The Jerusalem Post has just published its annual ranking of the world’s 50 most influential Jews, and I’m sorry but also somewhat relieved to report that I don’t appear on it this year.
I’m sorry because one of my goals in life is to inhabit the fever dreams of neo-Nazis, and nothing gets a neo-Nazi going more than the specter of supernaturally powerful Jews. I’m relieved because, who really wants to be on a target list? At a certain point, the Post should just provide home addresses to make the roundup even easier.
I last made the list in 2011, when I was ranked No. 35. Eric Cantor, the U.S. House majority leader, placed significantly ahead of me at No. 13, which I thought was terribly unfair. On the other hand, I beat Natalie Portman, who came in that year at No. 38. This was also unfair, but to Portman, who is just a terrific Jew (2011 was the year she took it to the fashion designer John Galliano for being an idiot anti-Semite).
Speaking of neo-Nazis: It isn’t entirely clear to me why the Jewish media (not the “Jewish-dominated media” of those aforementioned fever dreams, but the press that actually cover matters of interest to Jews) fetishizes list-making. The Forward, a national U.S. Jewish weekly, publishes a list of the top 50 American Jews (I once made that one as well, along with Adam Sandler, Sheldon Adelson and a person named Lipa Schmeltzer, which I half-suspect is a made-up name). And Newsweek, not technically a Jewish publication (or really a publication at all anymore), publishes a list every year of the top 50 American rabbis, which is widely scorned by all American rabbis except those who make the list.
I will admit that I’ve benefited in the past from making these lists. What benefits, you ask? Well, an invitation to guest-edit the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, plus a Zabar’s gift card. But I’m writing today to ask that these publications cease compiling lists of Jews.
There are some lists that have helped Jews in the past, including, most notably, Schindler’s, but mainly Jewish list-making has been an activity of those who are hostile to Jews. John J. Mearsheimer, the co-author of the “The Israel Lobby” and an anti-Israel obsessive, gave a notorious speech in 2010 in which he listed those Semites he considers to be “righteous Jews,” which, by his definition, meant that small minority of Jews who work against the existence of the Jewish state. (The category of “righteous Jew” is Mearsheimer’s perversion of the notion of the “righteous gentile,” an honor bestowed by the Jewish community on gentiles who saved Jews in the Holocaust. Mearsheimer falls into a special, unrelated category, that of the “self-righteous gentile.”) Most Jews, he said, especially those who lead Jewish organizations, are included in the camp of “New Afrikaners,” which is self-explanatory. I think.
Then there was the list put together by Kalle Lasn, the spiritual father of the Occupy movement, who published in his magazine Adbusters an article titled “Why Won’t Anyone Say They Are Jewish?,” which featured a list of people associated, in Lasn’s mind, with neoconservatism. Those who Lasn suspected of being Jewish found a little check mark next to their names. (Lasn got a few wrong, perhaps because of that special way Jews have of blending in with their surroundings.)
So the lists published by the Post and the Forward always leave me with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. Why are these publications aping a practice of non-Jews -- singling out Jews for their special prominence in society? Please don’t misunderstand; I love playing the “Who is a Jew?” game as much as the next Semite. Scarlett Johansson! Jake Gyllenhaal! Anthony Weiner! (OK, you can keep Weiner.) The phenomenon of disproportionate Jewish representation in many high-profile fields (including, but not limited to, musical comedy, gastroenterology, the violin, physics, hedge funds, column-writing and, in an earlier period, professional basketball), combined with ancient and deeply embedded anti-Semitic ideas that are still prevalent in some parts of the world, suggests that they should resist the urge to quantify “Jewish power.”
Especially when the lists are illogical, like the one just produced by the Post, which can’t decide whether a Jew is powerful because of his influence within the walls of the world Jewish community or because of his impact on the world around him. So in the No. 1 spot this year is Yair Lapid, the Israeli finance minister, who led his centrist party, Yesh Atid, to a surprisingly strong showing in the most recent Israeli election. Put aside the question of whether Lapid is still so powerful in Israeli politics. Is he really more powerful than Mark Zuckerberg, who doesn’t even make the top 10? (Zuckerberg’s deputy, Sheryl Sandberg, hits the list at No. 8, but not mainly for her work at Facebook.)
Lapid is more powerful than Zuckerberg only in the sense that Zuckerberg is not the head of a smallish Israeli political party. Zuckerberg is No. 16 on the list; Google co-founder Sergey Brin is No. 6, ahead of the Israeli defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon, but behind Anat Hoffman, an Israeli feminist leader trying to reform religious practices at the Western Wall, which may or may not be a concern of the Post’s No. 2 most powerful Jew, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who I’m reasonably sure doesn’t find it entirely useful to show up on lists like this. The superannuated sex doctor Ruth Westheimer, who lands at No. 41, is undoubtedly pleased to make the list, and I’m reasonably sure that the comedian Jon Stewart (No. 7), appreciates, if doesn’t quite understand, appearing on any list that features Dr. Ruth. It isn’t clear to me that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan would look kindly upon being ranked only slightly higher than “Girls” creator Lena Dunham (or that she is even aware of Lena Dunham’s existence).
The saving grace of the Post list this year is that an ardent anti-Semite, studying the standings, will quickly note the absence of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke (A “No” on Bernanke, but a “Yes” on Diane von Furstenberg? Please explain.), conclude that the list itself is part of a Jewish conspiracy to confuse those who seek to expose Jewish influence, and move on to obsessing about the secret Mossad conspiracy behind the Boston Marathon bombings, or something.
Of course, the real downfall of this year’s list, apart from its fundamental incoherence, is the unaccountable absence of Natalie Portman.
(Jeffrey Goldberg is a Bloomberg View columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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