Commentary Magazine


The Political Dilemma of American Jews

Jews have a long history, and with that long history goes a long memory. So it is entirely to be expected that the political loyalties and habits of mind of a Jewish community should change very slowly—so slowly, sometimes, that an odd divergence can occur between Jewish thinking and the developing social, political, and economic realities. It is not so much that Jews do not see what is going on; they just do not believe it when they do see it. In politics, seeing is not always believing. Memories, and the cast of mind into which those memories become encrusted—one can fairly call it an ideological cast of mind—often enough will not only obscure the reality but will actually prevail over it for a surprisingly long time.

Something of this sort, it seems to me, is happening in the American Jewish community today. Over the past two decades, the political landscape with which American Jews are familiar, and in which they are accustomed to take their bearings, has been shifting in all sorts of unexpected ways. A sense of disorientation has slowly been pervading the political consciousness of American Jews, causing uneasiness and discomfort. Inevitably and understandably, the initial reaction, and still the dominant reaction, is that such changes are superficial and transient, and that the old, familiar markers will enable one to make one’s way. But beneath this reaction is the growing apprehension that perhaps this is not so—that perhaps the political geography of the United States has undergone a more basic realignment of its features, and that it is time for a reorientation.

Erik Erikson, in his biography of Luther, defines three critical stages in the life cycle of an individual. The first is a crisis in identity, the second a crisis of conscience (involving one’s responsibility to others), and the third a crisis of integrity (a coming to terms with historical actuality). The American Jewish community is in the process of experiencing all these life-cycle crises simultaneously. No wonder there is so much bewilderment and anxiety.

Let us look at three changes in the American political landscape that were not anticipated, and that are now contributing to these crises.

_____________

 

1.

The most striking change has been the emergence of Jesse Jackson as the political leader of American blacks. Jackson stands for black nationalism—what the media mindlessly persist in calling “black pride”—with a dash of anti-Semitism added for good measure. He is not a “civil-rights” leader of the familiar kind, only somewhat more militant. He has radically redefined the role of black political leadership in this country. Even if he should pass from the scene, for one reason or another, there will be no reversion to the status quo ante. He has, with extraordinary entrepreneurial skill, shown the way, and there will be plenty of others eager to follow.

This was not supposed to happen. American Jews had anticipated a quite different scenario to emerge from the civil-rights movement, in which they were so deeply involved. That involvement was natural because Jews, as a religious and ethnic minority, have for centuries experienced a deprivation of civil rights and are therefore keenly aware of how important it is that equality in civil rights be enjoyed by all minorities—religious, ethnic, or racial. This explains why, for most of the history of the NAACP and the Urban League, Jewish money played such a large role in keeping those institutions afloat. It also explains why so many individual Jews participated so energetically, over these past twenty years, in the civil-rights movement itself.

That movement was victorious. What are now called civil-rights issues are marginal legal quarrels, and more often than not involve women rather than blacks. So far as civil rights, traditionally understood, are concerned, there now exists a comprehensive body of law, emerging from either Congress or the courts, which defines and protects the rights of blacks. The very fact that such cities as Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Birmingham—Birmingham!—now have black mayors pretty much tells the story.

Nor is it surprising that these black mayors were elected with Jewish support, which in some cases was decisive. For until yesterday, relations between the Jewish community and the official black leadership continued to be most amiable. In Congress, black Congressmen usually voted “correctly,” from the Jewish point of view, on Israel, while Jewish Congressmen usually voted “correctly” on domestic legislation that the black leadership endorsed. The black-Jewish political coalition outlasted the civil-rights movement itself, and there seemed no reason why it should not endure.

