous it is, and also how transformative historically. So let’s get transformed. And lay off my wife.