Transcript: Anti-Semitism Conference: Steven J. Zipperstein | May 04, 2003

Steven Zipperstein stands on a wooden podium in a conference room. A giant screen next to him reads "Munk Centre for International Studies."
Steven is in his late thirties, with short brown hair and a full beard. He's wearing round glasses, a brown coat, black cardigan, and blue shirt.

He says IT SEEMS, AT TIMES, THAT
SOME OF OUR MOST ELOQUENT
CONVERSATIONS, AT LEAST SOME
OF OUR MOST CONTENTIOUS,
CONFLICTED CONVERSATIONS,
WE HAVE WITH OURSELVES.
I TRUST THIS WON'T BE
SEEN AS THE CONFESSION
OF A NARCISSIST.
RATHER, IT'S MEANT AS AN
ADMISSION THAT EVEN
IN THE UNIVERSITY WORLD,
WHICH IS, ONE WOULD THINK,
DESIGNED SO THAT FACULTY,
STUDENTS, OTHERS
CAN TALK GENUINELY,
SINCERELY,
THERE ARE THOSE AREAS,
OFTEN, OF COURSE,
AMONG THE MOST
SENSITIVE AREAS,
THAT SIMPLY EVEN
PERSISTENTLY REMAIN
SOMEWHERE BEYOND
THE PALE.

A caption appears on screen. It reads "Stephen J. Zipperstein. Stanford University. Antisemitism: The politicization of prejudice in the contemporary world. Munk Centre for International Studies. February 10-11, 2003."

Stephen continues I SAY THIS, NOT BECAUSE
THE UNIVERSITY IS,
AS SOME HAVE INSISTED,
ESPECIALLY DURING
THE INTELLECTUAL BATTLES OF
THE '90s REGARDING THE FATE
OF THE TEACHING OF WESTERN
CIVILIZATION AND THE LIKE,
A DOGMATIC, EVER-CONTENTIOUS
BATTLEGROUND,
I SAY THIS BECAUSE, ON
THE WHOLE, IT IS NOT.
IT REMAINS BASED ON MY
EXPERIENCE, AT LEAST,
THE RARE, PRECIOUS
SETTING WHERE IDEAS ARE,
ON THE WHOLE, THE PRIME
CENTRAL COMMODITY,
WHERE INTELLECTUAL
ACUITY, NOT ORTHODOXY
IS THE STATED
EXPLICIT GOAL.
STILL, THERE ARE,
NOT SURPRISINGLY,
CRITICALLY IMPORTANT THINGS
THAT REMAIN UNSAID THERE TOO,
SOME THINGS SIMPLY FEEL TOO
PAINFUL, TOO CONFOUNDING
TO SPEAK ABOUT WITH
COHERENCE OR PRECISION,
TOO RAW TO INSPIRE MORE
THAN THE MOST TENTATIVE
PRELIMINARY STATEMENTS.
IN INTELLECTUAL
LIFE IN PARTICULAR,
PERHAPS BECAUSE OF ITS
PROFOUND ISOLATION,
WE SIT ALONE AS WRITERS
AND ACADEMICS, MOSTLY,
AND THE YEARNING FOR
COMMUNITY, FOR CONCURRENCE,
FOR AT LEAST, ON OCCASION,
A ROOM WITH OTHERS IN IT
WHO CAN FINISH
ONE'S OWN SENTENCES.
THE DESIRE FOR AGREEMENT AND
DISINCLINATION TO ISOLATE
ONESELF, ESPECIALLY FROM
THE MOST SOCIALLY OR
POLITICALLY ENGAGED OF OUR
STUDENTS AND COLLEAGUES,
THESE ARE VIVID,
PALPABLE INFLUENCES.
IN THE ACADEMIC CIRCLES WITH
WHICH I'M MOST FAMILIAR,
EQUIVOCATION REGARDING,
SAY, ABORTION RIGHTS,
OR CLARENCE THOMAS'
LOATHSOME CREDENTIALS
FOR THE BENCH, CUT ONE
OFF FROM COMMUNICATION.
AS IT HAPPENS, THESE
ARE ISSUES WITH
WHICH I AGREE
WITH MY PEERS.
BUT AS IS
INCREASINGLY CLEAR,
A BELIEF IN THE STATE OF
ISRAEL'S CULPABILITY
FOR ESSENTIALLY ALL
THAT HAS GONE WRONG,
AND CURRENTLY IS WRONG,
IN ISRAEL AND PALESTINE,
IS, IN SOME INFLUENTIAL
QUARTERS,
PART AND PARCEL OF
ACCEPTED OPINION.
PART AND PARCEL,
INCREASINGLY,
OF WHAT A REASONABLY
INFORMED, REASONABLY
PROGRESSIVE, REASONABLY
DECENT PERSON THINKS.
TO BE SURE, I LIVE IN THE
BAY AREA, WHERE TRENDS ARE,
IF ANYTHING, PRECIPITOUS,
BUT WHOSE FUNCTION
AS A PROGRESSIVE BELLWETHER,
IF YOU WILL,
FOR AMERICAN LEFT-LEANING
OPINION OVER THE LAST
SEVERAL DECADES HAS
REMAINED CONSTANT,
AND ON THE
WHOLE, RELIABLE.
THAT ISRAEL MIGHT BE WRITTEN
OFF BY MUCH OF THE LEFT,
AND PERHAPS BY SIGNIFICANT
NUMBERS OF LIBERAL OPINION
MAKERS IN THE WESTERN
WORLD AS THIS NEXT
DECADE'S SOUTH AFRICA.
WHAT THIS MEANS, ESPECIALLY
WHEN SEEN AGAINST
THE BACKDROP OF ATTITUDES
TOWARDS JEWS IN MODERNITY,
THIS PHENOMENON IS AT THE
HEART OF MY LECTURE TODAY.
ANTI-SEMITISM, PER SE,
HAS VERY FEW RESPECTABLE
DEFENDERS REMAINING
IN THE WESTERN WORLD.
TODAY, AS IN
THE RECENT PAST,
IT REMAINS AS AN EXPLICIT
PRONOUNCED IDEOLOGY,
AT LEAST, A RELIC
OF A WRETCHED PAST.
THE PLAYTHING OF LUNATICS
AND ROGUES AND FOOLS.
WHAT EXISTS NOW, HOWEVER,
AT LEAST ACCORDING TO SOME,
AS ASSERTED MOST RECENTLY,
MOST FORCEFULLY,
BY HARVARD'S PRESIDENT,
LAWRENCE SUMMERS,
IS A WIDESPREAD EVEN
INFLUENTIAL CURRENT
OF OPINION, THAT ENCOURAGES,
AS SUMMERS PUTS IT,
"ACTIONS THAT ARE
ANTI-SEMITIC IN
THEIR EFFECT, IF NOT
IN THEIR INTENT."
THIS, AS SUMMERS SEES IT,
IS CHARACTERIZED BY AN
ALTOGETHER DISPROPORTIONATE
PREOCCUPATION WITH JEWS
AND THE JEWISH STATE, WHICH
IRRESPECTIVE OF MOTIVE,
RESULTS IN ATTITUDES OR
ACTIONS THAT ARE THEMSELVES
BIASED WITH
REGARD TO JEWS.
WHAT I ATTEMPT TO EXPLORE IN
THIS LECTURE IS TO BEGIN
TO LOOK AT, FROM THE VANTAGE
POINT OF A MODERN JEWISH
HISTORIAN, HOW ONE MIGHT
UNDERSTAND BETTER
THE RECENT INCREASINGLY INTENSE
PREOCCUPATION WITH JEWS
AMONG WESTERN INTELLECTUALS,
AND ESPECIALLY WITH ISRAEL.
WHAT RELATIONSHIP IS THERE
BETWEEN SUCH PHENOMENA,
AND WHAT SOME HAVE TERMED
THE LONGEST HATRED?
ARE THEY, IN EFFECT,
ONE AND THE SAME?
IF SO HOW DO THEY
DRAW ON ONE ANOTHER?
THIS LECTURE EXAMINES AN OFTEN
FEVERED CONTEMPORARY SCENE.
IT'S WORTH REMEMBERING
THAT IT'S THE JOB
OF SCHOLARS, FIRST AND
FOREMOST, TO ASK GOOD,
PROBING, OFTEN UNSETTLING,
SOMETIMES TRULY
EXASPERATING QUESTIONS.
I DON'T SCANT, OF COURSE,
THE IMPORTANCE OF CLEAR-CUT,
DEFINITIVE ANSWERS.
BUT I WILL OFFER YOU, FEW,
IF ANY, IN THIS TALK.
AND I TRUST THAT A MORNING
DEVOTED TO AN OPEN-ENDED
GRAPPLING WON'T FRUSTRATE.
I TRUST THAT IT WILL
PROVOKE AND HELP YOU
IN YOUR OWN
GRAPPLING, TOO.
QUOTE.
"SUPERSTITION," DECLARED, OR SO
IT IS SAID SAUL LIEBERMAN,
A SEVERE, AUTHORITATIVE
SCHOLAR OF RABBINIC JUDAISM
OF THE LAST GENERATION,
"SUPERSTITION IS NONSENSE,
BUT THE STUDY OF
SUPERSTITION IS SCHOLARSHIP."
NO ONE WHO HAS FOLLOWED
IN EVEN A CURSORY FASHION
MODERN ANTI-SEMITIC
LITERATURE, ITS ETIOLOGY,
ITS THEMES, ITS
PREOCCUPATIONS,
COULD CAPTURE
THIS BETTER.
NOTHING IS SO
REPETITIVE, SO ILLOGICAL,
SO DOWNRIGHT SILLY, REALLY,
AS IS ANTI-SEMITIC WRITING.
YET, AS MUST NOW BE CLEAR,
TO REFER STILL TO SUCH
LITERATURE AS SILLY,
IS TO DISMISS
ITS OBVIOUS
ABIDING RESONANCE.
ITS POWER, ITS ABILITY
TO SURVIVE LONG AFTER
NEARLY ALL REASONABLE PEOPLE
HAVE DECLARED ITS DEAREST
ASPIRATIONS DEAD, AND ITS
ABILITY TO SPEAK BEYOND
ITS MOST IMMEDIATE
COTERIE MUTE.
"UNPROVOKED IRRATIONAL
HOSTILITY IS THE DEFINITION
OF ANTI-SEMITISM," POSITED
BY ONE RECENT SYNTHETIC STUDY.
"IT IS PRECISELY THE
INTERPLAY BETWEEN
IRRATIONAL AND RATIONAL
HOSTILITY THAT IS AMONG
THE MORE SALIENT, PERSISTENT
THEMES IN SECONDARY
LITERATURE ON THE
SUBJECT."
A THEME THAT HAS, OF
COURSE, BEEN GIVEN NEW,
EVEN STARTLING VITALITY IN
THE WAKE OF THE ATTACK
OF SEPTEMBER 11, AND THE
NEW INCREASINGLY SEVERE
SCRUTINY OF JEWS, AND
ESPECIALLY THE STATE
OF ISRAEL THAT FOLLOWED
IN ITS WAKE.
THE FULLEST ARGUMENT,
IT SEEMS TO ME,
FOR THE NECESSITY TO
DISTINGUISH BETWEEN RATIONAL
AND IRRATIONAL, OR WHAT
SOME CALL CAUSELESS
ANTI-JUDAISM, BETWEEN THE
HATRED OF JEWS WITH
AND WITHOUT AT LEAST SOME
CONCRETE FOUNDATION IN TERMS
OF JEWISH LIFE OR FAITH, IS
ELABORATED IN THE WORK
OF MY STANFORD COLLEAGUE,
GAVIN LANGMUIR,
ESPECIALLY IN HIS BOOK,
TOWARD A DEFINITION
OF ANTI-SEMITISM.
ONE IS REMINDED WHILE
PERUSING IT, LANGMUIR,
HIMSELF, DOESN'T USE
THE TERM OF THE COY BUT
INTRIGUING DEFINITION OF
ANTI-SEMITISM AS ASCRIBING
THE SENTIMENTS OF
SOMEONE WHO HATES JEWS
MORE THAN IS ABSOLUTELY
NECESSARY.
AS LANGMUIR SEES IT, THE
ORIGINS OF ANTI-SEMITISM,
WHICH HE UNDERSTANDS
AS THE BOUNDLESS,
GROUNDLESS HATRED OF JEWS,
MAY BE TRACED ONLY TO THE
LATE MIDDLE AGES, WHEN
FOR REASONS AS COMPLEX
AS GROWING WIDESPREAD DOUBT
ABOUT THE VORACITY
OF CHRISTIAN FAITH, PROMPTED
A MILITANT PERSECUTION
OF JEWS AND OTHER HERETICS
THAT FAR TRANSCENDED
THE LONGSTANDING RATIONAL,
ALTHOUGH TO BE SURE,
POLITICALLY AND
DEMOGRAPHICALLY UNEQUAL
COMPETITION OF THE PAST
BETWEEN TWO MONOTHEISTIC FAITHS.
ANTI-JUDAISM NOW DESCENDED
INTO HEINOUS FANTASY.
AND THE PROSPECT
FOR ACCUSATIONS,
RATIONALLY ABSURD, BUT
SOMEHOW EMOTIONALLY REASSURING,
OF SYSTEMATIC JEWISH
USE OF CHRISTIAN BLOOD,
WERE PLAYED OUT
AGAINST THE BACKDROP
OF THE BACK DEATH, MOUNTING
RELIGIOUS DOUBTS,
AND A DESPERATE SEARCH FOR
A SEMBLANCE OF CERTAINTY.
NOW, THE JEW,
WRITES, LANGMUIR,
"WAS USED AS A SYMBOL TO
EXPRESS REPRESSED FANTASIES
ABOUT CRUCIFIXION
AND CANNIBALISM.
REPRESSED DOUBTS ABOUT THE
REAL PRESENCE OF CHRIST
IN THE EUCHARIST.
AND UNBEARABLE DOUBTS ABOUT
FEARS ABOUT GOD'S GOODNESS,
AND BUBONIC BACILLUS, THAT
IMPERCEPTIBLY INVADED
PEOPLE'S BODIES."
