The Weekend Read
Why the Jews?

Making anti-semitism into an eternal problem, some scholars of Judaism actually wind up normalizing anti-Judaism.

Published on: March 8, 2014
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  • Pete

    I wonder if there might not be any spiritual reason for antiSemitism?

    • Grigalem

      You mean the utter lack of spirituality on the part of Christians

  • wigwag

    It is hardly surprising that as the director of a program dedicated to the study of Hannah Arendt, Roger Berkowitz, will go to any lengths to defend her reputation even against the mildest of criticisms. I encourage readers to follow Berkowtiz’s advice; read Chapter One of Arendt’s famous book and then read Grafton’s and Walzer’s review of Nirenberg’s book. But don’t stop there; familiarize yourself with the entirety of Arendt’s body of work and learn about her personal history. Only after that will you be equipped to determine whether Grafton and Walzer have a point about Arendt. I think that they do, and that their critique of Arendt is far more astute than Berkowtiz’s critique of them.

    As long as Berkowtiz is weighing in on Nirenberg’s extraordinary book, perhaps he would like to weigh in on the recent behavior of the institution that employs him, Bard College. Bard as an institution is famously anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian. Along with Brandeis and a tiny number of other American colleges and universities, Bard has an intimate relationship with Al Quds University in Jerusalem. It was only a few short months ago that a student-led demonstration at Al Quds featured Palestinian students brandishing mock weapons on campus and repeatedly giving Nazi-like salutes; the intent was clear. The students were supporting terrorist acts against Israeli Jews. When the President of Brandeis demanded that Sari Nussebeih (the President of Al Quds University) distance himself from the anti-Semitism displayed by the students, instead Nussebeih refused and angrily made excuses for them. Brandeis broke of relations with Al Quds University; at least temporarily.

    Bard, which had a relationship with Al Quds University that was at least as close as that of Brandeis, remained conspicuously silent during the incident and the Bard President (a former conductor of the Israeli Philharmonic) refused to criticize either the Al Quds students or Nussebeih.

    As long as Dr. Berkowtiz is commenting on the Nirenberg book, perhaps he could tell us what he thinks of the behavior of Bard, its President, Leon Botstein and the Bard faculty during the incident. Does he think Bard’s behavior is emblematic of what Nirenberg is talking about in his book? Or does his interest in the subject extend no further than defending Hannah Arendt?

    Note to Adam Garfinkle; you should write a book review of Nirenberg’s book. You are uniquely qualified to do so and American Interest readers would benefit from your insights into “Anti-Judaism.”

    • Anthony

      You’ve been missed!

  • Jim__L

    It’s very easy to take a group of people that doesn’t accept the norms of the dominant culture, and whip up uncertainty about their values and motives. Jews, gypsies, heretics of various types … just look at what the NYT did to the TEA Party. Ironically, it may be the inability to apply a positive stereotype, the stereotype of the “good [member of the culture]”, that makes the negative stereotypes the inevitable alternative.

    Interestingly, it seems that Jewishness may be threatened at least as much by social acceptance as by anti-Semitism. If marriages outside the faith / ethnic group (and loss of religious rigor) are any indication, Jews may be assimilated into non-existence in many places, in not too many generations. Jews may only be Jews as long as others insist they are.

    • Grigalem

      Which norms of the dominant culture don’t Jews accept?

      • Jim__L

        Bacon, mostly.

  • Anthony

    “Why the Jews” weekend read brings a lot to table; millenial plus explanatory force – countervailing set of people, ideas, culture (zeitgeist perhaps) – being utilized to mitigate anxiety or give societal order. Berkowitz, Grafton, and Walzer on Nirenberg imbue reader with human social arrangements from perspective of Judaism/Jewry as context to humans managing tensions, societal complexities, and ability to relate while using Jews from their perspective historically as default position. “…is a strategic appropriation of the most powerful language of opprobrium available to any critic of the powers and institutions of this world” gives resonance to essay’s exegesis.

  • EliseRonan

    Sorry but I don’t see this as normalizing antisemitism/antiJudaism in any way. Having read some but not all of AntiJudaism (sometimes history is too much even for those who love history), the author merely tries to explain the unexplainable. Sometimes all you can do is look at the history and extrapolate, hypothesis and yes even project. It is not necessarily satisfying but it does lend a bit to a type of catharsis. Whereas, for some it also explains the jump to hatred of Israel found globally today. But on the other hand it doesn’t really explain the sycophant nature of so many of today’s Jews who live in the “democratic” countries of the western diaspora either. A form of Stockholm syndrome perhaps, but even that is woefully insufficient an explanation of the modern Jewish mindset.The truth is that antisemitism has been written into so many cultures its as if its part of the DNA of society. The issue is how to eradicate it or even if you can, when anti-Judaism/antisemitism is a convenient fallback for their own ineptitude by billions around the world.

  • ljgude

    I was born in 42 and went to Columbia in 60 with a lot of Jewish classmates whose families had been directly touched by the Holocaust. I remember one afternoon whispers of a secret screening of never before seen Holocaust footage spread through the dorms. Buy the time of the screening in a huge downtown loft it seemed half of New York was there and I got in using the password my Jewish classmates had supplied. Given that experience I have been appalled at the resurgence of anti Semitism, particularly in Europe. So pointing out that anti Judaism is eternal doesn’t normalize it for me – it just makes it worse, more perverse and inexcusable. For me it is more like : “There they go -at it again, pulling the wings off flies, and blaming the Jews. And doing everything possible to encourage the Palestinians to drive the Jews out of Israel where they have taken refuge from us in the West. Such fine people we are.

  • free_agent

    I’m hardly a scholar of this problem, but my guess is that the Jews are unique (or nearly so) in one way: They’ve continued to exist as a people (a distinct ethnic group) for almost 2,000 years without a homeland. Lots of ethnic groups have ceased to have homelands, but they usually get assimilated after a handful of generations and vanish. And lots of ethnic groups have diasporas which are persecuted and sometimes genocided, but those groups usually have homelands within which they can persecute and genocide other groups’ diasporas, so while they suffer they also inflict suffering. The Jews have had centuries of suffering, but no opportunity to inflict suffering.

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