Jewish Entitlement, Jewish Populism Dominate Aspen Ideas Festival 2016

By Philip Weiss | 7 July 2016

MONDOWEISS — Last week’s Aspen Ideas Festival often seemed like a rightwing Jewish event. Accounts of the high-altitude leadership conclave included a lot of obnoxiously-chauvinist Jewish comments, notably this one from Leon Wieseltier, a contributing editor of the Atlantic (as reported by Jewish Insider at a gathering at the Aspen Chabad Jewish Community Center):

“If Merrick Garland is appointed to the Supreme Court, there will be four Jews on it. Eventually, there won’t be any goyim.” (laughter)

Anti-goyim-ism is par for the course. Though just think how people would respond if a non-Jewish public figure cracked, “there won’t be any Jews.”

The appearance of Secretary of State John Kerry at the festival was especially revealing (video and transcript). Watch his entourage as he walked into the tent. Power-journalist Jeffrey Goldberg officiously shepherded Kerry into the Festival, introducing him to a friend; then Walter Isaacson had a conversation with Kerry and made sure to give Goldberg the first question, which was more of a speech aimed at circumscribing US policy re Iran. Goldberg:

I’m not understanding the thought process that goes into the possible approval of the Boeing deal given what you think about Iran’s role in terrorism…

Other questions came from John Dickerson, Jane Harman and Richard Haass. So three of four questions to the secretary of state came from strong supporters of Israel.

David Brooks was there, the neoconservative NYT columnist who is gooey-eyed about Israel. So was Penny Pritzker, a liberal Zionist who served as an ambassador to the pro-Israel community for Barack Obama. While this report on the festival at Jewish Insider emphasized the number of undying neoconservatives:

The Paul E. Singer Foundation and Start-Up Nation Central hosted an evening reception and panel discussion on the sidelines of the Ideas Festival… Dan Senor moderated the discussion titled “The opportunity of life-changing innovation & the challenge of today’s populist politics.” Featured panelists included host of CBS’ Face the Nation John Dickerson, former CIA Director David Petraeus, Founder & President of Elliott Management Paul Singer, and CEO of Start-Up Nation Central Eugene Kandel — dubbed ‘Israel’s Larry Summers’ by Dan Senor….

[Dickerson said:] “I would argue the edginess [in this year’s election] has gone unaddressed for so many cycles, and people believe that their elections could be the vehicle to address their edginess, and they constantly kept getting disappointing results. So if you go through the drive-thru and ask for a ham sandwich and they hand you a cup of coffee, you’re irritated. They keep going through the drive-thru and they keep getting coffee.” Senor: “Especially irritating since for most people in this audience they’re Jewish.”

Jeffrey Goldberg made a circumcision joke; and there was this shtik about Jews in journalism:

Jeffrey Goldberg: “Oh, there are Jews in journalism?” David Rothkopf: “Yes, it’s the matzah ceiling, we’ve broken through.”

Rothkopf is editor of Foreign Policy, and his joke trivializes the role of American Jews in the establishment. We’re like the WASPs were in the establishment in the 1960s, except then there was more of a frank acknowledgment of the role– the best and the brightest, the Protestant Establishment, the Episcopacy, etc. This time round there’s a lot of evasion, because acknowledging the Jewish role, people think, could precipitate another Holocaust. Or at least get more people to label Jewish media figures on twitter, out of some impulse of resentment, rage, or criticism of the Jewish presence. Or maybe just irritation at Wieseltier and Rothkopf’s jokes.

It has always been my contention that honesty about the Jewish role in the establishment is not going to spark another Holocaust: because history doesn’t repeat itself, because people already know about that presence, and because Americans have a right to discuss the sociological character of elites, especially if those elites are influencing Middle East policy, as Jeffrey Goldberg, Paul Singer, Jane Harman, Penny Pritzker, David Brooks and Richard Haass are. David Rothkopf has pooh-poohed the role of the Israel lobby and doesn’t publish anti-Zionist writers at Foreign Policy; which is intellectual cowardice, because Rothkopf understands that Zionism is an anachronism, but is surely afraid of losing funding if he pushes such views. Emily Bazelon spoke at the conference; the Yale scholar who has admitted that she has a “Zionist core” only consults Jews on foreign policy questions, notably her friend Jeffrey Goldberg, justified the last Gaza slaughter, and says that Palestinians are by nature violent and vengeful. At Aspen, she appeared with Slate editor David Plotz, who has lamented the absence of a nonviolent Palestinian movement, thereby ignoring the brave weekly protests and the boycott campaign, even as he has looked the other way inside the occupation. What an entitled collection!

At Aspen, Bazelon spoke at a panel on political trends, and disparaged US populism as demagogues making false promises to resentful masses. She did similar work lately in the New York Times Magazine, saying that Sanders was undermining trust in the U.S. system by calling it rigged with no ability to do anything about it.

I understand the Jewish tradition of being wary of populists. This is because Jews have, like it or not, been linked to western elites in the last 150 years; and populist resentment of those elites fed anti-Semitism and helped to create the Jewish question in Europe. The elite role became part of the Jewish condition: Jews led many modern professional trends in the 19th century, from banking to journalism to real estate to medicine, and that rise carried us out of the ghetto and fostered resentment, too. Today in America, wealthy Jews constitute an elite that is essential to Democratic Party/blue state fundraising: the Jewish role in political giving is “gigantic” and “shocking,” say these liberal experts.

That philanthropy underpins the Jewish presence at the Aspen Ideas Festival and the power of the Israel lobby. Paul Singer the Aspen godfather funds gay causes and neoconservatives. Goldberg, the most important journalist on foreign policy questions in our country, served in the Israeli army and has maintained his career despite the false claims he published that paved the way for the Iraq War. David Brooks’s son also served in the Israeli army. The fact that there were no out anti-Zionists at the Aspen festival speaks to the fact that Israel is utterly dependent on an American Jewish elite that excommunicates critics of Israel.

Many Jews don’t care for elitism. Jewish history in the last 150 years reflects a struggle with that condition. The Jewish affinities toward socialism and Zionism were efforts to defuse elitism and the resentment it fostered. Theodor Herzl warned European leaders that Jews were forming a disaffected intellectual proletariat hanging around the stock markets in Vienna and Budapest, and they could foment revolution; and so he organized Jewish bankers to try and buy off European leaders for a chunk of Palestine for the Jews to emigrate to. Arthur Koestler, the Zionist intellectual, said that Jews were a “sick” race in Europe because they had lost a connection to the land. Call him self-hating, but one admirable thing Israel has done is create a Jewish working class: Jewish masons and electricians and bus drivers. No American Jewish family raises their child to aspire to be in the trades.

Bernie Sanders is in that other tradition of Jewish responses to elitism: socialism. His populist campaign was built on ideals of human equality and the dignity of the working class. Ethnocentric Jews tried to say that he was not a real Jew; and there was no room for his ideals at the Aspen Ideas Festival. There populism is derided as a false promise. And there is not a word of criticism of the Israel lobby.

Dismissing populism as ignorance is both incurious and dangerous. Using power and money to influence foreign policy is dangerous. Many Americans and Palestinians are justly resentful. Reread Wieseltier’s comments on the goyim. He invites anti-Semitism, because it fulfills his understanding of how the world works.

More thoughtful Jews need to wrest the Jewish future away from the Aspen Ideas Festival, and remedy elitism with humility. That means cutting down the power of the lobby, and allowing Americans to wake to the persecution of Palestinians.

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