Commentary Magazine


Jewish Voters & the “Politics of Compassion”

To the Editor:

Irving Kristol [“The Political Dilemma of American Jews,” July] has summarized usefully a number of changes in the political complexion of this country, with particular reference to the traditional attitudes and roles played by Jews. He points out correctly that a dilemma is created by these changes. However, his advocacy of a set of shifts in point of view from those most characteristic of American Jews in the past is problematical, inconsistent, and ultimately depressing. He portrays a Jewish community whose value system should be largely determined by the criteria of expediency and self-interest, abandoning a model of interdependence and interrelationship within this country and internationally. I believe there are better alternatives for American Jews.

Mr. Kristol begins by assessing the impact of the Jesse Jackson candidacy. While it is true that Jesse Jackson’s candidacy has introduced substantive change into black-Jewish relationships, I believe it to be an overstatement to say that “the long alliance between Jewish and black organizations is coming apart.” Though the Jackson-Farrakhan fiasco has disturbed virtually all thinking Jews, there are heartening indications both in the black community and among those close to the black community, ranging from the NAACP and the Amsterdam News to elements of the Black Muslim movement, that black separatism is not the way, that anti-Semitism must be rejected, and that what is needed is a renewed effort to build the black-Jewish alliance, perhaps requiring readjustment on both sides. Believing, as he and I both do, that black-Jewish polarization is “almost too scary to contemplate,” I would expect Mr. Kristol to agree that now is the time to affirm the common black-Jewish agenda and to deal realistically with those areas in which we simply must agree to disagree.

Many in the black community and outside it recognize that the failure on the part of a large number of blacks to move up the socioeconomic ladder more quickly is the result of both internal and external causes: social disorganization and family demoralization within the community as well as racial discrimination from outside it. Nevertheless, Mr. Kristol’s perception of social-welfare programs as the villain makes one shudder. He writes that providing free lunches for poor schoolchildren is “nice,” and “unquestionably nice for the nutritionists, the food-service industry, and the farmers.” So much for the traditional Jewish value of feeding the hungry! But beyond that, he suggests that the fact that the social and individual pathologies in the black family “parallel so neatly . . . the institution of all those social programs” gives us “good reason to think that the Great Society programs themselves had something to do with this social disorganization and individual demoralization.” Why not follow the same reasoning with regard to the half of the black population whose condition, by Mr. Kristol’s own admission, has dramatically improved over the last decades? Their climb up the socioeconomic ladder also neatly parallels the institution of those very same social programs. Why not concede the possibility that those programs contributed to effecting that climb?

Regarding the Moral Majority, there is a peculiar confusion of expediency and principle in Mr. Kristol’s assertions. He suggests that American Jews need to “revise their thinking” on a range of social issues “for reasons of expediency” so as to insure the support of Israel by the Moral Majority. It may very well be that Jews should reconsider their positions on some of those issues on their merits. Pornography may be a case in point. But this does not appear to be Mr. Kristol’s argument. He advocates, somewhat cynically, abandoning our traditional concerns (adhered to because we are “enmeshed in the liberal time warp”) and supporting Moral Majority positions on some social issues in part because their efforts in these areas are “meeting with practically no success” so there is not much risk in lending Jewish support to them!

My position on church-state issues and on other such ethical issues as abortion and school prayer is based on a conviction concerning the separation of church and state and an assertion of freedom of conscience and individual rights which ought not to be sacrificed on the altar of expediency. It is simply not true that American Jews don’t want Christians to become more Christian. They simply wish to maintain a free America, rather than a Christian America, in which Jews are tolerated guests. To Mr. Kristol’s question, “Why should there be a Hanukkah candelabrum at Central Park . . . but no créche?,” my answer is that there should be neither. The Moral Majority’s support for Israel is welcome, but it is primarily the product of the very “theological abstractions” that Mr. Kristol dismisses so cavalierly. It is not offered as a quid pro quo for Jewish abandonment of positions held as a matter of philosophical and ideological conviction.

Regarding Mr. Kristol’s observations on American foreign policy, his analysis implies that there are only two choices: either we accept the fact that “the real world” is “rife with conflict and savagery” and therefore we ought to support “a large and powerful military establishment that can, if necessary, fight and win dirty, little wars (or not so little ones) in faraway places”; or force our country to retreat into a “quasi-isolationism that leaves our moral purity undefiled and the world to its own devices.”

Whether or not a third choice is proposed in the policies and platform of either of our national parties, many of us would choose to affirm a third position: a strong America which spends its resources wisely for an appropriate level of military strength and allocates adequate resources to social programs; a foreign policy which is unembarrassed in articulating and asserting our positions but seeks agreements with adversaries for reasons of mutual self-interest; an America which chooses appropriate arenas in which to take its stand and deals realistically with the need to make choices as to where to invest military strength and where alternative methods of dispute settlement must be pursued.

My vision of America is very different from that of Mr. Kristol. I continue to assert the possibility of developing relationships with other groups based on a willingness to reaffirm the values which have shaped us as Jews and as Americans. I have confidence in continued American support for Israel based on a wide consensus concerning the ties that bind the two countries, their common allegiance to a free society, and the recognition of mutual interests served by those ties. I do not believe in friendship and support acquired by abandoning principle, and I continue to feel that our country’s strength rests ultimately on its rooting of its military and economic might in the soil of compassion.

David Gordis
Executive Vice President
American Jewish Committee
New York City

_____________

 

To the Editor:

Irving Kristol has ably cast the terms of some important national debates in his article, “The Political Dilemma of American Jews.” I would like to comment on just one of those issues—civil rights.

In noting that the civil-rights movement has been “victorious,” Mr. Kristol states that “What are now called civil-rights issues are marginal legal quarrels. . . .” I am inclined to think such a description is belied by Mr. Kristol’s recognition that affirmative action, regrettably, is a concept notable for its historical (and, by the way, judicial) lack of clarity. While it has truly been said that ambiguity is often a healthy sign of the give-and-take of democracy, in this case the ambiguity is less than democratic in its effect. Jews are not alone in asking whether affirmative action really amounts to a system of reverse discrimination or quotas, and if so, in resisting it—but even while resisting it preferring rather confusedly to insist on “affirmative action.” Unhappily, matters are not clarified by the use of “goals and timetables,” which in practice have been indistinguishable from quotas. Such goals, when used to accord a selection preference rather than simply as a recruiting measurement tool, are no less exclusionary than quotas.

Far from constituting a minor legal quarrel, civil rights, while formally victorious in the political arena, are substantively in a rather desultory state. In fact, there is a real danger that the original goal of the civil-rights movement—to eradicate wrongful discrimination—may be undone by the bitterness and confusion spawned by the new notion of civil rights.

That is, the civil-rights movement, having been turned around 180 degrees, nowadays is concerned less with traditional civil rights—which long have been thought to inhere in individuals—than with group rights and the statistically or politically defined results following from such rights. So considered, the civil-rights movement, one of our country’s proudest and still unfinished accomplishments, has turned into a civil-rights agenda for which the bottom line is political partisanship rather than due process. Not the rights of citizenship but the meanderings of sociology now seem to be its primary concern. The older concept of equal opportunity is looked down on as inferior to affirmative action.

In this respect, Jesse Jackson is not so anomalous. In his promulgation of a political agenda under the rubric of civil rights, the Reverend Jackson is following the drift of the civil-rights movement over the last fifteen years or so. Both quotas and the “black nationalism” that Mr. Kristol attributes to Jesse Jackson demand a new kind of separate-but-equal treatment—and both in the name of civil rights. This is irony indeed.