The strength of the attachment of Jews—or perhaps one should say of the major Jewish organizations and their leaders—to this coalition is best revealed by the debate over affirmative action. Affirmative action has come to be judicially and bureaucratically defined in terms of racial and ethnic quotas in hiring and firing—what has been called “positive discrimination.” This is utterly repugnant, in principle, to Jews. Indeed, Jews had always felt so keenly about this sort of thing that they had fought long and hard, and in the end successfully, to prevent the introduction of religious identification in the census. To this day, all major Jewish organizations are on record as supporting “affirmative action” in the original sense of encouraging the advancement of minorities, but remain opposed to quotas. Nevertheless, once the definition of affirmative action as implying quotas became an issue of considerable importance to the black leadership, the major Jewish organizations split on whether to oppose it outright in the courts—so powerful was the desire of Jewish leaders to continue cooperating with their black counterparts.

_____________

 

So what went wrong. Where did Jesse Jackson come from, and why?

Well, coincident with the civil-rights movement, another social-political phenomenon occurred that was of great significance to the black community. This was the construction, by Congress, of an extensive (and expensive) range of social programs, under the rubric of the “Great Society.” These programs were intended to repair the social and economic condition of American blacks, even while their political condition was being elevated to the plane of equality by the civil-rights movement. And even as the civil-rights movement succeeded, the Great Society programs failed—at least as far as most blacks were concerned. Out of this failure, Jesse Jackson emerged.

It is not to be thought that the Great Society programs were simply a waste of money. Some were, some were not. But where benefits did occur, it was largely the middle class that enjoyed them. Much of the population of the black ghettos was in no condition to exploit those benefits. It is nice to provide free lunches for poor schoolchildren, and it is unquestionably nice for the nutritionists, the food-service industry, and the farmers. But what availeth that free lunch to a black mother if her son, at the same time, gets hooked on drugs or is involved in criminal activities, while her teen-age daughter becomes pregnant? The sad truth is 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.

And there is good reason to think that the Great Society programs themselves had something to do with this social disorganization and individual demoralization. It may not be literally true that dependency (like power) tends to corrupt and that absolute dependency (like absolute power) tends to corrupt absolutely. But there is truth enough in that proposition to give pause. After all, how else explain the fact that the increasing breakdown of the black ghetto family and the proliferation of all sorts of social and individual pathologies parallel so neatly, in time and place, the institution of all those social programs? The people who devised, legislated, and applied these programs surely expected no such consequences and are now at a loss for an explanation. It is reasonable, however, to take seriously the possibility that the two phenomena have a causal connection.

In any case, it is out of the frustration of the black ghetto—frustration arising from the fact that neither the winning of political civil rights nor the enactment of those Great Society programs transformed or even ameliorated the condition of the black ghettos—that Jesse Jackson has built his mass appeal. It is worth recalling that, before becoming a candidate, he spoke with refreshing candor of the need for blacks to help themselves rather than relying on white handouts that left them mired in poverty and misery. This was not a theme that the established black leadership had the courage to enunciate. But apparently there was greater political potential in black nationalism than in black self-help, and Jackson himself has by now substituted the former for the latter.

The frustration of ghetto blacks, moreover, is as sharply felt by that portion of the black population—about half—whose condition has dramatically improved over the past decades. Racial solidarity is as natural a feeling as religious or ethnic, so it is not surprising that many middle-class blacks, especially the young and upwardly mobile, are sympathetic to Jesse Jackson. Nor is it surprising that the older, established black leadership has been so utterly disarmed before his campaign. They, after all, had bet all their chips on the civil-rights struggle and the Great Society programs. Confronted with the enduring, brutal realities of ghetto life today, they are mute and impotent.

The upshot is that the long alliance between Jewish and black organizations is coming apart. Jesse Jackson has substituted Arab money for Jewish money. In foreign policy he is pro-Third World and anti-American, pro-PLO and anti-Israel—and he is on the way to making this the quasi-official foreign policy of the black community. In domestic policy he is vaguely, but unambiguously, well to the Left of anything that one could call “liberal.” And his role in future elections, which is bound to be significant, will only make things worse. He has already indicated that he will be coming to New York in 1985 to back and stump for a properly militant black candidate against Mayor Koch in the Democratic primaries. The black-Jewish polarization that would ensue is almost too scary to contemplate.

