Is American Jewry in Crisis?
It is easy to praise the Athenians to Athenians: thus Plato. If easy, then unnecessary; but if necessary, then perhaps not easy? Looking back, I see that for some years now, after each Presidential or midterm election I have found it necessary to praise the Jews to Jews. By praise I mean defend. The defense has been against the accusation, undeterred by mere fact, that American Jews have become selfishly conservative, or downright reactionary.
Since those who make this mistake should know better, they must want to make it. Yet, on the improbable assumption they are honestly mistaken, maybe they ought to be told about statistics, helped to become “numerate.”
I remember a high-school math teacher who used to say, “They always understand when I put it in dollars.” Instead of talking about money, let us talk about baseball. This past season the leading hitter in the American League had a batting average of .300 (to be exact, .301). Batters with an average of .200 were common, and poor. The difference in kind between the one best batter and the crowd of poor batters, what was it in degree? That a player has a .300 average means that in every ten official times at bat, he gets a hit three times and fails to get a hit seven times. That a player has a .200 average means that in every ten official times at bat, he gets a hit twice and fails to get a hit eight times. The player with seven failures out of ten was the leading hitter in his league, and those with eight failures out of ten were the poor hitters. The difference was one in ten. It was not small.
Now from baseball to politics—the voting in the 1968 Presidential election (Nixon 43.4 per cent, Humphrey 43.0 per cent, Wallace 13.6 per cent).
In descending order of support for Nixon there were three sets of voters. Pro-Nixon:
|High-income (National Broad-casting Co.)||63%||29%||5% [?]|
|Professional and business (Gallup)||56||34||10|
And strongly pro-Humphrey, anti-Wallace:
|Mexican (West Coast; NBC)||17%||81%||2%|
|Puerto Rican (East Coast; NBC)||16||81||3|
How may the Jews be expected to have voted? Well, in which of the three sets do we belong? Bogue's Population of the United States (1959) gives this socio-economic information about us:
Two religious groups stand out above all others as well-educated: . . . Jewish and. . . Episcopal. . . .
. . . being in the upper income brackets is closely related to. . . Episcopal or Jewish religion. . . .
Jewish and Episcopal household heads who are employed as professional, proprietary, or managerial workers tend to have higher median incomes than [others].
Socio-economically, therefore, the Jews ought to be toward the top of the pro-Nixon set. But on the one hand, we know that Jews have voted Left of Center. On the other hand, everyone had a scary anecdote—what a certain Jewish taxi driver had said, or a shopkeeper, or even a teacher—which led him to predict that this time Jews were going to make a sharp Right turn. Hedging our bets, we may expect Jews to have voted midway between the old habits and what seemed to be the new mood: with the moderately pro-Humphrey voters. In fact, Jews voted like the Mexicans of the West and the Puerto Ricans of the East—the poor, the racial minorities.
Even the Negroes could hardly have voted less for Wallace.1
Before we leave statistics, let us learn from Gallup about the sturdy independents, and about idealistic youth and crabbed age. Watch the Wallace column:
|50 and older||47||41||12|
Was the choice between Humphrey and Nixon a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee? The American people did not think so. In 1968 they voted as they almost always do, most of the prosperous for the Republican and most of the poor for the Democrat. In 1968, again, the Jews were the only group whose voting was off the graph. We continue to be unique among American voters.
The old Soviet joke goes: “If everything is so good, Comrade, why is everything so bad?” For us it is no joke. If we are so good, or anyway less bad than others, why are things becoming so bad for us?
Sure that Left is better than Right, liberal better than conservative, radical better than reactionary, we are attacked from our own side. George Wallace said nothing anti-Semitic (whatever he may have thought). It is black nationalists who compete with each other in variety and intensity of anti-Semitic language; and I. F. Stone, of the Old Left but acceptable to the New, puts the current line in these words: “The Jews owe the underprivileged a duty of patience, charity, and compassion. It will not hurt us Jews to swallow a few insults from overwrought blacks.” (That “us Jews” is lovely.) He does not tell us when, at what point on the dialectic spiral, it became improper for socialists to remember that anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools.
A few years ago I was a guest at a conference of historians and sociologists who had met to consider the public-opinion polls, which showed high anti-Semitism from the 1930's till after World War II and then an uninterrupted decline. The scholars agreed that the polls reflected reality. A new stage had been reached in the evolution of American society—education, detachment from old communities and traditions, scientific or cerebral ways of making a living—where anti-Semitism had just about disappeared. Not that it had been replaced by philo-Semitism; the best way to describe the new situation was to call it a-Semitism. Whether someone was a Jew was of no importance, it made no impression one way or the other, no emotion attached to it.
I was one of a skeptical minority. We had no data, we only doubted that something so old and deep and widespread could disappear so quickly. We said—not to prove our point, because it was no proof at all, but to show how we felt—that in the McCarthyite years some of us used to wonder about what we called the mystery of the missing anti-Semitism: though Senator Joe McCarthy was a rightist demagogue, he had not merely abstained from engaging in anti-Semitism, he had gone out of his way to show he was not engaging in it (as with the low-comedy team of Cohn and Schine). To which a scholar we all respect said the skeptics must have a vested interest in anti-Semitism. We were too accustomed to reckoning with anti-Semitism, it had too important a place in our understanding of history, for us to recognize easily that it had passed on.
I wish he had been right and we, with our old, parochially Jewish belief in anti-Semitism's power to endure, had been wrong. But even the less parochial need not altogether deny anti-Semitism's endurance. Toward the end of his life Isaac Deutscher said:
An unrepentant Marxist, an atheist, an internationalist . . . I come unexpectedly close to the fears of an Orthodox Jew and a Zionist. I do not believe that anti-Semitism is a spent force. I fear that we may be living in a fools' paradise in our Western welfare state. The trustful feeling of freedom from anti-Semitism may well be one more illusion, a particularly Jewish one, engendered by our “affluent society.”
It is the direction from which anti-Semitism comes at us now that perplexes and wounds us. We know that there has been leftist anti-Semitism from the beginning of the time when it makes sense at all to speak of Left and Right, say about two hundred years ago. But there has been much more anti-Semitism on the Right. In our minds we transformed that into a rightist monopoly on anti-Semitism; or rather, into an identity of Right and anti-Semitism. Having gradually acknowledged the anti-Semitism of Stalin, Khrushchev, their successors in Russia, and their vassals in Poland (and other countries that call themselves socialist), we are still unprepared for anti-Semitism on the American Left.
We had taken it for granted not only that all reasonable and just men would not do or say anti-Semitic things, but also that they would repudiate those who said or did anti-Semitic things. Anyway, why anti-Semitism? Why pick on the Jews? What other white group voted so pro-Negro; or, if that is too strong, so little anti-Negro? In Milwaukee, in Chicago, in Buffalo, in Boston, in Newark, in New York, Negroes have learned in unmistakable, physical ways how Poles, Italians, Irish oppose Negro demands. It is not Jews who throw stones, use fists, light fires, and go to the polls against Negroes. Yet in the black rhetoric the Negro seems to have only two external enemies in the United States, whites generally and Jews specifically. Jews—but not Italians, or Poles, or Irish. (Or WASP'S. Look at those Wallace votes again.)
What is it they say we are doing to Negroes? Genocide, emasculation, rape. Black Panther types say that; and also black teachers, professors, intellectuals, community leaders—in print, on the radio, on television, and at hearings of the New York City Board of Education. The executive director of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization says that Jews engage in economic rape of the Negro slums; but in Cincinnati a CORE leader turned storekeeper is angry when his customers complain that he overcharges them. You ought to realize, he says, that a merchant's prices have to cover his costs, and costs are high in the slums: insurance rates, losses by pilferage, and so on. We are repeatedly told that the black community resents Jewish storekeepers and teachers leaving every night, taking their persons and their gains with them. The black director of a Harlem bank does not live in Harlem, and the black $30,000-a-year administrator of those schools in Brooklyn lives neither in Brownsville nor in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
When someone at a public hearing of the New York City Board of Education testifies for less decentralization of the school system than the board has proposed, and less community control, the board members respond. We must move forward, one of them answers, the crisis we are in does not allow us to stand pat. When anti-Semitic harangues are made at those hearings, or anti-Semitic leaflets distributed, the same board members are silent. Challenged, they explain that of course they do not agree, but by the First Amendment everyone is free to say what he wishes.
Zionism and Israel are held to be the enemies of black people everywhere. Is the president of the teachers' union a Jew? Then call him a Zionist and warn him he will not be allowed to perpetrate in Harlem the genocide that the Israelis are supposed to be perpetrating in the Middle East. Before the election my son, a student in junior high school, asked the Democratic organization in our town how he could help. He was given literature and sent to the low-income, mostly Negro housing project—but cautioned not to hand out the leaflet for the Democratic candidate for Senator that boasted how much the candidate had done for Israel. Moslem Arabs are systematically murdering black people in Sudan, and Israel is supposed to be the enemy of blacks. In 1967 social scientists from ten colleges and universities in and near Chicago asked people whether they agreed or disagreed with a number of statements, including one that Jews are more sympathetic than other whites to Negroes. More than 60 per cent of the Negro respondents agreed; and there is no reason to suppose Chicago is exceptional. But how can that withstand the activists insisting that the Jews are the black man's enemies?
If that is not bad enough, the quota system is being introduced. Or reintroduced—only this time not, as in the universities and professional schools of the 1920's, to keep those pushy Jews (greasy grinds) from dispossessing the gentlemen, but to do justice to Negroes. Negroes are about 11 per cent of the population of the United States. At Brown University the administration agrees that from now on entering classes will have 11 per cent of Negroes. At Radcliffe care is taken to avoid mentioning a percentage, but the number the administration announces for future entering classes turns out to equal something like 11 per cent. (At Brown and Radcliffe they refuse to call the quota a quota; thereby, of course, preventing it from being one.) In Philadelphia Negroes are about a third, so a demand is made that the medical schools in Philadelphia put aside a third of the places in their entering classes for Negro students. That has not, or not yet, been conceded.
