The Need for a New Jewish Politics

The Need for a New Jewish Politics

The role of Jews as a people is becoming an issue again in ways that were thought to be consigned to history. Throughout the second half of the twentieth century two major issues appeared to have been settled. The revulsion generated by the Holocaust rendered anti-Semitism untenable in mainstream political culture in most countries. The creation of Israel secured Jewish political independence, and its legitimacy was not open to serious challenge in the West. The success of liberal democracy, the end of communism, and the signing of the Oslo Accords seemed to secure these assumptions.

In the past several years, events-especially those surrounding the al-Aqsa Intifada, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the American interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq-have combined to call these assumptions into question. Although there is as yet no basis for talk about a new “Jewish Problem,” it is possible to identify a number of unsettling Jewish Questions on the horizon.

Three main issues have come into view since September 2000. First, there is a rapid increase in virulent anti-Semitism among radical Islamic political groups. This is aggravated by the Intifada, but its roots predate it by at least a decade, if not longer. Anti-Jewish sentiment and delegitimization of Israel have now seeped into mainstream political discourse in Western Europe. Second, the violence of the Intifada has pushed Israel into political paralysis and economic decline. The Sharon government has singularly failed to provide minimally rational leadership throughout one of the most severe crises in the country’s history. Finally, the upheaval following September 11, 2001, and President Bush’s extreme responses to the attacks on the United States have polarized American society in ways that pose serious difficulties for the American Jewish community.

Europe and Radical Islam

Radical Islamic movements drive the political agenda across large sections of the Muslim world. Many have internalized a toxic mix of elements drawn from Medieval European anti-Semitic iconography and neo-Nazi conspiracy theory. Jews are placed at the center of an international plot to control world financial institutions and governments. The fabrications of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are combined with a view of Jews as the prime manipulators of a malicious American empire bent on world domination. This mythology now enjoys religious sanction. Although the Israeli-Palestinian conflict provides the catalyst for these attitudes, the problem extends far beyond overheated responses to the Middle East. The current wave of anti-Jewish propaganda from radical Islamic sources is markedly different from most previous anti-Zionist campaigns in the Arab world and in the West. It doesn’t treat the Israeli-Arab dispute as a political or historical problem, but as a front in a cosmic battle between religious and civilizational forces....

Socialist thought provides us with an imaginative and moral horizon.

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