Commentary Magazine


Jews & the State

To the Editor:

In his otherwise comprehensive review of Benjamin Ginsberg’s The Fatal Embrace: Jews and the State [January], Jay P. Lefkowitz fails to discuss a key shortcoming of the book: its underlying premise that it is Jewish behavior that is the prime instigator of anti-Semitism.

In his book, Ginsberg omits any discussion of Christian or Islamic theological anti-Semitism; the psychological bases of racism and bigotry; or other sociopathic phenomena that have plagued the Jewish people over the centuries. From this perspective, it is not surprising that Ginsberg collapses into his own “fatal embrace” with the Jews. He goes to great lengths to document what he apparently perceives as longstanding Jewish domination of European life, and then slides into a venting of his own frustration with the children of Moses.

Thus he quips that “Jews are extremely successful outsiders who sometimes have the temerity to rub it in.” Ginsberg also reinforces allegations popular in the black community:

Jews cannot afford to engage in or tolerate political tactics or public rhetoric that seriously threaten to discredit blacks. This is one of the major reasons that Jewish racism, often expressed privately, seldom manifests itself publicly.

Then there is his repetition of anti-Semitic notions from the Depression era: “Jews were sufficiently important to the Roosevelt regime—there was, after all, a sense in which the New Deal was a Jew Deal. . .” (emphasis in original).

I believe that the Jewish community has a problem if this book is representative of the current trend of “scholarship” on the issue of anti-Semitism.

Gary Wolf
New York City

_____________

 

Jay P. Lefkowitz writes:

Unlike Gary Wolf, I did not understand the underlying premise of Benjamin Ginsberg’s argument in The Fatal Embrace to be that “Jewish behavior is the prime instigator of anti-Semitism.” Rather, I understood his premise as being that anti-Semitism is often instigated by the reaction of non-Jews to Jewish proximity to political power.

Mr. Wolf also argues that Ginsberg is “collaps[ing] into his own ‘fatal embrace’ with the Jews” by seeming to parrot various anti-Semitic diatribes, and he is correct to point out that some of Ginsberg’s offhand quips are inappropriate. But Ginsberg’s comment that “there was, after all, a sense in which the New Deal was a Jew Deal” is not one of them. Here, Mr. Wolf fails to consider the context of that particular quote. What Ginsberg said was that

Jews were sufficiently important to the Roosevelt regime—there was, after all, a sense in which the New Deal was a Jew Deal—that it could not follow the example of the Gilded Age industrialists and simply jettison its Jewish problem.

Though perhaps in questionable taste, this is neither inaccurate nor objectionable. Many non-Jews did consider the New Deal to be a “Jew Deal.” As Ginsberg points out, the “foes of the Roosevelt administration were able to continue to make use of anti-Semitism to mobilize opposition against the President and his policies.” At the same time, many Jews also shared the view that the New Deal was a “Jew Deal,” at least to the extent that it was a great deal for the Jews. In fact, this judgment was so firmly held that to this day, a great many Jews would not even consider voting against the party of Roosevelt.

Finally, while Ginsberg’s book has its shortcomings, its lack of a serious discussion of Christian or Islamic theological anti-Semitism is not among them. Such a discussion would have been extraneous to his thesis, which was that Jewish achievement of political power engenders anti-Semitism.

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