The use and abuse of popular culture’s favorite victim.
by Bruce S. Thornton
As if there isn’t enough evidence of the ideological corruption of America’s universities, along come Chicago’s John Mearsheimer and Harvard’s Stephen Walt, arguing that the “Israel lobby” dominates American foreign policy to the hurt of our own national interests. Alan Dershowitz has exposed the errors of fact and the sophomoric logic that mar this thesis, and that should embarrass what are supposed to be two of the best universities in the country . Personally, I consider it intellectual malfeasance to harp on the Israel lobby while ignoring the Palestinian lobby — which includes most of the faculty of American universities, most of the Middle Eastern Studies Departments, most of the media’s editorial boards, the Council on American Islamic Relations, the U.N., and a significant chunk of the State Department.
Critical analysis like Dershowitz’s is important, but equally significant is the question of how ideas usually found on neo-Nazi websites can be seriously entertained by otherwise educated people. Anti-Semitism certainly isn’t the whole answer, if only because the term is too broad to catch the various subsets of anti-Jewish bigotry. This isn’t to say that anti-Semitism doesn’t still exist. Obviously, old-fashioned anti-Semites, particularly in Europe, have found that in a post-Holocaust world, one can still indulge the same bigoted stereotypes of all-powerful cabals secretly manipulating world events, as long as one dresses them up in “pro-Palestinian” or “anti-Zionist” camouflage. But I’m not sure that most of those, including Muslims, who rail against the evil Jews really want them all to disappear, as Hitler did. They just want the Jews to stop being so uppity and to keep in their place.
In other words, the hater of Israel doesn’t mind if Jews stick around, as long as they play the role they’re supposed to: the marginalized victim whose fate is to suffer and provide us with objects of pity. That’s why popular culture’s favorite Jew is the Holocaust victim. As such, the Jew can even keep his religious identity, as long as it is kept thin and reduced to a few charming folkways no more significant than clog-dancing or bagpipes. In other words, don’t be too observantly Jewish, and don’t take being Jewish too seriously. Actually taking religion seriously is the monopoly of Muslims, who especially in Europe are allowed all sorts of leeway in expressing their fanatical devotion to their faith, even when it conflicts with the foundational political ideals of their countries.
But to keep someone a pitiful victim is to reduce his humanity, to leave him a passive object that exists only to arouse in others particular sorts of feelings. In other words, the victim can never be fully equal to others, but must remain in a subordinate condition. Here is where the position of Jews in the European imagination is similar to their status in the Muslim world. Most Muslims don’t want Jews to disappear, just Israel. Jews have lived in the Muslim world for centuries, but they did so as a subordinated minority whose public behavior and demeanor were always supposed to testify that they were inferior to their Islamic overlords. As possessors of the ultimate divine revelation, Muslims were justified in reminding Jews and Christians, who both rejected that culminating revelation, that they were inferiors allowed to live only by their spiritual superiors’ dispensation, which could be arbitrarily lifted at any time.
This is the contemptuous, conditional forbearance that many today extol as Muslim “tolerance.” It reminds me of the position of blacks in the Jim Crow South. After all, many Southerners who believed in segregation despised the Klu Klux Klan’s terrorism, and sincerely liked black people. These more respectable segregationists didn’t want to kill all the blacks, just to make sure that they lived in a way that publicly testified to their inferiority. Such Southerners believed that given the innate, ineradicable differences between the races, both peoples were better served by maintaining in social and political life the various mechanisms for asserting the superiority of the white race and its natural right to rule. So too with the dhimmi in Muslim societies: they can live and even practice their religion, so long as they demonstrate that they are inferior.
But the existence of Israel upsets all these long-established roles for Jews. Not just because Israel fights — Jews can fight, as they did at Masada and in the Warsaw ghetto. But they’re not supposed to win. To have their own nation, and thus be equal to the world’s other nations, and then to defeat in battle better armed, more numerous enemies, is to violate the image of the Jew established for centuries. It is to make him our equal, and to call forth paranoid fantasies about nefariously influential cabals to explain this disturbing change. For the Jew’s job is to be a victim, and thus perpetually inferior. He is to suffer and die, or else to leech away his Jewish identity and thus not really be a Jew, which is another sort of death.
These thoughts are speculative, no doubt, but the bizarre demonization of Israel cries out for explanation. So does the obscene double standard applied to Israel’s actions when defending itself, and the actions of the enemies sworn to her destruction. So does the obsession with Israel in the U.N. and in the E.U. So does the callous indifference to the murder of Israelis and the numerous attempts to destroy her. What else explains the astonishing phenomenon of a terrorist gang being taken for a legitimate government by the rest of the world? What else explains the long indulgence of the corrupt thug Arafat? What else explains an entire U.N. agency dedicated to one small group, even as in the rest of the world millions have starved and died? What else explains the way year after year propagandistic lies and disinformation such as the “Jenin massacre” are shrugged away even after they are exposed?
The reason isn’t just ignorance, though I have personally encountered fervent supporters of the Palestinians who could not recite two accurate facts from the history of the Middle East. Nor is anti-Semitism of the rabid Nazi variety the answer. Something else is at work here, an intellectual and moral corruption that cannot be cured with better P.R. or information campaigns. Its persistence means that Israel cannot become complacent even about the support of the United States. Israel ultimately can rely on nothing other than her own strong right arm.