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Virtual Talmud

I recently attended a talk where Rabbi Mordechai Liebling discussed his visit to Sudan as part of an interfaith delegation. He commented wryly that this was one time where anti-Semitism worked in his favor: all of the Sudanese officials with whom he met genuinely assumed that a rabbi had great influence over both media and finance and bent over backward to accommodate him!

Throughout many parts of the world–including many of our own parts–there is a widespread assumption that Jews either “control” or have “undue influence over” (depending how sophisticated your anti-Semitism is) the media. (Hey, you’re reading this blog, so you know it’s true!) In fact, there is a widespread perception that Jews have great power to affect a wide range of issues, especially in the realm of U.S. foreign policy. So let’s begin by acknowledging two incontrovertible facts:

  1. The organized Jewish community in America is very politically active.
  2. There are many Jews in positions of responsibility and decision-making in both finance and media.

Now, let me explain why these two facts do not add up to a conspiracy except for those who are inclined to go looking for one out of their own personal or political agendas.

As I said, the organized Jewish community in America is very politically active, and there is also no question that some of this activism focuses on Israel. But this position is simply an extension of Jews standing up to injustice in a wide range of areas that have nothing to do with Israel, from taking the lead on behalf of Kosovar Albanians in the 1990’s to the current Jewish leadership on humanitarian intervention in Darfur, where more than one-third of the Save Darfur coalition members are explicitly Jewish groups.

In fact, Jews are active in a wide range of issues from the environment to workers’ rights to debt relief for the developing world. This is an extension of the high value our tradition places on social justice and on engaging society’s problems rather than walking away from them or leaving them for someone else to solve.

For the second point: Certainly, as a group, Jews have done very well in this country; many have risen to prominent positions. But the fact that so many Jews have reached positions of prominence and power is in no way part of some sort of coordinated plan to promote particular ideas or positions–a charge that smacks of paranoia and anti-Semitism.

Rather, when Jewish immigrants arrived on these shores, they brought with them, as every immigrant group does, a deep desire to succeed in this new land. That desire, coupled with the traditional value placed on education in Jewish homes, helped propel Jews to successful and prominent positions. But each success story was just that–the story of an individual person or family. The presence of Jews in prominent positions doesn’t indicate a “Jewish conspiracy” any more than the presence of five Catholics on the Supreme Court indicates a “Catholic conspiracy.” In each case, conspiracy theorists start looking for dots to connect into a picture that exists only in their own heads, not in reality.

The combination of broad Jewish involvement and activism together with the presence of Jews in prominent positions may provide fodder for those who are inclined to see a broad Jewish conspiracy, from John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt in the London Review of Books to Osama bin Laden. But the reality is that such theories tell us less about the world than about those who spend time dreaming them up.

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