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Transcript: “Charles Krauthammer – At Last, Zion”

April 6, 2016 | By: Charles Krauthammer

As part of the Tikvah Fund and Hertog Foundation’s Advanced Institute, “Is Israel Alone?,” Roger Hertog sat down with syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer to revisit Dr. Krauthammer’s legendary article for the fiftieth anniversary of Israeli independence. Published in The Weekly Standard“At Last, Zion,” described the achievement of Israel’s founders within the full scope of Jewish history, arguing that the Jews had traded the vulnerabilities of Diaspora life—assimilation and discrimination—for new vulnerabilities, namely that the security threats arrayed against the new nation state risked a new kind of extermination. Though much has changed in the nearly two decades since Dr. Krauthammer’s essay, Israel still faces extraordinary security risks. Its demise would constitute the greatest tragedy yet in Jewish history.

In this conversation, Dr. Krauthammer surveys Israel’s many threats, from Iran’s nuclear program to the European embrace of BDS. With his characteristic wit, Dr. Krauthammer analyzes the strategic choices for the United States, Israel, and the American Jewish community. In particular, Dr. Krauthammer devotes much of the discussion to the unique forces in the politics of American Judaism: Jewish leftism, pro-Israel evangelicals, charges of dual loyalty, intermarriage, and the like. The discussion ends on a theological note, as Dr. Krauthammer reflects on the moral obligations of Zionism and on his own theology of trembling doubt.

The full transcript is below. A video can be viewed here.

Roger Hertog: It is said that in introducing a prominent figure, if you can’t do it in a single sentence, there’s probably something wrong with you. That shouldn’t present, or at least I hope it won’t, present much of a challenge in introducing Charles Krauthammer. Simply put, he is America’s most original and influential print journalist, television commentator, and public intellectual of this era. We’re fortunate to have him with us to talk about and essay he wrote in The Weekly Standard in 1998, “At Last, Zion”.
  Think about it for a moment. How many essays do we discuss in any forum that are seventeen years old. This one has been widely discussed, whether it’s in Jewish communal organizations, synagogues, public policy institutes in the US and in Israel, and at the highest level of the Israeli administration, of many different administrations. It’s an immensely provocative and interesting essay that still really rings true, and there’s much to be garnered from it in the deepest sense of really analyzing, and having the privilege of talking with Charles.
  I’m going to be asking a handful of questions to start, and then hopefully we attack Dr. Krauthammer in the fashion that he expects.
  My first question is really related to almost what this course has been about. It’s been about Israel, historically and where it stands today. Earlier this year another journalist—I’ll name him, Bret Stephens—wrote a powerful column in the Wall Street Journal. I think you guys have probably read this in the course earlier. “Israel Alone” was the title of Bret’s column, in which he said, “Israelis haven’t figured out that what America is isn’t what America was, they need to start thinking about what comes next.”
  My question to Charles is, is that right? Do we assume, should we assume a post-Obama administration will remain committed to Israeli security? Is Israel still strategically important to the US? Is Israel in as much of a strategic interest to the United States as it has been?

 

Charles Krauthammer: More so.

 

Hertog: Explain.

 

Krauthammer: You can make the argument that in the forties, the fifties, the Marshall argument. Eisenhower was fairly indifferent. I feel I have to be very careful when I speak in a room, looking around, this is not eighteen year old freshmen. These people actually know something, so I’ve got to be really careful as I tiptoe through history here.
  In the early days, Israel was seen as a strategic liability. It’s still that thinking in the State Department, but it was a lot of skepticism. Obviously our interest was in the Arabs and oil. They were the rising influence in the Middle East. The Israelis were basically a pain; we had to pay homage because of Truman’s decision, which as everybody knows was resisted by just about everybody. I thought, if you were looking at it as a pure strategic question, you could make a strong argument Israel was a liability.
  You come to today, where the Arab state system has collapsed, where there are no … In those days, you had stable Egypt, you had stable other countries in the region in the Persian Gulf, fairly stable. Not Syria, which had about eighteen coups in seventeen years, but the state system was stable, you knew who the players were. Our major interest was to keep out the Soviets; the Soviets were using Israel as an entry into the Middle East, to gain allies, et cetera.
  Today, we don’t have a strategic adversary in the world of the stature of the Soviet Union. It’s divided. We have Iran, we have Revanchist Russia, there’s no ideological component in that struggle right now, it’s purely one great state against another. It’s so fractured, there’s so many elements, that anybody who stands up and make the case, “We could really radically change America’s standing in the region, advance our strategic interest, gain bases and allies in the region, if we jumped and abandoned Israel,” would be laughed at. It’s a peripheral issue. We know the Gulf States basically see Israel as a tacit ally. What did we have in the last few weeks, we’ve opened an office in, is it in Qatar or Abu Dhabi …

 

Audience Member: UAE.

 

Krauthammer: UAE. If anything, in a region in complete chaos, you’ve got a stable, prosperous, extremely powerful, conventional ally. You’d say, “It’s in our interest to hang on. We have no idea what’s coming.” The Gulf Arabs, the Egyptians, the others, have warmed to Israel over the years, the salience of the Palestinian issue has declined radically. You could almost, we could be a decade away, or less, from fairly open alliances between the moderate and Sunni Arabs and the Israelis.
  I think on the contrary, from a purely strategic perspective, Israel is less of a pariah than it was. Our problem is with the bloody Europeans, it’s not with the Saudis, when it comes to being friendly to Israel.
  I don’t know about you, but I just received a Christmas gift from the Israeli Embassy here. It arrived yesterday. It is a food package, beautifully wrapped, of stuff produced on the West Bank. Golan wine. I haven’t looked at all of it, but it has a prime place of display in the foyer of my house. Brilliant idea, I don’t know who came up with it.
  That’s the problem, the Europeans are going to cut off Israel and really hurt it economically, over so-called human rights. Did you see this morning that the Turks have decided to renew relations, which is wonderful, isn’t it? We all know why, it’s because of Russia and Iran, but who cares, right? We take what we can get.

 

Hertog: Let me turn what you were just saying upside down. When you look at your article from ’98, the one thing I think—one could make a strong case, and I wonder whether you would agree, that Israel is in a much stronger position today than it was in ’98. With chaos in Iraq, Syria, Libya, which will probably—for the foreseeable future—never be sovereign states again, with unique power, large armies. Egypt today, probably more aligned with Israel than they’ve ever been strategically. Yet Israel is left now with one existential threat: Iran. Given that Israel has a very large military, large nuclear arsenal, the ability to probably execute a first strike, or God forbid a second strike, is Israel today … If you were writing this article today, is Israel less threatened than what you thought of at that moment?

