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Where have all the Jewish foxes gone?

Malachi writes:

Max Hastings writes in yesterday’s Guardian about the two types of Jews – the good Jews (us in the Diaspora) and the bad Jews (the Israeli ones) and he has it on the authority of his good friend David Goldberg.

Now how about this quote from Hasting’s piece, where he in turn quotes Goldberg:

‘If we were talking about Christians here, it might be called a parable. Goldberg believes that Israel has allowed military prowess to blind it to wisdom: “the Jewish fox knows many things, the Jewish hedgehog only one big thing”. Or you may prefer a Talmudic saying: “better a live dog than a dead lion”.

Goldberg defines the virtues of diaspora Jews, “adapting to novel circumstances and responding to changing times”, in terms that would rouse the contempt of many Israelis. “Two thousand years of powerlessness have honed the antennae to detect where self-interest lies, what is on or not on … The experience … of learning to live circumspectly among more numerous and powerful neighbours is a surer guarantee of survival than the triumphalist illusions of a mere 50-odd years of statehood.”‘

Most historians estimate that there were millions of Jews at the time of the Jewish revolts against the Romans at the beginning of the first millennium; some put the figure as high as 8 million. 2,000 years later we have a global Jewish population of about 16 million. To put it in perspective the British population was estimated at the time of the revolts to be about 3 million. It is now in excess of 60 million.

So where have all the Jewish foxes gone?

Well the following may have had something to do with it:

– the Hadrian persecutions,
– the Zoroastrian persecutions,
– the massacre of the Jews of Granada,
– the Rhineland massacres of the Jews
– the massacres by the Crusades beyond the Rhine,
– the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions,
– the persecutions in York, Lincoln, Norwich, Old Jewry and Gravesend,
– the expulsions from England, Spain and Portugal,
– the Chielmnicki massacres,
– the Italian and other European ghettos built to control the Jewish population,
– the pogroms,
– the White Russian campaign,
– the Nazis, Vichy and the other collaborators across Europe,
– the Stalinist purges and the gulag and the Soviet oppression.

Yes, granted: many Jews assimilated or converted first to Hellenism, then Christianity and then Islam and finally to that strand of Marxism that is in substance a quasi religion, frequently at the point of a sword or with the threat of the auto da fe – but still in 2,000 years for a population to grow by 100% and barely that?

In some respects of course Jewish survival in any number is a miracle to be celebrated by us few remaining foxes, just as the remnants of other great civilisations, like the Parsees, celebrate their survival, but like other cunning itinerants and scavengers ( I’m struggling to think how such connotations can be avoided once the metaphor of the fox is employed) we carry a terrible historical burden of persecution, starvation and death and a distant memory of a glorious past. And of course like the fox we have always been jolly good sport to hunt. Being admired for our cunning is poor consolation.

Is it really tasteful or proper for Hastings to celebrate our foxiness?

No one knows which of a return to Zion or polycentrism or a mix of the two is more likely to ensure the continued survival of the Jews as an identifiable group – and frankly I wouldn’t turn to Hastings or Goldberg for a prescription as to what path to follow.

As for foxes versus lions, actually in truth the issue is not what type of animal we should be. If you are dead, it makes little difference that you were once a lion or a fox. Anti-Semitism is not caused by Jews any more than wildlife is the cause of the hunt. And conversely, as Goldberg demonstrates, generalising and stereotyping is not the preserve of racists and anti-Semites.

Finally one fact that screams louder than all the wishful thinking produced by Hastings and Goldberg on the supposed draining support of Diaspora Jews for Israel – over 50% of British Jewish 16 year olds will go on Israel camp this year. This is not to say that the majority of British Jews support Israel uncritically but that most Jews, knowing their diaspora history and with multiple personal and collective bonds with Israel are mature enough to sustain a close and supportive but complex, critical and nuanced relationship with Israel.