There is a perennial debate among Jewish intellectuals in the United States about whether Jews are more naturally suited to be liberals or conservatives. Norman Podhoretz's latest book Why Are Jews Liberals? laments the fact that so many are; Leon Wieseltier's New York Times book review replies: How could Jews be anything else? Each side musters proof-texts from Jewish sources and history to make its case, though there isn't universal agreement on how to define "liberalism" and "conservatism."
In any event, there is one thing liberals and conservatives agree upon: In the course of Jewish history, Jews have done best in societies characterized by political, social and economic stability, and suffered where opposite tendencies prevailed. So, regardless of political orientation or denominational affiliation, it's plain that upholding the legitimacy of the American political system and preserving its stability is a Jewish interest.
That is why we were struck by "Rage Grows in America: Anti-Government Conspiracies," newly issued by the New York-based Anti-Defamation League. Conservatives would argue that lack of faith in the government is called "democracy in action." The sections of the report that draw our concern, however, spotlight the activities of a minority on the Right who have crossed the line from criticism of President Barack Obama's policies to denying the legitimacy of America's political system itself.
As is often the case, the excesses on the Right were precipitated by bad behavior on the Left. Recall, for example, how MoveOn.org compared George W. Bush to Hitler. Now, it is rightists who are accusing a president of plotting to destroy the American way of life.
Even the comparatively mainstream Rush Limbaugh has flirted with Hitler-Obama analogies. The more volatile Glenn Beck screams that Obama is taking the United States "towards socialism, totalitarianism beyond your wildest imagination."
BUT IT is destabilizing conspiratorialists who trouble us. They say Obama is a closet Muslim, or assert that his Hawaii birth certificate is a forgery so he is constitutionally ineligible to be president.
Among the conspiratorialists are demagogues pushing claims that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is constructing concentration camps, and that a (supposed) "door to door" gun confiscation campaign is a precursor to martial law.
The ADL study draws attention to some lesser known demagogues including Texas-based Alex Jones whose broadcasts and Web sites promote the theory that the 9/11 attacks were an "inside job" by the American government, part of an elaborate plot involving international bankers, the Federal Reserve, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Bilderberg Group to create a New World Order. (Of course, 9/11 conspiracy theories also thrive on the extreme Left and in Arab circles.)
On a recent program, Jones warned that a public health education effort aimed at children to curtail the spread of H1N1 virus was actually a psychological warfare scheme to brainwash them to become informers against their parents. He said the government will use fears surrounding H1N1 to stage a pandemic in order to declare martial law. The H1N1 vaccine, said Jones, is a plot to sterilize the masses. The ADL report also points to some 200 militias across America training for the day when the government turns against its citizenry.
Some will dismiss the report as alarmist or argue that ADL national director Abraham Foxman is pandering to his liberal constituents. We worry, however, that Foxman's claim of "a toxic atmosphere of rage" in America is not hyperbole, but a true assessment of the political system's condition.
REGRETTABLY, there are fresh signs that "toxic rage" exists here in Israel, too, among an increasingly radicalized segment of the settler population. It's manifested by a worrisome breakdown in army discipline among soldiers whose first allegiance is not to the state.
On Monday, several enlisted men from the Nahshon battalion held a political protest on base evidently out of pique that the IDF had dismantled an illegal outpost earlier in the day. The issues at stake transcend partisanship.
Demagogic Knesset members and post-Zionist rabbis who encourage servicemen to disobey their officers, or deny the legitimacy of the political echelon to direct the military are undermining the State of Israel.
Disrespect for legitimate authority, demonization of elected officials and demagoguery are bad for the Jewsâ€¦ even when it takes place in their own state.