LANGMUIR'S CHRONOLOGY HAS
BEEN VIGOROUSLY CRITICIZED.
SOME HISTORIANS HAVE FOUND
EVIDENCE OF FAR MORE THAN
EPISODIC, IDIOSYNCRATIC,
EVEN FEROCIOUS ANTI-JUDAISM
IN GREEK AND ROMAN
SOCIETY BEFORE THE RISE
OF CHRISTIANITY, LET
ALONE ITS LATE MEDIEVAL FURIES.
OTHERS HAVE SUGGESTED THAT
HIS DATING OF ANTI-SEMITISM
TO PRE-MODERN TIMES IS
ITSELF ANACHRONISTIC.
THAT IT SUPERIMPOSES A
PHENOMENON BORN
OF SINGULAR FRUSTRATIONS.
THE EXCRUCIATING
DISTINCTIVELY MODERN
EXASPERATIONS OF THE
LATE 19TH CENTURY
AND LATER ON TO
EARLIER TIMES.
THE INTERPLAY BETWEEN
RATIONAL AND IRRATIONAL
SENTIMENTS, OTHERS ARGUE,
IS LESS DARK
THAN LANGMUIR ASSERTS.
THE BASIS FOR IRRATIONAL
REACTIONS AGAINST JEWS
WERE FIRMER EVEN IN
ANCIENT TIMES
THAN HIS FRAMEWORK
ALLOWS FOR.
STILL, LANGMUIR'S WORK
REMAINS JUSTLY INFLUENTIAL
IN ITS INSISTENCE ON THE
DISTINCTION BETWEEN
A RATIONALLY INSPIRED
ANTI-JUDAISM.
BORN OF REAL, TANGIBLE
RELIGIOUS CONFLICT,
AND THE ATTACK ON AN
ENTIRE PEOPLE'S OSTENSIBLY
INTRINSIC HEINOUS
CHARACTERISTICS THAT IS,
AS HE SEES IT, THE MOST
RELIABLE WORKING DEFINITION
FOR ANTI-SEMITISM.
"HATING JEWS MORE THAN IS
ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY."
I CHARACTERIZED THE PHRASE
A FEW MOMENTS AGO AS -
[chuckling]
I CHARACTERIZED THE
PHRASE - AS FREUD SAID
YOU CAN NEVER GET THE
ID OUT OF THE BOY.
I CHARACTERIZED THE
PHRASE A FEW MOMENTS AGO
AS COY AS
INDEED IT IS.
I RETURN TO IT NOW
BECAUSE AS A DEFINITION,
IT PROVIDES AN UNCANNILY
USEFUL PERSPECTIVE,
IT SEEMS TO ME ON A
VERY RECENT, JARRING,
BUT UNAVOIDABLE
PHENOMENON, THE RISE
OF A PRESENT DAY, INTENSE
PREOCCUPATION WITH JEWS,
AND ESPECIALLY ITS
NEXUS WITH A NEW, SUDDENLY
KEEN PREOCCUPATION
WITH ISRAEL IN SO MUCH
OF THE WEST AND BEYOND.
IN ORDER TO SPEAK ABOUT
THESE PREOCCUPATIONS,
I BEGIN WITH THE FOLLOWING
THREE CRUCIAL CAVEATS.
ONE: CLEARLY, CRITICISM
OF ISRAELI POLICY
CANNOT BE SEEN AS SYNONYMOUS
WITH ANTI-ZIONISM,
LET ALONE ANTI-SEMITISM.
ISRAELI PUBLIC OPINION IS,
ITSELF, NEEDLESS TO SAY,
PROFOUNDLY DIVIDED OVER
THE CENTRAL ISSUES
CONCERNING PEACE AND WAR
WITH THE PALESTINIANS.
IN THE RECENT ISRAELI
SUPREME COURT DECISION
REGARDING WHETHER ISRAELI
SOLDIERS CAN CLAIM THE STATUS
OF CONSCIENTIOUS
OBJECTION IN THEIR REFUSAL
TO SERVE IN THE
WEST BANK AND GAZA,
THE DECISION CITED
EXPLICITLY, THE FRACTIOUS,
DIVISIVE NATURE OF THE
ISRAELI POLITY WITH REGARD
TO PALESTINIAN POLICY, AS A
PRIME REASON TO TURN DOWN
THE SOLDIERS' PETITION.
IT REMINDED THE PETITIONERS
THAT IT WAS NOT INCONCEIVABLE
THAT SOLDIERS MIGHT BE
TOLD IN THE FUTURE,
AS THEY WERE IN THE WAKE OF
ISRAEL'S PEACE TREATY
WITH EGYPT, TO
REMOVE JEWISH SETTLERS,
AND THEN SOLDIERS HOSTILE TO
THIS POLICY COULD IN TURN,
OBJECT TO FOLLOWING
THESE ORDERS.
ISRAEL IS
PROFOUNDLY, DEEPLY
DIVIDED OVER ITS
RELATIONSHIP NOW,
AND IN THE FUTURE,
WITH THE PALESTINIANS,
AND THERE IS NO REASON WHY
JEWS OR OTHERS ELSEWHERE
SHOULDN'T BE
EXPECTED TO WEIGH IN,
SHOULDN'T BE EXPECTED TO
CARE AND DEBATE THESE
MATTERS WHICH HAVE AN
IMPACT ON THE WORLD'S
SECURITY, ON THE FATE OF
LANDS DEEMED HOLY
BY ALL THE WEST'S MAJOR
FAITHS, AND ON AN ISSUE
WITH SIGNIFICANT, COMPLEX,
MORAL IMPLICATIONS.
TWO: ANTI-SEMITISM FOR
JEWS OF MY GENERATION.
BORN AS WE WERE AFTER THE
IMPLOSION IN THE UNITED STATES
OF SCHOOL QUOTAS, BORN
AFTER THE RESTRICTIONS
ON EMPLOYMENT IN CLUBS
AND NEIGHBOURHOODS
OF THE PRE-WORLD WAR II PAST,
IS LITTLE MORE TYPICALLY
THAN A MEMORY REMOTE,
ALMOST MOOT.
FRANKLY, THE ONLY
FIRSTHAND ENCOUNTER,
AN UNDENIABLY TEPID ONE
THAT I, AS A CHILD
BORN IN A LARGE URBAN
CENTRE, LOS ANGELES,
HAVE EVER HAD IN THE UNITED
STATES WITH ANTI-SEMITISM
WAS WHEN, AS A UNIVERSITY
STUDENT IN THE '70s
IN L.A., I WAS WAITING
TO PAY AT A DENNY'S,
AND A WOMAN, A YOUNG WOMAN
IN HER TWENTIES AT THE
CHECKOUT STAND, COUNTED THE
MONEY PAID BY THE PREVIOUS
CUSTOMER, WHO HAD JUST
LEFT, AND DECLARED ALOUD,
"THAT FELLOW JEWED ME."
I WAS AMAZED; I WAS FURIOUS;
I'D NEVER BEFORE HEARD
THE WORD UTTERED
BY ANYONE.
I ASKED HER IF SHE KNEW
WHAT SHE HAD SAID.
I REPEATED THE
PHRASE TO HER.