_____________

 

2.

The rise of the Moral Majority is another new feature of the American landscape that baffles Jews. They did not expect it, do not understand it, and do not know what to do about it.

One of the reasons—perhaps the main reason—they do not know what to do about it is the fact that the Moral Majority is strongly pro-Israel. To say this was unexpected is a wild understatement. If one had informed American Jews fifteen years ago that there was to be a powerful revival of Protestant fundamentalism, and as a political as well as religious force, they would surely have been alarmed, since they would have assumed that any such revival might tend to be anti-Semitic and anti-Israel. But the Moral Majority is neither.

To be sure, occasionally a fundamentalist preacher will say something to the effect that God cannot be expected to heed the prayers of non-Protestant fundamentalists. At which point many Jewish organizations react in a predictable way: they sound the alarm against an incipient anti-Semitism. But the alarm rings hollow. After all, why should Jews care about the theology of a fundamentalist preacher when they do not for a moment believe that he speaks with any authority on the question of God’s attentiveness to human prayer? And what do such theological abstractions matter as against the mundane fact that this same preacher is vigorously pro-Israel?

Some Jews, enmeshed in the liberal time warp, refuse to take this mundane fact seriously. They are wrong. Just how wrong they are can be seen by asking the question: how significant would it be for American Jews if the Moral Majority were anti-Israel? The answer is easy and inescapable: it would be of major significance. Indeed, it would generally be regarded by Jews as a very alarming matter. So it is ironic, and puzzling, that American Jews appear to be not all that interested in, and certainly not enthusiastic about, the fact that the Moral Majority is unequivocally pro-Israel.

One reason for the peculiar Jewish reaction here is that this phenomenon does not fall into the spectrum of the familiar and expected. But there are other reasons too, of considerable significance in their own way. For the Moral Majority is simultaneously committed to a set of “social issues”—school prayer, anti-abortion, the relation of church and state in general—that tend to evoke a hostile reaction among most (though not all) American Jews. How does one go about balancing the pros and cons of this matter? And to what degree is this hostile reaction itself worthy of some second thoughts?

That balancing should not, in truth, require much intellectual effort. From a purely expediential point of view, it is obvious that the campaign of the Moral Majority around these “social issues” is meeting with practically no success, and so there is little reason for Jewish alarm. Neither Congress nor (more important) the judiciary is at all forthcoming, and the Reagan administration has got absolutely nowhere in its espousal of these issues. In contrast, anti-Israel sentiment has been distinctly on the rise, and the support of the Moral Majority could, in the near future, turn out to be decisive for the very existence of the Jewish state. This is the way the Israeli government has struck its own balance vis-à-vis the Moral Majority, and it is hard to see why American Jews should come up with a different bottom line.

But the expediential point of view is not enough if the Moral Majority’s support of Israel is not to wither and die on the vine. That will happen if it continues to evoke so muffled and embarrassed a response from the Amerian Jewish community. American Jews really do need to revise their thinking about some, at least, of these controversial social issues, even from the point of view of expediency. Moreover, it is becoming ever more clear that it is time they did so in any case, Moral Majority or no Moral Majority.

Ever since the Holocaust and the emergence of the state of Israel, American Jews have been reaching toward a more explicit and meaningful Jewish identity and have been moving away from the universalist secular humanism that was so prominent a feature of their prewar thinking. But while American Jews want to become more Jewish, they do not want American Christians to become more Christian. This is an untenable point of view.

