A new book examines anti-Semitism worldwide.
“The study of antisemitism,” admits Bruno Chaouat, a professor of French in Minnesota, “can be tedious.” This admirably candid confession appears relatively early in the pages of Resurgent Antisemitism: Global Perspectives, a collection of nineteen new essays edited by Alvin H. Rosenfeld, the distinguished director of Indiana University's Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and author of several major books about the Holocaust. Chaouat is right, of course: while a single anecdote about irrational hate can breed sorrow, anger, and/or shock, a thick book consisting entirely of such material is more likely to be, quite simply, numbing. It is Rosenfeld's accomplishment to have assembled a volume that, rather than seeming to repeat the same points over and over again, feels consistently fresh as it moves from region to region, approaches its topic from one angle after another, and serves up new historical information and cultural insights at every turn.
Most of the essays illuminate the current situation for Jews in a specific corner of the world: Alejandro Baer sums up antisemitism in today's Spain; Zvi Gitelman does the same for the former Communist countries of Eastern Europe; Szilvia Peremiczky focuses on Hungary and Romania; Rifat N. Bali, on Turkey. And Paul Bogdanor proffers an account of antisemitism in modern Britain, as expressed in a thoroughly ugly-sounding play, “Seven Jewish Children,” by Caryl Churchill, and an equally horrid little poem about “the Zionist SS,” written by the well-known poet (and Oxford professor) Tom Paulin and published a few months before 9/11 in The Observer.
Anna Sommer Schneider, for her part, takes on Poland, noting that while Pope John Paul II was vividly aware of Polish antisemitism and addressed it publicly on many occasions, other church leaders have not been so sensitive to the problem, the result of which is that the years since his papacy have yielded first-class examples of ecclesiastical Jew-hatred. Schneider quotes the observation of one Polish priest that “the Jews are not needed to perpetuate antisemitism. A sick Christianity is sufficient. And Polish Christinaity – and more precisely, what dominates in Polish Catholicism – is sick and infected with anti-Judaism.” Schneider also cites a Polish archbishop's explanation of the affliction, rife in his country, known as “the antagonism of suffering”: while both Jews and Catholics in Poland were victims of the Nazis, he explains, the Jews were of course the greater victims; yet Polish Catholics are offended when they feel that their victimization is being overshadowed by that of the Jews, and the consequences of this feeling of offense are, shall we say, not always salutary.
I was especially taken by Eirik Eiglad's essay on antisemitism in Norway, not just because I live in the land of the fjords but because Eiglad does a splendid job of elucidating just how a nation with so few Jews came to be infected with such a virulent strain of Jew-hatred in the years after World War II. It all began, he tells us, when Maoists acquired a “disproportionate influence” on Norwegian society in the 1960s. A significant part of their hideous contribution to postwar Norwegian thought, alas, was a fierce enmity toward Jews and the Jewish state. For these Norwegian Maoists, writes Eiglad, “Palestine was the new Vietnam, and the Israeli state was...a lackey for U.S. imperialism” – its objective, in the words of one of them, being “to conquer land for 'European culture.'” The views on Israel and Palestine that, a half century ago, were held by virtually no one in Norway except for its small cadre of Maoists are now a key component of the cultural elite's orthodoxy in that country, where, Eiglad notes, “explicit calls for the destruction of Israel are accepted as 'criticisms of Israeli policies,' and anti-Zionist hatred is discreetly tolerated as legitimate frustration over alleged acts of Israeli inhumanity.”
The one criticism I might make of Eiglad's piece is that, even though he does make the important point that many of those former Norwegian Maoists are now Muslims, he doesn't place sufficient emphasis on the way in which Islam factors into antisemitism in today's Norway. Still, his relative inattention to this subject is nothing alongside the approach of Gunther Jikeli, who in an essay entitled “Antisemitism among Young European Muslims,” makes the mindboggling statement that “issues such as terrorism plots by young European Muslims, public approval of the Shari'a, clashes in reaction to cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad, public discussions about Muslim women wearing a veil or about outlawing the burkha, forced marriages, and 'honor killings' mostly concern a minority of Muslims and do not lead to a general alienation of Muslims from mainstream society.” Jikeli, author of a book (in German) on the topic of his essay, insists that the real problems involving Europe's Muslim communities are anti-Muslim “discrimination,” “racism,” “xenophobia,” and “negative stereotypes.” As if this weren't baffling enough, Jikeli, after supplying a quick overview of European Muslim attitudes toward Jews as expressed in man-in-the-street interviews, concludes that the interviewees' overwhelmingly hostile attitudes “are fragmented and multifaceted” and “can neither be reduced solely to hatred of Israel nor to references to Islam or Muslim identity.” For Jikeli, apparently, the fact that not all of those surveyed explicitly mentioned Allah, Muhammed, or the Koran while raging violently against Jews and Israel is reason enough to question the religious roots of their hatred.
