Mar 20, 2024

The Atlantic Joins the Chorus of Fear

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“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

– Franklin D. Roosevelt, First Inaugural Address, 1933.

These are indeed perilous times for the United States at home and abroad.  It is unfortunate, however, that various experts and observers are advancing speculative theories that add an element of fear that is unwarranted and destabilizing.  U.S. experts on Russia have exaggerated the possibility of Russia’s use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine as well as the possibility that a Putin victory in Ukraine would lead to additional Russian attacks in the Baltics or East Europe.  Sinologists have exaggerated the threat of a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan without presenting any new evidence for their assessments.  Leading experts on North Korea, including Professor John Delury, argue that Kim Jong-un “may be preparing for war.”

And now The Atlantic’s Franklin Foer is spreading fear about the home front.  In his cover story, Foer emphasizes a political threat to the U.S. Jewish community that will “end an unprecedented period of safety and prosperity for Jewish Americans–and demolish the liberal order they helped establish.”  Foer argues that the United States is holding its Jews “at arm’s length,” which makes America “more intent on hunting down scapegoats than addressing underlying defects.”  In any event, Jews in the United States are not the minority most likely to be scapegoated by white supremacists.

Foer concludes that “such societies are prone to decline,” citing England’s “long dark age after expelling its Jews in 1290” and “Czarist Russia limping toward revolution after the pogroms of the 1880s.”  History may repeat itself, but each time it is different.
The Jewish community in the United States is economically prosperous and politically powerful, and there are no signs that this will change in any way.  There has been no Jewish diaspora anywhere in the world that rivals the American homeland.  The great regret of the founding generation of Israel was that the Jews in the United States had no interest in making “aliyah” to Israel, which is still true today.  But Foer lamely supports his arguments for increased Jewish anxiety by citing the efforts of his own mother to get a passport from Poland, the country of her birth, and an immigration lawyer he knows who had obtained a German passport.  These anecdotal examples prove nothing of course, and the view that life in Poland or Germany may provide a “safer haven” and assuage Jewish anxiety is risible.

There are legitimate reasons for Jewish Americans to be concerned by dire international conditions in view of their historical experiences as well as the examples of anti-Semitism that Foer cites. But the notion that the United States is on a course that would be the “end of the Golden Age not just for the Jews, but for the country that nurtured them” is both hyperbolic and polemical.  In view of the overrepresentation of Jews in the Congress, the judiciary and law, in medicine, in technology, and in finance, The Atlantic’s handwringing over the plight of Jewish Americans is particularly risible.
The Atlantic would be better off examining the policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a factor in the increase of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism as well as the deep divisions in the progressive movement, the Democratic Party, and even the Jewish-American community as a result of the horrific military campaign that Israeli Defense Forces are waging.

Even the Israeli military is growing critical of Netanyahu’s leadership.  Brig. Gen. Dan Goldfus, who commands the only division still fighting on the ground in Gaza, said that Israel’s political leaders must “get their act together.  You have to be worthy of us.”  Thus far, Netanyahu has not acknowledged any responsibility for the war and refuses to permit an investigation into “what went wrong.”

Netanyahu’s actions have also fractured the Jewish-American consensus on Israel, although this could actually lead to a more cohesive and stronger liberal and progressive order in the United States in the long run.  Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s criticism of the Netanyahu government suggests that he recognizes the increased opposition within the progressive and liberal movement regarding Israel’s genocidal actions, and as a result has drastically changed his position on the war.

One of the lessons of the Cold War should have been the danger of exaggerating the threat or key adversaries in order to avoid the great cost of unnecessary military buildups.  We spent unnecessarily against a Soviet “threat” that was hyped beyond reality.  Politicians and pundits alike are failing to actually assess the the threat or the adversary, which is contributing to budget deficits and heightened fears.  More time should be devoted to the study of diplomatic history in order to examine precedents for improving bilateral relations.  Fear is driving us toward arms races; diplomacy could drive us to arms control and disarmament as well as a more stable international environment.

The attention given to the notion of a threat to the Jewish-American community draws attention away from the horrors that Netanyahu’s right-wing government is doing to Palestinians in Gaza.  The ruthlessness of Israel’s military response to the terrible events of October 7th is far more threatening to the cohesion of the Jewish community in the United States than the isolated acts of anti-Semitism that Foer cites.  According to the New Republic, a quarter of American Jews consider Israel an “apartheid state,” and 22 percent believe Israel is committing genocide.  Shaul Magid, distinguished fellow of Jewish studies at Dartmouth, argues that “American Jewry is kind of broken.”  Once again, we have “met the enemy, and he is us.”

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