The New Greeks

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Last week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave an interview to Michael Doran from the Hudson Institute. As a scholar, rather than a reporter, Doran asked questions that related to the ideas that have animated Netanyahu’s actions over the years.

The first part of their discussion revolved around Netanyahu’s speech before the joint houses of Congress in March 2015 where he laid out the case against the centerpiece of then-president Barack Obama’s foreign policy – the nuclear deal with Iran. Standing before the US lawmakers, Netanyahu explained that Obama’s gambit would guarantee that Iran would develop a nuclear arsenal inside of a decade.

That address is widely considered to have been a turning point in Israel’s history. It cemented Israel’s position as a regional leader and set the conditions for strategic cooperation between Israel and the Sunni Arab states of the Persian Gulf which, like Israel, are threatened by Iran and its nuclear weapons program.

Doran, who is Catholic, chose to begin his discussion of the speech not with the impact it had on the Arab world, but its impact on American Jews. Members of the US Jewish community, Doran recalled, were frightened by the speech which pitted the leader of the Jewish state against the President of the United States. He quoted a friend who told him, “2,000 years of history have taught us that you shouldn’t clash with kings.”

The American Jewish anxiety over Netanyahu’s speech is notable because it revealed a harsh truth that has only grown harsher in the five years that have passed since then. The self-confidence that characterized American Jewry in the second half of the 20 century has all but disappeared.

Until the 1950s, the most common expression of anti-Semitism in America was elitist snark and ostracism. The country club anti-Semitism of high society kept Jews out of fancy country clubs, law firms, and investment banks. Jews were subjected to admission quotas at top universities and the Jews that got in were expected to behave like good Presbyterians.

In the early to mid-1950s, as the dimensions of the Holocaust were absorbed by the American ruling classes, the gates to high society began opening to American Jews, and what is widely considered the Golden Age of American Judaism began.

Fifty years later, at the start of this century, things began slipping back. The Golden Age began to rust. It wasn’t the WASP elite of yesteryear that rejected the civil rights of Jews. It was the new progressive elite that began undermining the Jews’ position as they moved from the margins of American society to center stage. Like the Soviets, who exchanged the old anti-Jewish bigotry that rejected Jews as individuals, for the new anti-Jewish bigotry that rejected Jews as a nation, the progressives rejected Israel’s right to exist and ostracized Jews who embraced their attachment to the Jewish people and homeland.

The progressive elite are now the new American elite. Now in charge, they have dusted off the old anti-Semitism of the WASP elites and updated it. Whereas the old elite anti-Semitism involved the social and financial ostracism of Jews due to their religion, today’s elite anti-Semitism involves the social and financial ostracism of Jews due to politics and racism.

As Netanyahu spoke with Doran, the online Jewish magazine Tablet published a story of such contemporary elite anti-Semitic ostracism suffered by a group of Jewish women in Los Angeles. The women had been members of an exclusive, members-only Facebook page for women in LA called “Girls Night Out.”

GNO, with its 30,000 members is considered a valuable networking tool. As the article explained, the page, “offers valuable work opportunities for LA’s large freelance population. By commenting on threads, fitness trainers, chefs, makeup artists, and the like can prove their bona fides and, if they are lucky, get new clients. Artists can sell their wares and PR pros can announce hot new openings and popup stores.”

With the economic shutdowns caused by the coronavirus, membership in the networking rich Facebook page is considered a precious resource.

In late August, as the Black Lives Matter riots spread to Los Angeles, the page’s administrators made supporting BLM official policy. BLM’s LA riots were rife with specifically anti-Semitic attacks against synagogues and Jewish businesses. Anti-Semitic banners were posted on highway overpasses and the atmosphere in Jewish neighborhoods, in particular, was fearful.

One such banner on highway 405 caught the attention of a Jewish GNO member. She posted a comment about the banner, which read, “The Jews Want a Race War,” on GNO and expressed her concern. Other Jewish women joined her and they recommended that the page appoint a Jewish woman as one of its administrators to aid in the fight against anti-Semitism.

In response, another GNO member suggested that only Jews who agree to “acknowledge the occupation of Palestine,” should be permitted to administer the page. That is, only Jews who accept the progressive elite’s anti-Semitic constraints on their rights to participate in polite society can have the job.

All the Jewish women who posted objections to this self-evidently bigoted post were thrown off the page. And, a Jewish woman who accepted the condition, and wrote a post condemning Israel was given the job of an administrator.

The Jews who were thrown off took their case to the group founder. She proceeded to do nothing for three months. Finally, last month, the founder pushed out the anti-Semitic administrators and moderators, including the Jewish anti-Zionist, brought back the Jewish women who were expelled, and appointed two pro-Israel Jewish women as moderators on the page.