I TOLD HER THAT AS A JEW, I
FOUND THE STATEMENT DEPLORABLE.
SHE LOOKED PUZZLED.
FOR HER, PERHAPS, IT WAS NO
MORE THAN A PHRASE WITH
THE DIMMEST OF IMPLICATIONS,
AND THAT IS WHERE
THE ENCOUNTER, AND INDEED
MY PERSONAL CONCRETE
ASSOCIATION WITH
ANTI-SEMITISM OF ANY SORT
IN NORTH AMERICA, AT
LEAST, BEGINS AND ENDS.
MY OWN HAPPILY, RIDICULOUSLY
PAMPERED GENERATION,
AS
NEW REPUBLIC
LITERARY
EDITOR LEON WIESELTIER
PUT IT RECENTLY, QUOTE,
"ARE THE LUCKIEST JEWS
WHO EVER LIVED."
WE ARE EVEN THE SPOILED
BRATS OF JEWISH HISTORY.
"JEWISH HISTORY," HE PROPOSES,
AND, "NOW CONSISTS,
ESSENTIALLY, IN A
COMPETITION BETWEEN ISRAEL
AND THE UNITED STATES,
BETWEEN THE BLANDISHMENTS
OF SOVEREIGNTY AND THE
BLANDISHMENTS OF PLURALISM.
IT IS A FRIENDLY
COMPETITION,
AND BY THE STANDARDS OF
THE JEWISH EXPERIENCE,
IT IS AN EMBARRASSMENT
OF RICHES."
AND THERE REMAINS
AMPLE EVIDENCE
THAT ANTI-SEMITISM IN THE
UNITED STATES, AT LEAST,
IS AN EVER-REMOTE
PASSION, SOMETHING THAT
BARELY RESONATES FOR MANY
UNDER THE AGE OF 40,
ANY RATE, EVEN AS AN
HISTORICAL MEMORY.
TAKE AS AN EXAMPLE THE
TRANSFORMATION OF THE
NEW MOVIE, "ABOUT SCHMIDT,"
STARRING JACK NICHOLSON,
WHICH ORIGINATED AS A LOUIS
BEGLEY NOVEL ABOUT A DOUR,
WASP LAWYER, OPPOSED TO
HIS DAUGHTER'S PROSPECTIVE
MARRIAGE TO A YOUNG
JEWISH LAW PARTNER.
THE FILMMAKERS,
CONCLUDED, IT SEEMS,
THAT MOVIE MAKERS SIMPLY
WOULDN'T UNDERSTAND
WHY ANYONE WOULD SO OBJECT
TO THE MARRIAGE
OF THEIR DAUGHTER TO
A JEWISH LAWYER.
AND THEY TRANSMUTED
THE SON-IN-LAW
INTO A WATERBED SALESMAN.
APPARENTLY AN OCCUPATION,
SO NOISOME, SO ABSURD,
AS TO INSPIRE
GENERAL DISDAIN.
IN A MORE SERIOUS VEIN, THE
CANDIDACY OF LIEBERMAN
FOR VICE PRESIDENT, THE PRIMARY
CAMPAIGN OF ARLEN SPECTER,
THE NEW CANDIDACY OF
LIEBERMAN FOR THE DEMOCRATIC
NOMINATION, NONE HAVE INSPIRED
MUCH ANTI-JEWISH RESPONSE.
THE SPOILED BRATS OF
JEWISH HISTORY, INDEED.
THREE: STILL, OVER THE COURSE
OF THE SINGULARLY,
SANGUINE DECADES, BY JEWISH
STANDARDS, AT LEAST,
SINCE THE '50s AND '60s, IT
REMAINS CLEAR THAT
FOR MANY JEWS, AS JUDGED ON
THE BASIS OF SURVEYS,
ANECDOTAL EVIDENCE, OR THE
FOCUS OF JEWISH COMMUNAL
CAMPAIGNS, ANTI-SEMITISM
HAS REMAINED A REAL THREAT,
AND OFTEN ACUTE
SENSE OF CONCERN.
FOR SOME, EVEN THE DARK TRUE
REALITY LURKING BENEATH
AN EVER DECEPTIVELY SAFE,
SECURE PUBLIC LIFE,
MANY STUDENTS OF JEWISH
PUBLIC LIFE HAVE COMMENTED
OVER THE YEARS, ON WHAT
SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN
THE CURIOUS, PUZZLING, EVEN
UNSETTLING DISCREPANCY
BETWEEN THE OBJECTIVE SAFETY
AND THE SUBJECTIVE UNEASE
FELT BY SO MANY JEWS
IN THE UNITED STATES.
THE NEXUS IN THE POST '60s
UNITED STATES BETWEEN
MINORITY STATUS
AND VICTIMIZATION,
THE RAPID INTERPLAY
BETWEEN THE DEVASTATION
OF THE HOLOCAUST AND
THE RISE OF ISRAEL,
THE STARTLING UNDERSTANDABLE
UNREALITY IMPLICIT
IN THE ASSERTION THAT AMERICA
QUITE SIMPLY IS DIFFERENT,
BASICALLY A BETTER PLACE
FOR JEWS, AND FINALLY,
THE SHEER EFFICACY, THE
RAW UNDIMINISHED POWER
OF ANTI-SEMITISM AS A
COMMUNAL RALLYING CALL.
ALL THESE, NO DOUBT,
HAVE PLAYED A ROLE.
"WE SHALL NEVER FULLY
UNDERSTAND ANTI-SEMITISM,"
WRITES THE MEDIEVAL JEWISH
HISTORIAN, DAVID BERGER.
"DEEP-ROOTED, COMPLEX,
ENDLESSLY PERSISTENT,
CONSTANTLY CHANGING,
YET REMAINING THE SAME.
IT IS A PHENOMENON THAT
STANDS AT THE INTERSECTION
OF HISTORY,
SOCIOLOGY, ECONOMICS,
POLITICAL SCIENCE,
RELIGION AND PSYCHOLOGY."
BERGER RECALLS A CONVERSATION HE
HAD WITH A JEW WHO CONFIDED
TO HIM HIS FEARS OF THE
AFTERMATH OF A NUCLEAR WAR.
"HE DOES NOT FEAR RADIATION
OR CLIMATIC CHANGE
OR WOUNDS CRYING VAINLY
FOR TREATMENT.
HE WORRIES, INSTEAD, THAT
THE WAR WILL BE BLAMED
ON EINSTEIN, ON
OPPENHEIMER, ON TELLER,
MACABRE JEWISH
HUMOUR, NO DOUBT,
OR SIMPLE PARANOIA
AND YET..."
CLEARLY WHAT IS AT STAKE
HERE IS UNEASE REGARDING
THE REQUIREMENTS OF
PROPORTIONALITY,
AN ABILITY TO SENSIBLY
ASSESS BLAME,
TO INTELLIGENTLY EVALUATE
CAUSAL RELATIONSHIPS,
POLITICAL, SOCIAL,
OR OTHERWISE,
IN WAYS BORNE OF ONE'S
PERCEPTION OF A REAL,
NOT A MYTHICAL WORLD.
SUCH PERCEPTIONS CLEARLY
CAN VASTLY DIFFER.
