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I have often written, sometimes bemused, sometimes incensed, about what is surely the strangest fact of Jewish life, namely, its self-division. Since time immemorial, the Jewish people have been at war with themselves, both in the Holy Land and the Diaspora, allowing themselves to succumb to one of history’s most mordant ironies. In turning against themselves, they have effectively collaborated with those who would suppress, conquer or extinguish the Jewish community.
The template was already established in the Book of Genesis, where we read how one brother slew another in jealousy and resentment and a group of conspiratorial brothers sold their sibling into slavery. From that point on, the biblical archive presents a saga of recrimination, envy, hatred and fratricidal strife that in different degrees has imperiled the very survival of the Jewish “nation.” The pattern was consolidated in the story of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, the three rebels who “rose up” before Moses and challenged his authority. As the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen these people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people” (Exodus 32:9).
Brother against brother, prophet against people, king and priest, and even nation against nation form an indelible part of the Jewish chronicle. The history of the Two Kingdoms provides a continuingly relevant object lesson. After the death of King Solomon, the Israelite communality broke apart into the two warring monarchies of Israel and Judah. The shedding of kinship blood critically weakened the two kingdoms, leading to the conquest of Israel by the Assyrians and the reduction of Judah first by the Chaldeans, then by the Egyptians, and finally by the Babylonians. The Jewish epic may be described as: divide and be conquered. Indeed, surah 59:14 of the Koran tells us something very true about Jews: “There is much hostility between them: their hearts are divided…” It seems that the wise counsel of Maimonides in the Mishneh Torah has no resonance for the backsliders: “All of Israel and those who are joined to it are to each other like brothers. If brother shows no compassion to brother, who will show compassion to him?”
The fault line in the Jewish sensibility is tectonic in its dimensions and destructive in its effect. Perhaps the single most resonant case study in self-division involves the institutional founder of the Christian faith. The story of St. Paul is too well known to require much in the way of comment, yet it is richly instructive. A rabid persecutor of the followers of Jesus, Saul of Tarsus experienced a blinding conversion to the new faith and was shortly thereafter called by the name of Paul (Acts 13:9). He then became the Apostle of Christianity, considering his Jewish identity a mere rehearsal for a larger identity and at times expressing strong disapproval of Jews who held to their traditional beliefs and identity. (His quarrel with the Desposyni, the “servants of the Lord,” led by James the brother of Jesus who wished to preserve the purity and exclusivity of the original faith, is a matter of historical record.)
But the details of the Apostle’s former activities and subsequent religious convictions are specific to the time. Jews today do not persecute Christians. Indeed, they are the ones who are relentlessly persecuted—by Muslims, by secular antisemites and unhinged fanatics from both sides of the political spectrum (though massively from the Left), and by several Christian denominations associated with The World Council of Churches, replacement and liberation theologians, and the Quaker-Presbyterian axis promoting its BDS campaigns. More to the point, and the most indigestible perversion of all, countless Jews harry and denounce their own congeners. The tendency to a kind of binary kinesis seems inherent in the Jew, whether it is himself he loathes or his own people he reproaches and undermines. It is the psychic split itself, not its local content, that transcends the ages. In this respect, the Saul/ Paul fracture represents a longstanding Jewish archetype.
This history of self-estrangement, political strife and cultural rupture has been played out from the biblical era through the centuries of religious factionalism and reciprocal excommunication culminating in our own epoch. The profound antipathy between assimilated Jews and their irredentist counterparts in Jerusalem, Tiberias, Safed and Hebron, as well as the caste-like contempt of Western Jewish intellectuals for the Ostjuden, that is, their assumed “plebeian” and “uneducated” East European brethren, are facts of modern Jewish history. The shame of many of the Jewish Councils in Nazi Europe that collaborated with their murderers (not all, as Gershom Scholem justifiably argues in On Jews and Judaism in Crisis) cannot be forgiven, despite attempts to explain it away as the least of worst alternatives. The legacy of the celebrated Jewish philosopher Martin Buber and the equally acclaimed Jewish political writer Hannah Arendt, who could never forget their German patrimony and were corrosively suspicious of the Zionist project, has been broadly and unambiguously noxious. In the present moment we observe their offspring, that is, left-wing “peace activists,” liberal rabbis and “post-Zionist” intellectuals, who strive to erode the Jewish character of the state of Israel and so deprive it of its legitimacy. The Jewish Left, as it dances around the golden calf of a fictitious peace, represents perhaps the gravest danger to the survival of the country.
Many Jews, as I wrote in Hear, O Israel!, tend to transpose the fight against iniquity and oppression to other nations and communities rather than press for the rights of their own people. Or they believe, “in traditionally Marxist fashion,” as Sol Stern writes in City Journal, “that the way to fight anti-Semitism was through the broader struggle for international socialism.” Thus they pursue their fugitive merit. Like Paul, their main focus falls on the Corinthians and Ephesians et al. of the time. Indifferent to the reality of their own condition—ignoring the rain clouds until they are drenched and catch pneumonia, as the 19th century Jewish philosopher Max Nordau noted—these are the ostensibly benevolent Jews who wish to “repair the world” (Tikkun Olam). That it would be a world in which their place would nevertheless remain precarious escapes them entirely.
The benevolent Jews are bad enough. Their spirit of pharisaic charity, however, is exceeded by that of the reprobate Jews, who take their “idealism” to the next level of unctuous self-effacement. They struggle against injustice by reprehending, for example, not Palestinian terrorists and Hezbollah jihadists but Israeli Jews themselves whose right to national legitimacy they perceive as an affront and do everything in their power to misrepresent. Again, like Paul, they regard their own people as “those who please not God, and are contrary to all men” (1 Thessalonians 2:15).
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