Salvo 04.17.2024 5 minutes

Golden for Whom

Side view of senior man reciting Amidah during Jewish congregation at synagogue

The Jewish Left backed the creation of a society that loathes them.

April’s cover story in The Atlantic by Franklin Foer bears the ominous title “The Golden Age of Jews in America is Ending.” And lest we think that Foer is slamming only the Left, to which he and the magazine’s editorial staff are, with some reservations, still passionately devoted, the preliminary summary of Foer’s lugubrious essay provides this information: “The rise of anti-Semitism on the political right is well documented, with Donald Trump attracting the allegiance of white supremacists and freely borrowing their tropes.”

Foer is correct that the fitful anti-Israeli rage of the non-Jewish Left is spilling over into overt anti-Semitism. What he does not demonstrate, however, is a charge that he and the rest of the Jewish Left can’t let go of. Foer and his colleagues want to relate the surge of anti-Jewish feelings in the U.S. to an epidemic of hate fueled partly by Trump’s “tropes.” Unfortunately for their fixation, there is no evidence that Trump is a “white supremacist” or that MAGA Republicans are engaged in anti-Jewish violence.

Even more noticeably, Foer’s concept of “the golden age” of American Jewry is astoundingly parochial. His belle époque, which is allegedly now ending, is entirely a leftist experience. Lest we miss this point, Foer’s article is decorated with Yiddish passages in what looks like the old socialist newspaper Forward. According to this authoritative source, America was once the “golden land.” Moreover, under the Yiddish headlines are pictures of those exemplary American Jews whom Foer and his colleagues believe once significantly enriched a golden America.

Those whose pictures are featured, e.g., Betty Friedan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, sexologist Ruth Wertheimer, and Steven Spielberg, were or are figures of the Left. Although I wouldn’t expect Foer to highlight Vice President of the Confederacy Judah Benjamin, the members of the American Jewish League Against Communism, or even the observant Jewish son-in-law of our racism-breathing former president, one might have hoped Foer’s American Jewish dignitaries would include at least a few non-leftists. Up until the 1920s most American Jews were certainly not on the Left; and even as late as 2020, 31 percent of American Jewish voters cast ballots for Trump. Although Foer is entitled to his own golden age for American Jews, those of us who don’t share his politics may see things differently.

I’ve also no idea why I should care about the model Jewish leftist family whom Foer writes about. These people moved to Berkeley to be among the bien pensants, but then on October 18, 2023, they discovered to their shock that their daughter encountered pro-Hamas classmates who unleashed hateful speech: “A public-relations executive, Zolt Hara had moved her family from Chicago to Berkeley six years earlier, hoping to find a community that shared her progressive values. Her family had developed a deep sense of belonging there.”

Do Stacey Zolt Hara’s deteriorated relations with her progressive neighbors, whose company she energetically sought, indicate that a Jewish golden age on this continent has ended? We can understand why her daughter is unhappy with her classmates and why this teenager has resisted the efforts of her teachers “to mold students into advocates of a maximalist vision of Palestine.” But nobody forced this family to leave Chicago for the company of their fellow progressives on the West Coast. Perhaps things would have been snugger for them among the more mannerly leftists on Martha’s Vineyard, but then Zolt Hara made a different residential choice.

A reasonable explanation for what happened is that we are learning about an intramural quarrel between different factions of the woke Left, and the group that’s been marginalized consists mostly of pro-Israel Jews. If Stacey Zolt Hara visited my region of Pennsylvania, she’d find no evidence of anti-Semitism, but Israeli flags adorning the houses of evangelical Christians. But self-important progressives like Zolt Hara would never live among my neighbors, and she is now showing buyers’ remorse about where she fled to be among leftist snobs.

This hardly proves, however, that American Jews are now an endangered species. Why exactly are Jews more endangered than others who are suffering from the consequences of our unhinged Left, say senior citizens taking a walk in midtown Manhattan?  It might be unkind to say this, but I will anyhow. Zolt Hara, Franklin Foer, and others of their orientation do not seem particularly concerned about issues that concern other Americans, including some American Jews, e.g., open borders immigration, cities roiled by violent crime, and the government’s efforts to push traditional Western religions and their accompanying morality out of the public square.

If this country remained more the way it used to be before the woke revolution, would we be seeing these outbursts by the pro-Hamas Left? The raging anti-Semitic mobs were not around when I was growing up in the 1950s, but then our “golden land” had not yet experienced the cultural and demographic revolution that Foer and his subjects have enthusiastically supported.

America was then more the golden land than it is now, but not for the reasons Foer imagines. It was a decent moral land in which Jews and others could flourish in physical safety that is no longer even imaginable in our large cities. It was a golden land not because it produced Jewish leftists but because of the restraints that just about everyone accepted as the price for living in a civilized society. Foer and his friends are not eager to restore such an environment, because it conflicts with their notions of equity and their abstract universalism. And so they squawk about the effects of living in the society they helped build; and as the ultimate expression of chutzpa, they link the chaos to which they contributed to Donald Trump’s unproven racism.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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