We­faceanew kind of ha­tred

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment & Analysis -

ON JAN­UARY 27, 2000, heads of state or se­nior rep­re­sen­ta­tives of 44 gov­ern­ments met in Stock­holm to com­mit them­selves to a con­tin­u­ing pro­gramme of Holo­caust re­mem­brance and the fight against an­tisemitism. Barely two years later, syn­a­gogues and Jewish schools in France and Bel­gium were be­ing fire­bombed and Jews were be­ing at­tacked in the streets. The dis­tin­guished Chief Rabbi of France, Rabbi Joseph Sitruk, ad­vised Jews not to wear yarmulkas in the street. The French Jewish in­tel­lec­tual Alain Finkielkraut wrote: “The hearts of the Jews are heavy. For the first time since the war, they are afraid.” Shmuel Trig­ano, pro­fes­sor of so­ci­ol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Paris, openly ques­tioned whether there was a fu­ture for Jews in France. Never again had be­come ever again.

On Fe­bru­ary 28, 2002, I gave my first speech on the new an­tisemitism. Never be­fore had I spo­ken on the sub­ject. I had grown up with­out a sin­gle ex­pe­ri­ence of an­tisemitism. I be­lieved, and still do, that the whole en­ter­prise of bas­ing Jewish iden­tity on mem­o­ries of per­se­cu­tion was a mis­take. The dis­tin­guished Holo­caust his­to­rian Lucy Daw­id­ow­icz reached the same con­clu­sion at the end of her life. She warned of the dan­ger of a whole gen­er­a­tion of chil­dren grow­ing up know­ing about the Greeks and how they lived, the Ro­mans and how they lived, the Jews and how they died. I wrote Rad­i­cal Then, Rad­i­cal Now, specif­i­cally to fo­cus Jewish iden­tity away from death to life, suf­fer­ing to cel­e­bra­tion, grief to joy.

The re­turn of an­tisemitism, af­ter 60 years of Holo­caust ed­u­ca­tion, in­ter­faith di­a­logue and an­tiracist leg­is­la­tion, is a ma­jor event in the his­tory of the world. Far-sighted his­to­ri­ans like Bernard Lewis and Robert Wistrich had been sound­ing the warn­ing since the 1980s. Al­ready in the 1990s, Har­vard lit­er­ary scholar Ruth Wisse ar­gued that an­tisemitism was the most suc­cess­ful ide­ol­ogy of the 20th cen­tury. Ger­man fas­cism, she said, came and went. Soviet com­mu­nism came and went. An­tisemitism came and stayed.

It is wrong to ex­ag­ger­ate. We are not now where Jews were in the 1930s. Nor are Jews to­day what our an­ces­tors were: de­fence­less, pow­er­less and with­out a col­lec­tive home. The state of Is­rael has trans­formed the sit­u­a­tion for Jews ev­ery­where. What is nec­es­sary now is sim­ply to un­der­stand the sit­u­a­tion and sound a warn­ing. That is what Moses Hess did in 1862, Ju­dah Leib Pinsker in 1882 and Theodor Herzl in 1896: 71, 51 and 37 years re­spec­tively be­fore Hitler’s rise to power. To un­der­stand is to be­gin to know how to re­spond, with open eyes and with­out fear.

To­day’s an­tisemitism is a new phe­nom­e­non, con­tin­u­ous with, yet sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent from, the past. To fathom the trans­for­ma­tion, we must first de­fine what an­tisemitism is. In the past, Jews were hated be­cause they were rich and be­cause they were poor; be­cause they were cap­i­tal­ists (Marx) and be­cause they were com­mu­nists (Hitler); be­cause they kept to them­selves and be­cause they in­fil­trated ev­ery­where; be­cause they held tena­ciously to a su­per­sti­tious faith (Voltaire) and be­cause they were root­less cos­mopoli­tans who be­lieved noth­ing (Stalin).

An­tisemitism is not an ide­ol­ogy, a co­her­ent set of be­liefs. It is, in fact, an end­less stream of con­tra­dic­tions. The best way of un­der­stand­ing it is to see it as a virus. Viruses at­tack the hu­man body, but the body it­self has an im­mensely so­phis­ti­cated defence, the hu­man im­mune sys­tem. How then do viruses sur­vive and flour­ish? By mu­tat­ing. An­tisemitism mu­tates, and in so do­ing de­feats the im­mune sys­tems set up by cul­tures to pro­tect them­selves against ha­tred. There have been three such mu­ta­tions in the past 2,000 years, and we are liv­ing through the fourth.

The first took place with the birth of Chris­tian­ity. Be­fore then, there had been many Hel­lenis­tic writ- ers who were hos­tile to Jews. But they were also dis­mis­sive of other non-Hel­lenis­tic peo­ples. The Greeks called them bar­bar­ians. There was noth­ing per­sonal in their at­tacks on Jews. This was not an­tisemitism. It was xeno­pho­bia.

