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Thomas Sowell is one of the most well-known thinkers, social commentators and economists in the United States. He has a worldwide reputation, is an African American, a former Harvard Marxist, a man of wit and charm and of brilliant insights into life, society, and people. He is currently 90 years old. For almost the last 70 years since his disillusionment with Marxism, he has been one of the leading thinkers and the exponents of market economics, conservative moral values, and a proponent of the minimal government interference in the private lives of its citizens.
Sowell was a leading professor at many of the prestigious universities in the United States, and today, even in the advanced stage of life, he is still a fellow of the Hoover Institute at Stanford University in Palo Alto California. I have listened to countless hours of his lectures and interviews, and I have always come away with greater knowledge and insight as to the issues that he was discussing. Needless to say, much of the African American political community regards him as a pariah, and the liberal press and media never gives him his due. He, nevertheless, remains one of the true iconic thinkers in American academia.
He has testified before Congress numerous times on numerous issues, and on each occasion, he has always distinguished himself in his encounters with members of that esteemed body. In short, he always has something to say and says it clearly, succinctly, and logically.
Recently, I heard an interview with him on the Internet conducted about 40 years ago. One of the subjects that was under discussion between Sowell and the interviewer was anti-Semitism. Perhaps because of the current dangerous rise in anti-Semitism – its verbal expressions and actual physical actions –this interview somehow was again rebroadcast and appeared on YouTube.
The interviewer asked Thomas Sowell if he thought that there was anything in the behavior in Jewish society that the Jewish people could themselves correct to mitigate anti-Semitism. This is the typical psychological gambit, i.e., blaming the victim and ignoring the true aggressor and perpetrator of the crime. The question itself is a question that represents the subtle, genteel anti-Semitism that much of the non-Jewish world feels towards the Jewish people, its religion and, currently, the Jewish state of Israel. Surprisingly, Thomas Sowell said (40 years ago) that he would have one piece of advice for Jewish society. And that one word is “fail!” He expanded this comment by saying that if only the Jewish people would prove to be failures in whatever they attempt to accomplish and achieve, then the anti-Semites would perhaps lessen the pressure against them.
However, since Jews are never a failed society and continue to succeed in their endeavors, no matter what circumstances may conspire against them, anti-Semites become loud and violent in their frustration. They realize that there is no comparison between the reaction of Jewish society to prolonged persecution and discrimination and those of other minorities that have never yet been able to climb out of the hellhole of their bitter past.
It is obvious that Thomas Sowell was only using this as a metaphor and not as real advice. The Jewish world has known many instances of failure, religiously, socially, educationally, and economically. Yet, it has never allowed these failures to prevent it from forging ahead and overcoming these failures, to achieve success.
The story of the contribution of Jews to the American scene over the past 150 years is unmatched by any other group or minority. Another minority which suffers from great discrimination in the United States is Asian Americans. And that society has also proven to be successful against all odds. Since it, too, has not failed, it has been provoked by a flood of enemies and discrimination.
The truth is that Jewish society cannot afford to fail, for to fail, even temporarily, could spell permanent disaster and even disappearance. So, the imperative of survival is what drives Jewish success in all the various endeavors that are part of American society. That is true for the State of Israel as well. For though we have had many failures and setbacks on individual issues and circumstances, the state itself, its very essence and existence, is dependent upon the fact that it can never really fail. Perhaps that is the reason why we in Israel have a built-in immunity to the criticism and cluck-cluckingof the rest of the world towards us.
Shabbat shalom

Berel Wein 

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