The Paradox of the Jewish Mind
Growing up Jewish in a small Quebec town at a time when an ultramontane clergy dominated social and religious life, I experienced my share of anti-Semitic hatred. Restricted from visiting certain beaches and playgrounds, regularly ambushed on the way to school by kids screaming anti-Jewish taunts and slurs (the obscenity of choice was maudit juif, “damned Jew”), arrested once for defending myself against a gang of attackers, thus contributing, no doubt, to what is now known as the “cycle of violence” -- to mention only a few such incidents -- I learned firsthand what it means to be a Jew. Obviously, it was not like trying to survive in Lithuania or Germany, but it was a revelation nonetheless.
I recall one episode in which I was not personally involved but which was the most vividly instructive of all. Several times a year professional wrestlers from Montreal would visit the village sports center and regale us with flying jets of sweat, bellows, grunts, and body slams. On one such occasion, a masked behemoth was pitted against a lesser opponent wearing blue and white trunks embellished with the Star of David. It didn’t take long before this substitute Jew was brutally demolished to the cheers and hoots of an appreciative crowd. The coup de grâce came when the methodical tormentor, after having thoroughly administered a vicious beating, scooped up a handful of sawdust from the floor of the arena and rubbed it into his victim’s eyes. The blinded “Jew” staggered about the ring, arms flailing, crying out to the Jewish god -- Aidez-moi, Seigneur, “Help me, Lord.” After a minute or so of histrionic misery, he was clutched by the hair, driven head first into the ringpost, and then hurled through the ropes unto the ground several feet below. A team of assistants appeared and carried him out on a stretcher, surrounded by a gesticulating mob.
It all seemed real then and I was young enough to be horrified by what I had just witnessed. It was only much later that I recognized this staged event as the symbolic equivalent of a blinded people mauled and battered into a state of insensibility. Worse, I began to wonder whether a people finding itself in the ring of near-universal opprobrium, or at least a significant proportion of them, were not busily engaged rubbing sand into their own eyes, so as not to see what was demonstrably happening to them. And I am no less horrified now than I was as a young spectator at a fake wrestling match.
What is there to be done? I have read that Israel has recently made a major breakthrough in radiation monitoring technology. The Environmental Protection Ministry has announced that it will be deploying a new detection system that will enable continuous real-time monitoring of radiation hazards from cellular antennas, establishing the country as a world leader in the field. A similar device to detect the harmful radiation from bad ideas that damage the capacity of Jews and Israelis to resist ideological contamination would be even more welcome. Perhaps the requisite apparatus is already in place, only not fully activated. It’s called “the mind.”
Israel is a threatened nation, not only because it is surrounded by enemies who would like nothing better than to drive its people into the sea, but because it is increasingly regarded and treated in the international arena as a pariah state, vilified in the media, subject to boycotts, falsely condemned as an apartheid regime, its officials tarred as war criminals. We know the drill now: first comes the pummeling, then the expulsion from the ring. Listen to the rantings of presidential advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski or read the blatant fabrications of professor John Mearsheimer, co-author of The Israel Lobby, among innumerable other influential and surreptitious antisemites, if there is any doubt about the intention to delegitimize Israel -- and Jews.
As for the Jewish community in the Diaspora, it too confronts a swelling and malignant anti-Semitism even in countries where Jew-hatred has been in approximate remission. This is why of all ethnic groups, it is the least able to tolerate -- I must be blunt -- the number of unreconstructed idiots, useful or otherwise, proliferating in its midst, whether they are prone to delusions of nobility and grandeur or merely self-interested schemers for whom, to cite Deuteronomy 16:19, “a gift [i.e., bribe] doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous.” They are equally at risk, both those who turn toward the ineffable and lofty in the realm of ideas and those who turn basely against their own. And their number, I’m afraid, is legion.
Leaving aside for now the vast constituency of ordinary Jews who vote for the Liberal Party in Canada and the Democrats in the U.S., for which the welfare of the Jewish state, to put it mildly, is not on the agenda, or left-wing Israelis devoted to the mirage of surrendering land for “peace,” let us take a very brief sampling of high-profile figures who have been in the news of late:
- Jurist Richard Goldstone, who fathered the heinous UN report largely blaming Israel for its conduct during Operation Cast Lead -- the same man who accepted a judicial appointment during the apartheid era in south Africa and who, according to reports, was responsible for sending 28 blacks to their death.
- Political careerist Martin Indyk, who is harshly critical of the beleaguered Jewish state he apparently once supported. Academic maven Neve Gordon, who denounces his home country, sides with the Palestinians, and offered comfort to Yassir Arafat in the Mukataa compound during the last Intifada.
- Visual artist Jan Egesborg circulating maps with Israel blanked out and featuring the phrase “Final Solution.” Journalist Uri Blau of the Haaretz newspaper in illegal possession of sensitive state documents.
- Nobelized scientist Ada Yonath, who urges the Israeli government to release its terrorist prisoners.
- Literary cynosure David Grossman, whose slogan, “peace of no choice,” would, if taken seriously, ultimately deprive him of it.
- Ersatz intellectual Naomi Klein, who considers Israel a terror state.
- Hannah Rosenthal, director of the U.S. Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, who has neither monitored nor combated it, but generally lets it pass under the radar.
