Jews and Anti-Semitism
Note: The far right/far left scale doesn’t strictly apply here, since many right-wingers today are ardent supporters of Israel, while most leftists seem to be critical of that nation. But the identification of Jews with liberal causes persists, and anti-Semites still tend to reflect traditional right-wing biases. So here goes…
Righty: I’m not endorsing anti-Semitism (some of my best friends are… well, you know). But to some extent the Jews bring it on themselves. Let’s start with their religion, which treats non-Jews as “unclean” creatures to be regarded with contempt. (Why is it that we never hear the term anti-Gentilism?) The Jews crucified Christ, of course… then they spread through Europe and became notorious money-lenders. Jews and money: everywhere they move, they seem to take over and pile it up. They’re opportunistic and ruthless in their pursuit of success. They’re hypersensitive, too. You can’t criticize Israel without being tagged as an anti-Semite. In fact, you really can’t say anything about God’s chosen people, bad or good, without being smeared for it. That’s because they own the media and totally dominate our culture. Look at how they tried to stop Mel Gibson from releasing The Passion of the Christ. (Big surprise that he was later caught ranting about the Jews! I would have ranted, too, if they had put me through the wringer like that.) Let’s face it: Jews are malcontents and agitators by nature. They’ve been at the forefront of nearly every movement that set out to subvert traditional values: Communism, socialism, psychiatry, modernism, commercial pop culture, the radical student rebellion of the 1960s, the women’s movement. Their agitation toppled the Protestant old guard from power and left us with the moral chaos we see around us today. Now that the Jews are in control, it’s interesting that many of these former left-wing radicals have been drifting toward the right. (You didn’t hear a lot of Jews criticizing the war in Iraq.) And still, with all the power they’ve accumulated, they never get tired of shoving the Holocaust in our collective face — as if today’s super-affluent Jews were still victims, and as if the rest of us were to blame. Is it any wonder that the Jews are so widely disliked? Not that I dislike them, mind you. I think they’re smart and funny. That Adam Sandler really cracks me up.
Lefty: After having been forced out of their ancestral homeland, the Jewish people spent the next nineteen centuries struggling to preserve their religion (and themselves) in alien lands, amid savage and relentless persecutions. If they became money-lenders, guess what: it might have had something to do with the fact that they were routinely barred from all other professions! From the tortures, massacres and expulsions of medieval Europe to the horror of the Holocaust, so-called Christians have gone out of their way to make life miserable for Jews. Why? What have the Jews done to merit their eternal status as scapegoats and victims? Simply for preserving their heritage in the midst of ignorance and hatred? Jews have been among the best and most patriotic citizens everywhere they’ve settled: consistently productive, enterprising, educated, progressive and humane. And they’ve been rewarded with pogroms and death camps. Never again! Jews must mobilize and trust no one. They must gain control over what others say about them. Anyone who dares criticize the Jewish community or Jewish interests is an anti-Semite and must be brought down. And watch out for anti-Semites in sheep’s clothing: those who praise the Jews or seem overly knowledgeable about Jewish history and affairs should be monitored as closely as outspoken anti-Semites. Any Gentile who singles out the Jews for any reason generally has an ulterior motive. As for those crazy Muslims, don’t ask!
The New Moderate:
I’m probably heading into swampy ground here, but we desperately need an outspoken moderate perspective on this perennial hot-button issue. I’ll attempt to demystify both the Jews and anti-Semitism in a handful of paragraphs — no small challenge — and I hope my Jewish friends will indulge me if they spot some overripe generalizations.
Where to begin? Christians have accused the Jews of everything from killing Christ (Did it ever occur to those Christians that Jesus, all twelve disciples and even the Virgin Mary were also Jewish? This was Judea, folks!) to using the blood of Christian babies in their rituals. But the persistence of anti-Semitism goes beyond religious animosity. For centuries the Jews kept themselves apart (not entirely by their own choice, of course) within the countries they settled. They were a small but visible community of people who were different. More literate. Generally a bit more astute. Less inclined to work with their hands. More inclined to succeed despite the prevailing prejudice against them.
You might say that Jews have been saddled with the mostly thankless role of smartest kid in the class. This issue is supercharged with such unseemly implications that it has achieved the status of a taboo. (Of course, I believe in exposing all taboo subjects to the fresh air of examination.) We know that Jewish parents tend to encourage learning and achievement. But are Jews actually more intelligent than the rest of us? Here’s another question: do women live longer than men? In both cases, the answer is yes and no. Yes, women outlive men on average, but plenty of men live longer than plenty of women. You can extend the analogy to Jewish intelligence. The median I.Q. for Jews of European origin has been measured at approximately 12 to 15 points above the median for the general population. Part of that difference is undoubtedly due to nurture. And the two bell curves overlap significantly: there are numerous Jewish dullards and Gentile geniuses. In short, you simply can’t justify a blanket statement like “Jews are smarter.” On average, yes. But Jewishness doesn’t automatically confer intelligence. Individuals will always be individuals.
