Lauri: I want to welcome everyone this afternoon to a very special webinar featuring the Always Brilliant, Ruth Wisse. This is a webinar that’s co-sponsored this week by both The Endowment for Middle East Truth and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, and I’m happy to represent both of those organizations. We appreciate your support of Emmett MSPMA. Ruth Wisse is a brilliant scholar and Jewish thinker who has such an influence on me personally, but also on the Jewish people as a whole. I think we’re going to learn a lot from her this afternoon. She recently retired from her position as Martin Peretz, professor of Yiddish Literature and professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard, and she’s currently a distinguished senior fellow at the Tikvah Fund, where you can follow her important work. Ruth has also authored a number of books, including this very important book, Free As a Jew: A Personal Memoir of National Self-Liberation, which I highly recommend. Along with her other important works, Ruth also received the National Humanities Medal from President George W. Bush at the White House in 2007, and the citation reads for scholarship and teaching Jewish literary traditions. Her insightful writings have enriched our understanding of Yiddish literature and Jewish culture in the modern world. I’m truly honored to host Ruth this afternoon for her to share with us her insights on Jewish culture in the modern world. There were studies of Yiddish literature and her rich and dynamic life experiences. So welcome Ruth, and thank you so much for joining us today.
Ruth Wisse: Thanks so very much for having me. Thanks, Lauri.
Lauri: It’s a pleasure. I’m going to spend a good deal of time talking about the state of American Jewry today, and I think the best place to start is to recognize that unlike so many of our people, you always had a sense of responsibility as a Jew and recognize through various events in the course of your life, whether surviving the Holocaust, watching Israel gain its independence, or realizing that what you were experiencing with the new left, including at Harvard, which we’re going to get to, that you were living through historical moments that perhaps were out of your control, but which nonetheless never diminished your sense of responsibility in centering your life’s work around the Jewish people’s survival and your love of the Jewish homeland. Is it possible to instill a sense of responsibility in the Jewish people as a whole? Israel is only 75 years old and it celebrated its independence in 1948. Today, Jews take it for granted, not recognizing that they ever a responsibility to fight for it. Who will today, “Call Jews to duty” as Hayyim Bialik did in his epic poem in The City of Slaughter, which you quote, and how do we instill in diaspora Jews their moral obligation that comes with what you call the burden of privilege that makes special demands on us to fight for our survival?
Ruth: Well, I think you put these questions so well, they almost constitute an answer. Of course, that’s what one would like to do. But how does one make someone feel the way I do about being a Jew and always have I don’t know. I try to lay out in my book how it happened, and so in a sense, it is a roadmap of how it can be done, but it certainly cannot be done in the same way. So in a sense, it shows you a path, the components of which are still available to everybody, but God forbid that anyone should try to replicate it as it happened to me. So the thing about writing this kind of memoir is that one wants to share a life, and especially as I entitled it the personal memoir of national Self-Liberation, because I wanted to just address the fact that this was not a personal memoir, strictly speaking. I don’t write about many of the things which are most personal to me. What it tries to be is an intellectual memoir of being part of the entity that you described. So I would say, how does one do it? Well, I would say the following. Look, I don’t think that any generation has been more privileged than mine to have been alive. To see the birth of the state of Israel to have been alive during this time is just remarkable. If you know the history of the Jews, and to see yourself anywhere within that continuum to know that you’ve been alive during this time, to have witnessed it, and even more so today to be alive while there is a state of Israel reborn, this is just simply miraculous. Now, I think that it is very sad if one does not instill that sense of the miraculous in one’s children, in one’s students with whoever it is that one is speaking to and everybody around.
What I mean by that is truly the miraculous, you see, the way I see it is the following, that what happened to the Jewish people in the 1940s is a greater miracle than any that has been recorded in history and certainly than in Jewish history. You see the parting of the waters and the exodus from Egypt, really in the same decade as 6 million, one-third of the Jewish people, and in a sense, the most cultivated third of the Jewish people is murdered in the most humiliating way. It is not just that they were killed, they were deliberately humiliated to be less than slaves, to be made to wash the streets with toothbrushes, to show that this great person, this exalted people, is really ashes and can be so easily exterminated. It is in a sense, it begins with something worse than human history has ever seen, and then think of it in that same decade, not a hundred years later, but in that same decade, you see that the state of Israel, the Jews recover their sovereignty in their homeland that had been under foreign domination for 2000 years. So the country had been under foreign occupation, and I think that ought to always be said, 2000 years under foreign occupation. Then in that same decade, to have had the infrastructure already built, and to have that small group, relatively small group of Jews, but with a tremendous sense of historical drive behind them, reclaim their sovereignty in the homeland, and then keep it against the armies of the Arabs and all else that they were up against, and then to have the ingathering of exiles and so forth. Look, I think this is so important to say that because we don’t emphasize enough the greatness of cultures and the accomplishments of people we’re very used to talking about great men.
