A Critical Perspective on Humanity’s Greatest Hatred — Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
A Critical Perspective on Humanity’s Greatest Hatred — Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
His perspective is unparalleled … Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is the ultimate expert on Jewish literacy and values. His nonfiction bestsellers trace the roots of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. These texts span lessons from the ancient world to the Holocaust to the current crisis in the Middle East. He discusses anti-Semitism in the Democratic Party, how it will impact Jewish life in America and bilateral support for Israel with Charles Mizrahi.
- An Introduction to Joseph Telushkin (00:00:00)
- Origins of Anti-Semitism (00:02:32)
- Three Pillars of Judaism (00:09:02)
- Lasting Animosity (00:20:44)
- A Serious Moment in History (00:32:28)
- Need for Bilateral Support (00:36:46)
- Strong Jewish Influence (00:46:35)
- The Potential Flashpoint (00:50:04)
- Goodwill in America (00:52:24)
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is a spiritual leader, lecturer and bestselling author. Raised in Brooklyn, NY, Rabbi Telushkin was ordained at Yeshiva University and studied Jewish history at Columbia University. To date, he’s written over 18 books on Jewish literacy, ethics and values.
One of his earliest works, Why The Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism, was co-authored by writer and talk show host Dennis Prager. In addition, his book Rebbe was both a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller.
Before You Leave:
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: “If all the Arab nations surrounding Israel disarmed and laid down their arms tomorrow, what would happen?” The answer is nothing. If Israel laid down its arms tomorrow, what would happen? We all know what would happen. There would be a second Holocaust.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: My guest today is Joseph Telushkin. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is a spiritual leader, scholar and bestselling author of over 18 books. A book that was coauthored with Dennis Prager, Why the Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism, is considered to be one of the most authoritative books on the subject.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: In this seminal study, the authors attempt to uncover and understand the roots of anti-Semitism from the ancient world to the Holocaust to the current crisis in the Middle East. Why the Jews? offers new insights and unparalleled perspectives on some of the most pressing developments in the contemporary world.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: I recently sat down with Joseph, and we discussed the growing anti-Semitism in the Democratic Party, how it will impact Jewish life in America and continued support for the state of Israel.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Joseph, thank you so much for coming on the show. I’ve been looking forward to this from the moment I sent you an email. I called you and said: “Please come on the show.” And you said: “No problem.” We haven’t seen each other for close to 18 or 20 years, right?
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: Well, I know it was long enough for my beard to go from black to white. You were taken aback for a minute. One of my old roommates in college, who I hadn’t seen for many years — we were supposed to meet somewhere, and he walked right by me. And then, he turned around and said: “My God, you look like an old rove.” But that’s what happens.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Life marches forward. By the way, it’s not 20 years. It’s a little less because we met about five years ago when you gave a lecture in Brooklyn about your book Rebbe.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: Right. It couldn’t have been much longer because the book came out in 2014. So, it was probably around that time.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: All right. Beautiful. The reason I wanted you on the show … First of all, you’re a fountain of knowledge. I could spend hours talking to you. [You’re] the author of 14 books? It’s some huge amount.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: It’s 18 books.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: OK. One book that I want to speak about, which I think is extremely pertinent now, is: Why the Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism. This was one of the earliest books that you wrote with your good, lifelong friend, Dennis Prager. You wrote this close to 35 or 40 years ago, correct?
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: The book came out in ’83 — I think. So, you’re right.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: A long time ago. The question I’ve had for some of the articles that I’ve written about Israel, Zionism, Hamas, the PLO and Palestinians is: Why is there anti-Semitism? I figure there’s no person better to speak about that than you. We’ve seen it in the streets of New York. We’ve seen it in the streets of Brussels. We’ve seen it in L.A. During this war between Israel and Hamas: “Death to the Jews.”
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: Anti-Semitism has, unfortunately, been the longest hatred in the world. And I’d say it’s been distinguished by three characteristics. It’s been universal, reached at a terrible depth and has a permanence about it. When I say it’s universal, by and large, in any country where the Jews have lived — where they have been any significant percentage of the population…
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: And significant is a funny word to use because today, non-Jews are shocked when they hear how few Jews there actually are in the world.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: I remember my friend Dennis was on an airplane and speaking to a woman. She seemed to feel that Jews were so omnipresent. He asked her: “How many Jews do you think there are in America?” And she reasoned aloud. “Well, in those days, they said, ‘America is Protestant, Catholic and Jewish.’ I know the Jews are the smallest group. I would guess there are probably 30 or 40 million Jews in America.”
