An uncertain people
Recently, the venerable British newsweekly The Economist devoted a long and showily illustrated report announcing that “Judaism is flourishing.” According to its author — former Ha’aretz editor David Landau — the Jewish Diaspora is confident and secure. A recent study by the UN found that Israelis are the 14th-happiest people in the world. Even in depleted communities like Russia and Ukraine, “Jewish philanthropy is rebuilding community life for those who opted to stay rather than emigrate to Israel or the West.”
Most striking is the resurgence of Orthodoxy, which is experiencing a “demographic explosion.”
But all is not well among the Jews, according to the article’s very odd second half. The prevailing Jewish political sentiment is one of “aggressive defensiveness,” which has resulted in the strangling of debate over Israel and the peace process. The magazine quotes a number of left-leaning American Jews to make the point that, as one says, “honest discussion about Israel is largely shut down.” The article suggests that the resurgence of religious faith has led to the blurring of “nationalism, xenophobia, and Judaism.”
Although there is some truth to the charge that discussion of Israel is overly circumscribed, the article doesn’t account for outside factors that might lead to a degree of Jewish defensiveness. For a clue, take a look at the readers’ comments on a map (a map!) that accompanies the article. The comments quickly devolve into a noxious symposium on those troublesome Jews — how they run Hollywood, colonized Palestine, are too successful for their own good, are clannish, the whole bit.
Are Jews unnecessarily defensive and hesitant to share their deep disagreements in public? Have Jewish success and Jewish insecurity developed side by side? If so, it is in large part because of the failure of governments and institutions, especially in Europe, to treat the Jewish enterprise as normal and the Jewish comeback as welcome.