Humanistic Judaism journal, “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.