There is no use denying any longer the cognitive defeat the anti-anti-Semites have suffered in the past decade. In an article published yesterday by Tablet on the successes of the Walt and Mearsheimer thesis, Adam Kirsch has the chops and the will to tell it like it is.
In this sense, Walt and Mearsheimer offer a case study in the old truth that ideas have consequences. Language is the most intangible of things, yet the language we use determines the boundaries of the thinkable and, ultimately, the shape of the world we live in. Now we live in a world where it is possible to say in leading publications, without fear of censure, that Jews buy and pay for the U.S. Congress and American troops are sent to die in Israel’s wars. For that, Walt and Mearsheimer deserve their fair share of credit.
Kirsch summarizes well both the roundly negative – and often mocking – treatment the duo received from nearly any publication of note (including even the far-left Nation) and how little any of it did to prevent their central thesis about Jewish manipulation of American politics from standing. We must now accept this reality and ask ourselves the perhaps more difficult question of why.
A seemingly unrelated article on the spate of anti-Jewish vandalism in New Jersey’s Bergen County in the JTA, also published this week, may point to an answer. Etzion Neuer, a former colleague of mine and the ADL’s regional director for New Jersey, is quoted saying, “There was a profound sense of unease this past Shabbat in Bergen County.” Living in Bergen County myself and serving on my shul’s security committee, I have seen much the same thing.
Now, it’s true that recent events in Bergen County took an unsettling turn with the firebombing of a shul. Outside of that we have seen aggressive and Jew-hating vandalism, but vandalism alone all the same. Yet this story receives not only roundly condemnatory coverage in publications wherever one might hope it to but also sudden and serious concern from every Jewish organization and institution one can think of along with widespread agreement on the seriousness of the issue and a willingness to pitch in for robust efforts against it.
Jew-hating vandalism is indeed unpleasant, and so too are the consistently high incidents of hate-crimes against Jews compiled each year by the FBI. They are things easy to get one’s head around and to condemn.
But all of this concern serves ultimately to obscure the real problem of Jew-hatred in the West, which is being led by the invidious growing acceptability of anti-Jewish ideas described so well by Kirsch. The “remarkable unanimity of rejection” The Israel Lobby received from all the best publications was a false comfort because it ultimately did so little to check the popularity of the book’s thesis. And rather than serving as a rallying cry for the Jews at least and (one might hope) the larger population beyond that, the book’s ideas were kashered – often by Jews themselves – as an acceptable, if perhaps fringey, point of debate. Far from a round chorus of on the ground condemnation, many were the voices who said and say the book and its thesis do not matter.
It all adds up to a profound failure of imagination and respect for the power of ideas – bad ones, especially – by Jews themselves, who should but strangely do not know better. Theodor Herzl wrote long ago in his own slight earth-shattering work that “only an idea” had the power to move a people. So too was it the idea of Judaism that kept the Jewish people living through its great period of exile.
And now only recognition of the truly dangerous anti-Jewish ideas we face and a respect for their power by enough people willing to do something about it has a chance of changing things.