(October 22, 2020 / JNS) The writer Bari Weiss, who resigned in the summer from The New York Times in protest at its tolerance of anti-Semitism and refusal to publish opinions which challenge the left-wing consensus, continues on her painful political journey.
Last week, she wrote a cri de coeur in Tablet magazine. She pointed out that there were now so many examples of bigotry against Israel and the Jews among progressives, including New York’s Ethical Culture Fieldston School hosting a speaker who equated Israelis with Nazis, the Joe Biden campaign apologizing to the anti-Israel activist Linda Sarsour after initially disavowing her and marchers in D.C. chanting “Israel, we know you, you murder children, too,” that it was time Jews stopped being shocked and trying to excuse it all away.
Liberalism, said Weiss, was under siege from a mixture of “post-modernism, post-colonialism, identity politics, neo-Marxism, critical race theory, intersectionality, and the therapeutic mentality” going by the names of “social justice” or “therapeutic totalitarianism.”
All too true, alas, as some of us have been pointing out for years. The point that Weiss may not have quite appreciated, however, is that if she thinks the weight of this evidence will now persuade liberal American Jews that it’s finally time to face reality, she is tragically mistaken. The vast majority won’t accept it. Not now; not ever.
The evidence, after all, has been out there for a long time and has been as unambiguous as it has been ominous. One of the most egregious examples, the behavior of the Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan, serves as both a demonstration of and an important contributor to this moral and political rot.
Farrakhan has been spouting eye-watering anti-Jewish rhetoric for nearly half a century. He has praised Hitler as a “very great man,” compared Jews to termites, accused them of controlling the U.S. government and called them members of the “Synagogue of Satan.” He’s an out-and-out crackpot who believes that that Hollywood Jews spread homosexuality to weaken black people, and that the “white race” was created by a mad scientist on an island 40,000 years ago.
Nevertheless, he has had a huge influence on black communities through backing black activism and organizing social-service programs in low-income black neighborhoods. Such communities have welcomed all of this as a message of empowerment. But they have also absorbed Farrakhan’s anti-white, racist rhetoric of resentment along with his visceral Jew-hatred.
Despite this noxious and lethal legacy, the progressive establishment has failed to denounce Farrakhan or treat him as a pariah. On the contrary, black celebrities, including sports stars and rappers, treat him as a prophet, praising him and echoing his anti-Semitic rhetoric.
Democratic Party grandees, including former U.S. President Bill Clinton, have appeared on platforms with him. Members of “The Squad” of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish Democrat congresswomen have praised or endorsed him. Tamika Mallory, a co-founder and former leader of the Women’s March, is a Farrakhan groupie.
Chelsea Handler, who is white and Jewish, was criticized for promoting an old video of Farrakhan talking about racial justice. She later deleted the video and apologized.
Last week, The New York Times ran a drooling piece about Farrakhan. This defended him against accusations that his 1995 Million Man March was exclusionary and sexist by claiming that he had drawn on the support of African-American women—making no mention of his record of anti-Jewish, anti-white or anti-gay remarks.
It’s not enough to put all this down to the particular neuralgia about race in American public life. The acceptability of Louis Farrakhan is a symptom of a far broader and deeper malaise that has sent the Western left off the moral and cultural rails, and taken many Jews, particularly in America, with it.
In order to understand this, it’s necessary to grasp that the liberal beliefs underpinning Western ideas of freedom and justice are no longer liberal, but have been turned into their very opposite.
The liberalism which grew out of the 18th-century Enlightenment in Britain, which gave rise to liberty within the law, pluralism and tolerance of dissent, was firmly grounded in biblical values.
But at the same time, a quite different set of values came out of the Enlightenment in France. This aimed to destroy biblical religion and morality, and replace it with man-made definitions of liberty—which were, in fact, all about power.
This set of beliefs led to the French revolutionary terror and, in due course, to communism and fascism.
The fact that the Holocaust took place in the very epicenter of European and Western high culture undermined the West’s belief in itself and delivered a lethal blow to Christianity, already under siege from science and modernity and reeling from the carnage of two terrible world wars.
As a result, a demoralized intellectual class embraced secular ideologies—such as moral and cultural relativism, multiculturalism and trans-nationalism—that were infused with a revolutionary zeal to liberate the individual from biblical morality and destroy the core values of the West.
Owing their genesis to the Marxist doctrine that all human relationships consist of a struggle for power, these have set group against group in a struggle for cultural supremacy and an unending spiral of ever-more extreme positions.
This, though, is only part of the story. Still to be explained is why such extremism exercises such a grip on the minds of so many educated and idealistic people.
The reason is that liberalism has become a secular religion. Ironically, given its hostility to the Bible, it resembles medieval Christianity in promoting dogmatic beliefs that are deemed unchallengeable, and regarding all who dissent as heretics to be destroyed.
Moreover, such self-styled progressives believe this constitutes their whole moral and political identity. It bestows virtue upon them because it is based on the ideal of the perfect society where war is no more, lions lie down with lambs and prejudice is obliterated from the human heart.
Anyone who challenges it, therefore, isn’t just wrong, but right-wing and evil. So anything they say—however truthful or evidence-based—is right-wing and evil. And so truth has become a right-wing concept and is to be exiled, along with the truth-tellers, from acceptable society.
But Farrakhan is immune from criticism as a result of the core doctrine of identity politics that says members of an “oppressed” minority are victims and can therefore do no wrong.
Liberal Jews in America go one stage further. They have convinced themselves that “social justice,” which is in fact anti-social and unjust, and stands utterly against the particularism which is the essence of Judaism, actually embodies Jewish ethical precepts.
So when they look at the Democratic Party, they make excuses and continue to vote for it. When presented with the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel bigotry of The New York Times, they make excuses and continue to buy it. When confronted by the violence of Black Lives Matter, they make excuses and continue to call anyone who opposes it “racist.” And when they cannot make excuses, as over Farrakhan, they look away.
Because they have made a religious faith out of this illiberal liberalism, which classifies all who challenge it as evil by definition, most of their minds have become hermetically sealed thought systems. They will never be prised open.
In her essay, Weiss is rightly aghast at what this signifies for the Jews who have adopted this mindset. “That leaders and philanthropists charged to protect and nurture our community are entertaining, and at times embracing, such nihilistic and anti-American ideas is a scandal.”
More than that, it’s a tragedy in the making—not just for American Jews, but the West.
Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for “The Times of London,” her personal and political memoir, “Guardian Angel,” has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, “The Legacy,” in 2018. Go to melaniephillips.substack.com to access her work.
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