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My Jewish Problem

Posted by Jew from Jersey
15 July 2003

There’s an old Jewish joke about a poor man who borrows a set of silver spoons from a rich man, one at a time. Each time he returns a spoon, he also gives the rich man a silver teaspoon from his own stock. Each time, he explains that the spoon the rich man gave him had been pregnant and had given birth to the teaspoon. The rich man, being a miser, does not protest. When he runs out of teaspoons, the poor man asks the rich man to lend him his best set of gold candlesticks. The rich man is happy to oblige. What a shock he then receives when the poor man informs him that the candlesticks had been sick, and while in the poor man’s custody, they died. The rich man is furious. The rabbi hears the story and tells the rich man: “Anyone who would believe that a spoon could give birth is in no position to doubt that candlesticks could die.”

Jewish liberals have been loaning out their political spoons for years. Now, finally, their candlesticks have died, and they’re none too happy. Unlike the rich miser, the Jews of America have never received any direct benefits from their liberal stances. They had moved out of the ghettoes before welfare and “urban renewal”. They had gotten into the colleges before affirmative action. In a way, their advocating causes like these was not selfish. On the other hand, it also meant that they rarely experienced first hand the negative side of such policies. This distance made it easier for American Jews to convince themselves that spoons really could give birth. They didn’t receive any free silver teaspoons, but they did have their egos fed. But as liberal policies work less and less, the cover-ups and lies necessary to justify them become more and more vicious. Eventually, they turn on someone.

A combination of mounting terror attacks against Israelis and mounting anti-Semitism worldwide together with a largely hostile anti-Israel and anti-Jewish response on the part of the media and political elites, especially on college campuses, is pushing more Jews in America to align with conservative groups. I tend to see this as crass and even hypocritical self-interest on the part of liberal Jews.

I’m no Talmudic scholar, but conservative support for Israel seems to me a case of ahava she’eyna tluya bedavar, love that is not dependent on personal gain. What do gentile conservatives have to gain from supporting Israel? In fact, they stand to lose, since this support costs America dearly in its business interests with the Muslim countries and even with European countries who do business with them. What do black conservatives like Thomas Sowell and Alan Keyes possibly have to gain by supporting Israel? Their support can only be the result of consistent application of their long-held principles.

What principles would these be? Among others: that justice can not be achieved by means of group-defined double-standards and victimology, that peace is ensured by deterrence, that dictatorships are untrustworthy, that responsibility is only possible where failure has real consequences, that cosmic principles are less meaningful than calculated trade-offs. Above all, they believe in the reality of past experience and not in the wishful thinking of good intentions. If you believe in such things, you believe they are good for everybody. You believe that deviance from such principles leads to poverty, murder and chaos for everyone. Faced with the Arab-Israeli conflict, you would advocate a firm deterrent policy on Israel’s part as a means of achieving security and you would see democracy for Palestinians and other Arab countries as a means of achieving peace. You would be wary of making any concessions to violence when all previous concessions have led to even greater violence. Given these principles, you would advocate such things even if you were from Mars and had never met a Jew or an Arab in your life.

Liberals have not believed in any such principles for a long time. They tend to believe rather the opposite. This not only makes liberal Jewish support for Israel crass tribalism, it makes it contradictory to these same liberals’ own positions in America. In America, they support humiliating double standards for minorities whose interests are monopolized by self-appointed trustees. Of course, it’s only other minorities who are the recipients of such liberal largess. They regularly advocate pardoning murderers, even though the murders rarely take place in their own neighborhoods. In Israel, where their own kind is concerned, such wonderful policies must be exactly reversed. They end up in the ridiculous position of calling on Arafat to arrest terrorists while they call for Lori Berenson to be freed. If this seems like narrow chauvinism and hypocrisy, maybe that’s because it is.

The Jewish liberal attachment to Israel is a case of ahava shetluya bedavar, love that is dependent on personal gain. It is not that gain itself is suspect, but that this gain is the only possible motivation. Considering their confessed liberal positions, liberal Jews support Israel only because Israel is the Jewish state. They would not support any other country in Israel’s position. Meanwhile, the anti-Israel protestors march closer to home and their tactics become more violent. It wasn’t Klansmen or Neo-Nazis who assaulted Jewish students on the campuses of UC Berkeley, San Francisco State and Concordia this year, it was supporters of “global justice.”

