Rethinking the Jewish Condition: Five Scenarios that are Impacting the Course of Jewish History

by Steven Windmueller, Ph.D.

A new paradigm is emerging related to the status and image of Jews in the world. These five categorizations are by necessity redefining the “condition” and position of the Jewish people. The ideas introduced below are extracted from material that is a part of my forthcoming book, “The Quest for Power: An Introduction to Jewish Political Thought and Practice.”

  1. Israel as the last Western Nation-State: At a time of growing global and regional engagement, Israel would represent the final embodiment of nationalism. Israel’s creation following the Second World War would occur at the same moment when the nations of the Western world, primarily the European states, would begin to disassemble their own individual identities in favor of creating regional political structures and models of economic integration. This shift from advancing national consciousness to promoting “common markets” and “regional political integration” would fundamentally alter the mindset of the European world. Nationalism, and more definitively, Zionism, would now be defined as exclusionary, territorialist, and racist. Employing this definition, the Zionist “entity” would be accordingly identified, especially by its opponents, as possessing all of the “problematic” characteristics of the old European system.
  2. A New Jewish Scenario: Jewish history for 2000 years had been tied to Christianity and simultaneously to Western culture and politics. Over these centuries, Jews would contend with Church politics and prejudices, just as they had to absorb the abuse of European authoritarian political systems. Yet, at this moment in time, the story of Jewish destiny will no longer be tied to this particular scenario, as both these key “church” and “state” players are in transition. Now, the destiny of Jews will be bound up with the rise of Islam and the emergence of new economic and political centers of influence across Asia, the Americas and Africa. This transformative religious, geographical, and political shift is creating new challenges for the Jewish people in negotiating their place within a changing international culture.
  3. Technology and Social Media as the New Format for Political Expression: As the patterns of human interaction shift, the web has clearly become the new centerpiece of communication. In this context, one can find an array of messages concerning the status and well-being of the Jewish people. The level of anti-Jewish rhetoric splattered across the internet must be seen as alarming. The web provides instant and universal access points for delivering such messages. A virtual global platform for promoting the politics of hate has been constructed. This new reality has profound implications for the security and welfare of Jews, just as it stands to marginalize and malign the Jewish State.
  4. Once seen as a people without political access, Jews hold a fundamentally different place today in the power matrix. In this current paradigm Jews are described by some as the “new WASPS” (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants), as they are depicted as influential and powerful, having access to political elites, shaping social ideas and promoting public policies. Historically, Jews were defined by their enemies as the subversive outsider, today they are described as the “oppressive insider”. By adopting this application, it now becomes easier to assign blame to the Jews, if they can be described as part of the political elite.
  5. Employing anti-Jewish and anti-Israel Images: As society moves several generations past the events surrounding 1933-1945, there is a growing loss of consciousness and connection with the Holocaust. The Nazi era is seen as a relic of history, and for some emerging political elites not pertinent to the contemporary political environment. Today, there appears to be a new mantra that offers the supposition that the decline of Western political influence is attributed to the presence of a Jewish State and its global supporters. Inside Europe today, one finds the emergence of old-line nationalist ideologies and political movements that reject “foreign influence” in general terms and “Jewish political actors” in more specific detail. In some quarters, this assault on Jewish influence has led to a redefinition of the role of Jews within the world. In defining their presence within the Middle East, Jews have been characterized as the “new Nazis”. This emphasis on the delegitimizing of Israel’s right to exist by labeling the Jewish State as a “racist entity” has been aligned with efforts to impose sanctions and to establish boycotts.

Steven Windmueller, Ph.D. is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles. See: which is a repository for many of Dr. Windmueller’s writings.