The New Anti-Semitism
To the Editor:
I have read Earl Raab’s “Is There a New Anti-Semitism?” [May] in which he discusses the thesis put forward by Arnold Forster and Benjamin R. Epstein in their recent book, The New Anti-Semitism. Mr. Raab very gently hints at the fact that the “book” is essentially a padded piece of hack work, the sort of thing organizations issue to justify their own salaries to their membership.
Mr. Raab’s willingness to accept the Forster-Epstein thesis that the new anti-Semitism “is based on in-sensitivity” disturbs me because what may be needed is less sensitivity and more frank discussion. I think, for example, that significant elements in the Jewish establishment have been “insensitive” to the Indochinese and to Third World groupings in our own country, but I would not leap from that occasionally painful insensitivity to the conclusion that the Jews involved were anti-black, or anti-Asian. I just think they were insensitive or at some points (as in the support some Jewish leaders gave to Nixon) making a choice based not on any hatred for blacks or Indo-Chinese, but from a sense of the politics of insuring continued U.S. support for Israel.
Mr. Raab mentions me as “a leader” of the Committee for New Alternatives in the Middle East—which is technically correct since I am on the steering committee—and then goes on to quote somewhat out of context from an earlier article I had written. His point is that I am somehow opposed to the corporate existence of Judaism—and in this he could not be more wrong. But that is a matter for longer discussion. What did strike me as disturbing was Mr. Raab’s casual reference to American Jews as “a distinct ethnic group,” which they are not. One is curious how someone can play so prominent a role in intellectual life and end up trapped—as my own father is—with this myth of the Jews as a “distinct ethnic group.” With such poor grounding in anthropology it is no wonder communication is difficult. Mr. Raab does not need to worry about my sensibilities, and I shan’t worry about his. Hard discussion is required, and the hack work of a Forster, or the uninformed writings of a Raab will not be treated lightly because the authors are Jewish and there is some obligation to be sensitive.
The debate and dialogues have finally begun in the intellectual community and we will not be frightened off by suggestions that those of us raising these questions are anti-Semitic.
War Resisters League
New York City
To the Editor:
. . . I cannot help but think that “corporate Judaism” is a euphemism for nationalism and for Zionism. Earl Raab assumes that corporate Judaism has held the Jewish people together since the Dispersion, and is essential to the Jewish way of existence. As a fact of history, this assumption is correct. Yet today’s “spaceship earth” has no room for nationalistic patriotism of so prejudicial and deep a nature. This passion has to be moderated. No longer can anyone assert, my faith and/or my people right or wrong. Nationalism has been responsible for two world wars, for lesser wars, for millions of deaths, and continues to be an explosive force capable of generating tragedy and suffering for the entire human race.
I cannot accept blind patriotism, whether American, German, Israeli, Arab, Russian, Chinese, etc. . . . It is time, for all mankind’s sake, that the humanist tradition of Judaism triumphed over prejudice and egoistic satisfaction. . . .
Sherman Oaks, California
To the Editor:
. . . The balanced perspective and incisive analysis that one expects from Earl Raab are. all present in his article. There are, nonetheless, several crucial issues that require more elaboration than Mr. Raab gives them.
The Forster-Epstein equation of both neutrality toward and manifest criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism is, as Mr. Raab suggests, a bit too simplistic. Yet Mr. Raab’s own conception of the new anti-Semitism shares more common ground with Forster-Epstein than he apparently recognizes. Thus, Mr. Raab believes that a new anti-Semitism is emerging, insofar as the “willingness to allow the Jews their separate identity as a group . . . is now coming into question in America. . . . The new reluctance to grant legitimacy to Jews as a group is sufficient cause for anxiety, and a sufficient warrant for rethinking strategies of [Jewish] defense.”
This characterization of the new anti-Semitism raises more questions than it answers. For one thing, precisely what kind of behavior is required of non-Jews visà-vis Jews that would “allow Jews their separate identity as a group”? A possible clue to this crucial issue is suggested in Mr. Raab’s reference to the hesitance of some public-school officials about granting Jewish studies equal status with other ethnic studies (Black studies, Chicano studies, etc.) and the hesitance of community chests to allow Jewish welfare agencies a fair share of their funds. But surely Mr. Raab must have more weighty matters than these in mind when he speaks of “the new reluctance to grant legitimacy to Jews as a group.” He thus seems not quite as candid on these important matters as he might be. This is suggested in his discussion of the debate in post-Revolutionary France as to whether the modern Christian state should grant Jews civil rights as individuals or as a corporate entity.
A more candid position on the issue of the legitimacy of Jews as a group in American society is provided by Marshall Sklare in his article, “The Conversion of the Jews” (COMMENTARY, September 1973). Mr. Sklare argues that the new evangelist movements among Protestants—especially the Key 73 Task Force—violate the very survival of Jews by conducting their proselytizing activity among Jews, especially Jewish college students. He therefore claims that Jewish survival—or what Mr. Raab calls the legitimacy of Jews as a group—demands the cessation of Christian proselytizing among Jews.
Although Mr. Raab’s analysis of the problem of the separate identity of Jews as a group is, as suggested, somewhat ambiguous, he would appear to favor an institutionalized political solution to this problem. I thought this a rather curious feature of Mr. Raab’s discussion. For one thing, any major effort to realize a political solution to the problem of ethnic survival would add a new dimension to the nature of ethnic cleavages in American society. This would entail, among other things, an explicit policy of interference with the processes of upward mobility in a secular modern society like ours—especially the processes of cultural dispersion of ethnic groups and their intermixture through intermarriage. Such political interference with the societal consequences of upward mobility of ethnic groups would have reactionary consequences for American society.
