Over the past few years, we’ve had various discussions here about current events. Some of the debates have been heated, and some of the comments have been very personal and vociferous, particularly on subjects like Gaza and Israel.
I’ve been accused of being anti-Semitic, anti- Arab, anti-Palestinian, anti-Israeli, when in fact all I am is anti-nonsense.
One of the regular commenters (thesystemworks) in favour of the Israeli position has at least had the courtesy to be logical and reasonable during these discussions, and some time ago I offered him the opportunity to write a piece on anti-Semitism if he felt that my coverage was biased.
Here it is, unedited. There’s much in it that I disagree with, but contrary to popular belief, people contributing to this site are not required to agree with me if they don’t want to.
To a decent person, there can be no reasons or causes for anti-Semitism, only excuses. These excuses have, throughout time, been astoundingly varied and even contradictory (as befits the world’s oldest prejudice). Jews have been attacked for being Communists, but also for being ‘rootless cosmopolitan’ capitalists by the Communists themselves. Jews get attacked (sometimes by well-meaning people) for being insular, but at the same time for being great assimilated insiders who infiltrate financial systems and governments.
On top of that, Jews are often criticised, slandered and caricatured as being obsessed with anti-Semitism. Today that criticism is mostly decorated towards Israel, but it has more pedigree than the modern state. Before the Second World War, the parlours of Europe and the backwaters of America were full of voices asking: ‘Who are these bloody Jews, always brandishing past wounds’ who were perhaps ‘trying to lead us into a war not in our interest’. The American isolationist movement, represented by America First, has gone down in history as one that attracted far too many people of THAT persuasion. Some of the darker elements of the current anti-war movement will be remembered the same way. Yet this example shows how Jewish fears have never been unfounded. Jew-hatred, for a start, is no more dangerous than say, hatred of the Kurds – they have both led to genocide and mass displacement. What anti-Semitism is, however, is different. Lots of people hate blacks and Asians, yet there aren’t many people who believe blacks or Asians are trying to control the world, the global financial system or the media. There are few conspiracy theories about other peoples. It’s the Jews who seem to take this kind of stuff, though it’s shared with the Freemasons sometimes.
I want to go into specifically why anti-Semitism needs addressing today, as well as the challenges facing Jews in doing so. I’ll do this later on. First, it’s best to look at the phenomenon itself.
A Brief History of Anti-Semitism
The best way to analyse anti-Semitism is probably to look at history: to see how the Gentile societies have interacted with Jews over time, examine those societies, and spot any major trends.
Jews are the last survivors of antiquity, of the ‘classical civilisations’. Babylon, Ancient Egypt, Persia, Ancient Greece and Rome are dead and buried, and the current ethnic stock in those places has little to do with their ancient namesakes. The earliest Jewish-Gentile relations we have a decent record of are from the height of Greek civilisation. The word anti-Semitism did not exist then (that would be thousands of years in the making), so I am looking at hatred directed towards Jews for any reason, religious, ethnic or national. We have negative accounts of Jews from various Greek sources. Seneca lambasted the Jews for being lazy: how could a people enjoy a holiday after every six days of work, regardless of the Jew’s social or economic prestige? The writer Apion criticised Jews for simply not being pagan, but also was probably the first revisionist historian: he argued the Jews were not an ancient people, but a bunch of imposters who recently made up their history. It was a matter of Greek pride that Jews could not have more history or pedigree than the Greeks. Arguably, the first written rebuttal to an anti-Jewish thinker was written on the basis of this (Flavius Josephus’s ‘Against Apion’, kind of like an early Dershowitz-Finkelstein affair). The pre-Christian writers who attacked Jews generally did so due to an alleged clannishness, insularity and superstitions. And yet, Aristotle spoke fondly of the Jews, as did his successor Theophrastus. The negative attitudes towards Jews was not universal, and some Greek leaders like Alexander the Great treated the Jews as equals and rewarded his Jewish-Greek citizens for their loyalty. Anti-Jewish myths were at that time part and parcel of the Greek attitude to foreigners in general. All non-Greeks were regarded as brutish and uncivilised. So the Greeks used onomatopoeic wordplay to describe them – ‘barbarians’, an imitation of the bleating of sheep. They felt the same way about Jews as they did all of their neighbours. Any hatred towards Jews was essentially on nationalistic grounds.