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: When Dennis told her that it’s actually less than six [million] she said: “Well, then they all live in my city.” Jews have tended to exert a disproportionate influence. But the truth is: It’s been quite universal. Often, it’s been so deep that even when Jews no longer live in a country, there is anti-Semitism.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: The example that comes to mind is that in 1290, the Jews were expelled from England. Not everybody knows that. The most famous of the expulsions was, of course, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. But Jews, at one time or another, were expelled from most of Europe. And for all practical purposes, subsequent to Israel’s creation in 1948, the Jews were effectively expelled from most of the Arab world. So, the Jews were expelled from England in 1290. They weren’t readmitted until the 1650s.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: Yet, during that period of expulsion, Shakespeare created a very famous image of Jews: Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. [He was] so cruel a man that he wanted to extract his interest through cutting off a pound of somebody’s flesh. There is no reason to think Shakespeare ever knew a Jew. There hadn’t been a Jew living in England for 300 years when he created that image.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: So, one feature of anti-Semitism that makes it unique is its universality. Then you get to the depth. The point you make is there are special words that were created in English to describe the depths of anti-Semitism. One, which is somewhat less offensive, is the word: “ghetto.” But the ghettos were first directed against the Jews in Italy and spread out. They confined the Jews to where they could live.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: Of course, the most famous word in relation to describing the depth of anti-Semitism was two words: “genocide,” which describes the attempt to wipe out an entire people, and “Holocaust.” And even earlier than that, there was the word “pogrom,” which describes physical attacks against Jews. And then, unfortunately, a few years later, another word got added to the English language. It, once again, doesn’t only refer to attacks against Jews — but started with that — which is “suicide bombers.” This referred to the Arab terrorists who were willing to sacrifice their own lives so long as they could murder Jews within the process.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: And then, the third feature is its permanence. Jews have been around for thousands of years. Very often, countries that became the primary rulers or religions turned against the Jews. So, the Romans regarded the Jews as terrible enemies. Christianity was more important than nationalism in much of early medieval history. They regarded Jews as their primary enemies. Islam — there were real tensions that took place there. And then, in modern times, it exploded with countries like Germany. Throughout Europe, they used to have terrible crusades.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: And we know that Jews were badly mistreated in the Islamic world as well. So, there has been a permanent feature to it. So, we’re not surprised. We’re not surprised by it anymore. What Dennis and I set out to do is we wanted to offer an explanation: Why? We argued that anti-Semitism, in effect, was a protest against three values that Judaism stood for.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: [There were] three pillars of Judaism. One, was the Jewish notion of God. And I always make the point: I think we make an error when we speak about monotheism as being the major Jewish contribution. I think a major Jewish contribution was ethical monotheism — the idea that there’s one God that this God central demands of human beings is ethical behavior. And unfortunately, that sometimes gets overlooked. Today, primarily, when Jews speak among themselves — and discuss whether another Jew is religious, for example — they will tend to answer only based on the person’s level of ritual observance. He keeps kosher. He is religious. She doesn’t keep Shabbat. She’s not religious.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: It’s almost as if ethics can be considered to be extracurricular activity. People forget. There’s a famous story in the Talmud where an angel approaches Hillel. The way most people recount the story is actually erroneous. They think that the non-Jew said to Hillel: “Teach me the essence of Judaism while I’m standing on one foot.” And Hillel responds in Aramaic: “What’s hateful unto you, don’t do onto your neighbor. This is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary. Now, go and study.” But you know what the non-Jew actually say to Hillel? He didn’t say: “Teach me the essence of Judaism while I’m standing on one foot.” What he actually said to him was: “Convert me to Judaism on the basis that you can teach me its essence while standing on one foot.”
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: Anyway, so Jews came into the world arguing that there was one God. That’s a very central part of Judaism, and they negated the gods of their neighbors. As it says in the Tanakh: “They have eyes that cannot see ears but cannot hear.” Caligula, around 40 C.E. decreed that at every temple in the Roman Empire, there had to be a statue of him. And the Jews didn’t want to do it. They were willing to revolt. But they didn’t want to revolt. So, they sent back word that they would not pray to him as a god, but they would pray to their God on his behalf.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: Caligula, who was known for being half crazy, understood what they were doing. And he said: “No, I want them to pray to me. I don’t want them to pray for me.” He wanted the temple destroyed. Fortunately, a very short time later, he died in a palace intrigue. But then, Christianity came along. Christians became convinced that Jesus was God and had to be worshiped as a God. And it was profoundly troublesome to Christians that the Jews — the people who best knew Jesus — were the ones least open to revering him as a God.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: I used to give an example. Obviously, it was an absurd example. Imagine that everybody in the United States believed Jimmy Carter was the messiah or God. And the only people who didn’t believe it were the citizens of Plains, Georgia. Either we would say, “They must know something we don’t know, and he isn’t a God.” Or, they would say: “If we who can recognize that he’s a god, they who know him must surely know it. And if they refuse to acknowledge it, it must be because of something evil within them.”
