Multi Culty

Ever since the rise of multiculturalism in the 1970s I have been wondering how come Jews never got included in the authorized list of oppressed multi-cultural entities.  To be sure, Jews as individuals can play a role in multi-cultural life, but only as members of some other category, such as feminists or homosexuals.  So far as I am aware, Jews who present themselves simply as Jews have never been considered oppressed enough to form a part of the multi-cultural universe.  To the contrary, we are lucky if we are not lumped together with the oppressors.


How did this state of affairs come about?  To some extent it must be attributed to the reluctance of Jewish Americans to adopt a stance of militant protest against manifestations of anti-Semitism in American society.  The original constituents of the multi-cultural alliance, feminists, homosexuals and Afro-American militants, all sought to advance their cause through protest demonstrations.  Jews found other ways of getting ahead, and so anti-Semitism never came to be considered as serious a problem, at least in the United States, as other forms of discrimination.  This was all the more true in that one of the ways in which Jews sought to get ahead was by promoting a movement against discrimination in general without focusing on anti-Semitism in particular.


The name of this movement was liberalism and the way in which it opposed discrimination in general was through the concept of rights.  Liberalism gave birth to civil rights, gay rights and women’s rights, but oddly enough, even though Jews were among the mainstays of American liberalism, no one ever spoke of Jewish rights.  The basic strategy of the mainstream American Jewish community was not to agitate for the right to be accepted as Jews but rather to become as American as possible.  And since the United States was a country that prided itself on absorbing immigrants, this was not an unrealistic goal.  At the same time that multiculturalism took hold in the 1970s in academia, Jews were already becoming a part of the academic establishment without any special need to draw attention to themselves as Jews.  Jews achieved this position by rigorous scholarship devoted, in the main, to non-Jewish topics.


However, as time went on, there also emerged departments of Jewish studies in many colleges and universities.  These departments were a reflection, on the one hand, of the growing acceptance of Jewishness in American culture, and on the other hand, of the example set by the proliferation of specialized departments catering to the concerns of the multiculturalists.  But although there was no obvious difference between Jewish studies and black studies or women’s studies, Jews were still not welcome as Jews at multi-cultural events.  Moreover, certain stereotypes regarding Jewish culture gradually became established among the multiculturalists.  The Jewish religion was a bastion of “patriarchy” and therefore bad, and the Jewish state, namely Israel, was founded on “racism”, and therefore even worse.  These stereotypes served to rationalize and legitimize the exclusion of Jews as Jews from the multi-cultural club.  So at the same time as Jews were becoming increasingly accepted by ordinary Americans, Jews in academia were increasingly ghettoized by the multiculturalists.


The next step in the degeneration of multiculturalism into an instrument of anti-Semitism was the inclusion of the Muslims in the multi-cultural club.  Islam came to be seen as the victim of unjustified prejudice, a prejudice which was stigmatized as “Islamophobia”, a term obviously derived from “homophobia”.  Given the attitude of most Muslims towards homosexuals there was a certain irony here, but the term came to be accepted as the official name for dislike of Islam all the same.  Departments of Middle Eastern studies took upon themselves the task of making known the achievements of Islamic culture and denouncing the false image of Islam which had previously been spread by non-Muslim “Orientalists”.  To anyone familiar with its history, Islam would not seem an obvious candidate for membership in a movement dedicated to tolerance and the celebration of “diversity”, but it was included nonetheless, in large part because its advocates were able to successfully present themselves as the victims of prejudice.  Unfortunately, in the real world the Muslims were themselves prone to prejudices of all kinds, and in particular, to the prejudice of anti-Semitism.


Muslim anti-Semitism has a long history dating back to Mohammed himself, who was directly responsible for the murder of many hundreds of Jews both in Medina and Khaybar.  He sought to justify his actions with nasty remarks about the Jews which are scattered throughout the Koran.  It follows that anyone who venerates Mohammed and regards the Koran as the word of Allah will be predisposed to a negative attitude towards the Jewish people.  In the past this attitude generally took the form of contempt, but with the rise of the modern Zionist movement, the contempt gradually metamorphosed into violent rage.  For the benefit of Western audiences this rage was packaged as righteous indignation over the treatment of the Palestinians by the Israelis.  In this way an anti-Zionist component gradually became a major element in the multi-cultural concept of “political correctness”.  And basically because the Arabs and Muslims felt so strongly about the matter, this conponent took on an increasingly activist tone.


