By Joseph Sobran
Capitol Hill is ‘In Our Hands’
One isn’t supposed to say this, but many people believe that Israel now holds the White House, the Senate, and much of the American media in its hands. This is what is known as an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.
The odd thing is that it is held by many Israelis. In an essay reprinted in the May 27  issue of the New York Times, Ari Shavit, an Israeli columnist, reflected sorrowfully on the wanton Israeli killing of more than a hundred Lebanese civilians in April. “We killed them out of a certain naive hubris. Believing with absolute certitude that now, with the White House, the Senate, and much of the American media in our hands, the lives of others do not count as much as our own …”
In a single phrase — “in our hands” — Mr. Shavit has lit up the American political landscape like a flash of lightning.
Notice that Mr. Shavit assumes as an obvious fact what we Americans can say publicly only at our own risk. It’s surprising, and refreshing, to find such candor in an American newspaper (though his essay was reprinted from the Israeli paper Haaretz).
The prescribed cant on the subject holds that Israel is a “reliable ally” of the United States, despite Israel’s long record of double-dealing against this country, ranging from the killing of American sailors to constant espionage and technology theft. The word “ally” implies that the relationship exists because it’s in the interests of this country, though Israel’s lobby is clearly devoted to the interests of Israel itself, and it’s childish to suggest otherwise.
You expect that from the Israeli lobby; lobbies are lobbies, after all. But it’s unnerving that the White House, the Senate, and much of the American media should be “in our hands,” as Mr. Shavit puts it. Bill Clinton, a lover of peace since his college days, raised no protest when the Israelis drove 400,000 innocent Lebanese out of their homes this year in “retaliation” for rockets launched into Israel (wounding one Israeli) by a faction over whom those 400,000 had no control.
Congress of course, was supine as usual at this latest extravagance of Israeli “defense.” Congress too is “in our hands.”
A recent article in the Washington Post likened the Israel lobby’s power to that of the gun and tobacco lobbies. But there is one enormous difference. Newspapers like the Post aren’t afraid to criticize the gun and tobacco lobbies. They will say forthrightly that those lobbies seek goals that are dangerous for this country. They don’t dare say as much of the Israel lobby.
But much of the press and electronic media are “in our hands” in a more active sense: they supply misleading pro-Israel propaganda in the guise of news and commentary, constantly praising Israeli democracy and ignoring Israel’s mistreatment of its non-Jewish minorities — mistreatment which, if any government inflicted it on a Jewish minority, would earn it the fierce opprobrium of our media.
No decent American would think of reducing American Jews to the status of Palestinians in Israel. The idea is almost absurd. Yet Americans are taxed to subsidize the oppression of Palestinians, on the flimsy pretext that they are helping an “ally” in America’s own self-interest, as if it were in our interest to be hated and despised by the whole Muslim world.
All this is interesting less for what it tells us about Israel than for what it tells us about America. Frank discussion of Israel is permitted in Israel, as Mr. Shavit’s article illustrates. It’s rarely permitted here. Charges of anti-Semitism and a quiet but very effective boycott will be the reward of any journalist who calls attention to his own government’s — and his own profession’s — servitude to Israeli interests.
Very few in America are doing anything to change that sorry state of affairs. Mr. Shavit wrote his article in the desperate hope of turning back his countrymen and his government from a morally and politically perilous course. At least he can hope. It’s harder for us, when our own government isn’t in our hands.
Judaism and Jewishness
Israel has been torn by a dispute over the definition of a Jew -– a grave problem for a government dedicated to Jewry. The Orthodox rabbinate, which prevails in Israel, refuses to accept converts to Reform and Conservative Judaism as authentic Jews. For the Orthodox, claiming to be a Jew isn’t enough; that way chaos lies. Only those converted according to strict Orthodox procedures, including circumcision, are eligible for Israeli citizenship. Many non-Orthodox Jews find this outrageous.
Meanwhile, the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada has issued a statement rejecting Reform and Conservative Judaism as not Judaism at all, but as “an alien religion.” This has only added to the fury of other Jews.
Orthodox Judaism, with its hundreds of severe and minute rules, is a little like a rhinoceros: you may not think it’s a pretty house pet, but it’s built to last. It grossly offends all modern notions of universalism, equality, civil rights, sexual freedom, and simple human conviviality. It has offended the morals and manners of earlier civilizations, which have generally accused the Jews of misanthropy and worse. But the old rhino has never much cared what outsiders think of it. And it has kept Jewry in continuous existence for more than three millennia, while whole civilizations have come and gone.
