Hating Jews is a big topic of discussion these days. They’re talking about it in the UK, where Jeremy Corbyn can’t understand why so many are making such a big deal about what he sees as merely a principle of his proposed foreign policy. And they are talking about it in the USA, where 21% of American voters said they had at least a “somewhat favorable” impression of Louis Farrakhan (that was in March, and I would be surprised if the percentage wasn’t greater today).
I should note that I’m trying to stop using the word “antisemitism,” a word invented by 19th century German Jew-hater Wilhelm Marr to make his Judenhass more scientific-sounding. Marr also wanted to express his idea that the problem with Jews was more than just a religious, economic, or national issue: it was biological, racial. Of course this implies that Jewishness cannot be fixed. Even if a Jew got himself baptized, stopped being a money-lender, had German citizenship, or served with distinction in the German army, he was still corrupt and dangerous. We all know where this idea led.
Not using “antisemitism” also has the advantage of forestalling what I’ve called The World’s Stupidest Argument, the one that goes “Arabs can’t be antisemites because they are Semites.” No need to elaborate further on this one.
Jonathan Haidt, in his very illuminating book The Righteous Mind, tells us that the mind is like a rational rider on an emotional elephant. The rider has the ability to use linguistic reasoning to come to conclusions about the best way to proceed, and can nudge the elephant in his chosen direction. But ultimately, the elephant will go where he wants. Haidt argues that in most cases our emotions determine the positions we will take on moral, political, or religious issues, and that we try to justify them after the fact by logical reasoning. This is borne out by a consideration of Jew-hatred, which has had a mind-bendingly long line of pseudo-rational arguments adduced in its favor – everything from our failure to accept the true religion (anything but Judaism), to “racial” characteristics, to the countless Jewish conspiracy theories – but which seems to be at bottom irreducibly irrational.
Jew-hatred is found on all parts of the political spectrum, both right and left, although it is especially fecund at the extremes, where conspiratorial thinking is rife. Jews are seen as weak, cowardly, and corrupt, while at the same time enormously powerful. They are simultaneously held in contempt and feared. The accusation that Jews control the weather, which seems from the outside about as reasonable as the idea that the earth is flat, makes perfect sense to those who live inside the Jew-hating conceptual scheme.
What is most interesting about it is the way it seems to have a life of its own, mutating as societies and cultures change. During the Middle Ages in Europe, the religious aspect, blood libels, and various conspiracy theories about Jewish responsibility for plagues predominated. Later, when the causes of economic cycles proved to be as mysterious as the vector of the Black Plague, the Jews were accused of conspiring to manipulate them. Darwin’s discoveries were pressed into service as support for pseudo-scientific racial Jew-hatred, which enabled it to propagate even in “enlightened” cultures where religion was not an important factor. Jews have been accused of being behind every large-scale catastrophe, from world wars to 9/11.
The Holocaust interfered with the life cycle of the “organism” that is Jew-hatred. Although there were and are many who fully approved of Hitler’s project, and even wish that he had been able to complete it and rid the world of the Jewish menace at last, the sheer horror of the industrial techniques employed by the Nazis had a stunning impact. Certainly the emotional power of Jew-hatred was great, but opposed to it were images of piles of murdered babies, living skeletons, and piles of eyeglasses, hair, and gold teeth taken from humans that had been turned into smoke.
As a result, a strong counter-force against Jew-hatred came into being. In the West, at least, it became taboo to speak explicitly of hating Jews (or indeed any distinct group) or to advocate any kind of discrimination against them, because – well, because everyone knows where that leads. This doesn’t mean that nobody still harbored the old feelings, that Jews were economic parasites, sexual predators, conspirators, and even Christ-killers, but it was considered unacceptable to publically express these thoughts or to act on them.
But as always, the organism began to mutate. If it was no longer possible to express hatred for individuals, hating a country was still allowed (indeed, many governments encouraged hatred of rival countries). And unsurprisingly, one particular country has become the target for a hatred as popular, vicious and irrational as pre-Holocaust century Jew-hatred.
The pathological anti-Zionist, like the Jew-hater, will invent history and current events so as to “establish” that the Jewish state is illegitimate, evil, and should be extirpated from the land, which anti-Zionists believe was stolen from saintly Arabs by conniving, conspiratorial Je— er, Zionists. Like Jew-haters, who could be convinced that Jews committed ritual murder just on someone’s say-so, the Israel-haters have no trouble believing that IDF soldiers deliberately shoot at Arab children for fun, despite a total lack of evidence. The most ridiculous motives and impossible crimes are routinely attributed to Israel’s government and army, and are automatically believed by the legions of obsessive anti-Zionists.
Double standards for legitimacy, conformance to international law, treatment of minorities, and proportionality of actions taken in self-defense, are applied shamelessly by pathological anti-Zionists. Crimes like genocide, apartheid, and ethnic cleansing are falsely attributed to Israel, when these are precisely what would be done to Israel’s Jewish population if the remedies (like the “return” of Arab “refugees”) espoused by the anti-Zionists were adopted. The ideals of human rights and self-determination are strictly upheld for Palestinian Arabs, but ignored for Israel’s Jews. Any behavior is excused if it is called “resistance to occupation,” but Israel is held to the highest possible standards in self-defense.
The truth is that pathological anti-Zionism – as Fred Maroun, an Arab, says – “is a hatred worse than traditional anti-Semitism – it rivals Nazi-level anti-Semitism.”
Maroun argues, and I agree, that the question of whether anti-Zionism is antisemitism is not important. Analytically, they are different things, although very often the same people who fit one description also fit the other. But pathological anti-Zionism is a form of irrational bigotry that is no less evil and reprehensible than Jew-hatred, racism, homophobia, misogyny, or any similar moral aberration.
But it’s only “criticism of Israel,” say those like Jeremy Corbyn, who is as thoroughly suffused with the illness as the Munich terrorists that he honored with a wreath.
No. It’s simple to tell the difference. The easy acceptance of the false accusations, the double standards, the dehumanization of Israelis, and the association with those who express their hatred by acts of terrorism leave little room for error. It’s not criticism. Like old-fashioned Jew-hatred, it resembles demonic possession.