Quotas send a shiver down Jewish backs. They announce bad times. In the Soviet Union Khrushchev said enough “native cadres” had been developed for education, government, and the economy, so the Jewish share had to go down. For a semi-feudal country the numerus clausus—“closed number”; quota—has been explained as follows (in a UNESCO pamphlet) by a liberal Catholic priest:
As regards religion and respect for the human person and the primary natural rights, the Catholic protest against anti-Semitism is definite, united, and absolute; it is equally so in the matter of anti-Jewish discrimination based on racism. As regards the political and sociological aspects of the question, the Catholic attitude is qualified. For example, in pre-1939 Hungary, the Catholic bishops, as members of Parliament, accepted the numerus clausus laid down for the admission of Jews to certain professions and schools. Here the bishops were acting as national leaders in a country where the Jewish minority (5.3 per cent of the population) had a practical monopoly in a number of spheres (press, theatre, etc.) or at least had a higher proportion of posts than its numbers warranted, even taking its cultural level into account.
The French Revolution was as much about meritocracy as about liberty, equality, and fraternity. Of all the revolutionary slogans, “careers open to talents” spoke most directly to the heart of the ambitious young man from the provinces, and Napoleon would have been less revolutionary if the ancien régime had not decided to be strict about noble birth for army officers. The objection to the principle of noble birth is that while the sons of the people are eager to make their way by talent and work, you aristocrats—vous vous êtes donné la peine de naître, you have taken the trouble to get born.
To hear some people talk these days, one would think that the merit principle is a Jewish conspiracy. The last thing those who made the French Revolution had in mind was to benefit the Jews. Though for a long time the Scots seemed to be especially successful in the British civil service, apparently that did not lead it to be regarded as a Scottish conspiracy. Yet here and now, somehow, suddenly, it is hard to find anyone who will defend the anonymous examination. If Jews do disproportionately well in these meritocratical contests, the reasoning goes, then the whole thing is unfair, a Jewish conspiracy in effect if not in original intention.
Today school principals and college students, tomorrow professors. If the municipal colleges in New York must now have students ethnically representative of the city's population—though for at least seventy years most of the students at City College have been Jews, sometimes disliked as radical but seldom as ethnically unrepresentative—why should they not have faculties that are ethnically representative? If the students of Radcliffe and Brown, why not professors? Why not the students and professors of austerely meritocratic MIT?
Intellectuals (mostly writers, editors, and publishers) who are Jews—or rather, who had Jewish parents—are saddened by teachers and principals in New York City who do not step aside in favor of ethnically more representative competitors. But the same principle can apply to intellectuals. Who knows? Under the aspect of eternity, quotas may be just. It is only that such justice has invariably hurt Jews. If Father Congar can argue that in Hungary the Jewish minority was only 5.3 per cent, how long will it be before someone argues that in the United States the Jewish minority is less than 3 per cent?
Now that we find ourselves so unexpectedly in trouble, we have no allies. We are not even our own allies, necessarily. Depend upon it, Dr. Johnson said, when a man is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully. Our minds it seems rather to distract than to concentrate. Many of us approve or at least understand the trouble we are in; Jews are a large part of those white, liberal audiences that pay for the delight of hearing black actors or activists fleer and menace whites, liberals, and Jews. In the New York Times a Jew reviews a black intellectual's anti-Semitic book, notes the anti-Semitism, is silent about the intellectual poverty, and concludes that the book is “vigorously written [no] . . . fiercely [yes] and honestly [no] argued . . . a mind-plowing experience of the first order.” For its part, the Jewish-label civil-liberties outfit is busy protecting us against—against a Christmas stamp with the archangel Gabriel from Jan van Eyck's “Annunciation,” and a lottery ticket with a menorah and Shield of David. (The lottery ticket's Santa Claus is pronounced kosher.)
Nobody wants to hear any more about the teachers' strike in New York City, but one thing still needs to be said. The teachers, criticized for this strategy and that tactic, would have been criticized no matter what they did, short of giving in. While Herman B. Ferguson was appealing his conviction for conspiracy to murder Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young, “the community”—the local governing board—tried to appoint him as principal of a Brownsville school. When that fell through, the board's chief educational officer put him on the payroll as a consultant. Mr. Ferguson is the author of an article about black pedagogy, according to which the education of black children should be organized around the gun. In mathematics, for example, they could calculate trajectories. Suppose the teachers' union had done something that corresponded even remotely with “the community's” appointments of Mr. Ferguson. The outcries would not yet have ceased; but in the eyes of radicals and most liberals the Ferguson appointments did not detract from “the community's” cause. The teachers were wrong to begin with. Justice, justice—as in that exemplary instruction to the jury:
And when, amid the plaintiff's shrieks,
The ruffianly defendant speaks
Upon the other side,
What he may say you needn't mind.