First, because of the hypocrisy involved. Why should there be a Hanukkah candelabrum at Central Park, as there is, but no Christmas crèche? Second, because the quest for a religious identity is not confined to Jews. It is, in the postwar world, a general phenomenon experienced by Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. It does not seem, moreover, to be a passing phenomenon but rather derives from an authentic crisis—a moral and spiritual crisis as well as a crisis in Western liberal-secular thought. Is there any point in Jews hanging on, dogmatically and hypocritically, to their opinions of yesteryear when it is a new era we are confronting? Is it not time for Jews to sit back, curb their habitual reflexes about the “proper” relations of state and religion in the United States, and think seriously about how they can most comfortably exist (and survive) in a world in which religious identity will become increasingly important? In short, is it not time for an agonizing reappraisal?

_____________

 

3.

The relation of American Jews to American foreign policy is, every day, becoming more and more bizarre, more and more tormented by self-contradiction. It is a situation that cannot last. Sooner or later, American Jews are going to have to make very hard choices—hard, because they will go against a deeply imprinted grain.

To select one issue that is profoundly symptomatic because it touches on such a sensitive ideological nerve: the United Nations and the attitude of our major Jewish organizations to it.

We all know—one would have to be deaf and dumb not to know—that the UN is, above all, an organization bent on delegitimizing, even eventually destroying, the state of Israel. More than half the time, the UN and its associated organizations are busy pursuing this mission. The rest of the time they are preoccupied with serving as a forum for a Third World critique of the United States, and of the West in general, of which Israel is perceived (correctly) to be an integral part. “Zionism is racism” is a doctrine officially proclaimed by the UN, while at no time has the UN shown the slightest interest in protecting the rights of Jews (and other minorities) in the Soviet Union or in Muslim nations.

It would seem to follow logically that the American Jewish community should be hostile to the UN, should like to see the United States dissociate itself from it to the greatest possible degree, should even wish to see it vanish from our political horizon. Why not, after all? But logic, apparently, plays very little role in defining Jewish attitudes toward the United Nations. Nostalgia for what it was once hoped the UN would be is stronger than the clear perception of what the UN indubitably is. If ever there was a case of a group of people desperately evading the most obvious of political realities, this is it.

To be sure, Jews (like most other Americans) are full of admiration for Daniel Patrick Moynihan or Jeane Kirkpatrick when they boldly stand up for Israel—and America—at the UN. They are honored with plaques, scrolls, honorary degrees, banquets, etc. But that is as far as it goes. Just let anyone suggest that the Jewish reaction to the UN, as it now exists, should go somewhat farther and, suddenly, all the Jewish organizations have lost their tongue.

When efforts are made in Congress to cut the American financial contribution to the UN—we now provide 25 percent of the budget—the American Jewish community remains on the sidelines. When the Reagan administration decided to withdraw from that scandalous entity called UNESCO, the American Jewish community could think of nothing supportive to say, at least openly. Even Ambassador Charles Lichenstein’s semi-jocular remark to the effect that, if the UN wished to relocate its headquarters elsewhere, he would be on the dock waving an enthusiastic farewell, was greeted by the Jewish community with a frigid silence. Meanwhile, the United Nations Association, along with other organizations that “educate” people toward a “positive” view of the UN, are financed most generously by Jewish contributors.

Here the discrepancy between the reality and Jewish ideological obstinacy is positively stunning. The UN has become a very different organization from what Jews and Jewish organizations, in the immediate postwar years, anticipated and hoped it would be. They certainly never expected that the covenant against “genocide,” for which American Jewry lobbied in the UN so persistently and, finally, successfully, would serve as a basis for attacks against Israel, as it is, repeatedly. The actuality has diverged wildly from the dream. But the dream still exercises its dominion over the Jewish imagination.

The vision of a “community of nations” living peaceably under international law, so eloquently articulated by Immanuel Kant in the 18th century, has been an organic part of the ideology of Western liberalism ever since. It has had a special appeal to Jews, both because of its biblical roots and because Jews, as Jews, would obviously be much more secure and comfortable in such a world. No single ethnic or religious group in the United States has produced such a disproportionate number of scholars in the field of international law as have Jews, and no other group has been so reluctant to recognize that this messianic vision, when applied to political actualities, has proved to be political utopianism, wishful thinking.

