This exclusive interview is from Arutz Sheva
Dr. Ruth R. Wisse is the well-known Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature Emerita at Harvard as well as a distinguished senior fellow at the Tikvah Fund. She is a member of the Editorial Board of the Jewish Review of Books and a frequent contributor to Commentary. Strongly pro-Israel, Wisse once said: “There is no such thing as an Arab-Israel conflict..there is an Arab war against Israel, there is an Arab war against the Jewish people’s right to a state.”
Jerusalemites at Beit Avi Chai Cultural Center this week who attended the book-launching held in honor of the Hebrew translation, by Tzvi Ehrlich, of Prof. Wisse’s book “Jews and Power,” were pleasantly surprised and appreciative of her ability to present an eye-opening introductory talk in excellent Hebrew (despite self-deprecating remarks on her minimal grammatical difficulties) . The audience warmed up to her unaffected way of making everyone there feel like part of the same “mishpacha”, and her quoting Psalms at one point in her talk, in addition to her strong words defending Israel.
Sitting across from her was Dr. Micah Goodman of the Hartman Institute, who seemed to find some of the renowned Yiddish professor’s opinions somewhat startling, as they were not in tune with liberal Israeli thought, let alone liberal American Jewish ideology.
The Hebrew version of “Jews and Power” is titled (in translation) “The Paradox of Jewish Politics: Why is the secret of the Jewish people’s strength also its weakness?” In her introduction to the Hebrew edition, Wisse writes of her dream of reaching an Israeli audience, adding (translation from Hebrew by the interviewer):
“How can it be that a people that excels in its inner strength and ability to manage in every situation, a successful people on the whole, has managed to acquire such a destructive political record? How is it that the Jews, who managed to reestablish their national home, have to deal with such extreme hatred, no less virulent than it was when they were spread among the nations of the world? How is it that our governmental system is the best there is and at the same time, the silliest, the strongest in some ways and the most vulnerable in others?”
Arutz Sheva spoke to Prof. Wisse after the event about issues that concern the Jews of both countries.
How should Israel deal with the demands of American Jewry?
Dr. Wisse: Take the US Jews into account, but do what’s good for you. Remember, Israel is a sovereign state and has to defend itself.
Shouldn’t Israel accept all definitions of Judaism?
Dr. Wisse: We need the Israeli rabbinate – that doesn’t mean it is perfect as it is now – but bear in mind that Israel’s Law of Return means that there is potentially universal immigration, because anyone who wants to come only has to become a Jew – and we allow for conversion, although we discourage coercion – so Israel needs a vetting procedure. A religious framework does that. Some standard for who is a Jew must accompany the generous immigration policy.
What about the rise in anti-Semitism?
Dr. Wisse: Israel continues to be a soft political target. One basic reason is the uniqueness of Jewish political strategy. Our Sages tell us the three pillars holding up the world are Torah, avoda (prayer, ed.) and kindness whereas for other nations, those pillars are territory, power and military strength. Contrasting politics of accommodation on one hand and acquisition on the other make it hard to achieve peaceful co-existence.
We cannot solve anti-Semitism, except to defend against it and thereby discourage its use.
What did you think when the Pittsburgh shooting took place?
Dr. Wisse: Of course, I mourned. Of course, I was shocked. But then I said to myself, Israel goes through this kind of horror every day, either trying to prevent it from happening or, unfortunately, failing to do so., Why didn’t US Jews say that? Realize that?
What advice do you have for Israeli leaders?
Dr. Wisse: It is not for me to advise Israeli leaders, but the Jewish people must demand its natural rights. The Arab world has to recognize and legitimize the existence of Israel. This lack of recognition has been going on since 1948. Demands for that recognition should have been made then and every day since. The unequivocal acceptance of Israel is a starting point. According to the Charter of the United Nations, whoever doesn’t accept a lawful nation’s existence should have been ejected from the international body. Jews have an unexceptional right to the land of Israel that was under foreign domination for far too long.