 

Krauthammer: That’s a difficult question, because Israel is constantly threatened, but at different levels, and from different places. Looking at the conventional view, going back to ’48, Israel being surrounded by countries with real armies, real states dedicated to its eradication, that is at the lowest level ever, as you say, probably right now. Obviously close to zero. The existential threat is at a level never before seen, because Iran is near to getting a nuclear weapon, and let’s just say its policy is unpredictable. Just living under the Damocles Sword. Let’s assume it acquires a weapon, will not use it directly, or at least …
  For Israel to live under the Damocles Sword is in some way to undermine the very idea of Zionism. Zionism was a cure to Jewish helplessness, and the cure it offered was, “We defend ourselves.” That was sort of the ultimate, “We don’t depend on others, we aren’t the court Jews, we don’t have to go ask favors of the Gentiles to protect us.”
  This is a situation where it’s lost the means to assure its survival. In the past it did by having overwhelming conventional superiority, but with an unpredictable enemy that could be willing to sacrifice. Rafsanjani said, “Israel is a one country bomb.” The Islamic world is immune to true damage, even by an Israeli retaliation. Iran could be wiped out, but if you’re looking at this from the point of view of an Islamist, could be worth it, you know. You do one great battle, and Israel is gone.
  It’s living in a circumstance where, existentially as it never has been before. The reason you have to put a caveat there; it’s not inevitable, and it’s not a hundred percent certain right now. Obviously, an all-out attack could wipe out the Iranian nuclear capacity, and set it back. It wouldn’t eradicate it, but if you get ten years at a time, that’s an achievement.
  I was told by former Ambassador Oren that when they launched the Osirak attack in 1987, their calculation was they would gain a year or two. I’d imagined that they had calculated ten years, fifteen. They would launch an attack, take the risk, both the military and the diplomatic risk of doing that, to gain a year or two, tells them how important it was, and how Israel calculates. That even a year or two or three of gain is worth it, even if you have to keep doing it again and again.
  It’s a hard balance. The worry I have is this, and this is where Obama comes in. The worry I have is that, this is a country, Israel, that can defend itself up to a point, but in the end has to have one great ally, and that’s us. With Obama, you’ve got the beginning of a vision of what it’s like to be abandoned, and the beginning of abandonment or neglected, or in some ways, diplomatically, if nothing else, assaulted. What happens if and when that happens?
  The reason I’m somewhat optimistic is, I do thing, as I’ve tried to argue, it’s been those fifteen minutes, and I think Obama is anomalous. I don’t think this is the beginning. If I’m wrong about this … I don’t see it in any of the candidates, for example. I don’t see any of that kind of anti-imperialist position and antipathy to Israel surviving or being transmitted in his party.
  The worry I have is Europe, and this is not … I’ll make one more distinction. There are two reasons to abandon Israel, if you’re a Western power, strategic or, if you like, moral. Europe is withdrawing from Israel for what it thinks is moral reasons. Unworthy, oppressive, I mean, as the press, I don’t have to go into this, you know how Israel is a pariah, this thing they’ve done with the West [Bank], the labeling of the foods. You see any labeling from Tibet, Morocco, for the western Sahara? You see anything labeled from Syria? No, of course not. This to me is a resurgence of 2000 year old anti-Semitism, in the form of Zionism. I don’t think it’s defensible, as a matter of fact, but this is what’s happening. Europe is withdrawing.  Europe is not essential for Israel’s military or strategic survival, but economically, it’s extremely important.
  The ultimate ally is the United States for strategic and military, and here, the strategic argument for abandoning Israel is declining, and the moral argument is not really taking hold the way it does in Europe. I would say, that’s because there’s no history and tradition of a deep seated anti-Semitism in America. It is in Europe, so it takes very little to trigger it in Europe. It took the Holocaust, the magnitude of the Holocaust, to suppress it for fifty years, but even the Holocaust can’t suppress it for more than two generations. That’s back, and the real problem for Israel the next ten or fifteen years is how to deal with the economic consequences of what’s going to come out of Europe. As for America, I think the alliance remains stable, and I think the support will remain there, and it’ll … Once we revert to the norm, which will be after inauguration day in 2017, I think there will be fewer questions about that.

 

Hertog: One of the things you’ve said, really, deeper things, not that you haven’t said many deep things. You said if you get politics wrong it’s the single most important area. Everything else pales in relation to getting politics right. I’d like to just talk about this, in relation, again, to your article about American Jewry. Enlightened liberalism has been good, in fact, much better than good for individual Jews in America, but a disaster for Jews as a collective. Isn’t this a reason to question the premises that the aims of small “d”, democratic liberalism, and in particular, Jewish affiliation with the big “D”, Democratic party. Might such questioning lead to a reconsideration of the Jewish collective interest and an invigoration of the American Jewish community?

 

Krauthammer: I think the mistake here is to assume political rationality in American Jews. Irving Kristol once gave a lecture in Jerusalem, around the time I wrote this article, I think it came after, which was titled, “On the Political Stupidity of the Jews”. Only Irving could have put that in the title—that’s why I love him so much. I’ve been speaking to Jews now for thirty years, and it’s the same stuff, you can imagine. I mean, I really give them shit. I say, “I don’t understand this.” I particularly do over their truly disgraceful, demeaning, disregarding, and disrespect for evangelicals, but that’s sort of the end of my speech after half the audience has left, that’s where I kind of unload on the rest.
  After thirty years I’ve realized that I’m totally wasting my time. I haven’t made a dent on any of them. It remains one of the great political … What’s the cliché? The Jews live like WASPs …

 

Audience Member: Vote like Puerto Ricans.

 

Krauthammer: … and that they vote like Puerto Ricans.

 

Hertog: Milton Himmelfarb.

 

Krauthammer: It defies imagination. They are the only group that votes against their socio-economic interests. I guess because they feel that that is demeaning, it doesn’t live up to the prophetic standards of Micah and Jeremiah and Isaiah and the others, and I think they’re insane to think that, but they do. They think it’s their obligation as Jews, what’s left of their identification as Jews is liberalism. They’ve stripped away everything else, the yarmulkes and the synagogues, although I think some of them have returned.
  I remember one Yom Kippur, wandering into a Reform service in the afternoon, you know, when you’re hungry and you don’t have anything else to do, so you walk over to the Reform temple. There were no yarmulkes. I thought maybe, “Is this a church, did I go to the wrong place?”
  They strip away everything else, and a little bit, of course, is returning now, because that doesn’t work, but when you strip it away all that’s left is Micah, all that’s left is social gospel, what the Christians call social gospel. That is, to the extent that they are Jews… there’s Hollywood Jews. If you every see a Hollywood liberal Jew, which is sort of a triple redundancy, talking about politics, it’s always, “As a Jew, I am obliged to support Bernie Sanders,” who honeymooned in the Soviet Union. Lindsey Graham said, “Yes, and never returned.” Bernie Sanders is sort of a classic case of a … anyway, I digress.
  This is what’s left of their Jewishness, and that’s why I think it’s unshakable, because they give that up, then they sort of betray their tradition and what’s left of their obligation to the fathers and the bubbes and the grandmothers. That’s the residue. I think maybe, in time … I think as the demographics of the Jewish community changes, in the sense that the Orthodox are multiplying and the Reform are not—birth control really works—as that changes there will be a change in their political, but I think it will be a one to one relationship of the ratio of Orthodox to Reform and Conservative. It’s not going to be a change of perception by liberal Judaism. I think that is going to remain, and it will remain a puzzle to political analysts, particularly ones who aren’t Jewish, so they have no idea why are the Jews behaving so strangely. I understand, because I’ve been there, and I know these people, my people. I think that’s sort of the best explanation for that.