Do you know why I love to watch, I could see Churchill movies forever. I don’t go to London often enough, but I never go to London without going to the war rooms to see the war rooms where Churchill was. He’s a great man in history, and I think that we’ve had great personalities in history, but compared to the Jewish people, because that was a collective accomplishment. Even more so, the recovery of the Hebrew language, which has never been done in linguistic history, no people have ever taken a language that was then relegated to a high-status position not used as a vernacular, and then brought it back into everyday use. There are things that you see, are stunningly important. So I feel the main way that one has to try to instill that love and sense of responsibility that you’re speaking of is simply to convey this, to talk about it and to tell that story, and perhaps we could go into it, or I think that this is something that everybody watching and listening should think about how perverse we are as a people. But that is not what we’ve chosen to talk about. That’s not what people have made movies of. That’s not what people have written books. It took Leon Uris, who was trying to write an American bestseller to write the book Exodus, which is a bestseller. When you sit down to write a bestseller, those are the ingredients, and he put them together, a romance, and the way he built it, and the movie is made of him and so forth. But Preminger who made the movie is not Jewish. It wasn’t a Jew who made the movie, and it wasn’t a Jew who made the movie of the 10 Commandments, right? So where are we as a people? It’s not the sense of, look at us, we’re so great, that’s not what I mean at all. But if you are not the ones to even report on your story for the benefit of the world, let alone your own children, then what are you worth?
Lauri: There’s so much in there that I wish we could elaborate on. But as you know Ruth, I sent you the topics that I wanted to discuss ahead of time. Actually, it’s a good transition into my follow-up, which is, why do you think American Jews on the left don’t care about Israel? Your passion, when you talk about it, it’s so humbling. I love Israel but when I listen to you, we both understand that unfortunately, the rest of diaspora Jewry doesn’t have the same depth of feeling for it, or a sense of responsibility. When you look at the polls that I’ve seen on American Jews, voting priorities, Israel is at the bottom of the list. You’ve got abortion, climate change, and even affordable housing that’s prioritized well above Israel. So given that your life experience living through the Holocaust is Israel’s numerous wars, War of Independence, Six-Day War, Yom Kippur War, the Intifada, and the current conflicts with Iran. Then you look at Iran calling for Israel’s annihilation, Hamas charter calling for Israel’s annihilation, Imams across the globe, and diaspora Jews ignoring the threats. I love you included a paragraph that you had written from an article that you co-authored with Irwin Cotler. You included that paragraph in your book, and in the first line of it, there are things in Jewish history, too terrible to be believed, but not too terrible to have happened. Do you think our people will ever learn? I was going to ask you later on about is history repeating itself, but maybe that’s a good time to ask you that question. Are we watching history repeat itself?
Ruth: Well, there are so many parts to your question and to the way you lay it out, but let’s begin at the beginning. So I think that one of the things that’s very important for Jews to do, always in asking that kind of question is to understand that we are a minority by choice and a very small minority. What does that mean? It means that we are completely independent within ourselves. If the whole world were just made up of Jewish people, I think we would be fine. It would be great. We would have a very creative and lovely existence. That’s not the world we live in. So much of our lives are governed not by what we are doing, but we have to be very much aware of forces that are bearing in on us from all around us, both benign forces which we can harness and which make our lives more pleasant like living in a democracy and being able to say, “Even at this moment, I live in a free country and I am damn well going to act like the citizen of a free country. I am not going to cower. I am not going to hide under the table. I am going to be free. This is my right and it’s my responsibility.” So there’s the good of that. But there’s also, let’s face it things have been going very badly in the world and in America. So it just, today actually, I downloaded Victor Davis Hanson’s, What the Left Did to Our Country. Right. Will their upheaval succeed? If I may read this into our record, in the last 20 years, the left has boasted that it has gained control of most American institutions of power and influence. The corporate boardroom media, Silicon Valley, Wall Street, the administrative state, academia, foundations, social media, entertainment, professional sports, and Hollywood. Jew is not mentioned in this.
