American Jewry’s necessary moral reckoning

The main source of American Jewish antagonism toward Israel is divergent views on the Palestinians.

BY Caroline B. Glick, JPOST

It is no longer a secret that Israel and much of the American Jewish community are moving in different directions. Leftist American commentators like Peter Beinart and Roger Cohen, and the Jewish organizations that keep them on perpetual speaking tours insist that Israel no longer merits American Jewish support.

Aside from their pique at Israel’s refusal to equalize the positions of the Reform and Conservative movements to that of the Orthodox rabbinate in Israel and their refusal to recognize that so long as the Reform and Conservative movements have next to no following in Israel they cannot expect to receive the same consideration as Orthodox religious authorities, the main source of American Jewish antagonism toward Israel is divergent views on the Palestinians.

Specifically, Israel’s political leadership and the public that voted them into office rejects the American Jewish leadership’s positions on the Palestinian conflict with Israel. Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay’s statements last week proclaiming that he doesn’t support destroying Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria in the framework of a peace deal with the Palestinians made clear that it isn’t just the Israeli Right that rejects the position of the majority of the American Jewish community. The head of the leftist Labor Party also rejects their position that Israel should expel hundreds of thousands of its citizens from their homes in the framework of a peace deal and discriminate against them for as long as no deal has been reached.

Facing the likes of Cohen and Beinart and their supporters are Israel’s defenders who argue that the primary reason for the increased estrangement between Israel and the American Jewish community is the radicalization of the American Left, and the Left’s concomitant embrace of anti-Israel positions.

Since the 1920s, the American Jewish community has identified with the political Left. So long as the Left – and particularly the Soviet Union – supported the Jewish national liberation movement, Zionism and the Jewish state, the American Jewish Left was happy to be both leftist and Zionist.

The American Jewish movement away from Israel began after the Soviet Union cut off diplomatic relations with Israel in 1967. The cleavage grew wider in successive decades as Western Europe incrementally aligned its policies on Israel with those of the Soviets and after the Cold War, replaced the Soviet Union as the epicenter of anti-Israel political rhetoric.

Today, anti-Israel activists are the rising force in the Democratic Party. Progressive politics have been so thoroughly suffused with anti-Zionism and its concomitant rejection of the civil rights of American Jewish Zionists that Democratic presidential hopefuls like senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker are abandoning their previously pro-Israel positions to ingratiate themselves with their party base.

While there is little doubt that the American Jewish Left’s increasing hostility toward Israel is a function of its membership’s abiding allegiance to their ideological camp, there is also something else at play.

In an article published this week in the American Jewish online magazine Tablet titled, “Why do American Jews Idealize Communism?” Prof. Ruth Wisse recalled the prominent role that American Jews played in the American Communist Party in the 1930s. Wisse cites the Jewish Women’s Encyclopedia Archive which notes that according to Communist Party historians, “almost half of the [Communist] party’s membership was Jewish in the 1930s and 1940s.”

This isn’t to say that almost half of American Jews were Communist. There were a mere 83,000 Jews in the Communist Party in 1943, while there were 4.7 million Jews in the US. But those 83,000 Jews – and their even more numerous fellow travelers – played a definitive role in dictating the terms of the political and social discourse in the US during those years.

Wisse quotes then Commentary magazine editor Robert Worshaw who wrote in 1947 that during the 1930s, “If you were not somewhere within the [Communist] party’s wide orbit, then you were likely to be in the opposition, which meant that much of your thought and energy had to be devoted to maintaining yourself in opposition…. It was the Communist Party that ultimately determined what you were to think about and in what terms.”

In other words, there was no way to set a public policy agenda or cultural agenda independently of the Communist Party. If the Communists determined that the public should be focused on subjugation of African Americans and should ignore the Soviet gulag, for instance, and if you felt that the gulag should be discussed, then you could find yourself accused of racism for speaking of the gulag rather than Jim Crow. If you wished to discuss neo-Classical rather than cubist art, then you were considered a throwback with no sense of art. And so on and so forth.

The only party with the power to determine what Americans would speak about, what “right thinking” Americans would think and what subjects were either irrelevant or beyond the pale, was the Communist Party.

And again, a portion of the American Jewish community played an outsized role in the Communist Party.

In her article, Wisse remonstrates with the American Jewish community for failing to conduct a moral reckoning with its historical affiliation with a party and a movement that murdered 30 million of its own citizens and was responsible for the spread of war and misery worldwide, through its totalitarian, inhuman ideology.

