RW: Whatever happens in America, happens in Jewish life. It's the old Yiddish saying: Wie es sich christelt, so jüdelt es sich (as the Christians go, so go the Jews). American Jewish life is very influenced by what is happening in American life at large and that goes to your question of liberalism.
The period between 1945 — or shall we say 1948 — and 1973 I call the period of grace in Jewish life. One of the reasons being it was a time of muscular liberalism in the United States. One had just fought the war and one knew what the war had been fought over and for and there was a sense that evil in the world meant political evil. The worst forces, the most malevolent political forces, were ranged against the Jews — Jews as representatives of a kind of liberal democracy — and by extension against America. One had come away from this victorious. The fact that Israel could repel those Arab armies made everyone feel that everything was going to be fine in the Middle East and this was a period of rejoicing in the fact that the problems were now over.
I think that lasted until 1973. I'm reminded of it by the book Exodus [Leon Uris, 1958], which I occasionally teach as an example of a bestseller. A bestseller has to strike a chord with the general population; it cannot become a bestseller if it only appeals to one ethnic group. Exodus was an astonishing bestseller and it really satisfied the liberal craving of the American community and of the Jews within that community. If you remember the main plot, Kitty, who is as American as cherry pie and dislikes or feels uncomfortable with Jews as part of that Americanism, falls in love with two aspects of Jewish life simultaneously. One, with this refugee child, Karen, who is a refugee from the Holocaust, whom Kitty wants to adopt. And she falls in love with Ari Ben Canaan, who is a new kind of Jew. She keeps saying, "He is unlike any Jew I know," and so on. He is strong, he is resourceful, he is masculine, he is attractive, he is Paul Newman.
JW: His name announces it too: Ben Canaan.
RW: Yes, Ben Canaan, which means the son of Canaan. So Uris put together something which is, I think, pretty profound. I don't think the book is profound as a literary document, but one can return to it reliably as an idea of what that period was like. What happened subsequently is that the Arabs did not come to terms and what seemed to be a temporary war against the Jews became a permanent war against the Jews.
Permanent war is not something that liberals accept. The liberal imagination — now I'm talking about the soft-liberal imagination but perhaps the liberal imagination in general — thinks that all conflict is negotiable. It does not want to make allowances for conflicts that are non-negotiable, and since the Arabs cannot be dissuaded to be other than what they are, then one has to put the pressure on the Jews to yield. To yield because, from the liberal point of view, there has to be a solution, there has to be peace, there has to be a peace process. The pressure on Israel and on the Jews to put pressure on Israel has been growing from that time to this and that's the main pressure one feels. And it's why we see the division of which Jack speaks.
- The Socialism of Fools
- The Anti-Elitist Elite Versus the Underclass
- Putting A Value On Human And Animal Life
- Is China Really a Threat to us?
- Will Germany be a Divided Nation Again?
- Europe, America and the Coalition
- Incurable Romantics
- Staving Off Despair: On the Use and Abuse of Pessimism for Life
- Can the Atlantic Coalition Hold?
- Has Britain Found a Role Yet?
- Life, Death and the Meaning of Cancer?
- Is the Party Really Over for Labour?
- Should Baby Boomers Feel the Pinch?
- Will the Tories Give us the Schools We Deserve?
- What Would Keynes Say?
- How European are the British?
- Speaking Truth Unto the BBC
- Booking a Place in History
- When Britain Feared the Blackshirts
- Brown’s Britain is Bankrupt