In 1973 Robert Alter, an American academic, published an article entitled "The Masada Complex." He accused Israel and the then Prime Minister Golda Meir of "creating its own Masada" by failing to respond more positively to what he referred to as Egyptian "peace overtures." Masada was the Jews' last stand in the rebellion against Rome in 74 CE, when they chose suicide rather than submission. Alter was urging Golda Meir to put Jewish history aside and be more flexible. Israel should take greater risks, he said. Three months later the Arabs launched the Yom Kippur war and almost overran Israel.
This call for Israel to take greater risks is a refrain still heard in certain quarters today but for the moment I want to continue with Golda Meir’s response to Alter’s article: "Yes, she said, we do have a Masada Complex, and we have a Pogrom Complex, and we also have a Hitler Complex.”
She was stating the obvious for how could any people’s sensibility and outlook not be affected by such calamities. Also implicit in her response was the fact that history is not a series of disconnected events but a continuum with linkages between past, present and future. The Holocaust was not an aberration of history but a consequence of it.
In his book Fateless Holocaust survivor Imre Kertesz puts it as follows: "[We Jews] can never start a new life, only ever carry on the old one." That is to say Jews are destined to walk in the shadow of their history or more bluntly, Jews cannot escape their Jewishness. It is this which is the subject of my talk today and I refer to it as the Jewish predicament.
To be born Jewish is to find yourself in a predicament. Sooner or later, slowly or in an instant, you become aware that you are a member of a despised group with a history of almost constant suffering. It may come when you hear your grandmother say: “they hate us” or when you first hear about the Holocaust. But once you are aware of it, you will never be same again. You will forever be unsettled, thrown off balance, your confidence impaired, your former certainties gone. The world will be a different place, and in your mind, the question “Why” will resonate endlessly. It is a question without a clear answer.
The dictionary defines predicament as: “an unpleasantly difficult, perplexing, or dangerous situation” and to find yourself in a predicament is to find yourself in such a situation. Mostly, predicaments come and go, but the “Jewish predicament” does not go; rather it is on-going. It is an existential predicament.
There is a counterpart to this predicament in Franz Kafka’s classic novel The Trial. The novel opens with the words: ‘someone must have been telling lies about Josef K. He knew he had done nothing wrong but, one morning, he was arrested.” Kafka’s protagonist finds himself accused of an unspecified crime and is arrested. One can use the term “unspecified” but “unspecifiable” is better, because the “crime” referred to is in principle unknowable and not by chance. In a different context such an accusation might serve as a joke, as when a parent asks his children: “What mischief have you been up to today?” The joke hinges on the implied assumption that they must have done some mischief because it is in their nature to be mischievous. In both cases the accusation floats freely as an accusation without a crime.
In the novel Joseph K at first thinks there’s been a big mistake and that once the matter is investigated and reason and evidence brought to bear, the matter will quickly be resolved. But he doesn’t understand the nature of the accusation nor his accusers intentions. The accusation itself has embedded in it a presumption of guilt and reason and evidence are therefore quite unnecessary. This could well describe the Jewish experience over the past 2000 years. Time and again Jews have found themselves “in the dock”, as defendants facing accusations as bizarre and irrational as those facing Kafka’s protagonist. The accusations are multiple and diverse and if by chance one is put aside, another springs up in its place. Always there is a sense that the verdict has been reached in advance. This is the essence of the complex phenomenon we call antisemitism.
When he was writing his monumental work on antisemitism Trials of the Diaspora, Anthony Julius made the following observation:“Dealing with antisemites is not a vocation for Jews, it is a chore - often a timeconsuming one, and sometimes a frightening one too. Anti-Semitism is just baseness, utter baseness. When it invades one’s life, it can lay it to waste. And that is all that needs to be said. Anti-Semitism is rubbish.” Julius’s observation is entirely correct. Anti-Semitism is base and it is rubbish, but this does not absolve us from dealing with it, for not to do so is to stand the risk of becoming a double victim – a victim of its hatred as well as a victim of its deceptions.
