Why We Need To See Left­ist Anti-Semitism As A Con­spir­acy The­ory

Forward Magazine - - Opinion - John-Paul Pagano

The Anti-Defama­tion League pub­lishes an an­nual re­port on in­ci­dents of anti-Semitism in the United States. Last year, 2017, saw a 67% rise in anti-Jewish hate speech, ha­rass­ment, van­dal­ism and vi­o­lence.

This is a dis­heart­en­ing mea­sure of a ter­ri­ble phe­nom­e­non. Yet the re­port has gar­nered lit­tle at­ten­tion. Some pub­lic com­ments hint at why. In a video for Jewish Voice for Peace, the an­tiracism cam­paigner Linda Sar­sour ad­dressed the is­sue. “I want to make the dis­tinc­tion that while anti-Semitism is some­thing that im­pacts Jewish Amer­i­cans, it’s dif­fer­ent than anti-black racism or Is­lam­o­pho­bia be­cause it’s not sys­temic... Of course, you may ex­pe­ri­ence van­dal­ism or an at­tack on a syn­a­gogue, or maybe on an in­di­vid­ual level… but it’s not sys­temic, and we need to make that dis­tinc­tion.”

Un­der­ly­ing this per­va­sive point of view is the no­tion that Jews, who are of­ten con­flated with whites, should “check their priv­i­lege,” be­cause anti-Semitism just isn’t as bad as other forms of racism. On cam­pus, where ADL notes an acute rise in an­tiJewish hos­til­ity, alarmed Jewish stu­dents are side­lined for be­ing white and mid­dle class, and the Holo­caust is triv­i­al­ized as “white on white crime.”

This era­sure of anti-Semitism isn’t sim­ply cal­lous; it ex­poses a huge moral fail­ure at the heart of the mod­ern left. Un­der the en­velop­ing par­a­digm of “in­ter­sec­tion­al­ity,” ev­ery­one is gran­u­larly de­fined by their var­i­ous iden­ti­ties — ev­ery­one, that is, ex­cept white Jews, whose Jewish­ness is of­ten over­writ­ten by their skin color. This era­sure is deeply haz­ardous, inas­much as

An­ti­Semitism is a poor man’s revo­lu­tion. And so long as it doesn’t present as a far-right or ‘alt-right’ car­toon, it will of­ten fly un­der our radar.

the fight against racism hap­pens by and large in sec­tors where the left per­spec­tive dom­i­nates — the acad­emy, pop cul­ture and much of the news me­dia.

But this fail­ure of the left is less a re­sult of mal­ice than of un­con­scious wiring. The left is doomed to erase anti-Semitism be­cause it’s ille­quipped to un­der­stand it.

For in a key sense, reg­u­lar racism — against blacks and Lati­nos, for ex­am­ple — is the op­po­site of anti-Semitism. While both de­rive from xeno­pho­bia, reg­u­lar racism comes from white peo­ple be­liev­ing they are su­pe­rior to peo­ple of color. But the ha­tred of Jews stems from the be­lief that Jews are a ca­bal with su­per­nat­u­ral pow­ers. Where the white racist re­gards blacks as in­fe­rior, the anti-Semite imag­ines that Jews have preter­nat­u­ral power to de­feat hu­mankind.

Anti-Semitism dif­fers from most forms of racism in that it pur­ports to “punch up” against a se­cret so­ci­ety of op­pres­sors, which makes it easy to dis­guise as a pol­i­tics of eman­ci­pa­tion. If Jews have power, then punch­ing up at Jews is a form of speak­ing truth to power.

In other words, it is be­cause anti-Semitism pre­tends to strike at power that the left can­not see it, and is doomed to erase — and even re­pro­duce — its tropes.

At its most triv­ial, a con­spir­acy the­ory is the idea that a cir­cum­stance or event can be ex­plained by the in­flu­ence of an evil se­cret so­ci­ety with the power to af­fect large-scale out­comes. Con­spir­acy the­o­ries also re­flect a world­view in which re­al­ity is the prod­uct of a time­less and cos­mic strug­gle be­tween good and evil. These kinds of du­al­is­tic nar­ra­tives are en­tic­ing to groups that view them­selves to be un­der ex­is­ten­tial duress, and, as re­li­gious his­to­rian Elaine Pagels has shown, this has pro­foundly shaped Western cul­ture. Jews un­der Ro­man oc­cu­pa­tion, and early Chris­tians un­der Jewish os­tracism and gen­tile per­se­cu­tion, de­vel­oped the­olo­gies of the op­pressed in which the devil and his de­monic host squared off with God and his an­gels.

