There are certain predictable symptoms to watch when a widespread amorality begins to infect a postmodern society: cultural relativism, atheism, socialism, utopian pacifism. Another sign, of course, is fashionable anti-Semitism among the educated, or the idea that some imaginary cabal, or some stealthy agenda–certainly not our own weakness–is conspiring to threaten our good life.
Well apart from the spooky placards (stars of David juxtaposed with swastikas, posters calling for the West Bank to be expanded to “the sea”) that we are accustomed to seeing at the marches of the supposedly ethical antiwar movement, we have also heard some examples of Jew-baiting and hissing in the last two weeks that had nothing to do with the old crazies. Indeed, such is the nature of the new anti-Semitism that everyone can now play at it–as long as it is cloaked in third-world chauvinism, progressive thinking, and identity politics.
The latest lunatic rantings from Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad are nothing new, and we should not be surprised by his mindless blabbering about Jews and his fourth-grade understanding of World War II and the present Middle East. But what was fascinating was the reaction to his madness: silence from the Arab intelligentsia, praise from Middle Eastern leaders (“A brilliant speech,” gushed Iran’s “president” Mohammad Khatami), and worry from France and Greece about an EU proclamation against the slander. Most American pundits were far more concerned about the private, over-the-top comments of Gen. Boykin than about the public viciousness of a head of state. Paul Krugman, for example, expressed the general mushiness of the Left when he wrote a column trying to put Mahathir Mohamad’s hatred in a sympathetic context, something he would never do for a Christian zealot who slurred Muslims.
Much has been written about the usually circumspect Greg Easterbrook’s bizarre ranting about “Jewish executives” who profit from Quentin Tarantino’s latest bloody production. But, again, the problem is not so much the initial slips and slurs as it is the more calculated and measured “explanation.” Easterbrook’s mea culpa cited his prior criticism of Mel Gibson, as if the supposed hypocrisy of a devout and public Christian’s having trafficked in filmed violence were commensurate with the dealings of two ordinary businessmen who do not publicly embrace religion. Michael Eisner and Harvey Weinstein simply happen to be movie executives, with no stake in producing Jewish movies or public-morality films, but–like most in Hollywood–with a stake in making money from films. That they are Jewish has absolutely no bearing on their purported lack of morality–unless, of course, one seeks to invent some wider pathology, evoking historical paranoia about profiteering, cabals, and “the Jews.”
Recently, Joseph Lieberman was hissed by an Arab-American audience in Dearborn, Mich. when he briefly explained Israel’s defensive wall in terms not unlike those used by Howard Dean and other candidates. What earned him the special public rebuke not accorded to others was apparently nothing other than being Jewish–the problem was not what he said, but who he was. No real apology followed, and the usually judicious and sober David Broder wrote an interesting column praising the new political acumen of the Arab-American community.
Tony Judt, writing in The New York Review of Books, has published one of the most valuable and revealing articles about the Middle East to appear in the last 20 years. There has always been the suspicion that European intellectuals favored the dismantling of Israel as we know it through the merging of this uniquely democratic and liberal state with West Bank neighbors who have a horrific record of human-rights abuses, autocracy, and mass murder. After all, for all too many Europeans, how else but with the end of present-day Israel will the messy Middle East and its attendant problems–oil, terrorism, anti-Semitism, worries over unassimilated Muslim populations in Europe, anti-Americanism, and postcolonial guilt–become less bothersome? Moreover, who now knows or cares much about what happened to Jews residing under Arab governments–the over half-million or so who, in the last half-century, have been ethnically cleansed from (and sometimes murdered in) Baghdad, Cairo, Damascus, and almost every Jewish community in the Arab Middle East?
And what is the value of the only democratic government in a sea of autocracy if its existence butts up against notions of third-world victimhood and causes so much difficulty for the Western intelligentsia? Still, few intellectuals were silly enough to dress up that insane idea under the pretext of a serious argument (an unhinged Vidal, Chomsky, or Said does not count). Judt did, and now he has confirmed what most of us knew for years–namely, that there is an entrenched and ever-bolder school of European thought that favors the de facto elimination of what is now a democratic Jewish state.
What links all these people–a Muslim head of state, a rude crowd in Michigan, an experienced magazine contributor, and a European public intellectual–besides their having articulated a spreading anger against the “Jews”? Perhaps a growing unease with hard questions that won’t go away and thus beg for easy, cheap answers.
