In fact, as French-Jewish philosopher Alain Finkielkraut has persuasively argued in The Imaginary Jew, it is precisely the urge to assimilation that much of the Gentile world holds against Jews, even those whose “will to integration” leads them to become antisemites themselves. Assimilation is an example of “historical irony attaining a tragic perfection,” for it was the very “will to integration that was really the crime.” The effort to melt into the mainstream, the desire for respectability and approval, is nothing less, according to Finkielkraut, than “a bad bargain with emancipation” which culminates one way or another in disdain, hatred, ostracism — or worse.
This is the message of the Book of Esther (and its associated Purim festival), which cautions Jews that the attempt to blend in is always idle, that even a place at court is no safeguard against antisemitic malice and that Jewish identity, however inscrutable or contested, cannot be forsworn. This is true of today’s “court Jews” as well, that cabal of journalists, editors, professors, authors, pundits, and pamphleteers who fulminate against their own while maintaining their coveted status in the corridors of preference. One recalls how the philosopher Moses Hess, formerly a passionate assimilationist, was shocked into reality by the Damascus riots of 1840 and became what we might call a proto-Zionist.
Similarly, Theodor Herzl, founder of the Zionist movement and author of the epochal The Jewish State (1896), was himself a staunch assimilationist until he visited France and saw with his own eyes the swollen cloud of mindless and deep-seated hatreds let loose by the Dreyfus trial. The conclusion he came to, however painful and against the grain, changed the course of his people’s history and cannot be controverted by the dejudaicized Jew who still wishes to preserve his sense of reality and ultimately to survive. Today there can be no question that, in the words of legal commentator Stephen Kruger, “The lowest common denominator of countries large and small is Jew-hatred.”
American Jews, who think they are safe, should read the report, first issued as a Faculty Working Paper, by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. The report accuses Israel of being a torture state, of not being a genuine democracy, and of not being a reliable partner of the U.S. But their salvos are not directed solely against Israel. They then proceed to abuse influential American Jews like Paul Wolfowitz, David Wurmser, and Douglas Feith for orchestrating the American involvement in Iraq and purport to show how the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) “manipulates the media” and “polices academia.”
What is most disturbing is that this mendacious and bigoted report, which has since resurfaced in book form as The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, has the authority of a great American university behind it and, equally distressing, is only one of such numerous propaganda documents to come from heretofore unimpeachable sources or presumable experts. The most recent of such venomous screeds, as we have seen, is Gilad Atzmon’s The Wandering Who? which reinforces the canard of Holocaust denial, justifies the libels of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and effectively blames Jews for all the world’s ills. That Atzmon is himself a Jew places him squarely in the ranks of the apikorsim, a traitor both to himself and to his people, one of those “value-added Jews,” as Nidra Poller calls them. “I no longer felt any attachment to the Jewish causes, Israel or the Jewish people,” he confesses; far better to play the saxophone, to be reassured that he “might possess musical talent,” and “to draw closer to the Arab sound” as he proceeds to defame Israel and Jews.
His type proliferates, as do instances of complicity. In November of this year, the Jewish antisemite, backer of the Iranian ayatollahs, and conspiracy theorist Richard Falk, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Palestinian territories, spoke before the human rights center at my alma mater, McGill University in Montreal. To characterize this event as a “disgrace,” as some observers have done, is a reverberating understatement. It is a veritable obscenity. Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, gets it right: “someone who consistently contorts reality to fit a preconceived agenda — one that always ends up excusing the preachers of hate and the perpetrators of terror — has no place in an institution of learning premised on the principles of rational and empirical inquiry.” And, it should go without saying, has no place in the Jewish community either.
It is time for Jews to wake up and smell the viscid stench of bigotry and hatred that has begun to fill the air. What David Hume said about slavery in Essays moral, political, and literary is also true of murderous intentions, namely, that evil “has so frightful an aspect to men accustomed to freedom, that it must steal upon them by degrees, and must disguise itself by a thousand shapes, in order to be received.” Before you know it, you are in chains. Only, as noted above, in the current moment the signs are increasingly conspicuous. The averted gaze and the serene assumption that “it can’t happen here” leave a people unprepared in the face of social depravity and political infamy. There is no longer any excuse for obliviousness. Nor is there any warrant for disowning, condescending to, or pillorying the messengers who bring premonitory tidings. Worse, there can be no forgiveness for partnering with antisemitic and anti-Zionist mustalids, as did the Jewish Studies Program at the University of California at Davis, inviting Gilbert Achcar, a defender of the Nazi collaborator Haj Amin al-Hussein, the notorious Mufti of Jerusalem, to “grace” the podium.
Whether in Israel or the Diaspora, Jews must recognize that the winds have shifted once again, that appeasement is a failed strategy, that pandering to the haters or joining their serried columns will not save them in the long run, that assimilation is no ironclad guarantee against the depredations of the morally benighted, that pretending otherwise and loitering in a state of occulted nonchalance and smug indifference is nothing but the harbinger of tragedy, and that awareness, courage, and the readiness to defend against assault in whatever way that may be called for have become necessary. Jews must shed their complacency and take the initiative, establish pro-active organizations willing to vigorously support their cause, cease funding universities where anti-Jewish groups, a leftist professoriate, and compliant administrators multiply, acknowledge that “interfaith dialogue” with Islamic clerics is a tactical maneuver on the part of a determined antagonist, know who their real allies are and welcome their advocacy, vote intelligently in elections rather than fall back on slogans and abstractions that play to their inflated sense of “social justice,” understand that as it goes with Israel, so it will go with them — in brief, stop arming the enemy. For the lesson of the Jewish saga across the killing fields of history is that what has happened before can happen again. And today we are witnessing both the resurgence of an old and barbarous malignity and a growing cohort of Jewish quislings and historical illiterates.
As Ethel Wilson writes in her story “We Have to Sit Opposite,” on one level about a train journey from Austria to Germany in the 1930s, but with allegorical implications pointing to a somnolent era that had closed its eyes to the advancing dangers of the time: “Many people slept until they reached Munich. Then they all began to wake up.” The trouble was, they had overslept.