"There is a great temptation to explain away the intrinsically incredible means of liberal rationalizations. In each one of us, there lurks such a liberal, wheedling us with the voice of common sense." -- Hannah Arendt (1)
In the Winter-Spring 2003 issue of Salmagundi, Berkeley professor Martin Jay argues that Jews themselves are "causing" the "new" anti-Semitism. Chief among these perfidious Jews, he names Ariel Sharon, the "fanatic settlers" (22) and also the American Jews who question the infallibility of the New York Times and National Public Radio. ("Ariel Sharon and the Rise of the New Anti-Semitism".) (5)
Unlike the late Edward Said (of whom he writes with oily sycophancy), Jay does not deny the existence of a resurgent anti-Semitism. On the other hand, he, in effect, dismisses its manifestations -- vandalized synagogues and cemeteries, "tipping over a tombstone in a graveyard in Marseilles or burning Torahs in a temple on Long Island [as] payback for atrocities [my emphasis] committed by Israeli settlers." (14). At the same time, he ignores its more serious expressions: stabbings, shootings, murder—all of which have been unleashed against Jews in Europe, as well as in Israel. "The actions of contemporary Jews," Jay concludes, "are somehow connected with the upsurge of anti-Semitism around the globe" (21), and it would be foolish to suppose that "the victims are in no way involved in unleashing the animosities they suffer" (17).
The academic boycotters of Israeli universities and the professorial advocates of suicide bombing are in the front lines of the defense of terror, which is the very essence of Palestinian nationalism.2 But they themselves are supported by a rearguard of fellow travelers, a far more numerous academic group whose defining characteristic is not fanaticism but time-serving timorousness.
In the Thirties, "fellow travelers" usually referred to the intellectual friends of Communism (a subject well analyzed in David Caute's book on the subject3), although both Hitler and Stalin tried to attract people from America and Britain who served their purposes in the conviction that they were engaged in a noble cause.
At the moment, the favorite cause of peregrinating political tourists is the Palestinian movement,4 and the reason why fellow travelers favor this most barbaric of all movements of "national liberation" is that its adversaries are Jews. Jews are always a tempting target because of their ridiculously small numbers (currently 997 out of every 1000 people in the world are not Jews) and their image as avaricious corrupters of the young, thieves, agents of Satan, conspiring human devils and Zionist imperialists. As a representative example of the academic fellow-traveler in the ongoing campaign to depict Israel as the devil's own experiment station, Martin Jay is exemplary.
Although Jay's main concern is the (supposedly) "new" anti-Semitism, his heavy reliance on the thesis of Albert Lindemann's unsavory book, Esau's Tears: Modern Anti-Semitism and the Rise of the Jews (1998). He suggests that he believes political anti-Semitism, from its inception in the nineteenth century, has been in large part the responsibility of the Jews themselves. Lindemann's book argued not merely that Jews had "social interactions" (a favorite euphemism of Jay's) with their persecutors but were responsible for the hatreds that eventually consumed them in Europe; anti-Semitism was, wherever and whenever it flared up, a response to Jewish misbehavior.
According to Lindemann, the Romanians had been subjected to "mean-spirited denigration" of their country by Jews, and so it was reasonable for Romania's elite to conclude that "making life difficult" for the country's Jewish inhabitants, "legally or otherwise, was a "justifiable policy." His abstruse research into Russian history also revealed to him that whatever anti-Semitism existed there was "hardly a hatred without palpable or understandable cause." The 1903 Kishinev pogrom, Lindemann grudgingly admitted, did occur but was a relatively minor affair in numbers killed and wounded, which the Jews, with typical "hyperbole and mendacity," exaggerated in order to attract sympathy and money; it was a major affair only because it revealed "a rising Jewish combativeness." (As for the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Lindemann apparently never heard of it, for it goes unmentioned in his nearly fifty pages on Russia.) In Germany, Jews (especially the historian Heinrich Graetz), were guilty of a "steady stream of insults and withering criticism...directed at Germans"; by contrast, Hitler (who published Mein Kampf in 1925-27) was a "moderate" on the Jewish question prior to the mid-1930s; besides, "nearly everywhere Hitler looked at the end of the war, there were Jews who corresponded to anti-Semitic imagery." In addition to being degenerate, ugly, dirty, tribalist, racist, crooked, and sexually immoral, the Jews, as depicted by Lindemann, further infuriated their Gentile neighbors by speaking Yiddish: "a nasal, whining, and crippled ghetto tongue."6
Although Jay is by no means in full agreement with Lindemann's thesis (as he is with that of an even cruder polemic by Paul Breines called Tough Jews7), he is intensely grateful to this courageous pioneer for breaking a "taboo" (18) on the "difficult question about the Jewish role in causing anti-Semitism," for putting it "on the table." (21) (Readers familiar with this dismal topic will be disappointed to learn that neither Lindemann nor his admirer Jay is able to explain the "Jewish role" in causing the belief, widespread among Christian theologians from St. Augustine through the seventeenth century, that Jewish males menstruate.) This is a remarkable statement to come from a historian. Washington Irving's Rip van Winkle lost touch with history for twenty years while he slept; Jay's dogmatic slumber seems to have lasted 36 years, since 1967, when the brief post-World War II relaxation of anti-Semitism came to an end.
