Jewish Self-deception

Alon Confino: Jews as Symbols of Morality

Further evidence, if any were needed, that many Jews are simply incapable of comprehending collective Jewish wrongdoing while at the same time attributing collective guilt to Germans or Christians can be seen in a review of A World Without Jews: the Nazi Imagination From Persecution to Genocide by Alon Confino, an Israeli who is professor of history at the University of Virginia. Confino’s claims that the hostility of Nazis toward Jews was not driven by a sense of ethnic competition or warfare but by hostility because Jews were seen as morally  superior. 

The Nazi struggle “wasn’t about territory, or states, or armies,” Confino emphasized. “It was about identity.” For the Nazis the Jews were “the key to world history,” he writes in A World Without Jews. “It goes back to what the Jews represented: the Bible,” Confino said over the phone. “They weren’t racial enemies. They were the symbols of morality.” Confino knows, of course, that much of the Nazi propaganda about the Jews depicted them as a racial threat, but the far more crucial message, he argues, was that Jews signified the old world of moral law. The Jew had to be destroyed, to be replaced by a pure new vision of the German nation, a people freed from the archaic constraints of doing good. And this ethical revolution required the ultimate realization: mass murder.

Now this is surprising on the face of it. The Talmud has been called many things but I don’t recall it being seen by its critics as depicting a higher morality. During the Middle Ages, Christians burned it because of passages blaspheming Jesus and Christianity. Rather than representing a uniquely higher morality, Jewish religious writings. including the Talmud, are replete with moral particularism (in which an action has very different moral implications depending on how it affects Jews) that is entirely foreign to the Western tradition of moral universalism. Read more

Kishinev: In Jewish History and Jewish Memory

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has recently attracted some attention for a tweet he penned following the discovery of the bodies of three missing Israeli yeshiva students. The students, Gil-Ad Shaer,16, Eyal Yifrah, 19, and Naftali Fraenkel, 16, were kidnapped late at night on Thursday June 12 from a hitchhiking point in Gush Etzion, before being found dead on June 30. At this writing, the facts concerning those behind the slayings remain obscure, though there is a growing consensus that Hamas was behind it. Soon after the discovery of the bodies, Netanyahu tweeted: “Vengeance for the blood of a small child, Satan has not yet created. Neither has vengeance for the blood of 3 pure youths who were on their way to parents who will not see them anymore. Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay. May the memories of the three boys be blessed.”

Although most of the commentary thus far on this tweet has revolved around its inflammatory nature (the cry for ‘vengeance’ rather than ‘justice’) I have been more intrigued by the lesser appreciated literary allusion made by Netanyahu. The first line of the tweet appeals directly to Chaim Nahman Bialik’s poem, “On the Slaughter,” which was composed in the aftermath of the Kishinev ‘pogrom’ in 1903. I believe that Bialik’s role as Israel’s unofficial ‘national poet,’ and Netanyahu’s drawing upon the literary motifs in Bialik’s work, reveal something about the thought processes, self-perceptions, and siege mentality of Jews more generally. In this essay I want to examine two of Bialik’s poems, with particular attention paid to the manner in which Bialik interpreted non-Jews, and the nature of Jewish-Gentile hostilities. I’ll conclude with some remarks on Bialik’s legacy in Israel and Jewish thought.

Chaim Naḥman Bialik (1873–1934), was born in Radi, Volhynia, Ukraine, then a part of the expansive Jewish Pale of Settlement. Born into poverty, Bialik was left fatherless when he was five or six years old and was brought up by his rigid and pious grandfather. After an intensive education in the Jewish classics, he attended for a short time the Jewish academy in Volozhin (now Valozhyn, Belarus). These three influences — his poverty, his being an orphan, and his study of Jewish religious classics — were the inspiration for much of Bialik’s early poetry. In 1891 he went to Odessa, then the center of Jewish modernism, where he struck up a lifelong friendship with the Jewish author Aḥad Haʿam, who encouraged Bialik in his creative writing. Read more

Gary Oldman Becomes a Pariah

You have to wonder what Gary Oldman was smoking during his Playboy interview — the one where he defended Mel Gibson and said that Jews “run” Hollywood.