Thus arose the movement to boycott, divest and sanction anything Israeli.  From the start this movement was centered in the academic world and those professions which were closely aligned with it.  It was rooted in a multiculturalism that had somehow turned into its dialectical opposite.  Starting as a way of championing the cause of “the other”, multiculturalism has evolved into a violent assault on the original “other”, the Jewish people.  The term, “the other”, used to designate someone who is “not one of us”, was popularized by Simone de Beauvoir as a way of describing how men looked at women.  But the term was previously used by her friend, Jean-Paul Sartre, in order to refer to the way that anti-Semites looked at Jews.  Multiculturalists now look at Israel in this same way and despite their protestations to the contrary, it is self evident that denigration of the Jewish state is also a form of denigration of the Jewish people.


But of course we Jews have no one but ourselves to blame for striving to advance in American society without making a big issue of anti-Semitism.  Is not the Christian religion profoundly anti-Semitic, not only because it blames the Jews for the death of Jesus, but also because it teaches that if you pretend to drink the blood and eat the flesh of Jesus once a week you will go to a pleasant place in the sky after you die?  Yet we never said one word blaming the Christians for these teachings.  We did not want to draw attention to just how pervasive anti-Semitism really is, because that would reinforce our status as “the other”, which is the last thing that American Jews wanted to be.  But in downplaying the issue of anti-Semitism, we made it possible for the multiculturalists to adopt all sorts of anti-Semitic attitudes without fear of criticism.  Themselves ready to denounce the slightest deviation from “political correctness” as “racism” or “sexism”, the multiculturalists do not hesitate to sit in judgment on the Jewish people without any real knowledge of who it is they are condemning.


Exclusion of the Jewish narrative from the multi-cultural canon has effectively concealed the fact that there is no people in human history that has been so subjected to persecution and abuse for so long as the Jewish people.  The Arab and Muslim assault on the state of Israel is only the latest in a long series of anti-Jewish campaigns waged by Christians, Muslims and Communists alike, to say nothing of the pagans who preceded them and the Nazis who came after.  For 3000 years the Jewish people has upheld the ideal of national self-determination in the land of Israel in order to implement there a more rational, egalitarian and peaceful way of life than was prevalent in the large kingdoms and empires that persecuted us.  It was the Jewish way of life that was the ultimate source of all the progressive ideas associated with the influence of individual Jews in world history.  And it is the Jewish way of life as reflected in Israeli liberal democracy, that is the real target of the authoritarian Arab and Muslim regimes arrayed against us.


In the final analysis, it is also rejection of the Jewish way of life which is the underlying motive for the anti-Zionist campaign of the multiculturalists.  Multiculturalism is many things, but one thing it is not is a path to a more harmonious social order.  It thrives in an academic environment where social criticism is an established norm but has little relevance for the day to day concerns of working people.  There was a time when the left in the United States sought to address those concerns, but once the socialist left was defeated, the path was opened for the advent of a strictly liberal left dedicated to the personal and professional advancement of its multi-cultural constituents within the framework of the capitalist system.  In the eyes of this liberal left, the traditional Jewish concern with the life of society as a whole appeared as a threat, and anti-Zionism was the method which it eventually evolved to deal with this threat.


So where do we go from here?  The best way to discredit the anti-Semitic ideology of the multi-cultural left is to situate it in the context of the long history of anti-Semitism.  It was always the practice of the anti-Semites to conceal their hostility to Jewish social values behind a mask of righteous indignation at the alleged crimes of the Jewish people.  Demonization of Israeli self defense against Arab and Muslim terrorism is only the latest in a long series of such tactics.  Now that we have departments of Jewish studies, they should be used to disseminate awareness of the contours of Jewish history to a wide audience.  The better Jewish history is understood, the weaker will become the position of the multiculturalists.  The Jewish people has played a progressive role in world history and will continue to play this role whether the multiculturalists like it or not..

Jewish Education and Anti-Semitism

Insofar as Jewish education is something more than a code word for instruction in the Jewish religion, what is it and who needs it?

There already exists a vast literature on this subject outlining the various aspects of Jewish history and culture which young Jews ought to know something about.  The big problem, it is generally agreed, is motivating young people to actually want a Jewish education.  Wanting a Jewish education requires wanting to be Jewish, and that takes some guts.


Being Jewish means being forced to cope with anti-Semitism.  To be sure, there are some Jews who maintain that they have experienced little or no anti-Semitism in their lives, but they are deceiving themselves as well as others.  Didn’t they hear the Christians say that the Jews killed Jesus, the Muslims say that the Jews rejected Mohammed, the Marxists say that the Jews love money?  We are talking about literally billions of people all over the world who have been taught these things.  Even if these beliefs don’t result in outright persecution – and they often do – they still create a climate of doubt and controversy which surrounds every Jew on earth whether they know it or not.  Some may choose to react to this climate through evasion and denial, others through confrontation and self-assertion, but however they may choose to react, their lives are shaped to one degree or another by the force of anti-Semitism.


