I Apologize for Sloppy Statements About Jews

An entry I did the other day on David Brooks’s column in the Times went over the line in referring to “Jewish writers.” I wish I hadn’t done it—and thereby given fuel to vile antisemites. I apologize.

I have to be more careful when talking about my community of origin, to whom I’m still god knows attached. The reason I insist on talking about Jews at all is that they are important: they are a crucial part of the intelligentsia, and in the last generation we’ve seen a sharp shift in the stance of Jewish public intellectuals, to the right. Neocons, with a deep sympathy for Israel, and, usually, contempt for the peace process, played a large role in the Iraq war; and the importance of Jewishness to the neoconservate movement simply cannot be denied. (See The Neoconservative Revolution, Jewish Intellectuals and the Shaping of Public Policy, by fellow traveler Murray Friedman; Cambridge University Press, 2005).

But sorting out the neocon presence in Jewish political/intellectual life generally is a difficult process. Especially because the Jewish left is divided. Here is a comment to me from a scholar of the Middle East:

The Jewish community led the left in the 1960s—of course this is a terrible generalization, but there is an element of truth. The civil rights campaign went to the heart of Jewish interests. They teamed up with blacks when many Wasps closed their lips and would have preferred to sweep the issue under the rug. The McCarthy period and civil rights period are still the “golden age” for the Jewish left.

Today is the golden age of the Jewish right. That traditional leadership of the Left is largely gone. The war on Terror, in which Israel is so involved, has caused the traditional civil rights defenders to change camps or go silent. No alternative leadership has really emerged.

I think that old bloc of Jewish thinking is divided. C.f., Paul Berman, Thomas Friedman, and Kenneth Pollack, the liberals who went over on the Iraq war, in part (I would argue, based on their writings) because of concerns about Iraq’s threat to Israel. Just as liberal Jewish congressmen supported the war. Just as Hillary Clinton courts centrist-Jewish support by being an unrepentant hawk.

These changes have resulted in a fumbling inside the American left, generally, and in the populist tenor of the antiwar movement. As LRB editor Mary-Kay Wilmers told me earlier this year, for an article I wrote for the Nation: “It seems that the American left is also claimed by the Israel lobby.” Or as Gwen Anderson commented (re my post on rising realist scholar Trita Parsi):

At the end of the day, it is the American Right will defeat the neo-cons, not the impotent Left.

My crudeness the other day was in speaking broadly of Jews. Plainly, many Jews fiercely oppose this war, many are critical of the Israel Lobby. They are important members of the progressive opposition.

I Apologize for Sloppy Statements About Jews