Saturday, May 8, 2021

Is Jewish Leftism a ‘Reform Problem’? – The Occidental Observer - by Andrew Joyce, Ph.D.

“What Reform did not do, any more than the ‘Science of Judaism,’ was to solve the Jewish problem.” Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews, 1987.

Sparked by Tucker Carlson’s remarkable move towards the Jewish Question, the recent condemnation of the ADL issued by 1,500 rabbis associated with the Coalition for Jewish Values (CJV) has once more raised the question as to whether destructive activity perpetrated by Jewish activists in America is a matter of denomination rather than ethnicity. For several years now, but increasing during the early Trump years, there’s been a quiet but growing argument from self-styled ‘right-wing Jews’ that Jewish leftist activists are anathema to Judaism, or that as adherents of the Reform movement or Liberal Judaism they are a variety of heretical neo-Frankists unrepresentative of “true Jews.” Underlying these arguments is the implication that anti-Semitic theories involving Jews as an ethnic group, perceived as uniform, rely on weak generalizations that do not take into account the political and cultural nuances of American Jews, and therefore that such theories are illogical and irrational. In the course of almost a decade of writing about anti-Semitism and historical and contemporary Jewish behavior among Europeans, I’ve addressed this issue of political nuance more or less directly in a number of essays, especially my discussion of Jewish attitudes to Brexit and Jewish Leftist activism in children’s fiction. Given the quite dramatic nature of this most recent intervention from a signification number of rabbis against one of the world’s most prominent Jewish organizations, however, I think it’s an appropriate time to tackle the subject directly.

Before beginning, it’s worth reflecting on the context of the initial contention made by self-styled right-wing Jews. These Jews, one of the most prominent being Nathan Cofnas, make the argument that Jewish involvement in the advancement of Leftism in the West is both limited (in the sense that the advancement of Leftism also involves massive numbers of Whites and other ethnic groups), and is a predominantly Reform affair, whereas Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox Jews have a different socio-political direction entirely. In regards to the first element, the ‘limits’ of Jewish involvement, there are few, if any, anti-Jewish theories in circulation which ascribe to Jews sole responsibility for the entirety of contemporary leftist activism. What does exist, however, is a substantial volume of evidence demonstrating that individuals who self-identify as Jews have been over-represented as innovators, leaders, and funders of the modern Left, and this evidence has led to the logical and tactical adoption of an anti-Jewish political position by many conservative Europeans and those of European ancestry. To put it simply, Jews don’t need to be orchestrating a kind of solo conspiracy against the West for an anti-Semitic political position to make theoretical sense and be supported by the data, or for Jewish influence to be a reasonable and rational topic of public discussion.

In regards to the second element of the ‘right-wing Jewish’ contention, it should be understood that the trajectory of the argument is essentially diversionary. When I first read the “not all Jews” argument being employed by Cofnas against Kevin MacDonald, for example, I was immediately reminded of the historical framework of prior debates in which minor concessions on the Jewish Question appear to be made, but are then narrowed and finally diverted. Relevant examples can be found in the public debates between Christian Wilhelm Von Dohm and Moses Mendelssohn[1], and between Karl Marx and Bruno Bauer.[2] In both cases, which concerned the question of Jewish political emancipation, and the undesirability of such an event in the context of negative Jewish group behavior, the Jewish participants attempted to rhetorically carve off elements of the Jewish population, scapegoating them temporarily in order that broader Jewish goals (social, political, or economic) might be achieved. Both Mendelssohn and Marx conceded that harms were being wrought by Jews, but added that this was the result of historical mistreatment that produced a class of renegade Jews (crooks and usurers for Mendelssohn; arch-capitalists for Marx). The fundamental goal of these rhetorical strategies was to defuse and weaken the anti-Semitic reaction, with both Mendelssohn and Marx keen to ease the Jewish path to full civic equality in Europe.