To cope with this force, Jewish education must do two things.  In the first place – and all versions of Jewish education agree on this point – it must cultivate a positive Jewish self-image.  Religious versions of Jewish education seek to achieve this through the doctrine of the Jewish people as a chosen people, a nation of priests commanded by “God” to act as a light unto the nations.  Secular versions of Jewish education may reject this language but they must teach something very similar to be effective.  And in fact an objective account of Jewish history would show that the Jewish people has played a progressive role in world history.


In the second place, Jewish education must offer a strategy for counteracting anti-Semitism.  Religious versions of Jewish education do have such a strategy, although it is rarely made explicit or discussed as such.  The religious strategy is to emphasize the common adherence of the “monotheistic” religions to belief in “God”.  Since the Christians and Muslims both claim to believe in the same “God” (or “Allah”) as the “God” of the Jews, religious Jews feel entitled to take the position that we “monotheists” are all in this together, why can’t we just get along?  The effectiveness of this strategy may be judged by its results, which are far from impressive.  For every Christian or Muslim that does indeed feel a common bond with religious Jews, there are many more who are swayed by the anti-Semitic teachings contained in the Christian and Muslim scriptures to adopt a very different attitude.  Promoting a common belief in “God” is clearly a losing strategy so far as combatting anti-Semitism is concerned, because it indirectly validates the Christian and Muslim religions, which are historically the main source of anti-Semitism on a world scale.


Most secular versions of Jewish education also have an implicit strategy for combatting anti-Semitism, which is also not very effective.  The basic idea is to teach young Jews to be someone that the anti-Semites can’t disparage.  The classical Zionist approach was to create a religion of labor so that no one could say that the Jews were lazy parasites.  The Yiddishists teach, “Be a mensch”, meaning be so understanding and self-effacing that everyone will like you.  Mainstream liberal Jewish education promotes a spirit of civic-mindedness and devotion to worthy causes intended to prove how useful to society good Jews can be.  The trouble with all these strategies is that they grossly underestimate the capacity of the anti-Semites to find fault with the Jews no matter what we do.  The spectacular failure of the Zionist effort to win acceptance of Israel as a model nation is a case in point.  Liberal Jewish civic-mindedness is systematically depicted by the anti-Semites as a Jewish plot to subvert the social order.  And being a mensch can be easily perceived as weakness and lack of self-respect.  The sad truth is that there is no version of Jewishness that can prevent the anti-Semites from hating us as Jews.


It follows that the only strategy for combatting anti-Semitism that has any long term chance of success is to find fault with the anti-Semites.  In the case of the Nazis, this is generally understood.  The word, “Nazi”, has become a term of abuse not only for Jews but also for large numbers of non-Jews.  Indeed, many anti-Semites now delight in using it as a term of abuse against Jews in general and Israelis in particular, who are constantly accused of being “just like the Nazis”.  But what everyone seems to forget is just why “Nazi” has become a term of abuse.  They think it is because the Nazis were mass murderers, but the Christians, Muslims and Marxists have also been responsible for numerous mass murders without being stigmatized for it to anywhere near the same degree.  The point about the Nazis is not only that they murdered literally tens of millions of people, including six million Jews, but that they then proceeded to lose the Second World War and see their leaders executed and their organizations banned.  Nazism proved a failure, and it is for this reason and none other that the crimes of the Nazis are so universally held against them.


If Christianity, Islam and Marxism have proved more successful than Nazism, it is first and foremost because they incorporate progressive as well as regressive attitudes and beliefs.  Ironically, these progressive attitudes and beliefs are derived to a large extent from Jewish tradition.  In the case of Christianity, this connection is clear and explicit.  In the case of Islam and Marxism, the connection is largely concealed and disguised but no less real on that account.  The great difficulty which confronts any attempt at a Jewish critique of Christianity, Islam and Marxism is how to separate out the progressive from the regressive elements and accept the former while rejecting the latter.  It is essential to do this because anti-Semitism is such a key component of the regressive elements.  Conversely, the progressive elements are really just so many restatements of the traditional Jewish belief in social equality and ethical behavior.  The role of anti-Semitism in all three doctrines, which between them dominate a large part of world culture, is precisely to disavow their debt to Jewish ideals, the better to justify their opposition to Jewish national self-determination, the one Jewish ideal they have never adopted.