He’s writing about America. But we couldn’t have our conversation, honestly, I think, I’m not trying to duck the question, obviously, but we can’t think of what we’re up against without first thinking that we are up against the same things that any sane American is up against. Does it affect us even more? I do think so. I think that we are even under more pressure for a variety of reasons. But to get to your internal point, if we’re going to talk about the Jews one thing that’s overlooked, you said, why are so many people caught up in these? Why don’t they stand up for the Jews? Why are they on the defensive? Why are Jewish values so low and on the totem pole of their values? Listen, 50,000 Jews in the United States were members of the Communist Party. Where did that realization go? When do we talk about that? Do you think these people have evaporated? Now those people are real. I’m not trying to bash the left as it were, but I knew those communists and I know those people and their children. So some of them have really turned. By the way, it’s a very troubling experience if you were raised as a communist. When they started to talk about second-generation Holocaust survivors in Montreal, this goes all the way back. They wanted to form a second-generation group of Holocaust, the children of Holocaust survivors. I’m old, you see? So my history goes back a long time. So I remember this vividly. I said, “What? Children of Holocaust survivors? No, I don’t think you should treat them as a group.” If you’re going to talk about the second generation, make a support group for children of communists. They’re the ones who have the problems. I knew both these categories, right? Children of Holocaust survivors and children of communist children of Holocaust survivors were indeed traumatized when their parents were traumatized visibly, but not culturally necessarily. Many of them were very strong, the kids and the parents actually. But the children of communists, I never knew one that was unscathed. Both those who stayed in the party and who are now very active and their children and their children’s children are very active in environmental movements and in anti-Jewish movements of all kinds because they had a different faith. So here we have in our midst, I’m just going to the very extreme here, because not everybody was a communist, but we had people who were actually members of a party that was more than a religion. It was a religious belief that was invested in a political system, and that was extremely anti-Jewish. It was against the Jewish religion because it was against all religions. But the Jewish communists were against their religion, and it was against nationality.
The Soviet Union went to the trouble of building another Jewish entity so that they should be able to counter Zionism, not just through their hatred and through eliminating Hebrew and eliminating and killing some of the people who tried to teach Hebrew, but they went to the trouble of actually establishing another Jewish entity so that they should have a physical counterpart to this. Do you know what I found the other day? The Jewish Book Council is announcing very happily this book that’s come out. Okay? Did you know what the first modern Jewish state was? Ha, ha trick question. Do you think it’s Israel? No, it’s Birobidjan and this celebratory, this happy introduction of how wonderful this Yiddish-speaking state that they built near Manchuria for the Jews. How sweet, how lovely. These are American Jews, not stupid people. May I say? But can you see this? Dancing on the graves of millions and thinking that it was a holiday and that Birobidjan was some kind of a sweet colony. So just to answer your question, I’ve gone to the two extremes here. One is saying, “Well, you have to look around us to see what we’re part of the bigger picture, what we’re up against.” That’s very serious because we’re citizens here, and it’s very important to us. The other part of it is that within our midst, we have entities, we have people, we have ideas where bad ideas really drove out the good, where anti-Jews were in our midst, and they seized the moral high ground. You see, it was easy to stand up against fascism then it’s only physically difficult. But are you challenged by the fascist, by a Neo-Nazi? No. But if someone comes to you and says, “We are the real egalitarians, we are the fulfillment of Jewish values. Jewish values are only implicit, but socialism is the real realization of Jewish values. You have to be put morally on the defensive. That is very, very difficult.
Lauri: Let’s take that a step further and touch on Jewish Anti-Semites and the harm that they reap on the rest of us. You experienced a great deal of anti-Jewish animus from fellow Jewish academics at Columbia and Harvard, and I love how you explained that today’s self-hating Jews don’t hate the squelch Jew inside themselves, but rather the Jews still present in the rest of us. I love that part of your book. It’s not self-hatred at all. It’s hatred against other Jews. Did you ever try and understand where the hatred comes from among our own people? I mean, is communism the beginning of that? Perhaps this ties back to the discussion about leftist causes and our priorities as a people. But I think this goes beyond that. There’s a common sort of theme or narrative about members of a social minority as you discuss this in your book. In this case, Jews who want to be liked by everyone else, and therefore respond by trying even harder to repudiate their origins, which includes blaming fellow Jews for causing anti-Jewish sentiments. It’s a problem that pervades the academy in particular as your memoir so aptly describes, but can you discuss this?