 

Hertog: My last question before we open this up. One of the premises of the article, again, is that, if, God forbid, something happened to Israel, Judaism would end in the West, and as you put it, would suffer, “diminution, decline, and virtual disappearance.” What does that tell us about the likely fate of the West itself? Is the state of American Judaism just like, so to say, the canary in the coal mine, for all the traditional ways of life in modern America, or do we overstate our significance?

 

Krauthammer: No, I think it’s not a reflection of that. It’s unique to Judaism. I think the problem with that analysis is that it underestimates the uniqueness of Jewish history. That’s what I think is sort of at the core of so many misunderstandings about Israel. It’s at the core, for example, why people are able to argue as they do on campus, and in Europe, that Israel is the last of the colonial powers.
  The Dutch had no history in South Africa. We hadn’t exactly spent two thousand years, we, sort of the Anglo-Saxons, in New Zealand before landing on the shores with Captain Cook. People look at the Israelis, the Palestinians—and people on the left believe this—we’re a settler, coloner, alien influence that came in. We’re not.
  The reason they have trouble understanding it—for some it’s just pure malevolence and malice toward Jews—is because the Jews have done something never done before by anybody else. Even the Jews didn’t imagine it could be done, they returned. No one’s ever returned. We can’t even read the Etruscan language. Everybody disappears. The ten tribes have disappeared. When Jefferson sent out Lewis and Clark, he sent them up to see Dr. Benjamin Rush, in Philadelphia, to gather questions and things to study. One of the things that Rush said that they should look for is to listen whether there was any resemblance in the language of the Indians to Hebrew, perhaps the Indians were the ten lost tribes. The ten lost tribes are lost because all tribes were lost when they were conquered, exiled, enslaved. They never came back. Anybody.
  I think the single most consequential, political decision in the history of the world is a minor one that Cyrus the Great made, probably off-handedly, in an afternoon NSC session, where Item 17: The Jews, they want to go back. “Yeah, sure, let them go back.” If he had said no, there would be no Jews, no Christianity, no Islam, and no Western art, to start with.
  This is a story that is so improbable, the revival of Hebrew. That’s never happened. No language has ever been revived to become the language of everyday life, ever. This is the uniqueness of our history. That’s why I think it’s such a fragile thing. We have lived, our generation have the privilege, after a hundred others, to live through… live in the era of a miraculous, unique revival in all of human history. I don’t think we quite appreciate how fragile it is, because it is so improbable, and we’re basically hanging by a thread.
  The point I tried to make in the article was, the Jews had survived, but by dispersal. You wiped out the Jews in the Rhine during the Crusades, there were Jews everywhere else. They were individually vulnerable, communities vulnerable, because of dispersal, but as a collective, invulnerable. You couldn’t wipe them out everywhere. Hitler showed that with mechanization you could wipe them out to a very large extent, and the Jews made a collective decision, “Okay, that’s it, we’re done with dispersal, and we’re done with survival through dispersal and helplessness. We’re going to put all our eggs in one basket, and we’re going to abandon the idea of relying on others.” Self-reliance, and strength in one place.
  They knew, as we now know, that this is a huge gamble, because once you say “we’re going to do by self-reliance, by concentrating our power in one place,” which is what we’ve done, I mean, what a choice? In the middle of that neighborhood, and no oil. For God’s sake, Uganda looks good today.

 

Hertog: Not really.

 

Krauthammer: Yeah, you’re right. Some were talking about Canada. There are areas. A little bit cold. Alberta would have been terrific.
  That’s the decision, and I was sort of trying to impress on the younger audience. You grow up with Israel, you imagine as part of the landscape, a country like all others. Yes, under attack more than others, but this is the only one of 196 that is explicitly the subject of state policy to wipe it out. There’s no other that is the object of state policy to be wiped out, eradicated from other countries, including important ones, including one that’s about to go nuclear. We made that collective decision as Jews to put it all in one place. Whereas historically we were dispersed, and then we reached a place in the mid-twentieth century where essentially the diaspora, after Hitler, there was so little left, there was so little hope, and there was so much assimilation in the West because of the advent of openness, liberty, and the enlightenment, that we became a people with two poles, a solar system with two centers, which was essentially America and Israel.
  The argument that I made in the piece is that the American sun is in decline, I don’t know what the steepness of the curve will be, but we will not be anywhere near as strong in number or political influence, if that’s what you care about, as we are today. Eventually we are going to a single star system. Everything revolves around Israel.
  On the question of its destruction, look, we miraculously survived two destructions, and who can explain it? We are not going to survive a third. The conditions are different. In a condition of liberalism in the West and openness in the West, and the West opening itself, not even the West, not to say America. America is in its own way unique. You look at the letter that Washington wrote to the Newport Synagogue, what was it, 1796. Is there any people on earth who would say, as he says, first President, way back at a time when the Jews were still in the ghetto in Europe: “It’s not tolerance that we speak of, because it implies superiority of one people to another. It is acceptance and openness …” and whatever? This idea way beyond tolerance, in 1796.
  We live in a completely unique country which accepts Jews as no other country ever, and that includes the romance about medieval Spain. There’s been nothing like the welcoming of America, which invites assimilation, and you can make a good argument for assimilation. The glory of … Who else in history, what other Jews in history have had a choice of joining a civilization as enlightened, tolerant, and benign as the American civilization. Are you really going to argue that it’s the wrong choice? For the descendants of Moses Mendelssohn, who joined the Viennese and the German civilizations, well, that turned out to be a very unfortunate choice.
  In America there’s an openness. It’s very hard to make a case to a young American Jew who says, “You know, yeah, this is interesting, I’ll keep eating the bagels and the lox, but I want to be American and I’m going to leave the rest of it behind.” That’s a powerful case. Given the power of that attraction … Again, it was Irving Kristol who said, “The problem with the old days is that the Gentiles wanted to kill us. Now they want to marry us.” It’s actually become kind of a social cache. Trump’s grandchildren are Jewish.

 

Hertog: What more could you ask for?

 

Krauthammer: As Yogi Berra said, when he was told the mayor of Dublin was Jewish, “Only in America.” There’s never been such attraction, there’s never been such openness, and there’s never been such a structural imbalance of the Jewish presence, Jewish culture, Jewish confidence, and Jewish continuity in Israel, which is almost guaranteed. If you’re speaking in Hebrew and the Sabbath is your Saturday, and your surroundings are all Jewish, and the history is in every time you dig a foundation to a house, you find coins from the Bar Kochba era, saying “Year of Liberty 1, Year of Liberty 2, and 3,” and that’s where it stops. You’re now in the year of liberty 47 or something, maybe more, I lose track. Fifty, sixty. You live in a place where the continuity is guaranteed, the rest of the world, the diaspora, has either been wiped out, assimilating, or being absorbed, there’s no question that the balance of the dual solar system is completely shifting, and it’s only a matter of a generation or two.
  That’s why it all hinges. If you take away Israel, which is unimaginable, I think that Judaism becomes a minor sect, a remnant of a remnant, and I do not see a fourth commonwealth. I know it’s very pessimistic, so if anybody’s been truly depressed by that, I can still write prescriptions for antidepressants. I’d be happy to hand them out after.