It is not that international law itself is in essence utopian. The emergence, in the two centuries preceding Kant, of principles of decent international behavior was a genuine contribution toward making international relations less anarchic, less “Machiavellian,” less casually brutal than they had been or otherwise would have been. But this pre-Kantian conception of international law was much more modest in its ambitions and more realistic in its assumptions than the notion of international law we are familiar with. It recognized, for instance, that the intervention of nations in the affairs of other nations was both proper and inevitable under certain conditions, and that the violation of national frontiers could not always be classified as immoral “aggression.” To the degree that international law has any substantial meaning in the world today, it rests on this pre-Kantian basis rather than on the kind of grandiose principles associated with the League of Nations and the United Nations.1

An extraordinary number of Jews, however, remain loyal to those grandiose principles. As a result, their thinking about foreign affairs is incoherent to an equally extraordinary degree. When Israel bombed and destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor most American Jews realized that this was a sensible thing to do and that there was nothing “illegal” or “immoral” about the act—but they could not figure out a way to say this. Approval at the personal level was matched by embarrassed double-talk at the official level as Jewish leaders tried to talk their way out of a rhetorical trap of their own construction.

In addition to incoherence, there is positive schizophrenia. All Jews would be pleased if Ronald Reagan were publicly to reproach the Soviet Union on the issue of Jewish emigration, but would be less happy if his reproach were aimed at the suppression of all religious freedoms under that “godless” regime. This, it is felt, might be construed as undue intervention in Soviet Russia’s internal affairs, and might “worsen international tensions,” “aggravate the cold war,” etc., etc.

_____________

 

One can muddle through with such incoherence and schizophrenia for a while, but sooner or later the world demands that one talk sense. Such a demand is being imposed on American Jews today. The older liberal internationalism, which was the basis of American foreign policy after the end of World War II and the basis of our membership in the United Nations, is rapidly disintegrating. The Third World uses the UN when it can, ignores it when convenient. So do the Soviet Union and the other Communist countries. There is no “community of nations,” and the grand principles of the UN Charter are cynically abused for the purposes of Realpolitik. The United States is being forced to choose between being an active, great power in the world as it exists, or gradually retiring into a quasi-isolationism that leaves our moral purity undefiled and the world to its own devices.

The Democratic party today, and especially its most liberal wing, is clearly moving toward this second alternative. It is a movement made all the easier by the unspoken (because uneasy) liberal assumption that left-wing totalitarian movements, paying lip-service to principles that have a superficial affinity with liberal ideas, will evolve into less totalitarian and more liberal regimes. This assumption flies in the face of the fact that the most evident political reality of the 20th century is the revolt against the liberal economic and political order and the liberal ideal of self-government. That this revolt is sometimes explicitly “reactionary” or sometimes “progressive” in its political metaphysics is of interest to historians of ideas, but has little bearing on the construction of foreign policy. Indeed, what is most striking in recent decades is the convergence between yesteryear’s totalitarian governments of the Right and today’s totalitarian regimes of the Left. The similarities between Castro’s Cuba and Mussolini’s Italy are far more striking than their differences.

Isolationism has a strong traditional appeal to the American people and one can understand why it should reemerge today, or why the prospect of fighting “dirty little wars” in remote places should be so repugnant. What is difficult to understand is why American Jews seem to be among those who are not shocked and appalled by this new trend. Can anyone believe that an American government which, in righteous moralistic hauteur, refuses to intervene to prevent a Communist takeover of Central America, will intervene to counterbalance Soviet participation in an assault on Israel? Can anyone believe that the American people could make sense of such contradictory behavior? Yet a large number of American Jews, perhaps even a majority, appear to believe it.