While one can expect that such remarks as these will be a “hard saying” to many sincere people who feel strongly about civil rights, I nevertheless think Mr. Kristol will agree with me in stating matters thusly. For our nation, and each minority group within it, is ill-served by an expansive and unwarranted notion of group rights, and by the use of racism to whittle down the effects of racism. Quotas, of course, no matter what name they go by, are an attempt to do just that.

Irving Kristol has produced a most perceptive and timely article. If the issues he raises are debated fairly and honestly by policy-makers and private citizens alike, our country may yet shed its current factionalism and strengthen a fading consensus on civil rights. An alliance among all Americans, including the sadly troubled one between Jews and blacks, can only thereby be forged.

William Bradford Reynolds
Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division
Department of Justice
Washington, D.C.

_____________

 

To the Editor:

I am among those who share the profound concerns expressed in Irving Kristol’s article, and I congratulate him and thank COMMENTARY for publishing his lucid and penetrating statement. That it is so insightful an exposition makes it also a little frightening—because it raises the question of how many of us can summon up sufficient detachment from the past to examine the evidence and weigh it objectively.

My experience in the Anti-Defamation League made me both participant and witness to some of the “disorientation . . . causing uneasiness and discomfort” in the Jewish political consciousness, in view of fundamental changes in our social and political ambience. At the same time, however, there have been a few notable signs of the kind of candid confrontation with reality for which Mr. Kristol calls. For example, ADL’s National Executive Committee, meeting in Dallas in 1980, reviewed the parade of antidemocratic and anti-Israel actions at the United Nations. We regretfully pointed out that the UN was evolving into “a center of anti-American activity”; we called upon the U.S. to make selective budget cuts in its UN allocation so long as the world body continued to work against American interests.

Our resolution also empowered the officers and administration of the League to initiate an educational campaign which afterward produced, among other things, the agency’s series of full-page newspaper ads alerting the public to the UN’s evils. (I might note that, on another front, this same 1980 ADL meeting called for increased efforts to block “quotas or systems of racial preference,” despite the Supreme Court decision in the Fullilove case.)

So you see, not “all [of] the Jewish organizations have lost their tongues”; after the League had publicized its position, many spoke out against the excesses at the UN (and reaffirmed their stand against distortions of affirmative action).

Mr. Kristol’s article is a necessary catalyst. In any event, his insights may help dispel some of our “nostalgia” for past political perceptions and emotional commitments to specific causes, when present-day realities point toward reexamination and possible change.

Maxwell E. Greenberg
Honorary Chairman
Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith
Los Angeles, California

_____________

 

To the Editor:

Irving Kristol’s animadversions against the “liberal time warp” and “some Jews” who are “enmeshed” in it and whom he admonishes to realize “how wrong they are,” provide the answer to his question, “So what went wrong? Where did Jesse Jackson come from, and why?” Jackson is the expression of the “liberal time warp”; he gives voice to the “frustration of the black ghetto” (and its anger) at those whites who, as blacks perceive it, have reneged on the commitment to racial equality by opposing the enforcement of affirmative action through numerical quotas that provide proof of effectiveness. Without quotas for college and university admissions, hiring, and promotions, affirmative action would remain a mere slogan. Nathan Glazer’s reference to affirmative action as “affirmative discrimination” and the vocal Jewish opposition to quotas are the principal reasons for the breakdown of black-Jewish relations.

Mr. Kristol thinks affirmative action means “encouraging minorities.” But encouragement is not enough to secure the job rights and the right to advancement of blacks and women. To overcome, they need “positive discrimination.” That encouragement of the poor is not enough is a basic insight of the traditional Jewish interpretation of human rights. . . . Widows and orphans and the poor are subjects of “positive discrimination” in Jewish social law, which demands not charity but tzedakah (“justice”); that is, compensation for the poverty caused by ill-fortune or the lack of the ability to compete in the marketplace. Jewish tradition is committed to the Great Society and to Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, especially “Freedom from Want.”

Providing free school lunches for poor schoolchildren is not merely “nice . . . and unquestionably nice for the nutritionists, the food-service industry, and the farmers,” as Mr. Kristol sarcastically writes. School lunches are a necessity, for there is hunger in this country. Mr. Kristol wrongly concludes that “the social disorganization and individual demoralization within the black ghettos have overwhelmed whatever positive effects those social programs were expected to have, or even might have had.” There are many positive effects—but not enough. Teenage drug addiction and sexual promiscuity are also scourges of prosperous white neighborhoods. But when children of prosperous white parents get into “trouble,” there is money for therapy and abortions. Also, the teenage daughters of prosperous white parents usually have access to birth control, which black teenagers lack. Social workers know that white teenagers are as sexually (and promiscuously) active as are their peers in the ghettos, nor are they immune from becoming hooked on drugs.

Violence and pornography, on the screen, on television, and in magazines and books—and the chic of sexual permissiveness—are the cancer causing the “demoralization” that destroys family values. . . .

Mr. Kristol’s notion that social programs for blacks have been responsible for “dependency”—an “absolute dependency” that corrupts (like power and absolute power corrupt), is an insult infinitely more hurtful than Jesse Jackson’s reference to Jews and New York as “Hymies” and “Hymietown.”

If “the long alliance between Jewish and black organizations is coming apart,” it is because those for whom Mr. Kristol speaks think that encouragement of blacks (and women) is enough. But blacks (and women) know that encouragement is tokenism. The “misery and poverty” of blacks can be overcome only through affirmative action, tied to quotas, and with more economic help.

It took Moses forty years, according to the Bible, to raise a generation not born in slavery and thus ready for settling in the Promised Land. And then it took another seven hundred years, the teachings of the Prophets, and the destruction of Solomon’s Temple and the Babylonian exile to uproot the pagan cults from Judah. Mr. Kristol should know that in the short span of twenty years blacks have done better through self-help than anyone could have a right to expect.

Unlike Mr. Kristol, I do not foresee a “black-Jewish polarization almost too scary to contemplate.” I believe that, contrary to his advice, Jewish organizations will return to the traditional Jewish pattern of the “liberal time warp,” . . . which comprises Jewish ethics and culture.

The Moral Majority’s support for Israel is part of the apocalyptic expectations of evangelical Christians who hope for the return of Jesus at the beginning of the new millennium. Since the return of the Jews to the Promised Land must precede the second coming of Jesus, Jerry Falwell and other evangelical leaders are pro-Israel. . . . Israel welcomes Evangelical Congresses and is “polite” (but not more than that) to the leadership of the Moral Majority. But Mr. Kristol’s notion that “the support of the Moral Majority could, in the near future, turn out to be decisive for the very existence of the Jewish state” is unrealistic. He is right, however, in deploring the misguided court actions of Jewish defense agencies which misinterpret the doctrine of the separation of church and state and oppose cultural pluralism when they bring court actions against Christmas crèches in public places. . . .

The influence of the U.S., together with the influence of the European nations who founded the United Nations in 1945, is “rapidly disintegrating,” but not for the reasons Mr. Kristol cites. U.S. clout in the UN is virtually nil because the 23 industrial democracies in the UN are overwhelmingly outnumbered by 133 UN members representing the Communist states (18) and the developing countries in Africa (46), Asia, (20), Latin America (31), and the Arab states (18). The UN has deteriorated into a lackluster debating society without power. Regardless of who represents the U.S. in the UN, our country will be outvoted by the 133 UN member-nations who regard the U.S. as their enemy. As for Israel, it is now attempting to reestablish relations with Third World African nations that were broken and/or deteriorated after the Six-Day War in 1967.

Mr. Kristol’s apprehension that Jesse Jackson and the black caucus will advocate the allocation of funds now spent for military and economic aid for Israel to social programs in the ghettos is unwarranted. He should know that the U.S. foreign-aid program is designed to serve American interests . . . and U.S. support for Israel (and other countries) will continue as long as it serves these interests.

