Similarly, the intellectual foundation for the 1993 Oslo agreement, where Israel became the first sovereign nation in history to arm its enemy in the hope of gaining security, is found in the naive universalistic vision of Shimon Peres’s The New Middle East. Taking issue with the notion of Jewish national strength as the guarantor of security – the dream of mainstream Zionists before Israel’s founding – Peres argued that “national political organizations can no longer fulfill the purpose for which they were established – that is, to furnish the fundamental needs of the nation.”
In other words, Israel must clean up its act before its Middle East neighbors would concede its legitimacy.
What is the source for this liberal image of good global citizenship? One would expect that those Jews who were committed to group survival, vindicated historically by the costs of weakness, would adopt a more independent-minded, self-interested political model.
The case for the Jewish tie-in with liberal forces in Europe in the wake of the tearing down of the ghetto walls was originally made pragmatically – since liberals were more receptive than entrenched elitists to the extension of rights to newly emancipated folks, including Jews, it made sense to align with them. But according to Boston psychiatrist Kenneth Levin, who studied Jewish powerlessness, Jews failed to distinguish their particular interests from the overall liberal agenda. He writes that in order to diminish their vulnerability Jews tend to identify with more broad and powerful social groups. Their station was supposedly no different from the other fixtures in this new ethnic bandwagon.
The Jews’ attachment to Franklin Roosevelt illustrated such “categorical thinking,” according to Levin. Considering themselves “disadvantaged,” Jews felt at home in Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition. Yet because of that allegiance, Jews hesitated to pressure Roosevelt to rescue their trapped co-religionists in Europe. Rabbi Stephen Wise, American Jewry’s main public figure, took to task Jewish critics of Roosevelt’s laggard rescue efforts.
“[Roosevelt] is still our friend, even though he does not move as expeditiously as we would wish,” declared Rabbi Wise. When the Republican Presidential platform criticized Roosevelt for failing to do enough to save Jews from the raging Holocaust, Rabbi Wise wrote Roosevelt expressing his shame at this “unjust” Republican accusation.
Levin turned to psychohistory to find the bedrock source of this self-defeating Jewish relativism. The Jewish failure to assess political issues from the view of self-interest, Levin argued in his classic work The Oslo Syndrome, “is a reflection of what psychologists call internalization, the process of how we adopt the attitudes of authority figures. An example of this model is how children who are abused blame themselves for their “bad” behavior.
In his review of Levin’s work, Hillel Halkin explained the chain of events that led from the Enlightenment to Jewish self-blame. A class of homegrown Jewish intellectuals, maskilim or enlighteners, came on the scene in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in both Germany and Eastern Europe. Pro-Emancipation non-Jewish intellectuals were the role models for these Jewish thinkers.
Yet since these same European intellectuals were genuinely hostile to Judaism and its practitioners, both the maskilim and the large numbers of Jews who were influenced by them made this hostility their own. From here was born the ego-attacking pathology of Jewish self-blame and self-denigration – a pathology Levin believes lies at the root of a great deal of Jewish politics up to and including the capitulation at Oslo.
* * * * *
By the mid-twentieth century, the shift to American JCC (Jewish Community Center) Judaism from Synagogue Judaism furthered the shift toward liberalism. In their push to suburbia, Jews were confused as to who they really were – a religion, a people, a culture, or a nation.
Abraham J. Karp observed, “The children of the immigrants wanted to be like Gentiles, without becoming Gentiles, while the grandchildren of the immigrants want to be like Jews, without becoming real Jews.” Parroting the liberal values of openness and choice espoused by opinion elites, Jews felt more secure in their relationship with the larger American melting pot.
In recent years, two factors continued to cement this Jewish affinity for liberalism. Just as with the maskilim of yore, Jews who craved acceptance by liberal intellectuals were forced to conform to the Left’s political agenda, especially its mounting condemnation of Israel’s role as a Palestinian “occupier.” Jewish self-blame, especially on campus, grew as the Left cast the Arabs as victims, a downtrodden status Jews themselves held before Israel defeated Arab aggressors in the 1967 Six-Day War.
About the Author: Ron Rubin is a senior political scientist at CUNY and author most recently of “A Jewish Professor's Political Punditry” (Syracuse University Press, 2013).
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