Will San Franciscans ever protest the disaster that is its civic life?
A Friend Indeed
Leftist Jews can’t believe that their kind intentions and good deeds are so unappreciated.
In an address given at a Harvard Hillel Shabbat dinner last week, Claudine Gay, president of Harvard, confessed to her listeners, “Antisemitism has a long and shameful history at Harvard. For years, this University has done too little to confront its continuing presence. No longer!” These lines were intended to quiet the concerns of Gay’s Jewish listeners after recent anti-Israel protests led to antisemitic outbursts. This embarrassment, it was explained, was a very old evil at our oldest university, but now it will finally be addressed. Emphasizing the ancient roots of prejudice at Harvard was rhetoric designed to please Jewish students—and donors—who feel better by placing the blame for current outrages in the distant past.
It’s true that A. Lawrence Lowell, when he was president of Harvard in the 1920s, introduced a quota for, among others, Jewish applicants, to preserve the WASP patrician character of his institution. Lowell, the blue-blood descendant of seventeenth century Puritan settlers and a figure who built Harvard into one of the world’s premier academic institutions, has suffered posthumously for his unfashionable views. His portrait has disappeared from the university, and a building named after him was recently renamed. Despite these efforts at exorcism, his demonic spirit still supposedly haunts his transformed institution. Or so it might appear to those who still rage against dead patricians.
Those now screaming anti-Jewish slogans at Harvard bear no resemblance to the “past shameful history” that President Gay highlighted. The new antisemites, who are much less genteel and infinitely more savage than the Harvard snobs of yesteryear, are uniformly on the hard Left and may include black and LGBT activists. Both blacks and gays were groups that Lowell was hardly eager to recruit for his university, as his critics continue to point out.
Allow me to note, as the octogenarian Jewish observer of other Jews, that much of what I heard up until about a week ago from Jewish civic leaders about the right-wing Christian or patrician WASP Jew-hatred borders on madness. It shows what can only be described as a morbid obsession with keeping preferred enemies in everyone’s consciousness. Warnings about a reactionary, conservative presence behind these recent alarming incidents tell us little about why antisemitism is now raging in our cities. The most shameless use of this distorting optic can be found in a CNN report on rising antisemitism in the U.S. Before the report mentions the “far Left,” in perhaps an afterthought, we are served this boilerplate:
In recent years, antisemitism has often been driven in the United States by far-right groups. The hate of White Nationalism was encapsulated by the haunting chant by marchers in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 of, “Jews will not replace us.” Former President Donald Trump, meanwhile, played into an antisemitic trope by suggesting that American Jews were plagued by dual loyalties to the U.S. and Israel and that they should be more grateful to him for his policies on the Jewish state.
It is obviously disconcerting for woke leftists with Jewish concerns, whether or not they watch CNN, that other leftists are turning against them. They are encountering to their utter consternation BLM and LGBT sympathizers marching around with Palestinian flags and screaming “death to Israel” and even “death to Jews.” These developments, it may be comfortable to believe, are somehow related to a Neanderthal white population, or to the legacy of a dark reactionary past. Least of all would these people want to assign blame to a multicultural, progressive government that has thrown open our borders to Third-World populations, including Islamists and Iranian terrorists.
No fault should be attached to those who acted with noble intentions inspired by the Emma Lazarus poem stapled to the plinth of the Statue of Liberty, or walking in the solemn steps of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched arm in arm with Martin Luther King. It was some other demonic force, perhaps the subterranean influence of A. Lawrence Lowell or MAGA Republicanism, which deserves blame for the anger unleashed on Jews. To his credit, the usually immaculately PC Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL noted with alarm that his favorite network MSNBC was giving unmistakably pro-Hamas reports. He wondered “who was writing the script” for a network and show that “I love.”
One (for me) obvious cause of this shock is the inability of some pro-Israel Jewish leftists to understand why their would-be allies “against hate” are not their friends. An initial response to this disappointment has been to transfer the blame to alleged enemies on the Right who are resisting our multicultural society. Unlike these self-deceived observers, however, I find nothing out of the ordinary in how anti-Israel leftists are behaving. The culturally radical Left has incorporated key elements of an older Left. Fondness for dead Communist revolutionaries, like Che Guevara; an effectively one-party leftist state resembling Communist regimes and based on shifting coalitions of largely indistinguishable leftist parties, a situation that now prevails throughout Western Europe; attacks on “reactionary” speech; and a sympathy for non-Western dictatorships, like Communist China, are all characteristics that the present Left has taken over from older Lefts. A focal point of the European Left after the Second World War was anticolonialism; and this was fully on display last week as pro-Palestinian demonstrations unfolded in every Western capital, as well as in the Muslim world.
No matter what the Jewish Left would prefer to believe, others on the Left identify Israel with a hated Western, white Christian civilization, which colonized and destroyed the Third World, sapping it of its creative energy and vitality to feed the West’s bloodless, sclerotic corpse. Israel is viewed from this perspective as a European settler state, which took over a non-Western, non-Christian territory. The Jewish Left may not be happy with being associated with what they regard as Western reactionary forces, but (alas!) that is the way Israel’s enemies understand Israel and its supporters. The view of Israel as a “settler colonial” state has been around on the Left for ages, and the fact that it resurfaced on the anticolonial Left during Israel’s battle with Hamas is hardly astonishing. Although there may be some on the antisemitic Right that embrace the same view, it is far, far more typical of the Left.
Nor should we ignore the pervasiveness of antisemitism among black nationalists, who perpetuate all kinds of antisemitic stereotypes. According to an extensive survey carried out by the ADL in 1998, antisemitism is “very high in the black community.” Though given its present political orientation, the ADL would not likely issue such a survey today, we may assume that the results would not be very different if it did. No matter how hard the Jewish Left tries to identify with black nationalists and black radicals, this gesture will never be reciprocated.
What makes more sense, but which may be impossible for Jewish liberals to do, is to take the friendship offered by the Christian Right more seriously. Ancient animosities and obsolete friend-enemy distinctions cause Jewish liberals to look for friends and enemies in the wrong places. Though I doubt that my advice will be heeded by those whose thought patterns have been irreversibly established, one may hope that some will abandon their harmful illusions as they look at what is really happening. One cannot go on forever trying to explain away one’s cognitive dissonance.
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