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: And that explanation explains a very odd feature of Christian anti-Semitism. We know that when people dislike a group, they’ll usually attribute ugly traits to it. But anti-Semites and Christianity didn’t just attribute ugly traits to Jews. They accused Jews, for example, of taking the wafer used at Catholic Mass and poking needles in it. They would torture the wafer because the wafer in the Catholic Mass represents the body of Jesus. So, it’s almost as if they assumed that Jews really did believe in Christianity and acknowledge it, but they were satanic. They wanted to do whatever they could.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: As a result, Jews were accused of having terrible hatreds. In 1610, the medical faculty at the University of Vienna certified as its official opinion that Jewish law required Jewish doctors to kill one out of 10 of their Christian patients. Can you imagine how it must have felt to be in a Jewish doctor’s office with nine people in front of you?
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: So, these crazy ideas are written. If you go through the Quran, the anger there is that the Jews also knew that Muhammad was God’s prophet but excised that belief out of their Bible. And they accused the Jews of giving a divine status to Ezra. Most Jews today, honestly would have a lot of trouble identifying [him]. Ezra was a very significant figure, but obviously nobody believed that. And then, of course, it persisted into modern times.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: Hermann Rauschning was an early supporter of Hitler. He broke with Hitler in the late 30s, fled to the United States and wrote a book about his conversations with him. One of the lines he quotes in the book is Hitler saying: “My mission in life is to destroy the Asiatic God, tyrant of the Jews, and his life-denying Ten Commandments.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: I remember because I was very involved in the Soviet Jewry Movement — the protest movement to get Jews out of Russia. Again, it was the same issue. They would also sing songs — “I believe in God.” They would sing songs about God because totalitarian societies wanted to deny God. So, Jews were in conflict.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: Then, there was the issue of Jewish law. In ancient times, and medieval times, Jews wouldn’t eat with their neighbors. But I don’t think that was the real cause of it. I think the cause was more because Jewish law affected Jewish values in ways that made the Jews subject to jealousy.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: For example, it’s been pointed out that Jews have higher levels of education than non-Jews. And the average Jew is significantly more prosperous than the average non-Jew. But where does that come from? It came from the fact that Jews were commanded to study. You shall teach to your children. Now, what you were supposed to teach your children was Torah. But Jews, in general, have a great veneration for education. And that education, in a meritocracy, tends to pay off well.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: And the third element of Judaism was peoplehood. This is an aspect of Judaism that, by and large, non-Jews have a hard time understanding — the fusion of religion and peoplehood. And yet, it goes back to the first converts — described at length in the Bible — which is in the biblical book of Ruth.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: Ruth, when she becomes part of the Jewish people, has a forward declaration in Hebrew: “Your people shall be my people,” and “Your God shall be my God.” The two are fused together. I’ll tell one anecdote about that, and I suspect you have other questions you want to ask me. I do not normally give such long answers.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: But when I was researching the book, I was given access to a series of hundreds of interviews that a division within Chabad called JEM — Jewish Educational Media — had done with people who interacted with the Rebbe. Obviously, it was immensely useful. I was given about 10,000 single-spaced pages. And from that, I got a lot of information. I knew people I wanted to call.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: But also, in the interviews, there was a lot of background information. In one case, they were interviewing a man in his 80s who had recollections of things he had heard from his grandfather a very long time ago. His grandfather had fought in the German army in World War I. His grandfather had been traumatized by an event. And whenever I tell this event to a Jewish audience, people feel the trauma. When you think about it, who was fighting in World War I? Germany and France were fighting. Germany was a Christian country. France was a Christian country. Most of us never stop to think about that Christians were killing Christians.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: So, what was the traumatic event that had happened to his grandfather? He was fighting. He was a German soldier, and a French soldier approached him. The French soldier had his gun drawn. He drew his gun, and he succeeded in shooting and killing the French soldier. As the French soldier fell to the ground, he heard him saying the credo statement of Judaism. Hear, O Israel: “The Lord, our God, the Lord is one.” Jews are told that, if they have the presence of mind to do so, they are supposed to die with those words on their lips.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: So, here he was. He shot a guy who was going to shoot him because he was German. And he was shooting this guy because he was French. But both of them were actually committed Jews.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: The thought that you would kill a fellow Jew like that was traumatic to him. The peoplehood is a very important element. So, when anti-Semitism focused primarily on religion, it focused on the God and law of the Jews. And a Jew who was willing to give up his God and law could generally be accepted into the Christian world.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: In recent times, nationalism has become a very prominent, dominant value. So, the modern face of anti-Semitism is anti-Zionism — [the belief] that the Jews are the one people in the world who don’t have a right to a country. They’re willing to accept that a Jew wants to be religious. OK — as long as he’s anti-Jewish peoplehood.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: So, I think those have been the distinguishing features of Judaism that, in every generation, have prompted anti-Semitism. You will now get shorter answers.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: OK, but that was an excellent answer. It gives a tremendous background. In the world, for the past 2,000 years, is it fair to say that anti-Semitism is unique in the sense that it has continued for such a long period of time [and has occurred] to a group of people who were dispersed throughout the four corners of the Earth? In virtually every place that they lived, there was hatred towards them — at some point — based on their religion. Would you say that’s pretty unique in terms of hatred throughout the world?
