The Diaspora and its discontents

Diaspora Jewish reasoning is the reasoning of a minority.

Rafael Castro

OpEds Netanyahu, Trump
Netanyahu, Trump

The Diaspora and its Discontents

The only societies where Jewish communities traditionally supported conservative politics prior to the rise of leftist anti-Zionism are Italy and a handful of Latin American countries. In Italy, prior to 1938 when Mussolini introduced anti-Semitic laws, Italian Jews tended to be liberal-conservative, even nationalist. Why? Italian nationalism was opposed by the Catholic Church, the historical oppressor of the Jewish people. In Latin American societies, Jews traditionally belong to the upper-middle classes and therefore share their social and economic outlook. These are the exceptions within a pattern of overwhelming Jewish support for progressive politics.

The theory that Biblical Prophets implanted progressive values in Jewish minds is commonplace. However, the Christian Gospels are far more leftist in spirit than the Tanach and yet religious Christians - especially American Protestants - passionately support capitalism. Ironically, it is the Hebrew Bible these Christians cite to justify their love for free markets, never the New Testament. So the truth is that Jewish scriptures are progressive, only because many Jews choose to read them as such. The proof for this is that religious Diaspora Jews also tend to support capitalism more than secular or reform Jews.

Thus it is not religious scriptures that push so many Jews to be progressive. The genesis of Jewish involvement in progressive politics is fear of the majority and its elites. Undoubtedly, this fear is historically justified due to the historical antisemitism of the church and the aristocracy. However, this fear has fostered an underdog mentality that in the long-term is often harmful to both society and to Jews.

Jewish political involvement in the Diaspora is thus a variation of the following theme: Jews help the downtrodden, promote multiculturalism and are shocked when instead of an Arcadian society, identity politics, populism and political polarization follow suit. In other words, Jews who have always contributed tremendously to the world’s economic, cultural and scientific life, can only boast of a very mixed record for their political involvement.

Only in Israel do Jews genuinely feel and know that their interests as citizens fully dovetail with their interests as Jews.
The only place where Jews have made an unambiguously positive political contribution is Israel. In Israel, Jews feel and act as the owners of their state - not as minority shareholders. Diaspora Jews can also be intensely patriotic and fight bravely for their countries, so it would be wrong to argue - as anti-Semites do - that Jews are only loyal to Israel.

However, it is true that only in Israel do Jews genuinely feel and know that their interests as citizens fully dovetail with their interests as Jews. This is because Israel is their state, their homeland, whereas elsewhere Jews are subject to the goodwill of the Gentile majority.

Therefore unless Jews repudiate their Judaism in the Diaspora, they always live with a hyphenated identity, which can create tension between their interests as citizens and their interests as a minority. In Israel, where Jewish and national identities overlap, this tension is absent.

Since Jews are educated and hard-working, this reality generates a paradox: the emergence of Jewish cultural, intellectual and political elites in the Diaspora that have the interests of fellow minorities more intimately at heart than those of the majority.

On a certain plane this attitude promotes the interests of the weak, the poor and the oppressed as the tremendous Jewish contribution to the American Civil Rights movement and the fight against Apartheid highlight. However, taken too far and for too long, the promotion of minority interests promotes identity politics and undermines social cohesion.

Israelis, although not American, understand and appreciate President Trump's domestic policies far better than most American Jews. The best explanation for this is that Israeli Jews reason as a majority, whereas most American Jews reason as a minority.

This case illustrates why a majority vs. minority psychological mindset accounts for Diaspora Jewish political preferences and reactions to nationalist politicians better than conventional cultural, religious and historical explanations.