Nathan Glazer—an often pathbreaking social scientist, tireless political commentator, keen observer of the American Jewish scene, and one of the founding fathers of neoconservatism—died on Saturday at the age of ninety-five. Among the numerous articles he wrote for Commentary on both Jewish and general themes was his prescient 1975 essay, “The Exposed American Jew.” It begins by speculating on why, unlike the pattern elsewhere and often in Jewish history, the political trauma of the U.S. defeat in Vietnam and the cultural upheaval of the sexual revolution had produced no anti-Semitic backlash in America. Then it moves to what Glazer describes as a new class of potentially unsettling threats to the position of American Jews: affirmative action, “the new ethnic frankness,” and the anti-Israel turn in elite circles:
Affirmative action has certainly affected the economic position of individual Jews—insofar as they are part of the “white male” group now identified as having been the beneficiaries of past discrimination—but since it is applied for women as well as ethnic minorities, and since the reservoir of qualified Jewish women ready and able to move into these newly opened opportunities is quite substantial, it is not clear that the overall economic position of the Jewish community will be seriously affected. Nevertheless the assumption behind . . . affirmative action, that differential achievement among groups must be the result of discrimination, may well have unsettling consequences for the Jewish community. . . .
Jews for the most part have wanted to be like everyone else. Indeed, ironically, the establishment of Israel was an effort to make Jews like everyone else: they would now have a state; they would no longer be an odd, homeless people, but a people like all other peoples. It has not worked out that way. Israel has made Jews more, not less, exceptional. No other state is the object of such nearly universal execration. No other state knows that losing a war means its destruction and disappearance. The pariah people, it seems, have simply succeeded in creating a pariah state. In America, the Jews have never been a pariah people, but the special situation of Israel forces them into a politically unique situation. . . . .
It is no longer the case that Israel has good press in the United States, surprising as that may seem when one considers that Israel is an open, democratic society with an almost unparalleled measure of social justice and with a record of remarkably good treatment of its Arab minority. . . . Israel is opposed by dictatorships, one-party states, and authoritarian regimes, . . . whose accomplishments are meager and whose record in oppressing their own peoples, opposition parties, and minorities is great. That these regimes should now be presented by Time magazine, by major columnists in the New York Times and contributors to its Op-Ed page, and by commentators on the national TV news programs as moderate, desirous of peace, and understandably concerned only with the recovery of conquered lands, while Israel is presented as—the word has apparently now been permanently tacked to the Jewish state—intransigent, is startling. . . .
How, asks, Glazer, should American Jews seek to combat this rising tide of opinion that threatens to direct itself against them?
[I]n the domestic area most Americans continue to believe that every individual should be free to improve his lot in life by his own efforts; they have been and are skeptical of a leveling egalitarianism and of ideologies which see wealth and earnings as theft, or individual effort and merit as illusions. Jews should appeal to those beliefs in individual freedom, effort, and merit, not simply because they are good for Jews, but because they are good in themselves, because they are good for the United States, because they are the best principles on which a good society can be organized. Thus Jewish opposition to . . . affirmative action should be based not on its presumed effects on the economic position of Jews, but on the ground that no individual should be penalized because he or she is a member of any particular group. . . .
[Vis-à-vis the Jewish state, American Jews’] main job is to argue for and defend the principles which are the only lasting basis for United States support of Israel: that the United States is committed to the independence of free nations, and of democratic nations most especially. One of our problems is that so many American opinion leaders no longer believe this, and that so few of our young people ever did. They believe instead that the United States is imperialistic and counterrevolutionary, and that any nation which receives American support must be imperialistic itself. Just as it is necessary, therefore, to argue that Israel, because it is an endangered democratic nation, is worthy of American support, it is also necessary to argue that Israel does not become unworthy because it receives American support. Thus the Jewish task also involves arriving at and spreading a proper understanding of American foreign policy in these past ten difficult years.
More about: Affirmative action, American Jewry, History & Ideas, Israel & Zionism, Nathan Glazer, Neoconservatism