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 — has been replaced by the “anti-Zionist” question, usually posed by “progressives”: “Does Israel have the right to exist?”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...

  • Arts and Culture Spirituality/Tradition Removing Jesus’ Jewish Identity From Artwork

    Removing Jesus’ Jewish Identity From Artwork

    In a strong statement that challenges the historic divide between Christianity and Judaism, Pope Francis recently proclaimed, “Inside every Christian is a Jew.” But if you look at Renaissance artworks that depict Jesus, you will not find any evidence of a Jew inside the Christianized Jesus — even though the Gospels in the New Testament tell us that Jesus was Jewish to the core. Getting that point across to the public is a daunting task, as I learned in interviews I [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Personalities Recycling His Roots

    Recycling His Roots

    JNS.org – Having started his career playing on his family’s pots and pans, Jewish musician Billy Jonas has maintained this homemade performance ethic while spreading his messages of simple living and environmentalism to a shared home throughout the world. After beginning in the kitchen, Jonas soon moved to the music room, where he picked up the piano, guitar, and trombone. These days, the multi-talented multi-instrumentalist plays on with pretty much anything he can find, including cans, bottles buckets, and other recycled-object [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Personalities Jewish Renewal Movement Founder’s Insights Form a New Guide for Senior Living

    Jewish Renewal Movement Founder’s Insights Form a New Guide for Senior Living

    JNS.org – Sara Davidson’s The December Project is a new book that should be read by all senior citizens, and by those who hope to live a long life, for it raises a question that most of us have not been taught how to answer: What should we do in that final stage of our lives? Many of us continue working past the traditional retirement age of 65, not because we need the money and not because we find the [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish History Why the Holocaust Occurred in Germany, and Why So Few Resisted (REVIEW)

    Why the Holocaust Occurred in Germany, and Why So Few Resisted (REVIEW)

    It’s hard to make a new contribution to the field of Holocaust studies,  but German historian Götz Aly accomplishes just that in Why the Germans, Why the Jews? His premise is that the origins of the Holocaust were rooted in the specific anti-Semitism found in Germany in the decades and centuries before World War II. Aly (who is not Jewish) seeks to prove his theory by studying only pre-Holocaust history, and tracing how the German people’s envy and hatred of [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Looking at Anti-Israel Celebrities and Their Brands

    Looking at Anti-Israel Celebrities and Their Brands

    JNS.org – During the current conflict in Gaza a number of celebrities have voiced their opinions in support of either the Israeli or Palestinian positions. But others—be it during Operation Protective Edge or at other times—have gone further than simply supporting the Palestinians by actively supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, making false accusations about the Jewish state, ignoring Israel’s position on the conflict, or justifying the actions of the terrorist group Hamas. Many of these [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Israeli UFC Fighter Returns to Jewish State to Rejoin IDF

    Israeli UFC Fighter Returns to Jewish State to Rejoin IDF

    JNS.org – Days after winning his Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) featherweight bout against Steven Siler on July 26, Israeli-born mixed martial arts competitor Noad Lahat boarded a plane for his native country, choosing to temporarily exit UFC’s octagonal cage to rejoin the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) as a paratrooper for its operation against Hamas in Gaza. Except he didn’t actually consider it a choice. “When [our] home is in danger, there is no other way for us [but to serve [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Why We Should Invest in Jewish Children

    Why We Should Invest in Jewish Children

    JNS.org – My wife Suzy and I will never forget our wedding day. It was not just the uplifting ceremony and beautiful party that left an indelible mark. Some life-altering advice that we received from one of our guests informed and shaped our lives from that day forward. My high school teacher, Rabbi Moshe Yagid, pulled us aside just before the chuppah and challenged us to choose one mitzvah that would be the foundation of our marriage and our lives. He explained [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    JNS.org – Influenced by his Jewish upbringing and a summer on a kibbutz, basketball coach David Blatt is embarking on his highest-profile challenge yet: coaching LeBron James, the four-time National Basketball Association (NBA) Most Valuable Player who has made waves for returning to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. After guiding Israel’s storied Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball franchise to its 51st Israeli league championship and 6th Euroleague title this past season, Blatt landed the Cavaliers head-coaching job in June. Just weeks later, [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.