From bias free, of every kind,
This trial must be tried.
I mention the appointments of Ferguson, who adores the gun, rather than the cult of Malcolm X, who was an anti-Semite, because it is pointless to keep amassing evidence that anti-Semitism is no longer beyond the pale. The one thing no one remarked on when the black students occupied that building at Brandeis—not even the parochial Jews, so accepted has it all become—is the new name under which those students organized themselves: Malcolm X University. (The pacific Mr. Ferguson was the Freedom and Peace candidate for Senator from New York.)
So our allies are not going to come from the Left, liberal or radical—even though, or perhaps precisely because, so many of the liberals and radicals are Jews. They will not come from the Wallace or Birch Right. They will not come from the ethnics. Why should Poles or Italians bestir themselves for the Jews? In national elections they and the Jews were in the New Deal coalition, but otherwise they and the Jews are usually at odds. In voting on money for the public schools, the Jews are for, they are against. On aid to parochial schools and on smut control, they are for, the Jews are against. The Jews go to college, they do not. They hunt, the Jews do not.
Perhaps our allies are to be found in the Establishment—the Establishment which may be called enlightened, if not actually liberal? So far as the enlightened Establishment has thought about the matter at all, it has decided against the Jews.
Imagine yourself to be a member of that amorphous entity, the Establishment. Would you not reason as follows? The big domestic problem is the problem of the Negroes, who have been moving in large numbers from the rural South to the cities of the North. They come from the South poor, uneducated, unskilled, remembering oppression, hating and fearing their oppressors. In the North, where they need not fear so much, they can express their hatred. For understandable reasons they, or rather their children, direct that hatred more against the Northern whites with whom they now come into contact—policemen, storekeepers, teachers—than against the deputy sheriffs back home. What is more, these people are lower-class migrants. White or black, native or foreign, lower-class migrant families break up, delinquency and crime increase.
For these newcomers to settle down (the reasoning continues), their elite must first be given a stake in the system. The last threat to the system came in the 1930's, with the unions. Tom Girdler of Republic Steel, a kind of fundamentalist of capitalism, fought the unions as hard as he could, and lost. It was lucky he lost, because the system has benefited from their victory. In return for union recognition and satisfactory wages, American industry enjoys labor discipline, the more effective because imposed by labor itself. Cheap at the price.
Who (the Establishment asks itself) can impose discipline on the black newcomers, especially in the schools? Not whites. Blacks are in no mood for that. Besides, white teachers are no longer tough or authoritarian enough. By their education, and maybe by their temperament, tough authoritarianism is foreign to them. It is not foreign to blacks. When the black elite of Newark wanted to cool a disturbance, recently, they sent their people into the streets to knock a few heads together—their language—and the cooling was accomplished. If whites had tried to knock those heads together there would have been racial warfare and the civil libertarians would have yelled. There was no civil libertarian yelling about blacks doing it.
Some part of the black elite want good jobs. They want to be principals, school administrators, welfare directors. Others want their turn at honest graft—real-estate transactions and building contracts—or at bribes, kickbacks, and theft. These are the traditional spoils of office. The earlier migrants have had their chance at the spoils, and now the time has come for the blacks. How to give them their turn? By decentralization and community control.
For us, the Establishment, an extra dividend of decentralization and community control is that it can be cheap: the mayor of New York City, the hero of “the community” and its friends, reduced the school budget, with hardly anyone to pay attention, in the heat of the fight between union and “community.” Another dividend is that we will be able to cut labor down to size. Labor has been strong and fairly popular, if only because it represents so many of the people. For us, it is too big for its breeches, and everyone will think we are cutting from and for the Left rather than from and for the Right. A third dividend is that we may be able to detach the blacks from the New Deal coalition. We want the New Deal coalition weakened, because it has kept us from exercising in the cities and in the nation the power none is better-fitted than we to exercise.
Everything has a price (the argument goes on). What is the price of this? The weakening or destruction of the merit principle. Is the price too high? Especially in the schools, not really. The meritocratic machine produces people who may know subject matter well enough and may even know “how to teach”—whatever that may be—but it does not produce what we know to be most needful: people who can impose discipline, whose appointment will win them over while yielding their fellow-Negroes those symbolic gratifications that are so sweet to receive and so cheap to bestow.
Who will be hurt most? Jews. Well, fair is fair, and as between blacks and Jews we have no reason to reproach ourselves when we give preference to the blacks. It is not as though the Jews were suffering. They have done pretty well for themselves, and they have no right to complain if they are now asked to move over and make room for someone else. Anyway, the particular Jews in question here are a bit strident and given to hysteria. If they are no longer quite lower-middle-class, they still show the signs. And what can they do? Blacks can cause trouble, real trouble. Jews only talk. It would be nice if dislocating the Jews were not the price to be paid; but a price must be paid, and this is both the easiest and fairest.