The Jewish predicament is a consequence of both. There is little we can do about the hatred but we can alleviate the distress and confusion it causes in Jewish minds by exposing its deceptions and the way it works.
I will start by drawing a distinction between what I call “anti-Semitism lite” and full-blown anti-Semitism. While the distinction is not always clear-cut, it is helpful to distinguish between the anti-Semitism you can walk away from and the anti-Semitism you can’t.
“Anti-Semitism lite” is social anti-Semitism, sometimes called golf club anti- Semitism. This prejudice or racism manifests as a disdain or contempt for Jews. It is anti-Semitism at its mildest and can be compared in simple terms to anti-black racism although this is where the similarity ends. It ends here because, unlike the Jews, no one accuses black people of conspiring to take over the world or of manipulating the world’s financial systems, the media or American foreign policy. Nor does anyone speak of blacks as being conspiratorial or inherently evil or in league with the devil. While I don’t wish to minimise the seriousness of anti-black racism, it is different to full-blown anti- Semitism in certain significant ways.
At its core full-blown anti-Semitism incorporates the idea of delegitimisation. We are familiar with the idea of delegitimisation in the context of the BDS (the Boycott Disinvestment and Sanctions) movement and its goal of delegitimising the Jewish State. But delegitimisation is not a new notion when it comes to Jews. It describes what antisemites have always attempted and in many cases succeeded in doing to Jews. It lies at the very heart of full-blown anti-Semitism.
People have a natural right to define themselves but in the case of Jews, this right is denied by the antisemite. He appropriates to himself the right to define Jews, and he does so in accordance with his own hatred and self-serving objectives. He delegitimises Jews by defining them as being deficient or lacking in some crucial way whether religiously, racially or nationally, and his definition always places them outside the framework of normal acceptability. Religious anti-Semitism placed Jews outside the body of the Church, racial anti-Semitism placed them outside the body of humankind – as untermenschen or subhuman – and the antisemitic anti-Zionist places Israel outside the family of nations, a nation conceived in sin and therefore illegitimate.
In every case Jews are regarded as being in some way abnormal and beyond redemption. This is how Israel is presented today, not only by the abject and dysfunctional Arab world but by large sections of the Western elite. The implications are dire. If genocide can be said to be the physical dismemberment of the idea of a shared humanity, then the delegitimisation of Jews and Israel is the metaphysical dismemberment of the idea of a shared humanity. To be denied rights that other people take for granted, rights accorded simply on the basis of one’s humanness, is to imply that Jewish membership of the species “humankind” is somehow provisional. This places Jews outside the human realm which is to place them outside the moral realm, for the human and the moral realms are coterminous. And if Jews are placed outside the moral realm it follows that as far as treatment of the Jews is concerned, anything goes.
The first component of anti-Semitism is the lie. Just as Kafka’s predicament begins with the lie, so does anti-Semitism; the lie is its essence, and the more defamatory and extravagant the lie, the better. Hitler spoke of der Große Lüge – the Big Lie – and he made the credible claim that the more gigantic and bizarre the lie, the more likely it is to be believed. This is not as counterintuitive as it may first seem. If it is true that where there’s smoke there’s fire, it follows that the more smoke there is, the more likely a fire.
The antisemitic lie is part of the strategy, not intended as a statement of empirical fact, so trying to refute it is pointless. To attempt to refute the lie would be like trying to refute the crackpot theory that aliens are responsible for gravity. Let us look at how the philosophy of science distinguishes between credible scientific theories and nonsense theories. Karl Popper, a Jewish philosopher of science in the 20th century proposed what he called the theory of falsifiability which stated that if a theory is not falsifiable, that is, if one cannot specify those conditions which, if they prevailed, would invalidate the theory, then the theory is unscientific nonsense. Not only can the theory not be said to be right, it cannot even be said to be wrong. Antisemitic theories fall into this category because they are not falsifiable. Statements such as “the Jews murdered God” or “the Jews want to take over the world” are neither verifiable nor falsifiable - they are nonsense or “rubbish” in the words of Anthony Julius.
