If I Am Not for Myself...: The Liberal Betrayal of the Jews Hardcover – Aug 1992
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From Publishers Weekly
Although it has since been retracted, in 1975 Arab leaders introduced the "Zionism equals racism" equation to the United Nations. Wisse views this move as part of an Arab propaganda campaign against Israel, which she believes the predominantly Arab states seek to annihilate. This ongoing campaign, Wisse writes, has caused Americans on the political left and right alike to reflexively blame Israel for Middle East problems. As a result, American liberals' support for Israeli rights has weakened, and Jews in the Diaspora can no longer seek refuge behind the banner of liberalism, she cautions. A professor of Yiddish and English literature at McGill University in Montreal, Wisse has produced an impassioned, hard-line polemic. Calling anti-Semitism "the most durable ideology of the twentieth century," she judges liberals' perennial hope that Arabs will turn friendly and tolerant of Israel to be misguided. She chides modern Israeli writers who, ambivalent about Zionism, "deliver up the image of the ugly Israeli." Her contentious essay is framed by a personal letter to an ex-lover who emigrated to Israel.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Wisse points out that there is a problem with all this. Where were the liberals when Jews were slaughtered in World War Two? And where are they now, when antizionists threaten them? Just prior to World War Two, most people underestimated the destructive power of antisemitism. Are we doing the same thing now?
Wisse also points out the dilemma of many Jewish liberals. In the past, Jews had to agree with many political views of non-Jews to fit more easily into society as a whole. That's true today, as many Jews see support for Israel as politically incorrect. So it makes sense that many Diaspora Jews refuse to support Israel: these Jews are trying to gain acceptance. But Wisse reminds us that it won't work: antisemitism bears no relation to Jewish achievements or behavior.
I think Wisse's best point is that it makes little sense for Jews to try to arouse sympathy by reminding people of the murder of the European Jews. While it may be a good idea for non-Jews to know about this in order to try to avoid repeating it, it doesn't do Jews much good. As the author explains, all it does is give people the impression that Jews are an easy target, that there must be something wrong with the Jews (or they would not have been picked as a target), and that it isn't a good idea to be a Jew.
The author points out the significance of the massacres at Sabra and Shatilla. The world reacted as if it were a major crime. So major that it even wanted to blame Israel for its role. But was it major? Did they want to do anything about the actual murderers?
Wisse discusses the Arab Big Lie. She explains that this is "the attribution to one's target of one's intentions against it." That's why the Arab antizionists had no trouble equating Zionism and racism.
The author concludes that the ultimate test of liberalism today is whether it will defend the Jews. After all, joining those who blame Israel exacts almost no political price, and it sure is easier than standing up to the antizionists.
Wisse thinks that many Jews would benefit by some serious soul-searching. And that if they did, they would have to confess to something. Not a false confession to Arab crimes. But a real one to their own idealism and their readiness to sacrifice other Jews in their attempts to be accepted by non-Jews.
Edward Alexander has a little test for liberals: do you demand for yourselves the same rights that you demand for others? I think Wisse passes this test.
And odd aspect of the book is that it is written in the format of a letter to a lover, despite the author being married and with children. What was she thinking in including this part?
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