Without Orthodox Judaism, there would be no Jews today. Even to call it “Orthodox” is misleading. For most of history, it was the only form of Judaism. Reform and Conservative Judaism date from the nineteenth century, and both reflect the desire of many Jews to define themselves on terms more compatible with the modern world. To the Orthodox, these adaptations mean not only fatal compromise but disobedience to divine law.
At the least, the staying power of these Westernized forms of Judaism seems highly questionable. Jewry has survived thanks precisely to the exclusive nature of Judaism — its refusal of intermarriage, close association, and easy fellowship with gentiles. It regards assimilation, so tempting to other Jews, with utter horror. And it can point to the high rates of defection and intermarriage among modern Jews as justification for its stern self-segregation.
Considered backward in every age, Torah Judaism has survived every age, every successive form of modernity. That in itself is an awesome fact that commands, if not veneration, at least respect.
C. S. Lewis observed that liberal Christianity was always a way out of orthodox Christianity, never a way in. The cannibal doesn’t convert to Unitarianism and progress to High Church Anglicanism; he converts to some dogmatic, evangelical version of the faith, or he doesn’t convert. The whole idea of Unitarianism is to strip Christianity down to an acceptably undemanding form that may provide comfort for those who are weary of the rigors of a sterner faith, but it doesn’t inspire the heathen to sign up for active duty. There are Christians today only because there were once martyrs willing to die for the very things the liberal Christian rejects.
In the same way, it seems highly doubtful that if the Jews of the ancient or medieval world had been Reform Jews, there would be any Jews today. I don’t mean to pound the Reform Jews; but it appears to me that they are only one version of the modern Jewish identity crisis.
Despite ferocious persecution, the children of Abraham have prospered amazingly in the modern world. We are in the middle of a sort of Jewish Renaissance, a burst of intelligence and genius rarely equaled. In my own scholarly pursuits, for example, I’ve never studied a field in which some of the best work wasn’t done by Jews. And this is only one facet of their talent. In proportion to their numbers, Jews are the most successful and powerful group in the United States today. They have both raw power, political and economic, and enormous intellectual influence, shaping America’s self-understanding but doing much to de-Christianize American public life; the Jewish revival has its darker and troubled side. Jews have also made their contributions to crime, political subversion, and cultural perversity. The Jews have given the modern world some of its most brilliant minds, but also some of its most notable intellectual charlatans: for every Einstein there has been a Marx or a Freud.
The remarkable fact is that the Jewish Renaissance has occurred, for better and worse, largely among the non-Orthodox. It may actually be inseparable from the Jewish identity crisis of modernity. The Jews who have left Judaism have not, by and large, left Jewry, even when they have married gentiles. And they are preoccupied with finding new ways of defining what it means to be “Jewish,” while tacitly renouncing Orthodox Judaism itself. Jews in the media, for example, rarely call attention to their Orthodox brethren.
The Jewish quest for identity has generated many ideologies. At first these tended to be universalist political creeds: liberalism, socialism, Communism. But these abstract creeds have more recently been displaced by the interlocked particularist causes of Zionism and anti-anti-Semitism. Supporting Israel and opposing anti-Semitism have now become ways of being a “good Jew” without observing the Mosaic law. Keeping kosher has been superseded by supporting Israel. Even many of the Orthodox have become fanatically attached to Israel, though Zionism is a modern political ideology, conceived on the model of European nationalism. Israel began its existence as a secular socialist democracy, a homeland for the Jews and a refuge from anti-Semitism, though opposed as sacrilegious by the most strictly Orthodox (some of whom remain adamant).
There’s a crucial difference between Torah Judaism and ideological “Jewishness.” The one is based on piety, which is absent from secular Jewishness; the other is defined by the notion of “anti-Semitism,” which is absent from the five books of Moses, the whole Old Testament, and pre-modern Jewish culture. By today’s standards, the severe judgments of the Lord and the Prophets on the Jews are virulently anti-Semitic; but of course the whole purpose of those judgments was the spiritual health and salvation of Jewry.
