A Message to the Jews
Hear, O Israel: Many of us have no living memory of our current environment. Attacked politically from both the Right and the Left, accused of wildly exaggerated crimes, seeing random attacks on the street and placed at the center of power struggles bigger than ourselves. And feeling the dread and uncertainty that comes from recognizing that we and our children might be at risk — If not yet, then perhaps soon.
But we’ve seen this movie before. Our history shows the risk of complacency to be high; the price of miscalculating the situation potentially disastrous. Now is the time to prepare.
The post-war period was an anomaly.
We are, along many metrics, a successful people. And we know that, despite the pride we may feel at our collective and individual successes, at root there is no special recipe or secret sauce. We have an incredibly rich history, religion and culture that prizes education, ambition, making something of one’s time on Earth — and that’s about it. Many other groups have similar traits, and are similarly successful as a result. Don’t let others use our exceptionalism for anything other than what it actually is.
The shock and horror of the Holocaust gave us an opening to the long-hoped-for return to our ancestral homeland. In Europe in particular, it triggered the adoption of large-scale immigration which meant we were no longer the ‘default’ minority. As a result, these last 75 years we’ve been allowed by and large to be ourselves, to go about our lives, to contribute to society on a free and equal basis. If you were born in the West, it’s probably all you’ve ever known.
Remember that the Jew in prior centuries lived always on uncertain ground. He had limited rights, was always required to explain, justify and defend himself. By law, he was held to a standard that applied to him and no other citizen. He was used by others as a tool, example or foil to advance their own agenda. The hope of the post-war order was that no minority would again be singled out for such special treatment or judgment.
It’s not turning out that way — the future is looking a lot like the past. Today, it’s the Jewish state that is always required to explain itself, to be held to a legal standard that applies to no-one else, is accused of the worst crimes and used as a foil for the ends of others. And the attempt on the Western street to link every single Jew to Israel’s actions is an attempt to extend this anti-Semitic treatment back to the Jewish individual, from where it first emerged centuries ago.
Once again, we’re being used as pawns in others’ pursuit of power.
Consider the Right: It’s tempting to dismiss what was said by those who marched in Charlottesville, VA — “Jews will not replace us” — due to its irrationality. And their adherence to conspiracy theories about our control over international finance, of secret meetings where we gather to manage world events, would be funny if it weren’t so dangerous.
We don’t laugh because we’ve learned from history that the irrationality of their claims is a feature, not a bug. There is a coherent strategy in place which aims to change the nature of the discourse itself. It doesn’t matter if what they chant is true — as long as it’s loud, disruptive, and repeated often enough to sow mistrust, to unbolt the foundations of the social order, to create the conditions where “normal” people are just a little less sure what to believe.
The Right doesn’t need every citizen to believe all their rhetoric, they just need enough of them to stand aside when the time comes for them to implement their plans and take power. And their plans aren’t usually good for us. Right now, their marches aim to ‘soften the target’ by seeking to sow chaos and patiently wait for their chance to fill the vacuum. Most of us understand this intuitively, and so we don’t bother trying to rationally explain to a neo-Nazi how we don’t actually get together in secret meetings to plan world domination. From the Right, we recognize hate when we see it, because it’s so clearly visible: The raised armbands, the slogans, you see them coming for you from a mile away.
But on the Left, it’s much more insidious. On the ascendant Left today, anti-Semitism is beautifully gift-wrapped in noble ideals and aspirational statements on social justice designed to have broad appeal. And because it’s less obvious, many of us still try to rationalize ourselves, our values, and our state on the Left. But it’s mostly ineffective because a central feature of the Left (and of every “radical” you’ve ever met) is their rigidity of thought. Once the canon is formed, the focus is singularly and ruthlessly on obtaining power.
Israel’s success as an enterprise is, even before discussing the Palestinians, possibly its greatest crime. The Left stands for the poor, the unequal, the dispossessed — always and forever. You’ve never seen a left-wing politician stand up, declare a goal achieved, and return your taxes to you; similarly, the left can’t for too long celebrate a broken, suffering people rising from destruction and creating a vibrant society of their own, because success is not what they celebrate — they celebrate the suffering. So Judeophilia can thrive alongside anti-Zionism in Europe at the same time — they like their version of who you should be, which — to state the obvious — is simply using us for their own purposes.
