Is it good for the Jews? A litmus test for good government

The relationship between bad governance and unfair treatment of Jews is easily traced. It may start with the Jews, but it doesn't end there.

Rafael Castro

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Young Jews tend to be embarrassed when older coreligionists wonder aloud whether a policy or leader is “good for the Jews”. This embarrassment is understandable: In the 21st century it is not fashionable in polite society to be concerned about one’s closest kin.

Yet a cursory glance at history suggests that a robust case can be made that if a government or policy is good for the Jews, it is also good for humanity at large.

The truth is that the leaders who have harmed Jews harmed non-Jews just as much, if not more.
Despite the assertions of anti-Jewish leaders throughout history that their antisemitism is motivated by the best interest of their non-Jewish subjects, the truth is that the leaders who have harmed Jews harmed non-Jews just as much, if not more.

The most egregious examples of this are Hitler and Stalin, two dictators who caused unprecedented suffering to Jewish life and Jewish culture in Europe and the Soviet Union respectively. It is therefore unremarkable that these tyrants also murdered tens of millions of non-Jews.

A similar pattern of inflicting harm to Jews and inflicting harm to Gentiles can be seen in the behavior of Renaissance Popes Paul IV and Pius IV who introduced Jewish ghettoes in Rome and expanded them to other Italian cities, while also persecuting without mercy Protestants and freethinkers.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the anti-Jewish czars of the Russian Empire, Alexander III and Nicholas II promoted pogroms, while persecuting political adversaries and leading Russia into military adventures that cost Russian mothers millions of sons. Their anti-Jewish frenzy eventually paved the way for the demise of the Romanov dynasty.

The relationship between attitudes to Jews and governance is clearly exemplified by Benito Mussolini. In the first decade of his rule from 1922 until the mid-1930s he enjoyed international prestige and was viewed as the most successful Italian statesman in history. This enthusiasm was shared by most Italian Jews. The anti-Semitic Racial Laws he introduced in 1938 marked the beginning of his downfall, which culminated in his military alliance with Nazi Germany and the destruction and military defeat of his country in 1945.

This relationship between bad governance and unfair treatment of Jews is not limited to dictatorships. Apartheid-era South African governments tended to support the interests of their Jewish minority and Israel. Despite their horrendous discriminatory treatment of black citizens, the economic growth they achieved through competent economic management also benefitted the country’s black majority.

The accession of the ANC to power catalyzed not just the tailspin of economic and security conditions for South Africans, but also led to the freezing of diplomatic relations between South Africa and Israel, and the flight of tens of thousands of Jews from South Africa. The situation in South Africa has deteriorated so much that nowadays many Black South Africans acknowledge that majority rule has worsened their living standards.

The reason for the well-being of Jews to correlate with good government is simple: Respect for the rights and interests of a minority such as the Jews is a litmus test for respect for the rights and interests of all citizens; the creation of economic and cultural conditions where enterprising and hard-working minorities can flourish is the precondition for societies to flourish as a whole; scapegoating Jews and Israel is attractive for all rulers who seek to mask their incompetence and narrow-sighted policies.

For these reasons I urge young Jews not to be embarrassed by the question “Is it good for the Jews?” History demonstrates that this is one of the least parochial questions that people can ask about leaders and their policies.