To man­age ev­ery­day prob­lems, peo­ple of­ten turned to magic. The church did not look fondly on this com­pet­ing sys­tem of knowl­edge. It rea­soned that in­so­far as magic was be­lieved to work, it must draw upon the pow-

er of demons. Un­for­tu­nately, Jews had also been as­so­ci­ated with sor­cery since an­tiq­uity. This closed a cir­cle, link­ing magic, Jews and the devil in the Chris­tian mind.

The crude the­ol­ogy of the cos­mic show­down be­tween God and the devil, along with the stereo­type of an anti-hu­man, de­monic col­lab­o­ra­tor, and a life-and-death strug­gle over the for­bid­den knowl­edge of magic and heresy, fused to ig­nite the in­fa­mous per­se­cu­tions of the Euro­pean Mid­dle Ages. These in­cluded the witch tri­als, the in­qui­si­tions of heretics, and the peren­nial per­se­cu­tion of Jews as child- mur­der­ing, blood-feast­ing, well-poi­son­ing sor­cer­ers and agents of Satan.

When Europe en­tered the mod­ern era, Jews shed this com­pany. In­dus­tri­al­iza­tion, ur­ban mi­gra­tion, democ­racy and the flour­ish­ing of sci­ence weak­ened the oth­er­worldly frame­work many used to un­der­stand the world. Witches and heretics faded in rel­e­vance.

But the Jews sur­vived, though the role they played in the gen­tile imag­i­na­tion changed to re­flect the times.

As they were eman­ci­pated, Jews loomed as di­rect com­pe­ti­tion in eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal life. As the pre­em­i­nent his­to­rian of anti-Semitism, Robert Wistrich, writes, “Along­side the dom­i­nant cul­tural ma­trix of latenine­teenth-cen­tury na­tion­al­ism, volkisch racism, and im­pe­ri­al­ism,” a new “pop­ulist so­cial di­men­sion” re­cast Jews as col­lab­o­ra­tors with the sec­u­lar demons of lais­sez­faire cap­i­tal­ism and lib­eral democ­racy. Thus, as the cen­ter of civ­i­liza­tion shifted from church and king to the na­tion state, an­ti­Semitism, at least out­wardly, lost its re­li­gious fo­cus. Foes of the Jews cast them as di­a­bol­i­cal pup­peteers who con­trolled the state; an­ti­Semites in power li­beled them as sedi­tious par­a­sites who un­der­mined it. This was the milieu that pro­duced the foun­da­tional doc­u­ment of po­lit­i­cal con­spir­acy, “The Pro­to­cols of the El­ders of Zion” — a de­tailed out­line of how the Jews would en­slave and ex­ploit hu­mankind. First cir­cu­lated in the Rus­sian Em­pire, it was then ex­ported by char­la­tans and mil­i­tary of­fi­cers and spread through­out the world. Ef­fec­tively the first “fake news,” the pam­phlet still flour­ishes to­day, es­pe­cially in Arab and Mus­lim coun­tries.

While a quintessen­tially mod­ern doc­u­ment, “The Pro­to­cols” owes a debt to me­dieval thought. Mur­der, greed, war­mon­ger­ing, en­slave­ment, false con­scious­ness, op­po­si­tion to the truth and be­trayal of the good are all ex­plicit.

The Nazis fur­nish the best tes­ta­ment to the lethal power of this sin­is­ter lit­tle book. Look how in­debted to it Joseph Goebbels re­vealed them to be:

Jewry has so deeply in­fected the An­gloSaxon states both spir­i­tu­ally and po­lit­i­cally that they no longer have the abil­ity to see or ac­cept the dan­ger. It con­ceals it­self as Bol­she­vism in the Soviet Union, and plu­to­cratic-cap­i­tal­ism in the An­glo-Saxon states. The Jewish race has al­ways been an ex­pert at mimicry, that is, the sys­tem­atic abil­ity to fade into its sur­round­ings. We know that from our own past. They put their host peo­ples to sleep, they drug them, par­a­lyz­ing their abil­ity to de­fend them­selves against the life-threat­en­ing dan­ger from Jewry.

