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Choose Your Side: The New York Times or Judaism

March 18, 2013 2:12 am 10 comments

New York Times building in New York. Photo: Haxorjoe.

“How long halt ye between two opinions?” – 1 Kings 18:21

American Jewry is often said to be divided between those who judge Judaism by the principles of the New York Times and those who judge the New York Times by the principles of Judaism. The former group was elated by Professor Joseph Levine’s recent clarion call “Questioning the Jewish State” (NY Times of March 9), which advocated the expulsion of Israel from the family of nations. The latter group was dismayed and nauseated, and confirmed in its view that expecting ordinary decency from “progressive” Jewish professors is like trying to warm yourself by the light of the moon. The former, composed in large part of what Gershom Scholem called “clever Jews” who fear nothing in this world (and maybe the next as well) so much as being called “reactionary,” agreed with Levine’s insistence that he not be labelled antisemitic just because he singled out Israel, among all the nations of the world, as deserving of dissolution; the latter thought the real question is whether Levine should be called a moral nonentity because he has made himself an accessory before the fact to the genocide dreamt of (and already inspiring murderous action) by  Ahmadinejad,  Hizbullah,  Erdogan, Hamas, and numerous other “Islamist” eschatologists. (I’ve heard some ill-tempered members of this second group say that they looked forward to a Times discussion of whether Levine himself has an inalienable “right to exist.”)

Those Jews who judge the New York Times by the standards of Judaism believe that the creation of the state of Israel was one of the few redeeming events in a century of blood and shame, one of the greatest affirmations of the will to live ever made by a martyred people, and the most hopeful sign for humanity since the dove returned with the olive branch to Noah. They tend also to cling to Orwell’s view that some ideas–like the virtue of Jewish powerlessness–are so stupid that only intellectuals can believe them.

Those who judge Judaism by the standards of the New York Times boast of not having “danced in the streets when Ben-Gurion declared that the Jews, like other peoples, had a state of their own.” They believe (as does a majority of today’s Germans too) that Israel is the chief obstacle to world peace, a diversion from such compelling goals as gay marriage and unlimited access to abortion, and indeed the principal cause of most of the world’s evils with the (possible) exception of global warming.

Professor Levine’s polemic draws on sources both ancient and modern. It harkens back–albeit in the clumsy and verbose manner of somebody who “unpacks” rather than articulates  ideas–to the earliest known ancient, non-Jewish document that mentions Israel by name. It is found on a monument from 1215 BCE (possessed by the British Museum) in which King Merneptah, the Egyptian forerunner of Chmielnicki, Hitler, Nasser, and Ahmadinejad, declares that  “Israel is extinguished, its seed is no more.”

Levine, to be sure,  is a philosopher, and not–on the surface, at least–a political agitator and propagandist, although he identifies himself (who could have guessed?) as a man of the left.  Up to a point, Levine has some respectable predecessors among fellow-philosophers. In 1932, for example, Julien Benda, French philosopher (and novelist) addressed the “European nation” as follows: “Intellectuals of all countries, you must be the ones to tell your nations that they are always in the wrong by the single fact that they are nations…Plotinus blushed at having a body. You should blush at having a nation.” But whereas Benda called for philosophers of ALL nations to blush, Levine believes in blushing only by Jews for the Jewish nation. Although the imperfections he imputes to Israel because it calls itself “Jewish” manifest themselves–a hundred fold–in scores of  members of the United Nations, he demands the dissolution only of the Jewish nation–not the 22 Arab nations or the numerous Christian ones or the 57 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Like all Israel dissolutionists–one-state solution advocates, no-state solution advocates, and (this from the tone-deaf George Steiner) “final solution” advocates–he insists that Israel cannot be both Jewish and democratic. Perhaps the Times will soon invite him to cast his philosophic eye over a country called the United Kingdom, widely reputed to be democratic, and yet possessed of an official Protestant church, a Protestant monarch, a Protestant educational system (and all this in a once-Catholic country).

Levine has also attached himself, not unwittingly, to what Raul Hilberg called the last version of that ever-shortening sentence which expressed Europe’s anti-Jewish policies over the centuries. “The missionaries of Christianity,” wrote Hilberg, “had said in effect: You have no right to live among us as Jews. The secular rulers who followed had proclaimed: You have no right to live among us. The German Nazis at last decreed: you have no right to live.” Levine admits to a slight uneasiness about the resemblance between his challenging Israel’s “right to exist” and the Nazis’ disputing the Jews’ “right to live.” But confidence in his own infallibility carries him quickly over this abyss, as if it were just an unfortunate coincidence of diction and phrasing. In fact, of course, it makes him complicit in what Hannah Arendt famously defined as the crime against humanity, “an attack upon human diversity as such, that is, upon a characteristic of the ‘human status’ without which the very words ‘mankind’ or ‘humanity’ would be devoid of meaning.”

