With his publication of his landmark history, “Abandonment of the Jews, America and the Holocaust 1941-45,” in 1984, David Wyman wrote about how the United States, our allies, and our so-called friends abandoned the Jews to their fate, largely assigning it as a casualty of war. This work followed on the heels of Dr. Wyman’s earlier study, “Paper Walls: America and the Refugee Crisis 1938-1941,” where he showed how almost no country in the world would accept Jewish refugees, even after Hitler’s barbarism towards the Jews was on full display. And with few exceptions, newspapers buried stories of the mass murder of Jews deep into its inside pages.
The feeling of abandonment was survivors’ major lamentation. My father’s parents owned a store that provided household goods and groceries to neighboring Polish farmers, extending credit to them backed by the yield of their crops. My father’s family was not only abandoned but betrayed by those farmers’ indifference.
In his unsanitized Yiddish version of “Night,” Elie Wiesel wrote: “All the residents stood at the entrances of their homes, with faces filled with happiness at the misfortune they saw in their friends of yesterday walking and disappearing into the horizon — not for a day or two but forever. Here I learned the true face of the Hungarian.”
Or from another survivor: “All of our so-called friends were standing on the sidelines shouting…’We don’t need any Jews in our town. We need to get rid of all you Jews.’
“And I stood, and I was speechless. The people I went to school with their children. We were friends. We were sharing things together. Why were they so hostile? Why did they hate us all of a sudden?”
These expressions of abandonment uttered two generations ago resonate with us as we feel abandoned by our former so-called allies.
The first lady of Israel, Michal Herzog, expressed her sense of abandonment when none of the major international human rights organizations unequivocally condemned Hamas for its brutal slaughter and rape of Israeli women. “The silence of international human rights organizations and the unwillingness to believe Israeli women in the face of overwhelming evidence has been devastating,” she wrote.
Jews have been disproportionately in the forefront of the social justice movement, combatting racism in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder and fighting for gay rights, gender equality, abortion rights, and other aspects of the so-called progressive agenda. But our original sin is our support of Israel and hatred of the genocidal Hamas and its Islamic jihadists.
We are the casualties of intersectionality, because the worldview of the ultra-progressives is binary. Either you’re with us on all aspects of our ideology or you’re against us. And support of Israel is anathema. This zero-sum game doesn’t apply to Hamas or its fellow radical Islamists, although in their ideal world homosexuals are executed, women are treated as inferiors, and human life is seen as cannon-fodder.
How did we get to this point?
As a response to the prejudice on display in the musical “South Pacific,” the lyricist Oscar Hammerstein wrote “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.” Hatred is not inborn but must be cultivated. And now we are reaping the whirlwind of decades of indoctrination on college campuses.
During the 1960s, the Marxist doctrine of the class struggle between capitalists and the proletariat was replaced by an emphasis on the struggle between races. Franz Fanon, a French Marxist political theoretician, wrote his magnum opus, “The Wretched of the Earth,” at the height of the war between Algeria and France. He categorized the world as a struggle between the colonizers — the West, and white people — and the colonized — people of color. He called for decolonization, the violent removal of the colonizers.
This fit in nicely with the anti-Vietnam War movement, which called for the withdrawal of American colonizers from Vietnam. While we recognize today that our intervention in Vietnam in what was an unwinnable civil war was disastrous, the binary paradigm of race took hold among the students of the 1960s and 1970s, and those young people became university faculty and administrators. Reinforced by critical race theory, which sees everything through the lens of race, and the DEI industry, most of whose professionals are anti-Israel, according to a recent Heritage Soviet study, you have the ingredients for campus hostility against Jewish students, who represent white oppression and the colonialist Jewish state.
Too many of us have been deluded into thinking that we can assimilate our progressive agenda with our core value of support for a Jewish state, despite our view of a particular government. So tikkun olam became our Torah to underpin our Jewish identity, while the ultra-progressives attacked us as white oppressors and supporters of a genocidal nation.
We face a complex and generational challenge of differentiating between our genuine allies and counterfeit ones. We need to develop strategies that leverage our political, economic, legal, and philanthropic dollars to mitigate the rabid antisemitism confronting ourselves and our youth.
But we cannot afford to be abandoned again. We must choose our friends wisely and get better at identifing our adversaries.
Max Kleinman of Fairfield was the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest from 1995 to 2014. He is the president of the Fifth Commandment Foundation and consultant for the Jewish Community Legacy Project.