Editor’s note: This review is from 2010, originally posted at Altright.com, and it appeared in Radix. However, it seems to have disappeared from the internet. And in any case it raises important issues, particularly Jewish perceptions of their own history, that bear repetition. We Westerners have a sense of our history — a traditional pride in accomplishment that has now been propagandized into guilt for past sins. Jewish conceptions of Jewish history are much different. Jews are proud of the many Jews who have achieved wealth and other markers of success, but they tend to be virtually obsessed with what they see as their persecution of blameless Jews, especially in Western societies. This has major effects on Jewish activism in the contemporary world. And given the power and influence that Jews now have throughout the West, its importance cannot be overstated. Andrew Joyce’s work on historical anti-Semitism, much of it posted on TOO, as well as my book Separation and Its Discontents and the work of several other mainstream historians (e.g., John Klier and Albert Lindeman), are attempts to provide a more balanced perspective. But, not surprisingly, they have fallen on deaf ears within the mainstream Jewish community.
Some aspects of this review require an update. Podhoretz makes a major point that the right is more sympathetic to Israel than the left. Whereas some on the right, such as Pat Buchanan, are critical of Israel, they tend to emphasize the disastrous influence of the Israel Lobby on U.S. foreign policy, while the left emphasizes Israel’s brutal treatment of the Palestinians. I argued against Podhoretz’s position, but since 2010, the left has become increasingly anti-Israel, particularly in the U.K. where the Labour Party is routinely labeled “anti-Semitic” and the great majority of Jews no longer support it. In the U.S., only around half of Democrats support Israel, and the 2018 election brought in radical leftists, such as Palestinian-American Rashida Tlaib, who have been vociferous opponents of Israel.
Nevertheless, it is far from obvious that the anti-Israel component of the left will actually gain power, either in the U.K. or the U.S. Although Jews have indeed stopped being major funders of the Labour Party, they remain a backbone of the Democrats, and this is not likely to change any time soon. Among likely presidential candidates, only Tulsi Gabbard has deviated from standard Israel Lobby positions in the Middle East, opposing U.S. military interventions and “forever wars.”
Why Are Jews Liberals?
Norman Podhoretz is something of an anomaly in the American Jewish community. His entire life is centered around his Jewishness, but he sees himself as an outsider in the mainstream Jewish community. He shares a great many of the attitudes typical of that community, but draws different conclusions about how to navigate the contemporary American political landscape in a way that’s “good for the Jews.”
Podhoretz’s Lachrymose View of Jewish History
One area where Podhoretz is absolutely mainstream among American Jews is his sense of history. The first half of the book lays out his version of the “lachrymose” theory of Jewish history in Europe and America in which the Diaspora has been one long vale of tears since the beginnings of Christianity. Whether or not this view of history is correct (and quite a few of his claims are simply wrong), the important point is that this is how the great majority of Diaspora Jews see themselves and their history. (My view is that our evolved ingroup/outgroup psychology and real conflicts of interest are by far the most important contributors to the main historical outbreaks of anti-Jewish feeling.)
This lachrymose view has major implications for understanding contemporary Jewish political behavior in the Diaspora. It proposes that, beginning with an unfortunate theological belief (that Jews killed God), Jews have been passive, innocent victims of marauding non-Jews.
The lesson that Jews learned from the Middle Ages carries down to today: The Jews “emerged from the Middle Ages knowing for a certainty that — individual exceptions duly noted — the worst enemy they had in the world was Christianity: the churches in which it was embodied — whether Roman Catholic or Russian Orthodox or Protestant — and the people who prayed in and were shaped by them. It was a knowledge that Jewish experience in the ages to come would do very little, if indeed anything at all, to help future generations to forget” (p. 29). Read more