David Shasha


Back in 1990 director Barry Levinson gave us “Avalon”, his epic masterpiece on the American Jewish community. In that classic film Levinson skillfully examined the Eastern European Jewish immigrants and their often tumultuous encounter with the complexities of American culture and the assimilation process. It is this debilitating process which becomes the underlying subject of Levinson’s chilling examination of the Bernie Madoff story. In “The Wizard of Lies” we see the pitfalls of ‘making it’ in America and how the Jewish community has reconfigured itself at the end of a very tumultuous century.

After many months of speculation, Michael Kaydar, a Jewish teenage resident of Ashkelon in Southern Israel, has been charged with carrying out the JCC bomb threats. One aspect of the story, and its connection to an Israeli, that has not been discussed is the intense loathing of the Jewish Diaspora in classical Zionist thought. Kaydar has opened a chasm in the relationship between Israelis and the Jewish Diaspora and reignited the most elementary questions about Jewish identity in the supercharged atmosphere of Trumpworld Fascism and its intense racism; a racism which is not limited to White Christians, but is also present in their Israeli Jewish counterparts.

It is hard not to compare the careers of late Elie Wiesel and the Italian-Sephardi Primo Levi who both survived the hell of Auschwitz, but who took very different paths to express their witness. David Shasha says the stark contrast between their approaches could not be more pronounced: Levi was very much a man of rationalism, science, and literature who sought to provide a more humanistic understanding of the tragedy he experienced, while Wiesel emphasized Jewish ethnocentrism and remained wedded to the alienated Ashkenazi view of the world.

On the occasion of Bernard Lewis’s 100th birthday David Shasha says we must never overlook his prominent role in hasbara circles and Eurocentric racism. Lewis, who was the first to articulate the “Clash of Civilizations” thesis that has become ubiquitous in right-wing discussions of the West and Middle East, has dutifully served Western political interests for many decades and brazenly used his scholarship to promote those interests under the guise of academic objectivity.

The bitterly contentious exchange involving New Atheists Sam Harris and Bill Maher teaming up against actor Ben Affleck on the matter of Islam shows us quite explicitly the dangerous pitfalls of Interfaith Dialogue and its fatally flawed process. Harris and the other New Atheists, following the lead of the Interfaith Dialogue movement, militantly isolate religion from its contexts. Instead, our understanding of religion needs to take into account the history, culture, and politics that has impacted its development.