Have these Jews taken leave of their reason? Of course not. It is simply that their thinking is beclouded by anachronistic presuppositions about the kind of world we live in and about the appropriate responses by the United States to the kind of world we live in. This real world is rife with conflict and savagery. It is a world in which liberalism is very much on the defensive, in which public opinion runs in the grooves established by power, in which people back winners not losers, and in which winners not losers provide the models of the future. In such a world, we are constrained to take our allies where and how we find them—even if they are authoritarian (e.g., Turkey), even if they are totalitarian (e.g., China).

If American Jews truly wish to be noninterventionist, they have to cease being so concerned with Israel, with Jews in the Soviet Union, or indeed with Jews anywhere else. To demand that an American government be interventionist exclusively on behalf of Jewish interests and none other—well, to state that demand is to reveal its absurdity. Yet most of our major Jewish organizations have ended up maneuvering themselves into exactly this position. They cannot even bring themselves openly to support the indispensable precondition for the exercise of American influence on behalf of Jewish interests in the world: a large and powerful military establishment that can, if necessary, fight and win dirty, little (or not so little) wars in faraway places. It is the winning or losing of such wars that will determine the kind of world our children inherit—not striking pious postures or exuding moralistic rhetoric.

_____________

 

4.

To Quote Erik Erikson once again:

In some period of his history, and in some phases of his life cycle, man needs a new ideological orientation as surely and as sorely as he must have light and air.

Today is such a period for the American Jewish community. For two centuries, Western Jewry has been wedded to the intellectual traditions and political movements that had their roots in the Enlightenment. This was understandable and inevitable, since it was this current of thought and these movements—liberal or Left-of-liberal—which achieved religious toleration and civic equality for Jews. Conservative thinkers and conservative political parties tended to be hostile to Jewish aspirations, or at best coolly indifferent. In the United States, founded as it was in the flush of Enlightenment enthusiasm, the division between liberalism and conservatism was never that pregnant with meaning for Jews. Nevertheless, as relatively new immigrants, Jews found liberal opinion and liberal politicians more congenial in their attitudes, more sensitive to Jewish concerns. For the most part they still do. The kind of social discrimination—in country clubs, business luncheon clubs, within the corporate community generally—that Jews experience even today is generally at the hands of people who express conservative opinions and are likely to vote Republican. This form of discrimination affects only a fraction of the Jewish population—but that fraction includes those upper-middle-class, affluent Jews who are active in community affairs and provide the leadership of Jewish organizations.

Still, the world changes and will continue to change no matter how stubbornly Jews stick their heads in the sand and hope that yesteryear’s realities will return. The American Jewish community needs the light of reason and the refreshing air of candid discourse if the world is not to pass it by. It must begin to see things as they are, not as it would like them to be.

One of the things it must see, on the domestic level, is that the liberal consensus and the liberal coalition that have dominated American politics since the inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt are disintegrating—at least so far as Jews are concerned. The blacks may or may not remain members of this coalition—one presumes they probably will—but if they do, it will be on a new set of terms. Though a great many Jews will gallantly try to swallow these terms, in the end the American Jewish community will gag on them. Can anyone doubt that, henceforth, the black caucus in Congress will be inclined to think that military or economic aid for Israel can be better spent for social programs in the ghettos? This is what Jesse Jackson thinks, this is what he says, and what Jesse Jackson thinks and says today is what the black caucus will think and say tomorrow. And can anyone doubt that, under a Mondale or Hart Presidency, our next ambassador to the UN will be more like Andrew Young than Jeane Kirkpatrick? All of these terms have been set by Jesse Jackson, and he means them most seriously. He must mean them seriously if he is to maintain his political leadership of the black community. His mission has been to incorporate a Third World view of politics into the American political spectrum, especially into the portion of that spectrum dealing with foreign affairs, and if he cannot do this within the Democratic party he will either desert that party or his enthusiastic followers will desert him. His die is cast.