Something changed with the birth of Christianity. Perhaps it was the fact that many Christians defined themselves primarily in opposition to the Jews, a living people. Christians saw themselves, and many still do, as the new chosen people, part of a new covenant. The Jews, on the other hand, were rejected and cursed. Christian art portrayed the Jews as blind and stubborn for clinging onto something they didn’t like – particularly important because the continued existence of Judaism, no matter how dominant Christianity became, could be very embarrassing for the new religion that felt it was a ‘perfected’ version of the old. Some of the portrayals the early church thinkers concocted pervade Christian thinking today: Judaism was and is still sometimes seen as the religion of strict law as opposed to love, with a vengeful God coming against the Christian God of mercy (despite the fact they are meant to be the same God).
These teachings of contempt were the seeds of the phenomenon that was the Middle Ages. Or at least, the Jewish experience of it. Do we even need to go into this one in detail? The Crusaders, blood libels, allegations of well poisoning, getting blamed for the plague, the expulsions from almost every country in Western Europe, the ghettoes (actually, a Muslim invention) – and it seemed from Luther’s tirades in The Jews and Their Lies being matched by Papal hate-mongering there was really no haven from it. It was a formative time for Jewish world. The epicentre of the Jewish world had to move to Eastern Europe, which lasted until the 1940s. The teachings of Christianity gave birth to a persecuting society, made all the worse by the centrality of Christianity in those societies.
Then there was the great white hope: The Enlightenment. Yes, with a capital E – sounds promising. The Age of Enlightenment was the era when reason began to supersede religious revelation or superstition in importance. So, considering the fraught Christian-Jewish relations so far, it could be expected to get better for the Jews. The American and French Revolutions had declared all men are created equal, and America would become a haven for persecuted people from all over the world, not least the Jews. So in an era when Nietzsche declared God to de dead, how could Judeophobia continue to exist in the secular nation state? The answer came in science. Actually, it was a blend of Darwinism and sociology. Most people do not appreciate just how big eugenics was before WW2. Even the minimum wage was introduced primarily because guys like Sidney Webb and the Fabian socialists thought it would lock blacks, the lower races and other undesirables out of the workplace and starve them out of existence (or at least, keep their numbers down). It was a science eagerly adopted by the intelligentsia, the progressives, and mostly the non-religious. Wilhelm Marr, an atheist German journalist, gave us the name anti-Semitism – he needed the new name to mark a change from the past. Racial anti-Semitism, the idea of Jewish blood poisoning Europe, was born.
This did not come out of nowhere. Enlightenment thinkers, the finest minds of Europe, were not particularly keen on Jews even in the new era. Kant called the Jews ‘the vampires of society’, while Fichte argued all Jews needed to be decapitated. The greatest German philosopher of the twentieth century, Martin Heidegger was an early and enthusiastic convert to Nazism and remained silent for the rest of his life over his betrayal of his Jewish colleagues, as well as his fawning words for Hitler. Old hatreds cannot die overnight. The greatest tragedy of all this was its culmination during the Shoah. Christians could work for the conversion of Jews, but the racial anti-Semites could only aspire to their physical elimination. A painful event in Medieval Spain fore-shadowed all this: the Inquisition. The Inquisition was launched supposedly to root out ‘secret Jews’ from the ranks of recent converts to Christianity. Benzion Netanyahu (yes, Bibi’s father) is the foremost scholar on this era and the authority on Medieval Jewish history. His landmark work on the history of Jews in Spain argued that most of the Jews who did convert at that time were assimilationists – willing converts to Christianity. The small number of forced converts who did not truly adhere to their new religion were merely used in a propagandistic way by the Inquisitors to allege a broader resistance movement. According to Netanyahu, Christian society had never accepted the new converts, for the same reasons Dreyfuss was much later by French society – a Jewish background. There was a good reason for prominent Spaniards to get behind this: Jews that converted to Christianity were exempt from all economic regulations and sumptuary laws imposed on Jews. Now that Jews could join the professions, established Spanish families feared these new Christians ousting them from their prominent positions and exposing them to competition. The painful lesson: no matter how far Jews go to appease the Gentiles, even to the point of getting baptised, it’s not enough. Anti-Semitism will still exist in some form.