A brief history lesson is in order here. At the end of the second World War, old-fashioned anti-Semites grudgingly recognized that the Holocaust had given anti-Semitism a bad name, that perhaps the time was right for a temporary respite in the ideological war against the Jews. But in 1967, the Jews in Israel had the misfortune to win the war that was unleashed against them by Gamal Nasser, who had proclaimed—in a locution very much akin to Jay's style of reasoning—that "Israel's existence is itself an aggression."
After their defeat, the Arabs reversed their rhetoric from "Right" to "Left," de-emphasizing their ambition to "turn the Mediterranean red with Jewish blood" and instead blaming "the Middle East conflict" on the Jews themselves for denying the Palestinians a state (something that, of course, the Arabs could have given them any time during the nineteen years that they were entirely in control of the disputed territories of "the West Bank"). Since that time what Jay calls the "difficult question about the Jewish role in causing anti-Semitism" has not only been "on the table"; it has provided a royal feast for such heavy feeders as Alexander Cockburn, Desmond Tutu, Michael Lerner, the aforementioned Said, Patrick Buchanan, Noam Chomsky, most of the Israeli Left, and scores of other scribblers. Indeed, the New York Times, which during World War II did its best to conceal the fact that Jews were being murdered en masse, now admits they are being murdered, but blames them for, in Jay-speak, "unleashing the animosities they suffer."
The particular form given by nearly all these forerunners of Lindemann is, of course, blatant reversal of cause and effect in taking for granted that it is Israeli occupation that leads to Arab hatred and aggression, when every normally attentive sixth-grader knows that it is Arab hatred and aggression that lead to Israeli occupation. Jay is very fierce not with Lindemann for regurgitating every anti-Semitic slander dredged up from the bad dreams of Christendom but with Lindemann's "overheated" (18) critics (in Commentary, in the American Historical Review, in Midstream). In the same manner, his outrage about suicide bombings is not against the bombers or their instructors and financiers but against "American Jewish panic" (23) and "Israeli toughness" (23) in reacting to them and so perpetuating (no cliche is too stale and stupid for Jay) "the spiral of violence" (23).
Just as Jay insinuates some mild criticism of Lindemann, he also "qualifies" every now and then his insistence that the Jews themselves are to blame for anti-Semitism, but always in a way that only serves to make his core argument all the more gross and flagrant. "Acknowledging this fact [that the Jewish victims are "involved in unleashing" hatred on themselves] is not 'blaming the victim,' an overly simple formula that prevents asking hard and sometimes awkward questions, but rather understanding that social interactions are never as neat as moral oppositions of good and evil." (17)
Like most liberals, Jay cannot credit the existence of the full evil of the world. "In the case of the Arab war against the Jewish state," Ruth Wisse has observed, "obscuring Arab intentions requires identifying Jews as the cause of the conflict. The notion of Jewish responsibility for Arab rejectionism is almost irresistibly attractive to liberals, because the truth otherwise seems so bleak."8 Although Jay tries to twist Hannah Arendt's well-known criticism of Sartre's foolish argument that the Jews survived in exile thanks to gentile persecution into an endorsement of his own foolish argument about Jewish responsibility for that persecution, he is himself a classic case of what Arendt called the wheedling voice of "common sense" that lurks inside every liberal, explaining away the "intrinsically incredible,"9 such as the fact that a people would choose to define itself entirely by its dedication to the destruction of another people.
For the benefit of Jay (and others) in bondage to the liberal dogma that "social interactions are never as neat as moral oppositions of good and evil," and at the risk of violating decorum, I should like here to quote from the description by a physicist (Dr. Pekka Sinervo of the University of Toronto) of what happens when a conventional bomb is exploded in a contained space, such as a city bus travelling through downtown Jerusalem: "A person sitting nearby would feel, momentarily, a shock wave slamming into his or her body, with an 'overpressure' of 300,000 pounds. Such a blast would crush the chest, rupture liver, spleen, heart and lungs, melt eyes, pull organs away from surrounding tissue, separate hands from arms and feet from legs. Bodies would fly through the air or be impaled on the jagged edges of crumpled metal and broken glass."10 These are among the little "animosities," the "social interactions" that Martin Jay says Israelis, including (one assumes) the schoolchildren who usually fill these buses, have brought upon themselves. Jay does take note of the suicide bombers, brainwashed teenage Arab versions of the Hitler Youth, by administering a little slap on the wrist to tearful Esau: "To be fair, the Palestinian leadership that encourages or winks at suicide bombers shows no less counter-productive stupidity [than Sharon taking action against suicide bombers]." (23) (The flabby syntax matches the fatuous moral equation.) Thus does Jay's labored distinction between "causation" and "legitimation" (17) or between blaming the Jewish victims and making them responsible for anti-Semitic aggression, turn out to be a distinction without a difference. "Tout comprendre" as the French say, c'est tout pardonner."