The modern version of these strategies appears to be the insistence that historical treatment (exclusion from the Right[3]) and contemporary circumstances (tendencies in Western liberalism) have created a Frankenstein’s monster in the form of a radical left Reform Judaism. While right-wing Jews are comfortable, to an extent, in condemning these radical Reform Jews, they insist that the host population should remain tolerant of the Jewish ethnic group as a whole and to continue to support Israel. The crucial point here is that, because of its diversionary nature, and its quite obvious side-stepping of the cost-benefit implications of philo-Semitic tolerance (as if European problems with Jews and Judaism have ever been limited to postmodern Leftism), it is inherently political to ask if Jewish Leftism is a Reform problem. It is nevertheless interesting to ask, given that it interrogates the framing of anti-Semitism and opens up valid questions about the Jewish relationship to the Left, and about the nature of the Jewish-European conflict more generally. Most pertinently we should ask, even if Jewish Leftism is a Reform problem, does it ultimately matter?

Gaining conclusive and detailed insight into the socio-political leanings of contemporary American Jews is difficult. Part of this difficulty lies in historical Jewish evasiveness when it comes to, for example, being counted in national censuses, and more general suspicions that data collected on Jews will inevitably be used against them by the host population.[4] When Jewish organizations conduct their own surveys of political, social, or cultural attitudes, the direction of analysis is overwhelmingly against the host population. In fact, surveys of alleged anti-Semitism in the host population are extremely common, if not the most common type of social survey conducted by Jewish groups.[5] Scholars have pointed out that in those instances where Jewish groups engage in surveys among their own people, these surveys are overwhelmingly concerned with population size and Jewish identity, and are often loaded with agendas, biases, and goals such as the boosting of Jewish fertility and the reduction of intermarriage rates.[6] Furthermore, in those instances when Jews have conducted social research on themselves as a means of ‘explaining’ themselves to host peoples, this has also been warped by ulterior and often apologetic motives. Hebrew University’s Sergio DellaPergola, for example, has argued that “Jewish social research was never the mere exercise of human curiosity or analytical skill. Rather it was a means of advancing specific theses regarding the nature of the Jews vis-a-vis world society.”[7] All of which is to say that survey data and social research concerning Jews should be treated with an appropriate level of caution.

It’s nevertheless clear that gaining some kind of reliable insight into the political positions and divisions of American and Western Jewry is important, if not crucial, for host nations. Since their earliest arrival in Europe, Jews have been noted as influential political actors in Western nations, and in recent decades this influence has extended even to the manipulation of the demography of those countries. DellaPergola, for example, has argued that Jewish populations “may significantly influence national population trends in order to advance their own corporate interests — for example, by advocating particular policy interventions.”[8] DellaPergola notes that Jewish populations can often be divided into at least two categories: the core Jewish population of strongly-identified, full-blooded, and often religious, Jews; and the ‘enlarged Jewish population’ which embraces all those with at least some Jewish ethnic heritage that they have consciously embraced, as well as those full-blooded Jews of a less religious inclination but who see themselves as part of a Jewish peoplehood. It’s important to stress at this stage that both divisions are fully capable of formulating and pursuing ideas of what constitutes “corporate interests,” even differing ideas, since the ultimate corporate body in both divisions is not Judaism as such but the Jewish people or even merely the idea of the Jewish people and its putative destiny.

One of the weaknesses of DellaPergola’s division of contemporary Jewry is its lack of utility in the religious sense. Orthodox and Reform Jews can only be roughly mapped onto “core” and “enlarged” categories because, in an American context in which Reform Jews are certainly an influential demographic majority, it makes little sense to argue that they are not in fact the “core” of the American Jewish community. This is where the argument of the self-styled right-wing Jews encounters its first major stumbling block, because the attempt to defend Jews in toto by scapegoating Reform Jews misses the point that Reform, for all intents and purposes, is American Jewry and will remain so demographically far into the future.[9] XXXXXX

