Survivor Guilt and the New Anti-Semitism

A housewife calls her husband during his evening commute and says, “Be careful, dear—the news says that there’s a wrong-way driver on the highway.” “A wrong-way driver?” he replies. “There are thousands of them!” That is what it feels like to be a Jew in America today. As the title of Richard Landes’ new book asks: Can “the Whole World Be Wrong?” The whole of enlightened liberal opinion, sadly including the non-Orthodox Jewish denominations in the United States, agrees that Israel is guilty of human rights violations if not outright genocide.

To repudiate the liberal consensus banishes Jews from the realm of acceptable discourse. But to accept the liberal consensus requires erasing the Jewish presence from American life. The twisted logic that attracts liberal Jews to the Palestinian cause also informs a vision of diversity in American life that leaves little room for Jews. The sociologist Eric Kaufmann notes that Jews comprise just 7% of Ivy League students today vs. 20% in 2000, while only 4% of elite US academics under 30 are Jewish, compared to 21% of Baby boomers.

The question in Professor Landes’s title recalls Ben Hecht’s 1944 Guide for the Bedevilled. The celebrated screenwriter recounts an exchange with a prominent California lady who asked, “I would like to know how you explain the unpopularity of the Jews. I mean, what do you think it is about the Jew that makes him so constant a victim? What is it in him that attracts so much anger and arouses people everywhere?” Jews, the lady added, are “collaborative victims, a thing they refuse to see.” Hecht wrote, “The picture came to me of an angry policeman badgering a corpse for explanations of the crime committed against it.”

This is not the first time that the whole world was wrong about the Jews. The blood libel of the Middle Ages gave rise to a cult of child saints supposedly slaughtered by Jews for their blood, starting with Harold of Gloucester (d. 1168) and Hugh of Lincoln (d. 1255), continuing through Cristoforo di Leonardo of Trent (d. 1475) and hundreds of others. So ingrained was the cult of child martyrs that the distinguished Catholic writer G. K. Chesterton, in his 1925 book The Everlasting Man, blamed the murders on apostate Jews rather than on Jews in general:

The Hebrew prophets were perpetually protesting against the Hebrew race relapsing into an idolatry that involved such a war upon children; and it is probable enough that this abominable apostasy from the God of Israel has occasionally appeared in Israel since, in the form of what is called ritual murder; not of course by any representative of the religion of Judaism, but by individual and irresponsible diabolists who did happen to be Jews. This sense that the forces of evil especially threaten childhood is found again in the enormous popularity of the Child Martyr of the Middle Ages.

And this is in the second quarter of the twentieth century!

Today’s blood libel holds that Israeli soldiers deliberately kill Palestinian children. But there is one enormous difference: No Jew in the Middle Ages believed that Jews made Passover matzah with the blood of Christian children, but a very large number of American Jews believe that the Jewish state deliberately kills Palestinian children. For the first time in history, that is, large numbers of Jews actually believe the blood libel. Since the French Revolution, to be sure, large numbers of Jews have jettisoned the Election of Israel and embraced the culture and religion of the countries of their exile, the better to appease Gentile nations who would turn on them notwithstanding. Today’s phenomenon is different: The echo chamber of liberal opinion has persuaded large numbers of Jews of the wickedness of the Jewish State, and by extension, of the inherent iniquity of Jewishness as a manifestation of white privilege.

The main body of the book catalogs the willful and malicious misrepresentation of Israel’s conflict with jihadist terrorism. This ground has been covered many times before, but Landes is so comprehensive, factual, and trenchant that his account is valuable even for well-informed readers.

Landes keeps a taut rein on his own outrage, carefully assembling facts that prove the mendacity of the mainstream liberal media. Israel lost “the moral high ground” after its army cleaned out an armed terrorist camp inside the West Bank city of Jenin in April 2002. Between 52 and 56 Arabs died, of whom 40 were armed fighters, while Israel lost 23 soldiers. “In the world annals of urban warfare … no example can come close to the ratio of 5 combatants to 2 civilians for an urban battle lasting weeks,” he writes. Meanwhile, the black legend of an Israeli massacre filled the headlines for weeks. Time magazine cited an Iranian estimate of 16,000 dead. American correspondents for major media outlets reported wild Arab claims unquestioningly.

The United Nations reported the following August that only 50 Arabs had died, to the indifference of the same media that had embraced the myth of a massacre. The black legend lives on.

It isn’t only that Palestinian propaganda channeled through the Western media invents atrocities that never occurred. The Gaza thugocracy kills more Arab civilians with misfiring rockets than the Israeli Army. In May 2021 alone, jihadists fired more than 4,340 rockets at civilian targets in Israel. These rockets killed ten Israelis, but many of them fell back inside Gaza, killing more than 90 Palestinian Arabs. We should understand, then, that Hamas is willing to kill several Arab civilians with its primitive rockets in the hope of killing one Israeli civilian.

As Landes writes, “In the 2010s, [Hamas and Islamic Jihad] fired from their own civilian areas in the hope of drawing return fire and getting their own people killed. So careless did these rocketeers get, that some 20 percent of their rockets fell on their own territory, in some cases killing children.” In some incidences, American journalists watched “while Hamas operatives hurried to remove evidence of rockets that had fallen back on their own civilian population, and refused to report it for fear of Hamas retaliation.”

