The Wall Street Journal has a pretty brutal review of John Judis’s new book on Israel which, if Jordan Chandler Hirsch is right, sounds like a travesty. Sociologically, the disintegration of support for Israel and/or Zionism among politically liberal Jews (or at least politically liberal Jewish journalists) is as fascinating as it is dismaying. Obviously, it’s a complex thing without mono-causal explanations to be found. But it’s hard not to see the liberal and Jewish propensities for self-loathing — not necessarily in a psychological sense, but in a political and cultural sense — being part of the equation. The assumption that America, or liberals, or Jews — or all three! — are to blame for all of their problems, and the world’s problems, is rarely far from the scene. The endless search to find new and clever ways to blame “us” first is both arrogant and unfair. It’s arrogant because it assumes the Americans, or Jews, or liberals have special access to the divine truth and the implicit power to act on it. It’s unfair because it assumes that other human actors can’t be to blame for their own problems. The great narcissistic fun of always blaming yourself for everything is that you make everything about you.
Sometimes this tendency leads people to credit the most outlandish critics and theorists because, unlike the reasonable ones, they’re talking about you. Hence the tendency of many on the fevered left and right to pay attention to ridiculous foreign “news” outlets and obscure websites. They’ve got the “real story” about how the government or the Jews or Colonel Sanders are really to blame for things. The same tendency has a more sophisticated form. For instance, I particularly liked this bit:
The author traces the sinister sway of Zionism to the drafting of the Balfour Declaration, the 1917 document in which Britain pledged to establish a Jewish national home in Palestine. Chaim Weizmann, a chemist whose scientific discoveries greatly aided the British during World War I, “charmed his way up the ladder of authority until he reached the top,” Mr. Judis writes, and then suckered some key British figures into supporting the Zionist cause. When, after the war, others attempted to dilute Britain’s commitment to the Balfour Declaration, Zionist activists in Britain consistently “blocked” their efforts.
A running theme is that had these Jews been patriotic Britons, they wouldn’t have lobbied for Zionism. Mr. Judis uncritically cites Prime Minister H.H. Asquith receiving a pro-Zionist memo from Herbert Samuel, a Jewish cabinet member, and noting in a private letter that “it is a curious illustration . . . that ‘race is everything’ to find this almost lyrical outburst proceeding from the well-ordered and methodical brain of [Samuel].” Mr. Judis thus deploys the bigotry of yesteryear to bolster his contemporary arguments.
You do have to wonder what poor Marty Peretz is thinking these days.