Nature or Nurture? Well, Smart Guy?
The forum at the usually sober American Enterprise Institute yesterday started off with a bit of Borscht Belt humor. AEI adjunct fellow Jon Entine displayed a cartoon of a tablet-carrying Moses looking incredulously toward the heavens.
"Now, let me get this straight," the bearded figure says. "The Arabs get the oil, and we have to cut off the ends of our what?"
Don't get it? Must be your goyishe kop. For two hours yesterday, two AEI scholars and a visiting bioethicist kibbitzed about a pressing cause: Why Jews are so doggone smart.
Entine, author of the new book "Abraham's Children: Race, Identity and the DNA of the Chosen People," argued that genetic mutations gave Jews very high IQs. "If you had one of these mutations" -- such as those that cause Tay-Sachs disease -- "it probably could cause high intelligence," he asserted.
Fellow AEI fellow Charles Murray suggested that the rigors of Talmudic study drove out the dull Jews centuries ago. "If you were dumb and a Jew," said the philo-Semitic Murray, "it was a lot easier to be a Christian." Murray, best known for his incendiary book about race and intelligence, "The Bell Curve," explored Jewish smarts in an April article in Commentary titled "Jewish Genius."
Brought in to rebut the two scholars, Laurie Zoloth of Northwestern University floated an alternative notion: that "Jews are smart because we value learning."
Left unchallenged was the question of whether Jews are indeed smarter than others -- even though it would have only required a walk down the hall to the office of new AEI visiting fellow Paul Wolfowitz, whose leadership on the Iraq war and conflicts of interest as head of the World Bank demonstrate that Jews are capable of questionable judgment.
Of more concern: whether Jews should brag about their big brains, even if studies show them to have high intelligence. "You've got to talk about these things carefully," said Murray, who learned the hard way. "Only an Iowan raised as a Presbyterian could get away with talking about Jewish IQ the way I can because Jews get so embarrassed about Jewish IQ: 'We know we're smart but don't tell anyone else.' " By coincidence, the AEI forum came on a day that was rather good for Jews in Washington.
At the Czech Embassy, leaders of the Jewish advocacy group B'nai B'rith were feted by the Czech ambassador after a day of discussions on such topics as "Democratic and Republican Stances on Current Jewish Issues."
Over at the Heritage Foundation, the think tank devoted an hour-long forum to Abe Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, to discuss his new book. Rebutting what he called an anti-Semitic tract by two academics, Foxman argued that Jews do not control American foreign policy.
It would have been harder to deny the claim that Jews controlled the AEI conference room yesterday.
"The book is not only good for the Jews, it's good for all of us," moderator Sally Satel said as she introduced Entine.