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Jews and Their Political Stupidity

A picture of Irving Kristol from a high school yearbook.

Irving Kristol’s 1999 essay “On the Political Stupidity of Jews” has remained sadly relevant over the quarter-century since its publication. Kristol argues that the Jews’ long history as a powerless minority has left them with much less in the way of sound political instincts than other peoples possess. The Jews have, in short, had less experience in statesmanship.

Among other things, Kristol seems to be saying that Jews are overly doctrinaire. He stresses that “the imperial sweep of […] grand theories [should be] limited by political wisdom.” But the main cause of the Jewish people’s political follies is

a deeply grounded utopian expectation that good ‘human relations’ can replace political relations [with] other ethnic and religious groups, whether one faces these groups within the context of domestic American life, or across the border in Israeli foreign affairs.

In Kristol’s view, liberal Jews are delusionally convinced that such relations can be resolved through psychology, or education, or the UN’s diplomatic channels. Since 1999, American Jews have persisted in such delusions, sadly proving Kristol correct. They have done so despite the fact that the antisemitic rioting and sloganeering we currently see across the USA have been foreshadowed in the past, including in the anti-Jewish content of many demonstrations surrounding the Iraq War.

Importantly, the leftward tilt in American Jews’ politics cannot be explained by rational self-interest. As Thomas Sowell noted back in 1981, Jews are much more left-wing than other groups with the same level of income. So the reason for their liberalism can hardly be pragmatic economic consideration. No, Kristol was right: it comes down to “political stupidity.” Let us examine a few facets of leftist politics which have been espacially harmful to Jews.

The UN

The American left’s idolatry of the UN is infamous, and hardly requires demonstration. In Only the Strong, Tom Cotton captures part of the picture with powerful clarity:

Indeed, Democratic presidents like to invite [United Nations] special rapporteurs[.] In 1994, for instance, Bill Clinton welcomed one to investigate supposed human-rights offenses. The result was an unhinged report […] accusing America of ‘structural and insidious racism and racial discrimination.’ The report was so crazed that the Clinton administration felt compelled to repudiate it as ‘distorted and misleading.’

[…]

In 2021, Joe Biden invited a special rapporteur to investigate—once again, you’ll be shocked to hear—racism in America. [Progressives] have more faith in [UN] bureaucrats than they do in the American people.

The fact that the United Nations is shot through with antisemitism and anti-Israelism is by now well-known. One study found that the UN applied absurdly disproportionate scrutiny to Israel’s conduct. Strikingly, “across [armed conflicts in] five comparison countries, the UN produced about 4 documents for every 10,000 civilian deaths.” Yet when it came to Israel, “the ratio [was] about 1 document for every 9 deaths.” Measured in documents and compared to quantities of civilian deaths, the UN disproportionately scrutinized Israel by a factor of roughly 239.

Multiculturalism

Aside from its unmitigated support for the UN, the American left is married to the ideology of multiculturalism. This, too, runs directly counter to the Jewish people’s interests.

In 1996, Alan Mittleman, professor of Jewish philosophy, warned of the threats which multiculturalism posed for American Jews. Mittleman wrote that Jews had historically understood their place in American society “through the concept of cultural pluralism.” However, he cautioned, pluralism was being supplanted by multiculturalism, which was

fundamentally distinct from the pluralism that has well served American Jews. Multiculturalism, if it were to succeed pluralism altogether, would be inimical to American Jews.

Mittleman noted that pluralism had been pioneered by a Jew, namely philosopher Horace Kallen. In Kallen’s vision, “ethnic differences on the whole were real and valuable[, but] must be directed to or ordered by a concern for an American common good.” This attitude, however, had been eroded; Mittleman lamented that Jews hardly talked about the relationship between Judaism and American values anymore. In his view, this was but one symptom of the watering down of American national identity and the advent of multiculturalism. Mittleman neatly summed up the difference between the old model and the new: “While pluralism affirmed cultural difference on account of its service to a common good, multiculturalism[…] denies the integrity of a common good.”

Mittleman’s article is well worth reading even decades later, as the “multiculturalism” he describes is omnipresent by now, and has only grown more extreme since 1996. He hits the nail on the head when he cautions that the Jew’s secure place in the American polity was always based on the predominant importance of citizenship and civic identity, and that devaluing this civic conception of the larger American nation, which transcended narrow ethnic boundaries, would be perilous in the extreme:

If people revert to more primordial forms of belonging, civil society will dissolve and American Jews might find themselves in what the prophet Ezekiel called a midbar ha-ammim , a wilderness of the peoples.

It is hardly necessary to point out that this “wilderness of peoples” can be observed right now, all across America.