The Jews had the peculiar habit of recording and treasuring the divine rebukes, a practice at the opposite pole from the usual chauvinism of the human race and from the chauvinism of Zionist “Jewishness.” Chauvinism always glorifies, justifies, and excuses one’s own nation, while blaming others for its troubles. The all-purpose word “anti-Semitism” is used to explain all frictions between Jews and gentiles; in the moral universe of secular Jewishness there is no such fault, or word, as “anti-gentilism,” because the ideology itself is so thoroughly anti-gentile in its premises.
This is why so many Jewish apologists for Israel — even clever men like William Safire, Martin Peretz, and Charles Krauthammer — can never admit that the Palestinians or even American critics of Israel have a point. They never seem to feel it may appear morally odd that the Israelis should always be in the right, and are never embarrassed to take the Zionist party line in every dispute.
According to the ideology, the survival of the Jewish people is inseparable from Israel and its “right to exist.” Yet it wasn’t Zionism that preserved the Jews for thousands of years; it was Judaism. And Israel itself hasn’t preserved the Jews for the last half-century; on the contrary, Israel’s existence has been secured by Diaspora Jewry, especially the Jewish “lobby” in the United States. The Zionist pioneers envisioned a homeland where Jews could be “normal,” free from the marginal, precarious, and “parasitic” existence they were forced to live in other nations. But Jews now live “normal” lives in the Western countries where they have no special status, while Israel is heavily dependent on outside help. Israelis regard it as a moral failing for other Jews to continue living in Diaspora instead of migrating to Israel. Yet the Israelis themselves rely on those Jews for their sustenance.
Underlying the whole situation is the fact, which many of the most sophisticated modern Jews are reluctant to acknowledge, that all the Jews owe their existence to the long pre-Zionist centuries of Judaism, with its strict, reactionary, tribal, ethnocentric, patriarchal, etc., code. That code is in affront to nearly every principle liberal Jews espouse. Yet it has proven itself uniquely durable, while liberal Jews keep melting into the general population, having no firm reason to refuse assimilation. Ambiguously liberal Jews like Alan Dershowitz (whose son recently married a Catholic) are now worrying about the threat posed to the future of Jewry by social acceptance, which seduces Jews into assimilating and thereby surrendering their Jewish identity. In essence, such worriers are saying that the chief threat to Jewish survival today is not anti-Semitism, but the absence of anti-Semitism.
Nothing could better illustrate the moral corrosiveness, not of Judaism, but of liberalism. Judaism never felt vexed by the absence of anti-Semitism. The source of its strength was internal, not the hostility of its neighbors. A secular Jew like Dershowitz can’t give a compelling reason why Jews should survive as a distinct group. The question doesn’t present itself when danger looms; you fight for survival first and philosophize later. Secular Jewishness is so empty because it has defined itself in terms of enemies who have ceased to exist. That’s why it has to keep redefining “anti-Semitism” to include even people who insist that they are not anti-Semitic (Pat Buchanan, Pat Robertson, the Christian Right).
When no avowed and visible enemy exists, covert and invisible enmity has to be posited. In a strange counterpoint to Torah Judaism, which claims to define who is a Jew, secular Jewish groups like the Anti-Defamation League now claim the privilege of deciding who is an anti-Semite. A gentile’s denial that he’s an anti-Semite counts for little with this secular rabbinate, which may rule that he’s an anti-Semite anyway. It is sufficient grounds for condemnation if he opposes the claims of Zionism or speaks critically of the American Jewish lobby.
This is why I sometimes quip that an “anti-Semite” is no longer a man who hates Jews, but a man who is hated by Jews. Torah Judaism has no need of such malevolent quibbling, because it doesn’t need anti-Semitism to create Jewish “identity.” But Torah Judaism is profoundly embarrassing to secular Jewishness, which does its best to marginalize the Orthodox Jew along with the anti-Semite. Not the least curious fact in this whole situation is that the secular Jewish ideology not only exaggerates the significance of the anti-Semite, but minimizes the significance of the Orthodox Jew. Which one does it really regard as the greater threat to its version of “Jewishness”?
Addison Wesley has just published a fascinating book by J. J. Goldberg of the Israeli magazine Jerusalem Report, titled Jewish Power: Inside the American Jewish Establishment. It deals frankly, informatively, and on the whole fairly with a touchy subject; so touchy that a blurb on the cover from the Canadian Jewish novelist Mordecai Richler calls the book “brave,” a word nobody would use of a book about Irish or black Americans.
