On the May issue:

Zelensky and the Jews

To the Editor:
In reading Ruth R. Wisse’s examination of Volodymyr Zelensky as a leading Jewish figure on the world stage (“Zelensky the Jewish Hero,” May), the questions come to mind: For how long will he be Ukraine’s hero? And what sort of hero will he ultimately be?

Perhaps if he prevails against Russia, he’ll be thought of as Ukrainian, and if he loses, he will be thought of as a Jew.
Richard Sherwin
Herzliyah, Israel

To the Editor:
I wish I could be as sanguine as Ruth R. Wisse in her valiant defense of nations like modern Ukraine that yearn to be free. But for all her explanations of past troubled relationships between vulnerable Jews and their violent host societies, an international rules-based order, to say nothing of a values-based order, is at best, aspirational. Witness the rise of countervailing forces, such as the xenophobic populism in Hungary, Poland, France, Turkey, India, Venezuela, and the United States.

Ukraine’s plucky courage and defiance of a rabid Russian Goliath is truly inspirational, and yet their patriotic warriors include the likes of the virulently anti-Semitic Azov Battalion.

Sadly, as Churchill opined, “I am ready to put my hands in the hands of the devil for the progress of my country.” As Lord Palmerston and others have said, and perhaps even more to the point: “We have no lasting friends, no lasting enemies, only lasting interests.”
Joe Ronn
Montreal, Quebec

To the Editor:
Ruth R. Wisse brilliantly summed up the situation in Ukraine as it relates to the Jews. Our history in Ukraine is long and tragic. Israel and Ukraine do share some commonalities, namely an existential threat. Wisse’s portrayal of Zelensky is insightful. His relationship with the Jewish community is largely self-serving, but he is forgiven because he is doing his best for Ukraine.

During World War I, German Jewish soldiers fought their relatives from France. Similar tragedies are surely taking place between the Jewish communities in Ukraine and Russia. What better proof that Jews need their own country where brothers will never be forced to fight against each other.
Zee Abrams
San Diego, California

Ruth R. Wisse writes:
How I welcome the measur-ed skepticism of these correspondents, who know better than to let their zeal overcome Jewish caution born of long experience yet who refrain from cynicism about another people’s national struggle for independence. Similarities and differences between Israel and Ukraine are complicated even further by the interwoven history of their peoples. That history made possible the emergence of a Jew as Ukrainian president—for as long as the country remains democratic. And that qualification is enough to raise our own stake in the outcome. Both America and Israel need a free Ukraine—and a freer Russia, too, whenever that time should come.  

Defining Racism

To the Editor:
I’m sympathetic to Wilfred Reilly’s view of Ibram X. Kendi and other anti-racism theorists (“The New Definition of Racism,” May). Reilly argues that Kendi’s framing of differing outcomes according to race is a cheap rhetorical trick. But this misses the crux of Kendi’s argument. Namely, that all of the quantifiable differences across groups (test scores, modal age, geography, etc.) are symptoms of policies that are racist by construction. A fine example is income. It’s clear that parents’ income will correlate positively with their child’s income. This almost proves Kendi’s point, which is that poverty is a feedback loop. These disparities and the generational poverty experienced by black Americans are a function of our legacy of slavery and racism. We can try to move away from money and focus instead on education. But there, the same arguments can be made: The education gaps are self-perpetuating and a result of our legacy of slavery and racism. 

A more effective way to engage Kendi and his powerful allies is to recognize that there’s some truth in what they’re saying, while continuing to disagree on the best way to remedy the injustice. Kendi’s top-down approach has failed 100 times over, whether in the form of Soviet food quotas or American affirmative action. It’s an academically pleasing solution because an agency that focuses on closing race gaps in professions or C-suites appears to solve the problem of disparate outcomes by race by getting right to the variable of interest. But adding quotas will do nothing more than empower the human-resources class, which is teeming with white, college-educated progressives. As Kevin Williamson has pointed out time and again, the winner from the George Floyd tragedy and subsequent racial awakening has been a subset of the middle- and upper-class elites. As usual, top-down solutions lead to unintended consequences and rarely treat the malady as prescribed. We need to continue to emphasize the importance of individual sovereignty, buttressed by faith in our potential. Empower people, don’t treat them as a class of victims, and you’ll be amazed at what they can accomplish.
Gabe Wittenberg
Rockville, Maryland

Wilfred Reilly writes:
Gabe Wittenberg raises a point that I addressed in my article but seemingly not to his satisfaction. In short: Even if we concede that the group-performance gaps universally attributed to racism or “inferiority” by Kendi-ites vanish after a standard adjustment for things such as median age and aptitude-test scores, couldn’t a modern “anti-racist” simply argue that all group differences as related to those latter variables also indicate racism? In other words, could lower minority test scores just reflect teacher bias, or—as Mr. Wittenberg suggests—be due entirely to poverty caused by past bigotry? 

