Rising young(ish) novelist Michael Chabon weighs in on last week's debacle and its long-term significance. He starts with a comment from Jeffrey Goldberg, about how Jews are supposed to have seichel, a sort of superior Yiddish ingenuity which was sorely lacking last week and has actually been lacking for a while in the way Israel goes about its international business. Chabon agrees with Goldberg that indeed Jews think that seichel in particular and high intelligence in general are what have been keeping us afloat these past few thousand years. However, he claims in his op-ed, it ain't necessarily so: there are stupid Jews too, and we'd do ourselves a service if we recognized that we're as prone to stupidities as everyone else.
As the mythical rabbi said, Jeffrey's right, Michael's also right, and the observer commenting on the contradiction is also right.
Allow me, however, to speculate that this is yet another of those cases where Israeli Jews have a different narrative than their American cousins, for the simple reason that you can't live in a country full of Jews and still think they're all smart, or even most of them.
You know how many Jewish idiots there are around here? First, our governments: ever since the mid 1970s we've consistently voted every government out that dared present itself to elections, with maybe two exceptions in 35 years. Obviously, we don't think our leaders are very intelligent. Second, our national pastime of kvetching is predicated on everything being all wrong. You can't kvetch about smart people doing things right all the time. We kvetch about our school system (stupid bureaucrats, stupid teachers and the resulting stupid school kids). We kvetch about the economy (other stupid bureaucrats, stupid business people, stupid customers). We kvetch about our military (stupid generals, stupid lieutenants, stupid suckers who do reserve duty). We kvetch about our airlines, the operators of the airport, the folks who take vacations in Turkey, the folks who don't take vacations in Turkey, the mayor, the plumber, the electric company, the Lefties, the settlers, the road planners, the doctors, the patients... you name them, we'll tell you why they're awful at whatever they do and ought to be replaced by someone more intelligent.
My point being that if you're a Jewish member of a small minority group, some of whom are outlandishly intelligent and others mostly intelligent, it's possible to pretend that's what Jews are and - as Chabon describes - overlook the intelligence-challenged cohort. If you live in a place where 80% of everybody is Jewish, it's sort of hard to pretend there's something inherently intelligent in being Jewish.
There is however another possibility, and that's the possibility that Jews almost always manage to produce enough intelligent folks, some of them extremely so, to deal with whatever threat needs to be headed off at any given moment, or to recuperate successfully if it couldn't have been headed off. In that department I think Jews as a group have mostly been pretty good.