J Street is an organization that describes itself as “pro-Israel” and proclaims itself “devoted and committed to Israel’s future.” Yet, as Edward Alexander observes in an important new book, J Street “misses no opportunities to blacken Israel’s reputation and very few opportunities to encourage campaigns to delegitimize it.”
And J Street is not alone. Similar Jewish organizations, some without J Street’s pretensions to Zionist commitment, have been proliferating in recent years both here and abroad. In the United States, they include, among others, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Jewish Voice for Peace, Jews against the Occupation, Jews for Free Palestine, Jews for Justice in the Middle East, and a multitude of local chapters, offshoots, and branches.
In Jews against Themselves, Alexander takes up the curious and disturbing phenomenon of his volume’s title. A professor emeritus at the University of Washington, Alexander is a distinguished student of American and English literature and an essayist whose erudition is ornamented by a coruscating wit. Among his highly regarded books is The Jewish Idea and Its Enemies (1988), an examination of the various intellectual strands—liberalism, rationalism, relativism—that, emerging from the Enlightenment, have long been in tension with, or in outright opposition to, central tenets of the Jewish tradition.
In Jews against Themselves, Alexander engages in a related project but one that entails turning over a rock. His inquiry examines the disfiguring yet critical subject of Jews who defame their own people. Over the centuries, Alexander writes, there has been “fruitful interaction” between Jewish apostates and the world’s anti-Semites, making for a distinctive Jewish contribution to “the politics and ideology of anti-Semitism” itself.
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