Ruth: Yeah. Well, I would not like to linger on this, but of course, you see, I wrote a book called Jews in Power, which tries to explain, and I think, if you’ll forgive me, I’m usually humble about these things, but I really don’t know a book that does a better job of trying to explain the answer to your question, both about the rise, why anti-Semitism works as it does, why it succeeds, basically, and why Jews join it. I think it’s like a rule of thumb. It’s almost like a rule of social physics if you will, or something stronger, the anti-Jewish political situation. The more Jews will become anti-Jewish themselves. It’s just simply, that’s it the way it is in history. It would have to be because one is a minority, the more pressure you can see why one thinks of physics because it’s like a pot that’s boiling. You put the cover on and it boils in a certain way, it can’t be otherwise. I see it the same way that the more pressure comes against the Jewish people, the greater the percentage of people among you that will want to get out, that will not be able to tolerate this. So getting out there is an amazing way to get out. One in the United States of America, you can get out by just moving, I used to say move to Denver or move to, I don’t know, somewhere in North Dakota which is now advertising actually for people to come and settle there, you can easily leave. As we know, probably many, many more people have left the Jewish people than have stayed in it, clearly, our numbers reflect that, right?
You could always leave. But then there are people today, Americans, you see, they don’t have to leave. They can refashion Judaism in their own image, and they can say, “Hey, we’re Jews, and this is the way we express our Judaism.” Our Judaism is really to be pro-Palestinian because we think that Israel is an oppressor state. Where does that come from? Well, it doesn’t come from inside their imagination. They’re not anti-Semites, like from the cradle or anything. They’re reacting to the very real increase in political pressure against the Jews. If I may maybe sidebar a little bit here, I make a distinction. You see, I don’t like to call everything anti-Semitism. I don’t think it’s clear. I think it confuses the issue. You see when people, say, “Oh, there was anti-Semitism at Harvard in the 1920s because they didn’t allow in Jews.” Really? Well, if I look at the history of Harvard, they let in more Jews than they let in blacks Asians, or women. So you are looking at a pattern of discrimination, which they would not have called discrimination. They would’ve simply called off culling. We have the idea of the college, which is to create the next generation of Americans in our own image. We have to do that for America’s sake. They felt very strongly about this. It was a positive force. So part of that was keeping out these hoards of people who come with different ideas, with different things. So, yes, they kept out the Jews, but as I say, they took in a small percentage of them, a bigger percentage, they kept out the Catholics. You know how the Kennedys suffered when they wanted to get into Harvard and how they went into it, they kept out African-Americans for sure. So what I’m saying is that when Jews are discriminated against in the same way that others are discriminated against, it’s discrimination, it’s awful, it’s hateful. But that is not anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semitism is the organization of politics against the Jews. I think that’s how it formed in Germany in the 1870s. It was a political movement and that’s what we’re up against. We’re up against the creation of the Arab League, which was created in 1945 with the single purpose of uniting collectively against the creation of the Jewish state. Being anti-Israel has been the glue of Arab and Muslim politics for a long time and it has now taken in the left, The Soviet Arab Alliance at the United Nations created the Zionism racism resolution, which was on the books for 15 years. Now, you see, that is anti-Semitism. and that spawned everything. Now, when you have the alliances of grievance intersectionality, that’s what that is, of course, they think that Zionism is racism. That’s their flag. That’s why they could march behind the Palestinians for goodness sake. That’s why the Palestinians became like the poster children for this great wave of grievance and blame. So you see, to talk about anti-Semitism and how much, I don’t know how far it gets us. I think it’s worth identifying where the money’s coming from. Where is the animus coming from? Not hatred. I don’t want to hear that. I want to hear where’s the political power. That’s all I’m worried about, who’s pushing the buttons? It’s the White House that is pushing the buttons as it was under Obama, right? Actually, manufacturing some of this and when it’s the academy that is perpetuating these ideas and certain programs within the academy that is teaching these ideas and when it is the United Nations, and when these ideas are enforced, you see, you have to take that at a different level of seriousness from other concerns, by the way, unpleasant enough. I’m not minimizing discrimination and bias and prejudice and all that. I’m not minimizing it at all. But these are things which are common to many people, the dislike of the unlike is what Salo Baron said. He’s the one who once said, “Anti-Semitism is the dislike of the unlike.” Isn’t that sweet? I wish it were the dislike of the unlike who doesn’t dislike the unlike, in a way that’s so universal that has nothing to do with being against the Jews, you see? So I would just say to refine these ideas for ourselves and make sure that we focus on what’s most important.