But pointing out Jay's shoddy history, Orwellian logic, and addiction to worn-out cliches about settlements and "occupied territories" does not quite bring us to the quick of this ulcer. Matthew Arnold used to say that there is such a thing as conscience in intellectual affairs. An examination of the tainted character of Jay's documentation, his "evidence," reveals an intellectual conscience almost totally atrophied; for there is hardly a single reference in the essay to recent events in intifada II (the Oslo War, that is) or the many responses to it that is not unreliable, deceptive, false.
The essay starts with a reference to the "occupation of Jenin" (12), which always lurks in the background of Jay's ominous albeit vague allusions to Sharon's "heavy-handed" policies and actions (23) and "bulldozer mentality" (22). The April 2002, reoccupation of Jenin touched a raw nerve in both the academic Israel-haters alluded to above (their boycott of Israeli universities and research institutes, mainly a British operation, went into high gear at this point) and their fellow travelers. As always with Jay, cause and effect are reversed, as if the actions of firefighters were to be blamed for the depredations of arsonists. The Israeli "incursion" into Jenin, for example, is treated by people like Jay as if it had nothing whatever to do with the series of suicide bombings, culminating with the Passover massacre that immediately preceded it.
Jenin was reoccupied in April 2002, after the suicide bombing massacre at the Park Hotel in Netanya on Passover evening, March 27. Jenin was the base of the terrorist infrastructure: most of the bombers were "educated" in Jenin, worked in Jenin, trained in Jenin, or passed through Jenin to be "blessed" before going out to kill Jews. Of some 100 terrorists who carried out suicide bombings between October 2000 and April 2002, 23 were sent directly from Jenin. Prior to the Passover slaughter the supposedly tough Sharon had done little more in response to the almost daily murder of Israeli citizens than make blustery speeches and then turn the other cheek, or bulldoze or bomb empty buildings belonging to the Palestinian Authority. He had seemed far more inclined to the Christian precept "Resist Not Evil" than were the putatively "Christian" ministers of Europe who were excoriating him for that "bulldozer mentality." (It does not require a powerful imagination to guess how France or Germany or America would deal with a "Jenin" that dispatched murderers to butcher French or German or American citizens on a daily basis. Of one thing we can be sure: there would have been no bulldozers for Mr. Jay to complain of and also no 23 dead Israeli soldiers in Jenin, because the terrorist headquarters would have been obliterated by aerial bombing—and there really might have been not 50 dead Palestinians [most of them fighters] in Jenin but the "genocide of thousands," the "Jeningrad" trumpeted by Jay's favorite news media.)
Thirty Jews were killed and 140 injured at the Netanya seder table, a desecration of a holy place as flagrant as any in recent memory. But Jay's compassion is reserved for the victims of real "atrocities," such as "the cruel and vindictive destruction of the venerable olive groves under the pretext that they were hiding places for snipers" (24). Pretext? On October 30, 2002, Israel Radio reported that the terrorist who murdered two girls, ages 1 and 14, and also a woman in Hermesh exploited the olive trees that reach up to the community located between Mevo Dotan and Baka al-Gharbiya some six kilometers west of the Green Line in northern Samaria. The trees had indeed provided cover that made it possible for the killer first to reconnoiter the area in advance—as an olive harvester—and then to slip under the fence to do his murderous work.
Jay's congenital inability to report anything accurately is also apparent in his allusion to Adam Shapiro, offered as an instance of the atrocities visited by American Jews on people whose only sin is "criticism of Israeli policies" (22). He identifies Shapiro as "the idealistic...American Jewish peace activist" (22). Whatever Shapiro is, he is not a peace activist; he is a Yasser Arafat activist. A leader of the International Solidarity Movement founded by his wife, Huwaida Arraf, his "idealism" consisted of offering himself as a human shield (also breakfast companion) for Arafat in Ramallah, in the hope of making it easier for the arch-terrorist to murder Jewish children with impunity. His "criticism of Israeli policies" consisted of celebrating "suicide operations" as "noble" and urging that violence is a necessity of "Palestinian resistance."
