Monday, June 25, 2018

Charles Krauthammer Was an Independent Thinker in an Age of Blind Partisanship

We live in an era of blind partisanship, when it is expected that a person must strictly adhere to a given party line or else be ostracized: you are either to the right or to the left and woe to the person who dares to be an independent thinker.

Charles Krauthammer, who passed away on June 21 at the age of 68, defied the norm and did not conform to partisan politics: he criticized President Barack Obama for--among other things--his Mideast policy, but he also called President Trump a "moral disgrace" for not immediately condemning the racist, white supremacist rally at Charlottesville.

Krauthammer, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1987, wrote commentaries that defy simple labels, as Adam Bernstein noted in Krauthammer's Washington Post obituary:
He initially defined himself as a liberal Cold Warrior, a Democrat who embraced anti-communist as well as New Deal and Great Society programs that aided the most vulnerable. His support for the robust use of American military power gradually left him alienated from the Democratic Party, however, and he found ideological succor in neoconservatism, identifying with writer Irving Kristol's definition of its adherents as onetime liberals who have been "mugged by reality."
There are many examples of Krauthammer's crisp writing and his distinct perspective. In a September 25, 2006 column titled Everyone's Jewish, Krauthammer started with a light-hearted tone but then made some serious points:
Krauthammer's Law: Everyone is Jewish until proven otherwise. I've had a fairly good run with this one. First, it turns out that John Kerry--windsurfing, French-speaking, Beacon Hill aristocrat--had two Jewish grandparents. Then Hillary Clinton--methodical Methodist--unearths a Jewish stepgrandfather in time for her run as New York senator...

For all its tongue-in-cheek irony, Krauthammer's Law works because when I say "everyone," I don't mean everyone you know personally. Depending on the history and ethnicity of your neighborhood and social circles, there may be no one you know who is Jewish. But if "everyone" means anyone that you've heard of in public life, the law works for two reasons. Ever since the Jews were allowed out of the ghetto and into European society at the dawning of the Enlightenment, they have peopled the arts and sciences, politics, and history in astonishing disproportion to their numbers.

There are 13 million Jews in the world, one-fifth of 1 percent of the world's population. Yet 20 percent of Nobel Prize winners are Jewish, a staggering hundredfold surplus of renown and genius. This is similarly true for a myriad of other "everyones"--the household names in music, literature, mathematics, physics, finance, industry, design, comedy, film and, as the doors opened, even politics.

But it is not just Jewish excellence at work here. There is a dark side to these past centuries of Jewish emancipation and achievement--an unrelenting history of persecution. The result is the other more somber and poignant reason for the Jewishness of public figures being discovered late and with surprise: concealment. 
In a January 29, 2015 column titled Do We Really Mean "Never Again"?, Krauthammer noted the "bitter irony" that in the wake of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz it was obvious that anti-Semitism was alive and well in Europe. Krauthammer lamented that the real issues were (1) Jew-hatred is the norm, not exception, throughout European history and (2) while it took Hitler and his followers years to massacre six million Jews, the state of Israel and her more than six million Jews face the dire prospect of annihilation by just one nuclear weapon:
The rise of European anti-Semitism is, in reality, just a return to the norm. For a millennium, virulent Jew-hatred--persecution, expulsions, massacres--was the norm in Europe until the shame of the Holocaust created a temporary anomaly wherein anti-Semitism became socially unacceptable.

The hiatus is over. Jew-hatred is back, recapitulating the past with impressive zeal. Italians protesting Gaza handed out leaflets calling for a boycott of Jewish merchants. As in the 1930s. A widely popular French comedian has introduced a variant of the Nazi salute. In Berlin, Gaza brought out a mob chanting, "Jew, Jew, cowardly pig, come out and fight alone!" Berlin, mind you.

European anti-Semitism is not a Jewish problem, however. It's a European problem, a stain, a disease of which Europe is congenitally unable to rid itself.

From the Jewish point of view, European anti-Semitism is a sideshow. The story of European Jewry is over. It died at Auschwitz. Europe's place as the center and fulcrum of the Jewish world has been inherited by Israel. Not only is it the first independent Jewish commonwealth in 2,000 years. It is, also for the first time in 2,000 years, the largest Jewish community on the planet.

The threat to the Jewish future lies not in Europe but in the Muslim Middle East, today the heart of global anti-Semitism, a veritable factory of anti-Jewish literature, films, blood libels and calls for violence, indeed for another genocide.

The founding charter of Hamas calls not just for the eradication of Israel but for the killing of Jews everywhere. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah welcomes Jewish emigration to Israel-because it makes the killing easier: "If Jews all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide." And, of course, Iran openly declares as its sacred mission the annihilation of Israel...

Former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, known as a moderate, once characterized tiny Israel as a one-bomb country. He acknowledged Israel’s deterrent capacity but noted the asymmetry: "Application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel, but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world." Result? Israel eradicated, Islam vindicated. So much for deterrence.

And even if deterrence worked with Tehran, that's not where the story ends. Iran's very acquisition of nukes would set off a nuclear arms race with half a dozen Muslim countries from Turkey to Egypt to the Gulf states--in the most unstable part of the world. A place where you wake up in the morning to find a pro-American Yemeni government overthrown by rebels whose slogan is "God is Great. Death to America. Death to Israel. Damn the Jews. Power to Islam."

The idea that some kind of six-sided deterrence would work in this roiling cauldron of instability the way it did in the frozen bipolarity of the Cold War is simply ridiculous.

The Iranian bomb is a national security issue, an alliance issue and a regional Middle East issue. But it is also a uniquely Jewish issue because of Israel's situation as the only state on earth overtly threatened with extinction, facing a potential nuclear power overtly threatening that extinction.

On the 70th anniversary of Auschwitz, mourning dead Jews is easy. And, forgive me, cheap. Want to truly honor the dead? Show solidarity with the living--Israel and its 6 million Jews. Make "never again" more than an empty phrase. It took Nazi Germany seven years to kill 6 million Jews. It would take a nuclear Iran one day.
Krauthammer deftly wove together the history of European and Middle Eastern anti-Semitism in that column, like a boxer nimbly throwing jabs that hit the target--but he also concluded with a knockout punch that hammered home the main point and that knockout punch bears repeating for anyone who does not understand what is at stake for Israel vis a vis Iran: "It took Nazi Germany seven years to kill 6 million Jews. It would take a nuclear Iran one day."

Krauthammer used words to entertain, to enlighten and to inspire. His allegiance was to independent thought, not a particular ideology or political party. That kind of voice is rare, always needed, and will be particularly missed in our era.

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