Quotas in the universities? (The reasoning is coming to the end.) That is only another way of asking about the merit system, and merit is not now the most needful thing. Lord Melbourne said he liked the Order of the Garter because “there is no damned merit in it.” We got along well enough when there was damned little merit in the universities. How long is it since students in our best colleges got their gentlemen's C's, and went on to run the country? Besides being a political necessity, admitting those black students there will give a voice and glory to people who would otherwise go to their graves as mute inglorious Miltons and Cromwells. Professors? The world did not come to an end when our colleges chose teachers, too, without much finicky regard to merit. The country, the system, depends on having a large number of people with reasonable competence, not on invariably selecting or promoting the man with the highest decimal in his test score. Besides, it is funny when the Jews get all solemn about individual merit. They must think so many of them do so well in college-entrance and civil-service tests because each of them is some kind of genius, biologically. Would they be able to show all that merit in those tests if they had not been born of Jewish parents, into Jewish cousinages and associations? Those Jewish meritocrats are strangely like the ancien régime's aristocrats, they have taken the trouble to get born; except that the aristocrats realized it, and the Jews do not.
Hence the entente of the Establishment—the Ford Foundation, the Urban Coalition, the Republican Mayor of New York—and “the community” against the New York teachers. A friend of mine says the entente thought it was taking on Jews, and was confident it would win handily. It would have won handily—if those Jews had not been organized as a trade union. (More exactly: if many of the Jews had not belonged to the teachers' union.) To everybody's surprise, including their own, instead of capitulating like educated, liberal Jews, they fought like a trade union—almost as if they worked for the sanitation department (mostly Italian) or the transit authority (once mostly Irish).
But after all, how many educated, liberal Jews are organized as a union? Will Jewish parents, college applicants, students, and professors wage a comparable fight against quotas?
Many Jewish students have shown a liking for what we politely call confrontation, and many Jewish parents and professors either approve or understand. But the confrontation is always in the name of universalist reform or rebellion. For Jewish students taking part in confrontation the first requirement is that they shall not think of themselves as Jews or of their purposes as Jewish. That would be parochial, out of the question. Jewish students will occupy a university building, or approve its occupation, to support the demands of blacks, but not to prevent or abolish quotas that will hurt Jews.
The class of Jewish universalists is one, with two distinguishable segments. Toward Center Left in ideology are those who make their livings in business or professions, and live on Park Avenue or in the prosperous suburbs. They have large views, responsibility, concern for the general good, impatience with parochial, particular interests. They are not like those unclassy Jews in Brooklyn, who went so far as actually to heckle the idealistic young WASP mayor of New York.
For me heckling is more than just distasteful. But when I consider how public discourse is conducted nowadays, and what one hears and sees every day on TV, in the news broadcasts and discussion programs; and when I consider that the classy Jews understand these; then I have to conclude that classy Jews horrified by Jewish hecklers are like a civil libertarian who defends the public use of language that yesterday would have been called obscene, but resents someone saying “hell” to his wife. In New York the classy Jews, to dissociate themselves from those other ones and show their likeness to the young idealistic WASP mayor, invite him to talk to them on Park Avenue, where they can applaud him demonstratively. It remains to be seen what they will think and do when the quotas and community control and all the rest of it begin to be applied to their businesses and professions.
Further to the Left is the other segment of the class of Jewish universalists—the writers, editors, publishers, and professors. They too are proud of their responsibility, but this is to the radical vision, or revolution, or the new world struggling to be born. I. F. Stone is one; and it was he who admiringly described the mayor of New York as idealistic and young. When Jews heckled he could not contain himself and wanted them slapped. (Humorously—but not really humorously—he has pitied the mayor as a downtrodden WASP.) Jews bother Stone. It is hard to imagine him filled with revulsion at the news that student rebels or black militants had heckled a Republican, and it is not hard to imagine what he would say if someone else, in that other circumstance, got all smarmy over the idealism and youth of a Republican politician pushing fifty. And if you wanted to slap any heckler but a Jew, Stone would call you a fascist. It remains to be seen what the radical intelligentsia will say and do when quotas and community control are applied to writing, publishing, editing, and professing.
All that distaste for Jewish parochialism is nothing new. Deutscher has told us about “the non-Jewish Jews” he is proud to be numbered with: like Rosa Luxemburg, who said she had no room in her heart for Jewish troubles; and Trotsky, who said he was not a Jew, he was a revolutionist. On the whole, these thought they were rejecting Jewish particularity in the name of a philosophy and a vision that rejected all particularity. They thought they saw history moving to universalism, and they gave their lives to that movement. They failed, but not without some measure of honor.