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: I think it is unique. I think certain things — like racism — have also been a persistent hatred. But there’s no way a Black person could get out of it. It was just a hatred of Black people — for example — or [people] of other races. Whereas, the hatred of Jews — Jews could evade. They’re hatred because of what they represent. And there is a certain heroism in Jews continuing to affirm their Jewishness.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: Now, the exception to that was Hitler. Hitler was convinced that these values were so embedded within them, that even if a Jew converted, he was still regarded as a Jew. But very few anti-Semites felt that throughout history. A Jew who was willing to forsake his Jewishness could generally evade the consequences of anti-Semitism. And it’s, therefore, a testament to the Jews that most chose not to do that.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: So, now we’re seeing … I think another thing about anti-Semitism — and please correct me if I’m wrong — it that there is Jew hatred on both the extreme right and left.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: Yes.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: That is pretty unique in terms of hatred toward a group.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: Yes, it unifies the two. It’s significant. And I’m not saying the two people that I’m going to mention are on the exact same level. But both of them are somewhat enemies of the Jews. One — very obviously — is David Duke. He’s the former head of the Ku Klux Klan and terrible in his anti-Semitism. And another is a woman in Congress, Ilhan Omar, who basically thinks that the Jews are disloyal to the United States. I assume she thinks that she is loyal to the United States.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: And [she] wants to arouse ill will against the Jews. [She] has done it in very provocative ways. Now, what’s interesting is that in the minds of most Americans, they would assume that David Duke’s dominant hatred is of Black people. When you think of the Ku Klux Klan, that’s a fair assumption.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: And yet, David Duke has made it clear on several occasions that the congressman he most respects is Illhan Omar because she’s willing to stand up to ZOG — Zionist Occupation Government — an organization. So, this is the one thing that brings together the two extremes. The opposites of a circle end up coming together. This has been a very disturbing phenomenon. And Jews suffer for it terribly.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: One of the ways in which the Jews suffer for it is that a lot of non-Jews who don’t like Jews see them as a left-wing group that brings forward negative and anti-national ideas into a country. What they don’t realize is that while many people on the far-left are biologically Jewish, they’re very antagonistic toward Judaism. So, Jews suffer from them doubly.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: Karl Marx did come from a Jewish family. His father had him converted with his other children so that he could have more equal rights in Germany. But Marx grew up to be a vicious anti-Semite. And yet, people who hate Marx’s ideas blame the Jews for bringing such a communist into the world. Whereas, people who are devotees of Marx blame the Jews for their capitalism and values. And you’re right, I don’t know of any other group that suffers in the way that Jews do from these two opposite extremes — the far left and far right. Now, what I want to say about this is that somebody said to me: “Analyze your feelings about what’s going on in America right now.”