The antisemite knows this but this does not bother him. He relishes the frustration and hurt his lies cause for Jew-baiting is his sport. But many Jews take the antisemites statements in good faith believing that his statements arise from ignorance and that a little explanation will wash away the misunderstanding. So they mount the treadmill of never-ending explanations and clarifications, demeaning themselves in the process, while delighting and encouraging the antisemite.
The centrality of lies to anti-Semitism points to the fact that anti-Semitism is an attack not only on Jews but on truth, reason, science, order and justice, and finally, on civilisation. Hence the truism that an attack on Jews is an attack on all.
The second component of anti-Semitism is the “pointing finger” to use Ruth Wisse’s formulation. This sleight-of-hand trick worthy of a conjurer casts attention away from the one who points to the one pointed at. In the case of antisemitism, the accuser directs attention away from himself (and his possible shortcomings) by shining a spotlight on the Jew (and his putative crimes). The accusation itself implies guilt. Let’s take a trivial example. You approach a complete stranger on the street, let’s say her name is Mary, and you accuse her of practising prostitution. When she denies it, you propose testing the accusation by way of a public debate. The debate will be advertised as follows: “Is Mary a prostitute?” You assure her that she can bring whatever evidence she pleases against the motion. Would this work? Would it be a fair way of settling the disagreement? Of course not. Her good name would be blackened before a word was uttered. The assumption of guilt comes with the accusation. In the same way Jews are singled out by the “pointing finger”. The antisemite assumes the position of plaintiff, prosecutor and judge, and the Jewish defendant is damned before he steps into court. A few years ago during so-called Israel Apartheid week, I faced Ronnie Kasrils (born Jewish), the ex-Minister of Intelligence in the South African government in a debate entitled "Is Israel an apartheid state?" The pointing fingers implicit in the title.
The presence of antisemitism is evident if one performs this thought experiment. Replace Israel in the debate title with any other country, let us choose Australia, and call for a debate entitled “Is Australia a criminal state?” The absurdity and mischief is immediately evident. This demonstrates just how “normal” it is to pillory Jews.
The third component of anti-Semitism is an abstract Frankenstein-like construct that has emerged in stages over the last 2000 years. This construct which casts a fatal shadow alongside flesh-and-blood Jews is what can be called the mythological Jew. The dictionary defines mythology as “a set of stories or beliefs about a [group] especially when exaggerated or fictitious”.
Anti-Semitism is not just a concatenation of isolated events but has been built up over time through accretions from Christian doctrine, folklore, superstition and simple malice. The result is a mythological representation of the Jew often referred to in the singular as “The Jew” or in German “Der Jude”. This singular representation stands opposed to the plurality of flesh-and-blood Jews. Its most complete exposition can be found in the early 20th-century fabrication The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (sometimes the word “forgery” is used here but this is incorrect. A forgery is a copy of something authentic whereas the Protocols is entirely made up). The Protocols depict “the Jew” as a powerful and malevolent force conspiring against all humanity in a fanatical drive to cause destruction and take over the world. In certain versions, this entity is not only dangerous and unscrupulous but is presumed to be aligned with supernatural forces like the Devil. It is often depicted with tentacle arms, hooked nose and long teeth dripping with blood, a depiction clearly intended to frighten. Thus the antisemite grants himself the license to act drastically and brutally under the guise of defending the right and the good. This distinction between “the mythological Jew” and the flesh-and-blood Jew serves to explain why the antisemite is not necessarily being disingenuous when he says that ‘some of my best friends are Jews”. He probably has Jewish friends and he likes them. It is the mythological Jew lurking somewhere in the back of his mind that he fears and hates.
This exacerbates the Jewish predicament immeasurably for how are Jews to defend themselves against a mythology so deeply embedded in Western culture. But things get still worse.