So they persecute. Mel Gibson is in a town that’s run by Jews and he said the wrong thing because he’s actually bitten the hand that I guess has fed him—and doesn’t need to feed him anymore because he’s got enough dough. He’s like an outcast, a leper, you know? But some Jewish guy in his office somewhere hasn’t turned and said, “That fucking kraut” or “Fuck those Germans,” whatever it is? We all hide and try to be so politically correct. That’s what gets me. It’s just the sheer hypocrisy of everyone, that we all stand on this thing going, “Isn’t that shocking?” [smiles wryly] All right. Shall I stop talking now? What else can we discuss?

It seems like every few years a Hollywood celebrity comes out and states the obvious—Marlon Brando, William Cash, Oliver Stone, Rick Sanchez, Mel Gibson, and now Gary Oldman. The list includes not a few Jewish commentators as well, including Joel Stein in the LA Times, Manny Friedman writing  in the  Times of Israel, Ben Stein (see below) and this issue of Moment.
The LA Times, on the other  hand understands how the game is played. Every year around Oscar time they put out editorials and articles bemoaning the “overwhelmingly white male membership of the academy” and that “film, TV diversity doesn’t look like America’s.” Then the next year, they do it all over again because nothing changes.

Some bastions of “White power” are not to be seriously contested. Read more

Reflections on Some Aspects of Jewish Self-Deception: Part 5. Self-Deception in Jewish Participation in Politics

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Part 5: Self-Deception in Jewish Participation in Politics

Like Jewish participation in secular culture, since the Enlightenment Jewish participation in politics has been a prime context for self-deception. Scholar Eleanor Sterling argues that since the Enlightenment the spotlight of the modern state fell on the Jews, demanding their honest assimilation. In response, Jews failed to ‘honestly’ assimilate; instead driving many of Judaism’s outward features, like ethnic solidarity, into an internal, psychological realm. Sterling writes that the key elements of Judaism were never purged from the secular, assimilated Jew, but “became part of the inner life of the individual, a kind of psychological ghetto.”[1]

I would argue that it was this ‘psychological ghetto’ which formed the breeding ground for Jewish self-deception in its modern form, along with developments concurrent with this self-deception such as radical Jewish sub-cultures and intellectual movements. Read more

Reflections on Some Aspects of Jewish Self-Deception: Part 4. Self-Deception in Jewish Participation in Secular Culture

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4. Self-Deception in Jewish Participation in Secular Culture

Germany Jewry was a community invisible to itself.”
David Sorkin[1]

That the mass media and entertainment industry has long been dominated by Jews is a matter of fact and not one of belief. Nor is it empirically debatable that while a host of Jewish productions have critiqued all aspects of gentile society, the same productions have been notable for the marked absence of Jews or Judaism. No less an authority than noted Columbia sociologist Herbert J. Gans has affirmed that “the mass media, like other entertainment industries, continues to be dominated by Jews but … they have generally leaned over backwards to keep Jewish characters and Jewish fare out of their offerings.”[2] The aim here is not to go about arguing the case for these already well-established facts, but to probe deeper into the role of self-deception in Jewish involvement in secular culture, and in Jewish beliefs and assertions about the extent and implications of that involvement.

The first major point argued here is that Jews involved in the media and the entertainment industries have to a marked degree engaged in self-deception about the influence of their Jewish identity on their activities in these fields. For example, David Dresser and Lester Friedman have pointed out that literary critics are often perplexed by the denials of Jewish authors that their works have been influenced by their ethnicity, even when such influences are obvious. Dresser and Friedman note that such flagrant, yet apparently earnest, denials have been attributed by experts to “conscious evasion, a personal blind spot, or a psychological problem.”[3] Read more

Reflections on Some Aspects of Jewish Self-Deception: Part 3. Self-Deception in Jewish Historiography (continued)

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Self-Deception in Jewish Historiography (continued).