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: They said: “Joseph, you spend more time attacking and criticizing the left than the anti-Semitic right. Why do you do that?” And I said: “I hate the fascist right.” I always sound funny when I say “hate.” I have an extreme dislike of the fascist right. I dislike the person who went and shot up the synagogue in Pittsburgh and the people who were doing attacks against the Jews — the David Dukes of the world. My dislike for them is greater than my dislike of left-wing anti-Semitism.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: But I fear the left-wing’s anti-Semitism more than I fear the fascist right’s because you have to go very far on the right until you get to that group of anti-Semites. You don’t have to go equally far on the left until you come across tremendous antagonism to Israel — or Jews who support Israel. That’s what it is. One of the remarkable things in America is that, by and large, when you think of conservatives in the United States, you think of people who are open and friendly to the Jews.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: Now, again, I’m not naive. This was not always the case. The America First Committee — formed in the late 1930s — was headed by people like Charles Lindbergh — who really did dislike Jews. They were right-wing, and they opposed admitting Jews who were trying to flee Germany. But the reality today is that the far-right and far-left hate Jews. But you have to go very far on the right until you get to real anti-Semitism. The worrisome phenomenon is that you don’t have to go far on the left.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Living in New York, we’ve been seeing a tremendous rise in anti-Semitism in the past few weeks — with Israel responding to Hamas’s 4,300 rocket attacks on the civilian population. Pro-Palestinian demonstrations — with Palestinian flags — are chanting: “Death to the Jews.” In London, [they say]: “We will rape your daughters.” In Brussels, [they say]: “the army of Mohammed is coming to get you.” It’s not: “We hate Israelis.” It’s: “We hate Jews.” Is this a recent phenomenon — that Jews are now thrown in with supporters of Israel regardless of where they stand?
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Let me rephrase the question. Are these Palestinians — the supporters of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority — is their hatred so great that it’s not only towards Israelis but all Jews throughout the world?
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: I would say it’s towards all Jews who are in any way supporters of Israel.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: But when they’re saying: “Death to the Jews” in the street, they’re not asking what my position is on a two-state solution. I could be totally against the Israeli government. They’re not seeing that. They don’t care.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: If these people ever got real power and could do to the Jews what they wanted to do them — which is probably murder or confiscate all of our property — I do believe they would make exemptions for people like Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Who are these people?
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: These are Jews that Dennis and I would refer to as non-Jewish Jews. What do we mean when we say non-Jewish Jews? It means that they don’t believe in the God of Israel. They don’t believe in the Torah of Israel, and they don’t really regard themselves as part of the people of Israel.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: Affirmation of any one of those three things makes one Jewish. There are no shortages of secular Jews who are committed to Israel and will work in organizations like AIPAC — the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Obviously, some members of AIPAC are also religious Jews. But many of them are people who are quite secular. If you affirm any of the three pillars of Judaism, you are Jewish, and you will be seen as a Jew.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: The Holocaust was such a distasteful event that you have to be so extreme to ever defend it. So, prior to World War II, there were prominent non-Jews who had no compunctions about saying that they were anti-Semites.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: I think the Holocaust made the usage of that term so distasteful that they had to find another way. And that’s how I think anti-Zionism came into the picture. Unless you believe — and this, in my view, would be a very naive belief — that after the Holocaust, anti-Semitism went out of existence, then you have to ask yourself: “How does it express itself today?” It expresses itself today by [people] saying there’s one country in the world that doesn’t have a right to exist.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: There are almost 200 countries in the world. By total coincidence, it happens to be in the country comprised of the people who, before they had a country, were the most hated people in the world. So, the most hated people in the world set up a country, and now it’s become the most hated country in the world. So, there has to be a level of willful naiveté or anti-Semitism in wanting to deny Israel the right to exist.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Do you see — with your experience and knowledge of Jewish history and anti-Semitism — this period of time where the Democratic Party has moved so far to the left that leftists are now calling for stopping aid to Israel and putting it on war crimes? The equanimity that Israel, Hamas and Palestinians are in a cycle of violence. I’m not saying which one is the aggressor and which one isn’t. There are protests in the streets and random beatings. Would you say this is about as serious as it gets in the United States — in terms of our history?
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: In terms of our history, it’s a very serious moment. Obviously, the reason that there’s a lot of fear among Jews now is because we’re aware of how much worse it can get. In fact, it’s a different phenomenon now. Are you familiar with the novel that was written several years ago by the late Philip Roth called The Plot Against America?
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Yeah. In fact, there was an HBO special on that, and I read the book a few years back.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: Yeah. The main plotline of the book — and it’s not as crazy a plotline as can be imagined — is in 1939, as the country was preparing for the end of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s second term in office, there was an assumption among many people that Roosevelt was not going to win again because there was an oral law. You can appreciate that term. It was like an oral law because of the precedent set by George Washington. Nobody would be president for three terms.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: But Roosevelt claimed that it was a crisis, and he was going to run. It so happens that the Republican who ran against him, Wendell Willkie, was fine with Jews on Jewish issues and also had a real hatred of the Nazis. But there was one person who really was different. And that was Charles Lindbergh.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: My mother used to tell me — my mom was born in 1912. Olav ha-shalom — a blessed memory. She remembered when Lindbergh had flown solo to France. She said it was hard to imagine how great a hero he was. So, Roth imagines what would have happened had the Republicans nominated Lindbergh. He might have defeated Roosevelt and taken the country in a very different direction. They would have let England go under, and it would not have been good for the Jews because he would have established good relations with Hitler — or certainly amicable enough relations to not go to war.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: I want to acknowledge that I think Joe Biden, so far, has stood up for Israel more than I expected him to. I think Jews on the right should acknowledge that. One of the problems in America is that it’s become an increasingly polarized society. Every four years, when a presidential election takes place, I like to ask an audience the following question: “Can you think of a single reason that somebody voted for the candidate you oppose — that doesn’t reflect badly on the person’s character or intelligence?”