 

Hertog: Aren’t the, or do you see that what assimilation does to these Jews, and what has survived. You make this eloquent case, in fact, you said somewhere else what Barbara Tuchman said, the uniqueness that Barbara Tuchman said, “The only people in the world …

 

Krauthammer: Right, who worship the same God, live in the same land, speak the same language as they did 3,000 years ago. That’s not even true of the Chinese and the Egyptians, who go back a long way.

 

Hertog: American Jewry is about to give that up because our friends, the Gentiles will embrace us and take us to their country clubs. And we don’t even need their country clubs anymore, or let us into their schools. Is there nothing in Judaism itself that has the merit, the power to maintain a strong affiliation?

 

Krauthammer: I’m not saying that there’s intrinsically lacking. What I am saying is that the attraction and the openness offered by America is historically unique. There obviously is something in Judaism that holds together, because we’ve survived two thousand years like nobody else, without a homeland, et cetera, without a native language, without power, without any of that. Yes, we have. We were also aided by the fact that most of the people were not receptive, so we had to live in ghettos, and you become chummy with your neighbors when you’re locked into a neighborhood.
  America is not just a post-Enlightenment, America is a post-toleration society. Look, I see it in my son’s generation. I’m encouraged and surprised by the third generation rebound. The grandparents arrive, they speak Yiddish, their children become doctors and lawyers, change their names, become Green and Smith, and then the grandchildren, which you wouldn’t expect, a percentage of them—and I don’t know how big it is … I grew up with a percentage of the grandchildren—who return. They start going to shul, there are these little congregations all over Washington. They’re all young people, very encouraging.
  I think the numbers, and I haven’t studied this lately, the numbers are overwhelming that for every one of those, which to me is a miracle and speaks exactly to the attraction and the strength and the worthiness, sort of the merit of what Judaism offers … For every one of those I would guess, looking at my son’s generation, there are nine who might have had a bar mitzvah, who didn’t exactly like it, and were happy to put it behind them. Now, I can’t predict that the rebound and the return is not going to strengthen, but if you look at the numbers, I think you have a growth of the Orthodox, which is a whole different attitude towards the secular world, but among the Reform, I don’t see them having a future. Yes, maybe in some kind of formal manner …
  I mean, look at the intermarriage rates fifty years ago and today; they’re just completely off the charts. In 1998 I ran through the numbers of, if you had a fifty percent intermarriage rate, everything hinges on “how do you raise the children?” because intermarriage can actually increase your numbers, if you’re doubling your marriage partners. I thought the consensus number was one in four was raised as Jewish. If that’s the case, it leads to a losing of a quarter of the population every generation, just intermarriage alone. There’s also people who are Jewish but sort of lose their affiliation, there’s a percentage there, too.
  I don’t know, I did the math on this a way long time ago, the number may not be as steep as I had predicted then, but it certainly is. We had this phenomenon about a year ago, where the first time since John the Baptist walked the earth, the Jewish community in Israel is the largest on the planet. It’s been a long time, and the numbers are obvious. They’re rising in Israel, and they’re declining in the West, and particularly here.

 

Hertog: Let’s just open this up. Jamie?

 

Audience Member: Sort of on that subject, there’s a lot of demographic change in this country among the non-Jewish population. We’re going to be a majority minority country by 2040, or whatnot. What challenges do you think that poses to the American-Israeli relationship, and reaching out to these new communities, and explaining the importance of it to them?

 

Krauthammer: That’s an interesting question. Was there something inherent about the sort of Anglo-Saxon, European tradition, which was overwhelming fifty years ago, that helped to cement a bond with the Jewish state.
  I think … I hadn’t actually thought that through. Given the level of anti-Semitism in Europe itself historically, you would think not. The one new thing is the evangelicals. That is radically different from fifty years ago to today. I talked at the, was it the, Christians and Jews …

 

Hertog: CUFI?

 

Krauthammer: Yeah, CUFI, and I remember being stunned—not just by their support of Israel. You remember the old story when Begin came here the first time, late seventies, and he had a meeting with Falwell, and he came to a meeting in New York. Somebody asked, “How can you embrace Jerry Falwell, don’t you know the only reason he supports you and Israel is because you’re the harbinger of the second coming?” He said, “You know, when the Messiah comes we’ll ask him, ‘Have you been here before?’ Until then, I really don’t worry about that.”
  I always thought, yes it has to do with eschatological views of their evangelical faith and the Jews play … but I got it completely wrong. I talked and I listened to the other speeches. The theme of the other speeches was how their Christianity was a very close cousin, that the Jews were family, not about Israel, eschatology. They downplay to an amazing extent sort of the central disagreement about whether he’s come once or not, sort of used to be the focal point, but they sort of glossed over it. I was told that a third of the people there celebrate Seders. They see themselves as part of the family. Had a little misunderstanding a long time ago, but we are …
  There was this intense religious affiliation and bond with Jews, having little to do with Israel. I was impressed by that, and I realized I had totally misunderstood sort of where the fervor and the friendship and almost the familial feeling comes from. That I think is new. That I think does not change. And that the one thing that Americans use.

 

Hertog: What’s the source of that, do you think, the source of the evangelical …

 

Krauthammer: Look, I’m no theologian, and certainly not an expert on evangelical Christianity …

 

Hertog: Well, today you are.

 

Krauthammer: Yeah, well, I’ll pretend to be because I don’t see a scholar of that sort in the room …

 

Hertog: We can ask Dr. Kass here.

 

Krauthammer: Well, maybe there. I think it has to do with… they’re fascinated with early Christianity. They do, they pare away all the, shall we say, the Catholic or other trappings, hierarchy, ritual, and all that. They go all the way back to scripture, to the personal relationship. I think when you go back that far, and you look at it, you affiliate, you identify with the very early Christians, well then you’re getting very close to the relationship between Jews and early Christians, which, again, until a few unfortunate misunderstandings was a very close one and a familial one. The very idea, for some of them, I think they’re sort of in the position of the early Jewish Christians, who weren’t quite sure, “Is this a split from Judaism? Do I abandon it, or is this just the way that Judaism is supposed to go, or even just a sect of?” I think that’s where they find themselves. To me that was a fascinating discovery, and a very … It encouraged me, because this is deeper than some kind of calculation at “how do we bring the rapture?”

 

Hertog: Mike?

 

Audience Member: I have a question, but just on your last point, if I may. I’m not an expert on early Christianity, but I’ve been told by evangelicals when I spoke that they take very seriously what God says to Abraham, “I’ll bless those that bless you, curse those …” That has affected people. Winston Churchill, for instance, was very influenced by Disraeli saying, “God deals with the nations as the nations deal with the Jews.” He never exactly said it, but essentially said something like that, but he thought Disraeli said it.

 

Krauthammer: In fact, at that event, I heard that said at least twice.