In her words, “We Americans and Jews ask nations that once succumbed to fascism and practiced genocide in its name to acknowledge their past evils. We do so not to perpetuate guilt, but because self-awareness alone prevents repetition of the same behavior. How then can Americans and particularly the Jews among them perpetuate the romance – or the innocence – of the Bolshevik regime?” Wisse continues, “We are… obliged to take seriously that many Jews supported one of the most murderous regimes in history and to see how and why and to what extent they went wrong.”

Wisse does not draw a connection between the American Jewish community’s growing antagonism towards Israel today and its avoidance of a moral reckoning with its Communist-supporting past. But it is important to connect the dots.

Earlier this month, the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria struck a “unity” deal with Hamas. Under the deal, Fatah agrees to support the Hamas regime in Gaza and take responsibility for the general functioning of governing structures in Gaza. Hamas, for its part, will continue to wage war against Israel and act as an autonomous governing authority, just like Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Hamas insists that it has not tempered its view of Israel. It remains committed to the annihilation of the Jewish state.

The deal paves the way for Hamas to join the PLO, and so replace Fatah as the largest faction of the PLO. Hamas’s leader Khaled Mashaal apparently views the deal as a vehicle for him to eventually replace Fatah and PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian president.

In the face of this unity deal, there is no way to pretend that support for the Palestinians is anything other than support for terrorists who seek to annihilate the Jewish state. There is no way to pretend that support for Israeli land giveaways to the Palestinians constitute anything other than support for the empowerment of terrorists at Israel’s peril.

In other words, the Palestinian unity deal makes it impossible for Israel’s American Jewish antagonists to credibly claim that their disaffection with Israel owes to their commitment to peace and justice rather than moral sanctimony and self-righteousness.

It is difficult to avoid the sense that the American Jewish community’s decreasing support for Israel and increasing support for Palestinian terrorists is a natural extension of its past support for totalitarian Communism. It is equally difficult to avoid the conclusion that so long as the American Jewish community avoids a moral reckoning with that past, it will be incapable of reconsidering its present course.

October 24, 2017 | 9 Comments »

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  1. Much as I respect Caroline Glick’s work, I believe that she is taking a wrong tack here. Claims that Jews are responsible fo0r communism, the horrors of the Bolshevik regime and communist influence in other, democratic countries, are part of the stock-in-trade of right wing anti-Semitic propaganda, and continue to be circulated by many people on the right in Europe and the United States. It is untrue and unfair. Caroline’s statistics are incorrect. The Communist party of the USA never had more than 80,000 members, and not all of them by many means were Jews. As for “fellow travelers,” they included the influential writers Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck and John Dos Passos, none of whom were Jewish, as well as the extremely influential Columbia University philosopher John Dewey, also a Gentile.

    But where she mainly goes wrong is in failing to provide historical background and context. Before and even during World War I, many German Americans were sympathetic to the German side in the war, and some even worked as saboteurs , spies or terrorists for Germany. In the 1930’s many German-Americans were drawn into the Nazi orbit by the German-American Bund, before World War II broke out, when most quit the organization. Of course many Irish-Americans supported the IRA, and many still do even today. For the overwhelming majority ofAmerican Jews in the 1930s, Russia was the “Old country” from which they, their parents and grandparents emigrated to come to the United States. Once a government came to power in Russia which loudly proclaimed it was not anti-Semitic, included some Jews in high office, and offered Jews some measure of protection during the pogroms of 1918-1920, it was natural that some American Jews would identify with Russia as their ancestral “mother country,” where some of their relatives still lived, and would buy the Russian government’s claim to have created a worker’s paradise. Before 1917, the overtly anti-Semitic views of the tsarist government had prevented American Jews from identifying with Russia as their “mother country.” But with the accession of a government in Russia of a government that was ostensibly non-anti-Semitic (even though it actually was ant-Semitic, but in more subtle ways than the tsar’s), it was inevitable that some American Jews would identify with Russia out of a sense that this was the country of their “landsmen.” They were no more inherently pro-Communist than most of the German-Americans who joined the German-American Bund were inherently pro-Nazi. And just as nearly all German-Americans who had joined the Bund left it when World War II began and supported the American war effort unconditionally, so American Jews left the U.S. Communist Party in droves once the Cold War began around 1945-47. By the time of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 and Khrushchev’s “secret speech” of 1957, Communism and Soviet Russia had few American Jewish supporters. Most Jews may have remained liberal or mildly leftist, but very few have been Communists or Communist sympathizers since the Cold War era.

  2. @ Bear Klein:You must have heard of Whittaker Chambers, and read his book “Witness”.a book I have. It’s very long and detailed. (the guy who exposed Alger Hiss). If you want know exactly how riddled with dedicated Communist Party members the Roosevelt Govt. was ..he’ll tell you. Many or most of them were Jews.That was only a generation ago, and their children are still around. I was around myself then. Surely you remember all the Hollywood machers who were blackballed because they wouldn’t testify against their comrades, and/or took the 5th amendment.