In fact the book isn’t particularly brave, and it comes nowhere near the bottom of the subject. I don’t mean to disparage it, because it remains well worth reading. The problem is that Goldberg sees no problem. He says that yes, Jews have power, but they use it for largely legitimate and benign purposes. One of his examples — abortion rights — is enough to illustrate the problem he doesn’t see.
Goldberg describes the inner workings of the Jewish establishment – meaning the major secular Jewish organizations, often collectively called “the Jewish lobby” — in considerable detail. And he makes it clear that the establishment is a far more humdrum affair than it may seem in the imaginations of suspicious outsiders. The Jews’ two chief weapons, to call them that, are simply intelligence and energy. They are always, as we used to say, on the go. They are not, in most respects, monolithic, and they often work at cross-purposes. Their power only seems preternatural until you see how it actually operates (not for nothing was Houdini a Jew), and it’s healthy to have it demystified and shown to be part of the everyday world. So far, so good. At times the reader even suspects that the Jews have a lot more fun than they like to admit. And yet there is a problem, one that transcends the mundane activities of the Anti-Defamation League and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
The problem used to be called, by all sides, “the Jewish problem.” It recognized that there are serious difficulties in integrating Jews into a larger society. The proposed “solutions” have included assimilation, conversion, the ghetto, Zionism, pluralism, expulsion, and outright extermination. At the moment Jews themselves are still torn over the best course, complicated by their own vexing minority problem in Israel. Meanwhile, gentiles, and Christians in particular, have ceased arguing about the problem, because they now feel uneasy about calling it a problem.
Goldberg notes that as anti-Semitism has virtually disappeared, Jews have become incredibly sensitive to supposed anti-Semitism, which they are inclined to find lurking everywhere, usually without warrant. Yet though he is perceptive about this “perception gap,” he fails, again, to see what it means. The “Jewish problem” remains alive for Jews, but it has new names, and others are forbidden to acknowledge it as in any sense their problem too.
For Goldberg the prevalence of Jews in the major media doesn’t translate into Jewish power in the media. He notes that most Jews in the media don’t participate in Jewish communal life and are often critical of Israel, often outraging ordinary pro-Israel Jews and the Jewish establishment. But this ignores another fact about media Jews: they are often hostile to Christianity, even if they have ceased to be partial to Judaism and Israel. And Christians certainly feel this hostility emanating from the media, even if it isn’t exactly a matter of organized power in the way the Israel lobby is.
For many Jews, Christianity is synonymous with anti-Semitism and general benightedness. In this respect, the apostate Jew remains very Jewish. Goldberg retains something of this attitude himself, though he acknowledges that Jews, unlike members of other pre-Christian faiths, enjoyed a certain amount of tolerance in Christian Europe (far more than Christian heretics did).
Henry Ford’s Dearborn Independent once observed: “As soon as the Jew gained control of the ‘movies’ we had a movie problem, the consequences of which are visible. It is the peculiar genius of that race to create problems of a moral character in whatever business they achieve a majority.” Goldberg calls this “delusional,” but allowing for its rudeness and one-sidedness, it makes a point. Whether you want to call Jews “disruptive” (the hostile version) or “in the forefront of social change” (the flattering version), it comes down to this: cultures don’t mix.
That, after all, is what makes them cultures. A culture is a closed system of symbols and values. Cultures not only can’t mix, they have difficulty adjusting to each other, even when they do a lot of mutual borrowing. When there are so many tensions within cultures (as witness both Jewry and Christendom), it is hardly to be expected that they will live together in easy harmony, despite the rosy rhetoric of “pluralism” and “multiculturalism,” which assumes that all differences are merely superficial, like the colorful variety of ethnic costumes in a parade. Cultural minorities, unless they are willing to assimilate totally (thereby surrendering their own identity), are apt to be more or less subversive of the majority’s culture, whether or not they intend to be.
There is no need to impute this fact of life to minority villainy. On the other hand, the majority is entitled to keep its guard up. Each side, from its own point of view, is merely acting in self-defense, and sees the other side as oppressor or aggressor. “The Jewish problem,” from the Jews’ point of view, is “the Christian problem.”
