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A Misunderstanding About Anti-Semitism

Not a disease, but a human reaction to an anomaly

Edward N. Luttwak
August 15, 2019
Photo: Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Perelman with Cindy Crawford at a Revlon event, 1990Photo: Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Photo: Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Perelman with Cindy Crawford at a Revlon event, 1990Photo: Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Only diseases can have cures, and anti-Semitism is not a disease: It is a perfectly normal human reaction to an anomaly that has persisted for just over 2,000 years, ever since starving Jews migrated in great numbers to food-rich Roman Egypt and its splendid capital of Alexandria, where they quickly outmatched the local Greek-speaking elite not only in Greek philosophy but also in Greek athletics—and in business too, no doubt. The Greeks reacted not by competing harder, but with murderous mob attacks. Thus, anti-Semitism was born, already so fully formed that nothing has been added by all the anti-Semites in history ever since. That the Jewish side of the story is well known through texts by Josephus and Philo, while the original denunciation of the Jews by then-famous philosopher Apion is lost (except for the bits quoted by Josephus as put-downs), proves just how right Apion was: Primitive Hebrew shepherds and peasants arrive, and in no time at all they take over everything, even Greek philosophic literature, in which Philo now occupies 10 volumes in the Harvard’s Loeb Classical Library and Apion has none, zilch, and nada. (Loeb was a Jewish banker, of course.)

What infuriated the Greeks was that the Jews stubbornly preserved their identity, even when they threw away their Bedouin robes to sit in togas to debate Aristotle and “continue” Plato’s writings, even when they abandoned Hebrew for Greek in their daily lives, and even when they exercised in the gym just as naked as the Greeks—and walked off with the prizes. By the time Philo paid a call on the Emperor Gaius—aka the colorfully murderous, pan-sexual Caligula—to ask him to fire his anti-Jewish Governor Aulus Avilius Flaccus and stop the riots, two of the five quarters of Alexandria, the New York City of the Roman world, were mostly Jewish. Gaius, incidentally, joshed Philo about the weirdness of not eating pork, but did recall A.A. Flaccus, who ran into a sword upon his return—an early case of undue Jewish political influence.

Apion & Co. were unpleasant but not irrational, because the extraordinary success of Alexandria’s Jews certainly had no straightforward explanation. They should have been at the bottom of the queue, not at the top, considering that ambitious and well-educated Greeks were arriving in the city all the time, and that many of the indigenous Egyptians were already very well educated urban folk (the rubbish heaps of just one of their small towns, Oxyrhynchus, have yielded the fragments of many literary scrolls).

There was only one logical explanation for Apion and all anti-Semites ever since: The real reason Jews stayed away from the wide-open temples in which all decent folk publicly gathered to worship the gods with sacrifices, libations, and hymns was to conspire in their secretive and literally godless synagogues to do in the gentiles, conniving and conspiring to defraud them of their just rewards while pretending to mumble incomprehensible prayers in their weird tongue.

The obvious remedy against the perpetually conniving Jews was simply to keep them out—a humanitarian solution actually, for no violence was needed. And for two millennia after the Alexandria riots, countless towns, many cities, and some entire countries did just that.

Moreover, with some risk, it could be enough to keep the Jews out of any desirable trade or profession. That’s how things were done in Rome down the centuries as long as the popes ruled. The only trade allowed to the Jews was to buy, wash, repair, dye, and resell old clothes (a few are still doing it—some years ago I saw two lovely Jewish girls selling redyed shirts off a market stall in Campo dei Fiori). That way, the Roman Jews never provoked envy and resentment, and in return were spared the periodic mob attacks and expulsions that occurred in almost every other European city that had any Jews at all.

The humane Roman solution has been practiced very widely with much success in very many places, including most of corporate America, at least until very recently. Henry Ford’s strident anti-Jewish ranting was his personal eccentricity and very far from typical, but Jews were no more likely to be allowed to rise in GM or any other automobile company, or indeed in any industrial company, or any bank or insurance company in America. It was not that long ago that most Wall Street firms and law partnerships strictly excluded Jews altogether (when reparations start, after the next election or the one after that, Jewish lost-income claims over several generations should come to a tidy sum—even if much less than the slavery claims, of course).

Exclusion from the most desirable careers was certainly frustrating for the individuals involved, but it did serve to contain anti-Semitism in the United States until the 1980s at least, by limiting gentile envy and resentment. It was bad enough that the Jews could not be kept out of a spectacularly unfair share of all Nobel prizes won by Americans (or Russians, or the French, or the German-born)—just think what that meant for aspiring young gentile scientists who would know from the start that the odds of making it to the Stockholm gala prize night were so badly skewed against them. Nor was there a remedy for Jewish ascendancy in Hollywood—poor old Marlon Brando was savaged for daring to mention it. Mel Gibson’s impunity is actually extremely significant in spite of the triviality of the person, because it is one of the markers of the new post-anti-anti-Semitic age, in which attacking Jews for being Jewish is increasingly acceptable once again. (That nobody asks Indian Americans to denounce Modi, or Turkish Americans to denounce Erdogan, while ritual denunciations of Netanyahu are demanded—and too often obtained—from countless political Jews is quite enough to dispose of the Israel excuse.)