THE LINE SEPARATING AN
INTENSE PREOCCUPATION
FROM AN OBSESSION ARE NOT
INFREQUENTLY OBSCURE,
BUT THE FACT THAT
ESPECIALLY IN THE WAKE
OF SEPTEMBER 11, DAVID BERGER'S
ANECDOTE IS NOW SUDDENLY,
UNDENIABLY JARRING, AND
IN WAYS INCONCEIVABLE
BEFOREHAND, IT SEEMS TO
ME SHOULD GIVE US PAUSE.
THAT JEWS AND IN PARTICULAR
THE JEWISH STATE,
SHOULD LOOM SO LARGE,
SO PROMINENTLY,
SO PERSISTENTLY NOW
IN TALK REGARDING
CONTEMPORARY POLITICS
WORLDWIDE.
THAT THE LINE SEPARATING
NONSENSE AND NEWS
WITH REGARD TO JEWS, AND
ESPECIALLY WITH REGARD
TO ISRAEL, IS NOW SO WIDELY,
SO NAKEDLY DISREGARDED,
CANNOT BUT STARTLE.
THERE ARE, TO BE SURE,
MANY REASONS FOR THE HIGH
VISIBILITY OF THE ISRAELI
POLITICAL CONFLICT.
AND BY NO MEANS ARE ALL
THESE THE PRODUCTS
OF MENDACITY, OF
BLINDNESS, OR BIGOTRY.
JEWS ARE INESCAPABLY VISIBLE
IN THE WESTERN WORLD
BY VIRTUE OF THEIR
PROFESSIONS,
THEIR SOCIAL MOBILITY,
THEIR MANY SUCCESSES
IN MODERNITY, AND OF COURSE,
THEIR CENTRALITY IN
THE CORE TEACHINGS OF
CHRISTIANITY.
WHILE WORKING ON THIS TALK
A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO ON
A TRANSCONTINENTAL FLIGHT, A
WOMAN SITTING NEXT TO ME,
AS IT TURNS OUT, A STANFORD
ENGINEERING GRADUATE
STUDENT FROM ITALY, ASKED
ME WHEN SHE LEARNED
WHAT I DID, HOW MANY JEWS
LIVED STILL IN EUROPE.
SHE ADDED THAT SHE ASSUMED
HAVING BEEN IN THE
UNITED STATES FOR THE LAST
SIX OR SEVEN YEARS,
THAT ABOUT 10 PERCENT OF THE
U.S. POPULATION WAS JEWISH.
AND FROM WHAT I COULD
SEE, SHE WAS NO BIGOT.
A COMPLEMENTARY ANECDOTE,
WOODROW WILSON, NO BIGOT,
COMMENTED AT THE PEACE
CONFERENCE FOLLOWING
THE FIRST WORLD WAR ON THE
NUMBERS OF JEWS
IN THE WORLD, AND THE
FIGURE HE CAME UP WITH,
OFF THE TOP OF HIS HEAD, WAS
TWICE THE TRUE NUMBER OF JEWS.
ISRAEL'S VISIBILITY,
IN TURN, HAS NOW,
AND IN THE RECENT PAST,
MUCH TO DO WITH THE POWER
OF MIDDLE EAST OIL, ITS
EXCEPTIONALLY CLOSE
RELATIONSHIP TO
THE UNITED STATES,
THE SINGULARLY LARGE AMOUNT
OF AID ISRAEL RECEIVES
ANNUALLY FROM THE U.S.,
THE FREEDOM WITH WHICH
REPORTERS CAN TRAVERSE IT,
ITS DEMOCRATIC FORM OF
GOVERNMENT, AND ALSO
WITH THE REAL TRAGEDY,
THE APPARENT INTRACTABILITY
OF THE PALESTINIAN CONFLICT,
IT HAS, IN SHORT,
MUCH TO DO WITH REAL,
TRULY DIFFICULT, EVEN
EXCRUCIATINGLY
COMPLICATED ISSUES.
STILL, QUITE
HOW SO SUDDENLY,
SO WIDELY IN THE WAKE OF
THE IMPLOSION OF OSLO,
THE SECOND INTIFADA, THE
NEW HEIGHTENED EMPHASIS
ON PALESTINIAN
SUICIDE BOMBINGS,
THE FIERCE REACTIONS OF
THE SHARON GOVERNMENT,
THE RECONFIGURATION OF THE
POST-SEPTEMBER 11 WORLD,
QUITE HOW ALL THIS
CONTRIBUTED TO THE NOW
OVERWHELMINGLY RESPECTABLE,
ESSENTIALLY CONSENSUAL
ATTACKS IN EUROPE AND
ELSEWHERE ON ISRAEL,
NO LONGER DIRECTED MERELY AT
THE POLICIES OF THE STATE,
BUT INCREASINGLY, OR
SO IT FEELS AT TIMES,
AT ITS VERY LEGITIMACY,
ITS VERY EXISTENCE,
THIS BRINGS US TO
THE ISSUE AT HAND.
FIERCELY VISIBLE IN
THE MUSLIM WORLD,
INCREASINGLY UNABASHED, IT
SEEMS ELSEWHERE, IN FRANCE,
IN ENGLAND, EVEN GERMANY,
A SOMETIMES WILDLY
UNRESTRAINED FREEDOM ON THE
PART OF EVEN THOSE
TRAINED AT CONSUMMATE
RESTRAINT, IS NOW APPARENT.
WE NOW HEAR THE MOST
ASTONISHINGLY NASTY,
AWFUL THINGS
ABOUT ISRAEL.
A LITTLE SHITTY COUNTRY IN
THE NOW INFAMOUS CHILLING
DINNER PARTY FORMULATION OF
FRANCE'S AMBASSADOR TO ENGLAND.
"SINCE SEPTEMBER 11,"
WRITES
LONDON SPECTATOR,
"ANTI-SEMITISM AND
ITS OPEN EXPRESSION,
HAS BECOME RESPECTABLE AT
LONDON DINNER PARTIES."
HENCE ALSO THE DECLAMATION
BY THE DISTINGUISHED
BIOGRAPHER OF TOLSTOY, THE
BRITISH WRITER A.N. WILSON
IN LONDON'S
EVENING
STANDARD
ON OCTOBER 22,
THAT "HE HAD RELUCTANTLY."
COME TO THE CONCLUSION
IN VIEW OF ISRAELI TREATMENT
OF PALESTINIANS,
THAT THE JEWISH STATE
HAD NO RIGHT TO EXIST.
IN EUROPE, HUNDREDS
OF ACADEMICS,
PRIMARILY IN ENGLAND,
PRESSED THE EUROPEAN UNION
TO CEASE ITS DEALINGS WITH
ISRAELI ACADEMICS WHO HAVE,
AS IT HAPPENS FOR DECADES,
BEEN AT THE FOREFRONT OF
THE ISRAELI PEACE MOVEMENT,
AND THEIR INSTITUTIONS,
AS A PROTEST AGAINST
ISRAELI POLICY
IN THE OCCUPIED
TERRITORIES.
IN THE UNITED STATES,
AN EFFORT TO PRESSURE
UNIVERSITIES TO DIVEST
FROM FINANCIAL HOLDINGS
IN ISRAEL HAS ENDED, IT
WOULD SEEM IN FAILURE.
