How Antisemitism Was Transformed

Rise of Antisemitism, Winter 2003

Antisemitism is alive and well, but it has undergone some interesting transformations.

When antisemitism began, it was Euro­pean. Its historic roots lay in the anti-Juda­ism of early Christianity and the Middle Ages. Its trigger lay in the traumatic world of early capitalism.

In 1873 a major economic depression sent millions of Europeans into panic. The collapse of once-powerful banks, the wiping out of the savings of once-powerful people, the specter of unemployment — all combined to raise the question, “Why?” Antisemitism was a pow­erful and convincingly simple answer to this complex question. It thrived on the well- known connection of Jews with money. It won the hearts of both aristocrats and peasants who despised the leaders of the money economy.

While anti-Judaism was directed to the re­ligion of the Jew, antisemitism was focused on the “race” or ethnicity of the Jew. For the “anti- Judaites” the solution to the Jewish problem was the conversion of the Jew. For the antisemite the solution to the Jewish problem was the elimination of the Jew. Most antisemites were not interested in the religion of the Jew. They were absorbed in the social, economic, and po­litical roles that Jews played. For them conver­sion was irrelevant. It could not change the fundamentally evil nature of the Jew. Anti- Judaism imagined that the Jew was salvageable. Antisemitism knew that he was not.

In the end, if the Jew is the devil, if he has invented the evils of both capitalism and socialism, he is intolerable. Extermination flows logically from the premises of anti-semitic ideology. Expulsion and persecution are insufficient to eradicate the social evil that the Jew represents. For the arch-antisemite the Jew is the incarnation of evil. And evil has no right to exist.

The consequence of European anti­semitism was the Nazi debacle and the Holo­caust. So important was the Jewish enemy that his elimination took priority over competing items on the Nazi agenda. Even at the end of the war, when Nazi resources were exhausted, soldiers and trains were made available to execute the Final Solution.

After the Second World War, it seemed inconceivable that antisemitism would find defenders. The horror of the Shoah was so great that Western European governments outlawed antisemitic propaganda and anti-semitic political parties. Nazi symbolswere banned. Public hostility to the Jews achieved the status of a crime. Even the Ger­mans began the long repentance of repara­tions. The revival of antisemitism in Europe seemed unlikely.

Then, only three years after the war, Stalin turned his political power against the Jews of the Soviet Union. Jewish writers were elimi­nated. Jewish Communist leaders were ex­ecuted. Antisemitism shifted its European center from Western Europe to Eastern Eu­rope. If Stalin had not died in 1953, most of the Jews of Russia would have been deported to the gulags of Siberia. After his death antisemitism persisted, but it fizzled down to policies of persecution, all of it rendered lu­dicrous by the official protest that anti­semitism could not possibly exist in the Communist motherland.

Recent developments have shifted the center of antisemitism and antisemitic pro­paganda out of Europe. The reason is ironic. Jew-hatred in Europe triggered the rise of Zi­onism. And the leaders of Zionism claimed that the establishment of a Jewish state would cure antisemitism. Yet, as we know, the es­tablishment of the state of Israel provided a major provocation to the Arab and Muslim worlds. The consequence of this development was the emergence in the Muslim world of a rabid antisemitism. While many Arab anti- Zionists directed their hostility to the Israelis alone, most Arab anti-Zionists made no dis­tinction between Israelis and Jews.

After 1967, the concepts of European antisemitism and its propaganda were adopted by Arabs to explain how it was pos­sible for little Israel to defeat the combined armies of the Arab world. The answer was simple: Israel is the creation of America. And America is controlled by the Jews. American power is Jewish power. The demon of the money economy had now used its enormous political, economic, and military power to enslave the Muslim world and to corrupt its historic culture with the Jewish values of the American consumer society. For most Mus­lim fundamentalists, as well as many “Mus­lim Marxists,” Jews and America go together. And so does their evil.

Today in Cairo and Damascus, Baghdad and Karachi, the assault on the Jews is relent­less. European antisemitism has been dressed up in Muslim clothing, but the heart of the message is the same. The Jews stand at the center of human history as an evil force. Only their elimination, together with their puppets America and Israel, will save Islam and the world. Zionism has managed to generate a hatred in the Muslim world equal in inten­sity to the hatred in Europe that brought it into existence.

The September 11 scenario revealed this obsession. New York was chosen as the main target of the Muslim fundamentalist terrorists because it was viewed as the true capital of Jewish power. The World Trade Center was the temple of money and of the global economy, which represented the corrupt na­ture of Jewish power.

The return of virulent antisemitism to Europe arrived with the Muslim immigrants who are now pouring into Europe. The popu­lations of England, France, and Germany have already been radically altered by this migra­tion. Since the birthrates of native Europeans are low and the reproduction rate of Muslim immigrants is high, the future is clear. Europe will become increasingly more Muslim.

The centers of antisemitism in Europe no longer lie in the aristocracy or in the army or among the intellectuals. In the social sphere Jews are now able to achieve the summits of power and fame. On the contrary, the centers of antisemitism now lie among the poor Mus­lim immigrants and among the Europeans on the left who champion their cause. Anti­semitism has always been as much a disease of the poor as of the rich. For the economic losers of the global economy, antisemitism provides a simple and “credible” answer. The antisemitic violence that took place last April in France was the product of the inflamma­tory antisemitic propaganda that now floats around the Muslim world.