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: I rarely find conservatives who can think of a single reason that somebody voted for the liberal candidate that doesn’t show them to either be a little stupid or hard-hearted — and the reverse as well. Having said that, though, I share the fright that you just expressed. Forces on the left that often establish their liberalism or leftism on their antagonistic attitude towards Israel — it’ll be catastrophic.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: A friend of mine — I don’t know if he would want me to mention his name, so I won’t — is a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. His politics are quite right-of-center. But recently, Abe Foxman, the retired former head of the Anti-Defamation League, spoke to him on the phone.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: Foxman might have also said this publicly, but he certainly said it privately to my friend. He said that he’s living in fear that this might be the last Democratic administration that’s going to be friendly toward Israel. That would be unfortunate. The bilateral support for Israel — we could expect that Israel was not going to be a controversial issue. People might argue with policies of Israel, but they would affirm its right to exist as a Jewish state. We always assumed that this was a Republican-Democratic issue that both could affirm. But if one of the parties departs from that, I think that would be catastrophic.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: But you see the way it’s working out — the path it’s going — with the Democratic Party. It seems to be well on the way there.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: I’m hoping it can be stopped. I am involved in certain activities that I hope can be helpful in stopping it. You know what? In a sense, I don’t even want to consider it until I conclude that it’s — God forbid — irreversible. I’m hoping there can be ways we can convince people that this is a profound error. There are some people of goodwill out there who don’t know what Hamas or what it stands for. [They] don’t know what’s done in a Hamas-run society. The abuse of human rights is so great. And I’m hoping that there are enough people who could be impacted by that.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: I would not waste much time trying to reach out to the far-left. I don’t think anything we come up with is going to impact Bernie Sanders or Ilhan Omar. But, as I said, I’ve been impressed with the President on this issue so far. I’m hoping we can strengthen the forces that can be strengthened. Do I share your fears? Yes.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: We’ve been seeing this in France for the past few years. [It’s] a country with a large Jewish population. So many of them, in the last decade, have been leaving France and moving to Israel for fear of not only their futures but also for their children as openly practicing Jews.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: Yes. You’re right. And I know that a significant percentage of British Jewry was preparing to possibly leave England if Jeremy Corbyn became prime minister. Thank God that Jeremy Corbyn didn’t become prime minister, and it was resisted. There was a point when it really looked like that could happen.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: Now, again, I consider France a little different than the United States — and maybe not even a little different. The French has always had a very strong tradition of nasty anti-Semitism. You go back to the Dreyfus case. You go back to when France was occupied by the Nazis. At one point, the Nazis instructed the French police to round up all Jews aged 16 and over. They ended up rounding up all Jews age two and over. So, there was a lot more nastiness.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: By the way, just to add to that, as you know, even the Nazis were surprised at the deliverance of the French police of all these Jews. They didn’t expect any of this to happen. They were like: “Wow. These people really hate Jews. They’re good.”
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: Yes. That just further encouraged Hitler. I regard Christianity in Europe as almost a different religion than Christianity in the United States. I remember reading once that the head of a Christian Democratic Party came to the United States and requested a meeting with the head of the YMCA — the Young Men’s Christian Association. And he was very taken aback at the meeting when he found out that the head of the YMCA was not anti-Semitic.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: He said that generally, in Europe, they would insert the word “Christian” into an organization to indicate that it was anti-Semitic. Obviously, I’m not talking about a church. A church is going to have the word “Christian” in it. But any other organization that — in theory — could have been a secular organization, it was a way of doing so.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: Now, again, things shifted in France at the time of the Dreyfus trial. It was the right wing. This goes back to the issue raised earlier. It was the right wing that was anti-Semitic. The left wing wasn’t great. But the battle was being led more on the right. Also, once you have a lot of Muslims in France, they constitute a far higher percentage of the population. And so far, — and I don’t want this to get lost — Jewish-Muslim relations in America have been better. It is discouraging that the two Muslim women who are now serving in Congress are real Israel haters. And, in effect, they’ve since become real enemies of the Jews. Again, I assume that the only Jews they would not regard as their enemies are Jews who fall into the non-Jewish Jewish camp.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: The Jews that they would probably esteem are Jews who are not, by and large, believers in the Torah or Jewish peoplehood. Any Jew who believes in Jewish peoplehood knows that if anything bad happens in Israel, a lot of Jewish people are going to die. The line my friend Dennis Prager always uses is: “If all the Arab nations surrounding Israel disarmed and laid down their arms tomorrow, what would happen?” The answer is nothing. If Israel laid down its arms tomorrow, what would happen? We all know what would happen. There would be a second Holocaust.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: You mentioned earlier that countries that didn’t have Jews, killed their Jews or their Jews left, still have anti-Semitism. You mentioned Shakespeare — who probably never met a Jew. Is that a phenomenon that’s unique to Jews?
