If Bret Stephens spent any time outside his circle, he would know that far from all Jews are smart. He would know that far from all Ashkenazi Jews are smart. If he visited Israel, he would know that Jews are just as smart and as fallible as all other humans. Bret Stephens who is not a scientists, or a psychologists, writes on a topic for which he has no credentials and little expertise. In doing so he makes two major logical mistakes. He confuses correlation for causation and he confuses accomplishment with intellect.
I’ll start with the second fallacy: it is true, considering the amount of Jews there are in the world, Ashkenazi Jews are fairly accomplished. However, so are Iraqi Jews with David Sassoon, so are the Mizrahi (Middle Eastern) and Libyan Jews like the Safras. There are many very accomplished writers and philosophers like Spinoza and Maimonides who were not Ashkenazi. However, as a whole, Ashkenazi do tend to be more accomplished, because those who did not accomplish were killed. Europe was far less forgiving of Jews than India or middle east. As a result those Jews who could not prove themselves deserving of being given refuge, they were often forced to live in small villages where many were slaughtered through regular pogroms. Only Jews of means often found their way towards safety, like the shores of America. America as we know, put a quick cap on Jews arriving who in the words of the current administration “don’t contribute”. Hard quotas were set on Jews from East Europe and so only those with means could come to America. Thus it is a correlation that Jews in America are smart, correlation with the immigration policy, not the causation of their intellect. It is not evolution that created “intelligent” Jews in America, it is the policy of the government that allowed only intelligent Jews to emigrate, just as it was American policy that only allowed the strongest Africans to come US during the slavery period which is well explained by comedian Chris Rock.
However, American Jewish exceptionalism does not end with the immigration policy. In America, it is common knowledge that Jews are not afforded the same freedoms as the White Anglo-Saxon men. This goes beyond the pre-Civil rights era when Jews were redlined from living in certain areas or barred from attending certain colleges or not allowed in certain professions. Even today, after the lifting of those past restrictions, Jews understand that their place in American society is not conditioned on them being American Citizens, but on their success in the marketplace and in their a “reputable” profession. Jews have no choice but to become engineers, lawyers, doctors. No choice because failure to do so would bring anger of society for being lazy and ungrateful and undeserving of life in the US. Such demands are never placed on white counterparts who are free to succeed or fail without having their citizenship or worthiness as Americans questioned. Jewish loyalty to America is forever questioned, while at the loyalty of Irish or Italian American is never questioned in spite of their love and pride for their heritage.
However, avoiding failure is not enough, success for Jews in eyes of society cannot be too great. In spite of the number of Jews in politics, there never has been and never will be a Jewish president or vice-president (sorry Bernie). This is because while Jews can succeed in middle class, when Jews succeed above middle class, they are accused of a conspiracy to control the country. Even though it was Jewish actors who created Hollywood at a time when acting on film was derided by the arts community of United States, when Jews created a whole new art form, their success was seen sinister and as an assault on America through phrases like “Jews control Hollywood.” Jews giving black people a platform in music through Jazz and Rap recordings, was seen as “Jewish control” of music industry. Jewish lawyers who were barred from jobs at reputable law firms created huge firms focusing on Mergers and Acquisitions which were later accused of “controlling” the legal professions.
Jews are never free to fail or to truly reach the American dream and enjoy it. Thus Jews can be smart but not too smart. And Jews are not smart. While there are some geniuses, far from all are geniuses. The requirement that Jews not fail creates a culture that pushes average Jewish kids into fields where they feel no passion but must succeed to show that they are not slackers. It is success which is not to be confused for intelligence that is part of Jews in America and other places where Jews live as diaspora.
The idea of a “smart” Jews can be destroyed with one visit Israel. There one will see plenty of average people, Ashkenazi or Mizrahi. One will quickly lose the myth of the “intelligent” Jew just by driving and experiencing the average Israeli driver. One will quickly see the Jewish designed bureaucracy, that is clearly not the work of a genius. One quickly can see lack of Jewish genius just by witnessing the debacle that is the Israeli election, more than one year now the Jewish state is without a working government.
Furthermore, if one digs at rankings of Israel, worlds only Jewish democracy, the rankings do not fit the stereotype of a smart nation. Israel has good universities but they are not nearly where one would expect a “genius” race to be. The high school student grades and exam test scores in almost every field make it obvious that it is asian kids who are geniuses, not Jewish Israelis.
So while there is a correlation of Jews to success, it is simply that, a correlation which is a result of years of immigration policies that only allowed the smart to enter. That an American culture that demanded success from Jews as a condition of their citizenship. Because of that Jewish parents make their average kids focus on studies and make them focused on entering college rather than play football and enjoy high school the way their non-Jewish counterparts get to. And yet, when those children reach success, that success for Jews in America does not give the fruits that American dream promises: it brings about antisemitism, suspicion and derision.
What I described is not singular to the US. These attitude and requirements of Jews were the same in Soviet Union, they are the same for Jews inFrance and even in Austria-Hungary where Theodore Herzl realized the double standard. This fact of Jewish life is the reason why he realized that to be free people, Jewish people would need their own state. A state that would allow any Jew, smart or dumb, poor or rich, to emigrate. A state that would treat all Jews equally, smart or dumb, successful or a failure.
These are the things that Bret Stephens left out, these are the things he would write had he done a little more research on Jews and their success in Diaspora.