The shift of antisemitism from the Chris­tian to the Muslim world has produced ironic political consequences. The forces in West­ern Europe that hated Jews now also hate Muslims. But they generally hate the Jews less than they hate the Muslims. After all, Euro­pean Jews are committed to European culture. The Muslims represent a darker anti- European force. Plus — using the political principle that the enemy of my enemy is my friend — the Jews suddenly emerge as useful allies of the anti-Muslim right. Even Monsieur LePen of the racist National Front has said as much. History does have the power to pro­duce absurdities.

It is certainly true that arranging for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians will re­duce the hostility of many Arabs and many Muslims toward Jews. But it is also true that for diehard Muslim fundamentalists the war against Western culture is also the war against the Jews and their American “puppets.” While Europe still harbors many antisemites on both the right and the left, the center of Jew-hatred now lies in the Semitic world and in the Mus­lim culture that the Arabs pioneered.

The Fall of Communism

The Jewish Humanist, December 1989

Who can believe? The Berlin Wall is open. Poland has a non-Communist government. The Hungarians are no longer a “people’s republic”. The Supreme Soviet rejects Gorbachev’s legislation.

What does it all mean?

Failure of socialism. Socialism is on hard times. Plagued by the propaganda of utopian promises, Marxist governments have been unable to deliver on the promises they made. Eastern Europe is an economic shambles, with standards of living and levels of technology that would be unacceptable in the West. The socialist obsession with equality has produced rigid authoritarian elites who allow no space to personal freedom and individual initiative. The people are fed up – and rightly so. Despite its many faults, bourgeois capitalism remains the most attractive alternative for most developed and developing nations.

Communism is reversible. The Jeanne Kirkpatrick doctrine that Communist regimes are not reversible has been proven false. Totalitarian regimes can change without violent revolution and without foreign intervention. In the end, no regime, however dictatorial, can survive without the passive support of the people. Even years of indoctrination and surveillance do not work against profound popular discontent. Once the threat of Soviet military intervention was removed, the satellite governments in Poland, Hungary, and East Germany fell like houses of cards. There is a limit beyond which people cannot be pushed without rebelling.

Soviet Empire is disintegrating. The Brezhnev doctrine is finished. Russia will no longer intervene to maintain Communist governments in power. The test was Poland. When the Russians did nothing after the Solidarity victory they gave the signal to the opponents of communist regimes in the other satellite countries that they could proceed with impunity. Obviously Gorbachev has made a choice. The loss of empire is worth the possibility of European disarmament and the economic development of the backward Soviet economy with Western aid.

End to the Cold War. Disconcerting as it may be to many, we are losing our chief enemy. The justification for increasing armaments and warlike confrontation is gone. The Warsaw Pact is falling apart. And so will NATO. Without the Communist threat the political mentality of the West is being radically altered. Many conservative holdouts will decry the clever trick of Gorbachev to arrange for the dismantling of Western defenses. But their arguments will prove ineffective against the obvious profound changes in the Communist world.

Independence of Europe and Japan. As the Soviet threat lessens, the willingness of Japan and our European allies to follow, the lead of America will diminish. The conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union will be followed by increasing tension among the Western allies, aggravated by intense economic rivalry. The American hegemony will be sorely tested in the years to come. Military competition will be replaced by a more difficult and far more challenging economic competition.

Victory of Germany and Japan. The two “losers” of the Second World War are now emerging as economic winners, with all the power that economic success brings in a world where nuclear war is inconceivable. With the possibility now that the two Germanys may ultimately be reunited, Germany will dominate the new federation of Europe. This federation may expand to include many of the countries of Eastern Europe now in the Soviet orbit. With its central location and enormous economic power, Germany will become the premier state of a united Europe. Ironically the two militarist powers of the Nazi era have discovered that military might is no longer the chief road to success and domination.

Change in China. Just as Czechoslovakia, Romania and Bulgaria will have to conform to the democratic changes in Russia and in other European Communist states, so will China have to conform. The aging reactionary leadership that suppressed the students in Tiananmen Square confront both the hostility of their own people and the hostility of the outside world. China stands isolated, deeply dependent on Western business and investment. The government no longer has the “mandate of Heaven”. In a world where Communism is losing its credibility, all Communist regimes are on the defensive.

Revival of the United Nations. With the end of the Cold War, the United Nations can be reborn. If the United States and the Soviet Union will cooperate the United Nations can do what it was intended to do. Already there is dramatic evidence of its revival. The withdrawal of Russian troops from Afghanistan, the truce in Angola and the liberation of Namibia have all been engineered through UN auspices. With peace in the air, the world Organization will become increasingly more important in resolving regional conflicts.

New issues are arising. As the old conflict between America and Russia dies down, the world will be able to turn its attention to issues that affect all nations and especially the survival of the human race. One of the most pressing problems that have seized the imagination of young people all over the world is the issue of the environment. Environmental concern may be one of the major vehicles for creating new bonds between old enemies. It may sponsor the beginning of genuinely world legislation. –

Individuals make a difference. Whatever his motivation, the architect of the overwhelming changes we are experiencing is Mikhail Gorbachev. History is not only the product of vast impersonal social forces. It is also a script written by bold creative individuals. What has happened was not inevitable. The disintegration of the Soviet system could have taken a more violent and frightening course. One man triggered the revolution. Despite his limitations, he deserves our praise.

What does it all mean?

We have every right to be optimistic about the human future.