Before we move on to the modern age, we can test whether common excuses or explanations for anti-Semitism hold water, when we are able to look at history before and during the Shoah. As anti-Semitism is an ever evolving doctrine, which history clearly shows, specific explanations are simple fallacy and don’t deserve much space (sorry to spoil the surprise). Statistics show the two most common excuses are:
- The Jews possess too much wealth and power.
- The Jews arrogantly claim they are the chosen people.
The first theory is very simple to debunk: Firstly, do anti-Semites persecute wealthy non-Jews as well? At no time in history have Jews been the only wealthy people. As soon as the hater decides to single out wealthy Jews and ignore wealthy non-Jews, economics no longer can be the cause for this hatred. Similarly, Jews were hated for centuries for being usurers, but legislation in most Christian countries (that banned usury among Christians) forbade Jews from entering any other profession or owning land, partly to actually encourage Jews into usury. These restrictions existed centuries before the Shylocks of the world, and wouldn’t have existed if there wasn’t hatred of Jews beforehand.
Secondly, for the economic theory to be valid, Jews must be noticeably more advantaged in terms of wealth compared to their peers. This was not the case in the fiercely anti-Semitic Russia under the Tsar. The Jews who lived in the shtetls (small agricultural settlements) of Russia and Poland, immortalised in musicals like Fiddler on the Roof and the stories of Sholem Aleichem were, to put it bluntly, dirt poor and powerless. Studies reveal the average Jewish family in the Russian Empire at the beginning of the 20th Century owned one pair of shoes per household. Most Jews wore the same outfit during the week, every week, with one for Shabbat. Forty percent of Jews were unemployed, and there was a forty percent child mortality rate. Yet Prof. Zvi Gitelman, of the University of Michigan, found that in 1905 during a four day period in October, there were 649 pogroms in Russia. And this was small compared to the height of pogroms in the 1880s. The anti-Jewish campaigns caused 40% of Russian Jews to emigrate. Famously, refugees from these pogroms were the bulk of early Zionist settlers and a major motivation for the early Zionist movement.
The ‘Chosen People Theory is even easier to debunk. If the claim to ‘chosen-ness’ gives rise to anti-Semitism, then it should give rise to hatred of other people who make similar claims. Yet it doesn’t. Is it not, after all, Christian belief that once Jesus made his appearance, and the Jews rejected him, G-d changed his mind about His “choice” of the Jews? At that point the Christians became G-d’s new chosen people. Why don’t the anti-Semites hate them? It is a fundamental aspect of Christian doctrine, as much as it is to Jews. Muslims also believe that G-d spoke to their Patriarch Abraham, as is recorded in the Bible. But they replace Isaac with Ishmael, the ‘father of the Arabs’. According to Islam, G-d made the Moslems His chosen people when Mohammed was chosen as a prophet. Anti-Semites don’t hate the Muslims, however (remember that Marr didn’t care about Arabs, though ‘anti-Semitism’ taken literally might refer to them – he just wanted a more scientific label for Jew-hatred, and Arabs were never a concern of his writings).
