I want to come out right now and thank the American Jewish Committee for alerting me to a new danger. Beset as we are on all sides by external foes and critics, we must now also contend with the threat of Jewish anti-Semitism. Dr. Alvin H. Rosenfeld’s pamphlet, “‘Progressive’ Thought and the New Anti-Semitism,” published by the AJC and available on their website, has opened my eyes to the menace within our own community.
As David Harris, the AJC’s Executive Director, points out in a foreword, hostility to Jews is as old as the sands. It has recently “morphed into hostility toward a Jewish state” and (no surprise here) it’s spreading like wildfire in the Muslim world. But the pamphlet’s astonishing revelation is this:
the most surprising–and distressing–feature of this new trend is the very public participation of some Jews in the verbal onslaught against Zionism and the Jewish state… These leftist Jewish critics challenge not just Israel’s policies, but “its legitimacy and right to an ongoing future.”
In fact, as Dr. Rosenfeld says,
there is a tendency among American Jews who identify themselves as “progressive” to embrace positions on Zionism and Israel that are as negative, and sometimes even as damning, as any to be found among the most fervent non-Jewish anti-Zionists.
In his erudite pamphlet, Dr. Rosenfeld does not hesitate to name names. I must admit – and I’m not proud of this – that some of the people he fingers are scholars, journalists and artists I had previously admired.
I’ve loved Adrienne Rich since I was a teenager. Her poems – with their strong social conscience and their deep compassion for all of those oppressed and wounded by power – played a big part in the formation of my own Jewish identify. But – my goodness! – she is an anti-Semite.
The prominent poet Adrienne Rich proposes that the very word “Zionism” is “so incendiary, so drenched in idealism, dissension, ideas of blood and soil, in memories of victimization and pursuant claims of the right to victimize” that it “needs to dissolve before twenty-first century realities.”
Such terrible things about the Jews. No more Adrienne Rich for me!
Before reading Dr. Rosenfeld’s pamphlet, I had innocently believed that there was room in our Jewish discourses for a variety of views. There is a Jewish tradition that it is necessary to question power, even if it means casting judgment on our own institutions. Nothing – not even our own interests as a people – is more important than justice. I believed that the passionate progressive critique of Zionism sprang from this impulse.
How wrong I was.
In a mere twenty pages, Dr. Rosenfeld exposes the work of historian Tony Judt, linguist Noam Chomsky and analyst Jacqueline Rose – all scholars at major universities who have made important contributions in their respective fields – as vacuous anti-Semitic nonsense when it comes to the Jewish state.
His rhetorical skill shows him to be more than a match for these intellectual heavyweights, by the way. He makes brilliant use of repetition, and adopts a strident tone that renders his conclusions inescapable. He avoids the tedious academic habit of refuting the other person’s argument. Instead, he bases his case on brief quotations. A phrase, or sometimes just a single word from his subject’s writing, is often sufficient to convey its virulent nature.
(Dr. Rose’s) lexicon of descriptive terms for Zionism and its errant ways is overwhelmingly negative: “agony,” “anguished,” “belligerent,” “bloody,” “brutal,” “cataclysmic,” “corrupt…”
The alphabetized list goes on. Who would want to read her books after seeing this?
Now, after reading this pamphlet, I got to thinking that it’s not just modern left-wing Jews who have fallen prey to this awful habit of questioning the legitimacy of the Jewish state. In fact, this goes way deeper than I think Dr. Rosenfeld even suspects. With the new perspective that his pamphlet has given me, I have found evidence of anti-Semitism in some of the most important figures of Jewish history. It’s even there in Jewish scripture!
Take, for example, the prophet Jeremiah. Keep in mind that he preached during a very dangerous time in the history of the original Jewish state. Jerusalem then – as now – stood as an island of civilization in the Mideast, surrounded by a sea of dangerous enemies. The Jews were just a few generations past a Holocaust, the destruction of the Northern Jewish Kingdom by the Assyrians. Now, Jerusalem was besieged by the Babylonians.