Anti-Semitism is not the problem. Neither is anti-Zionism. The problem (the “root cause,” as leftists say) is the Left itself. Anti-Semitism is a by-product. Jews in the prosperous countries, including Israel, want the ego-trip of feeling like the leaders of a man-made messianic bid to remake the world. It bothers them not when such an inherently hopeless program inevitably begins to lead to totalitarianism and anti-intellectualism. It’s only when it (equally inevitably) leads to anti-Semitism that some of them sit up and take notice. That some don’t even heed the anti-Semitism is disturbing enough. But among those who do, even more troubling is that they still haven’t put 2 and 2 together, it’s simply a reflexive flinching from fire. If they survive the coming onslaught, they’ll probably start a “kindler, gentler” Left with a “human face.”

This reminds me of something my grandmother told me once. She spent most of the years of the Nazi era getting family members out of Germany. In her later years, she told me that Jews in Germany were so patriotic that they would have gladly supported Hitler and everything he stood for, if only he hadn’t targeted Jews. It remains an open hypothetical question whether it is possible for anyone to represent even one of the things Hitler stood for (Fascism, anti-intellectualism, socialism, social engineering, theories that localize evil, etc.) without also being anti-Semitic. It is fairly uncontroversial, however, that it is impossible to stand for such things and not vilify and persecute some group or other. This raises the familiar questions about liberal Jews in America. It is inevitable that modern liberalism, with its fascistic emphasis on group identity, social planning, and localization of evil, would eventually target some group for persecution. Were the liberal Jews betting on someone else being chosen this time? At the very least, this was foolish given the overwhelming historical tendency for it to be the Jews who are chosen to fill this role. However, even if it had been, against all odds, someone else this time, that would not make the moral position of liberal Jews any more defensible.

Why are Jews so over-represented among the nihilistic purveyors of false paradises and the zealots for revolutionary insanity? Is it something in our religion? Some think it is. Jews of the Left, in particular, are fond of justifying their snake-oil schemes for controlling and destroying other people’s lives with some social criticism from the book of Isaiah or with the Kabalistic concept of Tikun Olam “fixing the world.” Is this really what our sages taught? I am no expert on the later prophets and have even less knowledge of the Kabala. There are four reasons why this shouldn’t matter.

First of all, using religious books to inform us on modern day political issues is a concept with clear limitations. It’s hardly straightforward to show that the Kabalists and prophets, no matter what they may have said, were admonishing us to support the PLO, pressure our government to sign the Kyoto treaty, or legislate no-fault divorce and abortion.

Second, there are surely just as many Jewish sources that would support a conservative agenda. Probably, there are more. Many religious conservatives draw their inspiration from their religious beliefs and practice. Daily prayer humbles man to accept that he is not capable of remaking the world. Daily observance of ritual reminds him that his wishes and desires must be tempered. What about the Yiddish ideal of the mentsch, someone who is not a hero in the gentile sense, who is not even a “good person,” but who manages to perform on an almost daily basis the miracle of not being a jerk. This is the antithesis of the leftist ideal: some kind of superhero savior of humanity who is usually a major jerk. The political choice is made by the individual, not the religion.

Third, even if some of the interpretations of some religious texts do seem to support terrorism, nationalizing the means of production, etc., there are surely ways our scholars can find some loophole in them. There is a long tradition in Judaism of reinterpreting teachings and even edicts that seem offensive to the community. There is the famous case of the rebellious child, whom the Torah commands should be stoned to death. Without damaging the authority of the text, rabbis devised an interpretation that made this punishment never applicable in practice. Other practices far less fatal have also been reinterpreted. The Torah clearly allows for polygamy, while the rabbis restricted the legal number of wives to one. A clever loophole was also found to avoid practicing the prohibition against working or harvesting land every eighth year. Rabbis are currently working hard to find interpretations that will allow the disabled to use transportation on the Sabbath. Surely, if there really is an interpretation of Isaiah telling us to vote for Ralph Nader, there should be some way around this as well. Whoever has the knowledge and the authority should be working to find it. Otherwise, they should publicly announce that there is no such interpretation to begin with. Don’t we owe this to ourselves before we ask the Islamic jurisprudents to come out against suicide bombing?

