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This revealing article, written by an American Jew - Philip Weiss - ran on page 1 of The New York Observer, on the 22nd of January, 2001: 

Jews in Bush’s Cabinet? Don’t Hold Your Breath

By Philip Weiss

George Bush has put every kind of American in his cabinet except Jews, and no one has complained about this, even though everyone knows it’s nuts. Remaking the American power structure without Jews is like remaking sports without blacks. At least when it comes to blacks in sports, you can talk about it; you can say that blacks changed sports. But no one is allowed to speak up about something we all quietly know: Jews changed America.

There is hardly an area of public life on which Jews have not had a profound impact in the last generation, as discrimination against them ended and as they gained power. The civil rights movement reflects Jewish values of justice. Feminism is a reflection of liberal Jewish matriarchal values (note the Jewish groups that are talking about Roe v. Wade in opposing John Ashcroft for Attorney General). Ever-more-powerful Jews in the media have ushered in the information age. Psychologically attuned Jews and Hollywood Jews changed the language of popular culture - Seinfeld, Weinstein. And the new emphasis on educational achievement throughout our society reflects the Jewish love of learning.

I have not even gotten to finance or the law, though anyone who doubts the Jewish influence here should ask how many white-shoe law firms still keep gentlemen’s hours.

These trends have made America a fairer and more creative place - and no, it’s not as if one or another of them would not have occurred without Jews. But altogether they represent the force of Jewish values coming into public life. In a recent study, Jews and the American Public Square, the Center for Jewish Community Studies argues that Jews have fostered an important legal trend in the last half century, the separation of church and state. I’d go further and argue that the greatly diminished influence of church on public mores wouldn’t have happened without secularized Jews gaining cultural power.

And no one ever talks about it. The most important change in establishment culture in the last 25 years, and it goes unspoken. Instead, people talk about blacks all the time, as the press did throughout the Florida election struggle, as if blacks and Jews share a political identity, which they don’t.

From its beginnings, the Bush campaign represented, in the hearts of many Jews and apparently in the heart of George W. Bush himself (that knower of hearts), an attempt to reverse Jewishness in the establishment. The press has only been able to discuss this power struggle in code. The most perfectly coded statement appeared in The New York Times’ long series last year on George’s life, from swaddling to bottling, when The Times’ Nicholas Kristof marveled that when Bush went to Yale he directed all his anger at East Coast “elitists.” But, Mr. Kristof pointed out, George Bush was in Skull and Bones - wasn’t that an elite?

Nicholas Kristof knew exactly what George Bush was talking about: the new elite, the ones who could take SAT’s. Mr. Kristof knows better because he was himself part of that trend, and so was I, at Harvard. Yes, there were Italian-Americans, Asians, but the sea change that was upon us was that middle-class Jews were taking up an important place in the establishment. Which was threatening to George Bush, as he’s made clear in his cabinet choices.

The Jewish press has been concerned about those choices. Forward said warningly that the cabinet picks were a symbolic “snub.” Phil Baum, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, was quoted by The Jerusalem Post as saying that the lack of Jews was “a little distressing.” But outside Jewish circles, no one is actively complaining, apparently in the belief that Jews will weather this one, too. There was a letter to The Times. William Safire mentioned it. Richard Cohen lamented it in The Washington Post. Not much else.

The Jewish silence comes out of a profound fear among Jews that this powerful moment will pass, that Jewish prominence in America is like Jewish prominence in Vienna in 1920, teetering on the brink. The more power, the less anyone wants to talk about it. Though there is Alan Dershowitz, who in his nervy book, Chutzpah, said that Jews must strive to gain even more power disproportionate to their numbers, because of growing envy and anti-Semitism. Not long ago, over lunch with a power Jew at a major New York firm, I marveled at the proliferation of Jews in the establishment. He held up a warning finger. “In every generation, our enemies will rise up to destroy us.” He was quoting the Haggadah, the Passover story, and for the rest of our lunch told me movingly about a visit to Anne Frank’s home.

I wanted to say, “Wait, bub - wrong country.”

But you can’t say “wrong country.” The Jewish history of persecution transcends boundaries, and the Constitution. A recent study by a group called Public Agenda said that 80 percent of American Jews see anti-Semitism as a potentially powerful force in American life, while only 55 percent of non-Jews see that reality. That’s a giant difference, reflecting ancient Jewish paranoia. In this space I’ve argued that Jews are wrong. Most Jews say, “Just you wait.”

The problem with this belief is that it short-circuits any discussion of Jewish power in America. If you talk about Jewish influence, you’re risking a Holocaust. So there’s no public acknowledgment of something almost everyone understands: Jews are major players in the establishment.