The Left too will dabble in irrationalism for shock effect — the “swastika-equals-Star-of-David” protest sign is a crowd favorite — but uniquely, they will create an entire intellectual artifice around anti-Zionism, have it certified by university departments, and then selectively bring it down to bear on the Jew and the Jewish State. To defend against it is to attack the core tenets of a new progressive canon which has already been designed to exclude you. The verdict is embedded in the charge itself — it doesn’t actually matter what you personally believe, you must either profess your “woke” loyalty (while it’s still possible to do so) or be at-risk. Try it yourself: As you’ve likely found out already, few on the Left are interested in your nuanced view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or how and why your relatives ended up there in the first place. If you think they are, you’re misreading the situation completely. They’re forcing you to choose between who you are, and who they want you to be.
Not convinced? If you’re American, you’re probably socially liberal. You prize equality. You’ve been out in the streets recently protesting the treatment of Black people at the hands of police and discrimination against Asians, Muslims and others. You’re a descendant of a Jewish tradition dating back to the early Enlightenment that sees tolerant, liberal societies as the best environment for an oft-persecuted minority.
So where are your friends now? During the recent conflict in Gaza, did you see anyone out in the street in your defense, now that the target was on your back? Or did they turn on you, spewing online hate for your values and your family and love for a hateful, intolerant militant Islamic group that has you questioning everything? The successors to the Brownshirts of the 1930s don’t just march through the street anymore — they march online. They march down your Twitter feed the same way they used to jackboot past Jewish-owned businesses, breaking glass. Recognize it for what it is.
Or have you already forgotten that you are “all about the Benjamins?” How your loyalty was questioned in Congress because of your ethnic identity? And do you remember what happened to the Congressional response, originally crafted as a statement against anti-Semitism, but which got watered down to all “hateful expressions of intolerance” against essentially everyone? That’s the exact same thing as yelling “all lives matter” at a Black Lives Matter protest, and just as discriminatory: Because it dilutes the central idea that what’s happening specifically to you is a problem worth addressing. Let that sink in: Progressives actively objected to a statement condemning discrimination against you, specifically. You will see it over and over: They will be unable to condemn anti-Semitism without also talking about hatred toward other groups, because to do otherwise might create an opening for the defense of Israel and a Jewish right to self-determination, which to them is a priori unacceptable. Take them at their word about who they really are.
From the Right or the Left, we’ve historically been caught between competing elements of society jostling to change, reinvent, or to overthrow. Who’s been worse to us over time is open to debate, but is clearly beside the point. When the foundations of society are trembling, as they are now, and we become the lightning rod, the foil, the straw man that is set up as a caricature of what someone else dislikes, bad outcomes can follow.
Those on campuses may find all this difficult to accept, because they’ve been raised to revere the very traditions and institutions which are now turning against them. But the left-wing anti-Semitism on campus is not without historical precedent. From Heidegger to today’s “academic” conferences in Tehran, the enabling condition of university-sanctioned discrimination is to first jettison the traditional free exchange of ideas and replace it with a rigid intolerance of other points of view. What’s coming out of schools today is fully within the tradition of what happened in both Imperial and Weimar Germany in the last century, where anti-Semitism was ensconced well before the Nazis formalized it by expelling the Jews from the schools. The ground work on intolerance had already been done, as it is being done today. We don’t know where today’s intolerance will lead to, but the odds are we won’t like it.
The bottom line is to recognize that what you believe, how you act, who you associate with — that has direct bearing on your private life and those around you. It does not extend to your public life as a Jew. You can’t easily defend your Jewishness or support of Israel on campus or online any more than Israel can defend itself at the UN, in the chancelleries of Europe, or elsewhere. For the anti-Semites on both Left and Right, the verdict is already in. There are of course real concerns about Israeli politics, the treatment of Palestinians, their right to self-determination and the impact on Israel of controlling another people — but you won’t get a chance to voice them, other than as a ‘court Jew’ asked to provide a veneer of legitimacy to their intolerance. For them to act otherwise would require a re-thinking of either a racist manifesto or a rigid orthodoxy, neither of which is likely to happen. Right and Left have now moved in on opposite sides of the same anti-Semitic street. The time is approaching when you can no longer occupy the middle of the road.
To summarize: The Right uses us as a foil in their quest to turn back the clock on social change, on immigration, to promote their race, ethnic or religious-based view of society and impose their values on others. It’s a somewhat traditional form of anti-Semitism that gives us a starring role as the “other” whose corrupting influence, money, or mere existence is suddenly a “problem” that needs to be somehow addressed.
The “progressive” Left uses us similarly, as a wedge issue and a litmus test for those who aspire to be admitted to their ranks. Their intolerance for any dissent, penchant for online mob rule and cancellation, are tools in their effort to also impose their values on others — and remake society to address the injustices and inequality they believe requires re-distributing the wealth. But as Jewish citizens of the UK learned when Jeremy Corbyn was leading Labour, these lofty principles are “for the many, not the Jew”. Assuming you even agreed with the brochure, your invitation is conditional on accepting second-class rights and taking the subordinate place they’ve assigned to you. Note that this isn’t asked of anyone else.