The “core” and “enlarged” categories are, however, of some interest and utility when discussing survey data on Jewish political attitudes. It’s been noted that most exit polls will collect reasonably accurate data on “core” Jews because they capture “Jews by Religion” (JBR) when asking if voters are Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, etc. The “core” Jewish population is more likely to include the more religiously identified Orthodox Jews, but it’s interesting that most recent exit polls (conducted by Pew Research) continue to show that even in the JBR category the party split was 68 percent Democratic, 7 percent Independent, and 25 percent Republican. Figures for “Jews of No Religion” (JNR) were 78 percent, 10 percent, and 12 percent. More than 40 percent of JBRs described themselves as liberal, while only 22 percent described themselves as conservative. The rest indicated only that they were moderate, which is open to any number of interpretations. Herbert Weisberg, writing in The Annual Jewish Year Book 2019 explained the figures as indicating that “Jews should be considered to be more Democratic and more liberal than media surveys and exit polls typically show.”[10] This would seem to be indicated also by a number of J Street exit polls which showed that Orthodox Jews are more liberal than ‘right-wing’ Jewish diversionists would have us believe. More than half of Orthodox Jews (59 percent), for example, voted for Obama in 2012, and a similar proportion (56 percent) voted for Clinton in 2016.[11] Even among the Ultra-Orthodox, normally viewed as overwhelmingly hawkish and likely to vote along with the flamboyant Zionism of the GOP, more than a third of respondents (35 percent) to one poll described themselves as Democrats.[12]

It’s important to note that the Jewish political profile is unique. While attempts have been made, by diversionists like Cofnas, to explain Jewish liberalism as an aspect of their higher educational attainment or their likelihood to be more urban-dwelling, serious scholars of Jewish demography and politics have long noted that “studies consistently find that Jews are significantly more Democratic than non-Jews with similar socio-demographic characteristics … Indeed, Wald’s calculations show they are more Democratic than the non-Jew who is their closest match on demographics and economic status.”[13] Wald and Weisberg instead argue that all Jews, whether Orthodox or Reform, “core” or “enlarged,” will vote or engage politically as part of a reaction to “the greatest perceived threat to their interests.”[14] In other words, Jewish political behavior is best explained by Jewish agency and perceptions of Jewish interests rather than cultural context.

It’s arguable that two of the most important Jewish interests are in the form of socio-economic dominance and multiculturalism, and here the unique pattern of Jewish political activity continues and amplifies. It’s extremely interesting that Jews very heavily support non-economic forms of leftism, and are very much in favor of the expansion of government power, but are much more reluctant to back purely economic forms of socialism. In this regard they differ significantly from non-Jewish leftists who embrace and emphasize economic socialism within their worldview. A 2012 survey found that a majority of Jews were not willing to pay more taxes in order to help the poor, were not likely to support a government health scheme, and were generally not supportive of government economic guarantees.[15] Jews have also been noted in the past as strong opponents of affirmative action, with even the ADL and the American Jewish Committee filing briefs against it.[16] This can be easily interpreted not as a method of opposing race politics, but as a means of preventing incursion into, or a breaking up of, established Jewish dominance within the professions. This would indicate that Jerry Muller’s theory that Jews have long had a “special relationship” with capitalism,[17] continues to have resonance despite the leadership of Jews in the onward march of purely cultural and political forms of leftism—now championed by large swaths of other elite sectors of America, including large corporations.[18] The general image that emerges is one in which Jews act politically to create socially and culturally fluid societies where a facade of social justice and equality is promoted and celebrated, and in which a pseudo-elite (Whites) is attacked, but in which no real threat to Jewish privileges and socio-economic dominance is present.

Jews also quite obviously have a special relationship with multiculturalism, being Europe’s first significant minority and the passive or active cause of most of the continent’s earliest legislation on tolerance and migration. It’s an unfortunate commonplace that many of those who have criticized Kevin MacDonald for suggesting that Jews promote multiculturalism in order to feel more secure, are completely ignorant of the fact that several of his ideas are in some form or another slowly becoming fairly mainstream in the sociological study of contemporary Jews. Historian Diana Pinto, a Jewish Harvard graduate, Fulbright Fellow, and board member for the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, has argued that, within a multicultural context, “Jews are no longer perceived as the only ‘diasporic’ people, or as the most significant ‘other’ in the society,” and that this “relieves Jews of burden.”[19] Any scenario in which the pluralistic principles of the host nation are fundamentally challenged, or in which demographic change could return Jews to a position of ‘burden,’ would therefore quite obviously represent a perceived threat to Jewish interests along the lines discussed by Wald and Weisberg, and the question of immigration and associated laws would be an area of political activity that one would expect to see high levels of Jewish participation. Jewish opinions on threat level can of course vary, with some Jews feeling content and secure with moderate levels of pluralism while others would feel secure only when the demographic dominance of the host population is completely undermined. If a proportion of the immigrating demographic is itself a perceived threat to Jews, for example in the case of Muslim migration to France and other parts of Europe, further division and divergence would be expected. The most important aspect of the topic, however, remains that Jews have a fundamental interest in preserving the pluralistic principles of the host nation and avoiding a return of the Jews to a position of being a salient ‘other,’ and therefore a ‘burden.’ In this respect, much as with the nature of Jewish leftism in relation to economic and social questions, the Jewish relationship to multiculturalism is unique, and involves a blurring of the standard left-right political categories that can be more crudely applied to non-Jewish political activity.

