A Threat Assessment for American Jewry, Part Two https://mosaicmagazine.com/observation/politics-current-affairs/2021/08/a-threat-assessment-for-american-jewry-part-two/

Parts of the Jewish people stand up to the barrage of anti-Semitism, but others do not. Those others are part of the threat.

August 4, 2021 | Ruth R. Wisse
About the author: Ruth R. Wisse is professor emerita of Yiddish and comparative literatures at Harvard and a distinguished senior fellow at Tikvah. Her memoir Free as a Jew: a Personal Memoir of National Self-Liberation, chapters of which appeared in Mosaic in somewhat different form, is out from Wicked Son Press.

Anti-Israel marchers in Columbus, Ohio in June 2021. Stephen Zenner/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

My earlier column on this subject listed four manifestations of anti-Semitism—physical attacks, campus campaigns of disinformation, penetration of the Democratic Party, and the collapse of moral self-confidence among a growing segment of American Jewry. The last of these, which may have seemed the most innocuous, proves the success of the other three.

Those of us fortunate enough to have been raised and educated as Jews—as opposed to the majority of American Jews now who are merely born to a Jewish parent—enjoy the blessings of our rich inheritance within the freedoms of North America. We find it wondrous to adhere to a civilization that has borne the Hebrew Bible through millennia of interpreters, to live and learn as a people among the nations of the world and, after the most harrowing of human trials, to have recovered sovereignty in our Land of Israel, a land plundered for millennia by foreign invaders. In many other ways, Jews share the blessings of fellow Americans who are raised in their own strong faith or ethnic identity, each with its particular features and respectful of all the others.

But none of the others confronts an ideology aimed at its destruction. One claim to distinction that Jews would gladly yield is their historical and continuing role as the world’s prime political target. Of the 193 nation-states in the United Nations—several of which are at war with each other—none except Israel has ever been refused recognition by fellow members, in direct violation of the UN Charter. No other people has been accused of “racism” for exercising its sovereign right to a homeland. The UN’s Human Rights Council coalesces against the Jewish people to prevent prosecution of its members’ own abuses. Anti-Semitism updated as anti-Zionism is one of modernity’s most effective political instruments, and it is organized against the Jews alone.

This is not to say, as some have surmised, that “all the world hates the Jews.” Self-accountable societies do not target the Jews, and many nations readily coexist with the Jewish state. Within the United States alone there are, thankfully, millions of non-Jewish Americans who positively admire the Jewish people. But their support does not change the fact that American Jews now face a torrent of misinformation, hostility, and moral intimidation, including from constituencies they want to befriend. Parts of the Jewish people stand up to the barrage, but others do not. Those others are part of the threat.


Some years ago I was advising an incoming Harvard student from Russia who asked me what he was supposed to have done the previous evening at a reception for international students when a girl who said she was Palestinian saw “Jewish studies” on the label indicating his area of interest and said he should be ashamed of occupying her country! I wish I could have told him that his studies would help him handle such a situation, but no amount of self-education on his part could have supplied the reeducation needed on hers.

For this young woman believes that the entire Middle East is hers by right, and the university had admitted her without correction to that aspect of her “identity.” Orientation sessions that warn against assaulting people of color, disability, or sexual orientation did not include respect for the Jews’ right to their country. Arab rejectionists deny the Jews their land; part of the academy is complicit; when it does not passively acquiesce, it actively provides the ideological justification for a campaign against Jewish sovereignty.

Here is what the Jewish student might have done. Taking from his pocket a miniaturized map of the whole Middle East (to be carried with his student identity card), he could have pointed to each of the twenty-one countries already Arab—including Jordan with its Palestinian majority—and said, No: it was she who owed him an apology for occupying an unfair share of the Jewish-deemed land of Israel after having driven Jews from their homes in Arab countries and appropriated billions in Jewish property. What is more, if she ever harassed him with another such false accusation, he would submit a report to the international-student office.

Regrettably, I did not tell him this, nor did I take this incident to the administration. I wrote op-ed pieces, including in the Harvard Crimson, and supported Students for a Safe Israel, and I went to each incoming president and faculty dean, urging them to address anti-Jewish activism on campus; but I continued to put disciplined teaching ahead of fighting evil even as evil was gaining the upper hand. I include myself in this recrimination. What did I think would happen if I did not oppose the aggressors at least as energetically as they were attacking the Jews? Didn’t I know they would prevail?

Propaganda, like torture, can wear down its subject. Earlier this year, at the height of the Hamas bombardment of Israel and the concomitant anti-Jewish assault in social media, some American Jewish- and Israel-studies faculty issued a “Statement on Israel/Palestine” priding themselves on their compassion for the killers.

We share and hold the pain of Gazans, who have lost and are losing family members, homes, property, businesses, cultural institutions, medical facilities, and civilian infrastructure to Israeli bombings and of Palestinians in the West Bank who have lost loved ones in shootings by security forces. We affirm the pain, fear, and anger of Israeli Jews and Palestinian citizens of Israel who have lost loved ones and homes to unjustifiable and indiscriminate Hamas rockets.