Surely, in such a time, any self-respecting Jewish patriot would have rallied to the support of the state. But not Jeremiah! He prophesied right and left about the sins of the state, the leaders and the people: forsaking their covenant with the Almighty, worshiping other gods, shedding the blood of innocents, adultery, neglect of the widow and the orphan. Dr. Rosenfeld sure has Jeremiah’s number:
No historical or political explanations of Israel’s current predicament are acceptable to some of the country’s Jewish critics, nor can the Jewish state be easily redeemed from its perceived wrongdoings.
Jeremiah piled one criticism on another – it was as if he couldn’t find enough bad things to say about the Jewish state. He even said that the Chaldeans, the attackers of the Jewish state, were carrying out the will of the Almighty – that our enemies were meting out divine justice by attacking us. What Dr. Rosenfeld says of critics of the modern state of Israel applies just as well to the biblical prophet:
At a time when the delegitimization and, ultimately, the eradication of Israel is a goal being voiced with mounting fervor by the enemies of the Jewish state, it is more than disheartening to see Jews themselves adding to the vilification. That some do so in the name of Judaism itself makes the nature of their assault all the more grotesque.
It doesn’t stop there, either. Look at Moses! For how long have we venerated him as our greatest prophet, the author of the Torah, our sacred book. But when you really read what Moses said – keeping Dr. Rosenfeld’s precepts in mind – it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Moses, too, was a Jewish anti-Semite of the worst sort.
It’s a little complicated, of course, because there wasn’t a Jewish state when Moses was alive. Remember, he died before we crossed the Jordan. But Moses was a seer. He knew what was going to happen in the future.
Claiming (as Jewish liberals often do) to have a direct line to the Almighty, he said worse things about the Jews than even Jacqueline Rose!
Here are a few of the words Moses uses in just one chapter (Deuteronomy 28) to describe what he believes will happen to the Jewish people if they fail to live up to impossibly stringent moral standards: “blindness,” “calamity,” “cursed,” “devour,” “drought,” “horror,” “madness,” “panic,” “pestilence,” “ruin,” “scorching heat.”
Like modern progressive Jews, Moses displayed what Dr. Rosenfeld shows to be the defining characteristic of the Jewish anti-Semite:
the singling out of the Jewish state, and the Jewish state alone, as a political entity unworthy of a secure and sovereign existence.
Here’s Moses again:
All these curses shall befall you; they shall pursue you and overtake you, until you are wiped out, because you did not heed the Lord your God and keep the commandments and laws He enjoined upon you. They shall serve as signs and proofs against you and your offspring for all time. Because you would not serve the Lord your God in joy and gladness over the abundance of everything, you shall have to serve – in hunger and thirst, naked and lacking everything – the enemies whom the Lord will let loose against you.
You will notice that Moses does not say a word about punishment for the Egyptians or Babylonians, even though their sins were surely far greater than those of the Jews. It’s as if he feels Israel should be held to special standards, and is more deserving than other nations of condemnation. One recognizes in the writing of Moses, just as in that of progressive Jewish anti-Semites,
passions of anger and indignation, bitterness and repudiation that transcend those associated with mere politics. Israel in their eyes is guilty of a great betrayal and should be punished.
A heartfelt thanks to Dr. Rosenfeld and the AJC for this courageous essay. The way forward is now clear.
If we are to be proud, once again, of our identify and our nation, we will need to purge our literature of anti-Zionist/anti-Semitic tracts – many of them placed there, sadly, by Jews.
We do not need to remove all criticism of Israel, as Dr. Rosenfeld generously allows. Some hand-ringing about the treatment of the Palestinians is OK; but passages that question our claim to a sovereign state in the land of Palestine must go. In the ever-rising tide of violence against Jews, our physical safety and our future as a race are at stake.
The AJC is clearly capable of taking down modern Jewish intellectuals who go off-script. Purging the Tanakh, though, is going to be a tricky business. I mean, it’s absolutely rife with the sort of thing Dr. Rosenfeld is talking about.
I would suggest that a committee of rabbis get straight to work on an edited, unequivocally pro-Zionist Tanakh.
But we need to be careful which rabbis. Some of them are anti-Semites, too.
No, I mean it. Read the pamphlet. You’ll see.
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