Lauri: What I find so problematic, Ruth, is the number of Jews who give cover to at least anti-Israel animus. We’ve got all of these anti-Jewish organizations, including I can run through the litany, but J Street which now has access again, had access under Obama, now has access to the White House. You mentioned these institutions that this anti-Israel animus is coming from. Unfortunately, while the Jewish people are wedded to the Democrat party, we’re seeing a lot of outright anti-Semitism also in the Democrat party, and yet our people are not moving away. We’re helping to fund some of this stuff. One of the things you brought up is academia also, which we’re going to talk about, but I particularly enjoyed your response to people who knew you in college, who sometimes asked you when you turned to conservative, and your short answer it was when liberalism turned illiberal. So I’m wondering about the role of academia in this, which again, we’ll discuss in more depth in a few minutes, but can you just elaborate in the context of the changes that we’re seeing taking hold across the country with the crazy leftist ideologies infiltrating so many institutions, as you point out in your prologue, you referred to finding yourself a combatant in the war over the future of America. I’m, I’m quite honestly, worried that we’re losing the battle.
Ruth: Well, let’s start with the end of that though. I was reminded this morning when I was thinking about this. My mother’s expressions altogether are coming back to me with frightening regularity. One of the things she would say to me when I got into a mood, like one of your questions, she would say, “Sündige nicht” which means don’t sin. Now, do you understand what she meant by that? No, you wouldn’t. What she meant by that was “Don’t overlook the good.” It’s when you were complaining about something and you were justly down in the dumps about something and you were justly concerned about something, she would say, “Don’t sin.” In other words, don’t overlook. So I would just remind us that I have never lived in a time when there have been so many good Jewish voices, never in all my years, and I saw some fantastic people, but like today, look at your organization. Look, we could make a long, long list of friends on camera, which is fantastic and keeps growing larger. Look at the Louis Brandeis Institute and look at how effective they are becoming through Law Fair and so forth. I could go on and make a list look at the Middle East Forum, look at other organizations, and in the last couple of years, where did we ever see Bari Weiss’s Free Press? Where did we ever see somebody like Ben Shapiro? What about PragerU, that is even older, right? What about the new commentary? Okay, it’s not the old commentary that I love, but what about that feisty thing? What about the tablet that has become, my own organization and which I am so proud to be a part of.
Lauri: Kick for the fund.
Ruth: This is called Hope, which runs the Mosaic website, which runs courses. So let me just really emphasize this. Do you know that my granddaughters are taking courses at Tikvah that are taught by some of my students? Lauri, this is a dream come true, right? So, and these are really very strong organizations, strong teachers, strong students, a whole new generation, which is really being encouraged to grow and to think differently. So I think that you know, and also my father would sometimes say, “Don’t put the emphasis on the wrong syllable.” So I would say to us too, I think that we should see how much fight there is now in parts of the American Jewish community, which I frankly, never had. By the way, it was a whole different, you didn’t need to fight if you lived in what I call the period of grace up to the mid-70s. You didn’t have to fight because It was nothing. You didn’t realize that anti-Semitism in these various forms could ever rise again. But now that it has, there are really, really forces fighting. So now the question really is why aren’t we winning? That may be the question, can we win? Are the forces against us simply so monstrous that we cannot find enough energy, certainly not in our midst, but whom can we align with? Certainly, the Catholics are fighting the same battles. Certainly, the evangelicals are fighting some of the same battles. There are people within the African-American community that are fighting the same battles, certainly, among Indian-Americans, and Asian-Americans of all kinds. You see our forces that we have people in common with, we are not winning yet. That’s true, Lauri, that’s very true. But the avenues that one has begun to create, to allow us to win the war of ideas and to win the political fight I think those entities are more present now than they were 10 years ago. Would you agree?
Lauri: I would, but as we were waiting to go live. We talked about the ability to access this stuff and keep up with it. Unfortunately at least, in the context of diaspora Jewry whose bible is the New York Times, which is a tremendous amount of anti-Israel animus, I gave up my subscription to the New York Times in the early 90s. Again, I talked to liberal Jews, it’s very difficult to have a conversation in a way that they can grasp the importance of what you and I are talking about. If they haven’t lived it and aren’t interested in consuming it the same way that you and I are, we consume this stuff.
Ruth: Yes. Well, you’re right. I cannot deny it. I don’t know, really. I’m willing to talk under any rubric, but one isn’t invited everywhere. So one can only speak to whom one is invited to unless you find ways of dropping these ideas where they are. So I think that is something that one ought to give some thought to. I get things in my inbox from the Democratic Party now, I’ve never signed anything for them or signed up for anything, but they are in my inbox. Are we in their inbox? How do we get into their inbox? How do you get in their face to get, make sure that they see these ideas? This is a real strategic issue that one ought to face, and I think a very serious one because of the fact that the New York Times and the Washington Post seem to have such a hold on things, but the internet is much more open. I think it’s worth thinking about what one can do. I share your read.
