In How to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bari Weiss points out that anti-Semitism is as much a creature of the left as of the right, and that the anti-Zionism that has overtaken progressive circles and college campuses is indistinguishable from other forms of hatred of Jews. That the book must be judged brave for saying so, and that Weiss has attracted so much vitriol for holding these opinions, writes Hillel Halkin in his review, is “a badge of shame for the ‘progressive’ America” of which Weiss considers herself a part. Halkin praises the book for its “careful organization and articulate prose,” and the force with which it makes its main arguments. But he also finds certain aspects “disappointing”:
[N]owhere in her book does Weiss indicate that—apart from its anti-Zionism—she has any problem with the deadening mental conformity of contemporary American liberalism. The question she never raises is why someone of her intelligence should want to belong to such a world. “Maintain your liberalism,” a section of her book’s last (and least convincing) chapter exhorts the reader as one of its prescriptions for fighting anti-Semitism. To what end? At what intellectual and moral price?
Weiss fails to realize that she herself is an example of the wishful thinking about Judaism that is ubiquitous among American Jewish liberals. One might call this the Judaism of the Sunday school, a religion of love, tolerance, respect for the other, democratic values, and all the other virtues to which American Jews pay homage. This is a wondrous Judaism indeed—and one that has little to do with anything that Jewish thought or observance has historically stood for.
Judaism as liberalism with a prayer shawl is a distinctly modern development. It started with the 19th-century Reform movement in Germany, from which it spread to America with the reinforcement of the left-wing ideals of the Russian Jewish labor movement. As much as such a conception of their ancestors’ faith has captured the imagination of most American Jews, it is hard to square it with 3,000 years of Jewish tradition.