A Malaysian official and his apologists must realize that gender apartheid, statism, tribalism, and the anti-democratic tendencies of the Middle East cause its poverty and frustration despite a plethora of natural resources (far more impressive assets than the non-petroleum-bearing rocks beneath parched Israel). But why call for introspection when the one-syllable slur “Jews” suffices instead?
And why would an Arab-American audience–itself composed of many who fled the tyranny and economic stagnation of Arab societies for the freedom and opportunity of a liberal United States–wish to hear a reasoned explanation of the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian war when it was so much easier to hiss and moan, especially when mainstream observers would ignore their anti-Semitism and be impressed instead with the cadre of candidates who flock to Michigan?
How do you explain to an audience that Quentin Tarantino appeals both to teens and to empty-headed critics precisely because something is terribly amiss in America, when affluent and leisured suburbanites are drawn to scenes of raw killing as long as it is dressed up with “art” and “meaning”?
How could a Tony Judt write a reasoned and balanced account of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when to do so would either alienate or bore the literati?
So they all, whether by design or laxity, take the easier way out–especially when slurring “Israel” or “the Jews” involves none of the risks of incurring progressive odium that similarly clumsy attacks against blacks, women, Palestinians, or homosexuals might draw, requires no real thinking, and seems to find an increasingly receptive audience.
You see, in our mixed-up world those Jewish are not a “people of color.” And if there really is such a mythical monolithic entity in America as the “Jews,” they (much like the Cubans) are not easily stereotyped as impoverished victims needing largesse or condescension, and much less are they eligible under any of the current myriad of rubrics that count for public support. Israel is a successful Western state, not a failed third-world despotism. Against terrible oppression and overt anti-Semitism, the Jewish community here and abroad found success–proof that hard work, character, education, and personal discipline can trump both natural and human adversity. In short, the story of American Jewry and Israel resonates not at all with the heartstrings of a modern therapeutic society, which is quick to show envy for the successful and cheap concern for the struggling.
This fashionable anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism–especially among purported intellectuals of the Left–reveals a deep-seated, scary pathology that is growing geometrically both in and outside the West. For a Europe that is disarmed, plagued by a demographic nightmare of negative population growth and unsustainable entitlements, filled with unassimilated immigrants, and deeply angry about the power and presence of the United States, the Jews and their Israel provide momentary relief on the cheap. So expect that more crazy thoughts of Israel’s destruction dressed up as peace plans will be as common as gravestone and synagogue smashing.
For the Muslim world that must confront the power of the patriarch, mullah, tribe, and autocrat if it is ever to share the freedom and prosperity of the rest of the world, the Jews offer a much easier target. So expect even more raving madness as the misery of Islamic society grows and its state-run media hunker down amid widespread unrest. Anticipate, also, more sick posters at C-SPAN broadcast marches, more slips by reasonable writers, and more anti-Israeli denunciations from the “liberals.”
These are weird, weird times, and before we win this messy war against Islamic fascism and its sponsors, count on things to get even uglier. Don’t expect any reasoned military analysis that puts the post-9/11 destruction of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein’s evil regime, along with the liberation of 50 million at the cost of 300 American lives, in any sort of historical context. After all, in the current presidential race, a retired general now caricatures U.S. efforts in Iraq and quotes Al Sharpton.
Do not look for the Islamic community here to acknowledge that the United States, in little over a decade, freed Kuwait, saved most of the Bosnians and Kosovars, tried to feed Somalis, urged the Russians not to kill Chechnyans, belatedly ensured that no longer were Shiites and Kurds to be slaughtered in Iraq, spoke out against Kuwait’s ethnic cleansing of a third of a million Palestinians–and now is spending $87 billion to make Iraqis free.
That the Arab world would appreciate billions of dollars in past American aid to Jordan, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority, or thank America for its help in Kuwait and Kosovo, or be grateful to America for freeing Iraq–all this is about as plausible as the idea that Western Europeans would acknowledge their past salvation from Nazism and Soviet Communism, or be grateful for the role the United States plays to promote democracy in Panama, Haiti, the Balkans, or the Middle East.
No, in this depressing age, the real problem is apparently our support for democratic Israel and all those pesky Jews worldwide, who seem to crop up everywhere as sly war makers, grasping film executives, conspiratorial politicians, and greedy colonialists, and thus make life so difficult for the rest of us.