What is newer is that the successors to those non-Jewish Jews are anti-Jewish Jews. Toward the end of the century, universalism is not what it was at the beginning. Nationalism, not internationalism, is the new reality. Not only in Asia and Africa: could Rosa Luxemburg have imagined Scottish, Welsh, and Breton separatisms? You can no longer say you oppose Jewish particularity because you oppose all particularity. That is an obsolete luxury. You have to oppose Jewish particularity because it is Jewish. You have to favor the particularities of the Jews' enemies. The journal of the French Jewish community, L'Arche, has reported on a recent book about the Middle East by a young French Jewish revolutionary. Because Israel is—as is well-known—a racist state, she did not visit it. She did visit the Arab countries, where she saw and heard much that ordinary people would take to be anti-Semitism, but her revolutionary wisdom tells her it is to be ignored. Her book is of such a kind that Ahmad Shukairy, who as ranter-in-chief at the UN was finally too much even for the Saudis who had employed him, has rewarded her with honorary citizenship in his Palestine of the future. L'Arche comments that in former centuries the enemies who hounded us most implacably were the Jewish apostates, and now they are the progressistes of Jewish parentage. (An exaggeration, but a small one.)
Isaiah 49:17 is a prophecy of consolation: “. . . those who ravage and destroy you depart from you.” In the Middle Ages Jewish preachers interpreted this verse not as consolation but as lament. In a linguistically permissible way (compare Isaiah 39:7), they took it to mean: “. . . those who ravage and destroy you issue from you”—your own children are your enemies. The preachers meant the apostates: Petrus Alfonsi, Pablo Christiani, Abner of Burgos, Paul de Santa Maria, Pfefferkorn. As L'Arche implies, in this interpretation the verse can be applied to the anti-Jewish Jewish progressistes.
Most jews, if universalist, leave room for particularity; if we are for others' particularities, we are not against our own. What are we to do? What are we to think?
De Gaulle is now the enemy of the Jews. He dislikes us, but that is not his reason. He is our enemy in France's interest. As he says, nations have no permanent friends, they have permanent interests. In the United States every other group but ours understands that it should not be taken for granted, that it should encourage competing parties and candidates to bid for its support. Black nationalists and moderates have been telling Negroes that. But we Jews vote our fixation, not our interest. Why did I contribute to that 81 per cent the last time out? Would 70 or 75 per cent not have been liberal enough? It would still have been higher than the working class's percentage.
We esteem the left-of-center intellectuals and public figures. Why? Take the civil libertarians. They have helped to bring about a state of affairs that not only frightens the white middle class, it also frightens the Negroes. The civil libertarians (and the black nationalists) protest police brutality and the discriminatory harshness of our penal laws, but the Harlem NAACP fears criminal brutality more than police brutality. The Harlem NAACP wants police and laws and enforcement and imprisonment. Otherwise, it says, the prey of the criminals who now go uncaught or unprosecuted will be forced into something like vigilantism. They do not want to be vigilantes, but if there is no change they will have to be. Of course the roots of crime go deep. For the long term, basic social reforms are needed but meanwhile, the NAACP says, criminals must be caught and punished.
Harlem's irreverence for the civil libertarians is not diminished by this implausible story: A court authorizes the police to tap a racketeer's telephone for evidence about one of his rackets; they hear a policeman offer to make pistols available for the murder of someone who has displeased the racketeer; the policeman is tried for conspiracy to murder; the trial court orders him freed, because the wiretap was authorized for evidence about a racket, not for evidence about a conspiracy to murder. (A question to lawyers: in what other country would a court have freed the policeman for that reason?)
The civil libertarians have always told us that due process, as for that policeman, is what civil liberties mean. Then, suddenly, we find the same civil libertarians—not exactly a judenrein aggregation—less fussy about due process for the New York teachers. Here the civil libertarians' old obsession with procedural justice has disappeared. Now their cry is for substantive justice, as they interpret substantive justice.
There is a scholar with a good reputation, at a good university. Just before the election he writes in a newspaper what he has learned about white workers who say they are for Wallace:
. . . four out of five of Wallace's supporters contend that the assassinations of the Kennedys and of Martin Luther King were carefully planned by a group of people. One half blame the Communists for the riots in many of our large cities. They see a hostile environment surrounding themselves. . . . 80% fear riding buses without police protection, and fully 92% believe that safety in the streets represents the major problem facing the country today.
This pattern of perceiving conspiracies and hostility in the surrounding environment . . . characterizes the perspective of many marginal groups in the American past: the Free Masons [he means the Anti-Masonic party], the Know-Nothings, the Populists, the Coughlinites, and the Joseph McCarthyites.
Everything is explained—explained away. It all stems from the traditional kookiness, culturally and racially if not economically reactionary, of bewildered American provincials. No need to take it seriously. In his campaign Wallace kept telling the crowds: “The pointy-headed pseudo-intellectuals look down their nose at folks like you and me.” That scholar seems almost to have been trying to prove Wallace was telling the truth.
Is it right-wing or racist to worry about crime? The Harlem NAACP does not think so. Is it provincial? Embassies in Washington and UN diplomats—including East European and African ones—complain to the American authorities about crime. Is it uneducated to worry? About the events preceding the Columbia unpleasantness, Daniel Bell writes: “The Columbia faculty . . . living on Morningside Drive facing Morningside Park . . . felt a strong apprehension . . . about . . . muggings and thefts, largely unreported. . . .” Is it unrealistic to worry? The reported crime rates are high enough, and, as Bell suggests, much crime never gets reported.
