December 3, 2005


Europe’s “Good Jews" (Emanuele Ottolenghi, December 2005, Commentary)

One evening last spring, the UK branch of Peace Now hosted a debate on the Israel-Palestinian conflict at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. Taking the Israeli side, ironically enough, was Benny Morris, the pioneer New Historian. (In recent years Morris has found himself at odds with some of his colleagues since he still supports Israel’s right to exist; he has also begun to entertain second and third thoughts on the issue of Zionism’s “original sin.”) Opposing him was Ahmed Khalidi, a Western-educated scion of Palestinian aristocracy and a “moderate” who is willing to negotiate Israel’s demise diplomatically rather than advocating its destruction through violence.

During the question-and-answer period, a frail student stood up to make an impassioned plea. “I want to express my gratitude to you, Dr. Khalidi,” said this young woman, “for your willingness to share Palestine with the Jews as a common patrimony.” (“Common patrimony” was the anodyne catchphrase Khalidi had coined to promote his one-state solution, i.e., the dissolution of Israel.) Such conspicuous, large-hearted charity, the student went on, heedless of her choice of ancient religious antinomies, stood in sharp contrast to the miserly approach of Benny Morris, who had insisted on Israel’s right to continue its national existence. “As a Jew,” she concluded her address to Khalidi, “I feel ashamed that your land was taken away from you in my name and that of my ancestors. It is my duty as a Jew to stand up for justice.” If indeed she stood up in shame, she sat down to thunderous applause.

In statements like this, one cannot but notice the recurrence not only of those enduring theological tropes but of a certain very dangerous dance in which European Jews have long participated. Today, as yesterday, Jewish “particularism,” then religious, now national, remains a thorn in Europe’s side. Today, as yesterday, removing the thorn involves a renunciation of particularism followed by an espousal of the regnant form of universal salvation—then Christianity, now the tenets of humanistic liberalism.

This is not 1930’s-style anti-Semitism; in that narrow sense, anti-Israel Europeans are correct in protesting that they are not anti-Semites. Nevertheless, it is an age-old form of anti-Semitism, and one that has always called forth a typical pattern of response on the part of the Jews under scrutiny. For most, the choices are to lie low in hopes that the trouble will pass, to pick up and seek life elsewhere, or to resist and oppose to the extent they can. We have seen all three responses in European Jewish society over the last years, each bearing its cost. Some, however, take a different route, finding favor and reward by exerting every effort to assimilate themselves to whatever is required of them, including to the point of publicly dissociating themselves from their people’s history and fate. As ever with such maneuvers, exculpatory rationalizations must be found, and are readily at hand.

Unlike the case in pre-Enlightenment Europe, present-day anti-Semitism does not expect Jews to abandon their religion. Today’s Europe is a self-consciously multicultural society. Although it cherishes secularism above all, it respects, if somewhat warily, religious pluralism. What the enlightened sector of today’s Europe would like Jews to do, in exchange for fully approved membership in the circle of approved opinion, is to renounce a core component of their identity: that is, their sense of Jewish peoplehood as expressed through their attachment and commitment to the democratic state of Israel and to the Zionist enterprise.

What remains constant is that, as in both pre- and post-Enlightenment Europe, today’s European elite has its good Jews and its bad Jews. There are the Jews whom it embraces, encourages, and celebrates; and then there are the Jews whom it chastises and condemns. For the former, there will always be a place of honor in the European sun. On the latter, today’s officially pluralist and tolerant Europe has turned its back. Is it any wonder, then, that some “good Jews” have chosen to live in the light, stopping only to burnish their qualifications by noisily joining the chorus that has consigned their fellow Jews to the dark?

A Jewish state is objectionable to them for the same reason that our Judeo-Christian one is--belkief in anything larger than the self is threatening to the secular project.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 3, 2005 5:29 PM

When you read about the endless pogroms and massicres of Jewish European history culminatin gin the holocaust, then the re-establishment of Isreal against all attempts to destroy it, it's an increadible, inspiring story. It just makes the sniveling cowardice of this stupid girl all the more infuriating.

Posted by: Amos at December 3, 2005 6:11 PM

Was it Heinlein who wrote that Man is not a rational animal, Man is a Rationalizing animal? That sounds precisely like what the "frail person" quoted was doing.

Posted by: Mikey at December 3, 2005 7:18 PM

Words fail. This frail person needs the kind of intervention formerly used on Moonies. She must be removed to a safe place and deprogrammed.

Posted by: erp at December 3, 2005 8:00 PM

But where could Jews go, if their wagon train is pushed into the sea? Not to the United States--that colony is to be divided among the Indians, Black and Mexicans.

Posted by: Lou Gots at December 3, 2005 9:19 PM

"Danken Sie, Herr Hitler. You deserve credit for not killing us all in November 1938. I am so sorry for hurting Germany since 1914."

And just imagine Ben-Gurion, sitting in the front row, weeping. He knew th truth about 1948.

Posted by: jim hamlen at December 3, 2005 10:59 PM

Another bloody Khalidi? Is there no end of them?

As an aside. Did any one else hope that with the fall of their Soviet sponsors there would be no more of these pernicious "peace groups"? Like bloody coachroaches they are, surviving beyond apocalypse of their master.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at December 4, 2005 2:36 AM

"Peace groups" will always exist.

Not only are there always those who hope for peace above all else, and those who are willing to dedicate their lives to being "peace gadflies", but there are also a very significant number of people who cannot face harsh reality.

Just as during the 80s there were people who crumbled mentally under the strain of knowing that there was some possibility of the entire Northern hemisphere being annihilated, and who reacted by exposing their bellies and throats and joining unilateral nuclear disarmament movements, so too are there now people who cannot bear the anxiety of knowing that hateful people might choose to strike America in random, unpredictable, meaningless, and fatal ways.

They can only function psychologically if they pretend that there is some rational accomodation that can be made with irrational fanatics, for that delusion allows them to believe that they have complete control over their fate, and it also gives them a safe and distracting cause: Replacing the "stupid and incompetent" politicians who refuse to bend America's knee.

Examples of these pitiful folk appear here from time to time, raving about how our essential civil liberties are being destroyed, and completely blinded to the reality that nobody is being beaten or disappeared for opposing the powers that be - we've even dispatched a formerly important ex-government lawyer to defend the couldn't-be-more-guilty Saddam. (Before we execute him, that's a given).

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 4, 2005 5:44 AM

Well said, Michael.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at December 4, 2005 12:06 PM

Btw, what you here me playing for the Khalidi family is the world's tiniest violin.

A wealthy family with roots in Jerusalem and Beirut, who've now infected the ME studies depts of several prominent US universities, weeping over their lost patromony in Palestine. Boohoo.

They've got it so tough. While they've been sipping lattes in the faculty lounges of places like Harvard, Chicago and Columbia, those that they've been supposedly speaking for have spent fifty years in "refugee camps".

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at December 4, 2005 1:17 PM

Yes, Michael--very well done.

Would that there were some sort of peace-creep monastery to which those who have lost the will to fight could retire. Better that than to impose their lack of will on the rest of humanity.

Posted by: Lou Gots at December 4, 2005 4:30 PM