Jewish national self-determination is nonetheless the ideal which more than any other has defined the Jews as a people throughout our history.  For more than a thousand years the Jewish people fought to establish and maintain an independent Jewish state on the soil of the land of Israel.  When this effort was undermined by the mass murders and devastation inflicted by the Romans, restoration of the nation of Judah became the Messianic dream of rabbinical Judaism.  This dream was incorporated into every facet of Jewish life: in the constant study and use of the Hebrew and Aramaic languages; in the continued application of Jewish law; in prayers and religious ceremonies; in legends, songs and folk tales; and in actual efforts in every generation to return to the land of Israel and settle there.  The modern Zionist movement was but the culmination of almost two thousand years of struggle to reverse the verdict of the so-called “Jewish Wars” and right the wrong which had been done to the Jewish people by the Roman mass murderers.  Those who deny the legitimacy of this struggle do so because they do not believe in national self-determination but rather in the supremacy of some empire, be it Christian, Muslim, Marxist or Nazi.

In order to cultivate a positive Jewish self-image, and in order to oppose anti-Semitism, it is therefore essential that a program of Jewish education promote understanding of and support for the nation of Israel.  The way to do this is first through the study of Jewish history and culture, second through the study of the history of modern Zionism and the state of Israel, and third through political action in defense of Israel and in opposition to anti-Semitism.  But there is also a fourth element which an effective program of Jewish education ought to include and which is in some ways the most important of all.  This is the study of the relationship between Jewish history and world history.


Jewish history as it is commonly taught is usually ghettoized and presented in isolation from the history of the rest of the world.  Insofar as world history is brought into the picture at all, it is usually in order to depict the rise and fall of the various empires which affected the Jewish people in some way.  Largely ignored is the complex dialectic whereby the Jewish people shaped and was shaped by the surrounding environment.  Christianity, Islam and Marxism are only the most prominent examples of the way in which Jewish ideals have been appropriated, often in a disguised or distorted form, and spread throughout the world.  And Jewish culture in turn has been strongly influenced by such forces as the Zoroastrian religion, Hellenistic ideology, Arab philosophy and Western secular thought.  Nor has the interplay between the Jewish people and the surrounding environment been limited to the sphere of the history of ideas.  Alphabetical writing was invented by Semitic miners in the Sinai and probably first adopted by the Hebrews, from whom it then spread to the Phoenicians and Greeks.  Glass-blowing and silk-weaving are among the many technical skills which were first introduced into Europe by the Jews.  Many of the nautical instruments which the European explorers of the early modern period used in their voyages of discovery were invented by Jews.  As to the Jewish contribution to the development of modern science, the name of Einstein is only the best known on a long list.


If the history of the world were taught in such a way as to include rather than exclude the Jewish people, it would have to be entirely rewritten.  Two factors have conspired to prevent this inclusion.  In the first place, the ideologists of Christianity, Islam and Marxism have consistently sought to present their beliefs as the creation of a few inspired individuals, whom they are always careful to separate from the Jews, rather than as the result of an ongoing process of social interaction between large numbers of Jewish and non-Jewish people.  And in the second place, the modern anti-Semites have succeeded in discouraging the study of Jewish influence on world culture by substituting in its place the myth of the Jewish conspiracy to rule the world.  Fear of contributing to the spread of this myth has made most scholars reluctant to notice the massive impact on the modern world of the Jewish struggle for social equality, ethical behavior and national self-determination.  We are speaking here not only of ideals but of a readiness to live those ideals and, if necessary, die for them.  If the purpose of Jewish education is ultimately to instill this same readiness in young people, then we must realize that essential to this goal is an understanding that the martyrs of the Holocaust, of the pogroms and of all the other persecutions did not die in vain.  Their struggle has transformed the world, and it is in the continuation of this process of transformation that the only hope for the eventual abolition of anti-Semitism is to be found.


Anti-Semitism is basically nothing other than political opposition to Jewish ideals.  Starting back in the days of the Greek and Roman empires, this opposition learned to mask itself in the form of one absurd accusation after another.  The great absurd accusation of the present day is that the tiny state of Israel is eager to pick a quarrel with the Palestinians despite the fact that they form a part of the large, wealthy, well armed and aggressive Arab nation.  Concealed behind this myth is the desire of the many authoritarian Arab regimes to prevent Israeli influence from resulting in the introduction of democracy into the Middle East.  It is this desire which has given rise to the sustained campaign of warfare, terror and incitement which these regimes have waged against Israel since the day of its birth both directly and through the agency of the various Palestinian terrorist organizations.  This campaign will undoubtedly persist in one form or another until democracy is in fact introduced throughout the Arab world.  And in general anti-Semitism will persist until the authoritarian and imperialist doctrines of the anti-Semites are thoroughly discredited and democratic and egalitarian ideals accepted in their place.  The true purpose of Jewish education is to facilitate this process.  What then is Jewish education?  It is a light unto the nations.  And who needs it?  Everyone..