NO UNIVERSITY, TO THE BEST
OF MY KNOWLEDGE AGREED TO
DO SO AND COUNTER PETITIONS
GARNERED IMMEASURABLY
MORE FACULTY SUPPORT THAN DID
PETITIONS FAVOURING DIVESTMENT.
BUT IN INTELLECTUAL LIFE,
RARELY IS IT THE MAJORITY,
EVEN WITHIN THE RELATIVELY
RAREFIED CONTEXT
OF UNIVERSITIES, THAT AT
THE OUTSET, AT LEAST,
SHAPES THE
TRAJECTORY OF DEBATE.
THOSE RESPONSIBLE FOR
THE DIVESTMENT CAMPAIGN
MAY HAVE ANTICIPATED
LOSING IN THE SHORT TERM,
BUT THEY HAVE
MANAGED, AS I SEE IT,
TO PRESS THE DEBATE OVER
ISRAEL AWAY FROM
THE SECTARIAN MARGINS,
AND IMMEASURABLY CLOSER
TO THE CENTRE OF UNIVERSITY
POLITICAL LIFE.
TO OCCUPY CENTRE STAGE
AS ORGANIZERS
OF THE ISRAEL DIVESTMENT
CAMPAIGN HAVE MADE CLEAR,
REMAINS THEIR GOAL.
CENTRE STAGE.
HERE WE COME TO THE RUB.
THAT THE ISRAEL PALESTINE
DEBATE OCCUPIES,
AS IT HAS FOR THE
LAST HALF CENTURY,
CENTRE STAGE IN THE
POLITICAL DEBATES OF JEWS
AND PALESTINIANS IN THE
MIDDLE EAST AND BEYOND IT.
THAT IT CONSTITUTES FOR BOTH
GROUPS A CRITICAL LITMUS TEST
FOR THE WIDEST RANGE
OF POLITICAL EVEN MORAL
CONCERNS, SEEMS
SELF-EVIDENT,
EVEN UNAVOIDABLE.
THAT IT INCREASINGLY
OCCUPIES SOMETHING
PERILOUSLY CLOSE TO CENTRE
STAGE IN POLITICAL CHAT
ON THE INTERNET, AT EUROPEAN
DINNER PARTIES, IN THE CULTURAL
POLITICS OF
THE EUROPEAN UNION,
IN THE POLITICAL
DELIBERATIONS OF THE LEFT
IN THE UNITED STATES
AND ELSEWHERE,
HOW CAN THIS BE EXPLAINED
IF NOT WITH REFERENCE
TO THE UNCANNY RESILIENCE
OF ANTI-SEMITISM?
SOME OF THIS, NO
DOUBT, IS, INDEED,
A BY-PRODUCT OF
ANTI-SEMITISM,
BY WHICH I MEAN THE
BY-PRODUCT OF A BELIEF,
OR AT LEAST AN INCLINATION,
OFTEN TO BE SURE LITTLE MORE
THAN A PREDILECTION,
THAT JEWS ARE UNCANNILY
INFLUENTIAL BEYOND
THEIR ACTUAL NUMBERS,
AND THAT THEIR BEHAVIOUR
AS INDIVIDUALS,
AND ALSO AS A GROUP,
TENDS TO BE DISRUPTIVE,
OR IN THE MINDS OF
SOME, EVEN MALEVOLENT.
IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO
DISMISS THE IMPORTANCE,
THE UNCANNY RESILIENCE
OF SUCH ATTITUDES.
SUCH SENTIMENTS ARE NOW
CLEARLY RIFE IN THE MIDDLE EAST.
THE PREVALENCE OF SUCH
ASSUMPTIONS IN MUCH
OF THE MIDDLE EAST, WHERE
WHETHER, WITH SOME EMBARRASSMENT
OR MORE BRASHLY, THE CORE
ASSERTIONS OF SCANDAL SHEETS,
LIKE THE PROTOCOLS
OF THE ELDERS OF ZION,
ARE TAKEN
SERIOUSLY IN PRINT,
AND ON THE
TELEVISION SCREEN,
RAISES VERY DIFFICULT
QUESTIONS ABOUT
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN
CONTEMPORARY PREJUDICE
AGAINST JEWS AND
CLASSIC ANTI-SEMITISM.
THE PROTOCOLS, WHICH I
WILL DISCUSS LATER IN THIS
CONFERENCE, AND THAT ARE
MARKED IN CONTRAST TO MANY
OTHER STANDARD ANTI-SEMITIC
TRACKS BY VERY FEW CULTURALLY
SPECIFIC FEATURES, WHICH
HAS, IT SEEMS TO ME,
HELPED GIVE THEM THEIR
UNCANNY BIZARRE RESONANCE,
THE PROTOCOLS ORIGINATED IN
RUSSIAN RIGHT WING CIRCLES,
INFLUENCED BY IMPERIAL
ANTI-SEMITISM,
BY THE DREYFUS AFFAIR, BY
THE HORRORS AS ITS AUTHOR
SAW IT, OF LATE 19TH
CENTURY EUROPEAN CAPITALISM,
AND LIBERALISM
AND MASS POLITICS.
IN OTHER WORDS, THEY WERE
BORN OUT OF THE FEVERED
IMAGINATION OF SECTARIAN
EUROPEAN POLITICS,
AND YET TODAY IN THE
EUROPEAN HEARTLAND,
WITH THE EXCEPTION OF
SECTORS OF CONTEMPORARY
RUSSIAN PUBLIC OPINION, THE
PROTOCOLS BARELY EXIST.
THEIR MOST PRONOUNCED
INFLUENCE IT SEEMS IS FELT
PRECISELY IN THAT PART
OF THE WORLD IN WHICH
CLASSICAL ANTI-SEMITISM
HAD, IN THE PAST,
LITTLE IMPACT AT ALL.
THE RELATIONSHIP, IN THIS
RESPECT AT LEAST,
BETWEEN PAST INFLUENCES AND
CONTEMPORARY ANTI-SEMITIC
PASSIONS, IS ANYTHING BUT
STRAIGHTFORWARD
OR LINEAR OR
PREDICTABLE, INDEED.
SPEAKING ABOUT
WESTERN ATTITUDES,
IT SEEMS TO ME
ON THE WHOLE,
THAT RESPONSES
TO THINGS JEWISH,
AND MOST POWERFULLY
TO ISRAEL,
HAVE FAR LESS TO DO
WITH ANTI-SEMITISM
THAN ONE MIGHT ASSUME.
RATHER, RECENT ATTITUDES AS
I SEE IT ARE, ABOVE ALL,
A BY-PRODUCT OF THE OFTEN
WILDLY DISPROPORTIONATE
RESPONSES THAT MARK THE
POST-SEPTEMBER 11 WORLD,
DISPROPORTIONATE REACTION
SEEMS INCREASINGLY THE NORM,
ESPECIALLY WITH REGARD TO
ANTIPATHY TO THE UNITED STATES,
WHICH, AS I SEE IT, HAS
MESHED WITH AN OUTSIZED
ANTAGONISM FOR
ITS SMALLEST,
BUT SINGULARLY VISIBLE
MIDDLE EAST ALLY, ISRAEL.