Is conspiracy thinking right-wing and dumb? From the Left and the academy we have been getting a copious Fu Manchu literature, especially about the murder of President Kennedy, that makes Birchite maunderings look soberly rational by contrast. Is conspiracy thinking anti-Negro? After the murder of Senator Kennedy, Negroes tended to feel that “They” were responsible, that “They” were killing off the Negroes' friends and leaders: the President, Martin Luther King, the Senator.
Jews are anxious about anti-Semitism, and a Jewish social scientist says we are crazy. A newspaper notes that he is the author of a study which concluded that “Negroes probably were less anti-Semitic than white Christians. But now, [he] suggests, the anti-Semitic statements of some Negro militants may be changing attitudes at the grass roots.” No matter; the same paper quotes him as saying, “Jews are incredibly paranoid.” He himself tells us that a minority of anti-Semitic activists are affecting the Negro majority that was formerly rather well-disposed to Jews; he reads that in Germany the courts are still trying anti-Semites for what they did when they had the chance; he must know that Anne Frank would not yet be forty; but he says the Jews are mad to worry. (A question to psychiatrists: What is the technical name for the delusion that it is insane to be concerned about reality?)
Today it is approved knowledge that our welfare practice disserves the poor and threatens to bankrupt cities and states. Governors, mayors, a cabinet officer, commissioners of welfare, academic experts tell us that the South is dumping its problems into the North. The Southern states give the poor little, the Northern states more. Naturally, the poor go where they will get more. The solution proposed to us is a national welfare system, about the same everywhere. Then the movement of people between the states will be free and un-coerced, not the de facto deportation it is today. No one disagrees with what George F. Kennan says of “the great urban ghettos,” but since Kennan is not in the compassion business he is able to speak in uncloudy language: “. . . you cannot cure the poverty that is already there unless you can prevent the constant importation of new poverty from somewhere else.”
All this sounds reasonable. But if reasonable now, why not a few years ago? A few years ago you were not supposed to talk that way. When the New York State legislature considered a bill that would have made newcomers ineligible for welfare, everybody who was anybody exclaimed in horror. If you were for the bill, you were a bigot. That was official; and the governor, who is now complaining how unfair everything is, vetoed it. The official line was that welfare had nothing to do with migration. The New York City commissioner of welfare, now dean of a school of social work, testified at a legislative hearing that “the availability of public assistance did not affect the flow of population from state to state.” He also said that if a residence requirement of six months were passed, he would do what he could to find loopholes in it.
That was in the early 1960's. At the end of the 1960's we learn this about welfare in New York City:
|1958-59 (12 months)||1969-70 (12 months; projected)||1969-70 per cent of 1958-59|
|Number of people||240,000||1,300,000||542%|
In the rich United States, should people be hungry and homeless? That would be an infamy. Should the residence law have been passed? Probably not. But have governors, commissioners, chairmen of community councils, and deans the right to tell us lies? Have they now the right to assert, with full and self-assured confidence, what they denied with the same confidence a few years ago?
How about us? Have we the right to be angry? We acquiesced in the humbug. That testimony, about higher relief standards not attracting migrants, was absurdly false on the face of it. From one side of the ocean to the other or from one side of the street to the other, people move because where they are going to is more attractive (or less repulsive) than where they are coming from; they are pulled or pushed, or both. We knew that then as well as we know it now. We wanted to be lied to.
And now we are dismayed by more than the costs, and the numbers, and their seemingly endless steep growth. Now it is we who are held responsible for the poverty and ignorance of those many poor and ignorant who have been pushed and pulled here, and who have borne children into conditions that favor their being poor and ignorant. Those children tend not to do well in school, and the schools in which they predominate are not good schools. The same kind of people—or sometimes actually the same persons—who testified then that the push-pull principle of migration had been abrogated declare now, their expertness and sincerity intact, that the schools have failed. Not employment policy, or agricultural policy, or housing policy, or welfare policy, or migration policy, or anything silly like that—not these are at fault. The schools are at fault, the schools have failed. Some of the sincere and expert say the Jewish teachers are busy at genocide; and few say no. They used to be our friends.
In self-interest maybe we should do an about-face. But we are not the kind of people to whom that would come easily. Prosperous people do not vote with the poor: that is the rule. Jews want to continue being the exception.
We are unable to change without injury to our sense of who we are and of what justifies us; but our inability to change leaves us vulnerable to our enemies.
In Beirut the Israelis earn the world's stern reprobation for their attack on—horresco referens—empty aircraft. American clergymen, the French president, and Soviet diplomats are moved by damage to things.
So are the custodians of art and culture. The Metropolitan Museum, directed by an eminent member of the Establishment, stages an exhibition about Harlem. Some Negroes do not like it, and picket. Someone scratches ten or eleven paintings, among them a Rembrandt. That is very bad, but fortunately the vandalism is superficial. (An art editor tells the public that “the damage is comparable to a light scratch on a piece of varnished furniture that does not go into the wood and can be removed with a little polish.”) No matter. “In a voice choking with anger” the museum director cries out: “. . . poisonous . . . unbelievable poison. . . .”