Given its happy end, the GNO story is a nice story. But the fact that for three months, the Jewish women who stood up for themselves were denied the opportunity to participate in the valuable networking opportunities provided by the Facebook page simply because they stood up against bigotry testifies to the prevalence and power of progressive anti-Semites.

This elite progressive anti-Semitism isn’t expressed only as hatred for Israel and Jews who support Israel. It is also characterized by a sneering contempt for Judaism and Jewish practices – for instance, the practice of celebrating Hanukkah.

Last week, the New York Times published an opinion piece under the headline, “Saying Good-bye to Hanukkah.” The article was written by a non-Jewish woman, with an assimilated Catholic mother and an assimilated Jewish father. In her column, she declared that she and her non-Jewish spouse will not be lighting the menorah with their non-Jewish children because it just isn’t meaningful to them.

It ought to go without saying that a non-Jewish woman’s decision not to celebrate a Jewish holiday is a non-event. So why did the NYT publish it?

Today, the New York Times is the newspaper of record for the progressive elite. As such, the NYT published the article to tell the faithful that contempt for Judaism and Jewish ritual is the way to go. The article can be seen as of a piece with the paper’s hostile treatment of ultra-Orthodox Jews.

To date, the Jewish community’s institutional leadership has been utterly incompetent in contending with the resurgence of the country club anti-Semitism of America’s progressive ruling class. This owes, in large part to the fact that many powerful members of the community are progressives and as such, they side with the anti-Semites against their fellow Jews.

Last month, William Daroff, the CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations asked the group’s members to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s definition of ant-Semitism. The IHRA definition, along with the examples of anti-Semitism it includes has been adopted by the US government and dozens of other governments worldwide.

The progressives at Americans for Peace Now refused. In an open letter to Daroff, the pro-Palestinian group aped Jeremy Corbyn insisting that the examples of anti-Semitism attached to the IHRA definition – rejecting Israel’s right to exist, campaigning for its boycott and the ostracism of its supporters and using a double standard to judge Israel – are not anti-Semitism.

Rather than boot APN out of the Conference of Presidents for endorsing discrimination against Jews, Daroff shrugged his shoulders. Everyone has a right to his opinion, he responded. It was just a suggestion.

Netanyahu’s response to Doran’s recollection of his friend’s fear over the premier’s bold defiance of Obama was instructive, both in terms of what it says about the nature of Jewish history and the nature of Jewish leadership.

Netanyahu said he rejected Doran’s friend’s “general rule,” that Jews “shouldn’t clash with kings.”

“I think Jewish history is a little more complex than that. It goes back actually almost 4,000 years,” he noted.

And then Netanyahu turned to Hanukkah.

“Next week we’re marking down one episode alone, just one example of resistance to kings without which we wouldn’t be here today. It’s called Hanukkah, it’s the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire and Antiochus. Without that revolt, there wouldn’t be a Judaism, there wouldn’t be Christianity either.”

Netanyahu then rejected Doran’s friend’s characterization of Obama as a king.

“I wasn’t there dealing with a king. I was dealing with the elected president of our great valued ally, the United States.”

While many American Jews were scared that Netanyahu’s courageous challenge of Obama’s central foreign policy would provoke anti-Semitism, in fact, it empowered many Americans to oppose the deal. Republicans rallied against it. Every Republican presidential candidate in 2016 pledged to abandon the deal, and President Donald Trump kept his promise.

By being a leader, Netanyahu also empowered the American Jewish community to defy Obama, even as he and his advisors channeled anti-Semitism by demonizing the deal’s opponents as being in the pockets of nefarious donors and foreign interests.

AIPAC launched a major campaign to oppose the nuclear deal in Congress and tens of thousands of otherwise uninvolved American Jews attended demonstrations across the US to voice their opposition to the deal that paved the way for Iran to become a nuclear power.

Netanyahu explained that in dealing with leaders like Obama, with whom he had profound disagreements, “You seek compromise where you can, but you have to avoid compromise where you can’t and you have to distinguish between the two and that’s what I tried to do.”

This lesson in leadership is perhaps the key message of our time. Like the Greeks of yesteryear, the progressive elites today insist that, to be accepted in polite society, Jews have to give up an essential part of their identity – and their civil rights. The Greeks demanded that the Jews give up the Torah. The progressives demand they give up their Jewish peoplehood. These are things that cannot be compromised, only fought, even when those demanding their forfeiture are Jews themselves.

Originally published in Israel Hayom.

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