NOTE: The article below is my contribution to Commentary Magazine's 70th anniversary symposium on the future of the Jewish people fifty years from now. The issue is composed of articles on the same theme by 70 leading Jewish writers and intellectuals from around the world.
Had the keenest Jewish minds of 1945 been asked to imagine the Jewish future 50 years thence, it is likely that their predictions would have been distinctly cautious. All around them was the dawning realization of the Holocaust's scale, the continuing persecution of Jews in the Communist and Arab countries, and, above all, the absence of a sovereign Jewish state. How many would have ventured that, come 1995, a nation called Israel would be on the cusp of its jubilee, with a stable population and a dynamic economy? Or that the Jews living outside its borders would do so with full civil rights, widespread affluence, and a comparative absence, by today's standards, of mainstream anti-Semitic expression?
Yet hindsight reveals that there were reasons to be positive even in the dark aftermath of World War II, among them the confirmation that America's exceptionalism applied to its treatment of the Jews too, and the renewed drive of the Zionist movement in Mandate Palestine to achieve Jewish statehood. Out of these combined nation- and community-building efforts, the age of Jewish empowerment was born—a period of Jewish history that, in the experience of the majority of Jews, has been more benign and more encouraging than anything that has gone before.
Still, the angst remains. Every debate, it sometimes seems, is accented by an unarticulated fear of what the future holds. Every challenge, from intermarriage, to the destiny of Jews in Europe, to the form and content of Jewish education, carries a barely disguised warning that failure to resolve the problem under discussion will erase the Jewish people from existence.
No apocalypse awaits the Jews: That much I will predict. But how we manage a future that is still to be made will be determined, in the last analysis, by how we use the modern freedoms—national self-determination, full civil rights—that earlier generations secured for us.
In that regard, we would be wise to assume that the Jews will continue to face enemies and adversaries in 2065, just as we always have. True, anti-Semitism in this century is turning out to be far less violent than during the previous 200 years, and no Jewish community of significant size currently suffers from legalized discrimination. That, however, does not tell the whole story.
The sources of anti-Semitism in our time are multiple and overlapping. In Europe, electoral successes on the extremes of left and right, along with more frequent instances of anti-Semitic thuggery, contribute to an insecurity that calls into question the long-term ability of Jewish communities to remain in places such as France and Hungary. In the Middle East, the rise of Iranian power poses the destruction of Jewish sovereignty as a genuine threat, and not the mere slogan our current crop of Western leaders pretend it to be. In America, the political center of Diaspora Jews, the whispers of "dual loyalty" are growing louder and more impatient, particularly from the citadels of progressivism.
Hostility to the existence of the Jewish state has, since the Holocaust, established itself as the principal vehicle for anti-Semitic agitation. This development was certainly not unexpected because, ironically, Zionism enabled the Jews to be the masters of their own future for the first time in more than two millennia. Resentment toward this reality runs deep and wide—a discordant chorus of languages and accents, cutting across a range of cultures, instantly available through myriad virtual communities, and embedded most of all in those Muslim countries where there are barely any Jews left. The anti-Semitism of the future will be shaped from this present context; the more we understand it now, the better positioned we will be to contain and perhaps, dare I say, substantively defeat it by the time 2065 rolls around.
Ben Cohen is senior editor of the Tower and the author of Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism.