Advance Praise for Jewcentricity
"Adam Garfinkle punctures the myth of the omnipotence of the Jews with such intelligence and reflective sweep that we still can go on discussing the 'exaggerations' forever."
—Leslie H. Gelb, former columnist for the New York Times and president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations
"Jews, as the saying goes, are news. Why is that? In this elegant, witty, learned, insightful, always interesting, and occasionally alarming book, Adam Garfinkle explains the world's fascination with the practitioners of its oldest mono-theistic religion."
—Michael Mandelbaum, author of Democracy's Good Name: The Rise and Risks of the World's Oldest Form of Government
"One would have thought that everything that could be written or said about the relationship between Jews and their environment has been written and said. It was a pleasure, though hardly a surprise, that Adam Garfinkle, thinker, scholar, editor, and iconoclast at large, has been able to offer us fresh insights into this complex issue and apply his original mind to the subject matter."
—Itamar Rabinovich, former Israeli ambassador to the United States and former president of Tel-Aviv University
"There is a lot to argue about and ponder in this riveting manuscript. It is bound to cause a stir."
—Robert D. Kaplan, author of The Arabists: The Romance of an American Elite
"One way of looking at this brilliant book is to see it as an extended commentary on an old joke that defines a philo-Semite as an anti-Semite who likes Jews. Garfinkle shows, with many examples, what both characters have in common—a wildly exaggerated notion of the importance of Jews in the world. Garfinkle's argument is scholarly, lucid, witty, and very persuasive. It deserves a wide readership."
—Peter L. Berger, director, Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs at Boston University
Amazon-Exclusive Interview of Author Adam Garfinkle by Walter Russell Mead
| ||Adam M. Garfinkle is the founding editor of the American Interest, a bimonthly magazine on politics and public affairs. Prior to that he was speechwriter for both Colin Powell and then Condoleezza Rice. He's also been a professor at John Hopkins University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Tel Aviv University. || ||Walter Russell Mead the Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow in U.S. Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, is the author of Mortal Splendor and Special Providence, which won the Lionel Gelber Award for best book on international affairs in English for the year 2002, and God and Gold: Britain, America and the Making of the Modern World (2007). He is a contributing editor to The Los Angeles Times; has written for The New York Times, the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Yorker; and is a regular reviewer of books on the United States for Foreign Affairs. Mr. Mead also lectures regularly on American foreign policy. He lives in New York City. |
So much has been written and said about anti-Semitism over the years, but you are proposing a different kind of discussion about it. Could you explain that?
Garfinkle: Jewcentricity is not the same as anti-Semitism. Not all exaggerations about Jews are negative and not all are propagated by non-Jews. Jewcentricity aligns along a simple two-by-two matrix: positive and negative, Jewish and non-Jewish. Classical anti-Semitism fills only one of the four quadrants suggested by the matrix. My argument is that all four quadrants tend to goad and feed on one another, so that it becomes impossible to really understand anti-Semitism without taking the bigger picture into consideration. Too many Jews exaggerate how much anti-Semitism there really is, especially in the United States. It is a Jewcentric conceit to think everyone hates you; but worse, expressing this exaggeration tends to cause what it fears. There are some secular Jewish organizations in the United States that make a living doing this and, in tandem, reifying the Holocaust as a tool in that effort, as if that and similar disasters are the only things worth remembering about Jewish history. This sort of behavior does net harm, and exemplifies what I mean by one kind of Jewcentricity goading and feeding on the others.
Mead: To what extent are global attitudes toward Israel, both positive and negative, really just reflections of this fascination with Jews that goes back for thousands of years?
Garfinkle: To a considerable extent, I think. The widespread belief in Europe and, to a lesser degree, here in the United States that the Arab-Israeli conflict is the be-all and end-all of every problem throughout the Middle East and even beyond, and that Israel must bear the brunt of its solution, is a residual effect of Jews having been the most prominent “other” in European history. This belief is false, and can lead to ineffective and even counterproductive policies. Another example: The importation of 19th and 20th century European anti-Semitism into the Muslim world over the past eight to ten decades has set such deep roots because of old Jewcentric folk prejudices that go back to the early years of Islam. Another: The Emir of Bahrain recently appointed one of only 37 Bahraini Jews to be his ambassador to the United States, and a while back the Turkish government closened relations with Israel in the expectation that the Jewish lobby in America would help the Turks against the Greek and Armenian lobbies, all because of a centuries’ old perception about the outsized power of Hofjuden, court Jews. And one more example, an important one: Massive support for Israel here in the United States goes back in part to the highly philo-Semitic attitudes of our Founders, and here I mean not only the Puritans of New England, who wanted to create a Biblical Commonwealth in a new Promised Land, but also the “low-Church” Scots-Irish who are the ancestors of most of today’s very pro-Israel Evangelicals.
Mead: A well-known Jewish lawyer once turned to me at a dinner party and, apparently thinking I was Jewish, told me not to be deceived: that all the gentiles were anti-Semites. What about philo-Semites, I asked, gentiles who expressed pro-Jewish views. “A philo-Semite,” he said, “is an anti-Semite who likes Jews.” You don’t go that far, but you do seem concerned about some ‘pro-Jewish’ as well as some anti-Semitic ideas. What’s that about?
