December 4, 1997
Power, Politics And People
The Age of Counter-Semitism
By J.J. Goldberg
Black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan seems to have picked up astrange new facial tic. When asked about his Jewish critics, hedevelops a sly, little grin, as though he knows something he's nottelling. He used to wear a mask of high moral outrage when the topiccame up. Now he grins like a 6-year-old who just stole the afikomen.
That little grin was displayed repeatedly during a Nov. 30interview with the conservative CNN commentators Rowland Evans andRobert Novak. The Tory twosome kept asking Farrakhan about "witheringcriticism" hurled by Jews at anybody -- Chicago Mayor Richard Daley,unnamed Republican politicians, Evans and Novak -- who dares to meetwith him. Farrakhan would wax indignant. Then he would get that grin.By the end of the show, Evans and Novak were displaying the grin too.
So what's the joke? Why were these men smiling?
The smiles reflect a growing sense that it's morning in Americafor people who stand across the barricades from the Jews. There's agiddy feeling of freedom in the air, as folks realize they can saythings that drive Jews crazy, and get away with it.
Take Farrakhan (please). He's been saying horrible things aboutJews for decades. Organized Jewry has done handstands in trying todeny him a platform. The result? He keeps getting stronger.
Farrakhan isn't alone. Pat Robertson, Marge Schott and PublicEnemy have shown that there is life after anti-Semitism. Once, beingknown as an enemy of the Jews was a virtual death sentence inAmerican public life. Public figures would go to great lengths toavoid it. Those days, it seems, are gone.
Not that times have soured for Jews in America. Just the opposite.Jews are safer, more affluent and better-regarded here today thanever before in their history. American Jews can go anywhere and doanything. Nobody cares anymore.
And that's the trouble. Jews are no longer viewed as underdogs.They are part of the establishment. As a result, they are no longerobjects of fascination and sympathy.
"Jews, as Jews, aren't interesting," conservative commentatorRichard Brookhiser writes in the latest issue of the stylish weeklyNew York Observer. "What we have witnessed is the passing of aMinority Moment." Minorities, he writes, have their moment on thestage when America finds them riveting. Once, it was the Irish, thenthe Jews. Now it's the gays. On with the show.
For a peek at what the new Jewish era might portend, consider aNov. 18 essay by conservative commentator William F. Buckley Jr. onthe Op-Ed page of The New York Times, defending Dartmouth Collegefrom allegations of an anti-Semitic past.
Dartmouth had a history of anti-Jewish quotas. They became newsNov. 8 at the dedication of a new campus Jewish center, when archivaldocuments were read aloud by the college's president, James Freedman.One was a 1934 letter from the admissions director, who admitted thatDartmouth had a "Jewish problem" -- too many Jews -- and said that hewould be "grieved beyond words" if it got any worse. Another was a1945 interview in which college President Ernest Hopkins defendedquotas, saying that Dartmouth was "a Christian college founded forthe Christianization of its students."
Buckley, a revered political philosopher, doesn't see what was sobad. The college wanted to spread Christianity, "and the assumptionwas that non-Protestants should go elsewhere for their education. Thecruelty of that restriction was simply not understood at the time."
Lest we miss the point, Buckley stipulates that Hopkins himselfwas not an anti-Semite -- not "unless an admissions quota is held tobe anti-Semitic." Which, presumably, it isn't in Buckley's review.
Buckley's fear is that in the rush to make Jews feel comfortable,too many American institutions have abandoned Christian values. "Doesthe mandate to Christianize students," he asks, "implyanti-Semitism?" Heavens, no.
Jews might differ. Buckley thinks that they should get used to it.Quoting from neoconservative essayist Irving Kristol, he says thatthe "secular era is fading," and a new America is aborning with aboldly Christian "majority culture." Jews will be "outsiders to someextent." Too bad.
The point is not whether quotas are anti-Semitic, or whether Jewsshould welcome second-class citizenship.
No, the point is that this is William Buckley, founding editor ofthe respected National Review, who led the 1950s battle to purgeJew-haters from the American right, stripping anti-Semitism of itslast bastion of respectability.
Is he recanting? Not quite. His new stance is not exactlyanti-Semitism, but closer to what his National Review colleagueJoseph Sobran calls "counter-Semitism." Sobran, a small-government,Christian-America isolationist, says that he is "against just abouteverything the Jewish community advocates for America. But Icertainly don't wish Jews any ill."
Buckley has said much of this before. But he's never said it, flatout, on the pages of The New York Times. This boldness is somethingnew.
This is not just the passing of a Minority Moment. It's more likean anti-Minority Moment. White Christians are saying that they'retired of being polite. They think that they can get away with it. Andthey can.
They can, in part, because Jews are losing the underdog cachet.Attacking the powerful is simply not as reprehensible as attackingthe powerless.
No less important, they now have Jewish allies. A lobby has grownup within the Jewish community that favors a re-Christianized Americaand welcomes the likely marginalization of Jews as a boon to Jewishcontinuity. It includes secular conservatives such as Irving Kristoland religious conservatives such as Rabbi Daniel Lapin of theSeattle-based Toward Tradition. They and their allies are able toproclaim their vision of a re-ghettoized Jewish community withoutfear of ostracism. On the contrary, they get invited to address majorJewish conventions. Heck, they get awards.
If the Jewish counter-Semites don't fear the Jewish community, whyshould anyone else?
J.J. Goldberg is author of "Jewish Power: Inside the AmericanJewish Establishment." He writes regularly for The JewishJournal.
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