One need not deplore the disappearance of “Jewish unions.” Jews are the most mobile socioeconomic group in the U.S. As a result, Mr. Kristol correctly states, the membership of yesteryear’s “Jewish unions” is now black, Hispanic, and Oriental. It is natural, therefore, that the leadership of these unions represents the members. Nor is it a calamity that the unions are developing closer political ties to the Democratic party. The “Jewish unions,” in their heyday, voted for the Democratic party; they were not merely “liberal” but “socialist” and passionately involved in socialist-liberal politics.

Sympathy for the Palestinians, which Mr. Kristol disparages, is not necessarily tied to blindness to Israel’s virtues. In his day, Martin Buber was among the most vociferous advocates of national rights for Palestinian Arabs, and today some of Israel’s most seminal minds and most influential writers including Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua, oppose Likud policies on the West Bank and in Gaza.

For Mr. Kristol, “liberalism” is synonymous with “evil” and fraught with mortal danger for American Jews and for Israel. He holds, wrongly, that American Jews have a “political dilemma,” and claims, quoting Erik Erikson, that Jews need a new ideological orientation. But the quotation from Erikson refers to an individual and should not be applied, as Mr. Kristol applies it, to ethnic, national, and religious groups.

With respect to American Jews, Mr. Kristol’s advice is fraught with the very dire consequences he thinks can be averted by the rejection of the traditional (in terms of Jewish culture and political affiliation in this and other countries) Jewish commitment to liberalism. Opposing affirmative-action quotas and advocating the ending or cutting back of social programs for the poor, especially poor blacks, will intensify the black-Jewish confrontation instead of healing the wounds and the rift.

Supporting the Moral Majority, which is, in fact, an insignificant minority in Christendom, will stamp American Jews with the stigma of the Reverend Jerry Falwell’s policies.

American Jews must recognize that the wave of the future is the growth of “black power” and the coming into their own of the developing countries of the Third World.

The political landscape of our planet has changed. This is why the “ideological obstinacy,” of which Mr. Kristol accuses Jews and Jewish organizations who are liberal, is in fact the obstinacy of the conservatives, old and new, who in ostrich-like fashion bury their heads in the sand of a conservative ideology that will be swept away by the new powers which have adopted the Jewish imperative: “Proclaim liberty throughout the land” (Leviticus 25:10).

Trude Weiss-Rosmarin
Editor, Jewish Spectator
Santa Monica, California

_____________

 

To the Editor:

The July issue contains two articles, one by Sidney Hook [“Education in Defense of a Free Society”] and the other by Irving Kristol, that suggest opposite courses of action when facing a conflict between principles and expediency.

Mr. Hook calls on us to uphold our “faith and belief in the principles of liberal democracy,” whereas Mr. Kristol is prepared to abandon them in favor of “a purely expediential point of view.”

I have long admired Irving Kristol’s clarity of perception, never more so than when he has written on the situation we face in the Middle East, and I am not quarreling here with his excellent analysis of the dilemmas facing American Jews in their historic support for the civil-rights movement and the United Nations. With regard to the first of these dilemmas, why not use our talents and resources to alert the leaders and members of the NAACP, the Urban League, and other organizations in the black community as to how Jesse Jackson’s activities can undermine and ultimately destroy the civil-rights movement? As for the United Nations, it appears to be beyond redemption.

Senator Jesse Helms and the Moral Majority in the Republican party are similar in their influence on the Right to Jesse Jackson’s influence on the Left. But Mr. Kristol has chosen to harness the Democratic party with its albatross while assuming that the Republican party is immune. His veering to the Right removes a gifted voice from the democratic Center and helps to turn the battle into a contest between the extremes in our society.

George Field
Kennett Square, Pennsylvania

_____________

 

To the Editor:

Irving Kristol’s “The Political Dilemma of American Jews” is a bizarre mix of fact and fantasy, united only by his assertion that we Jews must line up with the Right. But, for openers, his fundamental assumption is factually wrong. It is absolutely untrue that America’s Jews are looking for “a more explicit and meaningful Jewish identity and have been moving away from universalist secular humanism.” The majority of Jews are unaffiliated with any Jewish organization, religious or otherwise. This is particularly true of the educated youth, as the intermarriage rate, among other statistics, clearly testifies. And when Mr. Kristol tells us that Israel’s interests require us to line up with Reagan on Central America, and all his future “dirty, little (or not so little) wars,” he conveniently ignores the reality that the majority of U.S. Jews do not care enough about Israel to donate a single penny to the Zionist coffers.

However, on some points he is correct. If you do line up with Israel, then A is always followed by B, and it’s true that the inexorable requirements of the worldwide anti-Soviet struggle now being waged by both the U.S. and Israel would, logically, compel Zionists to “take [their] allies where and how [they] find them . . . even if they are totalitarians (e.g., China).” But it is ludicrous to think, for example, that Hadassah members will ever see themselves as allied to the Chinese Communist party. And if it is also true that Israel has yoked itself to the fortunes of Central America’s juntas, and that their inevitable defeat will be Zionism’s disaster, it is equally absurd to think that the vast majority of the sons and daughters of those Hadassah members will ever support U.S. intervention in the region.

Mr. Kristol is one of the minority of Jews who have checked out of the humanist camp, and have bought into what they are pleased to style “Jewish identity.” Except that he seems to believe that Isaiah was a member of the Wall Street Journal’s Board of Contributors and a registered Republican. And then this self-certified Jew would tie us to the Moral Majority—whom he knows believes the return of the Jews to their land is the prerequisite for the second coming of Jesus. He snickers at the fundamentalists for this, but tells us to abandon two centuries of the Enlightenment, i.e., James Madison’s First Amendment, with its separation of church and state, not only in Israel’s expedient interest but—get this!—because we are allegedly becoming more Jewish and, precisely because we are becoming more Jewish, we must learn to “exist comfortably” with Christian crèches in Central Park, as a quid pro quo to Jerry Falwell & Co. for their support for arms to Israel.

An alliance with Chinese Stalinism and an indifference to Christian crèches in our parks—all in the name of Israel and Jewish identity—and all this in one article, may constitute an unbreakable world record for Newspeak. But why not? After all, this is 1984, isn’t it?

Lenni Brenner
New York City

_____________

 

To the Editor:

. . . Irving Kristol maintains that American Jews, and liberals in general, must rethink their political positions and return to the mindset that preceded the social shift to the Left that occurred during the 60′s and early 70′s. But his argument begins to falter when he says that since some black schoolchildren take drugs and steal while availing themselves of government-supported lunch programs . . ., the positive effects of alleviating hunger are nullified; he implies that the government should not be giving lunch to poor children. But I have not heard Mr. Kristol use the same argument against the defense contractor who devises ways to sell the Army hammers at $200 apiece over a taxpayer-subsidized three-martini lunch. . . . As we have already seen, it is easier to bring the budget axe down on schoolchildren than on the taxpayer-subsidized lunch of the business executive. Mr. Kristol’s contention that “disorganization and demoralization” have overwhelmed the benefits derived from these social programs ignores the very real fact that, the attempts of the Reagan administration notwithstanding, schoolchildren in America are not going hungry.

Mr. Kristol admonishes Jews to rethink their opposition to the Moral Majority and other fundamentalist religious groups. He uses the argument that since the Moral Majority is pro-Israel, it should be supported by American Jews. In connection with the conduct of American foreign policy, this same argument is used by those who say the United States should support any and all Third World dictators who eschew Communism, even though their value systems run contrary to almost everything America stands for. The fact is that the Moral Majority supports the state of Israel . . . because of its role as the only anti-Communist democracy in that region of the world. This support is given on a purely ideological basis, akin to U.S. rightwing support for Roberto D’Aubuisson, and it does not preclude the fundamentalists from espousing policies (school prayer, etc.) that are clearly anathema to most American Jews in their historic battle against oppression and repression. It is potentially dangerous for the long-term interests of Jews and of Israel to fail to separate political support for the state of Israel from policies that are clearly at odds with Judaism and American Jews in particular. . . .