One might add that the idea that Arab residents of the West Bank constitute an oppressed class is at variance with the uncontested facts (which never appear in mainstream media accounts). The per capita GDP in Gaza was only $3,664 in 2021. But in the West Bank provinces of Judea and Samaria, where Israel maintains ultimate control, per capita income is almost twice as high, at $6,245. That compares to $3,019 in Egypt, $4,405 in Jordan, and $4,208 in Tunisia. Outside the oil-producing countries, West Bank residents are the richest, best educated, and healthiest Arabs in the world, with 132,000 university students. In Israel itself, Israeli Arabs are 17% of the university student population, almost the same proportion as Arabs in the general population (21%).

The triumph of progressive values in the United States portends the end of the meritocracy that afforded great opportunities for Jews in America, and the erasure of the Jewish presence in American public life.

Landes’ indictment is both exhaustive and readable. Landes is less sure in explaining why enlightened liberal opinion in the West perpetuates this ghastly fraud. At the outset, he states that his book “is addressed to people to have liberal and progressive values, especially those capable of acknowledging that, for all its flaws, Western democracy constitutes a significant and perhaps unique step in the direction of human dignity.” Later, though, he offers several explanations for the derangement of liberal and progressive perceptions, not all of them mutually consistent.

One of these is “liberal cognitive egocentrism,” named by psychologist David Elkind, employed to describe the mindset of adolescent boys who “assumed that everyone else thought about the world the same way they did.” Under this rubric, Landes includes John Lennon’s song “Imagine” and the liberal internationalism of Robert O. Keohane and Joseph Nye, Jr. He also cites the postmodern deconstructionism of Jacques Derrida, which reduces all discourse to power relations without inherent meaning, the apocalyptic millenarianism of the global left, and liberal virtual signaling. A rather academic treatment of these catchwords bogs down in the book’s later chapters. Landes struggles to explain the self-destructiveness and irreality of liberal-progressive responses to Israel and the jihad threat in general.

After rounding up the usual ideological suspects, Landes turns his attention to the ultimate source of rancor against the Jews. “When this enduring and hostile response to Jewish claims of chosenness?,” he asks.

Somehow the Japanese believe that they are the gift of the gods, or the Chinese, or the English, or the French, or the Germans, or even the Muslims, no matter how many millions those beliefs have killed and may yet kill, doesn’t seem to arouse nearly the same resentment. Could it indicate an unacknowledged belief (in some, a secret fear) that the Jews may be a chosen people?

This is true, but it needs clarification. Supersessionism as such does not explain the large numbers of liberal Jews, inside as well as outside Israel, who have joined the ranks of Israel’s detractors. Why should the overwhelmingly non-religious Europeans give a moment’s consideration to the Election of Israel? During the past 1,000 years, every European nation at some point or other styled itself the unique instrument of God’s purpose, starting with the eleventh-century chronicle Dei Gesta Per Francos (“The Deeds of God through the Franks”), including seventeenth-century Spain, nineteenth-century England, sixteenth-century Russia, and—in a satanic parody of the Election of Israel—twentieth-century Germany.

The Second World War purged the European nations of this conceit and left them dispirited, infertile, indifferent to their demographic decline, and bitterly resentful of Israel’s vibrant nationalism, which reminds them of their own failed pretension to divine election. A few exceptions prove the rule, for example, Hungary, which is struggling to restore its sense of national purpose and views Israel as a beacon of hope for other nations who aspire to last out the next two or three centuries. To the liberal-internationalist Europeans, Israel is a horrible reminder of their own lost illusions.

Progressive American Jews are a different matter. They are cowards. The lesson they draw from the Holocaust is that it is dangerous to be Jewish and safer to assimilate into the ambient population. That isn’t a new idea and recalls the old joke that in 1930s Germany, the pessimists went to Palestine and the optimists went to Auschwitz. Large-scale violence against American Jews on the Nazi model is unlikely in the extreme, but—as noted earlier—the triumph of progressive values in the United States portends the end of the meritocracy that afforded great opportunities for Jews in America, and the erasure of the Jewish presence in American public life.

To be an Israeli, one has to be a hero. But not all Israelis want to be heroes. Some prefer to throw themselves at the mercy of their enemies, but they are a dwindling minority. Since the Second Intifada, Israel has a solid right-wing majority on foreign policy issues. Israel’s fierce self-reliance has done more to establish peace in the region than all the labors of the diplomats. The Abraham Accords, which established diplomatic relations between Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain, reflect the Gulf States’ appreciation of Israel’s military prowess and the perception that Israel might one day be a critical ally against Iran.

More than any other event, this diplomatic achievement has left the Palestinian irredentists in the position of spoilers against an emerging Arab-Israeli entente against Iran. This presents a cognitive dissonance without parallel in Jewish history: Many Arabs now favor peace and strong economic ties with the Jewish state, precisely because they are impressed by its strength, while many Jews abhor the Jewish state, precisely because they are frightened by its strength. The United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to Israel “warmly greeted” Israel’s new public security minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who heads one of Israel’s religious parties, while Jewish members of the US Congress refuse to meet him. In the Middle East, it is the liberals who are driving on the wrong side of the road.