In public rhetoric, Jews today have the upper hand. Not long ago it was otherwise; they were troublemakers at worst, marginal at best. Christians regarded them as obviously undesirable and thought nothing of excluding them from neighborhoods, social clubs, and other institutions. Now they have become central in American public life, endowed with certified victimhood; they have managed to make themselves the test of others’ tolerance, without the responsibility of meeting any moral tests but their own. That’s why the charge of being anti-Semitic is so much more damaging than the charge of being anti-Christian. The slightest bias against Jews is apt to become at least a public embarrassment, while Israel may practice official racial and religious discrimination not only without facing much criticism, but with vocal moral support from American politicians and pundits like Al Gore and George Will. The Jewish side is nearly always the safe side, the side of the secular angels; also, to be crude about it, the side of money.
This is a dimension of Jewish power Goldberg seems unaware of. He is laudably disinclined to make loose charges of anti-Semitism; in fact he thinks the charge is usually grossly exaggerated. But he doesn’t seem to understand how much such charges both express and increase Jewish power, making it difficult for Christians (and gentiles in general) to reply to Jewish attacks, whether those attacks are reasonable criticism or outright libel.
I learned this on the battlefield, so to speak, when I began to criticize Israel from the premises of the cold-war patriotism of the conservative magazine I used to work for. I was soon taken aside and cautioned that we didn’t necessarily apply our principles to Israel in any literal-minded sort of way.
Pat Buchanan later got the same treatment on a much larger scale. He called attention to Israel’s “Amen Corner in this country,” and it quickly transpired (if we hadn’t known already) that the Amen Corner didn’t like to have its existence advertised. It proceeded to blast Buchanan in such a way as to destroy any pretense that he was wrong. We were supposed to pretend that the Israel lobby, which is pretty much identical with the Jewish lobby, wasn’t acting against American interests; but how could a foreign lobby possibly be acting in American interests at all times? Why would it exist at all, except to ensure the subordination of American interests to Israeli interests? If the two countries’ interests were identical, why would anyone seek to influence either’s government in behalf of the other’s? Such obvious questions were ignored by Buchanan’s detractors, who included as many servile Christians as Jews.
The telling side of such encounters is the behavior of Christians. The fear of the Jews is a reflection of Jewish power, but it also magnifies that power. I often think of a line in the movie “Miller’s Crossing,” in a scene where the Irish mob boss is warned by his best friend: “You don’t hold elective office in this town, Leo. You only run it because people think you run it. When they stop thinkin’ it, you stop runnin’ it.”
The Jews don’t really “run” America; but they haunt it in a peculiar way that makes it seem as if they run it, and gives them a leverage out of all proportion to their numbers, and even to their raw power. They have a certain moral authority, which isn’t altogether specious, but is certainly lopsided, since they are exempted from the kind of public criticism they are free to dish out.
This is true partly because, I think, they mistakenly experience criticism as a prelude to persecution. And they may not be altogether mistaken. Deep down they may realize, more than Christians do, that cultures don’t mix as easily as sentimental Americans like to pretend. They may well fear that if the fictions of pluralism were to collapse, gentiles might once again start talking aloud about “the Jewish problem,” and might even ask why American Christians should be more tolerant of minorities than the Israelis are.
If it’s “brave” to discuss Jewish power, it’s surely because the Jews don’t welcome such discussion. Most powerful people glory in their power and find it advantageous, as well as pleasurable, to display it. The Jews seem to feel that their kind of power will tend to evaporate if attention is called to it; and that if it evaporates, they may lose more than power.
This is understandable. Nobody should want the Jews or anyone else to be vulnerable to persecution. Still, cultural differences and rival interests can’t be papered over forever. It’s useless to prattle about pluralism in front of the abortion clinic, where cultural differences show up as a total impasse. The Jews speak frankly among themselves of their own interests, and of the threats to those interests posed by Christians. Christians should be free to do the same without being called bigoted — or “brave.”
The essay “Capitol Hill is ‘In Our Hands’” is reprinted from the July-August 1996 issue of Capitol Hill Voice, a newsletter edited and published by Dale Crowley, Jr. “Judaism and Jewishness” is reprinted from the June 1997 issue of Sobran’s newsletter. “Jewish What?” is reprinted from the February 1997 issue of Sobran’s.
These three items were published together, under the overall heading “Jewish Power,” in the IHR’s Journal of Historical Review, Jan.-Feb. 1999 (Vol. 18, No. 1), pages 28-33.
About the Author
Joseph Sobran (1946-2010) was an author, columnist and lecturer. For 21 years he wrote for National Review magazine, including 18 years as a senior editor. For 20 years he was a syndicated columnist.