On Jan. 15, the Center for Jewish History on West 16th Street held a discussion on the subject “The Jewish People in the 20th Century: From Powerlessness to Power.” The moderator, Sylvia Hassenfeld, said that Jews had “blithely” ignored the question, and then the three professors on the panel promptly attacked the assumption that Jews are powerful.

There are so many Jews in the media that the cone of silence falls over the territory where you might expect wider discussion. The establishment tends to be portrayed as a kind of bland rainbow of excellence - all welcome, Jews, suburbanites, Asians, Hispanics.

By the way, I don’t claim to know how Jewish the membership of the establishment is. Twenty percent, 50 percent? I’m guessing 30.

There’s nothing wrong with an elite. Society couldn’t operate without one. But a democracy demands some accountability of these elites. A generation ago, the scholar E. Digby Baltzell, a good Philadelphia WASP, published The Protestant Establishment, in which he argued that “a crisis in moral authority” had developed because of the inability of WASP’s to share power, and in particular because of their anti-Semitism. In his more recent book describing the end of that order, The Big Test, my friend Nicholas Lemann detailed the ways that certain members of what he called “the Episcopacy” felt compelled to make the system fairer, and ushered in the meritocracy. I remember when I got to Harvard in 1972, and all my outsider Jewish energy was focused on tearing down the WASP bastions that kept me back. And we tore them down.

Jewishness is not a social bastion, but the failure of Jews to acknowledge their status is problematic.

“Jews are very much insiders who continue to be fixated on the mentality of the outsider,” says Alan Mittelman, a Muhlenberg College professor and the director of the project, Jews in the American Public Square. “We’re certainly part of what they used to call ‘the establishment.’ But we continue to think about ourselves as this embattled minority. We have to re-orient ourselves to a greater sense of responsibility for the culture, rather than a sense of the precariousness of the outsider.”

Mr. Mittelman wants political Jews to show greater flexibility on the issue of school vouchers, which are supported by many blacks who were once so allied with Jews. But on this question as on others, Mr. Mittelman says, Jews vote as outsiders, as if “we’re voting against the czar.”

Mr. Mittelman is getting at the heart of the new Jewish problem in America: the degree to which Jewish caste identity as victims of power obscures a real understanding of their place in America. This belief can often be smug and self-congratulatory, reflecting a refusal to cop to power and its responsibility.

I can think of a few examples of this attitude. Last year, The New Yorker published a glowing profile of outgoing Monsanto chairman Robert Shapiro, by Michael Specter. The unspoken theme of this article was, “He’s a Jew from the Upper West Side who gardens, so he must love the planet!” The piece was remarkable because it casually overturned the magazine’s long-standing environmentalist stance. Monsanto is the producer of Roundup, an herbicide that is a nightmare among greenies, but Roundup went virtually unmentioned in Mr. Specter’s assessment, which was awash in Jewish chauvinism, in the warmth of Jewish social arrival - Mr. Shapiro’s and Mr. Specter’s. This is how meritocracy works: The successful adore the successful, and everybody else is a loser.

Or there was an aside by Hanna Rosin, in Slate last summer, in which she characterized Reform Jews as blending into the “American mush” of religion. Hers is certainly a widely shared attitude. What is remarkable is that Ms. Rosin was identified as the religion correspondent for The Washington Post. The Post is an important newspaper; what is the responsibility of such a reporter to have some sensitivity to the varieties of modern religious practice?

Or there’s the continuing attack on politicians for merely visiting Bob Jones University - whose intolerant policies are justly criticized - when Jewish groups are given a complete pass for promulgating policies of in-marriage that half of the Jewish population have said in surveys are racist (and which few goyish Americans even know about).

Or there was the profile of Hadassah Lieberman in The New York Times suggesting that she was a humanitarian because she had given to Jewish causes. Shouldn’t we make the definition a little broader? Indeed, the same sort of definition that caused the media to all but ignore the troubling aspects of the raid on Waco, whose victims - besides 25 children - were ignorant gun-toting Christians, the very sort who, in the Jewish imagination, might have been responsible for pogroms in the old country.

That Jewish imagination has been the most powerful force in elite life in the last generation. The rise of the meritocracy, the celebration of feminism, the emergence of the media: all have been spearheaded by Jews who re-imagined America.

So long as Jews continue to see themselves as powerless, they fail to recognize the effect they have had on society and, worse, fail to move outside a privileged position of wounded self-regard and come to terms with their real spot: big winners in the new order. It looks like the next chapter in the democratic discourse is going to be about winners and losers in the globalist pursuit of excellence. Liberal Jews owe it to themselves and to American ideals to take an honest part in that conversation. Doing so might begin with asking the President-elect bluntly what’s in his heart.

 


 

 



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