Lauri: One of the reasons, Ruth, that I’m so pessimistic also is the takeover of the academy.
Lauri: This is an institution in which you spent the vast majority of your life, and you had an inside look at the relatively quick takeover of the academy by the left and the accompanying anti-Zionism, which is the new anti-Semitism. It seemed painful mostly beginning with your time at Harvard in reading your book. But certainly, you had negative experiences prior to that. But you’re telling of the downfall of the academy is exemplified in the story of Larry Summers’s brief tenure at Harvard. Your description of his time there is really extraordinary. In that context you stated, and I think this is a really important quote, “History rarely issues us a red alert, but the surrender by America’s premier university to its anti-intellectual assailants marked a point of no return.” So can you elaborate a bit on how to share what that point of no return might mean for the future of America, the West, and fighting anti-Semitism?
Ruth: Yeah. Well, I guess that the chapter of the book that I would most commend to people is the description of how anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism, which I unite in that really how it begins. Well, it began in the 1960s, I suppose, with the reaction to the Vietnam War, and it became an anti-militarism. You don’t want an army. You don’t want to fight. You don’t want strength. You could see that the ideas of what we call the left go under the wrap of gentleness and kindness to the environment and kindness to animals and all the rest of it. Well, another one of my mother’s wonderful expressions is “Kindness to the cruel is cruelty to the kind.” Basically, right? That’s what we have to really remember. Look, I will give you a very sad thing, which I don’t think I included in my book. In 2008, of course, in November of 2008, a student came to see me in late November, and after telling me about her paper, she said, “You know, I feel very guilty.” I got scared because if you listen to someone telling you what they’re guilty about, then you have to take responsibility for this and all this, and I had learned and all. But I had to respond. So I said, “Well, what do you feel guilty about?” She said, “I’ve been working for the Obama campaign.” I said, “You and everybody else, what was that?” She said, “But I’m for McCain. I was for McCain.” So I said, “Well, why did you do that?” She said, “Well, look, I’m a freshman, and my roommates are all working for the Obama campaign, and I wanted to be with them. I have to be friendly with them and all the rest of it. Of course, I’m coming to tell you this because I don’t want to stay there all that time. But I feel…” Anyway, we talked through this. This is a microcosm, the physicist goes back, but you see how what you’re saying is so indicative. You have colleagues with a lot at stake who wouldn’t step out of wine, and they would say, it’s because of X or because of Y. So I said, “I found myself in a culture of pusillanimity because it’s a university, it’s a fancier word than cowardice.
I thought it was more appropriate. I had never been in such an environment before where everyone was a coward. People were afraid and not being given that kind of fear, it’s incomprehensible to me. People would say, “Oh, you’re so courageous to stand up and say that, what? To stand up at a faculty meeting and to say how stupid these people are, that takes courage.” You see, I can’t understand it. So I’m not the best person to address this, but to be the witness to it on such a large scale. Now, by the way, Lauri, at the time, it wasn’t so bad. The Association for Jewish Studies is one of the great disappointments of my life, because I was there at the very beginning, and I described that as well of course, what we thought that Jewish studies would do in the academy was to bring Judaism into the academy, into the mix of Western civilization. What does it mean for us to think of ourselves as a chosen people? What is the Bible? What is the Talmudic civilization? What is modern Jewish civilization? Yeah, I could get caught up and bring Yiddish literature into the academy. I thought this was really like the epitome because Yiddish is so interesting and so intricate and so different from other things. It’s the uniqueness of this experience that one wants to explore in relation to other things, right? It was a specialness of Judaism and what do you see now? “It’s a MeToo movement. Oh, is queer studies in, ah, I can find queer studies in Jewish literature.” So you give a course on studies in Jewish literature, or is this in? “Well, of course, this will fit into it.” So instead of going back to the beginning, instead of telling something like the story of Israel, or showing how Jews regard slavery or what that means, how different the idea of slavery is as it’s developed in Jewish sources and as it’s manifest in modern Jewish behavior. Instead of giving a course like that, it’s the opposite. Trying to make the Jewish experience fit into whatever the latest trend is. So this is heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking from an intellectual point of view to see people who are in the academy and pre presumably, very clever, but it’s not the first time. May I go on a little bit longer with this? You you want to move on to something else?
Lauri: Well, so there’s a number of questions in the queue, and I did want to touch on Israel if we could move to Israel for one minute before we get to some of the questions. I would love to. Ruth, can we have you back?