 

Mike: My question … You were looking at the US-Israel relationship from the US perspective. How do you assess Israeli foreign policy, particularly, let’s say, just as a point of departure, after 1973, after the last of the conventional attacks on Israel? Have you seen Israel as being creative, prudent, thoughtful? How do look at how the Israelis have approached their challenges? I know it’s a big swath of time, but I’m just curious.

 

Krauthammer: I thought they’ve approached it very, very well, given the cards they were played, with one tragic, historic, and near catastrophic mistake, and that was Oslo. They’ve been dealt a really bad hand. They handled the early phase, intra-nation phase, where they had to deal with conventional war, conventional enemies, survive and prevail, and then trade it away, where it was needed, you know ’73, Sinai and the Peace Treaties. Oslo was a mistake of colossal proportions and the echoes today …
  I remember, there was a meeting somewhere, I was in Washington, and Shimon Peres was the guest, it was a room like this. He was a little bit late. He walks in, first he sees me, he says, “Krauthammer, I’m not a messianist.” That was the first line, he didn’t even say hello to anybody. I’d given a speech in Jerusalem where I talked about Jewish messianism, and the latest example was Sabbatai Zevi was a pretty bad one. Bar Kochba was even worse And then there was Peres and Rabin, who is still alive, of course. I wouldn’t have been that disrespectful at the time.
  I said this is Jewish messianism, and the rabbis argued very strongly against it. It doesn’t end well. It never ends well. You know, Rabbi Akiva pronounced Bar Kochba the Messiah. That was a mistake, that was a big mistake. So these guys, Peres was a guy who said, “I would rather be surrounded by a bank of hotels in Jerusalem than by tanks.” The man is delusional, and then he concluded his treaty. I was on the White House lawn when it was signed, 1993. Everybody around me, Barbara Walters, everybody, they were weeping with joy. This was the messianic age. I felt so bad.
  I listened to Arafat’s speech, unlike the others. It was a triumphal speech, “This is the beginning of … ” It was not … Rabin’s speech, “This is the end of the enmity, this is the end of the …” What they didn’t understand, apart from all the territorial stuff, the absurd treaties, 18 appendices about all committees they were going to work on, completely wasted paper, because nothing was going to come of it. What they did is they conceded to the world the Palestinian narrative. Until then, people in the west generally saw Israel, plucky state, defending itself against terrorists who attacked people in the Vienna airport, go to Uganda, hijack, pick out the Jews. That was the story. Here was a state, a legitimate state, being attacked by people, and they may have good cause, and all of a sudden the Palestinian narrative, the Nakba. The fact that this was one state imposing a colonial state, implanting itself. You can make a case for it. I think that if you’re a martian observing the history of this conflict, I think you would say the Israelis have the better of the case. But it was Israel conceding the case. It was Israel conceding that it may not really be their land.
  Then you get all the way five years later, seven years later, where Jerusalem is… It was American policy that Jerusalem would be the united capital, and never divided. Within seven years, it’s now conceded that there is an occupied Jerusalem, non-Jewish Jerusalem which includes, of course, the Jewish quarter, which is an interesting contradiction that we all carry in our heads. Israel conceded the argument and the narrative.
  When Peres came into that meeting, and I argued with him about what he had given away, he said, “No, our great achievement now is that the whole world has accepted a two-state solution.” I said, “But, Mr. Foreign Minister, until Oslo, and the whole world conceded that it was a one state solution, with problem. Now you think it’s your achievement that the Palestinians are accepted as having the right to a state next door, before they’ve conceded anything?”
  Today we start from the two-state solution as the beginning line, and then you negotiate what Israel has to give up in advance. Whereas before it would have been, and it was, if it’s going to be a state, and it wasn’t even accepted before Oslo, well then, they’re going to demilitarize, adjustment of boundaries, et cetera, et cetera, no right of return. They gave up the story, and Europe now accepts the story. They completely accept the Palestinian narrative, and the Jews are left trying to argue, “Well, you don’t understand, we are not as bad as you think we are.”
  That, to me—Israel has not recovered, and may never recover from the shift in the ideological war that occurred when Israel gave up everything at Oslo. That’s gone now. We start from the premise of the illegitimacy, or at least the indeterminacy of a Jewish state in the first place. What’s the argument today, “Should there have been a Jewish state?” There was book put out by Cohen, the Washington Post columnist …

 

Hertog: Richard Cohen.

 

Krauthammer: Richard Cohen. He concludes, “Well, yes, on balance, there should have been.” Who wrote books like that before? Anyway …

 

Audience Member: He’s your colleague.

 

Krauthammer: I disavow a lot of them.

 

Hertog: Yes, sir.

 

Audience Member: Hi, Yair Rosenberg. You talk about Israeli foreign policy mistakes, and you also talked about, earlier today, that to have a Damocles Sword of an Iranian nuclear strike hanging over Israel is in some sense an abrogation of Zionism. I would ask you, do you think it was a foreign policy mistake for Netanyahu not to have bombed Iran, and to have relied on administration guarantees, given the result?

 