If the existence of Israel hinges on the support of Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority, as Mr. Kristol asserts, then clearly Israel and its “secular humanist” allies in this country have reached a moral crisis that is beyond any military or political solution. . . . One has only to look at the carnage inflicted by militant religious movements in the Muslim world to understand the dangers of combining church and state. The framers of our Constitution had a clear vision. I cannot say the same for Mr. Kristol and others in the conservative movement.

In talking about military intervention, Mr. Kristol seems to equate moral support for Israel with the need for military support of Third World anti-Communist dictatorships. To fail to understand the difference between U.S. support for Israel and current U.S. policy in Central America is once again to boil world conflicts down to simple East-vs.-West military non-solutions, which have failed miserably in the past.

To use the failures of the liberal state as a justification for a realignment of liberal and Jewish attitudes today is to risk throwing the baby out with the bath water. It is true that, for better or worse, the political tide has shifted to the Right in this country, but the political winds that were blowing so heavily in 1979 and 1980 have begun to swing back to the Center, as evidenced by the lack of support for many Reagan policies and in the congressional elections of 1982. It is now time to improve on many of the well-intentioned but in some cases misguided policies of the past, and make them work for everyone, not discard them for the sake of perceived political convenience.

Larry Moscow
Washington, D.C.

_____________

 

To the Editor:

Irving Kristol’s article is interesting and provocative, but in his eagerness to chastise American Jews into a full-fledged alliance with the Republican party and the forces of the Right, he oversimplifies and at times distorts a complex situation.

The real challenge confronting American Jews today is to shed the standard labels and to recast themselves politically in the mold of the late Senator Henry M. Jackson. That is, the Jewish community must come to grips with the severity of the threat to U.S. interests and to those of Israel posed by Soviet militarism, expansionism, and anti-Semitism without forsaking such liberal principles as a genuine concern for the poor, a staunch opposition to bigotry, a commitment to protect our environment, and insistence on complete legal equality for women.

To maximize their sway and their constructive input within the current political environment—assuming a secure Israel to be the top but by no means the sole political priority for Jewish Americans—some Jews should be Democrats, some should be Republicans, and most should be what might be termed unaffiliated, enlightened progressives. Candidates of both parties should be judged on their overall merits, but should continue to be made to feel as if their stance on Israel is a matter of significance for their electoral chances. Those who support Israel primarily as a strategic ally (or as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy) are no less but certainly no more valuable and necessary than those who stress a U.S.-Israel community of values and America’s obligation to help sustain an embattled democracy. And since many who back an American defense build-up nonetheless promote an anti-Israel Middle East policy, Jews need to examine carefully even those candidates who correctly advocate a forthright American response to Soviet imperialism.

Alliances of convenience, about which there is nothing inherently evil, are a common feature of American political life. The Moral Majority’s support for a strong Israel should of course be encouraged rather than rejected. But let us not be under any illusions. Israel is not a core issue for fundamentalist reactionaries. For many of them, the number-one hero in Congress is Senator Jesse Helms, whose hatred for . . . Israel is just as fervent and just as repugnant as Jesse Jackson’s. To ally in a broad political sense with such people would be both self-abnegating and extremely imprudent. It would require an utter abandonment of traditional Jewish humanism, bringing negligible gains and immeasurable losses. Being transparently unfaithful to their ideals, Jews would lose respect (including self-respect) across the political spectrum and would forfeit all influence over the direction of the Democratic party, with all the potentially disastrous consequences that would attend such an eventuality.

In fact, contrary to what Mr. Kristol would have us believe, Jesse Jackson has not yet won a controlling voice over Democratic Middle East policy, and friends of Israel and the free world most emphatically should not yield it to him without a fight. Mr. Kristol’s thinly veiled proposition that Reagan’s reelection would be preferable to a Mondale victory from the pro-Israel vantage point (“can anyone doubt that, under a Mondale . . . Presidency, our next ambassador to the UN will be more like Andrew Young than Jeane Kirkpatrick?”) is highly dubious at best. After all, it is Reagan who in essence accused Jews of lacking patriotism during the AWACS struggle; it is Reagan who insists, against the express wishes of clear majorities in both houses of Congress, that Israel remain the only country in the world in which an American embassy is situated outside the designated capital city; and it is the “tough” Reagan administration, as Michael Ledeen argues so effectively in the May COMMENTARY [“The Lesson of Lebanon”], that conducted a ridiculously weak and inept Lebanon policy in 1982-83 to the great detriment of both Israel and the United States.

Like Reagan, Mondale clearly understands the need for American power as a force for world peace, and his record on Israel is far less ambiguous. (Henry Jackson, I am confident, would have endorsed the former Vice President without equivocation. . . .) I, for one, see Mondale as a much better bet both for Israel and for the kind of American society that Jews have historically and properly striven for.

William Tilchin
Pawtucket, Rhode Island

_____________

 

To the Editor:

. . . The recently concluded Democratic national convention, which I assume represents liberalism in America, was certainly not a surrender to the elements that both Irving Kristol and those of us who call ourselves “liberal” would consider hostile to American Jewry. The platform adopted by the Democrats speaks out quite strongly on behalf of Israel and Soviet Jewry. I would remind Mr. Kristol that a plank that called for the recognition of the PLO was overwhelmingly defeated in the platform committee and was never even brought to the floor for debate.

There was certainly no hesitation either on the part of Jewish organizations or concerned leadership in the Democratic party in condemning the anti-Semitism of a few during the primary season. It should be noted that many black leaders joined in that condemnation.

Now, to examine the concern for Israel’s safety as evidenced by the Moral Majority and the New Right. Since actions speak louder than words, the sale of the AWACS and other sophisticated weaponry to Saudi Arabia can be used as the prime example of this concern or lack of same. It was the Senators elected with the support of the Moral Majority who voted for the sale while liberal Democratic and Republican Senators opposed it. It was the Reagan administration that told American Jews during the debate on the sale that we had to choose between “Reagan and Begin” and called our patriotism into question on a level not seen in this country in many years. I also remind Mr. Kristol that to many born-again Christians Israel and Judaism merely represent a step on the way to Christianity.

Mr. Kristol also questions the attachment of Jews to a strict interpretation of the Constitution in relation to the separation of church and state. He presents it as an outdated concept, an “opinion of yesteryear.” But it is that separation which protects American Jews who want to reach toward the more meaningful Jewish identity to which Mr. Kristol refers. How long would we survive in a “Christian” America?

Mr. Kristol speaks of Realpolitik in regard to the United Nations and to United States relations with the rest of the world. I would be the last person to defend the UN, but let me point out that Israel still finds it in its interest to remain a member. I raise one final question about Mr. Kristol’s interpretation of real-world politics: why is it not possible for a world power such as the United States to pick and choose its global obligations and not merely support dictatorships because they claim to fly the flag of anti-Communism? . . .