Garfinkle: Well, your tale illustrates the Jewcentric conceit I mentioned a moment ago. It’s not true that all gentiles are anti-Semites; most people, thankfully, have better things to do than waste time obsessing about Jews one way or the other. But there is something to the peculiar locution you quote that a philo-Semite is an anti-Semite who likes Jews, just, in a way, that an alcoholic can both hate and love a bottle of booze. Some philo-Semites are anti-Semites in the sense that dispensationalist theology holds that the Jews are vehicles for the Second Coming, but if you examine their end-of-days beliefs about the Rapture and such, it turns out that nearly all the Jews end up dead. Some Evangelicals seem to revere Jews as an abstract theological category, but have problems with individual flesh-and-blood Jews unless they convert to Christianity. I think that’s what your lawyer acquaintance meant. I also worry a little about non-Jews who, for reasons known only to themselves, parrot the more common tropes of Jewish chauvinism. Some Jews get the idea of the Chosen People wrong, interpreting it in bloodline or narrow national political terms that have nothing to do with the mission of a people charged with spreading ethical monotheism. When non-Jews buy into that it makes me nervous. There are already too many Jews preening, exaggerating and misunderstanding Jews’ supposed intelligence, domestic political clout, domination of Hollywood, and so on; we don’t need outside assistance with this—you should pardon please the touch of sarcasm.
Mead: What do you care if Madonna thinks she's Jewish?
Garfinkle: Madonna does not think she’s Jewish exactly; she is not a convert to Judaism, and she knows it. She thinks she’s a kabbalist, an adept of Jewish mysticism, but without the Jewish foundation that makes this even imaginable. She nonetheless has taken a Hebrew name and has styled herself during some recent visits to Israel as an ambassador for Judaism. If this sounds confused, it’s because it is. Madonna has been fed a line of dime-store therapy, and swallowed whole; but that’s her business. It matters to me because we now live in a post-rabbinic world, in the sense that most Jews no longer adhere to the system of communal authority and discipline that kept them a unitary people in exile since the First Century of the Common Era. Charlatans and heretics beyond the purveyors of faux-kaballah could have a field day distorting the traditions of rabbinic Judaism to the point that the real thing could be overwhelmed, and the identity of Jewish civilization itself destroyed. As I say in the book, just imagine what Shabtai Tzvi, the 17th century false messiah who caused so much pain and trouble, could have done with the Internet.
Mead: You make a strong case about a set of ideas and obsessions that have deep historical and cultural roots. Looking forward, what should the Jews expect? Will things get better, worse, or will it just be more of the same?
Garfinkle: My hope, of course, is that everyone just relax, get a grip, and stop these infernal, mutually reinforcing exaggerations. But I know that’s not going to happen. In some ways, as I describe in the book, Jewcentricity is spreading in all its forms courtesy of the virtual world that has lately been superimposed on the material one. There have been Jewcentric episodes in the past in the absence of actual Jewish communities—in Puritan New England, in early 20th century Japan, and in a few other cases. But now conspiratorial and otherwise unhinged eclectic images of Jews are zooming around the world at near light speed, alighting in scores of places where there are not and never have been significant Jewish communities. This leads me to suspect that Jewcentricity is, unfortunately, a growth industry. Whether it will be positive in the main or negative depends, I think, on how the trials and tribulations of global capitalism work out. Jews have long been associated in the eyes of many as the avatars of “creative destruction,” whether in league with the 17th and 18th century Dutch, the 18th and 19th century British, or the 20th century Americans. Images of Jews as shadowy movers and shakers of high finance is hardwired into the imagination of our planet, for reasons with at least some frail historical basis. At this point, I would not want to hazard a prediction about whether things will look up, or not. That, certainly, is way above my pay grade.
If it's about Jews, it's news. From celebrities' conspiracy theories to American presidential candidates railing against anti-Semitism to the occasional news factoid that some person of interest has just discovered heretofore unknown Jewish relatives, nearly everyone wants to talk about it. Are the Jews God's chosen people? Many, Jews and non-Jews alike, think soand about what other group is that question even asked?
Why is a tiny group of people who, for nearly two millennia, had no land to call their own the object of so much outsized and fanciful belief, both negative and positive? In Jewcentricity, Adam Garfinkle takes readers on a wry and learned tour of the world's obsessions with Jews. Hamas blames the financial crisis on Jews. Iranian television claims that the Harry Potter books and movies are a Ziono-Hollywood conspiracy. Mel Gibson blamed all the wars in history on the Jews. Jews win a disproportionate number of Nobel prizes, and arguments over the sources of supposed superior Jewish intelligence go on without end. Dishy actress Scarlett Johansson is Jewish, Madonna is into what some have told her is Jewish mysticism, and some claim that Abe Lincoln was Jewish.
Who cares? Way too many people, it seems. Drawing on insights from history, philosophy, religion, and social science, Adam Garfinkle explains how the strategies that kept Diaspora Jewry going for millennia have led many non-Jews to accuse Jews of chauvinism, secrecy, trickery, and conspiratorial lever-pulling, and to envy them for many of the same and other supposed talents.
Garfinkle divides the sources of grandiose claims about the Jews into four groups: anti-Semites, philo-Semites, Jewish chauvinists, and so-called self-hating Jews. He traces the origins and history of the most common myths about Jews and reveals how these impossible exaggerations, both positive and negative, feed off of and perpetuate each other.
Complete with a thoughtful and detailed examination of how to recognize the difference between mere anti-Jewish sentiment and genuine anti-Semitism, Jewcentricity is the ultimate field guide to paranoid, romantic, diabolical, boastful, well-intentioned, and murderous misinformation about Jews.