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Jewish Self-Estrangement Is Perennial

I could revive the dead, but I have more difficulty reviving the living.” -- Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Kotzk

In a recent article for PJ Media, I expressed my skepticism regarding the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam, or the injunction to “repair the world.” It is a noble behest, deriving as I speculated from the 7th Noahide Law traditionally enjoining the “sons of Noah” to ensure justice and restore harmony in the world. But, as I suggested, it has a dark side, too. Since the publication of the article, I have received ample commentary, most of it sympathetic but some of it rather clueless and even wilfully perverse. I thought I might take this opportunity to answer my detractors.

As I explained in the aforementioned article, my argument, initially delivered at a Holocaust Memorial conference convened in Toronto in June 2012, holds that the universalist sympathies typical of the left-wing branch of Judaism are potentially inimical to Jews themselves, suppressing their awareness of the hostility which Jews have met from time immemorial and deflecting them from the need to consider their own continued existence as paramount. Strive to protect and preserve yourselves and your families, I contended, and only then address your attention to humanity at large. Realize that what you call “home” is a problematic notion. The need for personal and communal survival has to pre-empt missionary commitment carried out in the name of universal morality. My thesis was not well received by some members of the audience. The entire New York contingent of conferees rose in collective reprehension and marched out of the hall.

As Gershom Scholem wrote in On Jews and Judaism in Crisis, regarding the Jewish experience in Nazi Germany, “The unending Jewish demand for a home was transformed into the illusion of being at home. During the generations preceding the catastrophe the German Jews distinguished themselves by an astonishing lack of critical insight into their own situation.” Dan Diner, a professor of modern history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, referred to the relation between Jews and Germans as a kind of “negative symbiosis,” that is, cultural vigor and economic prosperity shadowed by a half-conscious premonition of precariousness.

Clearly, early 21st century America is not early 20th century Germany, not by a long shot; nevertheless, anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism continue to percolate -- at 23% among blacks and 14% among the general population in 2016. Holocaust-deniers and avowed anti-Semites affiliated with the alt-Right consort with the anti-Semitism of the alt-Left, but they are not the real danger -- except to the genuine conservative Right tarred by association. The onus falls on the Left.

The Democrats’ latest sweetheart Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez provides a worrying example of this trend in her ignorant condemnation of Israel. MSNBC’s Hallie Jackson rhyming former Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s given name with “Kikle” may have been inadvertent, but it is telling nonetheless. Who knows what lurks in the unconscious? The slip was much appreciated by her colleagues. In his excoriation of the American Left, Dennis Prager points out that many on the liberal/Left would consider that most Israeli Jews and a third of America's Jews are Nazis. He regards such people as cripplingly naïve. Jewish liberals are equally naïve, however, in refusing to acknowledge the danger and persisting in a state of Panglossian ingenuousness.