Fourth, leftist Jews, whether they use religion to justify their politics or not, are overwhelmingly not religiously observant Jews. This simple fact calls into question their sincerity in using Judaism to justify leftist politics. They never invoke Tikun Olam on behalf of building a sukkah or planting a tree on tu bi’shvat, but only on behalf of such traditional Jewish activities as burning the American flag and vandalizing Starbucks. It seems, in true leftist form, that such rhetoric is merely a “narrative” they occasionally “construct” when it is useful.

But the fact that disproportionately many Jews have always been leftists is irrefutable. Maybe someday, when sociologists finally start doing something useful, one of them will figure out why. In the meantime, Jews whose morality has survived post-modernism might feel a need to do something about this, or at least to distance themselves from it.

The first thing we need to do is take responsibility for it. These are our children who have gone astray. We need to admit this and express regret for it. More honest talk about this subject may in itself give cause to some Jews to think twice before adopting the hubris and contempt for humanity practiced by the leftist anti-reality bandwagon.

This is not an issue of not shaming ourselves before gentiles. The gentiles have enough to be ashamed of. We should be ashamed of ourselves before ourselves. Every religious community has its dangerous side effects that it must reign in if it wants to be accepted for its merits. Christianity had its crusades and inquisitions, its blood libels and its kidnappings and forced conversions. It should not be taken for granted that such practices have ceased and this stands to Christianity’s credit.

Muslims are currently in the position of demanding that they not be slandered as terrorists and anti-Semites just because some Muslims are. The point has been made rather forcefully that they can not demand that their image be white-washed until they’ve isolated and excommunicated those elements of their own religion that are causing the moral stain. They are not being asked to do more than what Christians have already achieved. But the Jewish communists, socialists, anarchists, anti-globalists, anti-Americans, anti-modernists, anti-rationalists, third-worldists, etc. of the last two centuries are no less extreme and no less destructive than the radical Islamists. Islam may not yet have come clean of its dangerous and immoral elements, but at least it’s been asked to do so. Judaism seems to blunder on free of the accusations that deserve to be made on it. Most Jews may not be anarchists or communists, but then neither are most Muslims terrorists or preachers of hate. Come to think of it, at no time were most Christians crusaders or inquisitors.

Islam is at least struggling, albeit not too successfully as yet, with its responsibility for its own negative elements. But Jews seem blissfully unaware that they’re responsible for anything. There’s even a tendency to use the Hebrew Bible, especially the later prophets, to justify all sorts of nihilist political philosophies. Jews seem dangerously lackadaisical about this. Every time we hear a darasha about how Jeremiah teaches us to practice “Social Justice,” we should scream as loudly as Muslims should scream when one of their imams or khatibs calls Jews descendants of pigs and monkeys. Many Jews have misgivings about Noam Chomsky or Norman Finkelstein because they’ve actually (gasp!) attacked Israel. But their political philosophies are congruent with those of many respectable Jewish liberals, who inconsistently refrain from following the implications of their own rhetoric and policies as regards Israel.

I am also reminded, ominously, of the words of my high-school English teacher in Israel. Bernie was born in Carpatho-Ruthenia around 1930. I’m not even sure what nationality that makes him today. During the war, he had been sent to live with relatives in Queens, NY. His entire family perished in the Holocaust. Bernie soon became a Zionist and moved to Israel during its earliest days. I knew Bernie in the 1990s as a secular, apolitical, mild-mannered teacher who lived in a ground-floor one-room apartment, waiting to retire. He spent his free time meditating and reading about Buddhist philosophy. He often said that he still believed that most Jews would eventually move to Israel. I usually respected his opinion, but this seemed to me an anachronism dating back to his youthful days in post-war New York. I assumed Bernie was simply behind the times, and told him so. I pointed out how uninterested in Israel and even in Judaism most Jews abroad seemed to be. His answer seemed to be equally unrealistic at the time, but it did chill me. Smiling, he said: “Don’t think they’ll come because of ideology. When the anti-Semites come for them, they’ll come.”

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