Arnold I. Linhardt
Bronx, New York

_____________

 

To the Editor:

Curiously enough, Irving Kristol’s observations on black-Jewish relations echo the very arguments which he so skillfully disposes of. Both he and the liberal intelligentsia seem to agree that Jesse Jackson reflects the opinions of black Americans, to one degree or another. . . . True, black support for Jackson during the primary campaign was overwhelming, but that support did not translate into an endorsement of his policies. The most recent public-opinion polls show that blacks prefer Mondale to Jackson as President, that a majority of blacks support a strong national defense, and that blacks are generally more supportive of Israel than whites. Despite disagreements on such issues as quotas, the civil-rights agenda still revolves around questions of unemployment, housing, health care, and education: issues on which blacks and Jews remain united. Jesse Jackson may fulminate hysterically, but there were more black Mondale delegates than Jackson delegates at San Francisco this summer. The best way to fight Jackson is to deny him the recognition he so desperately seeks. Mr. Kristol’s philosophy of doom merely serves to clothe the naked emperor created by the media.

The same, I might add, applies to Mr. Kristol’s view of the American labor movement. Lane Kirkland and Albert Shanker are far from gone. They are in their political prime, as it were, along with scores of other labor leaders, black and white, Jew and Gentile, whose commitment to Israel, national defense, and the democratic idea in general is as strong as ever. The AFL-CIO’s involvement in Democratic party politics is a long overdue breath of fresh air, and may very well signal an ideological counteroffensive on the part of Henry Jackson liberalism.

The American Jewish community remains in the New Deal-civil-rights coalition because it must; because an administration which accommodates itself to Jaruzelski could just as easily accommodate itself to Arafat; because employees of the Bechtel corporation make very uncertain allies for Israel; because help from Christian fundamentalists remains suspect during a period of feverish proselytizing aimed at Jews in the U.S. and Israel; and because the ideals of equal opportunity and social justice are simply not worth abandoning when a few clouds appear on the political horizon. Jesse Jackson notwithstanding, some of us have chosen to stay and fight.

Sam Shube
New York City

_____________

 

To the Editor:

As a close follower of Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign and the ensuing blacks-vs.-Jews controversy, I thank Irving Kristol for continuing the discussion of this very important subject. I would, however, like to broaden the perspective and deepen the analysis.

The Jackson campaign is, at its core, anti-white rather than black nationalist or anti-Semitic. It seeks to place the blame for the failings of black Americans on the shoulders of white America, specifically, rich, white, male America. And the metaphor for rich, white, male America has become the Jew. . . .

However, I think Mr. Kristol exaggerates Jackson’s personal power and his political importance in the black community. I believe that Jackson’s and Farrakhan’s rhetoric touches a deep-seated fear among whites that should the American economy collapse, violent racial conflict could develop in this country. For blacks, on the other hand, Jesse Jackson’s comments about Jews are of secondary importance. Jackson is a symbol. . . . He has organized a national campaign; he is as effective and articulate a campaigner as are his Democratic rivals; and he has even upstaged the President of the United States with his international “diplomacy.” He has astutely (though, in my opinion, unprincipledly) positioned himself so that any attack upon him, regardless of what he says, is by extension an attack upon black people in general.

I do not believe that mainstream blacks are anti-Semitic (although, as Jews, we must be aware that, according to Anti-Defamation League surveys, as blacks increase their educational level . . . their anti-Semitism increases rather than decreases). What blacks see is that Jesse Jackson is constantly being downgraded for his weaknesses rather than being congratulated for his strengths. They see this as yet another example of the way white people are always criticizing their behavior. . . .

Many blacks have become aware that whites are not the major cause of black people’s misery, but cannot announce this publicly for fear of being called “self-hating blacks” by none other than Jackson and Farrakhan. . . . They are now sitting on the sidelines waiting to see how Jackson does. . . . I believe they will consider Jackson’s rantings against the Jews and embracing of Farrakhan a mistake not to be repeated. . . .

We Jews must have enough courage to risk being labeled “racist” in order to warn America of the true nature of the evil which Jesse Jackson espouses. We must resist the temptation to view this situation as Jackson would have us see it: as a confrontation between blacks and Jews requiring Jews to reconsider their allegiance to the Democratic party.

Lawrence W. Schonbrunn
Berkeley, California

_____________

 

To the Editor:

What Irving Kristol has written in “The Political Dilemma of American Jews” is something I have sensed for some time. . . .

The term “liberal” is today nothing more than a hollow shell of its former principles. It has become a convenient cover for leftist ideology: a cover, because leftist ideology under its historic banner is still anathema in the United States. Yet Jews, as Mr. Kristol writes and as I have so uncomfortably observed, act as if nothing at all has changed. . . .

In this country the radicals have preempted the “liberal” label. Thus Jesse Jackson can, with impunity, align himself with the Third World and utter radical rhetoric condemning the United States and all that it stands for and still be admired by some for his candid views. . . .

Jackson and his supporters deeply resent the power ascribed to the “elite” Jewish minority. Theirs is a much larger community, with a potentially monolithic voting bloc. . . . The Democratic party, like any political party out of power, hungers to get “in.” In order to assume power, it has to pander to that black vote. As for old-fashioned liberalism, too bad, but it’s passé.

What Jews should do is swallow their lofty principles and seek, as Mr. Kristol advises, new alliances. While it may seem painful at first, in order to survive, one must learn to accommodate. . . .

Isidore Cross
Waterbury, Connecticut

_____________

 

To the Editor:

. . . Where has Irving Kristol been since 1972? In that year a large percentage of Jews voted for Nixon and the Republicans . . . and there has been a significant number of Jewish Republican voters in each subsequent election. More than that, Mr. Kristol should know that Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and New Hampshire have Republican (Jewish) Senators, and that Republicans recently ran a Jewish gubernatorial candidate in New York and a Jewish mayoral candidate in Chicago. Where has Mr. Kristol been hiding? There’s a wide country beyond Manhattan’s borders. . . .

As a Republican most of the time, and firmly so after the Democratic debacle of 1968, when leftists brought down Hubert Humphrey and campus intellectuals disdained the First Amendment and spat upon its supporters, I have more confidence in the national Republican party and its goals than I have in the Democratic party. I see no dilemma for American Jews . . . only a continued increase in Republican voters. . . .

Eugene W. Feldman
Lewistown, Pennsylvania

_____________

 

To the Editor:

Irving Kristol continues to educate me. It is only fitting that I thank him.

His article has answered questions that I have been wrestling with for several years. Why do American Jews—of all people—still cling to the Left? How can they square their support for the United Nations with their support for Israel? Why do they expect me to be more concerned about the oppression of Jews than of Christians in the Soviet Union? And lastly, don’t they know who their real friends are? . . .

Whenever I ask these questions of a Left-leaning Jew, the answer invariably centers on fascism, Hitler, and the Holocaust. I am, of course, sensitive to these feelings, but the answer has never satisfied me—particularly in the face of the anti-Semitism so prevalent in Left totalitarian states. Now I understand, and, armed with this understanding, will try to be more charitable during these confrontations.

My only disagreement concerns Mr. Kristol’s comment that Christian fundamentalist support for Israel will “die on the vine” unless it receives a positive response from the American Jewish community. I think the Moral Majority’s support for Israel has little to do with the feelings of American Jews. Christian fundamentalists seem to regard Israel from a biblical or prophetic point of view, seeing it as the fulfillment of Scripture. That this view developed and exists without American Jewish support or encouragement causes me to believe that it will continue even if this support is not forthcoming. This is, of course, not to say such support would be unwelcome.

Perhaps true understanding will come via our religious values. As more American Jews rediscover their “Jewishness” and the meaning of their faith, they should recognize that they have more in common with the Christian than with the atheist or secular humanist.

Dana G. McCarthy
Chatham, Massachusetts

_____________

 

To the Editor:

Irving Kristol speaks of the support for Israel by the Moral Majority as being unexpected and that American Jews would not have predicted it fifteen years earlier. If so, it is only because most Jews, including Mr. Kristol no doubt, have had little contact with fundamentalist Christians over the years.