DISTINGUISHING SUCH
REACTIONS FROM ANTI-SEMITISM,
PER SE, WITHOUT DENYING
CONNECTIONS AT TIMES
BETWEEN THE TWO,
IS NOT MEANT BY ANY MEANS
TO DISMISS THE SALIENCE
OF THESE REACTIONS,
WHICH REMAIN TROUBLING
AND SIGNIFICANT.
BUT IN WAYS DIFFERENT,
IT SEEMS TO ME,
FROM HOW THEY'VE BEEN
UNDERSTOOD, TYPICALLY,
IN MUCH OF THE RECENT
LITERATURE ON THE TOPIC.
TRUE DISPROPORTIONATE
REACTION AMONG ACADEMICS
AND INTELLECTUALS TO
ISRAEL AND ZIONISM ISN'T,
BY ANY MEANS, NEW.
AMONG MY FAVOURITE
EXAMPLES IN THIS REGARD,
FROM THE
NOT-SO-DISTANT PAST,
IS THE ENTRY ON ZIONISM
IN DAVID ROBERTSON'S
PRESUMABLY AUTHORITATIVE
REFERENCE BOOK -
HE'S NOT SITTING
HERE, IS HE?
THE PENGUIN DICTIONARY
OF POLITICS,
PUBLISHED ORIGINALLY IN
1984, REPRINTED IN 1994,
WITH THE FOLLOWING
DEPICTION OF ZIONISM,
RELEASED IN THE IMMEDIATE
WAKE, AS IT HAPPENS,
OF THE OSLO AGREEMENT.
ROBERTSON IS LISTED AS
THEN TUTOR AND FELLOW IN
POLITICS AT ST. HUGH'S
COLLEGE OXFORD.
PRINTS THIS REFERENCE
WORK REPUBLISHED IN 1994.
"NOWADAYS, ZIONISM
PRINCIPALLY REFERS
TO A HAWK VERSUS DOVE
ORIENTATION TOWARDS
ISRAELI POLITICS.
ZIONISTS SUPPORT AT LEAST
THE RETENTION OF THE LAND
GAINED IN THE VARIOUS
ARAB-ISRAELI WARS SINCE 1947,
AND POSSIBLY A FURTHER
INTEGRATION OF THESE AREAS
BY SETTLEMENT OF JEWISH
IMMIGRANTS, MAINLY,
FROM THE FORMER USSR.
ZIONISM STILL RETAINS
CONSIDERABLE SUPPORT,
OFTEN AMONG FINANCIALLY
AND POLITICALLY POWERFUL
JEWISH LOBBIES IN
WESTERN COUNTRIES,
ESPECIALLY IN U.S.A.
NON-ZIONIST, WHETHER
JEWISH, ISRAELI OR NEITHER,
INCREASINGLY BELIEVE THAT
SOME SORT OF ACCOMMODATION
ALMOST CERTAINLY INVOLVING
THE CREATION OF A PALESTINIAN
STATE, INSIDE THE CURRENT
DE FACTO ISRAELI BORDERS,
IS BOTH RIGHT AND
POLITICALLY NECESSARY."
AMONG OTHER THINGS,
SUCH A DEFINITION
OF NON-ZIONISM,
AS ROBERTSON PUTS IT IN A
1994 EDITION OF HIS WORK,
WOULD PRE-FORCE INCLUDE
ISRAEL'S OWN PRIME MINISTER,
AT THE TIME,
YITZHAK RABIN,
MUCH OF RABIN'S CABINET,
MUCH OF THE LABOUR PARTY,
THE BULK OF THE POPULATION
OF TEL AVIV AND HAIFA,
NEAR I GO ON.
STILL, THERE'S NO REASON
TO THINK OF ROBERTSON,
WOEFULLY IGNORANT TO BE
SURE OF THE MOST
ELEMENTARY FACTS IN ZIONIST
AND ISRAELI HISTORY.
NOTE, IN HIS DEFINITION,
ZIONISTS ARE THOSE WHO SUPPORT,
"THE RETENTION OF LAND
GAINED IN THE VARIOUS
ARAB-ISRAELI WARS SINCE
1947," AS AN ANTI-SEMITE.
NOR IS HIS OPPOSITION
PREDICATED, ONE SUSPECTS,
ON MUCH THOUGHT OR INSIGHT,
OR FOR THAT MATTER,
MUCH INTEREST IN JEWS
OR ZIONISM, PER SE.
ATTITUDES LIKE THOSE
OF ROBERTSON ARE NOW,
OF COURSE, IMMEASURABLY
MORE WIDESPREAD.
IN SOME CIRCLES, ARGUABLY,
THEY ARE NORMATIVE.
IT SEEMS A MISTAKE, HOWEVER,
NOT TO DISTINGUISH
AS THE RESPECTED SOCIAL
ANALYST EARL RAAB,
LONG HEAD OF THE JEWISH
COMMUNITY RELATIONSHIPS
COMMISSION OF SAN
FRANCISCO, HAS SUGGESTED IN
A SOON-TO-BE-PUBLISHED
ESSAY, THE DIFFERENCE
THAT EXISTS BETWEEN
WHAT RAAB CALLS
QUITE ASTUTELY ANTI-ISRAELISM
AND ANTI-SEMITISM.
THESE ARE NOT, AS
HE ARGUES, THE SAME,
EVEN IF AT TIMES THEY
MOST CERTAINLY ARE.
NOR IS WHAT WE ARE NOW
SEEING A BY-PRODUCT
ON THE WHOLE OF
ANTI-ZIONISM, PER SE.
AN ANTAGONISM BORN OF
IDEOLOGICAL OPPOSITION,
AND AT LEAST A
MODICUM OF KNOWLEDGE,
OR AT LEAST CONCERN OVER
THE GOALS AND ACTIVITIES
OF THE MOVEMENT THAT GAVE
BIRTH TO THE ISRAELI STATE.
RATHER, WHAT RAAB MEANS
BY ANTI-ISRAELISM
IS THE INCREASING ROLE THAT
A CONCERTED, VIGOROUS,
PREJUDICE AGAINST ISRAEL,
AND HE DOES SEE SUCH
SENTIMENTS AS
BORN OF PREJUDICE.
AND THE ROLE THIS PLAYS
IN LARGE SECTIONS
OF THE POLITICAL LEFT, VISIBLY
IN THE ANTI-GLOBALIST
CAMPAIGN, AND
WHERE THERE IS,
NOT INFREQUENTLY
IT SEEMS TO ME,
NO DISCERNIBLE
HATRED OF JEWS.
OFTEN IN THIS CONTEXT,
BELIEF IN ISRAEL'S BLEAK,
UNRELENTING MENDACITY
IS SHAPED, ABOVE ALL,
BY SIMPLE, LINEAR
NOTIONS,
A BELIEF IN A
TRANSPARENTLY CLEAR,
CAUSAL RELATIONSHIP
BETWEEN POLITICS,
OPPRESSION, AND
LIBERATION.
SIMPLE TRANSPARENT BELIEFS
IN A WORLD WITH CLEAR CUT,
OBVIOUS OPPRESSORS
AND OPPRESSED.