War is waged by leaders and governments, and the most despicable are those like Hamas who use their own civilians as expendable bait. Rather than condemning Arab crimes, these academics inverted the war itself, blaming Israel for its response to the rockets, which were not indiscriminate but deliberately intended to kill Israelis in their homes.

The behavior of these Jews is unlike that of other Americans. The death of the black forty-six-year-old George Floyd under the knee of a white police officer ignited an uprising by black Americans. Though some used it as an excuse for looting and political gains, it left none in doubt that African Americans would stand up for their own.

Asian Americans did something riskier. It is obvious that any shift from meritocracy to group preferences would come at the expense of high-performing citizens. Asians claimed their rights by filing a lawsuit against discriminating institutions. No one knows whether they will prevail, but they, too, put the country on notice that they believed in the American creed of individual and equal opportunity for all.

Self-assertiveness on the question of sex and gender has been even more aggressive. Gay men and women have gone beyond seeking equality to challenge anyone who disapproves of same-sex marriage. Minorities once subject to discrimination and prejudice have taken the offensive, using whatever political, legal, or even violent means they consider necessary to their cause.

Why, then, do these Jews capitulate to the escalating war against their people?

It is no mystery: the American left not only supports the grievance of those others—blacks, women, gays, etc.—but also unites them in a movement against the Jews, using the identification of Zionism with racism as its lever. The left refrains from politically harassing Asians and Hispanics in the hope of winning them over, but it activates the coalition of blame against the minority it knows will not retaliate. In its current bid for power, the progressive American left follows the Soviet example of embracing the Islamist-Arab war against the Jews in Israel as part of the fight against Western imperialism and capitalism—now repackaged to focus on an America that is “systemically racist.” And just as in the 1930s, these Jews fall in with their assailants. See how dutifully many of today’s Jews, liberals as well as leftists, have marched with Black Lives Matter while that organization has embedded anti-Zionism at the heart of its activist vision.

The current template for the broader Palestinian coalition is the 1975 Zionism-equals-racism resolution pushed through the United Nations General Assembly by the Soviet-Arab bloc. Then represented by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the United States strenuously fought this “infamy,” but by 1991, when the resolution was formally rescinded, the idea of supremacist Israel was being touted in parts of Moynihan’s own Democratic party.

The current surge of anti-Semitism in America correlates with the return of the radical American left, and can be charted through the moral collapse of substantial parts of Jewry itself. One example will suffice. During the latest Hamas assault, an “Appeal of Rabbinical and Cantorial Students to the Heart of the Jewish Community” was issued by some 90 graduating students of Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative institutions. The “blood flowing in the streets of the Holy Land” brought them, these students said, to tears—indeed, their “tears” appeared ten times in a statement of under 1,000 words—yet theirs was no ordinary grief: they were mourning not the loss of Jewish sons, but the accumulation of Jewish sins.

As progressives, these students affirm that they had already been atoning for racist America, so they felt duty-bound to ask why American Jews were not similarly contrite about racist Israel. Indeed, Israel’s “abuse of Jewish power” threatened the ethical basis of the Judaism they were expected to transmit:

What will it take for us to see that our Israel has the military and controls the borders? How many Palestinians must lose their homes, their schools, their lives, for us to understand that today, in 2021, Israel’s choices come from a place of power and that Israel’s actions constitute an intentional removal of Palestinians?

In brief, these self-styled “future leaders of the Jewish community” were hurling the same accusation leveled by the Palestinian girl against the Russian Jewish student, and just as in her case, what they were signing on to—holding Jews responsible for the suffering of another people—is the very essence of anti-Semitism. The purpose and function of Jew-blame, regardless of the charge or the accuser, is to explain failure, organize grievance, and focus attention on the purported sins of the Jews. At its most cynical, as in this statement, Jews are blamed for the effort to destroy them.

The Abraham Accords are promising, and things may be starting to change for those leaders in the Middle East whose vision is least obscured by leftist blinders. Still, it is enough that most representatives of 1.8 billion Muslims have not yet embraced regional coexistence; that the United Nations, created to prevent another genocide, became instead the world’s largest tribune of anti-Jewish ideology; that anti-Semitism, once called the socialism of fools, should have become the dogma of socialism; that the American left should have jazzed up its attacks on liberal America with Palestinian anti-Zionism; that elite institutions should have become sewers of anti-Jewish filth. But when anti-Semitism is tearfully—sickeningly—trotted out as the essence of Jewish ethics, we have truly had enough: dayenu.

We Jews owe it to this country to protect it from the scourge that destroyed so much of Europe and that is destroying so much of the Middle East—the most regressive political instrument of all, the organization of politics against the Jews. Should it continue, the moral collapse of American Jewry would be a giant step backward for civilization.