Hannah Arendt’s colleague (and critic) Saul Bellow put the matter more tersely in “To Jerusalem and Back” (1976): “The subject of all this talk is, ultimately, survival–the survival of the decent society, created in Israel within a few decades….The Jews, because they are Jews, have never been able to take the right to live as a natural right.”

Edward Alexander’s most recent book is THE STATE OF THE JEWS: A Critical Appraisal (Transaction Publishers).

10 Comments

  • G. Fränkl

    What would you expect from a base vile Nazi in human garb and its quasi-Nazi, but carefully camouflaged, so-called newspaper backing these unsavoury lowly characters?

  • Edward Alexander has been sweeping the floor with this kind of Jew hating Jew for years. He is without peer. He has only one fault. These people, here this Professor Joseph Levine, are cowards. I don’t mean they won’t speak their minds. They are physical cowards. They won’t take a punch or give one back. This is a coward. As Malshenim, Levine drifts toward opportunities to be more Nazi-liberal-democrat-fascist-than such because he has no fear of angering them. The reverse is the case if he must defend being a Jew. Better to hate them.

    RJL

  • Leslie Green

    Bravo, Mr. Alexander! I found Mr. Levine’s column sickening. I wonder how Mr. Levine would have felt had he been in my parent’s shoes? As teenagers who would have desperately wanted to emigrate to Palestine from Czechoslovakia in 1939, and join the hundreds of thousands of Jews already there, but could not because the British, afraid to anger the Arabs, would not allow Jews into the country. Were my parents, Aunts, Uncles Cousins and Grandparents not a people deserving of their own State then? I suspect that Mr. Levine, who sits in his Ivory tower would feel very differently. With apologies to Camille Paglia- Professors of humanities, (Mr. Levine in particular) with all their leftist fantasies, have little direct knowledge of (Jewish life, practice and history) and (should have) no impact whatever on public policy.” They certainly should not be spouting off such disturbing rhetoric in the N. Y. Times. And shame on the Times for printing such dribble.

  • Professor Levine may have a ‘doctorate’ but his knowledge is hardly a cure for the ills of the world. Anyone having earned an advance degree surely understands the importance of research and verification of information.

    Regarding the historical and legal rights of Jews to their land Levine might learn from the Canadian international attorney, Dr. Jacques Gauthier, who spent twenty-five years doing research for his doctoral thesis. His conclusion, based on history and law, verifies that Jerusalem and more belong to Jews for their homeland. (Dr. Gauthier is Christian.)

    (Link:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zf8cF1HYqN8&feature=youtube_gdata_player)

    It might serve the professor well to delve into ancient history of the region and recognize that Jews were the only people who had a nation in the land, that despite several foreign conquests, there always remained a Jewish presence, that Jews were the original ‘Palestinians’ – so named by the Romans more than 2000 years ago and recognized as such until 1948 when they became ‘Israelis’. Even then, today’s ‘Palestinians’ did not use that designation which they adopted years later for political expediency since the name matches that of the territory.

    The professor might examine the San Remo Conference (1920) and the Mandate for Palestine (1922) , the promise of the resurrection of the Jewish homeland on its original
    site, the failure of the British in their mandate, their collaboration with the Muslims who supported Hitler, today’s hijacked anti-Israel U.N., and the growing threat of radical Islam – the enemy of Western civilization.

    Professor Levine is entitled to his views and a newspaper is entitled to print what it sees fit. Intelligent readers want accuracy based on facts; newspapers of worth live up to ethical standards of reporting rather than ‘sensational’ views based on untruths and distortions. An accurate assessment of the Middle East today would show that most of the Muslim/Arab countries are experiencing internal chaos with growing control by the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood -enemies of the West. Only tiny Israel, the lone democracy in the entire region, surrounded by enemies and threatened daily with annihilation, seems to maintain her composure. She is not perfect but certainly not an obstacle to peace -rather a model to be emulated.

    So much for the views of Professor Levine and the present reporting of the once respected New York Times.

  • This professor Levine (his name tells me he is ancestrally related to Moses) forgets that Moses forged a nation and helped them settle their promised land, and that for many many hundreds of years already they formed a nation and had a country. Now he comes and tells us that there should be no Israel. He is delusional but G’d willing, history, like the proverbial caravan is inexorably moving, and the pathetic professor Levine, like the proverbial rabid dogs, is barking.

  • Raymond in DC

    “he demands the dissolution only of the Jewish nation-not the twenty-two Muslim ones, and not the still greater number of Christian ones.”

    Actually, there are twenty-two *Arab* states, and *56* Muslim states in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Add one more if “Palestine” becomes a state, and under its proposed Constitution it declares itself Arab and Muslim. But a single Jewish state is deemed unacceptable?

  • Thank you, Mr. Alexander. Alas, the ‘Erev Rav’, faux Jews, have been among the Jewish people since the Exodus, weakening, dividing us, and separating us from our G-d every chance they get. And most of them worship the NYTimes.

  • richard sherman

    The New York Times demonstrated its foundational antisemitism in WW2 when it did its best to bury the Holocaust. Nothing has changed.

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