Jews and the State: Dangerous Alliances and the Perils of Privilege

Jews and the State: Dangerous Alliances and the Perils of Privilege

Jews and the State: Dangerous Alliances and the Perils of Privilege

Jews and the State: Dangerous Alliances and the Perils of Privilege


Bringing together contributions from established scholars from multiple disciplines and countries, Volume XIX of Studies in Contemporary Jewry offers a comparative view of alliances between Jewish communities and the state. Together, the volume's contents show the price Jews paid for allying with unpopular regimes. The essays cover the American South, South Africa, Canada, Algeria, Morocco, Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Russia.


It was once common to think of Jewish history as a morbid tale of persecution, misery, and martyrdom. As Shylock famously said, “Sufferance is the badge of all our tribe,” and over the centuries many Jews and non-Jews alike have tended to agree with Shakespeare’s Jewish villain. As is well known, the great Jewish historian Salo Baron chastised his 19th-century predecessor, Heinrich Graetz, for having written a history of the Jews that was characterized by “suffering and tears.”

The new Jewish history produced in Israel and in the West is, of course, far removed from the “Leidensgeschichte” of Graetz. Still, in recent years, the persecution of the Jews, and the various modern manifestations of antisemitism, have been the subject of more scholarly and popular works (not to mention memoirs and fictional accounts) than has any other aspect of modern Jewish history—a result, obviously, of the unprecendented catastrophe that befell European Jewry during the Second World War.

As against this old/new emphasis on Jewish suffering the symposium in this volume of Studies in Contemporary Jewry takes up the problem of Jewish privilege. in certain places and at certain times in the modern Jewish diaspora, the Jewish community either enjoyed a privileged position in society or was believed to enjoy such a status by elements among the non-Jewish majority. It was often the case that Jews allied themselves, or were thought to be allying themselves, with regimes (usually states, but sometimes local authorities in regions that enjoyed a certain degree of autonomy) that were regarded by many as highly oppressive. of the eight case studies that constitute our symposium, two involve Jewish “alliances” (if that is what they were) with openly racist regimes (South Africa and the American South in the era of apartheid), three are concerned with the fateful Jewish support for Communist regimes in post-Second World War East Central Europe (Hungary, Romania, and Poland), and two analyze the relationship between Jews, the “native population,” and the French regimes in colonial North Africa (Morocco and Algeria). the symposium also includes an essay on the situation in the province of Quebec, where Jews found themselves caught between the Anglican establishment and its highly attractive English culture, on the one hand, and the majority population of francophone Canadians, on the other.

As Richard Cohen demonstrates in his introduction to the symposium, the tradition of Jews seeking the protection of the state (or, as a variation on this theme, of powerful social classes within the state), and offering in return their full support, is deeply rooted in the Jewish past. Were such alliances inevitable? Were they the result of a conscious Jewish policy, and did they command the support of most members of the Jewish community? How were they perceived by non-Jews, and what price (if any) did the Jews pay for entering into them (a question that becomes particularly rel-

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