To mark IDC Herzliya’s 20th anniversary, we spent a day following Prof. Uriel Reichman, IDC’s founder and president, and Jonathan Davis, VP for External Relations, around its delightful campus.
Thus what had begun as a mass public-relations scam — a sort of play-acting by insecure Western Jews seeking a method for making themselves appear more acceptable to the non-Jewish majorities surrounding them — eventually became an avenue for assimilation. For the new generations of Jews growing up in Western freedom and tolerance, there was little if any reason to retain their Jewishness. As secularism and higher education spread, religiosity diminished, particularly among the educated classes in which Jews were concentrated.
Once national identity and ritual observance were abandoned, there was little if anything to motivate retention of Jewish identity, whether religious or secular. The result was rampant assimilation. By the 1970's, large segments of the non-Orthodox Jewish community in America (and to a somewhat lesser extent the non-Orthodox in other Western countries) had ceased to be Jews in any meaningful sense.
This phenomenon was especially evident among young American Jews, as intermarriage rates climbed past the 20 percent, 30 percent and 40 percent marks, finally crossing the 50 percent barrier by the late 1980's.
The response to all this from the non-Orthodox was to dilute their versions of Judaism even further — and to hew closer than ever to the liberal party line. But if the ''Liberalism as Judaism'' approach served as the catalyst for Jewish assimilationism, from the 1970's onward it suffered from other problems as well.
First, there was never any real American consensus that ''progress, freedom and justice'' were synonymous with the liberal political agenda. (This was a Jewish delusion going back to the 1930's.) Certainly by the late 1970's liberalism had become largely discredited in the U.S. among the non-Jewish majority as it became ever more extreme and divorced from the American mainstream.
The civil rights movement, to which Jewish organizations had enthusiastically hitched their wagons in the 1960's, was supplanted to a large extent among black Americans by racist paranoia, radicalism and Afro-Fascism, even — perhaps especially — among much of the educated black middle class.
Liberalism in general seemed more and more preoccupied with things most Americans regarded as wacky or immoral, such as animal rights, homosexuality and radical feminism. Liberalism also was increasingly associated with affirmative action and quotas, which never enjoyed the support of more than about 30 percent of Americans. It was also associated with a sort of national isolationism and quest for unilateral disarmament.
In addition, liberalism was increasingly discredited by the failures of applied liberal political programs and liberal social engineering. Affirmative action had enraged the American majority. The unpopularity of liberal isolationism became increasingly apparent during Reagan years and was proved beyond doubt during the Gulf War. Liberal fads in education were increasingly blamed for the dismal situation in American public schools. Liberal social welfare programs were being identified more and more in the American mind with destruction of the family, rising crime rates, illiterate school children, and sociopathological behavior.
At the same time, conservatism was enjoying an intellectual revival. If in the 1950's it had seemed axiomatic that liberalism and the striving for freedom and justice were one and the same, it certainly was not so by the 1980's. Conservatives had their own program for freedom and justice that was regarded as credible by large segments of the American public.
The ''Liberalism as Judaism'' party line of the Jewish community was proving more and more anachronistic. Liberalism was evolving into little more than a parochial manifestation of Jewish peculiarity and provinciality, an endangered species outside the Jewish and black communities. Judaism was still being used by the ''Liberalism as Judaism School'' as religious artillery support for programs that were no longer regarded as just or moral by the majority of Americans, programs whose costs often outweighed their benefits, programs increasingly discredited by social science.
But the support by the Jewish Establishment for liberalism had never been based upon any serious study of social science methodologies and tools of analysis, but rather upon self-righteousness, compassionate posturing, and the appeal to smug moral high-mindedness. With rare exceptions, Jewish community leaders and liberal rabbis had no training in policy analysis, economics, statistics or accounting. Their liberalism was based on making themselves feel righteous and accepted, not on resolving real world problems.
As long as Intellectual America was united in regarding liberalism as just and right, there was no problem. But American Jews had a uniquely vested interest in the preservation of liberalism, having intentionally misdefined it as being synonymous with ''Jewish values.''
By the late 1980's, American Jews and American blacks were the only ethnic groups in the country still endorsing liberalism in any appreciable numbers. In the case of American blacks, this was due to their continued belief that liberalism served their interests. In the case of American Jews, it was due solely to their anachronistic assimilationist self-definition.
About the Author: Steven Plaut is a professor at the University of Haifa. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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