March 26, 2019

The End of American Philo-Semitism?

“Like most places, America has always had potent strains of anti-Semitism — crude and polished, K.K.K. and country club. But unlike many places, we have always had important strains of philo-Semitism as well; there is a long American tradition, with both Protestant and Enlightenment roots, of really liking Judaism and the Jews.

And so the story of the Jews in post-World War II America is the story, not just of anti-Semitism’s marginalization, but of philo-Semitism’s triumph. Jewish Americans weren’t just integrated, like other ethnic and religious groups. They also attracted a particular sympathy and admiration, rooted in Holocaust remembrance, affection for Israel, and a distinctive pride in the scope of their success.

For American philo-Semites, the Jewish experience wasn’t just one minority experience among many, but a signal and elevated case. The outsize success of Jewish intellectuals and scientists and artists and businessmen and activists was an especially good thing, a unique proof of American exceptionalism — because ours was the one country where a people so long persecuted could not only survive but triumph. And attacks on Jewish success and influence, like attacks on the state of Israel, were treated as particularly dangerous, particularly un-American, because they threatened to undo this great achievement, and return the Jews to their historic state of constant threat and peril.”

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