Book Review: 'Why Are Jews Liberals?' by Norman Podhoretz

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Sunday, September 6, 2009


By Norman Podhoretz

Doubleday. 337 pp. $27

Launching an ideological artillery shell sure to spoil innumerable Passover seders, former Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz juxtaposes political autobiography with a history of anti-Semitism to pose a controversial question: Why are Jews liberals? "Liberalism has become the religion of American Jews," he writes, "even though it conflicts in substance with the Torah . . . [and] the most basic of all Jewish interests -- the survival of the Jewish people."

A Jewish neoconservative who has taken up his pen to battle communism, McGovernism, affirmative action and terrorism, Podhoretz ably explains why Jews seeking respect and equality embraced Enlightenment philosophy, Marxism and FDR's New Deal, even when those institutions demanded that they "justify the space they take up on this earth." But, like so many other authors on the right and left, Podhoretz stumbles when equating Judaism -- a millennia-old, multi-faceted religion and culture -- with the cause of Israel, a secular state created by U.N. fiat in 1948. "Anti-Semitism was now disguising itself as anti-Zionism," he complains, dismissing worthwhile debate about the Arab-Israeli conflict while wondering why Jews can't reconcile with pro-Israel evangelical Christians and why Jews overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama ("the stealth candidate . . . for the anti-Israel Left"). According to Podhoretz, "we Jews have an obligation to join with the defenders of [America]" -- i.e., Republicans -- "against those who are blind or indifferent or antagonistic." A better question than the one asked by his book's title: How can Norman Podhoretz pretend to speak for every Jew?

-- Justin Moyer

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