Ruth Wisse speaks of anti-Semitism as the organisation of politics against the Jews. Indeed, all too often governments and groups use anti-Semitism to achieve political goals, sometimes quite unrelated to Jews. The goal may be to gain power or to retain power or to divert attention from political or economic failure for it is well known that anti-Semitism increases during periods of political and economic dislocation. As a tiny people and high-achieving Jews make perfect off-the-shelf scapegoat in such situations. The dysfunctional Arab world discovered long ago and more recently so have Venezuela and South Africa.
To quote Ruth Wisse again, this half-baked, sub-intellectual package of lies called anti-Semitism became the most successful political ideology of the 20th century. The two most popular ideologies Fascism and Communism both failed but anti- Semitism as an ideological device came within a hair’s breadth of achieving its stated goal – the elimination of Jews and Jewish culture from Europe.
It is said that good people will do good things and bad people do bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes an ideology. Anti-Semitism is just such an ideology and one which you can practice without even having to dislike Jews. The antisemite will deny he’s antisemitic and will say that he even has Jewish friends. He sees himself as a good person and often blames Jews for having brought their misfortune on themselves. This was the justification given by the long-standing neighbours of Jewish communities during the Holocaust. Many Western liberals fall into this category and I will deal with this presently.
Before doing so I want to step back and examine some earlier responses to the Jewish predicament. ‘Sweet are the uses of adversity” said William Shakespeare, and this is evident in some of the incredibly creative responses to the predicament when Jews were first emancipated from the ghetto.
While it had never been easy to be a Jew, life in the ghetto was relatively uncomplicated. Individual Jewish identity was bonded to the community and every Jew knew who he was and what was expected of him. Major decisions were left to the communal and religious leadership and there was little scope for individual thought and initiative.
Two momentous political events changed this – in 1648 with the Treaty of Westphalia which marked the creation of the sovereign state with privileges and responsibilities for citizens, and in 1789, when in the French National Assembly Count Stanislas de Clermont-Tonnerre announced that: “the Jews should be denied everything as a nation, but granted everything as individuals”. In this context, emancipation was essentially individual not collective, and individual Jews harboured great hopes for a better life as well as a release from the old prejudices. At the same time the Jewish Haskalah movement was advocating the adoption of enlightenment values and pressing for greater integration into European society.
On the other side of the equation emancipation constituted a direct challenge to rabbinical authority and communal cohesion. The Orthodox believed that Jews would never be accepted into European society and less they ceased to be Jews, so they sequestered themselves in the bubble of their faith and continued as if nothing had changed.
But the majority of Jews sought change. They wanted to be accepted and engage with modernity. The advantages on offer were just too good to be ignored. So they shaved their beards, shed their traditional garb and stepped into the street indistinguishable now from the non-Jewish masses. But things didn’t work out quite as they’d hoped. Being indistinguishable from non-Jews created its own problems. Antisemites began to speak of a hidden enemy and suspicion and paranoia percolated in susceptible minds. This was later to provide the fertile ground in which the Protocols emerged.
The challenge for most was how to take advantage of the new opportunities while still preserving some semblance of Jewish belief and practice. I will deal with three responses – one might call them adaptions – which best illustrate the lengths to which Jews went to overcome their predicament.
The Reform movement offered accommodation to German culture without the need to convert. In many respects, the Orthodox were as antagonistic to reform as they were to conversion, indeed some didn’t see any difference. Victor Klemperer described it as “the Germanization of Yiddishkite” and Gershom Scholem called it “the liquidation of Jewish substance”.
The chief theoretician behind Reform Judaism Abraham Geiger believed that this was the only way to save Judaism from massive defection and possible oblivion. He separated what he believed were Judaism’s core and immutable moral truths and the ritual law which was a human construct. He saw no problem in re-forming or even discarding manufactured ritual law to fit the needs of the present generation while bringing Judaism’s moral teachings to the rest of the world.
As long as Jewish difference was based on religious belief, conversion to Christianity was the preferred, indeed the express route to political and social acceptance. Four of Moses Mendelssohn’s six children converted and so did the poet Heinrich Heine and Karl Marx’s parents. But the road was often fraught with complications. Jewish appearance, gestures and habits remained a source of embarrassment to children and grandchildren. The story is told of a Jew who converted to marry a gentile girl and all went well until they found themselves in church on Sunday. Without realising it he found himself humming tunes from the Jewish liturgy much to the distress of his wife.
