By Barry Rubin
It’s always fascinating to find historical parallels to contemporary events. When one discovers an obscure gem of this type, cutting the stone to let it reflect the light of truth is irresistible.
For well over a century, the Jewish people have been beset by an eleventh plague inside their own house: extreme left-wing intellectuals who urge they throw away their own interests, concerns, and even lives for the supposed higher ones of humanity or the chimera of being morally perfect.
According to this view, their supposed true interests lie in bringing about utopia for everyone, paved by abandoning their ownaspirations, dissolving their identity while other groups are encouraged to do the opposite.
While I admire Bertram Wolfe for things he did in later life, he spent thirty earlier years campaigning for Communism. During that period he produced one of the greatest examples in this genre of left-wing calls for Jewish suicide. On April 6, 1939, Wolfe made a speech to the Keep America Out of War Congress, opposing U.S. involvement in the looming war in Europe against the Nazis, the worst persecutor of the Jewish people (so far) in modern times.
Wolfe was then an exemplar of what has become known recently by the name, “As-a-Jew.” That is, those who never identify as a member of the Jewish people or religion except when bashing some aspect of it, usually in our era, Israel. So they start their rant by saying, “Äs a Jew…” I oppose this or that thing. (With the implied meaning: Aren’t I a great and noble person!)
In this tradition, Wolfe’s speech ordered Jews to sacrifice themselves for a left-wing cause based on a distorted left-wing view of reality:
“The element that makes the war party [who want to fight Nazi Germany] so much larger in New York than elsewhere in this country, [are] those whose anguish blinds their visions as each day their spirits are bruised and shocked afresh by the daily budget of news of Jewish persecutions throughout the world. Profiting by their anguish which amounts to hysteria, there are those who would sell them the coming war as a war against antisemitism. And this is the more dangerous delusion because the growth of militarism and reaction in this country is bringing with it the growth of antisemitism.”
In those days, “New York” was a code word, often used by antisemites, for Jews. True, he expresses sympathy to gain credibility but only uses it to warn that the worst thing Jews could do was to advocate a war against Hitler.
Why? The left always portrays the true threat to Jews in America as being from the right-wing. Of course, historically there was real truth in it–Charles Lindbergh made a similar antisemitic speech at the time–and of course it was quite true in Europe at the time. Still, everyone remembers that the conservative British prime minister Nevil Chamberlain practiced appeasement; nobody remembers that the Labour Party voted against Chamberlain’s last-minute reversal of that policy to rearm Britain’s army.
The threat to the east came from fascism, but the danger in the West came from not fighting fascism. You are free to make a modern-day parallel to that sentence.
Those conservatives in America–as well as the more numerous liberals doing so–advocating the United States ally with Britain and France to fight Nazi Germany weren’t antisemitic. On the contrary, the isolationists were antisemites. And those antisemites on the extreme isolationist right held precisely the same view as Wolfe and the Communists or pacifists on the left. Both extremes were enemies of the Jews, not just one. And you are also free to make a modern-day parallel to that paragraph.
Why were Wolfe and his comrades against American involvement in war? Not because they were pacifists or defenders of the poor and downtrodden but because they were following the interests of the Soviet Union, interests which in a few weeks would lead that country to ally with Hitler and seize the Baltic states and eastern Poland. Indeed, that very Soviet state so idealized by all too many Jewish intellectuals was systematically destroying the Jewish religion and culture while killing Jews in numbers far exceeded in modern times only by the Nazis and their loyal allies.
To summarize, Wolfe, in line with the current Communist political line, was warning Jews not to support war against Nazi Germany claiming that such a war would be against Jewish interests and stir up antisemitism in the United States. He and his comrades advocated standing by and watching while the Nazis conquered most of the world and murdered all of the Jews there. When they changed their line, in June 1941, it was only because Germany attacked their Soviet idol, not out of concern for the Jews of Europe or the defense of democracy.
Wolfe concluded his argument by saying:
“There is no way of putting an end to your endless torture except by putting an end to militarism, reaction, war, and capitalist imperialism which begets them all.”
Of course, as even Wolfe himself was to realize a few months later, the USSR and its allies were equal or indeed bigger agents of militarism, war, and dictatorship.
But today the idea that Jews should throw away having a country achieved after two millennia of suffering in exchange for the alleged pie-in-the-sky utopia still lives on. The enemies of this aspiration today in the United States is represented by a small, relatively isolated segment of the isolationist right–exemplified by my old neighbor Patrick Buchanan and by Ron Paul–and a large, powerful far left, much of which is currently pretending to be liberal.
Ironically, the left’s argument for the Third World is the same as that used by radical Arab nationalists, Islamists, and assorted demagogic dictators to subordinate their people to ideological distractions. They tell their masses to fight, sacrifice, shed their blood, and postpone their material progress until the Jewish and Western enemy is wiped out or chased out.
This claim that victory must precede progress is the bane of the Middle East today. All of these ideologies also use fomenting hatred and externalizing blame to conceal their long record of failure.
Back to Wolfe, At the end of his speech came another threat:
“Take care, I beg you, lest…those who desire to keep this country out of war should get the idea that you are working to put America into it.” In other words, shut up or you will be blamed for wanting to get the United States in war with Germany against its own interests and then the pogroms in America will begin.
What delightful parallels to today when Jews are blamed by some mainly on the American left for the war in Iraq and for wanting to get America into war with Iran. How quickly the left resorts to using antisemitism as a whip to keep Jews in their place and blame them for international problems.
This intimidation does work to a considerable extent, though the scapegoating is less effective in Ameria. Many Jews–especially in Europe but also in America–are frightened into silence lest opposition hurt their careers, reputation, or be used to smear them as right-wing or bigots. College students have been frightened into passivity. Intellectuals want to prove themselves to be fair, cosmopolitan, and untainted by “primitive tribal” impulses. Yet just as our ancestors would have been fools to keep silent about the Nazi or Communist threats and need to combat them—and were proven right to the American people for doing so—there are equivalent tasks for today.
Oh, when asked in 1946 whether he considered himself to be Jewish, Wolfe replied:
“Because Jews are so persecuted today I would gladly proclaim myself a Jew if that would help this persecuted people in the slightest. But, by the same token, I should gladly proclaim myself a Negro, if that would be of use to Negroes, a Chinaman or a Korean or a Pole or member of the defeated German people if that would help them…. “
Yes, but who else but a Jewish intellectual would have lived the life Wolfe lived or made such statements as he had in 1939 and 1946? How could he reconcile this claim with his behavior a few years earlier?
There is also something very sinister behind these cliches despite their surface nobility: the substitution of oneself for others. For if one is going to “proclaim” oneself to be of these groups then one is also defining them, telling them how they ought to think and behave, thus taking away their freedom to do so themselves.
And who but a left-wing and particularly Jewish intellectual would have the nerve to say in 1948, forgetting his own responsibility for the events he is discussing:
“I saw peace-lovers make the same mistake with Hitler that you are now making with Stalin, to hush 6,000,000 cremated Jews, a spead of war made inevitable instead of conceivably avoidable.”
So just who was it that made such a mistake in 1939? Answer: Those like Wolfe on the Communist left (as well as the extreme right) who warned–in contrast to most democratic socialists, liberals, and conservatives–that anything was better than opposing Germany’s ambitions and system?
We’re working today to ensure that the political heirs of such thinking don’t get the chance a decade from today to ridicule–without admitting it was their fault–mistakes that cost millions of lives and added to the misery of even more.