This changed with Chris­tian­ity. As was later to hap­pen with Is­lam, the founders of the new faith, largely based on Ju­daism it­self, be­lieved that Jews would join the new dis­pen­sa­tion and were scan­dalised when they did not. Jews were held guilty of not recog­nis­ing — worse still, of be­ing com­plicit in the death of — the mes­siah. A strand of Judeo­pho­bia en­tered Chris­tian­ity in some of its ear­li­est texts, and be­came a fully fledged genre, the “Ad­ver­sos Ju­daeos” lit­er­a­ture, in the days of the Church Fa­thers. From here on, Jews — not non-Chris­tians in gen­eral — be­came the tar­get of what Jules Isaac called the “teach­ing of con­tempt”.

The sec­ond mu­ta­tion be­gan in 1096, when the Cru­saders, on their way to con­quer Jerusalem, stopped to mas­sacre Jewish com­mu­ni­ties in Worms, Speyer and Mainz, the first ma­jor Euro­pean pogrom. In 1144 in Nor­wich, there was the first Blood Li­bel, a myth that still ex­ists to­day in parts of the Mid­dle East. Re­li­gious Judeo­pho­bia be­came de­monic. Jews were no longer just the peo­ple who re­jected Chris­tian­ity. They be­gan to be seen as a malev­o­lent force, killing chil­dren, des­e­crat­ing the host, poi­son­ing wells and spread­ing the plague. There were forced con­ver­sions, in­qui­si­tions, burn­ings at the stake, staged pub­lic dis­pu­ta­tions, book burn­ings and ex­pul­sions. Europe had be­come a “per­se­cut­ing so­ci­ety”.

We can date the third mu­ta­tion to 1879, when the Ger­man jour­nal­ist Wil­helm Marr coined a new word: an­tisemitism. The fact that he needed to do so tells us that this was a new phe­nom­e­non. It emerged in an age of En­light­en­ment, the sec­u­lar na­tion state, lib­er­al­ism and eman­ci­pa­tion. Re­li­gious prej­u­dice was deemed to be a thing of the past. The new ha­tred had there­fore to jus­tify it­self on quite dif­fer­ent grounds, namely race. This was a fate­ful de­vel­op­ment, be­cause you can change your re­li­gion. You can­not change your race. Chris­tians could work for the con­ver­sion of the Jews. Racists could only work for the ex­ter­mi­na­tion of the Jews. So the Holo­caust was born. Sixty years af­ter the word came the deed.

To­day we are liv­ing through the fourth mu­ta­tion. Un­like its pre­de­ces­sors, the new an­tisemitism fo­cuses not on Ju­daism as a re­li­gion, nor on Jews as a race, but on Jews as a na­tion. It con­sists of three propo­si­tions. First, alone of the 192 na­tions mak­ing up the United Na­tions, Jews are not en­ti­tled to a state of their own. As Amos Oz noted: in the 1930s, an­ti­semites de­clared, “Jews to Pales­tine”. To­day they shout: “Jews out of Pales­tine”. He said: they don’t want us to be there; they don’t want us to be here; they don’t want us to be.

The sec­ond is that Jews or the state of Is­rael (the terms are of­ten used in­ter­change­ably) are re­spon­si­ble for the evils of the world, from Aids to global warm­ing. All the old an­tisemitic myths have been re­cy­cled, from the Blood Li­bel to The Pro­to­cols of the El­ders of Zion, still a best­seller in many parts of the world. The third is that all Jews are Zion­ists and there­fore le­git­i­mate ob­jects of at­tack. The bomb at­tacks on syn­a­gogues in Is­tan­bul and Djerba, the ar­son at­tacks on Jewish schools in Europe, and the al­most fa­tal stab­bing of a young yeshiva stu­dent on a bus in North Lon­don in Oc­to­ber 2000, were on Jewish tar­gets, not Is­raeli ones. The new an­tisemitism is an at­tack on Jews as a na­tion seek­ing to ex­ist as a na­tion like ev­ery other on the face of the Earth, with rights of self-gov­er­nance and self-defence.

How did it pen­e­trate the most so­phis­ti­cated im­mune sys­tem ever con­structed — the en­tire panoply of in­ter­na­tional mea­sures de­signed to en­sure that noth­ing like the Holo­caust would ever hap­pen again, from the United Na­tions Uni­ver­sal Dec­la­ra­tion of Hu­man Rights (1948) to the Stock­holm dec­la­ra­tion of 2000? The an­swer lies in the mode of self-jus­ti­fi­ca­tion. Most peo­ple at most times feel a resid­ual guilt at hat­ing the in­no­cent. There­fore an­tisemitism has al­ways had to find le­git­i­ma­tion in the most pres­ti­gious source of author­ity at any given time.