- Revisionist Tom Segev, who faults the Jewish state for being over-hasty and paranoid in responding to the encroaching Arab armies.
- Activist Naomi Chazan, president of the New Israel Fund which sponsors left-wing, anti-Israel NGOs.
- Historian Tony Judt, who would dissolve Israel into an Arab-majority “binational” state.
- Orchestra conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim, friend to the late anti-Israeli ideologue Edward Said and now a Palestinian citizen.
- Aptly named author Shlomo Sand, who in his The Invention of the Jewish People attempts to deprive Jews of their historic and biblical identity, despite the genetic markers which decisively refute his thesis.
- Rabbi Michael Lerner, publisher of Tikkun Magazine and a self-proclaimed “spiritual progressive,” who accuses Israel of wantonly maiming and killing Palestinians.
- And Israel’s soi-disant “ "top philosopher" Avishai Margolit, who advocates a return to the porous and indefensible 1948 borders which he calls the “little Israel,” though a better designation might then be “no Israel at all.”
This, as I indicate, is only the merest cross-section of a teeming multitude of familiar names that could fill an Almanach de Gotha of the gullible, the obtuse, or the treacherous. They are all what we would regard as “intelligent” people, but their intelligence is specific to their fields and does not correlate especially well with what I will call the gi factor (on the model of the psychometrical category g, mental ability), that is, general intelligence, founded in common sense, which is able to transcend the boundaries and constraints of specific disciplines.
Of all the peoples of the world, Jews can least afford to be stupid, or merely selectively brilliant. What is the point of excelling at chemistry, or jurisprudence, or music, or philosophy, or literature or any other subject if there is not much gi behind it, if the Jewish mind is incapable of coming to grips with a complex, unforgiving, belligerent and actual world that has never fully accepted the Jew as a fellow human being and has often moved to humiliate, oppress and, indeed, exterminate him. Such smart-stupid Jews are the affliction of their people and, in the last analysis, their own worst enemies. For in the event of another anti-Semitic rampage or genocide -- which by their indifference, complicity, or quixotic utopianism they would have helped to bring about -- they too, just like their targeted ancestors and regardless of their achievements, would be flung into the ditches of history.
Israel, we know, is on the cutting edge of brain science, providing key elements in terms of staff, resources, and infrastructure for the ongoing Blue Brain Project. The Jerusalem center for neural computation is the most advanced such institute in the world. Speaking metaphorically, it is rather ironic that discoveries in the field of neurocomputation do not necessarily carry over into daily practice, down-to-earth reasonableness, and, let’s say, survival acumen. For many Jews, what fills the space where gi should be -- when they are not shamelessly exploiting their anti-Zionism for their own profit and advantage -- are dreams, visions and tractionless speculations, grand schemes for a better world, and an ethereal sense of ideal justice oblivious to the corrugations of reality. This for the most part is what constitutes the “Jewish sensibility”: local proficiency wedded to utopian exhalations.
We might say that the distinction between general intelligence and specific intelligence is like that between honey and sugar. What the bees do is different from what the beets do. General intelligence is undifferentiatedly curious, wide-ranging, and panoramic; specific intelligence is specialized, rooted in particulars, and fixed inside a bounded expertise, no matter how flexible its perimeters. We Jews, it seems, are good at si but there is far too little gi among us, and we will pay in suffering for this deficit unless we eventually learn to think outside the boxcar.
I write this as a Jew who is utterly mortified by the self-injurious imbecility I see escalating throughout the community to which I presumably belong. The propagation of foolish ideas, lunatic affiliations, and galloping myopia among an otherwise accomplished people has left me not only bewildered but also, it pains me to confess, resentful. With too few exceptions, the “peaceniks” march toward a calamity of their own devising; Jewish organizations naively succumb to the “charm offensives” of their deceptive adversaries; and the “intellectuals,” true to their class, are intoxicated with earnest inanities and clever-sounding verbiage. This is especially true of many Israeli academics who are in the forefront of “Israel Apartheid Week” hatefests and who, in the words of former chair of Hillel UK, Brenda Katten, “educate toward the demise of Israel.” Jews have to be smarter than that. For Jews do not enjoy the luxury of historical illiteracy or the tainted privilege of self-denial. They cannot, like Peter Schlemiel, lose their shadow, no matter how hard they work at it -- as if one could indemnify oneself against oneself, as if, to quote Horace Kallen, one could change one’s grandfather. Ehrich Weisz, aka Harry Houdini, was a Jewish escape artist but even he, the Master, was taken off guard and could not evade the bitter dereliction that lay in store for him.
Let us make no mistake about this, the darkness is rising again. The “culture of hatred” that Robert Wistrich (whom Ruthie Blum Leibowitz interviewed recently for Pajamas) minutely anatomizes in A Lethal Obsession, a phenomenon, as he writes, “that has over centuries produced an almost unfathomable abyss of dehumanization of the Jews,” is growing increasingly pervasive in the modern world. What, then, can one say to a lineage of self-defectors and sand-eyed agonists, these Jewish dream merchants on the one hand and machers on the other, these airy Margolits or squalid Goldstones trading respectively in the coin of delirium or betrayal? Perhaps just one thing.
Time to wake up and smell the cordite.