Krauthammer: Yes. I’m assuming, since he knows stuff I don’t know, that there, and I’m conceding, that there might have been military reasons, where they thought it wouldn’t succeed, or that there were diplomatic pressures of some kind that I don’t know about, that would have been utterly unsustainable. Apart from those two caveats, I think it was a huge mistake. I think the time to do it, and I think they were ready or wanting to do it, I’m talking about Bibi and his aides, would have been August, September, October 2012. I think they were convinced that the Republicans would win and it could then be conducted with the support, it doesn’t have to be military support, but the sure diplomatic support of the US, because you have to think about the morning after. The morning after there are going to be eighteen resolutions, Security Council, to ostracize Israel, to boycott Israel, to cut, and all kinds of stuff, where the Europeans would be in play. With a strong American support, we would police the Europeans, as we have at the UN in all kinds of anti-Israel stuff. With Obama, we wouldn’t only not police the Europeans, we’d probably join the jackals. There was a lot to calculate, and I’m hoping that was the reason. It could be, the reason why, is that it’s a bluff, and they think that they don’t have what it takes to do it. They have to refuel, and that’s a major issue. I would assume that the Saudis and the Kuwaitis and UAE would offer them landing rights, the way that Kenya gave Israel landing rights in the Entebbe Raid. I could imagine the whole desert of Saudi Arabia with a bunch of lights with an arrow going “Tehran this way. Only 400 miles to go, keep going. Fueling station to your left.” I can see all that. I think it was a huge mistake. I think it’s going to have to be done, and it’ll be done later, and it’ll be harder. I’m hoping that, if and when that happens, there’ll be an American administration that will give the support that’s necessary. I don’t know that they’ll need military support, but at least some guarantee, some protections, diplomatic, at the UN, and maybe warning Hezbollah, Iran, anybody else that if there’s an attack of certain kinds on Israel, I don’t know if we would contribute, but we might help them defensively. I don’t know. I do think it’s going to have to happen. I think it will happen. I was very interested in the Congress … The best idea to come out of the Congress in dealing with the Iran deal, which they had no hope of stopping in the first place, because it wasn’t going to be submitted as a treaty, is a declaration, and this has been pushed by some people, even some Democrats, a declaration now, or as soon as we get a new president, that if Iran ever crosses the threshold, it will not be permitted, including by military means. Not that the military isn’t off the table, but essentially, giving an ultimatum. “You come within this distance of a bomb, you are going to be attacked.” That’s called deterrence. Whether it’ll work or not, I don’t know, but I think that would be a very important step in at least holding … The one hope with Iran is, it’s a race between the technology and the politics. If there’s ever an Iranian revolution, which I suspect there will be. These kinds of regimes do not last generations, this one’s lasted quite a long time—Soviet only went 70 years, the Nazi was 13 years (of course, it had outside help in bringing it down, that is true). But these revolutions usually burn themselves out because you cannot sustain that kind of fanaticism and ideological fervor through generations. It can last one or two, but generally not. We know the, we saw it in 2009 when there were the demonstrations, and of course Obama being an unusual president, anti-imperialist, who thinks the biggest crime of the twentieth century was the overthrow of Mosaddegh in 1953, perhaps second only to the overthrow of the Guatemalan government in ’54. He felt we didn’t have the moral standing. Again, unlike a Clinton, who would make a national interest decision as to whether to support the anti-government demonstrators or not, for him it was a moral issue: we have no right to tamper. Over time, I think there will be a recurrence. This is not a popular regime. Like the Soviet regime, it contains so many internal contradictions that it sort of organically deformed, imposing itself in a modern world, on a modern, young, fairly pro-western population. That day will come, I believe. I probably won’t live to see it. When that day comes, then it diffuses. It’s not as if Israel lives perpetually under the Damocles Sword. If Iran becomes a normal nation, maybe not Western, but non-threatening, well, Israel lives with the Pakistani bomb. A lot of people have the bomb, and it’s not an existential threat to Israel. I could see under a regime… I’m not even hoping for a Shah-like regime, which was friendly to Israel, but indifferent, then you’re not living under a Damocles Sword because then Israel’s deterrent could prevail, and you deter a threat from a nation not inherently committed to your destruction. There is hope, which is, you have to outlive, you have to get through the period between now and the change of regime, and that could be five years or forty years. If you can do that—the Jews have been around for a lot longer than that—with the right support from the West, and with the right deterrent, then you’re beyond the threat. Israel had a shot, it’ll have another shot, but it needs, I think, a declaration from the United States to back it up.

 

Hertog: Mark?

 

Audience Member: Charles, you talked about post-tolerant America being the best of times for American Jews. There was piece in the Wall Street Journal yesterday by Bret Stephens, I don’t know if you saw it, on this whole dual loyalty issue. Bret talked about a really, just remarkable case …

 

Krauthammer: Oh, yeah, I saw a piece of it.

 

Audience Member: … of a dentist. You saw that?

 

Krauthammer: Well, dentists can be dangerous.

 

Audience Member: Just for those who didn’t see the piece …

 

Krauthammer: Have you seen “Marathon Man”? Sorry …

 

Audience Member: … dentist who retires from his New York practice, who wants to help serve the nation, sixty years old. Goes and provides dental services to the US military, and loses his …

 

Krauthammer: Living in Rockaway. Far Rockaway.

 

Audience Member: Right. Loses his security clearance because he’s got a brother and a sister living in Israel, and an old mother with dementia who he calls once a week. He loses his security clearance. For those of us who are American Jews, living in this city, that article was not a surprise. This is one of the worst-kept secrets in Washington. As American Jews you are constantly facing this, sometimes indirect, sometimes very explicit accusation of dual loyalties. I’m an immigrant to this country from the Great White North, and this was one of the most shocking things for me to discover in America, that you truly have not assimilated here, you are still looked as potentially unpatriotic, you have dual loyalties, particularly in the national security establishment. Can you comment on that? Was the story overblown in your view?

 

Krauthammer: No, it was a fascinating story. We have different experiences. I grew up in Canada—I guess you did, too, I didn’t know that—where I felt the otherness. Never anti-Semitism, but one of the reasons I left was because I thought, if I ever get involved in politics I’ll always be an outsider. I will never be seen as Quebecois. After all, I don’t really care … The essential issue in all of Canada for all of my youth was should Quebec have a flag and a seat at the UN. Since I think that the UN amounts for nothing in the world, I thought that was a pretty good way to waste your life, to even care. I’m getting out of here, because I don’t really care one way or the other. Give them a flag and a seat, who gives a damn?
  I knew I was an outsider. I went to a Jewish day school, and in Montreal in my days, I don’t know how it is now, all schools were parochial, there were no public schools. The government supported them all, and there were two school boards. There was the Catholic School Board of Montreal, and there was the Protestant School Board of Montreal. On the outside of my school it said United Talmud Torahs of Montreal, Protestant School Board. Our Jewish school was considered a Protestant school, because we weren’t Catholic. I grew up as a Protestant.
  This is a very heavily, this is a state that didn’t even have the idea of a public school. I knew I’d always be a Jew, and I’d always be an outsider. There was one minister, when the Olympic games went wildly over budget, I mean, corruption was … This is 1976.

 

Audience Member: Jean Drapeau.

 

Krauthammer: Drapeau, right. They called in… at one point they were so deeply in debt, and the corruption was just out of hand, they called in the one Jewish minister. I forget his name, I don’t know who he was with, and they put him in charge. They brought the Jew in to clean up the mess, and he did. That’s how you were seen. There were Jews on the courts, but they were always Jews on the court. Does anybody ever say of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “That Jew on the court?” Never.

 

Hertog: Yes, sir?

 

Audience Member: You described Obama earlier as an anomaly, and an anti-imperialist. Would you argue that argue that Obama is making t’shuvah in some way, during his last period? He announced at first that he would close Guantanamo. It’s still open. Pulling out from Iraq, returning back. Pulling out from Afghanistan, returning back. Not interested in Syria or being involved there, and I guess that using Israelis is some way of doing his dirty job, and we’ll see in the future what will come again? Does he understand now what his former American generals were saying, and I quote from Alexander Haig, “Israel is the largest American aircraft carrier in the world that cannot be sunk, does not carry even one American soldier, and is located in a critical region for American national security.” Another Major General, George J. Keegan Jr., which was a former Air Force Intelligence Chief was quoted as saying, “America’s military defense capability owes more to the Israeli intelligence input than it does to any other single source of intelligence. Its value is worth more than five CIAs.” I would like to hear what you think. Thank you.