The Harlem exhibition is provided with a catalogue, sold at the museum and in bookstores. The introduction to the catalogue is notable for two things: 1) the authority who wrote it was a girl all of sixteen years old; 2) it is anti-Semitic.
Life has staged an unsubtle play, with typecasting and campy lines. Naturally, the museum director is upper-class WASP. Naturally, subordinate parts are played by Jews—class, classy; occupation, culture middleman; habitat, between liberal money and radical art.
In the first act the heroes stand up against a hysteria that would have us believe anti-Semitism is anti-Semitic.
Museum director: “. . . not bigotry . . . not slander. . . . It states a fact. And if the truth hurts, so be it! . . . I condemn the tenor of the times which forces a young person who has lived in Harlem all her life to have these opinions.”
First Jew (publisher of catalogue): “. . . not . . . our function to censor . . . contribute to the under standing of a difficult problem. . . .”
Second Jew (organizer of exhibition, arranger of catalogue, selector of introduction): “. . . member of the. . . Jewish community2 . . . face the realities of the world in which we live . . . merely drawn attention to the facts.”
The first act has a rude vigor about it, and little ambiguity. It shows how a representative of culture and the upper class weighs damage to things and harm to Jews; the entente between upper class and lower, WASP and black; how this entente sees Jews; and the function of a certain category of Jews in relation to the entente. From now on we will he unable to say we were taken by surprise.
In the second act it turns out that the hysterical Jews have a sting left. (Get animal est trés méchant, |Quand on l'attaque il se défend. This animal is bad indeed./Defending itself in case of need.) The Republican mayor puts more and more pressure on his friend the director. To be reelected the mayor needs Jewish votes. He knows he probably will not have as many of those votes as before, but he can try to keep his losses down; having begun to squeak, the Jewish wheel now gets some of the mayoral oil. Other things, too, may have happened between the acts. Has there been a conversation in a board room about a stockholder's frown? Is a museum trustee uneasy? Has a contributor come down with writer's cramp as he was about to sign his check? All we know is that this act is about the courage which is grace under pressure: heroes adding guile to strength, yielding on the periphery but holding fast at the center. They agree to a formula that concedes nothing essential, giving less to narrow-minded, mean-spirited obscurantism than the fabled Galileo gave, voicing out loud the eppur si muove he only whispered. The formula concedes an error in judgment about public relations, the error of underestimating just how hysterical hysterical Jews can be. Nothing more.
First Jew:“. . . deeply regret . . . we were not more alert. . . .”
His boss (naturally, a Jew too; the same kind but older): “. . . no harm . . . intended . . . blown out of all proportion . . . don't feel . . . a matter of life and death . . . worse things happening in the world.”
Director: “. . . error in judgment . . . controversy . . . has threatened to mar . . . entire project . . . has deeply disturbed certain groups of people . . . failed to sense . . . racial undertones that might be read into portions of it. . . .”3
Mayor (about director's statement); “. . . brave . . . how fortunate . . . to have . . . him at the Metropolitan Museum. . . .”
The third act is yet to be staged.4
We are cast as the heavies. In a city that our older kind of enemy was not long ago calling Jew York, we have been fobbed off with mock apologies for offense and haughtiness which neither that upper-class WASP nor his Jewish associates would think of committing against anyone else. In New York our remaining years in the civil service, and above all in the schools, are not many. if policy does not drive us out, terrorism will. (It has started.) In the United States we have not yet begun to experience what quotas must do to us. But oddly, after the second act of Black, WASP, and Jew at the Museum I think I feel a shade less discouraged than before.
Politics are still democratic. The calculus of votes and grievances still operates, the normal officeholder still hesitates to write us off. Jews are not quite so lacking in the instinct of self-preservation as I supposed, and some of us are even asking to examine the credentials of the doctors who brusquely diagnose our complaint as hysteria. What we will need for a while is a little bit of luck.
During the past few months, more and more people have become apprehensive over the security of Jews in America. Earl Raab's “The Black Revolution & The Jewish Question” in our January number suggested that such feelings are justified by the realities of our situation. Continuing the discussion inaugurated by Mr. Raab, Milton Himmelfarb here maintains that the situation is extremely serious indeed and warrants a more concerned Jewish response than uneasy apprehension. In our April issue Nathan Glazer will present another point of view on this question.
1 The first, erroneous NBC news release had Jews giving Wallace 13 per. cent. Congressional Quarterly published the correction.
2 Note the confusing influence of television. This line is in the play to elicit Maxwell Smart's response: “Of course! The old I.F. Stone ‘us-Jews’ trick.”
3 For some reason, in my college days there was a brief fad of composing insolent imaginary apologies. The one I remember best is this: “If I have done anything you think I should be sorry for, I will not object to your excusing it.”
4 On January 31, after this was written, the Metropolitan Museum announced the withdrawal of the catalogue from sale. It is still on sale in the bookstores.—Ed.