I have run across such people, beginning with the Bible salesman whom I met on the ship returning from my first trip to Israel over thirty years ago. Through the years I have read fundamentalist tracts from time to time and met many fundamentalist Christians and have found universal support for Zionism and Israel among them. This support is more deep and lasting than that of liberal Gentiles, being based on certain religious beliefs which are as deep-rooted as my own Zionism. For this reason, it is probably completely unaffected by any attitudes American Jews may have for or against the Moral Majority.

Marshall Giller
Grand Rapids, Michigan

_____________

 

To the Editor:

Irving Kristol’s brilliant essay, “The Political Dilemma of American Jews,” is the most important, timely article COMMENTARY has ever published. And unless American Jews heed its message, their survival is in jeopardy.

If anti-Semitism is a moral failing, then the moral values of non-Jews can prevent anti-Semitism. Only by strengthening Christianity along with Judaism can America retain its tolerance of diverse religious cultures and the Judeo-Christian values that have preserved this great republic. The weakening of Christianity will serve only to lessen the respect for God in America, with a resulting increase in anti-Semitism and anti-Israel politics.

Never has this been more evident politically than in the Democratic party, a traditional Jewish stronghold. In order to appease Jesse Jackson, party leaders have refused to repudiate his racist demagoguery and Marxist-Leninist leanings. The end result, as Mr. Kristol notes, is the shift of the Democratic party to a radical Left-of-Center philosophy that can only weaken America’s will to survive against our skillful Communist adversaries. . . .

But what of the question with which Irving Kristol concludes his article and which he leaves open-ended: will the conservative movement “be keenly enough interested in Jews to offer tolerable lodging to them?” The answer is an overwhelming Yes!

The evidence is abundant. The leading conservative journals—National Review, Human Events, and Conservative Digest—are staunchly Judeo-Christian, do not tolerate or publish any anti-Semitic or anti-black innuendo, are pro-Israel, and welcome Jewish support. The same attitude holds true for most of the major conservative opinion-molders. . . . It is obvious that any Republican politician who engaged in Jesse Jackson’s rhetoric and conduct, denouncing America while standing on Communist soil, or promoting a Farrakhan at home, would be promptly repudiated and isolated from party policy-making . . .

The Jewish community, in the face of Democratic tolerance of growing anti-Semitism in the party’s left-wing, needs the conservative politics of the present Republican or possible future Populist party to preserve a climate in which Jews may flourish. And conservatives . . . need Jewish support morally, financially, in the public forums, and at the voting booths to help preserve a climate in which Christians may flourish.

The end result, if the Jewish community reevaluates itself in a timely manner, will produce a coalition to preserve our Judeo-Christian heritage and insure its security in a strong America. The alternative, as Irving Kristol realizes, is not pleasant to contemplate.

Lee Deemer
Buffalo, New York

_____________

 

To the Editor:

As expected, Irving Kristol trenchantly illuminates the national scene in his article, “The Political Dilemma of American Jews.” Alas, there are some unsettling flaws in his argument. Here I want to concentrate only on his most egregiously false assumption, viz., that U.S. policy—at least when Republicans (i.e., conservatives) are in control, as is the case now with Ronald Reagan—flows from a devotion to . . . being “an active, great power in the world.” Yet obviously nothing could be more off base.

The rhetoric of America since World War II has tended to obscure the alarming drift toward the sad reality of increasing bluster, diminishing bite. Let us analyze this remoreseless, unblinking geopolitical trend:

1. At Potsdam, Truman permitted good old “Uncle Joe” to plant his boots solidly over the whole of Eastern Europe.

2. Eisenhower was no bargain, either. During his tenure, Polish and Hungarian attempts to shake off their chains were disregarded

3. In Korea, Truman disdained MacArthur’s advice that the U.S. should act like a great power, and Eisenhower ended up by giving the Communist world little but the back of our hand for its outrageous, murderous invasion of the “free world,” in which fiasco so many American lives were lost and so much treasure squandered. Eisenhower blustered on to deny the British, French, and Israelis their proper right to repulse Nasser’s seizure of one more vital Western position.

4. America had a respite from the Republican interpretation of active, great-power globalism when Kennedy put his hand on the rudder and bungled Cuba, making a lamentable deal with Khrushchev, the end result of which was that Castro’s tenure was solidly recognized and, little understood but far more worrisome, Soviet missile deployments went into place on rail tracks in the Cuban mountains, and pens for Soviet nuclear submarines are now ready and waiting in Cuban waters. . . .

5. . . . Lyndon Johnson did a Grenada à la Reagan in the Dominican Republic, brave posturer he, then squandered a sea of human lives—white, black, and yellow—in Indochina, declaring, by implication, that the peasant civilization of Vietnam was a threat to America but not the Chinese or Russian centers of power which were puppeteering safely from afar.

6. Next, that lifelong paragon of “anti-Communism,” one Nixon by name, squandered still more human beings, widened the war to Cambodia (a “world-class” threat to the West), but again, like all postwar Presidents, lacked the guts to descry Moscow, Peking, or even Hanoi as the command centers of the pestilence.

Nixon went on to accept a SALT I treaty which dismantled our lone ABM defense, and which elsewhere enabled Russia the ten years it needed to consolidate as a superpower. . . . Nixon’s pitiful, trembling posture was accentuated by Kissinger’s denying Israel its rightful victory in 1973. . . .

7. In his brief moment in active power, Republican conservative Gerald Ford flew obediently to Vladivostok and then to Helsinki to capitulate further to Brezhnev.

8. Jimmy Carter’s pusillanimous role in the face of affronts to the free world’s power and prestige needs little comment, but his name will forever be distinguished in history for his speedy refusal to feed the Red hordes when they swept into Afghanistan. Bravo!

9. We now come to that centerpiece of conservative adoration, Ronald Reagan. First, to digress a moment from geopolitics: Reagan has so mismanaged the fiscal and budgetary policies of the U.S. that, in addition to all other consequences, the unbalanced budgets and high interest rates flowing therefrom are creating a thoroughly dangerous trade deficit which is reflected in our high structural unemployment and the growing redundancy and/or aging of America’s productive facilities. We are becoming increasingly . . . a quasi-basket case, except in the subsidized food and armaments industries. All the euphemistic chatter about our becoming a “service economy” obscures the alarming dismantling of our smokestack sinews.

While squandering government (deficit) funds on a proliferating confusion of weapons systems lacking the essential ingredient of a unified, purposeful . . . defense or foreign policy, Reagan is engaged in a long-term make-work policy for America’s armed forces by obstinately building up our only two potential enemies, Russia and so-called Communist China. This has been done through unobstructed, continuous technological transfers, only momentarily interrupted by occasional staged spectacular tantrums. . . .

We also feed the Red Army, Navy, Air Force, and the general population—despite 007, Afghanistan, Sakharov, Polish repression, worldwide KGB activity, SS-20′s, and all that. Mr. Centerpiece inveighs against terrorism but has twice rescued the PLO from the jaws of defeat. Reagan hunkers down in Central America while the Soviets have their submarines aimed at the White House and Central Park, and their 700-“odd” SS-20′s are pointed at the millennia-old centers of Western civilization.

I wonder what American Jews have to “shape up” to in this administration. I also wonder what Solzhenitsyn or Sakharov would say about Mr. Kristol’s characterization of Reagan’s America as “an active, great power in the world”? Somebody is sleepwalking into the 21st century—and I believe they would say, “It ain’t Russia.”

As a plain matter of fact, the Russian empire, a/k/a an “empire of evil,” is alive and well and may even be living in Paris one of these days: because neither American leaders nor the American people are willing to come to grips with what it means to be “an active, great power in the world” at this juncture of history.

