Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

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 — has been replaced by the “anti-Zionist” question, usually posed by “progressives”: “Does Israel have the right to exist?”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. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture First English-Language Trailer Debuts for Natalie Portman’s Hebrew Film ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness,’ Based on Amos Oz’s Memoir (VIDEO)

    First English-Language Trailer Debuts for Natalie Portman’s Hebrew Film ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness,’ Based on Amos Oz’s Memoir (VIDEO)

    The first English-language trailer for Natalie Portman’s directorial debut — A Tale of Love and Darkness — based on Israeli author Amos Oz’s memoir, was released on Thursday. The movie, originally filmed in Hebrew, tells the story of Oz’s childhood in Jerusalem at the end of the British Mandate and the early years of Israel’s independence. Portman, who was born in Israel and speaks fluent Hebrew, plays the lead role of Fania, the author’s mother. She struggles to raise her son as she deals with inner demons, a […]

    Read more →
  • Features As Berlin Prices Rise, Israelis Turn East for German Real-Estate Bargains

    As Berlin Prices Rise, Israelis Turn East for German Real-Estate Bargains

    JNS.org – Sonnenallee, a street in Berlin’s Neukölln district, looks like it comes straight out of an Arab city — so much so that it goes by the nickname “Gaza Strip.” Kebab and bakery shops are advertised in Arabic; men sit in men-only coffee shops; and bridal shop windows showcase glittery, not-so-stylish gowns. But take a random turn, and you’ll find a swath of bars, burger joints, and Indian restaurants where hip Berliners announce that they have arrived to urban coolness. […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Slays in ‘Wonder Woman’ Trailer (VIDEO)

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Slays in ‘Wonder Woman’ Trailer (VIDEO)

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot engages in fierce action sequences in the new Wonder Woman trailer, which Warner Bros. premiered during the San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday. The nearly 3-minute trailer, the first to debut for the superhero film, shows scenes of Diana, princess of the Amazons, fighting alongside men in the battle against the world’s toughest enemies. The first shot of the video shows Wonder Woman discovering a man, Steve Trevor (played by actor Chris Pine), washed ashore. The clip then takes viewers to the all-female island where Wonder Woman was born. […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture A Theatrical Look at Diplomacy and the Oslo Accords (REVIEW)

    A Theatrical Look at Diplomacy and the Oslo Accords (REVIEW)

    Is diplomacy worthwhile, even if the end result isn’t what we hoped for? That is the question, among many others, posed by the new play Oslo, by J.T. Rogers. Making its New York debut at Lincoln Center, the play examines the secret diplomatic process that led to the historic 1993 peace accords. The character of Shimon Peres makes an appearance onstage — and he, along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, tower over the proceedings. But they mainly do so in absentia. Instead, […]

    Read more →
  • Spirituality/Tradition Sports Israeli Trailblazer Dean Kremer Brings Jewish Values to Nascent Pro Baseball Career

    Israeli Trailblazer Dean Kremer Brings Jewish Values to Nascent Pro Baseball Career

    JNS.org – Other than being part of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, Sandy Koufax and Dean Kremer have something else in common: a respect for Jewish tradition. Koufax — who was recently ranked by ESPN as the best left-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball (MLB) history — decided not to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because the game fell on Yom Kippur. “I would do the same,” Kremer said in an interview. Last month, the 20-year-old Kremer became […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Lead Guitarist of British Rock Band Queen Asks Adam Lambert to Sing in Hebrew During Upcoming Israel Concert

    Lead Guitarist of British Rock Band Queen Asks Adam Lambert to Sing in Hebrew During Upcoming Israel Concert

    The famed lead guitarist of British rock band Queen, Brian May, encouraged Jewish singer-songwriter Adam Lambert to perform in Hebrew during their upcoming joint concert in Israel, an entertainment industry advocacy organization reported on Tuesday. During a recent interview with Israeli television personality Assi Azar, May was played a 2005 video of Lambert singing the popular song Shir L’Shalom, (Song for Peace). May was so impressed by Lambert’s singing of the Hebrew track that he told the American singer, “We have to do that. Let’s […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Kenyan Marathoner to Compete for Israel in Rio Olympics

    Kenyan Marathoner to Compete for Israel in Rio Olympics

    JNS.org – Kenyan-born marathoner Lonah Chemtai is expected to compete for Israel at the Olympics Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil next month after gaining a last minute approval. “I am very proud [to represent Israel] and I hope to achieve a new personal best time,” Chemtai told Reuters. Chemtai, who grew up a rural village in western Kenya, first came to Israel in 2009 to care of the children of her country’s ambassador to Israel. The 27-year-old runner recently gained […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Will Laughs Lead to Love on Show About Orthodox Dating?

    Will Laughs Lead to Love on Show About Orthodox Dating?

    To date or not to date? That is not the question for most Modern Orthodox singles in New York. The question is when will they find their future spouses, and when will their families stop nagging them about having babies? Inspired by the success of the Israeli show “Srugim,” Leah Gottfried, 25, decided she would create and star in her own show, “Soon By You.” “Dating is so serious already,” Gottfried said. “We wanted to take a lighter approach and laugh at the […]

    Read more →