Eisenbud's Odyssey: The intellectual war

It’s simply not enough to inherently know that someone is spreading lies – we must also be able to state the facts ourselves, in real time.

Mark Twain 521 (photo credit: Creative Commons)
Mark Twain 521
(photo credit: Creative Commons)
By every conceivable metric, the Jewish People is the most unfairly and egregiously vilified subgroup in the history of mankind.
For millennia, we have been chronically alienated, expelled, hunted, humiliated, tortured, murdered to the point of near extinction – and to add insult to injury, we continue to be flagrantly libeled by the world’s media, governments and academic institutions.
Yet we remain the gift that just keeps giving, don’t we?
Indeed, despite being an unparalleled receptor of the most vile and irrational venom ever formulated, we continue to thrive disproportionately in virtually every vocation requiring intellect.
To be sure, regardless of constituting a paltry 0.2 percent of the world’s population, Jews have been awarded a mind-blowing 22% of all Nobel prizes, 25% of all Kyoto prizes, 33% of all Wolf Foundation prizes, and a staggering 38% of all US National Medal of Science prizes.
If there has ever been proof of Mark Twain’s maxim that it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog, Jews have substantiated it beyond a shadow of doubt.
And despite being a canine roughly the size of one of Paris Hilton’s designer-purse dogs (comparatively speaking), we remain the toughest, most resilient and smartest breed of dog on the planet.
We have repeatedly and irrefutably proven (on a biblical scale, no less!) that notwithstanding our diminutive size, we can put a pack of rabid Rottweilers down faster than you can say “Baruch Hashem.”
THEREFORE, IT is utterly ludicrous that there remains one very simple question that continues to vex us all: How is it that we are losing the “intellectual war” – a war based on a narrative that should play to our greatest strengths?
Metaphorically it’s the equivalent of Eddie Murphy losing to Al Gore in a stand-up comedy competition. It’s inconceivable.
Nonetheless, we are being defeated at our own game.
Now, certainly, it is fair to argue that the game is fixed – that anti-Semitism makes any chance of a fair fight laughable. And there’s undeniable truth to that contention.
However, we have been winning fixed fights for the duration of our existence – frequently with one hand tied behind our backs, and the other hand sporting broken and bloodied fingers and knuckles.
So let’s not wallow in the absurdity of our poor odds. It’s self-defeating, and a given that must be accepted. As my wise grandmother Carola would say: “It is what it is.”
That said, it is first important to define what the intellectual war is.
SIMPLY STATED, it is the fight for minds and hearts. And while the mind and heart are clearly disparate entities with wholly different functions, they cannot be considered mutually exclusive in this particular equation. That is because we can’t win this war with one and not the other.
As we all know, anti-Semitism is driven as much by emotion as it is by intellect (if not far more). However, as powerful as emotion is, it is generally rendered useless in the face of irrefutable truth. Of proof.
For example, while the vast majority of anti-Semites fervently hate Jews, if you were to ask them to articulate why this is so, they would be hard-pressed to present a cogent argument based on fact.
Instead, they would likely restate hackneyed lies, including the Jewish-led execution of Jesus, varying blood libels, the Israeli-created “apartheid state” of the Palestinians, and the Jewish conspiracy to take over the world – all of which have no merit whatsoever.
If subsequently convinced that each of their arguments are false, even a fool would be reluctant to debate unequivocal lies. Therefore, we must change the false narrative propagated by each person and news cycle by utilizing the power of truth.
AS THE great Twain also said: “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
But to successfully combat the onslaught of lies, we must first ask ourselves how effective we are individually in dispelling the myths of the Jewish people in a constructive manner.
I think most of us would be surprised by how little Jews of all ages and stripes truly know about the facts of our past and present necessary to effectively neutralize the lies against us.
Indeed, if you were to go to any given American college campus – which, as we all know, is fertile ground for brainwashing students of all backgrounds (including Jews) into unjustly bashing Israel – how many of the Jewish students are knowledgeable enough about the lies and misconceptions generated about Israel to constructively defend it?
While there are no substantive data on this subject, empirically it’s safe to say that we’d all be unpleasantly surprised by the nominal number of students who fit that description.
Truthfully, how many of the “grown-up” Jews you know are intellectually equipped with enough factual information to disarm a person espousing patent lies about us and our homeland?
It’s simply not enough to inherently know that someone is spreading lies – we must also be able to state the facts ourselves, on the spot, backward and forward, in real time.
Otherwise, all we’re going to do is participate in the same never-ending shouting match that leaves everyone within hearing distance as ill-informed, angry and deaf to the truth as they were before it took place.
THEREFORE, OUR goal is twofold: (1) to aggressively inform ourselves of all the lies propagated about Israel; and (2) to change that false narrative in a way that resonates emotionally – in a way that is constructive.
The former cannot be accomplished without everyone in the Jewish community making a concerted effort to know their facts inside and out. And the latter cannot be accomplished by being, as my father would say, “dead right” – which is the equivalent of being intellectually correct, but self-damaging.
That said, the way truth is spread is as important as the truth itself. So we must be right without beating potential intellectual converts and allies over the head with an anvil.
That’s where the heart comes into play.
Ultimately the only way to win this war is to change the narrative by ensuring that our intellectual soldiers are armed with the facts needed to do so – and that those facts are spread quickly, calmly, rationally, and without condescension or anger, which only creates an endless contagion effect.
WE DON’T have the luxury of a fair fight – nor, as Golda Meir once said, of receiving the most beautiful eulogy in history.
Undoubtedly, military might is essential in containing this war, but attempting to win it with missiles alone is the equivalent of using a few million hammers to destroy billions of perennially reproducing locusts. It’s simply impractical.
In the end, the war against the Jewish people will not be won with our missiles, but with our hearts and minds – the most powerful weapons we have.