Con­spir­acy the­o­ries are far from dead. Rather, they’ve mu­tated to ad­dress the re­al­i­ties of the day. And they’re not just about Jews, ei­ther.

To­day’s con­spir­acist blends the mind­set of the me­dieval ma­gi­cian with the vi­cious­ness of the in­quisi­tor. The old fears about crop foul­ing and well poi­son­ing, for ex­am­ple, are now di­rected at ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied or­gan­isms and at flu­o­ride in the wa­ter. The idea that doc­tors and sor­cer­ers were one and the same sur­faces in para­noia about AIDS and vac­cines. And flatearthers re­hearse astro­log­i­cal de­bates about the cos­mos. But the Jews re­main a pri­mary tar­get.

And it’s anti-Semitism’s source in con­spir­acy the­ory that ren­ders it so dif­fer­ent from non-con­spir­acist forms of racism, like anti-black­ness.

As with most racism, anti-black bias con­structs an un­der­class to be ex­ploited or avoided. It po­si­tions blacks as in­fe­rior to whites, and charges them with stereo­types that sig­nal weak­ness: They are li­beled as lazy, stupid, lust­ful, crim­i­nal and an­i­mal­is­tic.

The con­spir­acy the­ory of anti-Semitism turns this on its head. The Jew be­comes a mag­i­cal crea­ture: bril­liant, cun­ning, greedy, stealthy, wealthy and pow­er­ful beyond mea­sure. An­ti­Semitism imag­ines a di­a­bolic over­class to be ex­posed and re­sisted.

Take it from the ex­perts. In Ar­ti­cle Twenty-Two of its char­ter, Ha­mas

The idea at the cen­ter of the long his­tory of Jewish per­se­cu­tion is a con­spir­acy the­ory: that a ca­bal of in­ter­na­tional Jews con­spires to de­stroy mankind.

de­scribes the preter­nat­u­ral power of the world­wide Jewish ca­bal:

With their money, [the Jews] took con­trol of the world me­dia, news agen­cies, the press, pub­lish­ing houses, broad­cast­ing sta­tions, and oth­ers. With their money they stirred rev­o­lu­tions in var­i­ous parts of the world with the pur­pose of achiev­ing their in­ter­ests and reap­ing the fruit therein. They were be­hind the French Revo­lu­tion, the Com­mu­nist revo­lu­tion and most of the rev­o­lu­tions we heard and hear about, here and there. With their money they formed se­cret so­ci­eties, such as Freema­sons, Ro­tary Clubs, the Lions and oth­ers in dif­fer­ent parts of the world for the pur­pose of sab­o­tag­ing so­ci­eties and achiev­ing Zion­ist in­ter­ests.

Above all else, anti-Semitism is a con­spir­acy the­ory about the malef­i­cent Jewish elite. And it’s this that makes it easy to dis­guise as a pol­i­tics of lib­er­a­tion, or, at least, to em­bed anti-Semitism qui­etly in ef­forts for so­cial jus­tice.

You can see this in the ef­forts of groups like Black­4Pales­tine and JVP to por­tray Is­rael and Amer­ica as bas­tions of cap­i­tal­ist white supremacy that col­lude to bru­tal­ize peo­ple of color.

In the early part of this decade, Ethiopian-Is­raeli women charged that state-man­dated health providers had used shady means to de­press their fer­til­ity with the con­tra­cep­tive De­poProvera. The gov­ern­ment de­nied co­er­cion, but ques­tions re­main about the va­lid­ity of its probe. This was not enough for Black­4Pales­tine,which de­clared that “[Is­rael] has ster­il­ized Ethiopian Is­raelis with­out their knowl­edge or con­sent.”

Nar­rowly, the ef­fect of al­leg­ing ster­il­iza­tion in­vokes the Nazi specter of eu­gen­ics. But more broadly, the con­spir­acy the­ory sum­mons me­dieval fears of Jewish magic harm­ing sex­ual func­tion, which live on in the Arab world.