How Hate Is Legitimised Today
The heydays of Christian anti-Judaism and racial anti-Semitism have passed. More modern forms of anti-Semitism recycle many of the theories, but it has all been legitimised in new ways. Make no mistake: we have a problem on our hands. The level of anti-Jewish crime has been at its highest since the War, which is the only reason that I write on such a dismal subject. In post-war Britain and America, most Jews for the first time in history grew up in an era without significant anti-Semitism. Many Jews in advanced countries never experienced it at all, and were never concerned about it until the present day. Some people, however, don’t even like to acknowledge it. Norman Finkelstein told the Israeli filmmaker Yoav Shamir that anti-Semitism simply doesn’t exist anymore, and was clearly angry at even having to address the topic in the film ‘Defamation’. Noam Chomsky has dismissed it, saying Islamophobia is a far bigger priority. Ken Loach, when asked his opinion on the rise of anti-Semitism considered it a ‘red herring’. These people will be no help in our modern struggle: they are in fact part of the problem. Chomsky and his ilk could easily look up the FBI statistics for hate crimes in America. The FBI counted 967 anti-Jewish crimes in 2006, verses 156 against Muslims. After blacks, Jews are the biggest victims of hate crimes in America today. There are about twice as many anti-black crimes, but this is still quite shocking when you consider there are six times as many blacks in America as there are Jews. Similarly, the London Metropolitan Police count four times as many anti-Jewish hate crimes in 2009, in the wake of Cast Lead, than Muslim ones (Muslims out-number Jews 4 or 5 to 1 in Britain). Of course, the reason why many people ignore these easily checkable statistics is that the facts don’t suit their agenda. Many thinkers and activists work hard to make us aware of growing Islamophobia since 9/11, or hype up the threat, to exploit it for their cause. Similarly, knowledge of growing anti-Semitism can damage these movements, though most try hard to distance themselves from the phenomenon.
In January 2009, the police reported 220 anti-Semitic attacks in Britain in five weeks alone. Brondesbury Park Synagogue in Willesden was firebombed. A gang of between 15 and 20 youths rampaged around Golders Green one day, forcing their way into Jewish restaurants and shops to scream abuse and threatening slogans, focusing especially on the London Jewish Family Centre (where Jewish ladies go for Pilates classes and the like – surely a Zionist front?). A Jewish motorist was also dragged from his car and assaulted. People stood outside synagogues, like Marble Arch, when they knew Jewish worshippers were arriving to shout things like ‘Hitler should have finished the job’. Countries with significant Jewish and Muslim communities suffered the worst, with the exception of Venezuela, which has very little Muslims but had some of the most shocking incidences. In Toulouse, a car containing bombs was rammed through the front gates of a synagogue and exploded. A Chabad centre in Paris was hit by nine Molotov cocktails in a single night.
Countless millions of people around the world took to the streets to protest the Iraq War. They shouted ‘Not In My Name’, ‘War Is Not The Answer’, ‘Stop The War’ and so on. This was not the language of the protestors of the Gaza War. In Times Square, they gathered to shout about ‘Israel: The Fourth Reich’. In LA, Stars of David got replaced by swastikas on Israeli flags, with ‘Upgrade to Holocaust Version 2.0’ underneath. The protests were disgraceful in tone. Posters put on synagogues proclaimed slogans like ‘Gaza – The New Shoah’ and another read, ‘Hamas Recognises Israeli Genocide’. Not only did these display ignorance, but a huge pride in that ignorance – or at least a cocky self-assuredness in their mistakenness typical of the Israel-haters.
The language was not confined to pot-heads on the street, nor Islamic fundamentalists or Arab nationalists/racists. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez went on TV to say ‘Don’t Jews repudiate the Holocaust? And this is precisely what we’re witnessing’. It is not surprising that fifteen armed men broke into Caracas’s main synagogue and held the caretaker at gunpoint, with an explosive thrown into another. Catholic cardinals called Gaza a ‘big concentration camp’. A few days, even hours, in an actual Nazi concentration camp, and I’m sure they would give their teeth to live in Gaza.
