History Lesson: Bennett In Pittsburgh

Within hours of the attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Naftali Bennett, Israel’s education minister—and also, since 2013, its self-styled minister of diaspora affairs—announced that he would travel there to meet with the local Jewish community and to participate in the funerals of those killed. “When Jews are murdered in Pittsburgh, the people of Israel feel pain,” Bennett said, adding, cryptically, “Jewish blood is not free.” His office said that Bennett, who is also the head of the rightist Jewish Home Party, would be arriving with psychological “resilience” teams from the Israeli Trauma Coalition, which is devoted to community rehabilitation in times of terror. Israelis, apparently, know about dark things that American Jews do not.

Bennett was no doubt sincere in his empathy and his outrage. But Bennett—the public figure, not the designated mourner—personifies one side, the most strident side, of a repressed debate between American Jews and Israelis that the Pittsburgh murders must inevitably surface. What causes anti-Semitism, and can American liberalism—can any liberalism—work against it? On Sunday evening, addressing an interfaith community gathering of more than two thousand people in Pittsburgh, Bennett, not without tact, but not without an agenda, weighed in on this question. “Nearly eighty years since Kristallnacht, when the Jews of Europe perished in the flames of their houses of worship, one thing is clear: anti-Semitism, Jew-hating, is not a distant memory,” he said. It is not just a piece of history but a clear and present danger, Bennett added, connecting more dots. “From Sderot, in Israel, to Pittsburgh, in Pennsylvania, the hand that fires missiles is the same hand that shoots worshippers. We will fight against the hatred of Jews and anti-Semitism wherever it raises its head, and we will prevail.”

Even for people hearing Bennett for the first time, the meaning of “prevail” seemed clear enough: attacks on Jews are a distinctive historical pathology; Europeans, Palestinians, white supremacists—anyone—could be expected to join in. That’s because the Jewish people, united by a traditional worship reflecting divine promise and election, are a “people that dwells alone,” a prophetic curse that, traditionally, is counted as a blessing. Jews are thus an immanent nation drawn together by unique threats. Western liberalism, for its part, is a false promise: scratch a gentile and you will find a Jew-hater. For Bennett, the solution is theocratic Zionism—the orthodoxy galvanizing the nation, the Zionism projecting state power. Modern Jews have the novel opportunity of accepting what makes them separate and mobilizing behind the military power that makes them feared. Bennett’s knowledge of the price to be paid for “Jewish blood” was not a reference to the cost of counselling.

Read on at The New Yorker