There were also reports of converts who had no problem living with Gentiles but balked at the prospect of being buried amongst them. After all eternity is a long time. Another story is told about the Jewish banker Otto Kahn who converted to Christianity. He was walking along the street one day with a hunchbacked friend when they passed a synagogue. Kahn confided to his friend, “You know”, he said, “I used to be a Jew” upon which the friend replied, “Yes, and I used to be a hunchback.” The moral of these stories is that one’s Jewishness is not so easy put aside.
The most radical and indeed fascinating response to the predicament was the attempt to refashion, one might even use the term convert, the faith itself or at least certain aspects of the faith. Such was the case with both Marxism and Freudianism whose goal it was to universalise Jewish particularism in the way Christianity had once done. The ultimate end was a form of redemption.
According to American sociologist John Cuddihy in his book The Ordeal of Civility the theories of Marx and Freud were strategies for dealing with modernity as members of a despised social group. Each, in his own way, sought to overcome what he called the code of civility, in effect, the “institutional racism” (read: anti-Semitism), which they found in European society. They did this by deconstructing the civil order and replacing it with a universal order which granted them the acceptance they craved. Freud claimed that bourgeois civility was a mask for sexual repression, and Marx that it was a form of economic exploitation. For Freud, science was the universal solvent to bleach out his Jewish particularism, for Marx it was socialism.
Finally, we have the extraordinary case of Lazer Zamenhof, better known as LL Zamenhof. His Tikkun Olam project was nothing less than the attempt to reverse the story of the Tower of Babel by reducing the multiplicity of languages in the world to a single language. While still at school he started developing the language which became known as Esperanto – his goal, to unite all people through this one common language. The following quote appeared in a letter written by him in 1905. It expresses clearly his struggle and the wish to resolve the Jewish predicament:
“I am a Jew, and all my ideals, their birth, maturity and steadfastness, the entire history of my constant inner and external conflicts, all are indissolubly linked to my Jewishness.…My Jewishness is the main reason why, from my earliest childhood, I gave myself wholly to one overarching idea and dream, that of bringing together the brotherhood all of humanity”.
The predicament today is brought into sharpest focus in the case of Israel. The fault now found is not with Jewish blood or with Jewish religious belief in general but with a subset of Jewish religious belief – the idea of that Jews constitute a nation and that that nation is rooted in the land of Israel. It appears that Jew was all along deficient in his self-understanding – that all along he thought he was X but now finds he is Y. He is told that the only cure is radical surgery, by amputating the idea that he constitutes a people.
This cry echoing around the world is taken up not only by those who unabashedly wish him ill but by those who claim to wish him well. It is as well to distinguish between these two groups – the self-avowed haters of Jews and the selfavowed lovers of Jews.
This has led some Jews to believe that if it were not for Israel there would be no anti-Semitism, a radical about turn from the original Zionist view that a Jewish state would be the solution to anti-Semitism. I was at a friend’s Shabbos table one evening when an Israeli woman sitting next to me spoke about her shame regarding Israel’s gross injustice towards the Palestinians. Israel, she said, was entirely to blame not only for the failure of the peace process, but for Palestinian incitement, rockets and suicide bombings as well. This position which assigns all responsibility to Israel and none whatsoever to the Palestinians is clearly not the outcome of a moral calculation based on objective facts. It is an outcome of a process deeply infected with the assumption that Jews are intrinsically guilty and Palestinians intrinsically innocent.
We have seen how anti-Semitism incorporates the assumption of Jewish guilt; the assumption of Palestinian innocence is the inverse of this. Just as the denial of rights to Jews places them outside the moral realm, ironically so does the denial of responsibility to Palestinians. As Pascale Bruckner puts it: “Nothing authorises us to divide humanity into the guilty and innocent, for innocence is the lot of children, and also that of idiots and slaves.” To treat the Palestinians as wholly innocent is to treat them with condescension.