The apparent clash between the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Coalition for Jewish Values (CJV) over Tucker Carlson presents an interesting case in which fundamental agreement on Jewish interests can be overlaid with disagreement between fringe cliques of Jews and the great majority of Jewish population on how to best achieve those interests. The first point worth stressing is that the incident is not a straightforward case of Orthodox versus Reform. The Coalition for Jewish Values is, as far as I am aware, exclusively staffed by Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox Jews who can be usefully described as “core” Jews. The ADL, however, cannot be neatly categorized as a Reform organization, because its most recent Directors have been Orthodox (Abe Foxman, Director 1987–2015) and Conservative (Jonathan Greenblatt, Director 2015–present), and because its behavior since its founding can be most accurately described as an expression of the “enlarged” Jewish population rather than any specific denomination within that. Further, the motivations and past actions of the CJV map comfortably within a reasonable conception of Jewish interests rather than being a novel break from them. And finally, in all such cases of division within the Jewish community, it’s important to assess where the power lies if one is attempting to discern relative influence on the wider society. The ADL, representing the interests of the “enlarged” Jewish population, is far more powerful and influential than CJV.

Even aside from the fact that they emerged from the momentum of Trumpist Zionism, it’s interesting that the CJV has rationalized its more socially conservative positions via the lens of Jewish interests. When the group filed an amicus brief in support of Christian groups fighting to keep a large cross placed on public grounds in Pensacola, Florida, for example, the CJV claimed that ruling against the right to place a cross would also “encourage the erasure of minority religions from public life.” In other words, they viewed their actions primarily as protecting Judaism and pluralistic principles in the host society, even if this commitment to pluralistic principles has not extended, as in the case of the “enlarged Jewish community,” to gays and transsexuals. The CJV may also be a response of sorts to increasing awareness among conservative Whites (like Tucker Carlson) that Jews occupy a very unique and prominent role in American leftism. This increasing visibility would obviously be perceived as a threat by Jews. Yaakov Menken, the CJV’s managing director, has recalled a conversation with a Christian pro-Israel leader who told him: “I can’t tell you how often people ask me “‘why are you devoting so much time to supporting the Jews and Israel when Jews oppose us on our core issues?’” The potential collapse of Christian Zionism and philo-Semitism in America would obviously have significant consequences for Jewish influence globally, and it should therefore come as no surprise that an effort to heighten the visibility of a “right-wing Judaism” would be made, no matter how superficial or self-interested.

Concluding Remarks

Is Jewish leftism a Reform problem? No. The Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox have their own history of endorsing and supporting leftism if it suited Jewish interests, motivated by their attempting to avoid or lessen perceived threats. Moreover, even if Jewish leftism was a Reform problem, the broader causes of anti-Semitism wouldn’t evaporate with the disappearance of that denomination. The Reform movement, we should recall, began in the nineteenth century — around 2,000 years after the earliest writings against the Jewish people. Many of the major historical provocations of anti-Semitic attitudes such as high levels of Jewish ethnocentrism, Jewish economic domination and exploitation, and the special political relationship between Jews and elites, cross denominational lines and precede by centuries the emergence of the modern left. Some aspects of problematic contemporary Jewish behavior such as slumlordism, fraud, and white-collar crime are actually found in higher numbers among the Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox than among Reform Jews.[20]

In short, the case for an ethnic interpretation of Jewish behavior far outweighs that for a denominational perspective. In the end, the diversionary argument of the self-styled right-wing Jews can only gain traction among those whose worldview is simplistic and without nuance, and who perceive all of contemporary politics under the basic rubric of Left versus Right. Among such people, it’s perfectly possible to look at the handful of anti-transsexual or anti-ADL statements of the CJV and conclude that one has an ideological brother. Among the more sophisticated, however, in which a definite sense of ethnic interests is foremost, a more nuanced approach emerges, along with a new question altogether: For how long will the politics of my nation turn on the axis of Jewish interests?

