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).”
And now we have the news coming out of Chile. A Jewish backpacker was charged with starting a major forest fire in the Torres del Paine national park, an incident which, as David Breakstone puts it in an article titled “The Dreyfus Revival,” quickly fanned the flames of antisemitism and anti-Zionism. According to segments of the Chilean press, the political echelon, the social networks and the public, Israel stands accused of a particularly malefic geopolitical objective, namely, of intending to colonize Patagonia and plant a second Jewish state in southern Chile! According to Breakstone’s report, spectators accosted the backpacker as a “stinking Jew,” journalist Andres Figueroa Cornejo “published a diatribe against Israel in El Ciudadano” comparing the country to Nazi Germany, and the vice president of the Christian Democratic Party, Fuad Chachin, denounced Israel for ‘killing Palestinian children.’
Conveniently forgotten are that Israel sent a crack rescue team to Japan to aid in restoration work after the 2011 tsunami and hosted Chilean miners who survived the Copiapó disaster in a “pilgrimage of thanks.” Indeed, it comes as no surprise that the state-of-the-art medical team Israel dispatched to Haiti after the great earthquake of 2010, reputedly the most effective of the international field hospitals, was venomously maligned among bloggers and journalists as an organ harvesting operation. Israel is a country that gives far more to the world than almost any other country, excelling in the fields of science, technology, medicine, agriculture, and green energy, not to mention literature, as George Gilder makes luminously clear in his The Israel Test—which does not prevent it from being considered a pariah among the nations.
Even at the best of times, antisemitism lingered as a kind of low fever. Today, however, the world has become sick again with the same virulent infection that spread through the 1930s and led to the Holocaust. Israel is resented because it provides Jews with the possibility of survival in a country with a strong military, a tested population and an open-door policy for diasporites who wish to emigrate. It is thus condemned, to cite the title of Robin Shepherd’s book on the subject, as “a state beyond the pale.” But this state is necessary as a refuge and haven even for the most anti-Zionist and post-Zionist Jews, whose secular pieties and embrace of internationalism will not save them in the event of a catastrophe.
Breakstone remarks that “the uncomfortable question as to just how much the Jewish people can ever really be at home outside of a Jewish state remains unanswered.” Perhaps at certain times and in certain places it is differentially possible, but there can be no assurance that the condition of peaceful assimilation will be permanent. Jews need Israel as much as Israel needs Jews. Like Philip K. Dick’s definition of reality, history is that which does not go away. Many Jews feel that Israel has made the world less safe for them. The truth is that the world has always been, so to speak, “less safe” for them, which explains the rise of the Zionist movement and the necessary re-establishment of the state of Israel.
In the present time, as Broder observed, antisemitism has once again become fashionable, and Jewish citizens of democratic states throughout the West are coming increasingly under attack. The existence of Israel is only a pretext for the “new antisemitism,” which has found a political substitute for other, discreditable forms of a primordial and tenacious bigotry. The old malevolence has merely added another aspect to its inventory. But it is the same old hatred.
Whether or not Jews wish to admit it, the Jewish state will always remain their fallback position, the only default guarantee they can rely on. If Israel is destroyed, all the Jew can reasonably expect from the liberal world in which he has invested his loyalty and made his contribution is a candlelight vigil. And there should be no mistake about this. In the course of time the candles of a false remorse will inevitably begin to gutter.
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