 

Krauthammer: I don’t think Obama is capable of t’shuvah. After all, did you him in shul on Yom Kippur? I never have. Obama hasn’t changed a bit. Like the Bourbons, he forgot nothing, and he learned nothing. I think he believes exactly as he believed before. He’s being pushed into these minor corrections by circumstances. At a certain point, you have to admit, if you don’t do something in Afghanistan, you’re going to end up with helicopters on the roof of the embassy while you’re still in office. He doesn’t care if it happens after he leaves, but he doesn’t want it to happen between now and then, so he’s staving it off.
  He’s doing a holding operation in Iraq for the same reason, he doesn’t want to see Baghdad go down. It won’t, Iran won’t allow it, but he doesn’t want to be humiliated while he’s office. These are all holding operations. When it comes to Israel, he’s been behaving fairly nicely, but I just want to put out one thing, and I’d like you, Roger, to think about this, and everybody here. There is one huge danger looming, and that is: Palestinians are going to put forth a resolution to the Security Council endorsing a Palestinian state, which essentially wipes out 242, the whole 50 year understanding that Israel has to withdraw from occupied territories, in return for peace. That gets wiped out because this is a state with no peace. For Israel it’s just going to be unimaginably bad. Any time any soldier enters the West Bank, that’s aggression against another nation. At the UN there’ll be trials, the International Criminal Court. The complications for Israel are going to be unbelievable.
  Between now and election day, Obama is not going to tell you… he won’t allow it to go through. America has always threatened to veto. I’m worried that between election day in November and the day he leaves office, there is a two month window when Obama will be able to play out all of his prejudices, and none of those have changed. This is not a man who has changed his worldview. He’s the same anti-imperialist who came into office, and he will be after he leaves office. There is a two month window, and I can’t figure out what the strategy could be to try to prevent that, what kind of pressure, what can you do in Congress, what can you do among the candidates, the Democratic candidates, more than anybody, to make that less likely. That, I think this is where Obama is going to show himself. Maybe he won’t do it. Maybe he thinks it’s beneath him, because he’s done all the damage he needs to do to Israel, he’s done enough, he can walk away, he’ll do it as UN Secretary General in the future. For now, he’s got two months, and that’s where I think this unrepentant man who still thinks …
  I mean, look at the way he’s been talking about the anti-ISIS campaign the last four televised addresses, the one yesterday, the one Monday, the one in the Oval Office, and the ridiculous, unbelievable performance in Turkey. He’s totally certain that his view, that his strategy is right, and that it’s going to succeed, or that even it doesn’t matter. I think he really views Islamic terrorism as a nuisance and not a strategic threat. He’s so sure of that, he doesn’t even have to pretend, which he’s even, he gives a few speeches, but he reads them like it’s a hostage tape. Did you see him yesterday? The stuff he says is unbelievable.
  This is not a man who’s changing, and I would just want to drop this little question for people to think about. There’s almost a year between now and then, but imagine what happens if we support that, and by international law Palestine exists and every action Israel does is an act of international aggression. Imagine what that opens Israel up to, and what will happen with relations with Europe. Remember, we used to police European anti-Isreal-ism and keep it tamped down, that was our job at the UN. This would open the flood gates.

 

Audience Member: That’s why I’m praying for the strength and good health of Vladimir Putin.

 

Krauthammer: Why?

 

Audience Member: Perhaps he’ll veto the resolution.

 

Krauthammer: Why?

 

Audience Member: To pull Israel away from the United States.

 

Krauthammer: That’s a bridge very far.

 

Audience Member: That’s why I’m praying, not planning.

 

Krauthammer: I can see him wanting to warm relations and all that, but I can’t see him, he’s a smart calculator, calculating that he could ever pull Israel away from the US because there really is no … unless he’s going to offer something, I don’t know what he offers. He’s got too many other fires. Anyway, that’s interesting.

 

Hertog: It’s a very narrow window, though. He can’t do anything before the election, because it would destroy Mrs. Clinton’s chances, so he’s got …

 

Krauthammer: The best hope is Hillary. Somehow Hillary has to be convinced by people that she cares about—or who knows?—but she needs to make a declaration. What could she actually promise? Private pressure on Obama, but certainly she can’t stop him.

 

Hertog: It would require a very, very courageous, if it was a Republican, actually no longer recognizing the UN, which we should have done many, many years ago. That’s what you would have to think about from a legalistic point of view, that it doesn’t have the authority, the moral authority or the legal authority. That’s a very, very long bridge. David, you want to …

 

Audience Member: Dr. Krauthammer, thank you. Quick response to your last remark about the threat of a UN Security Council resolution with American support, and the quick support to your article, “At Last, Zion.” The only thing that could probably stop Obama, prevent Obama from going forward, this is how it’s viewed in Jerusalem, is a credible Israeli threat to take specific actions such as that decision. If Washington were to move to support a resolution against 242, I’m not sure there’s anything that could be done on this side of the ocean to deter Obama from going forward. He’s telegraphed in so many ways, what can he do? It’s too hard for him to back Israel, because Israel is not making any steps that he wants to see. I think that Jerusalem is going to have to take and issue a very specific declaration as to what might ensue if Washington moves away from its traditional position.
  With regards to your article, “At Last, Zion”, those of us who moved to Israel out of a grand meta-historic sense of drama believe that their Jewish commonwealth won’t fail, it won’t fall. Whatever it takes, we’ll make it work.

 

Krauthammer: “Netzach Yisrael lo yishaker.” That’s what my father used to say when he talked about Israel. I feel as an obligation to make sure of that throughout my life, I did what I could, because that prospect would be, would make everything I’ve done lose its value. There’s nothing more important than that. I honor your choice. I had that choice to make when I finished college, whether I would move there or not. I think I made the right decision in terms of what I could do for the cause. I was a student of David Hartman. He was my teacher at McGill. He was a philosophy professor at the time. My thesis I wrote for him was a comparison of Karl Marx and Maimonides. That was the only person on the planet that has ever written that, to see a connection between the two. David said to me, when I went off to Oxford, he said, and then I decided to go to medical school, he said, “You know, there are a million doctors in the world,” then he flattered me a little bit and said, “We need you, come with me to Jerusalem,” because that’s when he set up the Hartman Institute. I thought I would get lost in that, and I didn’t know where I was going, but I needed to stay here. I commend you for that. I wonder what it’s like, and maybe you could tell me, to be an Israeli putting your kids on your bus, not for terrorism reasons, but just going to school and raising them, knowing, what will it be like if and when Iran has the bomb? When you know that it’s out of … ? That’s the thing people don’t understand. It’s the existence of the Iranian bomb, knowing that it’s out of your hands. The whole point of Israel is to put it back in the hands of the Jews, back where it was in 68 AD, that was the point. Assuming Israel’s deterrence works and all that, once that happens, once it’s in the hands of genocidists, then what does that feel like? Do you think there might be emigration as a result? Do you have a feeling about that?

 

Audience member: My personal sense is that Israeli society is becoming more traditional, more deeply rooted, more ideological than before. I’m talking about secular Israeli society, digging in for the long term and not being frightened away despite the shadow that you’re talking about.

 

Krauthammer: As you people say, “kol ha-kavod.”

 

Hertog: By the way, supporting what David is saying, Israel has a real high fertility rate outside of the orthodox. Secular Jewry has a fertility rate of I think three children per family.

 

Audience member: Four has become the new three.

 

Hertog: This is a remarkable statement in terms of, in the deepest way, about what I believe in, where I live, what my purpose is.

 

Krauthammer: Compare it to Japan and Italy and the rest of the depopulated West.

 

Hertog: If there’s anything central to the study of Judaism, it is the family. The family is the core element of all Jewish faith, unlike almost any other religion in the world.

 

Krauthammer: I think the fertility rate has a lot to do with the heat and the beaches.

 

Hertog: I have one more question, but does anyone else have a question they want to ask.

