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VCU Menorah Review Summer/Fall 2014
Number 81
For the Enrichment of Jewish Thought

When Rhetoric Dominates The Message

A Review essay by Steven Windmueller

The State of the Jews: A Critical Appraisal by Edward Alexander. New Brunswick: Transaction Publications.

Professor Edward Alexander treats us to highly contentious assessment of the state of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric. The second half of the title, “a critical appraisal” indeed well serves this enterprise as the author inserts his insights and more directly, his political message continuously into the body of this work. The more than 25 essays covering such fields as history, politics, and literature are constructed for the most part around distinctive personalities that either are embraced by Professor Alexander or excoriated by him. Among his foremost enemies, the President of the United States, Barack Obama, “the most hostile American president Israel has had to face since its founding in 1948.” But his “enemies list” is indeed long and unforgiving.

Indeed, while this volume is well-researched and extraordinarily well-written, one finds the author taking a particularly wide political swipe attacking in the process liberalism, mainstream Jewish institutions, and Jewish intellectuals. Just as Alexander honors the work of Cynthia Ozick, Ruth Wisse, and Hillel Halkin, he is readily prepared to attack their liberal counter voices. Alexander seems to have limited countenance for liberals or their ideas.

In an interview with FrontPage Magazine in 2006, we are introduced to the full force of Edward Alexander’s views on liberalism:

“A large proportion of Jewish intellectuals, even more than ordinary Jews, have long assumed that Judaism and liberalism are the same thing, or that Judaism follows an arrow-straight course from Sinai to liberal and left politics, in this country to the left wing of the Democratic Party. So long as the existence of the state of Israel seemed to harmonize with liberal ideals, especially in the years after the Holocaust, it could be actively supported or at least tacitly accepted by most Jewish liberals. But the June 1967 war changed all this, and with remarkable speed. For now Jewish intellectuals were required to choose between liberal pieties and defense of the beleaguered Jewish state.”

As one of his reviewers observed, “… he sees through the disguises of their (Jews) enemies with the accuracy of a veteran marksman.” In this context Edward Alexander joins a cadre of political voices who have framed a wall around the State of Israel, seeing all who would offer critiques directed against the Jewish enterprise as enemies of this community, regardless of the nature of their concerns. Indeed, Professor Alexander is correct in identifying those individuals who seek to undermine Israel’s right to exist or equate Israel’s political and military policies as aligned with Nazism as being anti-Semitic and a danger to the Jewish people, but he is simply not prepared to withhold his firepower to these particular critics.

What concerns me about such publications is their degree of certainty as authors like Alexander seem to possess. The rhetoric associated with these this type of writing overshadows the historical and cultural richness that remains embedded in such a volume.

Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at Hebrew Union College, Los Angeles, and a contributing editor.

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