Hitler Is Dead

The case against Jewish ethnic panic.

BY: Leon Wieseltier


Continued from page 4

In Israel and in the United States, moreover, the Jews found not only safety, but also strength. The blandishments of pluralism in America have included the fierce and unembarrassed pursuit of Jewish interests, and so brilliantly that the American Jewish community has become the model for what an ethnic group can accomplish in such conditions of freedom. The blandishments of sovereignty in Israel have conspicuously included military power. Suicide bombs are sickening; but it is the Israelis who command an army and an air force, and also a nuclear arsenal. These instruments of warfare are themselves conclusions properly drawn from a severe history in which Jews lacked the means of self-reliance and self-defense. There is nothing vexing about the strength of the Jewish state, though there may be something vexing in the manner in which the Jewish state sometimes (but not often) exercises its strength. And military power has political purposes as well as military purposes.

So Israel has adversaries, but Israel is stronger than its adversaries. That is why the real threat to Israel comes not from Jenin and Gaza, but from Baghdad and Tehran; not from booby-trapped casbahs, but from advanced missile technologies. But not even that threat, and it is grave, can be accurately compared to the plight of the Jews in Hitler's Europe. The comparison breaks down over more than the fact that this time the Jews have a spectacular deterrent. The Jews in the 1930s and 1940s were fighting, when they fought, for nothing more than a splendid death. They knew that the fight was futile, which makes their courage almost unbearable to contemplate. The Jews in Israel have no reason to believe that the fight is futile. And they are fighting for their home.

The fright of American Jewry is finally not very surprising, and not only because we are an "ever-dying people." To a degree that is unprecedented in the history of the Jewish people, our experience is unlike the experience of our ancestors: not only our ancient ancestors, but also our recent ones. It is also unlike the experience of our brethren in the Middle East. Their experience of adversity in particular is increasingly unrecognizable to us. We do not any longer possess a natural knowledge of such pains and such pressures. In order to acquire such a knowledge, we rely more and more upon commemorations--so much so that we are transforming the Jewish culture of the United States into a largely commemorative culture. But the identifications that seem to be required of us by our commemorations are harder and harder for us to make. In our hearts, the continuities feel somewhat spurious. For we are the luckiest Jews who ever lived. We are even the spoiled brats of Jewish history. And so the disparity between the picture of Jewish life that has been bequeathed to us and the picture of Jewish life that is before our eyes casts us into an uneasy sensation of dissonance. One method for relieving the dissonance is to imagine a loudspeaker summoning the Jews to Times Square. In the absence of apocalypse, we turn to hysteria.

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