How is this hate being legitimised? Hate cannot be publicly aired without a justification, and there has been a lot of excuse-making recently. There is a pattern in the history of anti-Semitism. In the Middle Ages, and when the Christian Churches were at the height of their power, religion was the supreme source of authority. Hostility to Jews was therefore based mostly on religion. When religion lost much of its influence in 19th Century Europe, the justification was based on social Darwinism and racial science. Science has lost its pristine image of offering unfettered progress since the heyday of eugenics and the invention of the atom bomb. What has emerged as the supreme source of authority in our day is the doctrine of human rights, thanks in no small part to the Shoah. ‘Human rights’ is the new religion, and its holy texts are the Geneva Convention and various UN and EU Charters. Some of these were formulated with preventing another Holocaust as their primary aim. Members of the Church of Human Rights read these texts literally and without compromise. Ironically, they read these documents in the way Jews and Israelis are traditionally ridiculed over, the ‘eye for an eye’ method. They allow for no alternative readings or context-placement. The most fundamentalist branches of the Church of Human Rights are the Palestinian Solidarity Campaigns, a part of the Church of Palestinian Victimhood. The followers of this cult are the most fanatical and dour of worshippers – the Amish or Puritans of the broader movement that allows for no deviation from the cause.
The hi-jacking of human rights to demonise Israel, and by implication, the Jewish world, is one of the most significant developments of our lifetime. It is part of the broader movement to place a halo over the head of groups with a questionable cause. Today, the BNP and the KKK have the gall to call themselves human rights organisations for white people. The Muslim Public Affairs Committee, a British hate group that now has an Irish presence adopts the same tactic, as did the blatantly anti-Semitic ‘Ireland’s Friends of Palestine against Lisbon’. The full flowering of this new anti-Semitism can be seen from people like Mick Napier, the Chairman of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Not only is he awaiting trial at Edinburgh Sheriff Court for racially aggravated assault, he justifies Arab murder of Jewish children (namely, the slaughter at Mercaz HaRav) on the basis that they may soon oppress Arabs. For someone who claims to believe in human rights, it’s very odd that he justifies Arabs punishing Israeli teenagers on the basis of a crime they have not yet committed, and are in reality extremely unlikely to commit. It would seem to run contrary to most people’s conception of justice. Could you imagine if the Israeli government announced it would start killing Arab children indiscriminately because they may one day become terrorists? Even worse, of course, was the anti-Semitic hate fest of the Durban Conference in 2001, where Israel and no other nation was accused by the most vile and racist states, and their useful idiots, of all the cardinal sins of the post-Holocaust world. Thankfully, decency won a victory in 2009.
Today’s most dangerous anti-Semites pose as friends. Their strategy is ingenious. They of course acknowledge anti-Semitism is evil, and the Holocaust as the most evil crime against humanity. Any decent person must adopt the same attitude. However, in their moral blindness they see a moral equivalence between Israel’s behaviour towards the Palestinians and the Nazi treatment of the Jews. Therefore, if you oppose anti-Semitism, you must oppose Israel and its supporters, who just happen to be Jews. This has proven to be of devastating effectiveness. Whether it is from Communists, the Green movement or Muslims adopting Western suits and decent language, Jews and their allies must see through this farce. These individuals are enemies if the Jewish people and by extension, humanity.
There is one logical conclusion to all this: to fight evil and prejudice, we must fight the demonization of Israel, argue the case of the Jewish state incessantly and get the truth out there. When respected academics and journalists, including such figures as Edward Said and Robert Fisk, attribute made-up racist quotes to Jewish leaders (oh, they’ve done it) we must be there armed with the truth. When the BBC airs news programs from the Middle East obtaining all its footage and sources from local Palestinians without questioning them (happens all the time) we must be there. When the UN is hi-jacked by despotic Muslim regimes and tries to pass another Israel-bashing resolution, we must be there. They brought Ahmadenijad to speak at an anti-racism conference. We brought Elie Wiesel.
It’s going to be tough. Israel’s enemies have convinced themselves they are radicals taking on a powerful ‘Lobby’ (a complete straw man and convenient scapegoat for all our post 9/11 ills). Regardless of the fact there is a distinct lack of risk in criticising Israel, our enemies pat themselves on the back for being so ‘brave’ in doing so at their cocktail parties.
But we know the Jewish State. We know we stand for this:
Rather than this:
We are on the side of truth, and history will prove that. Let us hope that history proves us right before more masses of Jews die.