Jewish Condition, “New” Antisemitism Considered in Edward Alexander’s ‘The State of the Jews’ (INTERVIEW)

December 18, 2012 10:42 pm 0 comments

The State of the Jews A Critical Appraisal, by Edward Alexander.

Edward Alexander, professor emeritus of English at the University of Washington, is the author of the new book, “The State of the Jews: A Critical Appraisal.” Alexander answered a few questions about the book.

PK: What’s the concept behind this book?

EA: The book’s title is deliberately ambiguous, referring to the Land of Israel, to the people Israel, and the relation between them. That is a very old subject, defined in its most dramatic and accusatory form by Moses himself: “And Moses said unto the children of Gad and the children of Reuben: ‘Shall your brethren go to the war, and shall ye sit here?’”

When the Jews of Europe were being persecuted and murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators during World War II American Jewish intellectuals paid little or no attention to what was happening. Irving Howe later called this “a serious moral failure on our part.” Saul Bellow confessed that “We should have reckoned more fully, more deeply with [the Holocaust]. Nobody in America seriously took this on and only a few Jews elsewhere (like Primo Levi) were able to comprehend it. All parties then are passing the buck and every honest conscience feels the disgrace of it.”

Jewish intellectuals had shown appalling indifference not only to what had been endured by their European brethren, but to what had been achieved by the Jews of Palestine. A few years after the destruction of European Jewry, the Jewish people had created the state of Israel, which Winston Churchill called “an event in world history to be viewed in the perspective, not of a generation or a century, but in the perspective of a thousand, two thousand or even three thousand years.”

Although my book is a collection of historical, literary, and political essays, or what my old teacher Lionel Trilling would have called “a gathering of fugitives” (i.e., essays in flight from unity) it really is united by the conviction that the pariah people has now become the pariah state, and the Nazi question — “Do Jews have the right to live?” — has been replaced by the “anti-Zionist” question, usually posed by “progressives”: “Does Israel have the right to exist?” In other words, Jews, because they are Jews,  are still not able to take the right to live as a natural right.

PK: Can you comment on your subtitle, “A Critical Appraisal”?

EA:  My subtitle alludes not to such calls for politicide (and genocide) where Israel is concerned, but to Matthew Arnold’s definition of criticism, which operates in the spirit of science, not of sect. Its function, as Arnold wrote, is “to “see the object as in itself it really is,” not to destroy the object.

The establishment of Israel just a few years after the destruction of European Jewry was for most Jews and millions of Christians a more hopeful sign for humanity than the dove’s reappearance to Noah with an olive branch after the flood.

My book examines the reasons why, as Stanley Fish observed a few years ago, the depiction of Israel as the devil’s own experiment station and the cause of all the world’s problems (with the possible exception of global warming) has become the “default” position of large numbers of liberals and PhDs., including (if not especially) the Jewish ones.

PK: What is the book’s general structure?

EA: Because the “new” antisemitism  emanates mainly from the left of political center, I begin with a lengthy analysis of both antisemitic and philosemitic strains in three prominent Victorian liberals:  Thomas Arnold, his son Matthew, and John Stuart Mill. The rest of the book is divided generically into history, politics, and literature. It is united by constant consideration of Israel-Diaspora relations, giving particular attention to Jews who wish to advertise their own goodness by dissociating themselves from a people under attack.

PK: What were your conclusions?

EA: Grim. Most of the world averts its eyes from the genocidal intentions and capacity of  the Iranian theocracy;  antisemitism, briefly given a bad name by the Holocaust,  is again emerging as the “default” ideology of Europe, which may become judenrein within a decade; the angelic sociology of liberals, including Jewish ones, is invoked to “explain” suicide bombing as the inevitable result and measure of Israeli oppression. So let’s talk about something pleasant, like the explosive power of  boredom in activist university professors.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    JNS.org – Rabbi Gordon Tucker spent the first 20 years of his career teaching at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and the next 20 years as the rabbi of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, N.Y. I confess that when I heard about the order of those events, I thought that Tucker’s move from academia to the pulpit was strange. Firstly, I could not imagine anyone filling the place of my friend, Arnold Turetsky, who was such a talented [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    JNS.org – I’m in love, and have been for a long time. It’s a relationship filled with laughter, tears, intrigue, and surprise. It was love at first sight, back when I was a little girl—with an extra-terrestrial that longed to go home. From then on, that love has never wavered, and isn’t reserved for one, but for oh so many—Ferris Bueller, Annie Hall, Tootsie, Harry and Sally, Marty McFly, Atticus Finch, Danny Zuko, Yentl, that little dog Toto, Mrs. Doubtfire, [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    At the turn of the 21st century through today, American involvement in Middle Eastern politics runs through the Central Intelligence Agency. In America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East, historian Hugh Wilford shows this has always been the case. Wilford methodically traces the lives and work of the agency’s three most prominent officers in the Middle East: Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt was the grandson of president Theodore Roosevelt, and the first head of [...]