Carl Henry
New York City

_____________

 

To the Editor:

Although I am generally impressed by the insight and honesty shown by Irving Kristol in “The Political Dilemma of American Jews,” I find that at least some of his observations do not probe deeply enough. For example, in several passages he ascribes the predilection for the political Left on the part of many Jews to the influence of the Enlightenment. This explanation does not tell why Jewish liberals express opposition to capitalism and the principle of private property, both of which the Enlightenment generally upheld. Were the Jews who voted for George McGovern demonstrating their enthusiasm for the social economics of Adam Smith—or perhaps for the political theories of John Locke and James Madison? The question is obviously rhetorical, yet it is a suitable response to what for sociologists and historians has become a sacred truth: that Jewish radicalism reflects the Enlightenment’s overpowering influence among educated Jews.

Mr. Kristol takes at face value what is perhaps another truism: that the concern of so many Jews and Jewish organizations for black civil rights was the natural response of a formerly oppressed group to the plight of another disadvantaged minority. Nonetheless, not all formerly oppressed groups, including Jews, have shown concern for all other groups that are victimized or disadvantaged. Armenians in America were not especially noticeable in their support for black civil rights, however grievously their kinsmen might have suffered under the Turks. Jews have not been as conspicuous in fighting American anti-Catholic bigotry (which, as Peter Viereck properly notes, remains the anti-Semitism of the American intelligentsia) as they have been in opposing anti-black and anti-feminist positions. . . .

There is no need to multiply these examples in order to prove the obvious. Jews, like most other groups, champion victimized people selectively. They often disregard the truly victimized (e.g., the fundamentalist educators in Nebraska who were jailed for exercising religious rights) while expressing sympathy for more dubious classes of victims—such as violent criminals and feminists raging over the persistence of sexual distinctions. It may be that Mr. Kristol has placed the cart before the horse. Jews do not support the Left because they sympathize with all suffering minorities. Rather, they support those alleged underdogs whom they see as victims of the Right. By championing embattled blacks, atheists, homosexuals, and feminists, Jewish liberals have tried to advance a secularist, egalitarian agenda. They have thus far succeeded in keeping other Jews behind them by appealing to the fear of Christian and right-wing anti-Semitism. This fear, as Mr. Kristol observes, is understandable in light of the historical past, although it has little to do with contemporary reality.

Like Mr. Kristol, I believe that the advancement of the Left-liberal agenda bodes ill for Jews even more than for most other Americans. Unlike him, I do not think the political self-delusion of American Jewry has resulted from either misguided good will or 18th-century political philosophy.

Mr. Kristol should not appear to be abandoning the moral high ground to those whom he criticizes by urging them to be less idealistic. It is he, not they, who is defending Judeo-Christian morality and civilization. The political dilemma that he analyzes has arisen mostly from anachronistic fears and hostilities, not from high-minded ideals.

Paul Gottfried
Editor, Continuity
Rockford, Illinois

_____________

 

Irving Kristol writes:

Political discourse within the Jewish community—and especially liberal political discourse, which is the dominant version—has some very peculiar characteristics. It is more likely to resemble a sermon in its rhetoric than a conventional political statement. It tends to be abstractly universalistic and intensely moralistic, with a great stress on idealistic motivation. To refer to specifically “Jewish interests” is regarded as bad form, as are references to “expediency” or even “realism.” In contrast, “compassion” is a term that is much used, with a highly laudatory connotation. To be accused of being “lacking in compassion” is to suffer a dismissal that is definitive. To be “lacking in compassion” is much, much worse than being wrong. Indeed, it is even worse than being right.

Now, compassion is indeed a virtue, much prized in the Jewish tradition. But it is worth recalling, as the etymology of the word itself indicates, that compassion is—a passion. It is one among several of our passions that can lead us to a virtuous life, the passion for justice being another. And all of these virtues are capable of being perverted when they are blind to the realities among which they operate. This is especially the case when these virtues are detached from the individual, to whom they properly belong, and are collectivized and politicized. We then have the “politics of compassion,” which can be something very different from what “compassion” means in the Bible or the prayerbook. Just as a blind passion for justice, when politicized, can lead to an unjust political order, so can blind compassion, when translated into public policy, lead to equally disagreeable, unanticipated consequences.

It is not, as some say, that politics is inherently amoral. No human activity can be amoral. But in politics, morality lies in attentiveness to consequences, not in intention or motivation. An individual may receive a credit in heaven even if in a sincere, personal effort to perform a compassionate deed, he unwittingly creates a greater evil. God, who is infinitely compassionate, will forgive him. But political parties and governments have no standing in “the world to come.” They can be judged only in instrumental terms, by the good or evil they actually produce. In politics, doing good is not necessarily the same thing as feeling good about what one is doing.

It is because of the profound intellectual confusion between the spheres of individual moral behavior and collective political action that Jewish political discourse seems to have such great difficulty in attaching itself to the realities of its environment. Take, for instance, the phenomenon of Jesse Jackson. He does not, one hears it said, truly express the sentiments of the majority of American blacks. He may indeed not, and one fervently hopes not. But he unquestionably expresses the sentiments of the majority of politically active blacks. At the Democratic convention, the Los Angeles Times did a comprehensive survey of all black delegates. Three-quarters of the Jackson delegates said they saw no reason to dissociate themselves publicly from Farrakhan’s views. A near-majority of the black delegates committed to Walter Mondale said the same thing, while only a little more than a third demurred. And it is noticeable that, to this day, not a single one of the black moderate leaders, of the kind with whom Jewish organizations have had the most amiable relations, has been strongly critical of Jesse Jackson in public.

These same black moderate leaders, in private conversation, will assure their Jewish friends (and, more often than not, political allies) that Jackson is a transient political phenomenon, a comet across the political heavens that will soon burn itself out. And many Jewish leaders seem ready to accept such reassurances. After all, they point out, Jackson has not come up with a positive domestic program behind which the black community can rally.

But he has, only no one seems to have noticed. That program is racial quotas—a principle espoused by Jackson before he became a presidential candidate and which is now inscribed, however ambiguously, in the program of the Democratic party. What Jackson is saying is: never mind welfare (except as a temporary palliative), and never mind school lunches, and never mind all those other compassionate social programs that American liberals are so passionately devoted to. The solution which he offers to the problem of black poverty in the urban ghettos is proportional representation of blacks in employment, in both the public and private sectors.

A fantasy? Well, it is worth noting that one of the first actions of Mayor Tom Bradley—himself a moderate, certainly—when he returned to Los Angeles from the Democratic convention was to dismiss more than 100 appointed commissioners who oversee municipal agencies. Their replacements include 19 percent black, 16 percent Hispanic, 9 percent Asian, and 3 percent Indian. A carefully calculated “balance.”

Our Jewish organizations have, so far as one can see, paid little attention to this new black political agenda. Nor have they bothered to give thought to the extraordinary fact that Jesse Jackson has been so utterly and consistently indifferent to the old black agenda—which was, and is, the liberal agenda.

Why is this? The answer is clear and simple, however unwelcome to some: that old agenda has lost its credibility because it has not worked. Something like half of American blacks have experienced significant upward economic mobility in the past two decades. That was what we expected to happen, since it has been happening to other poor Americans as well. But the other half of the black community has actually moved downward into worse squalor and poverty. That we did not expect, and cannot even explain—at least in terms of liberal social thinking. But Jesse Jackson understands it, and it is time the Jewish community made a serious effort to understand it, too.

The greatest single cause, by far, of black poverty is the increasing number of female-headed households in the ghettos. Why is the illegitimacy rate for black teenage girls so alarmingly high, when contraceptives and abortions are so easily available? Why is it that, after the majority of these young women get married—and the majority do get married by the time they are twenty-four—they are then abandoned by their husbands or divorce their husbands? Poor blacks have always been with us, but never before in American history has the poor black family suffered such devastation.