So whether it’s a tattooed mob of MAGA supporters marching loudly down the street, or the hate-spewing devotees of The Squad trolling you online, try not to take it personally. That’s not what this is about. Your ethnicity and your state are again pawns in a much larger game. Their focus is, has been, and always will be on the levers of power they are desperately trying to grasp.
Israel can’t get us out of this.
Disabuse yourself of the wishful thinking that these challenges would go away if Israel simply changed its policies, or somehow acquiesced to what the mob demands of it. You may yourself believe that Israel should change its policies (or not), but that would only be effective at the margin, for the reasons described above. There will always be another conspiracy theory, or another intersectionality linkage undermining the legitimacy of the Jewish state, because that’s what their framework and its adherents demand.
In the end, the strategic value of Israel to the US, Europe, Russia and other powers is just not that big. If you’re skeptical, play the scenario out: If Israel disappeared tomorrow, would the future trajectories of the US or Europe change significantly, if it all? It would be a disaster for us, but the reaction even amongst our friends would be something equivalent to “that’s really too bad,” and their lives would go on as before. Even on the Middle Eastern Street, the day after Israel’s destruction — after the celebratory gunfire finally died down — they would be stuck with the same intractable problems and conflicts they have today. They would find another cause with which to distract their people from domestic issues. It simply would not have the wide-ranging impact of, say, the French Revolution or the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Yet that’s the level it’s talked about in the press, in the schools, and in international organizations.
If the debate about two peoples struggling for the same piece of land were truly sized to the impact of the conflict — whether in money, blood, oil, or equivalent — it wouldn’t have come to this. So it’s not just about what Israel actually does (though that acts like gasoline on a fire, creating brief spurts of towering flames), it’s also about how Israel — like the diaspora Jew before him — has the audacity to try and exist on its own terms.
Still doubtful? You didn’t see angry, hate-fueled demonstrations in the West in support of Syrian children — who were actually deliberately targeted — and who died in staggering numbers at the hands of their co-religionists. Or why the situation of the Uighurs — an actual genocidal ethnic cleansing — gets much less coverage than Gaza. Autocratic Russia protecting Assad at the UN Security Council is treated as an expected non-event; but the US defense of Israel at the UN is seen as exceptional and warranting debate. Politicians in the Middle East and Europe shamelessly vilify Israel to play to their angry, disenfranchised constituents, co-opting their domestic or imported anti-Semitism.
How did we get here? Not everyone involved in those issues above is anti-Semitic, clearly — but by having both Left and Right pushing anti-Semitic discourse into the mainstream, it gets normalized — picked up by politicians, institutions and the media. Left unchecked, it goes to very bad places. We didn’t create nor do we have much influence over any of this. It’s important to recognize that even if the narrative is ostensibly about us, when it gets to this point it’s not usually within our control.
Pay attention to the coming transition.
What we are telling you is that change is coming. Technology, immigration, economic inequality, the pandemic — the reasons why don’t really matter. When the cards that determine the winners and losers in society appear ready to be re-dealt, Jews need to pay attention. Once it all shakes out, it will hopefully lead to another 100 years of technological innovation, greater equality, and individual freedom: The question is whether the transition will be peaceful and inclusive, or bloody and drawn out. Your job is to be prepared for either eventuality. For the Jews who survived the destruction of the second world war, life got infinitely better over time. But you needed to survive it, and too many did not. Like it or not, even after all these centuries, we still sit at the confluence of these tectonic shifts largely because others won’t let us leave.
And the worst may simply not come to pass. As many outside the West will tell you, there are many degrees of social decay and subsequent danger between the strong rule-of-law we enjoy today and a Hobbesian state of nature. In this vast middle ground, things can appear normal on the surface yet become terrifying very quickly — and then be over in an instant. A beautiful day with your family in the park changes quickly if you get attacked by a mob yelling anti-Semitic slogans. Or the police you called instinctively because of anti-Semitic vandalism may suddenly not be as concerned as you’d expect. A slow descent into chaos can be missed for what it is, much like the proverbial boiling of the frog. For all the pluralistic rhetoric, no-one has been able to walk around with a skullcap on in Europe for years now without risking being attacked on the street. Having normalized the fact that European Jews need to hide their identity in public, does it stop there, or does something worse comes next? All of this will be evident in hindsight — your job is to use foresight to see where it’s heading.
Stay tuned for the next installment on how to prepare.