TORONTO — It’s a scene that’s become familiar at many anti-Israel marches and rallies and even at film festivals that are meant, ostensibly, to celebrate Israel’s achievements: Jewish protesters siding with Israel’s opponents.
Ruth Wisse has examined the phenomenon and finds that unlike other minorities who find their home countries under attacks, “Jews are the only minority whose members invite attack and join boycotts against their own people.”
Wisse, Martin Peretz professor of Yiddish literature and professor of comparative literature at Harvard University, was in Toronto recently to deliver a public lecture as part of the Gerald Schwartz/Heather Reisman Centre for Jewish Learning at Holy Blossom Temple. Her topic: “Jews and power, why and how we often get it wrong.”
In an interview with The CJN, Wisse suggested the strengths that underlie Israel’s success – entrepreneurship, imagination, inventiveness – have a flip side, a weakness that is part of the same profile.
“What Jews suffer from,” she said, “is not the corruption of power, but the corruption of powerlessness.” That leads to inordinate self-criticism.
“You never see German and Polish film festivals used by the minority in question as an opportunity to attack their own people,” she said, contrasting it with a Jewish festival in San Francisco that ran a film lauding pro-Palestinian activist Rachel Corrie.
Many Jews side with their people’s enemies, she continued, “because no other people are under attack like Jews and Jews may acquire a great deal of power – they don’t have the ability to defend their achievements.
“Jews have been a no-fail target in history because it’s always possible to destroy them and there’s no price to pay.”
That produces a reaction in which some Jews will “try to get out of this position. And if you have a cheerful, liberal view of life, if you believe all problems can be resolved, all crises can be rationally alleviated, [and] if so many Arabs blame your fellow Jews, you pretend to solve the problem.”
Jews who feel under attack “deal with this by trying to say, ‘If only we did this…,’” she said.
It’s a pattern that has occurred before: facing anti-Semitism in 19th-century Germany, many Jews responded by saying, “If only we became more German, or dressed the same.”
Jews today must answer the question, “Do you have enough moral confidence to say that the enemy is the aggressor and demand that the aggression cease?” she said.
People on the left are particularly prone to siding with the Jews’ enemies, she continued. Marxism took the view that Jews were a corrupting force behind capitalism and stood in the way of a great international, egalitarian world.
“The hard left has always been disturbingly anti-Jewish and against Jewish nationalism. They felt it was reactionary to try to get our own land.”
Wisse suggested Jews must first recognize the problem and develop the moral confidence to resist it.
“Jews have no choice but to be the fighting frontline of the democratic west, of the lands of freedom, of what used to be the free world, and not only militarily. More and more, they should do it politically.
“We’re not living up to our responsibility if we fail in this. You can’t pretend you’re the problem when you’re not. You can’t pretend you have the solution to the problem when you don’t. It’s not moral, it’s not true,” she said.