But the increasing and tragic polarization between blacks and Jews is only one feature of the disengagement of the liberal coalition from Jewish interests. Another is the changes that are occurring in one of the traditional bastions of that coalition, namely, the trade unions. This reality is masked by the fact that the current head of the AFL-CIO, Lane Kirkland, is an old-fashioned liberal, a Henry Jackson type of liberal—in short, the kind of liberal Jews have cooperated with so amiably in the past. But Kirkland, alas, is not forever, and one can already see the ground shifting beneath his feet. It is, so far as American Jews are concerned, an ominous shift.

To begin with, there is the little noticed fact that the so-called “Jewish unions” are on the verge of disappearing. The Amalgamated Clothing Workers, the International Ladies Garment Workers, the American Federation of Teachers still have Jewish leaders with close ties to the Jewish community. But their membership is already overwhelmingly black, Hispanic, and Oriental, and future leaders will have no reason to be especially concerned with Jewish issues.

Meanwhile, organized labor itself is moving away from the nonpolitical tradition of Samuel Gompers and is developing closer official ties with the Democratic party. As this happens, the unions themselves naturally take on the ideological coloration of their political allies. If one wants to get a sense of what this can mean, one has simply to look at the “educational materials” prepared by the National Education Association—once a professional association, now more a union—and observe how “fair” it is to the PLO, how coolly skeptical it is of Israel’s virtues. The AFL-CIO’s executive council, too, is moving to distance itself from Lane Kirkland’s “old-fashioned” views on foreign policy. All in all, organized labor in the United States is reshaping itself in the mold of European trade-unionism, with an organic connection to a social-democratic party and with an ideology to suit. That ideology—as expressed, for instance, in the conferences and publications of the Socialist International—is pro-Third World, anti-Israel. It is now far more Left than it is traditionally liberal. But then, liberalism itself, in the United States as elsewhere, has moved distinctly to the Left in the past two decades.

_____________

 

This shift is very evident in a third pillar of the older liberal coalition, that class of people we call “the intellectuals”—those in academia, the media, and the foundation world. These men and women used to be predominantly liberal. Today, it is fair to describe most of them as being to the Left of the older liberalism. In the case of the media, the transition has been obvious enough, as reportage on Middle Eastern events has made clear. Here, too, we are witnessing a process that is not peculiarly American. In Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the media are even more highly critical of Israel, compassionate toward the PLO. We are witnessing the coming of age, the accession to positions of power and influence in all the institutions of the media, of the youthful rebels of the 1960’s. Their attitudes may have softened somewhat, but they have not been significantly reshaped.

In the case of academia, these attitudes have actually sharpened rather than softened. The academic community today, populated by the graduate students of the 1960’s, and insulated from worldly experience, is more openly and vigorously left-wing than ever before in American history. The most influential intellectual tendency among academicians today is Marxism, in a dozen or more different versions, some of them so far from the original as to perplex older Marxists, but all of them pointing in the same political direction. Just what that direction is may be inferred from the fact—and it is a fact—that an invitation to Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick to speak on campus will cause intense controversy in faculty councils, with quite a few professors going so far as to encourage student harassment should she appear. Meanwhile, such invitations go out routinely to Third World spokesmen, whose anti-Israel and anti-American remarks are listened to respectfully.

In short, while American Jews have for the most part persisted in their loyalty to the politics of American liberalism, that politics has blandly and remorselessly distanced itself from them. For the first time in living memory, Jews are finding themselves in the old condition of being politically homeless. It is possible, though far from certain, that Jews in the West will find a new home, however uncomfortable, in the conservative and neoconservative politics that, in reaction to liberalism’s leftward drift, seems to be gaining momentum. But whether this conservatism will be keenly enough interested in Jews to offer tolerable lodging to them is itself an open question.

What is no longer an open question is the dissociation that has occurred, and is daily occurring, between the American Jewish community and its traditional allies. That is an established fact—and one that American Jews must candidly confront.

_____________

 

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.