In the first cen­turies of the Com­mon Era, and again in the Mid­dle Ages, this was re­li­gion. That is why Judeo­pho­bia took the form of re­li­gious doc­trine. In the 19th cen­tury, re­li­gion had lost pres­tige, and the supreme author­ity was now science. Racial an­tisemitism was duly based on two pseudo-sci­ences, so­cial Dar­win­ism (the idea that in so­ci­ety, as in na­ture, the strong sur­vive by elim­i­nat­ing the weak) and the so-called sci­en­tific study of race. By the late 20th cen­tury, science had lost its pres­tige, hav­ing given us the power to de­stroy life on Earth. To­day the supreme source of le­git­i­macy is hu­man rights. That is why Jews (or the Jewish state) are ac­cused of the five pri­mal sins against hu­man rights: racism, apartheid, eth­nic cleans­ing, at­tempted geno­cide and crimes against hu­man­ity.

That is where we are. How then shall we re­spond? There are three key mes­sages, the first to Jews, the sec­ond to an­ti­semites, and the third to our fel­low hu­man be­ings in this tense and trou­bled age. As Jews we must un­der­stand that we can­not fight an­tisemitism alone. The vic­tim can­not cure the crime. The hated can­not cure the hate. Jews can­not de­feat an­tisemitism. Only the cul­tures that give rise to it can do so.

Euro­pean Jews in the 19th and early 20th cen­turies made one of the most tragic mis­takes in his­tory. They said: Jews cause an­tisemitism, there­fore they can cure it. They did ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble. They said, “Peo­ple hate us be­cause we are dif­fer­ent. So we will stop be­ing dif­fer­ent.” They gave up item af­ter item of Ju­daism. They in­te­grated, they as­sim­i­lated, they mar­ried out, they hid their iden­tity. This failed to di­min­ish an­tisemitism by one iota. All it did was to de­bil­i­tate and de­mor­alise Jews.

We need al­lies. Jews have en­e­mies but we also have friends and we must cul­ti­vate more. I have helped lead the fight against Is­lam­o­pho­bia; I ask Mus­lims to fight Judeo­pho­bia. I will fight for the right of Chris­tians through­out the world to live their faith with­out fear; but we need Chris­tians to fight for the right of Jews to live their faith with­out fear.

The most im­por­tant thing Jews can do to fight an­tisemitism is never, ever to in­ter­nalise it. That is what is wrong in mak­ing the his­tory of per­se­cu­tion the ba­sis of Jewish iden­tity. For 3,000 years Jews de­fined them­selves as a peo­ple loved by God. Only in the 19th cen­tury did they be­gin to de­fine them­selves as the peo­ple hated by gen­tiles. There is no sane fu­ture along that road. The best psy­cho­log­i­cal defence against an­tisemitism is the say­ing of Rav Nach­man of Brat­slav: “The whole world is a very nar­row bridge; the main thing is never to be afraid.”

To an­ti­semites and their fel­low trav­ellers we must be can­did. Hate de­stroys the hated, but it also de­stroys the hater. It is no ac­ci­dent that an­tisemitism is the weapon of choice of tyrants and to­tal­i­tar­ian regimes. It de­flects in­ter­nal crit­i­cism away by pro­ject­ing it onto an ex­ter­nal scape­goat. It is de­ployed in coun­try af­ter coun­try to di­rect at­ten­tion away from real in­ter­nal prob­lems of poverty, un­em­ploy­ment and un­der­achieve­ment. An­tisemitism is used to sus­tain regimes with­out hu­man rights, the rule of law, an in­de­pen­dent ju­di­ciary, a free press, lib­erty of as­so­ci­a­tion or ac­count­able gov­ern­ment. One truth re­sounds through the pages of his­tory: to be free, you have to let go of hate. Those driven by hate are en­e­mies of free­dom. There is no ex­cep­tion.

Fi­nally, to all of us to­gether, we must say: Jews have been hated through­out his­tory be­cause they were dif­fer­ent. To be sure, ev­ery­one is dif­fer­ent; but Jews more than most fought for the right to be dif­fer­ent. Un­der a suc­ces­sion of em­pires, and cen­turies of dis­per­sion, Jews were the only peo­ple who for more than 2,000 years re­fused to con­vert to the dom­i­nant re­li­gion or as­sim­i­late into the dom­i­nant cul­ture. That is why an­tisemitism is a threat not just to Jews but to hu­man­ity.

For we are all dif­fer­ent. Af­ter Ba­bel, there is no sin­gle cul­ture. In­stead, there is a mul­ti­plic­ity of lan­guages and iden­ti­ties, each one of which is pre­cious. Ju­daism is the world’s most sus­tained protest against em­pires, be­cause im­pe­ri­al­ism is the at­tempt to im­pose a sin­gle truth, cul­ture or faith on a plu­ral world. God, said the rab­bis, makes ev­ery­one in His im­age, yet He makes ev­ery­one dif­fer­ent to teach us to re­spect dif­fer­ence. And since dif­fer­ence is con­sti­tu­tive of hu­man­ity, a world that has no space for dif­fer­ence has no space for hu­man­ity. That is why a resur­gence of an­tisemitism has al­ways been an early warn­ing of an as­sault on free­dom it­self. It is so to­day.

We must find al­lies in the fight against hate. For though it be­gins with Jews, ul­ti­mately it threat­ens us all.

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