The response is that—even in the context of those factors where this argument might be made—these are not merely hypothetical questions but rather ones we have answered. In most cases, competent social scientists know the predictors of secondary and tertiary variables as well as the predictors of commonly studied ones such as income. And, to put this politely, we do not find that the only potential influences one level down are genetic inferiority and racism. 

In the case specifically of test scores and grades, by far the biggest “predictor” seems to be pure study time, and the claim that study culture is driven by contemporary racial bias is seriously challenged by the fact that Asians and black immigrants (as well as Jews) dramatically outperform whites in the classroom. Nor is income alone a major factor here. The very poorest white and Asian students do about as well as the richest black kids on the major standardized tests. The blunt and brilliant black social scientist John Ogbu long ago proposed an awkward but likely explanation for this: Black kids, on average, currently focus more on sports and popularity than do their white peers, and they study less for exams.

The past may well be implicated somewhere in that. Athletics was, for decades, one of only a very few sure routes out of the ghetto. But the huge majority of black kids today don’t live in ghettos—and social media and especially the post-1960s collapse of the family have far more to do with the issues we see in modern youth culture than does past racism. Today, it makes no sense to automatically define a fair math test as racist if a rich African-American jock does a bit worse on it than his poor white buddy—and that is the “cheap rhetorical trick” that I am accusing new-school scholars of.  

Israel and Apartheid

To the Editor:
Thank you for Justin Danilewitz’s very interesting piece on the apartheid slander against the Jewish state (“Amnesty International’s Campaign to Destroy Israel,” May). A wider perspective on this issue is, I think, instructive. Of the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, 300 million live in the Middle East. The surrounding Muslim countries have already expelled the Jews that had lived in these lands for more than a millennium. About 6.5 million Jews have sought refuge on a sliver of land in that region, claiming it as their ancestral homeland. In addition to repeatedly banding together to dislodge the Jews from the region, Muslim countries, cheered on by many like-minded citizens of the West, continue to downplay the Holocaust and refuse to admit the possibility of an ancestral Jewish homeland. The professed aim of these people with respect to the Jews is simply ethnic cleansing. By deliberately providing a perspective through the wrong lens of the telescope, Amnesty International seeks to provide a justification and cover to this end.
Joseph A. Fisher, M.D.
Emeritus Professor, Faculty of Medicine
University of Toronto, Canada

To the Editor:
Justin Danilewitz’s article on Israel and the Palestinians is brilliantly written and factually correct. Amnesty has lost all credibility. Danilewitz exposes Amnesty as a hate-filled organization staffed with grandstanders who have chosen to spew mischaracterizations and lies about Israel.
Ivan Sacks
Dallas, Texas

Remembering the Second Passover

To the Editor:
Rabbi Meir Y. Soloveichik’s column about Rabbi Herschel Schacter and Buchenwald was par-
ticularly interesting (“Second Passover,” May). The Central Committee of the Liberated Jews did in fact attempt to create an additional holiday to be held on the 14th of Iyar, or Second Passover, memorializing the liberation. Its observance never truly moved beyond the Displaced Persons camps, and its declaration received little response from the rest of the world in the postwar era.
Bluma Lange
Glasgow, Scotland

Head Gaffer

To the Editor:
Christine Rosen did an excellent job explaining “Why Joe Biden Is More Than Gaffe-Prone” (May). While Joe Biden is certainly gaffe-prone, a lot of what might seem like a gaffe turns out to be in keeping with his long-term vision for his career. Thirty-five years ago, he aptly laid out his plans for the future: “I’ve done some dumb things, and I’ll do dumb things again.”
Thomas J. Straka
Pendleton, South Carolina

The Slap

To the Editor:
Assessing the lack of societal “guard rails” as it relates to the display of violence at the Academy Awards is an interesting way to look at what happened that night (“the Tragedy of Will Smith,” May). I would add, however, that we should also consider the sense of untouchability, created by the Black Lives Matter movement, around the actions of black Americans.
James Glucksman
Rye Brook, New York

To the Editor:
John Podhoretz’s column on Will Smith was insightful. But I disagree with it on one point. This wasn’t a split-second act. Nine seconds is actually a long time. Smith was already an angry man—angry about his relationships, his place in the world, himself, and perhaps more. This was not a visceral and immediate reaction. Nine seconds is a lifetime to pull yourself together.
David Berner
Clarendon Hills, Illinois

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