For its part, JVP launched a na­tional ef­fort to pro­mote the idea that Is­rael teaches U.S. law en­force­ment how to in­flict “sys­temic” racism on peo­ple of color, “in­clud­ing ex­tra­ju­di­cial ex­e­cu­tions, shoot-to-kill poli­cies, po­lice mur­ders, racial pro­fil­ing, mas­sive spy­ing and sur­veil­lance, de­por­ta­tion and de­ten­tion, and at­tacks on hu­man rights de­fend­ers.”

It’s crit­i­cal to note that Amer­i­cans are not ac­cus­tomed to rec­og­niz­ing, let alone un­der­stand­ing, a siz­able por­tion of anti-Semitism, be­cause it typ­i­cally doesn’t re­sem­ble anti-black­ness — the hor­rific down-punch­ing form of racism that haunts Amer­i­can his­tory and re­ver­ber­ates into the present.

Anti-Semitism is a poor man’s revo­lu­tion. And so long as it doesn’t present as a far-right or “alt-right” car­toon, it will of­ten fly un­der our radar.

In the spring of 2016, the Stan­ford Univer­sity Stu­dent Se­nate de­bated a res­o­lu­tion, un­der­taken in light of stri­dent ac­tivism on cam­pus against Is­rael, to con­demn anti-Semitism, cit­ing con­spir­acy the­o­ries about “the power of Jews as a col­lec­tive — es­pe­cially, but not ex­clu­sively, the myth about… Jews con­trol­ling the me­dia, econ­omy, gov­ern­ment or other so­ci­etal in­sti­tu­tions.”

A stu­dent se­na­tor named Gabriel Knight ob­jected, say­ing that the res­o­lu­tion would “ir­re­spon­si­bly” sti­fle what he thought was a “very valid dis­cus­sion.” “Ques­tion­ing these po­ten­tial power dy­nam­ics… is not anti-Semitism,” he ad­mon­ished.

Pales­tinian Author­ity Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas has spo­ken to as­sem­bled Pales­tinian lead­ers, al­leg­ing wild con­spir­a­cies, rav­ing, in what would have been news to Anne Frank, “[The Western pow­ers] wanted to bring Jews here from Europe to main­tain Euro­pean in­ter­ests in the re­gion. They asked Hol­land, which had the largest navy in the world, to trans­fer the Jews.”

Ab­bas also de­clared that “Is­rael has im­ported fright­en­ing amounts of drugs in or­der to de­stroy our younger gen­er­a­tion.” In re­sponse, the lib­eral Is­rael in­ter­est group J Street, af­ter re­ject­ing “the di­vi­sive and in­flam­ma­tory rhetoric used by Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas,” com­plained that Trump had pro­voked Ab­bas to the point of de­spair by rec­og­niz­ing Jerusalem as the cap­i­tal of the Jewish state.

Nei­ther of these episodes would have been likely if we un­der­stood anti-Semitism as a con­spir­acy the­ory. If he had rec­og­nized anti-Semitism as a para­noid re­li­gion that of­fers vul­gar sal­va­tion to the op­pressed, Gabriel Knight might not have in­sisted on in­ter­ro­gat­ing the priv­i­lege of Jews. If J Street’s lead­ers knew the clas­sic tropes of con­spir­acism, they would have heard in Ab­bas’s ca­nards and Holo­caust de­nial some­thing too big to be laid at the feet of an Amer­i­can politi­cian: 2,000 Euro­pean years of fa­nat­i­cal du­al­ism, feu­dal fa­tal­ism, su­per­sti­tion, fear and cleans­ing vi­o­lence.

Amer­i­cans are — thank­fully — tuned to de­tect and de­plore racism that punches down. But we must broaden our per­spec­tive if we want to re­verse the progress of anti-Semitism, which punches up to­ward mass mur­der and ex­ter­mi­na­tion.

So when ADL re­ports that in­ci­dents of anti-Semitism rose by 67% in 2017, view it in this light. That’s what it means when white supremacists in Char­lottesville and else­where march and shout “Jews will not re­place us!” This form of ha­tred thrives in con­di­tions where dem­a­gogues un­der­mine the in­sti­tu­tions of lib­eral democ­racy.

We live in a time of hate­ful rhap­sody where truth is rel­a­tive and fear pre­vails.

This is a con­spir­acist mo­ment, and it’s bad for the Jews.

FROM RUS­SIA WITH HATE: An English trans­la­tion of the Pro­to­cols of the El­ders of Zion” pub­lished in New York in 1922


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