    How Jewish can you believe that American Jews are, when they have a 70% marrying out record, increasing every year. I recall just less than 5 years ago it was
    nearly 60%.

    Communism is making a comeback in the form of Marxism a la Jeremy Corbyn style, the British Labour Party Leader. And he’s not alone. His party is right behind him.

    You yourself accept that Jews and Communism seem to have an affinity for one another or else I have misunderstood you. Democratic, VERY left, Liberalsim is akin to Marxism, or at least a fellow-traveller to it..

    Don’t forget, Whittaker Chambers. He was for a long time an editor of Time Magazine. I used to get it with his editorials too, long before I bought the book. He was actually married to Jewish woman, daughter of a rabbi who’d emigrated to the US from Russia.

  3. @ Edgar G.:
    Historically Jews (in the past) were involved in the communist movement. This is the year 2017 and first the communist movement has been crushed or fell apart for the most part. Second I see no evidence of large amounts of Jews in 2017 involved in the communist movement.

    Yes in the USA about 70% of the Jews are liberal and these people vote for the Democratic Party typically. 30% or so of the Jews vote GOP and many of these are more conservative. Many but not all of these people are Orthodox Jews.

  4. @ Bear Klein:

    Ever since the Russian Revolution in 1917, Jews have been intimately stirred by Communism, and many have risen to leadership roles. It was no accident that the first Communist Duma had about 65-70% Jews. and many of the Communists in the US or “fellow_travellers” both during and after the War were Jews. Hollywood was rotten with them, wealthy and famous as they were.

    I can understand the first Duma, because the Russian Jews were in such abysmal conditions that they would grasp at any kind of freedom, and their natural intelligence pushed them to leadership. Trotsky was their top man, and more responsible than Lenin or Stalin for their success.

    So maybe that’s why Jews turn towards Liberalism, being a very Left position. They substitute it for Judaism. When the Jews were streaming into the US in the early days of the 20th cent. they were often met by Democrat ward-heelers, with money, food , and brought to a place to live. This was for Dem. votes. They would be instructed when to get ready for upcoming votes, even though none of them was a citizen.

    “Tammany Hall”……. remember that name and look it up. It was the Dem Headquarters and run by the Mafia Boss Frank Costello, and before him by other gangsters right back to the old guys. You may have heard of the infamous “Boss” Tweed….. Look him up….

  5. @ Bear Klein:

    If there are any American Jews who were NOT brought up without seeing a JNF pushke at home, and constantly hearing their elders talking about Israel and what Jews are doing there, and holding their breaths every time there was a war, then they are just faux Jews and will wither away as so many did in our history.. As it is, 70% are married out and their children will, most of them stray further away from Judaism. In 50 years there will be no American Jews except the haredim, and Orthodox Zionists. The idiot Chassidim that are waiting for the Moshiach, will sit down and wait, because except for the devout, there is NO Moshiach,

    The fervent belief that grew up in ancient Israel during Maccabean times,because of the utter desperation of the people. G-D HAD to have a better future for them, etc.etc…and the Moshiach idea grew, until it infected everyone …at one time. The American Jewish adherence to Communism and the Holocaust finIshed that as a major belief other than lip-service. The failure of the variety of MoshIiacs natural because they depended on miraculous deliverance, and naturally, although their fanaticism got them well into the battles, they eventually were disastrously defeated…time after time ..after time.

    And so it was and so it will be.

    We must depend on our own strong right hand, our faith in the Jewish People, and Torah, which taught ethics to the world, and is what really keeps us together. The People of the Book. American Jews have departed from the Torah, towards Liberalism,so are assimilating like wildfire. Good Bye and Good riddance.

    Me…I’m not religious, although strictly kosher, I’m just Jewish 100% without the religious trappings. I don’t need them to be a Jew inside and out.

  6. Ms. Glick makes some good points. When I was in the US, some Jews I knew called themselves Communists, or former Communists, and some were boycotting Judea and Samaria before BDS was started. These were both Reform and secular Jews. I didn’t really see a whole lot of difference between the secular and many of the Reform Jews. It really amazes me that the exile-choosing Jews want to dictate how Israeli Jews should organize worship at the Kotel. It reminds me of little children vying for Dad’s attention. But just who is their Dad?

  7. Really Communism = American Jewish Leftists? = Anti-Israel positions.
    My gut says this is not really so.

    I believe most American Jews do not know much about Israel and do not have deeply ingrained positions. Yes those activists on the political left do have many times have anti-Israel positions. Is this the population as a whole? Certainly not the 30% or so of the Jews who represent the Orthodox population.