Anti-Semitism without anti-Semites
by Jonathan Rosenblum
July 3, 1998
When otherwise sane and intelligent people affirm nonsense, it behooves us
to inquire into the reason. Falling into that category is the recent
finding by the American Jewish Committee that American Jews believe
antisemitism is a greater threat than intermarriage by a margin of 57% to
In order to reach that conclusion, American Jews have to ignore the
evidence in front of their eyes to a startling degree.
And they do. In a 1985 survey of Jews in Northern California, for instance,
a full third expressed the belief that non-Jews would not vote for a Jewish
candidate for Congress. At that time, all three Congressmen from the area
were Jewish. As Leonard Dinerstein concluded in his 1994 work Anti-Semitism
in America: 'Today antisemitism in the United States is neither virulent
nor growing. It is not a powerful social or political force. [It] has
declined in potency and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.'
But if Poland has proven that antisemitism can persist even in the absence
of Jews, says National Review literary editor David Klinghoffer, so America
today proves that antisemitism persists in the minds of Jews even in the
absence of antisemites.
At the same time, intermarriage - about which only a little more than a
third of American Jews are concerned - coupled with low fertility rates, is
projected to reduce American Jewry to between one-third and one-sixth of
its present size within two generations.
The professed fear of resurgent antisemitism goes hand in hand with the
elevation of the Holocaust to the defining element in Jewish self-identity.
All surveys of American Jewry place the Holocaust way ahead of any other
factor in Jewish self-identity. Between 75% and 85% of American Jews rate
the Holocaust as a very important factor in their sense of themselves as
Jews, far higher than belief in God, Torah or Israel.
When they think of themselves as Jews, then, American Jews overwhelmingly
identify themselves as victims. Their sense of themselves as Jews is purely
negative, unless one thinks that a history of persecution tells us
something fundamental about the victim. For them, Jews are nothing more
than a social construct of antisemites, an occasion for the fevered
conspiracy theories of Jew-haters.
And indeed Judaism is devoid of positive content for most American Jews.
Nearly 60 percent of Americans, according to a 1989 Gallup study of
religiosity in America, view religion as very important in their lives;
only 14% say that it is not at all important. Among Jews, however, the
figures are nearly reversed: 30% say that religion is important; 35% that
it is of no importance.
While American Jews claim to be concerned about antisemitism, they do not
act upon those fears, apart from the occasional check in response to a
scare letter from the Anti-Defamation League or some other Jewish defense
But if American Jews are, in their heart of hearts, not really that scared
of resurgent antisemitism, why do they insist on keeping the spectre of
antisemitism alive? Why do they react so strongly to every crackpot
Holocaust denier who would deny them their status as history's champion
THE answer is that antisemitism is a convenient balm for the pangs of
conscience. Antisemites, even imagined ones, provide confirmation that one
is a proud, loyal Jew, linked to all those other Jews throughout history,
who knew too well what real Jew-hatred was. To paraphrase Descartes: I am
hated, therefore I am. If Hitler would have killed my grandchild, let no
one deny that my grandchild is Jewish.
It is more convenient to focus on what others do to us, or want to do, than
to consider what we are doing to ourselves. Far easier to conjure up
imaginary Hitlers than to wonder whether we have failed when our children
intermarry and show little interest in even the vague ethnic identity with
which we provided them.
As long as we can cite the names of relatives killed by the Nazis, we
assure ourselves that our Jewish bona fides are intact, and we are indeed
proper heirs to two thousand years of victimhood.
We focus on the Holocaust as the defining event in Jewish history without
even asking ourselves the real question: What power did our ancestors find
in their Judaism that enabled them to withstand and survive all the
Torquemadas, Chmelnickis and Hitlers?
To ask that question would force us to admit that Judaism has content and
is not defined by our enemies. That admission would, in turn, force us to
confront the possibility that we have failed our ancestors by not even
inquiring into the source of their spiritual strength.
Jewish 'worry" about antisemitism would be funny but for the deeper
tragedy it seeks to mask - Jews unable to define themselves except in terms
of the hatred of others. By lulling American Jews into thinking of
themselves as good Jews, even as they make peace with skyrocketing
intermarriage and their own disappearance, the illusion of widespread
antisemitism ensures the continuation of those trends.
Related Topics: American Jewry & Continuity
receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free jewish media resources mailing list