    Read more →
  • Relationships US & Canada Seniors at Los Angeles Jewish Home Give Witty Dating Advice Ahead of Valentine’s Day (VIDEO)

    Seniors at Los Angeles Jewish Home Give Witty Dating Advice Ahead of Valentine’s Day (VIDEO)

    Residents of the Los Angeles Jewish Home give dating advice to a young Jewish man in a comedic video posted Monday on YouTube just in time for Valentine’s Day. Jonathan, an associate at the Jewish home, quizzes the senior citizens on an array of topics including having sex on the first date, kissing a girl, who should pay for dinner and whether online dating is a good idea. When the 28-year-old asks a male resident named Lee about his experiences [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish History Kutsher’s Documentary an Amazing, and Tragic, Look at the Past (REVIEW)

    Kutsher’s Documentary an Amazing, and Tragic, Look at the Past (REVIEW)

    Anyone who spent time in the Jewish Catskills hotels – especially those like me, who returned for decades – must see the new documentary,”Welcome to Kutsher’s: The Last Catskills Resort.” Not only will the film transport you back to the glory days of your youth and thousands of memories, but it will also make you long for a world that is now lost forever. I returned to Kutsher’s one last time in the summer of 2009, but by then, the [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Jewish Identity Lifestyle Riding the Wave of Change in Part-Time Jewish Education

    Riding the Wave of Change in Part-Time Jewish Education

    JNS.org – Amid the numerous studies and analyses regarding Jewish American life, a simple fact remains: part-time Jewish education is the most popular vehicle for Jewish education in North America. Whenever and wherever parents choose Jewish education for their children, we have a communal responsibility to devote the necessary time and resources to deliver dynamic, effective learning experiences. The only way we can do this is by creating space for conversations and knowledge-sharing around innovative new education models. That also [...]

    Read more →
  • Commentary Featured Features Jewish 100 The Top 100 People Positively Influencing Jewish Life, 2014

    The Top 100 People Positively Influencing Jewish Life, 2014

    The Top 100 People Positively Influencing Jewish Life, 2014 ACADEMIA Alain Finkielkraut Moshe Halbertal Deborah Lipstadt Jacob Metzer Steven Pinker Tammi Rossman-Benjamin ARTS AND CULTURE Yaacov Agam David Blatt Leonard Cohen Gal Gadot Scarlett Johansson Ryan Kavanaugh Steven Spielberg Harry Styles INNOVATION AND ACTIVISM Meira Aboulafia Adina Bar-Shalom Nitsana Darshan-Leitner Daniel Gold Anett Haskia Ephrat Levy-Lahad Gabriel Nadaf Dumisani Washington GOVERNMENT Tony Abbott José María Aznar Ron Dermer Yuli Edelstein Abdul Fatah el-Sisi Stephen Harper Goodluck Jonathan Mitch McConnell Narendra Modi [...]

    Read more →
  • Features Jewish 100 Jewish 100, 2014: Bassam Eid – Voices

    Jewish 100, 2014: Bassam Eid – Voices

    Bassam Eid Palestinian human rights activist While Palestinians who demonize Israel as the sole reason for their woes receive no shortage of media invitations, those among them who spotlight their own leaders’ iniquities are far less in demand. Even so, the profile of Bassam Eid, the Director of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, is thankfully continuing to grow. Eid’s latest campaign is for the overhaul of UNRWA, the UN refugee agency dedicated solely to the Palestinians, which he says [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.