To return to my dinner table guest, was this committed Jew and self-described Zionist, an antisemite? If the answer is no then the next question is: how does she differ from the antisemite who directs all blame for wrongdoing on Jews and Israel?
Interestingly, I have asked the same question of some of my long-standing friends who have also taken on this position. I have been forced to conclude that some of my best friends are antisemites, an interesting variation on the antisemite’s assertion that some of his best friends are Jews. The fact is one can hold an antisemitic position without having negative feelings towards actual flesh-and-blood Jews. Indeed, emotion alone is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for being an antisemite.
But let me not deal with antisemites in general. I want to stay with the Jewish predicament and with Jews like my dinner table friend who, in spite of themselves and with the best of intentions, do serious damage to other Jews. It is common to call this sort of Jew the ‘self-hating Jew” but I am not in favour of this label if only because it collapses into a single category instances which belong in different categories. I will refer to this Jew as the “dissenting Jew” and he comes in different guises.
In this instance, the term ‘self-hating” is definitely misapplied. This Jew is not so much a hater of himself as he is of other Jews. He attributes to other Jews certain negative traits which he believes bring disrepute upon all Jews, especially himself. So in order to protect himself, he vilifies other Jews, thereby aligning himself with the antisemite’s views while advertising his own difference. “I agree with you” he proclaims to the antisemite, “but it’s the other Jew, I’m different".
Alain Finkielkraut, the French philosopher, describes such Jews as “hybrid beings… suspended in the anguish that comes of living in an in-between kind of world, with [their] the posterior legs still glued to their father’s Jewishness, and …[their] waving anterior legs [finding] no new ground” – a Kafkaesque description if ever there was one. In the interwar years European Jews worked hard to distinguish themselves from their East European brethren, whom they saw as a dirty and uncouth bunch, a distinction which was entirely lost on Hitler.
The second instance of the dissenting Jew is the super-patriot – the Jew who declares his loyalty and undying love for the country of his birth. Such was the case with certain German Jews who, in the years before the Second World War, were said to be not 100% but 200% German. Two examples boggle the mind: A Jewish organisation, the Verband nationaldeutscher Juden which was founded in 1921 claimed that German Jews were actually one of the “tribes” of the German Volk. They persisted with this belief even when Germany turned decisively against them. The case of Nikolaus Pevsner was even more startling. A Jew and renowned architectural historian, he professed in 1933 that “[Germany] is my country. I am a Nationalist, and in spite of the way I am treated I want this movement [the Nazi movement] to succeed. … There are things worse than Hitlerism.”
The third instance is the universalist Jew. As in the previous two cases, this Jew regards himself as more elevated than ordinary Jews. His inflated sense of self resides in his universalism which he wears as a badge of honour. “I am a universalist Jew, the rest [of you] are merely tribal Jews”. He may be a Communist, a Socialist or a human rights universalist but in all cases he believes he is seen the light to which his fellow Jews are blind.
The most common example today is the Jew of the liberal left who sees himself as walking in the footsteps of the Hebrew prophets. His Jewish identity is defined by Tikkun Olam – “repairing the world” – and his choice of project is both convenient and cowardly. He does not choose the more pressing assignments like Syria, Iraq, Libya and China, but the safe one, Israel, with a free press and newspapers like Ha’aretz, to do the investigating for him.
This Jew, while claiming to be secular, is as otherworldly as a religious zealot. The philosopher, John Black has argued that liberalism is merely another chapter in the history of religion. Its utopianism is the successor to Christian utopianism, a belief in the End of Days, when the lion will lie down with the lamb. Its cardinal belief is the brotherhood of all men, and its practitioners believe that all problems can be solved by negotiation.
When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict their views are unhelpful at best and dangerous at worst, for they are clueless when it comes to dealing with political intransigence and violence, the hallmarks of totalitarian Islam. They simply cannot accept the unpalatable truth that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict may take decades to resolve and that peace may have to wait until the Arab world reforms itself, becomes self-accountable, stops scapegoating Jews and Israel, and develops the institutions upon which liberal democratic government rests - all developments not likely to take place in the near future. Like fundamentalists everywhere the liberal will never abandon his own certainties, and so he abandons Israel. In so doing he joins the ranks of the “community of opprobrium” a term used by the Israeli philosopher Elhanan Yakira to define the total collective of all those who oppose, denigrate, delegitimise, and wish to destroy Israel.