Ruth: Never mind.
Lauri: [crosstalk] talking.
Ruth: … just enough.
Lauri: I do want to get to the questions. Unfortunately, leftist Jews without a survival instinct, aren’t confined to America. I always thought Israel was going to be my fallback. I was going to wind up there when we were no longer welcome here, and Jews were going to live forever in Israel in peace and harmony. Unfortunately, in the past six months, we’ve witnessed what I find to be an unbelievably distressing and dangerous divide in Israel, basically between secular Jews on the left and the more religious Jews on the right, if I’m going to really simplify this. I hosted the webinar with Avi Bell and Jonathan Tobin talking about judicial reform protests. So I’m not going to get into that at all. But the protests have expanded beyond judicial reform, and they’re, now, it’s about women’s rights and the erratum serving in the Army and LGBTQ concerns. Most recently, 200 Israeli teens announced that they won’t serve due to the occupation, all of which is tearing the country apart. I also just learned that Hebrew University in Jerusalem is giving out scholarships to Palestinian Arabs who live in what it calls occupied Palestinian Territories, which is shocking. So in a different context, you wrote that until Arab leaders agreed to co-existence, “Israel would need to prove stronger than those seeking to destroy it.” Is Israel strong enough in your view, to withstand what’s been playing out? You love Israel, but we started this whole conversation talking about Israel and how much of a priority it should be to the Jewish people who have a responsibility to ensure its survival, but have Israel Jews lost that survival instinct?
Ruth: Well, look, I see the world exactly as you do, but it’s not the way I would put the question. Obviously, I can’t fight for them. I can fight to the end to get them. As you can see, the situation in Ukraine what couldn’t one do for Ukraine at this point? Well, one can try to persuade the American government to give it as much help as it can. Political help, military help, help, help. They’ve got to do the fighting. The people in Israel on the people who are protesting, they want a holiday from history. That’s what they want. They want to march and they want to march for Democratia and to pretend that this is a great internal fight between this and that and all the rest of it. It’s baloney, as far as I’m concerned, the whole of it. What they’re up against is the same Arab world that they were up against all along and what they realize is that they have to keep fighting every generation. What did they mean by being a normal country? To be a normal country meant to be allowed to live, to have everybody accept the principle of coexistence. Well, people have not accepted the principle of coexistence and the war against Israel has become more complicated. It’s gone into the boardrooms and it’s eroded the moral confidence of a lot of Israelis. So yes, they love this thing. If I can fight against the Jews, if I can say that my thing is with the reform and with these curatum who are taking over my country and that they’re going to make… I don’t know, all women go back into the kitchen or whatever, fear some things they see happening.
The truth is they don’t want to be in Judea and Samaria. They don’t want to be fighting that fight and the example that you bring at home. They want the Arabs to love them. They want to bring the Arabs into the Hebrew University. If only they come into the Hebrew University, then it will all be fine. Well, it’s not fine, and it can’t be fine until the Arab world changes and until now we’re even up against more horrible things. There is China behind you, Russia, and Iran, right? These are the real enemies out there, and they are pushing against them, it’s Israel that is still the target of choice. All these forces can be very happy if they can unite in some way against it. It’s in a very vulnerable situation. So is it more dangerous for Israelis to want a holiday from history than for Americans? I would say it’s even more dangerous for them. But Americans also want a holiday from history. You can see that the American Polity is not serious at this point. It seems to be distracted in some way, these two people presumably running for government to head the country. It’s nothing like this has happened in my lifetime and many of us are baffled by how it came to be. So yes, I’m very disappointed at the moment with a lot of friends that I have, and most disappointed, may I say, with those former Americans who are coming and who think that they can get American Jews to help pressure their government into doing what they wanted to do. This is really, this is what you call democracy. Can you see Italians coming here and asking Italian Americans to vote out one of the parties that they don’t want? Can you see any other people doing such a shameful thing? It is so disrespectful of democracy. So it shows really a total lack of self-respect and I’m shocked by the people who are stooping to this.
Lauri: If there are some people that you and I would agree that we’re very disappointed to see recent [crosstalk]
Ruth: Absolutely. They will be judged for it.
Lauri: Yeah. Okay, so I’m going to try to run through some questions quickly. Kenneth Levin’s book, The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Siege, touches on the erroneous Jewish notion that it is the Jews who need to change, accommodate, et cetera, buying into the views of the antisemites. He focuses on Oslo but also traces the phenomenon back to the European experience. Can you comment on this as it reaches as far as supporting our enemies, or at least ignoring their threats in favor of self-perform?