IN OTHER WORDS, ARGUABLY
A MUCH DISTORTED,
PAINFULLY SIMPLISTIC, BUT
THIS WORLDLY POLITICAL
ANALYSIS DEVOID OF ANY
SEMBLANCE OF ANTI-JEWISH BIAS.
SUCH PREJUDICE
AGAINST ISRAEL,
AS DISTURBING AS IT
IS, ISN'T THE SAME
AS ANTI-SEMITISM, ALTHOUGH THE
TWO CAN UNDOUBTEDLY COEXIST,
AND IN SOME
INSTANCES CLEARLY DO.
NOR SHOULD IT BE CONFUSED
WITH CRITICISM OF ISRAEL.
A SOCIETY THAT IS NOW MORE
THAN EVER DEEPLY PROFOUND
AND FRACTURED, AND WHERE
SELF-CRITICISM THE RIFE.
IT IS RATHER BORN OF
A DISTINCT PREJUDICE,
BORN OF A NOT
INFREQUENTLY MANOUKIAN
VIEW OF POLITICS, OF GOOD
AND BAD IN PUBLIC AFFAIRS.
BUT HOWEVER UNSETTLING AND
WRONG-HEADED IT MAY BE
IN ITS ANALYSIS OF
PUBLIC AFFAIRS,
IT IS PREDICATED ON REAL,
CONCRETE PERCEPTIONS,
TYPICALLY WITH LITTLE
IF ANY CONNECTION
TO AN ANTAGONISM
TOWARD JEWS.
MOREOVER, IT IS NOT
ONLY BIGOTS OR FOOLS,
IT IS NOT ONLY THE IGNORANT
OR THE INSENSITIVE WHO MIGHT BE
WHILE UNSETTLED, WHO MIGHT
WELL NOT KNOW QUITE HOW
TO RESPOND WITH
REQUISITE INTELLIGENCE
OR EMPATHY TO THE CONTEMPORARY
HISTORY OF A PEOPLE,
WHO WITHIN THE SPAN OF
LITTLE MORE THAN HALF
A CENTURY, ARE SUBJECTED
TO SYSTEMATIC MURDER
IN EUROPE, HUNTED DOWN AND
KILLED IN MUCH OF THE CONTINENT,
AND WHO WITHIN
THE BLINK OF AN EYE
IT SOMETIMES SEEMS, ARE THE
MASTER OF THEIR OWN STATES,
NEGOTIATING PARTNERS
WITH GREAT POWERS,
A STAPLE OF UNITED
STATES FOREIGN POLICY,
A REGIONAL FORCE
TO CONTEND WITH.
THIS PROXIMITY MUCH
STARTLES MANY JEWS, TOO.
WE FIND IT DIFFICULT, AT
TIMES, TO ACKNOWLEDGE,
IT SEEMS TO ME,
THE BASIC, OBVIOUS,
INESCAPABLE STABILITY
OF OUR LIVES TODAY.
THE RELATIVE ABSENCE
OF STRIFE OR HATRED
OF A SORT THAT WAS SO
RECENTLY SO NORMATIVE,
AND THAT DISSIPATED IN SO
MUCH OF THE WESTERN WORLD
AND BEYOND IT
TOO SO QUICKLY.
WE'RE PRONE, AT
TIMES, CONSEQUENTLY,
TO SEE UNEASE AS
NORMATIVE.
TO SEE EASE AS A RESPITE,
EVEN A DELUSION.
WE'RE PRONE TO SEE A
JEWISH STATE AS PERHAPS
MORE VULNERABLE, LESS
POWERFUL, LESS CULPABLE,
AS VICTIM AND
NOT AS AN ACTOR,
AT LEAST PARTLY BECAUSE SO
VERY RECENTLY IN OUR OWN
HISTORY, WE WERE INDEED,
THE QUINTESSENTIAL VICTIMS.
MOSTLY UNDEFENDED, AND
OVERWHELMINGLY FRIENDLESS,
TO AN EXTENT THAT CONTINUES
QUITE JUSTLY TO HAUNT,
AND AT TIMES,
PERHAPS, ALSO TO DISTORT,
OUR SENSE OF THE
WORLD AROUND US.
WHEN WE ENCOUNTER
ANTAGONISM,
ESPECIALLY OUTSIZED,
DISPROPORTIONATE ANTAGONISM
TOWARD SOMETHING LIKE ISRAEL,
THAT SO MANY OF US HOLD
SO DEAR, THE MEMORIES OF BAD
TIMES, OF HORRIBLE TIMES,
WHETHER PERSONALLY
EXPERIENCED OR IMBIBED
SECONDHAND, ELICITS
REACTIONS THAT ARE OFTEN ACUTE,
AND SINCERE, AND
TRULY INTENSE.
HOW TO DETERMINE
WHERE PREJUDICE ENDS
AND ANTI-SEMITIC
BIGOTRY BEGINS.
HOW TO DETERMINE THE
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN POLITICS,
BETWEEN PROTEST, HOWEVER
EXCESSIVE, AND METAPHYSICS,
IS, OF COURSE,
EXCRUCIATINGLY DIFFICULT.
PERCEPTIONS CAN, AND
PERCEPTIONS OFTEN DO,
AS JEWS KNOW, PERHAPS
BETTER THAN MOST,
HAVE A LIFE OF THEIR OWN,
WHICH MUST BE TAKEN DEADLY
SERIOUSLY; AND AT THE
SAME TIME, ONE MUST,
IN THE LIFE OF A
HEALTHY PERSON,
AS IN THE EXISTENCE
OF A HEALTHY PEOPLE,
DISTINGUISH PERCEPTIONS
PREDICATED ON FACT
AND THOSE SHAPED BY MYTH.
FACTS, THEMSELVES,
OF COURSE,
CAN TELL SUCH DIFFERENT
CONFLICTING TALES,
AND NEVER MORE SO IT SEEMS,
THAN IN THE HISTORY
OF THE ISRAELI STATE.
AS HISTORIAN DEREK PENSLAR
WROTE RECENTLY IN
A MAGAZINE, AND WITH
THIS I CONCLUDE,
"THEODOR HERZL WROTE
THAT WORLD JEWRY HAD
THE FINANCIAL POWER TO SAVE
THE BANKRUPT OTTOMAN EMPIRE.
THAT IS A FACT.
IT IS ALSO A FACT
THAT HERZL WAS WRONG.
BUT HE MAY HAVE
TRULY BELIEVED IT.
IT IS A FACT, THAT BY
THE SUMMER OF 1948,
ISRAEL ENJOYED MILITARY
SUPERIORITY OVER THE ARABS.
BUT THE ISRAELIS
DIDN'T KNOW IT."
IS IT EQUALLY CORRECT TO
CLAIM THAT THE ISRAELI
MILITARY ENTERED THE 1967
WAR CONFIDENT OF VICTORY,
OR GRIPPED BY EXISTENTIAL
PANIC, AND SO ON,
UP TO THE PRESENT, WHERE
ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL
NATIONS ON EARTH IS ALSO
AMONG THE MOST FRAGILE.
THANK YOU.

[applause]

Watch: Anti-Semitism Conference: Steven J. Zipperstein