There is little doubt that it is our heedlessly constructed welfare system which has unwittingly created a set of perverse incentives for the proliferation of female-headed families as well as for the subsequent break-up of those families. Is it any wonder that so many blacks seem lacking in appreciation of that compassionate liberalism which has so savaged the black community?

The liberal reaction to Jesse Jackson shows that, nevertheless, liberals are desperately determined not to be dispossessed of one of their most precious commitments. Indulging their own need for moral self-gratification and self-congratulation, they vigorously resist any suggestion that they rethink their social policy, and insist that, since we have obviously not done enough to help poor blacks, we must do more of the same. They wish to continue doing bad, while continuing to feel good—all in the name of compassion.

Jesse Jackson, of course, as a black politician, is not about to do liberalism’s rethinking for it. He has simply hurdled the whole issue with his emphasis on jobs—created by quotas. That the black community, and not only the black poor, should welcome this approach is hardly a cause for astonishment. It does offer them a way out of an ugly impasse. But this kind of “affirmative discrimination,” on a broad scale, is surely not going to be acceptable to the majority of the American people. It is, equally surely, not acceptable to American Jews, who constitute less than 3 percent of the population. So one of the major links that held together the black-Jewish political coalition—agreement on the broad lines of social policy—is in the process of being severed.

_____________

 

The second major link—black political support for Israel, in return for Jewish support of liberal social programs—is also in the process of suffering the same fate. It is not only that those traditional, liberal social programs are considerably less significant in the new black perspective. It is also the case that Jackson has evoked a spirit of black nationalism—sometimes distinguished only with difficulty from black racism—that has quickly come to dominate the black political activist community. And this must and will lead, is already leading, to a new black political posture vis-à-vis American foreign policy in general, and American policy toward Israel in particular.

Again, there is nothing really surprising about this development. American blacks, in addition to being Americans, are Afro-Americans. It is natural for them to have some sense of solidarity with blacks in Africa. And the black African nations are part of the Third World and most share a Third World ideology—share it with the Arab nations, most notably. This ideology is preeminently anti-Western (“anti-colonialist” is the favored term) in its political and social values, and consequently anti-Israel, since Israel is perceived (correctly) as an outpost of the West. It is also, of course, to one degree or another, anti-American, in the sense that it wishes to constrict, rather than expand, American power and influence in the world. These are the views of an Andrew Young as well as a Jesse Jackson, though Young expresses them with a prudent moderation.

Most American Jews perceive all this clearly enough. How could they not, when we have in the United Nations a political theater where it is all so candidly expressed? But here too, many are inclined to believe—wish to believe—that the “politics of compassion” on an international scale will eventually achieve those same fine goals that have been hoped for on our domestic scene. In both cases, the experience of the past two decades reveals this to be a fantasy.

American influence in the world is only to a modest degree rooted in any appreciation the world might have for the moral quality of our public life or the moral intensity of our foreign policy. Admirable and ethically impeccable behavior, though always desirable, is not always possible for a great power enmeshed in the world’s complexities, and in any case it is never enough. Influence in international affairs is inseparable from power, from military power specifically. After all, the Soviet Union is not a great and shaping power in the world because of its reputation for respecting human rights. The second most influential nation in the Western hemisphere is Cuba, not Canada, even though the latter is a much nicer country, one that even goes out of its way to show its respect for Third World sensibilities And Israel survives, not only because it shares a democratic political ethos with other Western countries, but because it has been able to win wars.

We American Jews have, in addition to a normal American interest, a specifically “Jewish interest” in seeing to it that the United States is not merely a great democratic power, but the strongest and most influential of the great powers. For the United States is the only power in the world that is committed to Israel’s survival. Never mind the reasons, which—thank goodness!—are not entirely altruistic, though they unquestionably have something to do with the common political values the two nations share. It is the fact that counts. And I do believe that all Jews realize—“feel it in their bones,” as it were—that Israel in our time is “the saving remnant” of the Jewish people, and that should it fail to survive, the Jewish people as a collective entity would very likely disappear, gradually yet inevitably. It is all the more deplorable, therefore, that so many Jews in this country appear reluctant to face up to the brute fact that the standing of the United States in the world is organically connected to American military power and the willingness to use it when necessary.

What makes matters worse is that Jesse Jackson’s views on foreign policy are congruent—not identical as yet, but clearly congruent—with the views of what may well be an emerging majority within the Democratic party. One has to put the matter so cautiously because the party right now is desperately trying to straddle the gap between its traditional liberal internationalism and the post-Vietnam surge of left-wing neo-isolationism, in which Third World themes are prominent. It remains to be seen which leg of that straddle will eventually give way.

_____________

 

Be that as it may, there would seem to be good reason to think that the long-standing political alliance between organizational leaders in the Jewish and black communities, created originally by the issue of equal civil rights for all Americans, is unraveling, and that the forces at work are too powerful to be reversed by soothing diplomacy.

At the same time, and rather to everyone’s surprise, there has come on the scene a new group, an important conservative group loosely labeled the Moral Majority, which is not only vehemently pro-American but also pro-Israel. True, this group, being mainly fundamentalist Christian, is not exactly pro-Jewish. But then, no one ever believed that the majority of American blacks were pro-Jewish, either. And the fact that the Moral Majority is pro-Israel for theological reasons that flow from Christian belief is hardly a reason for Jews to distance themselves from it. Why would it be a problem for us? It is their theology, but it is our Israel.

One would think that Jewish leaders would be interested in exploring the possibility of some degree of cooperation with this group. But they shy nervously away from the prospect. This is not so much because the Moral Majority is Christian, as because it is conservative. (Jewish leaders, for years now, have found it possible to work with politically liberal Christians.) In other words, it is not Judaism or Christianity that causes Jews to keep a political distance from the Moral Majority, but the Jewish commitment to the secular, political religion—a fair description, I think—of the “politics of compassion,” which the Moral Majority does not share. It is revealing to note that Orthodox Jews seem to have no such problem in establishing cordial, if less than completely harmonious, relations with the Moral Majority.

Yes, there are important issues that separate the Moral Majority from the majority of the Jewish community. But are they all non-negotiable? Some may be (e.g., abortion). Others, in my opinion, ought not to be. One such issue is school prayer. When I attended the public schools of New York City, every weekly assembly was opened by the principal’s reading of a Psalm while we stood in silent attention. It strikes me in retrospect as a pretty good way of instilling a minimum of reverence in young people for the religious roots of Western civilization. In addition, we all became familiar with the Psalms, which is a good thing in its own right.

The major problem here is that, while the Moral Majority may be insufficiently attentive to the separation of church and state, the Jewish community has been busy, over these last decades, in trying to erect a rigid wall of separation between religion and the public sphere. Jewish organizations (most of them, anyway) have been so dedicated to this task that, by now, they are absolutely convinced that such a rigid wall is constitutionally prescribed—which, for almost two centuries, it was not thought to be. Indeed, their dedication is so extreme that they can simply shrug off the absurd paradoxes that their views lead to. Do we Jews really wish to argue that it is permissible for high-school students to use a schoolroom, after hours, to study Das Kapital but not to study the Bible? That is exactly the position we have maneuvered ourselves into.

But what is truly important is not to quibble endlessly over details but to try to take a fresh, candid look at the political condition of American Jews today. Yesteryear’s platitudes now fall flat. Times change, circumstances change, but Jewish responsibilities remain, and new opportunities ought not to be neglected in favor of yesteryear’s hopes. The liberal political tradition that most Jews have long taken for granted is in danger of locking the Jewish community into a “time warp.” We, all of us, have to think our way out.

_____________

 

About the Author




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.