Ruth: Yes. Well, it’s a great book and I’ve thought along the same lines for many, many years. It’s obviously the same thing that one has been saying that the Oslo accords is something that had never been heard of in history. No people had ever armed their enemy with the expectation of gaining security. The Jewish people did a first in history by taking the greatest terrorist of the time, Yasser Arafat, to put him in charge of the Palestinian authorities, so to speak, and to think that by putting him in charge of a military unit, they are going to gain security. The stupidity of this is beyond belief and at the time I said, I really thought of committing public suicide to draw attention to it. That’s how extreme I felt about the stupidity of this. But you see one survives and Israel’s still alive.
Lauri: I loved your quote, Ruth. I just have to say in your book you quoted “1943, the world had failed the Jews, in 1993, the Jews had failed themselves.”
Ruth: Yes, and they paid the cost. They paid the price. As I said, if this holiday from history that they’re engaging in continues, I’m afraid that there will be another cost to pay as well. Because what they show the world, whatever they think that they’re demonstrating, whatever thing they think that they’re doing, it looks very different to the rest of the world that sees what it sees. It sees a country that does not want to live democratically does not want to accept the results of its election and that wants to go to the rest of the world to say, “Hey, help us to feed our government.” Do you know what I had an image of, if those half a million Jews with flags, democratia would go and march up and down some Samaria and Judea saying, “We’re here, [foreign language], and if they kept marching for days up and down the country, that would transform the dynamics of the Middle East?
Lauri: Someone asked if you can share any ideas about the infiltration of anti-Israel and anti-Zionism materials into K2 through 12 education.
Ruth: I think, again, that is being fought in California, it’s being fought where it happens and it has to be fought. It’s a terrible thing. But look, we know that these people are going to continue to try to wage the war against Israel as part of the war that they’re waging against liberal democratic society, against everything good that Israel represents. They’re going to keep doing it. So the question is, how much energy does one have to keep undoing it?
Ruth: May I say though that I’m worried about the way in which we worry defensively, right? I think that in order to change the dynamics or to change the tide, we would have to go on the attack. We have to expose the Palestinian in quotation marks occupation of Israel. We do have to expose all those who are pathological in thinking that they can destroy the country and take it over. Right? We have to make sure that we go after the villains and show why they are villains, right? Not keep responding, saying, “No, we’re not. Yes, we’re good, and so forth.” I don’t think that we’ve been going after that effectively enough. All those wonderful organizations are excellent defensively, but they’re still not calling out the real antagonists.
Lauri: We have time for probably one more question. What role does the Jewish family play in our culture and the future of the Jewish people? Are you worried about the level of interfaith marriage that we’re seeing among diaspora Jews and the possible loss of Jewish traditions and culture as a result?
Ruth: Well, it’s a wonderful question to end with. The family is everything. Am I worried about the Jewish family? Yes. Am I worried about intermarriage, as you say, as the main problem facing it? No, as a matter of fact, I differ from some of my fellow Jews. Let me just say this. If people don’t want to be part of the Jewish people, because it’s tough, because it’s difficult, because they don’t like it for any reason, goodbye and good luck. I am not in favor of trying to bring in, or hold on to people who are reluctant Jews. I want to travel light. It’s very important. You can’t carry the dead weight of people who don’t want to be Jewish. So if people want to intermarry and be something else, I have nothing against it. You try everything with education. Look, my life is devoted to this and certainly everything that, but I would say that’s not the problem with intermarriage the problem is marriage. Having children, loving your partner, loving generational continuity. All the things that make for the family are the unit that then builds the community, that then builds outward to the polity, and that builds outward to the world. That’s the way I would see it and that is fragile. I would think that that’s where we should put our energies.
Lauri: Thank you. I just want to tell you there are a number of people who were asking for the link to the book that you quoted from. We put in the chat the link to Jews in Power, which is one of your other books. This is Free as a Jew. This one the link was in the invitation both of which can be purchased on Amazon. I’m sure Ruth, they’re listed on your bio at the tip of the fund. If anybody needs any questions about how to purchase the book, you can also reach out to us at Emmett and we’re happy to help you out. Both links are actually in the chat if people want to purchase them. I highly recommend both books. Ruth, you were brilliant as always. I can’t thank you enough for joining us. I know our audience, thank you for joining.
Ruth: Thank you very, very much.
Lauri: We will be sending the report out to everybody.
Ruth: Thank you.
Lauri: Thank you.
Ruth: All right. Bye.
Israeli Victory and the Failure of the Oslo Accords Transcript
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