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: Yeah, pretty much so. Listen, we know that there’s terrible animosity between Turkey and Armenia. I suppose what makes it different with the Jews is that it’s always a religious issue. It’s not nationalist in the same way. Having said that, it’s important to note that countries where Jews were a tiny minority, and where Jewish ideas were not known…
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: You see, the Jewish ideas about God and religion challenged Christianity. They challenged the most fundamental Christian belief — that Jesus was God. And they challenged a very fundamental Islamic belief. They don’t regard Muhammad as the greatest of the prophets. In fact, they felt that Muhammad…
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: I’m simplifying it, but basically what was new in Muhammad was not true and what was true was not new. But in countries where Jewish ideas really were irrelevant — like China and India — you didn’t find anti-Semitism. I think that China will do antagonistic things towards Israel. It’s more due to an utter cynicism. It has its own reasons that it wants to cultivate the Arab world.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: So, one last thing for you, Joseph. Thank you so much for your time and knowledge. You put a different perspective on this — and a very balanced one. Before I ask one last question, tell our listeners how many Jews there are in the world.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: Probably between 14 and 15 million. That means that out of every 1,000 people in the world, there are probably two Jews. That means we’re one out of 500. Remember what I said earlier about that incident with Dennis? He told the woman how many Jews there really were in the United States — which obviously has a very large Jewish population.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: I’ll give you an example. One of the questions I’ll often ask Jewish audiences is: “Every year, when they announce the Nobel Prize winners, how many of you look to see if any of them are Jews?” I find that almost all Jews look. And then, I ask: “And how many of you, if no Jews have won that year, immediately assume anti-Semitism?” People laugh. But then, I point out: Statistically, one Jew should win one Nobel Prize about every 30 years. But in any given year, we’re expecting it.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: So, the Jews have been a very influential people. Now, does that cause admiration? Yes. There’s a book I really want to write. I don’t know if I’ll get to it. I’m getting older. And I know with all the blessings for 120 years, not too many people live quite that long. Even if they do, most people don’t produce important books once they reach 100. It’s not common. But I want to write a book — there has not been a good book written on it — called The History of Philo-Semitism. It’s a history of people who really like Jews. And Jews don’t even know some of them.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: There’s a woman who wrote under a man’s name: George Eliot. She wrote a book called Daniel Deronda. In preparing to write the book, she spent years studying Hebrew with a rabbi. In the book, she advocates that Jews be given their own homeland — and that they should start to speak in Hebrew again. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda was living in Russia. He’s the one who’s credited with reviving the Hebrew language. When he got married, he and his wife took an oath that they were only going to speak to each other in Hebrew. I think they were able to speak for about two or three minutes a day. I’m joking.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: For example, in Hebrew, the word “eight.” “זְמַן” means time. It comes from the Bible. It was a time to be happy. There was no word for newspaper in Hebrew. So, he created the word “עיתון,” (eeton), which is similar to what newspapers called The Times.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: Anyway, he claimed — at least in something he had written — that the idea to revive Hebrew came to him from George Eliot’s book, Daniel Deronda. She’s a hero in every city in Israel. There’s usually a street named for George Eliot. I like it. I don’t want to walk around feeling that every person hates us. There are people who really like us and are good people. It’s important to know that.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Yeah, definitely. I remember hearing Abe Foxman speak when I was in high school. He said that the problem with anti-Semitism is that there’s always a flashpoint. And in the United States, we don’t know what that flashpoint is. I remember this was back in the day. It was in the 1970s. So, there was the oil embargo after the 1973 war, and there was anti-Semitism rising in the United States because the Arabs weren’t sending oil and raising the prices enormously. He said: “This could be our flashpoint.” And then, it subsided.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: I just wonder out loud — we both don’t know, and we pray it’s not so — could this be the flashpoint — the rise in the Democratic Party of leftists or progressives who have a visceral hatred of Jews and Israel? Could this be the flashpoint?