Mr. Raab appears to be unaware of, or indifferent to, the neo-reactionary implications of a policy of interference. This is partly revealed, I think, in his discussion of the “corporate” alternative to the traditional Jewish status in post-Revolutionary France—an alternative, he suggests, that would have been superior to the mere granting of civil rights to Jews as individuals. For example, he claims that Clermont-Tonnere’s argument in favor of granting rights to Jews as individuals but “to Jews as a nation, nothing,” called into question the legitimacy of Jews “as a group . . . and some Jews began to talk about themselves as individuals who just happened to have an alternative religious persuasion.” If this discussion has any meaning in the context of Mr. Raab’s article, that meaning is this: he considers some type of “corporate” solution, politically sustained, a possible alternative to the growing threats to the identity of Jews as a group.
Precisely how far Mr. Raab would be willing to press a “corporate” solution to such consequences of Jewish upward mobility as Jewish-Gentile intermarriage is not made clear in his article, but his concluding comment (“the new reluctance to grant legitimacy to Jews as a group is . . . sufficient warrant for rethinking strategies of [Jewish] defense”) suggests that he is pondering the matter. If he is, he might be guided by the only two experiences in American history involving a variant of a “corporate” solution to ethnic cleavages—namely, the Negro and American Indian experiences. In regard to American Indians, the salient feature of the “corporate” solution entailed what might be called a territorialization of Indian ethnicity within continental America, guaranteeing Indians—after a fashion of course—protection from the ethnic-disintegrating forces of an industrial society. For Negroes no such internal territorialization of black ethnicity was provided, though both black nationalists and white Communists have proposed such a “corporate” solution. Instead, both a normative and politico-legal system were fashioned to differentiate blacks from whites—or rather, to protect the legitimacy of whites as a group, especially in areas like religion, marriage, and other societal interactions. (There is perhaps a third variant of a “corporate” solution which might be called the Amish syndrone. This solution, associated primarily with Protestant sects like the Amish, Mennonites, etc., entails a self-imposed corporatization of ethnicity, whereby the usual craving of American ethnic groups for materialistic success as the salient determinant of social status is resisted in favor of preserving their particularistic values. The wider American society, in its turn, adjusts to this self-inflicted retreat to a primordial ethnic culture, for it is essentially benign politically and institutionally.)
For my part, neither of these models for preserving the identity of ethnic groups in American society comes highly recommended. Mr. Raab is, I’m sure, as aware of their numerous pitfalls as I am. He might, therefore, have other solutions in mind—solutions more acceptable to a free society, directed at matters easily manageable within our political traditions, like the hesitancy of public-school officials about accepting Jewish studies co-equally with other ethnic studies. Any other solutions—especially those designed to protect Jews from the inevitable consequences of upward mobility like inter-ethnic marriage—can have only reactionary consequences for American society and politics.
Earl Raab writes:
I offer the letters of David McReynolds, Richard Heckman, and Martin Kilson as Exhibit A. Mr. McReynolds assures us that he is in favor of “the corporate existence of Judaism,” but finds it “disturbing” to think of American Jews as a “distinct ethnic group, which they are not.” Whatever term Mr. McReynolds would like to use in place of “ethnic,” it remains that he is disturbed by any social group—and here I give the dictionary’s first definition of an ethnic group—“that claims or is accorded special status on the basis of complex, often variable traits including linguistic, religious, ancestral, or physical characteristics” (the definition later adds “national or cultural”).
Richard Heckman indicates that today’s earth “has no room” for “corporate Judaism,” characterized as it is by “prejudice and egoistic satisfaction,” and remarks that it is time that the “humanist tradition of Judaism triumphed” over all that. He feels, it is clear, that the “humanist tradition” is now shared by everyone, and that it is therefore no longer really necessary to be Jewish and that there is no longer any room for that which “has held the Jewish people together.”
Messrs. McReynolds and Heckman come together in a hostility toward communal Judaism—except perhaps when Jews get together periodically in religious congregation to have their universal, humanistic values recharged. This hostility is not anti-Semitism in the sense that the term was invented in the late 19th century, or in the sense that these sentiments in themselves make Messrs. McReynolds and Heckman anti-Semites in the Nazi mold. It is not helpful to label them as such, but hostility it is—an old-new hostility toward “the Jew” which has its own ominous overtones. And that was, of course, the very point of my article.
Martin Kilson is absolutely right when he suggests that there are “several crucial issues that require more elaboration” than they received in the article. One such issue is whether the Jews should persist in maintaining their communal and historical identity. I’m not sure whether this is anyone else’s business—unless perhaps someone would like to start the debate by offering some cogent social reasons why Jews should not so persist, which might be an instructive, and particularly a self-instructive, place to begin.
It is around this point, indeed, which reflects the fact of hostility toward communal Judaism, that Mr. Kilson joins Messrs. McReynolds and Heckman; namely, in his suggestion that ethnicity is only legitimate as a function of low-income ghetto life, and will and should naturally disappear as a result of “the inevitable consequences of upward mobility. . . .” But Jews have experienced that upward mobility, and, perversely, have refused to disappear as communal Jews.
Mr. Kilson’s most striking point with respect to unelaborated issues has to do with “what kind of behavior is required of non-Jews that would allow Jews their separate identity,” and, especially, what is required of American society in this connection. This is a good question. It was not dealt with in the article, and it deserves to be. In the process, it will be necessary to deal with Mr. Kilson’s well-grounded caveats.
In Edward Jay Epstein’s article, “Did the Press Uncover Watergate?” (July), it was incorrectly stated that the Wall Street Journal received the Pulitzer Prize for revealing the scandal which forced the resignation of former Vice President Agnew. Actually, it was the Drew Pearson Award for Excellence in Investigative Journalism, not the Pulitzer Prize, which Jerry Landauer of the Wall Street Journal received for his work in reporting the story.