One might expect that Jay would do better in reporting on Jewish misdeeds that "cause" the release of untidy emotions in anti-Semites when these misdeeds occur right under his nose, so to speak. But in fact the most egregious example of deceptive reporting in his essay is his account of an event on his own campus: the Univesity of California at Berkeley. It reads as follows: "When literally thousands of emails and withdrawals of substantial alumni donations to the University of California at Berkeley followed the disclosure that a course description for an English class...endorsed the Palestinian position, it becomes abundantly clear how concerted the effort has become to punish dissenters from Sharon's heavy-handed policies"(22-23). And here is the description (not provided by Jay, needless to add) of that course, offered by one Snehal Shingavi:
"The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance: Since the inception of the intifada in September 2000, Palestinians have been fighting for their right to exist. The brutal Israeli military occupation of Palestine, an occupation that has been ongoing since 1948, has systematically displaced, killed, and maimed millions of Palestinian people. And yet, from under the brutal weight of the occupation, Palestinians have produced their own culture and poetry of resistance. This class will examine the history of the Palestinian resistance...in order to produce an understanding of the intifada and to develop a coherent political analysis of the situation. This class takes as its starting point the right of Palestinians to fight for their own self-determination. Conservative thinkers are encouraged to seek other sections."
For Jay, this polemical balderdash is nothing more than "dissent" from the policies of Sharon, who is not even mentioned in the description. The real culprit in Jay's eyes is not the puffed-up insurrectionary who conceived this obscene travesty of "an English class," but the people who have the temerity to criticize it. And somehow he knows that, in a state where millions of people consider themselves to be "conservative thinkers," all the objectors were Jews.11
Coming to the defense of Jews and Israel has never been an exercise for the faint-hearted; and to do so in a place like Berkeley, where mob rule prevented Benjamin Netanhayu (in September 2000) from giving a lecture in the city, and where cadres of Arab and leftist students can shut down campus buildings and disrupt final exams whenever the anti-Israel fit is upon them, may even require a special degree of courage. Jews who assign responsibility for anti-Jewish aggression to Jewish misbehavior not only save themselves from the unpleasant and often dangerous task of coming to the defense of the Jews under attack but also retain the delightful charms of good conscience. Hitler's professors (to borrow the title of Max Weinreich's famous book of 194612) were the first to make anti-Semitism both academically respectable and complicit in murder. They have now been succeeded by Arafat's professors: not only the boycotters, not only the advocates of suicide bombings, but also the fellow travelers like Martin Jay.
1. Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism,3 vols. (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1951), III, p. 138.
2. See Edward Alexander, "The Academic Boycott of Israel: Back to 1933?" Jerusalem Post, 3 January 2003; "Evil Educators Defend the Indefensible,"Jerusalem Post, 10 January 2003; and ""Suicide Bombing 101," American Spectator June/July 2001, pp. 28-30.
3. David Caute, The Fellow Travellers: Intellectual Friends of Communism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988).
4. Martin Peretz, "Traveling With Bad Companions," Los Angeles Times, 23 June 2003.
5. Subsequent page references to Martin Jay's essay will be in parentheses in the text.
6. Albert Lindemann, Esau's Tears: Modern Anti-Semitism and the Rise of the Jews (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp. 308, 311, 291, 140-41, 496, 54.
7. Paul Breines, Tough Jews: Political Fantasies and the Moral Dilemma of American Jewry (New York: Basic Books, 1990).
8. Ruth R. Wisse, If I Am Not for Myself...The Liberal Betrayal of the Jews (New York: Free Press, 1992), p. 138.
9. Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, III, p. 138.
10. Quoted in Rosie DiManno, "Unlike Victims, Bomber Died without Pain," Toronto Star, June 19, 2002.
11. In a well-hidden place, n. 33, Jay acknowledges that "some of the outcry" about the course had to do with its last sentence telling Conservative thinkers to get lost; but he is confident that "the main reason for the response was the content of the course" (p. 28). Another Berkeley faculty member, who teaches in the English department, has provided me with the following description of the incident, which may be instructive:
"I don't think that any chairman would dare disallow such a class on political grounds for fear of PC [Political Correctness] extortion. Of course, the crucial point—that such a class has nothing to do with English—doesn't even enter the picture since so many English composition classes have been politicized...that it's hard to imagine an English chair eager to defend the teaching of grammar and logic. Hence, the brazenness of the instructor who wrote that course description: without the statement that conservatives were not welcome (which is discriminatory), the pedagogy and politics of the course would have been unassailable in the current climate.
One thing I distinctly remember with regard to the Palestinian composition class incident was that it coincided with a very loud anti-Israel rally—louder than the anti-war demonstration last week."
12. Max Weinreich, Hitler's Professors: The Part of Scholarship in Hitler's Crimes Against the Jewish People (New York: YIVO, 1946).
Edward Alexander's most recent books are Irving Howe—Socialist, Critic, Jew (Indiana University Press, 1998) and Classical Liberalism and the Jewish Tradition (Transaction Publishers, 2002).