How to account for the extremely visible success of the Jewish community? (Here’s another taboo subject: let’s open another window!) It isn’t simply a matter of lavish I.Q.s or Harvard diplomas. Jewish achievers typically embody a rare combination of abstract intelligence and practical intelligence, creative passion and precision, openness to learning and opportunities, networking smarts, indefatigable drive and assertiveness (Righty nods smugly here while Lefty shakes his head), solid family values, and relative freedom from sloppy goyish vices like drinking, drugs, daydreaming and debauchery. Anyone who competes with a Jewish achiever is essentially running up against a perfect storm of success traits.
Naturally, many Jews succeed beyond the wildest dreams of their Gentile brethren. At least as many don’t, but it’s the successful ones who grab our attention and incite so many of us to envy. The Jews routinely beat us on our own turf, we moan, so there must be a secret to their success. (If anyone had the chutzpah to publish a book called Jewish Success Secrets, you can bet it would be a runaway bestseller.) We say, “Look at their dominance in Hollywood, the media, the arts, finance, medicine, the academic world! The Jews have it all sewn up!”
You don’t have to be an anti-Semite to see why some people feel threatened by the Jews. Not only have their Hebrew ancestors bequeathed them the awesome sobriquet “God’s chosen people” (scary enough in its own right)… not only do they appear to be unreasonably smart and successful… but many of them also (as Righty observed, in less than civil terms) seem to enjoy making waves as agents of social and cultural change. You can see how paranoid visions of Jewish cabals might swirl in the minds of thwarted Gentiles. Surely those clever Jews must collaborate, collude and even conspire among themselves to beat the goyim. Afraid not, Righty. Their accomplishments appear to be perfectly legitimate.
Jews account for less than 3% of the U.S. population but approximately 60% of its public intellectuals. Righty would look at this statistic and rant about “disproportionate” Jewish cultural influence. But we’re actually looking at an extraordinary collection of individual accomplishments. The truth is that there’s no such sociopolitical entity as “the Jews.” They’re not some monolithic cultural force with a unified agenda; Jews are individuals with a profusion of individual goals and beliefs. Some of the most ardent capitalists, communists, socialists, liberals, conservatives and libertarians have been Jewish, so how can “they” possibly be collaborating on plans for a world takeover? How could any group so diverse decide on an agenda (other than sheer self-preservation) without resorting to fisticuffs?
Why have Jews traditionally been so active in radical political and cultural movements? Just look at their history as perennial outsiders, noses pressed against the window of a posh club that repeatedly turned them away at the door. They had to fight their way past prejudice and persecution to secure a table in that club, and along the way they acquired a pervasive sympathy for all who shared their plight. You can’t blame them for having wanted to shake up the system. (We New Moderates want to shake it up, too, in our own way.)
What can Jews do to disarm their anti-Semitic neighbors? First, be open to freer discussions of Jewish topics, without suspicion or rancor. You can’t afford to let anti-Jewish sentiments fester in secrecy until they ripen and burst. Resist the temptation to extract blubbering public apologies from every cranky Gentile celebrity who has something to say about you; to do so only reinforces the damaging stereotype of excessive Jewish power. (Humorous retorts are more effective, anyway; Time’s Joel Stein wrote a gem of a response to Mel Gibson’s infamous drunken rant.) Use the career-destroying term “anti-Semite” more judiciously (Are you listening, Abe Foxman?): reserve it for active Jew-haters, not for fair-minded people who knock Israeli policies or observe the simple realities of Jewish cultural prominence. Keep in mind that those who label you as brainy and successful aren’t necessarily anti-Semites; they might actually be paying you a sincere (if hackneyed) compliment.
Future historians will probably regard our era as a Jewish renaissance; we can’t be expected to whistle and look the other way while we’re living through it. Jews should be proud of their achievers, not disguise them as the children of “Polish” or “Russian” or “Lithuanian” immigrants. (That unofficial but widely observed rule, seen so often in biographical profiles, has always baffled me.) In a New Moderate utopia, Gentiles would be able to note the Jewishness of those achievers without being accused of anti-Semitism — or succumbing to it.
As for the 24-karat anti-Semites out there, how about calling a permanent moratorium on blaming the Jews for your frustrations? You’re disgracing the rest of us. The Jewish community abounds with both greatness and goodness as well as ordinary human foibles. Remember that Jesus was Jewish (at least on his mother’s side). Don’t hold rank-and-file Jews accountable for the often sanctimonious utterances of Jewish leaders; the latter don’t always speak for the former. Get your own house in order, and try to imagine what it feels like to have been the world’s favorite scapegoat for 2000 years. “Those Jews” don’t have it nearly as easy as you think.
The New Moderate hopes that the rise of Asians in American society will divert some of the attention from the Jews, if only to show us that no group holds a monopoly on brains or achievement. (Of course, I’d like to see blacks, Hispanics, Poles, Ukrainians and rednecks succeed, too.) Then, finally, the Jewish community might be able to breathe a well-deserved sigh of relief… at least in the United States.
Summary: Let’s break a taboo: yes, Jews are, on average, smarter and more successful than non-Jews; no, they’re not some monolithic bloc intent on taking over the world. They’re individuals. We’ve behaved abominably toward Jews in the past. Today, Jews and Gentiles both need to exercise a little more tolerance.