Bad Jew Book Review
Norman Podhoretz’s new book, Why Are Jews Liberals? is organized around a non-thesis so idiotic it’s not worth discussing, but the NYT got Leon Wieseltier to do it anyway. It’s actually a pretty good piece of writing, considering the topic is a book that in a half-sane world wouldn’t exist in the first place.
Podhoretz’s book was conceived as the solution to the puzzle that Milton Himmelfarb wittily formulated many years ago: “Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.” I have never understood the reputation of this joke. Why should Jews vote like Episcopalians? We are not Episcopalians. The implication of the joke is that political affiliation should be determined by social position, by levels of affluence. In living rich but voting poor, the Jews of America have failed to demonstrate class solidarity. Never mind that parties of the right in many Western countries have always counted on the poor to make the same betrayal, and support causes and candidates that will do nothing to relieve their economic hardship but will exhilarate them culturally or religiously or nationally.
Meanwhile, over at Tabletmag, Adam Kirsch has the slightly less disgusting but probably equally irritating task of discussing Rich Cohen’s Israel Is Real. Here are just two of the lowlights.
One simple way to gauge his book’s lack of engagement with reality is to examine its really remarkable disrespect for facts. I don’t mean the kind of facts that partisans or opponents of Israel like to fight about, facts that are really interpretations—who said what to whom at Camp David. I’m talking about facts like dates, places, and names, the kind of thing that anyone reading a serious book on any subject takes for granted.
Cohen offers this explanation of the effect of the ghetto on Jewish psychology: “It’s the ghetto that makes Woody Allen stammer; it’s the ghetto that makes Richard Perle gin up war; it’s the ghetto that makes Jerry Seinfeld funny; it’s the ghetto that makes Albert Einstein calculate; it’s the ghetto that makes Karl Marx foam.” What to object to first? How about the fact that none of these men ever lived in a ghetto at all; or that the bellicosity attributed to Richard Perle (who seems thrown in simply because Jewish neoconservatives are acceptable hate-figures) is the opposite of the timidity Woody Allen plays on; or that Einstein’s genius was a gift, not a stigma, and in no conceivable way related to ancestral oppression?