[1] Crouter, Richard. “Emancipation Discourse in the Late 18th Century: Christian Wilhelm von Dohm on the Jews (1781)” Journal for the History of Modern Theology, vol. 13, no. 2, 2006, pp. 161-178. For translated primary sources on the debate between the two intellectuals see Mendes-Flohr, Paul R. (ed) The Jew in the Modern World: A Documentary History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), pp. 27-43.

[2] See on this topic, Peled, Yoav. “From theology to sociology: Bruno Bauer and Karl Marx on the question of Jewish emancipation.” History of Political Thought 13, no. 3 (1992): 463-485; Blanchard, William H. “Karl Marx and the Jewish question.” Political Psychology (1984): 365-374; Leopold, David. “The Hegelian Antisemitism of Bruno Bauer.” History of European ideas 25, no. 4 (1999): 179-206.

[3] Although ‘right-wing’ Jews like Cofnas seem unaware of it, they’re actually regurgitating an old-fashioned and now more or less discredited theory of Jewish liberalism. See, for example, the work of Werner Cohn in the late 1950s, where he often argued that Jews had been ‘pushed’ to the left by the association of the right with anti-Semitism.

[4] For a more detailed discussion of these difficulties see DellaPergola, Sergio, “Jewish Demography: Fundamentals of the Research Field,” in Rebhun, Uzi, The Social Scientific Study of Jewry: Sources, Approaches, Debates (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014). Also of interest in the same volume is Saxe, Leonard et al, “Measuring the Size and Characteristics of American Jewry: A New Paradigm for an Ancient People.”

[5] Smith, Tom W. “A Review: Actual Trends or Measurement Artifacts? A Review of Three Studies of Anti-Semitism.” The Public Opinion Quarterly 57, no. 3 (1993): 380-93.

[6] DellaPergola, Sergio, “Jewish Demography: Fundamentals of the Research Field”, 10 & 23. Such studies can, for example, be designed to “greatly exaggerate” notions of Jewish population decline in order to promote endogamy and increase Jewish fertility.

[7] Ibid., 15.

[8] Ibid., 17.

[9] Although having a higher birth rate, Orthodox Jews comprise only around 10 percent of American Jewry, and around 10 percent of Orthodox youth eventually drift into more liberal Jewish milieus or forms of Judaism. The decline of the Reform population via intermarriage has rightly been described as “greatly exaggerated” by Calvin Goldscheider. See Goldscheider, Calvin, Studying the Jewish Future (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004).

[10] Weisberg, Herbert. F. “The Presidential Voting of American Jews,” in Sheskin, Ira (ed), American Jewish Yearbook 2019 (New York: Springer, 2020), 43.

[11] Ibid., 82.

[12] Ibid., 77.

[13] Ibid., 73.

[14] Ibid., 46.

[15] Weisberg, Herbert F. The Politics of American Jews (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2019),127-128.

[16] Van Horne, Winston A. Ethnicity in the Work Force (Milwaukee: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985), 56.

[17] See Jerry Z. Muller, Capitalism and the Jews (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010).

[18] Jack Dalton, “’Be Brave, Do Something’: Ashley Rae Goldenberg’s List of Corporations that Support the Riots asnd Want You Dead,” VDare (June 6, 2020).

[19] Quoted in Hartman, Harriet, “Studies of Jewish Identity and Continuity: Competing, Complementary, and Comparative Perspectives,” in Rebhun, Uzi, The Social Scientific Study of Jewry: Sources, Approaches, Debates (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 93.

[20] See, for example, Rosen, Michael, “God Will Not Provide: Hasidic Jews and Fraud.” Journal of Law & Social Deviance 3 (2012): 245.