At the end of the 19th century, Theodore Herzl and Max Nordau realized that Jews had no future in Europe. They understood that enlightenment and emancipation hadn’t put an end to Jew-hatred, and progressive politics wouldn’t either. Europe, they saw, gave the Jewish people two options: total assimilation or death (and later history showed that even assimilation wouldn’t save them).
The catastrophe that actually befell the Jews of Europe was more severe than Herzl had imagined in his worst nightmares. The Jewish state that he inspired ultimately came to be, as he accurately predicted, but unfortunately it happened too late to save most of the European Jews.
You can blame the British or the Arabs, and they certainly did their best to hold it back, but the main reason the state was not declared until 1948 was that so many Jews were unsure, diffident, afraid of provoking more Jew-hatred, or of the opinion that “something could be worked out” with the gentile world. For example, the influential British Jew Edwin Samuel Montagu, opposed the Balfour Declaration and was responsible for weakening its language.
American Jews have had an ambiguous relationship with Zionism. The Reform Movement was anti-Zionist from its beginnings until the 1930s (and even today their position — although they claim to be “pro-Israel” — is, in my opinion, not constructive). But liberal American Jews since 1945 are convinced that their position is secure and that they don’t need the protection of a foreign country that seems, well, foreign, to them and that is at odds with their popular president.
Now it appears that the Jews of Europe (this time there are fewer of them) are in trouble again. I don’t think we can entirely blame the Muslims, either. Just as Hitler would not have been able to carry out his program without the cooperation of large segments of the non-Nazi European population, so today European Jew-hatred is not confined to Muslim immigrants, although they may be responsible for its most violent manifestations.
We can divide Jew-hatred into two kinds: that of the mob, which is violent and infused with crudely false beliefs, and that of the elites, which is more sophisticated and better hidden. While they would never explicitly encourage the mob, the elites see its anti-Jewish behavior as a result of Jewish actions and (especially today) the actions and policies of the Jewish nation-state. They believe that they can understand Arab and Muslim violence against Jews because, after all, everyone knows that Israel is viciously oppressing the “powerless, indigenous Palestinian people.” So mob behavior tends to be tolerated, or at least not effectively suppressed.
It’s important to note that official statistics about “anti-Semitism” — such as ADL surveys — are biased against Jew-hatred that expresses itself primarily as hatred of the Jewish state. Young people especially are very sensitized to avoid expressions of traditional prejudice against individual Jews, and will not respond to poll questions designed to elicit such attitudes. Studies of attitudes toward Israel, on the other hand, show increasing degrees of irrational hatred.
However, the fact that Jew-hatred is expressed primarily as Israel-hatred does not imply that antipathy to individual Jews doesn’t exist. It is simply that the verbal expression — or even self-awareness — of these feelings has become taboo. So although it is often said that traditional Jew-hatred has mutated into Israel-hatred, “the new antisemitism,” I think it’s more correct to say that we express the same ugly impulses differently.
A 2009 study confirms the hidden nature of much anti-Jewish feeling, due to the social opprobrium associated with admitting bias. It showed as well that Jew-hatred and opposition to Israel are closely related, with an increase in one causing an increase in the other. Although clearly it is possible to be opposed to Israel without hating Jews, the extreme and irrational nature of the Israel-hatred prevalent on the American Left implies that this is unlikely to be the case.
Many diseases have incubation periods during which a pathogen reproduces inside particular organs without causing noticeable symptoms, and then suddenly bursts out as a systemic infection with tragic consequences for the patient. In America today, the virus of Jew-hatred is incubating in the universities, where a cadre of activists — including many teachers — employ powerful opinion molding techniques, especially including academic, social and physical intimidation, to indoctrinate students with a worldview in which Israel and Zionists play the role of the devil.
In American universities today, the mob rules, with the direct support of the academic elites. Administrators often behave with striking cowardice, even while their cherished ideals of free inquiry, open debate and respect for others are trampled.
A leader of the anti-Israel campaign is “Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP),” founded at Berkeley in 2001, coinciding with the beginning of the Second Intifada. According to Wikipedia, there were more than 80 chapters by 2010. Activism against Israel existed before that, but SJP has combined a Middle-Eastern disdain for truth and democratic norms with Berkeley-style confrontational politics. Along with the almost universal anti-Israel slant in the center-left media, it’s been remarkably effective at creating a generation of young people who vehemently oppose the continued existence of a Jewish state. These students will soon become the opinion-leaders, politicians, bureaucrats and executives of America.
Somewhat arbitrarily, I take 2001 as the start of the incubation period of the Jew-hatred virus. And I think that in the last few years, we’ve seen the beginning of the breakout phase. One indication is the way anti-Jewish and anti-Israel themes appear in almost every protest movement or demonstration, like the ‘Occupy’ movement and now even the protests against alleged police racism that began in Ferguson, Missouri.
Does this suggest that the position of American Jews will become more precarious in the near future, like that of European Jews? I think the answer is yes — especially if the social and economic decline that characterizes the US in recent decades continues, and violent expressions of Jew-hatred become more common, as they have in Europe. This means that American Jews, like the Europeans of the 1890s and today, will soon find themselves considering possible solutions to the “Jewish Question.”
Some will certainly take the tack of assimilation. This seems to be the direction that will appeal to liberal Jews. But will they be prepared to totally discard all vestiges of Jewish identity? And even if they do, will it protect them against discrimination (or worse)?
Will some of them move in the direction of an increased Zionism, either to actually consider aliyah or simply to align themselves with the Jewish state? Or will they, like Lord Montagu, become even more anti-Zionist in the (mistaken) opinion that this will make them immune to the depredations of the Jew-haters?
Tune in again in 5-10 years to find out.