I just finished Bari Weiss’ book, How to Fight Anti-Semitism. I suggest that you read it.
Not because I agree with everything in it, especially her answers to the question implied by its title. Be proud of being Jewish, she says, stay liberal, don’t hide your Jewishness, don’t let the Linda Sarsours push you around, live your life according to Jewish principles (by which she seems to mean the ones you learn about in a Reform synagogue, not the traditional mitzvot) and more. Even “support Israel.” All good things, but – with the exception of an injunction to take measures to protect the security of Jewish institutions – not much that you can use when they are banging at your door in the middle of the night.
I also think that she goes a bit far when she asserts that Donald Trump “trashed – gleefully and shamelessly – the unwritten rules of our society that have kept American Jews and, therefore, America safe.” His legacy is “a culture demolished, smashed, twisted beyond recognition,” according to Weiss.
No. A great deal has gone wrong in America in the last few decades, but there are plenty of villains to go around, including Trump’s recent predecessors and the over-the-top insanity of the Left’s reaction to Trump. If the culture is smashed, Trump is one of the fragments, not the one who smashed it.
And although Weiss’ historical chapters, including her analysis of the three directions from which Jews are being bombarded today – the Right, the Left, and “Radical Islam” (I think her editor stuck in the word “radical”) – are well written and very informative, they are also not why I am recommending the book.
I want people to read this book because there is no way you can do so and still maintain that there is no runaway antisemitism problem in North America. There is no way you can maintain that Jews in the last remaining safe diaspora stronghold will continue to be safe, and not just from a few heavily armed neo-Nazi wackos. If she does one thing exceptionally well in this book, it is to accurately convey the extent of the phenomenon. The neo-Nazis, the intersectional leftists smugly categorizing Jews as exploiters with no rights, the Farrakhanists on New York subways, the imams preaching about killing Jews – there are more of them every day.
Weiss talks a lot about Europe, where everyday life for Jews is rapidly becoming more difficult and dangerous, mostly because of the influx of Muslim migrants from places where, as she points out, Jew-hatred is normative. In other words, it’s part of almost everybody’s repertoire of common knowledge. Is the Pope Catholic? Does the bear defecate in the woods? Are the Jews a subhuman race descended from apes and pigs? Ask anyone in Iraq. In Somalia, when you stub your toe you curse the Jews. Muslim migrants from places like that do not leave their antisemitism at the airport along with any prohibited invasive plants.
Should French Jews proudly wear their kipot? She doesn’t know if, in their place, she would. But Europe provides a clue as to why her solutions won’t work in the US. France has the third largest population of Jews in the world (about half a million), after Israel and the US. But they comprise only about 0.7% of the French population. If the non-Jewish population and the government can’t protect them, then it doesn’t matter how proud they are of their Jewishness, how liberal they are, or how “out” they are about being Jewish. And many French Jews have already decided to either move to “safe” neighborhoods in large cities – you could call them ghettos – or to abandon careers or sell businesses and leave the country.
In the UK, there are fewer than 300,000 Jews, about 0.44% of the population. Weiss notes that a recent poll had some 40% of British Jews saying they would “seriously consider emigrating” if the antisemitic – there’s no arguing this point – Jeremy Corbyn were to become Prime Minister. They, too, are making the same calculation.
The US and Canada have larger percentages of Jews – 1.8% and 1.1% respectively. But that is still minuscule in comparison to the non-Jewish majority. If they lose the support of that majority, then their position becomes untenable. And as Corbyn has shown, shockingly, it is even possible for a major political party in a democratic country to take a turn toward antisemitism.
Weiss’ point of view is that of a liberal Jew living in the US, and why she wants to “fight anti-Semitism” is to try to bring back the golden age of American Jewry, which she sees as slipping away. She would like to reverse some of the trends, but – revealingly – she wants to do it by changing the Jews. As Kenneth Levin has pointed out in his book The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Siege, that can’t work. It isn’t up to the Jews. Antisemitism is irrational and the antisemites will hate them regardless of how they behave. And when you are less than 2% of the population (and getting smaller), you don’t have the leverage to move the country, despite what antisemites may believe about Jewish power.
I would like to look at the problem from a broader perspective: what do we need to do to preserve the Jewish people in the face of its enemies?
The first thing I notice is that much of the diaspora is already lost. There are almost no Jews left anywhere in the Muslim world, and Hitler and Stalin put an end to the Jews of the former Russian Empire and Central Europe. There is no future for Jews in France. The UK is on the cusp of a similar fate, dependent on the political whim of the 99.56% of the population that is not Jewish. Even if Corbyn is not elected, conditions for Jews in the UK are almost certain to be worse in the future than they are now.
That leaves the US and Canada. Perhaps, as Weiss suggests, if the Jews could be more unified they could resist antisemitic trends and personalities better. Perhaps; although it seems to me that the Jewish communities are just as polarized as the society as a whole. If – just for example – the left wing of the Democratic party in the US were to “Corbynize” the party, there would be little that the tiny minority of Jews could do.
Weiss wants to fight antisemitism by being honest, liberal, proud, and enlightened. All those qualities are useless against enemies that are precisely the opposite in all respects, and that is the case with antisemites. There is only one way to deter your enemies, and that is to be more powerful than them – and to demonstrate this whenever the occasion arises.
This can’t happen within a country where Jews are a tiny minority, but it may be possible on the world stage. Israel, as Weiss notes, has a powerful army and nuclear weapons. It also has less visible assets, like a very high level of technical competence. Israel is the heart and soul of the Jewish people, and the way to preserve the people and its culture, is for Israel to survive and thrive. Insofar as it does, it can be a place of refuge for the inhabitants of those diaspora communities that may not.
I don’t think that Weiss has the answers for North American Jews. But maybe her description of exactly how bad the situation is, and how it is likely to get worse, will impel some of them to think seriously about aliyah.