The Jewish Humanist, March_April 1992, vo. XXVII, no.5.
Purim and Haman make us think of antisemitism.
In America socially antisemitism has been on the wane over the past four decades. More and more Americans each year indicate that they view Jews either favorably or indifferently. More and more are willing to share clubs and work with Jews and even to vote for a Jewish president.
But, in the past year, political antisemitism has made a nasty reappearance. Pat Buchanan and David Duke have entered the presidential race. And their antipathy to Jews is quite obvious. At a time when most Americans fear for their economic future, the image of the evil Jew who manipulates the world to his parochial means is not the kind of political propaganda that makes Jews feel very comfortable.
Antisemitism has changed in the last century and a half. Before the French Revolution it was primarily anti-Judaism. People hated Jews because of their religious beliefs. If Jews were willing to convert to either Christianity or Islam, conversion canceled out the hate. Although there was a high price to pay, there was an escape from persecution and destruction.
But antisemitism today is “racial”. Antisemites despise Jews because of their birth. Jewish beliefs and behavior are irrelevant to the enemy. Conversion makes no difference. It only turns an ordinary Jew into a Christian Jew. There is no escape from Jewish identity.
Antisemitism is also different because it has been turned into a complete philosophy of life. The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion, first published in the Russian Empire at the turn of the century, explained all the evils of the world in terms of Jewish behavior. Earlier anti-Jewishness saw the Jew as a malign force but not as the malign force. For the modern antisemite, there is a worldwide Jewish cabal which conspires to take over the world. The Jews have invented both Capitalism and Communism to confuse the masses and to set them up in hostile confrontation. Gentile kills Gentile and only the Jews benefit. As Hitler said, the morally bankrupt Semitic tradition stands against the morally pure Aryan path. Only a war to the death can resolve the issue. For the believers in this theory, persecution of the jews is never enough. Only a Holocaust will do the job that justice requires.
For many many people antisemitism is a substitute religion. It explains all evil in a clear and simple way. It offers a clear and simple solution. Few existing political philosophies enjoy that charity.
The emergence of David Duke to political prominence is indeed frightening. A Nazi racist and a Ku Klux Klan Grand wizard, he is the kind of political “kook” that you expect to find on the unsuccessful political fringes. Instead he changed his label, abandoned the Nazis for the Republicans, and came within a political inch of becoming governor of Louisiana. For such a way out “bigot” to achieve the success that he did, his “defeat” was really a victory. He is now ready to peddle his hate message in other states. Bolstered by a new face, new money and an adoring audience, he is raring to take on as many presidential primaries that he can get his hands on.
Pat Buchanan is not the man for southern rural whites. His constituency is the reactionary right that draws its energy and inspiration from the Irish Roman Catholic World before Vatican Council II. Both Charles Coughlin and Joseph McCarthy came out of this milieu. book the Kennedys and the Buckley’s climbed up from its parochial depths. Anti-communism, Catholic piety and the hatred of the British with their internationalist agenda characterize this group.
Buchanan has been an advisor and ghostwriter for both Nixon and Reagan. An idealogue of the New Right, he never liked Bush and always suspected, quite appropriately, that he was an opportunistic traitor to conservative principles. The Gulf War was the trigger for the separation. For the old Right (as opposed to the libertarian internationalist Right) the war against communism was justified. But a war to get rid of dictators, especially fascist dictators, is absolutely unjustified. Trying to create a new world order to ensure democracy, human rights and free trade is a violation of America’s best interest in a naive pie-in-the-sky ambition which will fail.
For Buchanan the Gulf War with the sign that American patriots were no longer in charge of America. Jewish and Israeli interest had manipulated the Bush Administration into risking the lives of non-Jewish boys to defeat a Jewish enemy. And all of this talk was accompanied by statements about the exaggerated estimates of Holocaust victims. The inspirational leadership of Adolf Hitler and the determination to defend Catholic rights in Poland against insidious Jewish assaults. Jewish neo-conservatives like Kristol and Podhoretz have obviously repudiated Buchanan. Even Buckley chastised him at length in the pages of the National Review. But the frightening reality remains. A “respectable” Republican idealogue is sporting antisemitism and is running for president.
What does it all mean?
It means that a powerful political message has been tied to an antisemite. Buchanan advocates “America first” and protective tariffs. In a nation which is rapidly de-industrialized and where hundreds of thousands of workers are losing their factory jobs, Buchanan’s message crosses the conventional boundaries between Right and Left and makes an appeal to angry union supporters. Buchanan’s chauvinism has the power to mobilize blue collar malcontents.
It means that antisemitism is now politically “respectable” and is now an integral part of a political platform. Buchanan can disavow his Jew hatred as much as he wants, but his statements of hostility are a public record. Social antisemitism is annoying, but never dangerous. Political antisemitism is frightening.
It means that Buchanan and Duke will be harmless if there is a fairly speedy economic recovery. There will be a peril to Jews and to democracy if this recession turns into a long- run depression. Desperate economic times sponsor desperate political alternatives.
It means that the Democrats have a chance to win the presidency, if they can take full advantage of the present division in the Republican ranks, and if they can come up with a half-way credible candidate. Clinton’s alleged sexual escapades are not the most auspicious beginning to a serious campaign.
Hopefully, “prosperity” is around the corner and Buchanan and Duke will fade into the woodwork. But then…