As Wistrich turns his attention to the early medieval period, further examples of self-deception become evident. Language euphemisms and lies of omission remain prevalent. For example, Wistrich describes as “humiliating” the canonical restriction on Jews entering Churches without asking himself whether any Jew would in fact have wanted to do such a thing.[1] Similarly, Wistrich agonizes over regulations which prevented Christians from living, eating or engaging in sexual relations with Jews even though the very tenets of Judaism were designed to maintain just such a segregation.[2]

Language euphemism is rife in his description of power relations. These restrictions on Christian-Jewish relations, which simply mirrored those in Judaism, amounted to “ideological warfare waged by the Church against the Synagogue.”[3] Independent, wealthy Jewish capitalists and usurers become mere “economic instruments of the royal power.”[4] According to Wistrich, the Talmud, which in addition to its general anti-Gentile tenor informs Jews that Jesus will be punished in hell by being immersed in boiling excrement and instructs Jews to publicly burn any copy of the New Testament that comes into their hands, merely contains a few “anti-Christian statements.”[5]

Another manifestation of Wistrich’s self-deception is his persistent recourse to ‘images’ and ‘stereotypes’ as a way of explaining anti-Jewish attitudes. This is by no means rare among Jewish historians. In my analysis of historiography concerning the riots in nineteenth-century Russia, I noted that “those historians who have accepted that economic issues have played a role in provoking anti-Semitism fail to engage in actual case studies of economically provoked anti-Jewish actions, preferring instead to probe ‘images’ or stereotypes which allegedly infuse the consciousness of non-Jews.” I argue that this focus on ‘images’ allows Jewish scholars to only superficially acknowledge the economic role, while really lending more weight to their argument that European society has suffered some kind of neurosis. Such arguments deftly offer us a scenario in which Jews and economics play a role in the development of an anti-Semitic “image,” without placing the Jew in anything but a passive role. Read more

Reflections on Some Aspects of Jewish Self-Deception: Part 2. Self-Deception in Jewish Historiography

Part 1: Introduction.

Part 2: Self-Deception in Jewish Historiography

In the introduction to this essay it was argued that Jewish historiography plays host to a number of key features of self-deception, particularly errors in perceptual causation brought about by neglect of contexts or ‘systems,’ self-interest in the attribution of blame, lies of omission, and exaggerated claims to objectivity. Here is it hoped to examine these facets of self-deception in more detail through a case study of a typical example of Jewish historiography on anti-Semitism. That Jewish historiography is rife with serious methodological problems, and generally suffers from a marked lack of scholarly objectivity, is fairly well-known. Some of the most astute comments in this regard can be found in Lindemann’s Esau’s Tears. Although not explicitly doing so, Lindemann clearly references neglect of contexts and exaggerated claims to objectivity when he writes that “many accounts of pre-twentieth century Jewish history move from one pogrom to the next, from expulsions to plunders, from hostile legislation to anti-Semitic manifestos –providing ‘just the facts,’ yet ignoring so many other facts and finally providing accounts that seriously lack depth and balance…it becomes easier to maintain – and relish – a narrowly moralistic and judgmental stance.”[1]

To these comments I would add only that in some cases, as will be demonstrated below, even the ‘facts’ provided by some of these historians should be treated with extreme caution. Lindemann identifies Robert Wistrich’s Anti-Semitism: The Longest Hatred [2] as a prime example of self-deceptive Jewish history-writing but refrains from giving it serious attention. This section of our analysis will therefore devote some effort to applying what we know about self-deception to this work, though other works will be brought into our discussion from time to time in order to demonstrate the widespread nature of some of the features being referenced. Read more