 

Krauthammer: If the Japanese had that …

 

Hertog: You guys may not have watched it, but you should. Bill Kristol has this website called Conversations, where he has two-hour, serious discussions with an enormous range of important figures that are about public policy, war, people who have worked in government. Charles has this, the last part of it is on Israel and the Jews, and it’s a whole autobiographical, really, history of Charles. One gets a real sense of him.
  There’s one quote you have in this, near the very end, and this is more personal, but I’m so interested in it. You said, “I don’t believe in God, but I fear him greatly.” What does that mean?

 

Krauthammer: Interesting you brought it up, because that was picked up by one of the papers, and it said, “Krauthammer: I Don’t Believe in God”. I didn’t even know it was there, because I don’t read it, but I get, “I knew he was an atheist, I can’t believe this, it explains everything.” I called the guy and said, “How can you do that? That’s like saying ‘Churchill: Democracy is the Worst of All Kinds of Governments.’ You’ve got to put in, ‘except for all the others,’ right?” Actually, he changed the headline.
  This is very long. I’m actually trying to write about this, I’ve been asked to write another book, and it’ll be autobiographical, and sort of my thinking about things, and this is sort’ve been central.
  How do I put this in a way that’s … There’s sort of a history of kind of Yiddish-ism, you see them, I guess, in New York in the YIVO libraries. They’re all raving atheists, but they’re so devoted to Jewish history. It obsesses them, and they read and they comment and they do all this. I have a very difficult time in synagogue, because—I do go, three days a year, it’s my max. I have trouble. It’s called kavanah, getting into actual prayers.
  Long ago, when I was very young, I went from being a fervent believer when I grew up to, not so much a non-believer as skeptic. My theology can be summed up as, the only theology I know is not true, the only one I’m sure is untrue is atheism. Everything else I’m unsure about. I know that there’s not nothing. The idea that the Christopher Hitchens-Dawkins thing, that I know there is nothing except what we see, and that’s it, is to me the most implausible, arrogant. It just, it can’t be, because things don’t create themselves.
  I have this sense, this, sort of, Einstein’s thing about God not playing dice with the universe. He didn’t mean the God of the Bible, he didn’t mean historical God, he meant whatever it is. I have this sense that there is transcendence in the universe, but we are in no position ever to understand it. I think it was Newton who said, “We’re like snails living along the ocean, trying to explain the tides.” We’re not going to be able to do it, we’re not built to do it, and there is this sort of …
  I have a deep belief in a transcendent out there. I don’t particularly believe in the mythologies that are told by any of the religions. I have an enormous attachment to the Jewish tradition and to the depth and the subtlety of its understanding of life, morality, and of metaphysics. I’ve always been interested in it, and that to me, I think, is important for Jews to try to continue that tradition, to make sure it lives, and to make sure that culture is nourished—a lot of the things that, for example, you support.
  As to my own, the idea of there being a God, “but I fear him greatly,” it’s because I believe in the transcendence, some transcendence, and that I will never, we will never, as a species be able to grasp what it is, that there is a certain trepidation. In Judaism it’s called the fear of heaven, haredim, you know. They know exactly what they’re afraid of. I’m not really afraid, but in some ways you tremble when you look at the universe and you think, “I think I understand things.” We’re able to get around every day. I know you drive a car, certain things will happen, the laws of motion, they all work. Obviously there’s something deeply contradictory and mysterious about the universe, since all the laws of causality are broken when you think about them long enough, so what is it? That’s what I meant. There is something …
  Human beings need to tremble when looking at the universe. If not, they don’t understand what’s going on. That’s sort of the key is to understand how little we can understand. In physics they say… right now, the newest fashion is “dark energy is ninety percent of the universe.” We don’t even know what the hell we mean. It sounds wonderful, “dark energy.” What it means is, we have no bloody idea what’s going on out there. In medicine you say, “He’s got idiopathic renal disease.” Sounds really, boy, that’s really … Idiopathic means we have no idea what the cause is, right? “Nosological” actually is a better word, you use it whenever the patients are around, because that means hospital induced. If you’re talking, “Oh, you’ve got a nosological infection,” meaning we made you sick, but don’t tell your lawyer. There are all these fancy words. Idiopathic means we just don’t know what the cause is.
  I live in an idiopathic universe, and I don’t feel there’s any contradiction between that and being Jewish. It means that I don’t exactly accept the texts as literal, I sort of look at the Bible the way I would the Iliad or the Odyssey. I don’t rely on it for guidance. If I had to travel the Mediterranean by boat, I don’t refer to the Odyssey. The Bible is one of the great works of literature, but as the guide of truth, I don’t accept that.
  Basically, that’s my complicated … It’s mostly like post-adolescent theology, but I’ve never outgrown it. The reason I’m having trouble writing the book is the same reason I now have trouble explaining it to you, because it’s very simplistic, it’s very primitive, my views, but I really don’t see much of a way around it. That’s where I stand. Most of the time I don’t tremble. I just ignore the issue.

 

Hertog: You think Jews would have survived all of these generations if they had had your, not all, but the critical elements of the Jewish people would have survived, if they had your intellectual thesis about …

 

Krauthammer: Not a decade. I didn’t raise my son to believe that. I didn’t think it was my place to make him grow up thinking that was not the religion of the family. The religion of the family was Judaism. I wanted him to have exactly what I was given, which was a traditional, orthodox, literal … You’ve got to learn the texts, you have to know Talmud, you have to be able to read Rashi, you have to know what’s there.
  My father said, “I can’t make you religious. I can’t make sure that you’ll be religious, but I am going to make sure that you’re not ignorant.” I not only went to Hebrew school, but I was sentenced to the extra Gemara class three days a week, three times a week, while everybody else was playing baseball. That wasn’t enough for him. He had a rabbi come three nights a week to the house for extra, extra Gemara. I didn’t mind the Tuesday night and the Thursday night, but the Saturday night, that was hockey night in Canada, and I’m studying Bava Metzia! My brother and I, at shul, we would pray for snow, because if snowed, Rabbi Pfetter could not come, and we would get to see hockey night in Canada.
  He didn’t have as rigorous a Jewish education as I did. We never really spoke theology. In shul I didn’t say, “Hey, I don’t believe I’m talking to anybody.” He learned what the prayers were, and then you make your own decision.
  No, what I believe would mean the end of the Jewish people. It’s not something you can transmit. It’s not satisfying. You try to teach a respect and love for the tradition, and a respect for the majesty of the culture, but that’s a pretty abstract and detached idea, it’s not something you can transmit. I’m not about to set up a school of radical skepticism and have my own shuls, where you pray one day a week—that would be it. This is an idiosyncratic view; it happens to be mine. It’s not something I would preach.
  That’s one of the reasons why I think you do get assimilation. I’m only a step or two away from saying … I would be, if it weren’t for my history, a step or two away from saying, “Well, why do I need any of this baggage?” To me it’s not baggage.

 

Hertog: I, speaking as one, and I’m sure many others, pray for your good health, a long life, and thank you for coming today. It’s been great.

 

Krauthammer: My pleasure.

 

Hertog: Thank you.

 


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