Thursday, October 1, 2009

Jewish Exceptionalism

What follows is a profoundly insightful letter to the editor of the New York Times by Ira Glasser of New York. It was written in response to a review (by Leon Wieseltier) of Norman Podhoretz' book Why Are Jews Liberals? Podhoretz is the Godfather of the neoconservative movement:

"I have always thought that there were (to oversimplify somewhat) two kinds of Jews in American political life - those who saw Jews' experience with discrimination and persecution as an example of a broader and more generic phenomenon that embraced similar discrimination and persecution based on skin colour, gender, sexual orientation and other categories of invidious discriminations; and those who, like Podhoretz, saw Jews' experience with discrimination and persecution as exceptional and singular, and worse by far than all others. For the first group, the support of a wide range of civil rights movements was a natural extension of the Jewish experience, even when such support seemed to conflict with their own immediate interests, as happened with certain aspects of affirmative action. For the second group, self-interest was predominant, to the exclusion of serious, which is to say, operational sympathy for others who had suffered and were still suffering similar or even worse discriminatory persecutions. Podhoretz is a caricature of this second group, beginning with his confession and, yes, embrace of racism in his essay "My Negro Problem - and Ours," published in Commentary in 1963. He has now become so self-centered in his own sense of exceptionalism that he cannot understand why everyone in the first group doesn't rush to join him. He has not only lost the ability to feel for or identify with the persecution of others; he has lost all ability to see why anyone else would." (25/9/09)

It goes without saying that Glasser's 2nd group, the exceptionalists, includes all political Zionists - Zionists such as Chaim Weizmann, for example, without whose determined efforts the bizarre Balfour Declaration of 1917, promising British backing for a "national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine, would never have been issued:

"It has been suggested that Weizmann's refusal to theorise was something he had learnt from Britain. There is as little evidence for this view as there is for the suggestion that he learnt anything from British democracy. When I was reading in the Rehovoth Archives, I asked to be shown any references in Wiezmann's lectures either to British politics or to social conditions in Lancashire, where he lived for so many years. One single letter was found for me, in which he mentions to his wife the terribly sad look of the workers as they go into a factory. But that is all. When I learnt this, I couldn't help contrasting Weizmann's concentration on the plight of his own Jewish people with the attitude of another foreigner who lived for many years in Manchester, Friedrich Engels. Engels came to Lancashire as a cotton manufacturer, but as the collaborator of Karl Marx he concerned himself passionately with the condition of the workers and, as we all know, the Marx-Engels analysis of class war was worked out in terms of Lancashire. Weizmann had just as acute a mind and, when he was dealing with his own people, was just as interested in social conditions and social policies. But, unlike Marx and Engels, he did not feel moved by the condition of the workers and the problem was not his problem. Marx and Engels were self-conscious internationalists who believed in the unity of the working class. He was a self-conscious Jewish nationalist who believed that the Jewish worker of the Diaspora was separated by his Jewishness from the workers around him. That is why he conducted himself throughout his sojourn in Britain as a stranger and always refused to interfere or even to interest himself in British domestic politics, except insofar as they affected the Palestine question. The only obligation he felt was to persuade British politicians of all parties to espouse the Jewish cause." (A Nation Reborn, Richard Crossman, 1960, pp 30-31)

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