Admittedly, multiculturalism differs from the basic intellectual mistake which Kristol attributed to the Jews, which was thinking that ethnic and religious divisions need not matter very much and everyone could get along if we just talked things out. In a way, multiculturalism is almost the opposite, in that it places extreme emphasis on ethnic and religious identities. Yet Jewish support for multiculturalism does resemble the basic error Kristol diagnosed in that it stems from underestimating the divisive power of such identities.

Immigration

In addition to its promotion of this multiculturalist menace, the American left relentlessly pushes for open borders. Of course, one could hardly expect considerations of Jewish interests to play a major part in the formulation of immigration policy. But it is fair to say that Jews in developed countries should favor restrictions on, rather than liberalization of, immigration. According to one reasearch paper,

heightened levels of antisemitism among members of ethnically- or religiously-defined minority groups have been found in a number of studies carried out in western countries (ADL, 2011; Baum and Nakazawa, 2007; Ehsan, 2020; Hersh and Royden, 2022; Jikeli, 2015; Simon, 2003; Staetsky, 20172020).

Especially serious is the danger presented by Muslim immigration. And yet Jews have been astonishingly sympathetic to Muslim immigrants. Perhaps the reason is the traditional Jewish compassion for the “underdog,” which Sowell also identified—but of course, the societies where Islam is not an underdog ideology, the ones where it dominates, are invariably retrograde hellholes.

A 2013 Pew survey found that 72% of Jews believed there was “a lot of discrimination” against Muslims in the United States, compared to a mere 43% who thought Jews faced “a lot of discrimination” in the country. (In fact, fewer Jews—64%—saw “a lot of discrimination” against black Americans than against Muslims!) This despite the fact that, according to FBI statistics, 60.3% of religiously-motivated hate crimes in 2013 were committed against Jews, and only 13.7% against Muslims. This also despite the murderous Jew-hatred inherent to Islam. For instance, Andrew Bostom refers to the religion’s “actionable messianism (‘Mahdism’)—central to which, in either classical Sunni, or the more ill-defined […] modern Shiite variant of Islamic eschatology, is the destruction of the Jews.” Elsewhere, Bostom has shown that “alongside the general attitude to non-Muslims there was a specific anti-Jewish animus [in the Islamic tradition], which comes from the foundational texts,” and that abhorrence of Jews on explicitly racial, in addition to religious, grounds was present in Islamic literature as early as the first millennium CE.

Through their alignment—however conscious or unconscious—with the pro-immigration agenda, liberal Jews continue to prove Kristol right and exhibit their own “political stupidity.” A line from the movie The Last Unicorn comes to mind: “You have let your doom in by the front door, but it will not depart that way!”

Are there any prospects for political sanity among Jews? The picture in Israel looks relatively promising, to judge by Hannah Gal’s observations on the Israeli left’s “demise.” (Not having much knowledge of the country’s politics myself, I hope she is correct.) But what about the United States? Nathan Cofnas has made a compelling argument that liberal American Jews are quite simply in the process of breeding themselves out of existence through intermarriage and low birthrates. In this way, excessive liberalism could fade out of the American Jewish community for demographic reasons alone.

However, one hopes that the current crisis will shock some Jewish liberals into seeing reason. Like Irving Kristol before them, they may come to find themselves “mugged by reality.” They need not even become outright conservatives, at least not right away. It would suffice if they converted to a dissident leftism of the Christopher Hitchens type. (Hitchens himself also became critical of the left when he saw its inhumane response to a war, though in his case it was one of the Balkan wars.) What is crucial is not that Jews leave the political left altogether, but that they cease to prioritize their leftism over their Jewish interests. There are decent left-wingers in the USA, like Representative Ritchie Torres, but those radicals who would coddle antisemitic thugs or betray Israel deserve no Jewish votes. With luck, the memory of these past few months will, moreover, drive birthrates up and intermarriage rates down—even among liberal, or formerly liberal, Jews. It hardly needs to be mentioned that in the years right after World War II, each instance of intermarriage was considered a concession to Hitler and each Jewish child born was considered a blow to him.

Maybe this assessment is unduly optimistic, but then again, maybe it isn’t. Wilfred McClay recalls that Irving Kristol once remarked to him: “The younger generation never learns much from the past. But you hope it learns eventually.” “And it struck me both then and now,” writes McClay, “how perfectly these simple words distilled his outlook on life: skeptical, realistic, historically aware, unillusioned, and yet, despite it all, hopeful.”

About the Author
My writings about politics and literature have appeared in a dozen online publications. These include Providence, the Cleveland Review of Books, Merion West, VoegelinView, Redaction Report, and Cultural Revue. I occasionally publish poetry and have written a book about nationalism and ethnic identity. My academic background is in International Relations.
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