In a speech given to the Domestic Affairs Committee of the German Bundestag in June 2008 on the subject of a renascent antisemitism, journalist Henryk Broder distinguished between a prejudice and a resentment: “a prejudice concerns a person’s behavior; a resentment concerns that person’s very existence. Anti-semitism is a resentment. The anti-Semite does not begrudge the Jew how he is or what he does, but that he is at all. The anti-Semite takes offense as much at the Jew’s attempts to assimilate as at his self-marginalization. Rich Jews are exploiters; poor Jews are freeloaders….The anti-Semite blames Jews for everything and its opposite.”
Of course, this is a story as old as the Judean hills. If there is anything “new” about it in the current historical moment, it resides in the form this ancient “resentment” happens to take. Its racist, religious and class manifestations persist, but a fourth ingredient has been added to this toxic soup of roiling hatreds, namely, a national element that goes under the rubric of anti-Zionism. The “historical strain of anti-Semitism continues,” writes Phyllis Chesler in The New Anti-Semitism, “but in the last fifty years it has also metamorphosed into the most violent anti-Zionism.”
What Jews cannot be forgiven today is the rebuilding of a national home. The re-creation of the state of Israel in its ancestral territory is broadly regarded as a colonial incursion into the Middle East and, in many cases, as the latest installment in a vast Jewish conspiracy to pursue the gradual conquest of the world or to assert a sinister hegemony. This conviction is obviously nonsense if not sheer madness, but it serves a time-dishonored purpose: the justification of an aversion to everything Jewish, whether expressed, in Norman Cohn’s phrase, as a warrant for genocide, or as a free-floating revulsion to the mere fact of Jewishness—even where no or very few Jews are present.
Examples abound. Soeren Kern, a senior analyst for the Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos in Madrid, considers Spain the most antisemitic country in Europe, nearly half of its people harboring negative opinions of Jews. Yet the Jewish community in Spain is infinitesimal, with only 12,000 Jews out of a population of 42 million, less than .05% (Pajamas Media, December 30, 2008). Similarly, there are only 1,300 Jews in Norway, approximately .003% out of a population of 4,645,000, yet Norway is a major Scandinavian purveyor of anti-Zionist and antisemitic attitudes and beliefs, and indeed challenges Spain for the European laurels (Behind the Humanitarian Mask, Manfred Gerstenfeld, ed.)
Not to be left behind, Sweden, where Jews form .01% of the population, is a veritable hotbed of antisemitic sepsis, its largest daily, Aftonbladet, accusing the Israeli army of harvesting the organs of abducted Palestinians and its foreign minister Carl Bildt endorsing the blood libel as “freedom of expression.” One remembers, too, the graffiti in Potsdam after German reunification: Juden Raus, “Jews Out.” There were no Jews in Potsdam. As of this writing, Britain seems to have leaped into the forefront of the European antisemitic pack, with France breathing down its neck. Jews constitute .25% of the census in the former, .73% in the latter. Both countries have large Muslim immigrant populations, which increasingly influence the official tone of anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli feeling. Political authorities like Catherine Ashton and Nicolas Sarkozy are among Israel’s most fervid critics and appear little concerned with the plight of Jews in their own nations.
According to reports, South Korea, where scarcely a Jew is to be found, is also trending in the same direction, as witness a “top-selling series of comic books,” other anti-Semitic texts, a demonstrable strain of public sentiment, and a Secretary-General of the United Nations, the rather contemptible Ban Ki-moon, who considers Israel an occupying power that practices “violence against civilians.”
Then there is Japan, a world-leader in the promulgation of antisemitic material, though one would have to search far and wide to find a Jew in that country. Many writers, publishers and organizations in Japan are preoccupied with Yudakaya, “the Jewish peril.” According to the Stephen Roth Institute, books like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, The International Jew and Mein Kampf are regularly reprinted in new editions. Prominent authors, publishers, journalists and academics—the list is daunting—who blame Jews for everything from AIDS to cancer to Alzheimer’s to the revival of Nazism, are widely read. “Fascination caused by ignorance, but also in some cases fear and hatred of Jews,” says Roth, “probably explain the great popularity of…anti-Semitic yudayamono (Jewish books).”