Then there's Matthias Küntzel, who, writing about antisemitism in the Middle East, quite properly rejects the argument, advanced by many, that that antisemitism is the result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – but also embraces the ridiculous claim that there wasn't any appreciable level of anti-Semitism among Muslims in the Middle East before they were touched by the influence of Hitler. In other words, “the roots of Arab antisemitism” lie in Nazism – not in the Koran. (Küntzel, it should be noted, is the author of a 2007 book entitled Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism, and the Roots of 9/11 – which Andrew Bostom, writing at this website shortly after its publication, criticized at length for absurdly underemphasizing the Koranic origins of both jihad and Islamic Jew-hatred.) Another view of the Islamic world is provided by Jamsheed K. Choksy, who, in an essay on Iran, recalls that 2500 years ago, Cyrus the Great practiced “civility” toward Jews, and that during World War II the Pahlavi dynasty, resisting Nazi pressure, made clear that it regarded Iranian Jews as full and equal citizens of the kingdom. Indeed, Choksy points out, “Iran even became a transit point for approximately 2,000 Jews escaping Europe,” and retained “vibrant” ties with Israel right up until Khomeini's revolution – all of which makes Choksy hopeful for Muslim-Jewish relations in a post-sharia Iran.
Less encouraging is the essay by Tel Aviv University's Ilan Avisar, who, pondering the especially depressing topic of Israeli antisemitism, declares: “Anti-Zionist argumentation has become a major phenomenon in Israeli intellectual life.” Emanuele Ottolenghi, who also probes Jewish antisemitism, is particularly interested in the history of the self-hating Jew, a type exemplified by “Jewish converts, like Pablo Cristiani, who led the medieval trials against the Talmud, and Alfonso de Valladolid, who wrote ferocious anti-Jewish polemics in the fourteenth century.” Dina Porat explores Holocaust denial; Tammi Rossman-Benjamin examines the way in which victim-group studies at U.S. colleges have intensified antisemitism on campus; and then there's Chaouat's piece, in which, among much else, he tells us about a colleague at the University of Minnesota who ranted at a faculty party that Caouat's department, with a total of two Jewish professors out of twelve, was a “Jewish enclave” with a “Jewish agenda,” and so forth. “What we have here,” Chaouat observes, is “a textbook case: postcolonial, anti-Israeli ideology directly inspired by Edward Said, coupled with a traditional antisemitism.” Welcome to the American academy, A.D. 2013.
One of this collection's most eminent contributors is Robert S. Wistrich, who heads up the antisemitism center at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and has written several books on the subject. Here, in addition to outlining the role of the USSR in turning the UN against Israel and in shaping its post-1967 image “as a racist, Nazi state,” Wistrich explains how Soviet rhetoric about Israel was picked up “by Arab intellectuals, nationalists, Islamists, and Marxists” – and, reaching across the Atlantic (as these essays otherwise seldom do), how antisemitism in Venezuela surged under the Hugo Chávez regime. Finally, Rosenfeld himself winds up the anthology with an essay asking, apropos of antisemitism around the world today: “How bad is it likely to get?” The pages that follow, in which he ticks off gloomy predictions by one respected observer of current events after another, are sobering indeed. (Here's Ron Rosenbaum in 2004: “The second Holocaust. It's a phrase we may have to begin thinking about. A possibility we may have to contemplate. A reality we may have to witness.”)
This is a serious book – an important book. Yet it is also a book, alas, in which several of the contributors seem to shy away from spelling out the role of Islamic theology itself – of, most fundamentally, the actual contents of the Koran – in Islamic antisemitism. Yes, the Nazi-Muslim connections are important; but the reason why Nazi attitudes toward Jews took root so swiftly in the dry sand of the Muslim world, and flowered so lushly, is that they differed very little, in substance, from attitudes that are articulated repeatedly throughout Islam's holiest of books. I can understand, to be sure, why authors on the subject of Jew-hatred might want to take extra pains to avoid saying anything that might expose them to charges of Muslim-hatred; but let's face it, those charges will be leveled anyway. What matters is the truth: and the truth is that Islam, from its very beginnings, has demonized Jews, and that this demonization is not a peripheral but a central element of the Muslim faith. Unless and until we recognize this fact, and address it head-on, we will not get very far at all in our effort to challenge the toxic Jew-hatred that is on the rise everywhere on the planet where the followers of Muhammed make their homes.
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