What went wrong? First Wall Street: Instead of the exclusion that worked so well, with “white shoe” gentile bond salesmen running the show in between drinking bouts and ,Jews confined to grubby retail brokerages, there was a wholesale takeover by the financiers who invented new ways of doing business, starting with leveraged buyouts. They were all Jews or near enough, members of “The Lucky Sperm Club” as cited in the PBS News Hour segment on “Jews, M&A and the Unlocking of Corporate America.” As for the hedge-funders and private-equity guys, they too mostly belonged to that same lucky sperm club, along with George Soros—whose vehemently unwanted Jewish identity has never helped a single Jew, but is great stuff for anti-Semites.

Still, the ascendancy of the Wall Street Jews could not have revived anti-Semitism all by itself. High finance has been a Jewish business for a very long time—what with the Rothschilds and all—and even if very offensive, the Jewish takeover could not be shockingly unexpected.

But Silicon Valley really did it. Most Americans can go about their business without knowing who the billionaire Steven A. Cohen is—or who the billionaire Peter A. Cohen is, for that matter—but they cannot ignore Facebook, Google, Oracle, Intel, Dell, Qualcomm, etc., which were all founded or co-founded by Jews (the anti-defamation crowd should erect a monument to the impeccably non-Jewish Jeff Bezos).

That really did it. The Silicon Valley Jews could not but provoke a powerful resurgence of envy and resentment-based anti-Semitism, that very natural human reaction first observed in Alexandria of Egypt. How can it be that 2% of the population have 50% of everything that is really supercalifragilistic-and-expialidocious? One explanation is conspiratorially anti-Semitic and another is literally racist. Both are wrong, of course.

It is Jewish education that makes Jews more competitive. Yes, even that halting Hebrew of the bar mitzvah (Philo himself was much more comfortable in reading the Greek Bible of the Septuagint than the Hebrew original), which nevertheless provides bilingual awareness, and even those few transcendental notions that come from a superficial acquaintance with Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the Passover Seder. It isn’t much. But how else to account for the persistent ascendancy of Soviet Jews in Soviet science long after the suppression of Jewish schools? And of course in post-Soviet days while the scientists left, the oligarchs remained behind, more than half of them Jewish, including the seemingly reliable non-Jewish 6-foot-9-inch Mikhail Prokhorov, who denies any Jewish origins in the nicest possible way, but who is unalterably the son of Tamara, daughter of the heroic and fully Jewish scientist Anna Belkina. Thus even after almost all their Jews left, Russians find themselves with a long list of inexplicably wealthy Jews to lord over them—though of course their predicament is as nothing compared to that of the Ukrainians, who are historically far more anti-Semitic (but for their intellectuals) than the Russians, and yet find themselves with a Jewish president, a Jewish prime minister, and a billionaire Jewish regional governor.

But Apion’s successors need not despair. In America absolutely everything is possible, even a final solution to the 2,000-year-old envy and resentment problem: a very deliberate, very comprehensive, and very stringent avoidance of any Jewish education at all.

One effective safeguard here is for Jews to marry a spouse neither Jewish nor at all interested in anything Judaic—a precaution that is very common all over America, but especially in advanced places like San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Failing that, there is still the remedy of resolutely staying away from Jewish schools: In California as a whole there are certainly more children of Jewish mothers in Chinese-immersion schools than in Jewish schools, which are very few and small.

On a recent flight from Europe, I met a charming woman with three splendid children who complained about the appalling difficulty of finding even minimally adequate schools in San Francisco. When I mentioned the lonely Jewish school that survives in the city, she said that she had in fact visited the place and liked it very much. Unfortunately, her husband flatly refused to expose the children even to a mildly Jewish, oh-so-liberal education. She is an Italian Catholic. He is Jewish. They both kindly invited me to dinner—they would invite friends, make an evening of it. Alas, I cannot overlook the culturocide.

It is obvious how this will all end, because it has all happened before: While the advanced Jews contrive their own extinction (I once met a living relative of the eminent Sir Moses Haim Montefiore—he was a vicar in the Church of England), the less advanced tent-dwellers who remain Jewish will reproduce themselves, and of course their children will achieve enough to evoke envy and resentment …


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Edward N. Luttwak is a contractual strategic consultant for the U.S. government and an author.