Israel is demonized by screaming students at distinguished colleges who refuse to listen to Israelis who have been invited to lecture, government leaders who spend disproportionate time and energy on condemning Israel and demanding that it alter its domestic policies and its postures toward violent neighbors, prominent musicians who refuse to accept invitations to visit the country, professors who refuse to publish the work of Israeli colleagues, and labor leaders who urge boycotts of ships destined for Israel. Its primary antagonist, responsible for the killing of thousands of civilians, is lionized by self-styled humanitarians who single out the Palestinians for prime economic and political support when, in fact, they suffer significantly less that numerous other ethnic groups on every continent.
None of this is new or surprising.
Israel has acquired the status of the historic, caricatured, miserable and shunned Jew, after a brief period of pity as a result of the Holocaust and a briefer period of heroism after the Six Day War.
A look at Jewish history reminds us that isolation has been part of it since the beginning, and that Jews have been willing contributors to their isolation if not demonization. Anthropologists make a convincing case that circumcision and kashrut have been meant to keep Jews apart from others by clarifying their identity and isolating them for purposes of eating, drinking, and socializing.
Being clannish is part of the code. Unlike other prominent religions, most notably Christianity and Islam, Judaism has not sought to become universal. Ethnicity is central, with status defined traditionally as having a Jewish mother and a policy among religious leaders for the most recent two millennia to discourage the conversion of others to Judaism. While ghetto walls have long been symbols of being shunned by others and compelled to live separately and typically in undesirable conditions, they also served to protect Jewish communities from outside influences.
Neither history nor Judaism are static. Dramatic changes that touched Jews as well as many others began with the Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries. The French and American revolutions were part of this, along with a philosophical emphasis on reason. It reached into Jewish villages that had been culturally and educationally isolated, contributed along with industrialization to mass migration westward and toward the cities of Germany, France, Britain, and the United States.
The process continues with various forms of assimilation, including secularization, non-traditional Judaisms that have gained more adherents than the various forms of orthodoxy among Jews who still seek a religious affiliation, and rates of marriage with non-Jews that exceed 50 percent of the marriages involving Jews in several countries. Meanwhile, the Jews in those countries tend to be the ethnic leaders in various measures of economic, educational, and other cultural achievements.
There is also nothing new about Jews who join the opposition. Jewish participants at anti-Israel campus rallies, Israeli professors who urge an international boycott against themselves and colleagues have their precedents in Jews of the Middle Ages who "whispered" the secrets of the Talmud to Christians who welcomed additional reasons to persecute the Jews. One result was a self-censorship of the Talmud. While some versions designate the "goyim" for distinctive treatment in religious law, others seek to avoid offense to Christians by using terms like "Egyptians," "Babylonians," or "idol worshipers" instead of "goyim."
Yet another modern phenomenon that is not exactly new are all those Jews who refuse to compare Israel''s shortcomings to those of other countries, but insist on absolute and extreme moral standards for the Jewish country.
Anyone thinking that J-Street and Jews further to the left are anything unusual might profit from Karl Marx''s On the Jewish Question.
Little Karl was not born a Jew. His father had converted, following a route chosen by numerous Central and Western European Jews who had acquired secular education and wanted better opportunities that were open to Jews.
Individuals who learn of their Jewish roots have left a bizarre record. Daniel Burros killed himself in 1965 when outed as a Jew while holding office in the Ku Klux Klan and American Nazi Party. Csanad Szegedi is a young Hungarian politician who chose another route from his anti-Semitic and fascist political party when his grandmother told him that she was Jewish and described her experience in Auschwitz. He approached a Budapest rabbi, began lessons, and attached himself to the congregation, despite other Jews who initially shunned him.
No one should be surprised that Jews, and perhaps most distinctively Israelis, are ambivalent about their isolation.
Policies that insist on kashrut in public institutions are conventional. Immigration policy insists on Jewish roots, and a posture in current negotiations demands recognition by adversaries as a Jewish state. There are frequent worries in the media about the assimilation of Jews elsewhere and the temptations offered Israelis to "go down" to the wealthier countries of the goyim.
Currently the headlines feature two Israelis (or former Israelis) who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry, but spent the bulk of their academic careers in the United States. Heads of Israeli universities are praising their former colleagues and using their story to demand increases in the funding of Israeli institutions and opening of more opportunities to keep Israeli-educated personnel at home. Some academics note that the country is too small to absorb all of the talent that comes from its families and universities. In the story are said to be decisions taken years ago by an Israeli institution not to provide one of the future Nobels with a tenured position.
The young son of one of my students, a Korean pastor who has stayed on after finishing his PhD, was the subject of a three-part Korean television series that followed him in school and with his friends, as part of Korea''s concern with the source of Jewish innovations.
Years ago, when I was a young Assistant Professor at the University of Georgia, I was at lunch with a number of colleagues, including a senior professor who did not know me well. He began talking about the progress being made by the university, and mentioned me as one of the northerners it had been able to recruit. "Some day," he said, "Georgia may be able to attract Jews."
The Jewish cup may never have been more than half full. Now, however, the cup contains wine from the Golan that is winning international prizes, while those sniping at our heels--Jews and others--demand a return of the Golan to Syria.