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A Connecticut Jew in King Albert's court

Posted By Richard Grenier On 08/14/2000 @ 1:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled

Americans think they have done a very daring thing — perhaps even
attaining leadership of Western Civilization — by nominating Sen.
Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, a practicing Jew, as Democratic
candidate for vice president of the United States. This would indeed be
a historic development if Britain and France had not already had Jewish
prime ministers and presidents, and if even Spain, to celebrate
Columbus’ discovery of America, had not at last officially rescinded its
expulsion of the Jews.

Many Americans do not seem aware that Europe, from the Middle Ages
on, was wracked by religious wars from which our settlers were often
refugees, and that their relatives left behind in Europe maintained a
state of mutual hostility. In England, when divided into cavaliers
(royalists) and roundheads (Oliver Cromwell’s people), the government
sharply divided the two camps, and it was only Cromwell and his Puritans
who, out of reverence for the Old Testament, allowed Jews back into the
country for the first time. During what European history books still
call “The Wars of Religion,” Catholic and Protestant fought wherever
they met.

Furious battles were also fought in the Mediterranean in resistance
to the Turks, and in northern Europe in resistance to the Norse. But
after the French and Indian Wars, and following in America the War of
1812 and the intrusions of Napoleon, northern Europe and America knew
many decades of peace.

In Britain, Disraeli, a Jew of Spanish descent (received into the
Church of England), dominated foreign policy for years. (Queen Victoria
affectionately called him Prime Minister “Dizzy.”) In France, under the
Third, Fourth and Fifth Republics, the country had a positive stream of
Jewish prime ministers. Leon Blum, a socialist premier during the
popular front in the 1930s (whose love of freedom was so great that he
wrote a book entitled “De l’Amour” strongly advising women to begin
having sexual intercourse before marriage). He was followed as Premier
by Rene Mayer (a cousin of the Rothschilds), Pierre Mendes-France (what
the French call a Juif du Pape, “A Pope’s Jew,” meaning that his
family received its status as Frenchmen in the Middle Ages) and Michel
Debre (de Gaulle’s most celebrated premier in his period and, although
he didn’t practice his family’s religion, was the son of France’s
leading rabbi.) That makes four Jewish prime ministers of France in 25
years.

Gen. de Gaulle, after Israel had defeated an Arab invasion in 1967,
gave his personal opinion of Jews, interjecting in the middle of a major
speech that Jews were “an elite people, sure of themselves,
domineering.” Although this was more flattering than the Nazi’s view of
the Jews as “untermenschen,” it set off a terrific ruckus in France.
(And de Gaulle’s friends, with some embarrassment, recalled that their
leader’s formative years had been before World War I.) But after this
slip, de Gaulle never described Jews as different from anyone else.

When France regained its prosperity in the post-war period, however,
a fierce French xenophobia was reborn, leveled this time against the
country’s most recent immigrants, mainly Algerians and people from
France’s former colonies (by now some 10 percent of the French
population). This French xenophobia is usually invisible to tourists
whose visits to France are confined to the Arch of Triumph and the
Eiffel Tower.

The reaction of American Jews specifically to Mr. Lieberman’s sudden
prominence is more complex than might be thought. Norman Podhoretz, in a
lead editorial in the Wall Street Journal, viewed the event as a sign
that the Jews had at last arrived in American society. This is
accompanied by a traditional Jewish fear that too great a Jewish
visibility provokes anti-Semitism, a fear that led the New York Post to
react to Lieberman’s victory with an oy veh! (Yiddish for “oh,
woe!”). “To someone like me,” wrote Podhoretz, the victory “was bound to
come primarily as a vindication of long-held convictions about this
country and the place of Jews in it.”

“I am among those,” he continues, “who believe that we Jews have
found a truer home in America than in any other country of the Diaspora
in which the Jewish people have lived for the past 2,000 years.
Furthermore, I have long seen as one significant proof of this belief
the large number of Jews who have been elected to office at every level
of the U.S. government, and also the commensurately large number who
have been nominated by presidents to the highest appointive positions.”

In the political realm at least, being Jewish in America ceased being
a serious disability nearly a century ago. All that has been lacking has
been the pinnacle of pinnacles, which now, at last, come into sight.


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