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: Yes. First of all, if you look over Jewish history … You don’t want to sound naive. There is always the possibility that that could really happen. And that’s all I can advocate. Jews who identify as Democrats — which is a significant number — be sufficiently aware of this, aggressive and do all that [you] can.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: I’m not a fatalist. Do you remember about 25 years ago when it actually looked like David Duke would become the governor of Louisiana? That would have been a flashpoint to have somebody like that. And guess what? Suddenly, Jews and Black people in Louisiana were working together.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: It’s true. By the way, in 1977, in Skokie, Illinois there was the marching of the American Nazi Party. The Black community and Jewish community banded together against racism and anti-Semitism.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: Yeah. I think a lot of Jews have erred on the liberal side — not wanting to work it all with evangelicals. First of all, I think it’s morally wrong.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: And secondly, I think it’s a strategic error. Many years ago, I had occasion to spend a day and a half with Jerry Falwell — head of the Moral Majority. Dennis and I had done an interview with him, and we came under extraordinary pressure. [They’d ask]: “Why are you interviewing such a man?”
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: Everyone would say: “He’s an anti-Semite.” Dennis would write letters. “Could you send me some evidence of his anti-Semitism?” I spent a day and a half with Falwell. He was speaking to a Jewish group. And I was in the car with him.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: I came out with two thoughts. No. 1: I don’t want this man to get political power in America. No. 2: This guy likes Jews and cares about them. Jews have the unfortunate tendency — I don’t know if other groups do — that when they don’t like somebody, they try and always pin that the person’s an anti-Semite. And Falwell, in my mind, was a great example. He was not an anti-Semite, but he had positions I wouldn’t like to see enacted.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: So, we have to be open to different people and see. Bernie Sanders and Ilhan Omar know enough that they’re not basing their policies on truth. They’re basing their policies on their pre-existing prejudices. So, confronting them with the truth isn’t going to help.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: But there are a lot of Americans who are naive about certain things. They have no idea what sort of government Hamas has enacted. They are not familiar with the fact that Nasrallah of Hezbollah has said — on more than one occasion — that he wants all the Jews in the world to make to come live in Israel. That way, it’ll be easier to murder them all at once. We have to make these things known, and people will have to choose which side they are on.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: I think there are still enough people of goodwill in America. I’m certainly not willing to lose this battle in advance. And I don’t want to demonize people too quickly. Because once you start demonizing people … It’s been done on both sides. The left demonizes the right, and the right demonizes the left.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: Years ago, I remember making a comment to a friend of mine who was quite politically conservative. He was very down on what was going on in America. We had been doing an interview with George Gilder. Gilder had a very big economic influence on Ronald Reagan. When he heard my friend being so critical, he made an interesting comment to him. He said: “You’re starting to sound like a leftist.” And the thought that came into my head at that moment was: “The right wing tends to romanticize the past. The left wing tends to romanticize the future. And they both trash the present.”
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: Now, I’m nervous about the present. But there’s a great line by Louis Brandeis, who was the first Jew appointed to the Supreme Court. He said: “The irresistible is often only that which is not resisted.” Maybe that’s a good line to conclude with. Listen, Charles, I’m so happy to do this show. I think you know that I’m a couple of years older than you — actually, more than a couple. I’ve been very impressed with you for very many years. And I am honored and pleased to be your guest.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Joseph, first of all, that means a lot to me. And thank you so much for agreeing. I know how busy schedule is, and I’m so glad that you took the time when we had the opportunity. The name of the book is: Why the Jews? The Reasons for Antisemitism. I read it back in 1983 or 1984. I remember that I just started working. I thought it was a phenomenal book. I still have the original copy. And unfortunately, nothing much has changed in terms of that. It’s anti-Semitism. You have a whole chapter on anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. And this is a 37 or 38-year-old problem — which goes back to 1975. Zionism is racism in the United Nations.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: Yes, that’s right. We actually came out with another edition of the book in 2016 or 2017 — when the issue was heating up yet again.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Joseph Telushkin, I wish you continued success. I hope I’m reading books written by you when you’re over 100 [years old]. I’m sure they’re going to be outstanding. With every book that you come out with, I keep learning so much from you. You’re a treasure. Thank you so much.
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN: Thank you.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Charles Mizrahi Show. If you’re a new listener, welcome! If you’ve been listening for a while, we’re glad to have you back. Either way, we’d love to know what you think of the show. Please leave a review if you listen on Apple Podcasts. Reviews make it easier for others to find the show. You can also see the video of the interview on The Charles Mizrahi Show channel on YouTube.
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