This community is like a mosaic composed of many different facets. It includes those who would destroy Israel by violence, like Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah, Holocaust-deniers like Robert Faurisson and David Irving, far-Right antisemites like Le Pen in France, liberal Leftists like Noam Chomsky, people like Norman Finkelstein who take pleasure in chiding Jews for the remembrance of their own suffering, crooked historians like Ilan Pappe, who on his own admission is ideologically motivated and not objective; add to that the left-wing media and academia, the old, the radical and the Liberal Left. Each is a facet in a mosaic which from the outside shows a single face and delivers a single message and that message is that Israel as a Jewish state must go.
The nuances of the liberal Jew’s position are lost in the melee of voices; his finelyconstructed and possibly more limited goals swamped by greater and more radical forces set in motion long before his arrival and quite independent of him; his so-called “good intentions” drowned in the vituperative clamour to destroy the Jewish state.
His inevitable fallback position is that he “meant well” as if good intentions are morally valuable in their own right. He plays into the hands of those who would dismantle the Jewish state and in left-wing circles the notion that Israel is an illegitimate state has moved from the fringe to the mainstream. What is more, his endeavours threaten Jews everywhere. I’ve just returned from two conferences in Israel on anti- Semitism. At the Global Conference on Combating Anti-Semitism in Jerusalem, I heard repeatedly how anti-Semitism is again rising all over the world. The righteous, wellintentioned Jewish liberal needs take a measure of responsibility for this.
Finally, we have the Jew of negation. This is the closest we get to the self-hating Jew. The Jew of negation has internalized elements of antisemitic discourse, and succumbed to what Theodore Hamerow called “psychological surrender”. He projects his own fears and insecurities and ultimately his hatred, onto other Jews. His motto is "my people, wrong or wrong". As in the Stockholm syndrome he takes on the attitudes and desires of the oppressor, in fact, going even further. In his desire to save himself he contrives to hate Jews even more than his oppressor, or as the old joke has it: “he hates Jews even more than is absolutely necessary”.
The youngest generation of Jews are temporarily distant from the Holocaust and the creation of the State of Israel and as a result are not as confident or as secure in their Zionism as were earlier generations. Their support for Israel is being tested almost daily on university campuses and elsewhere. Anti-Israel marches on campus or on television calling for “Death to the Jews” cannot but be deeply troubling to them. They niggle and tug at Jewish self-assurance and sap the strength and resolve needed to fight back.
We have a collective responsibility to help these young Jews, for not to do so is to risk losing them or worse still, drive them into the ranks of Jew-haters. Already some have defected in the face of these pressures. Israel can meet its challenges, but Jewish communities and individual Jews in the Diaspora are at risk. The role of supporting, defending and strengthening our fellow Jews is the responsibility of everyone. I will end this essay with a few comments on possible initiatives.
Jews have a desperate need to prove their worth in the mistaken belief that doing so will mitigate anti-Semitism. This is both ineffective and demeaning. The cry for acceptance I will call the “I am worthy” plea and it comes in two forms – “I am worthy because of my achievements” and “I am worthy because of my ethical standing.”
Firstly, the “I am worthy because of my achievements”. Jews are in the habit of broadcasting their achievements which are considerable in almost every field of human endeavour. The most common instances are the emails listing Jewish Nobel prizewinners and Israel’s spectacular achievements. The logic behind this is that if I show myself to be a productive citizen, I will prove myself worthy of acceptance, or at the very least, unworthy of hatred.
But hatred is not dispelled by proofs of excellence. The antisemite is not interested in the flesh-and-blood Jew and his multiple achievements but in the mythological Jew and his multiple vices. In any case, what have achievements to do with being accepted as an equal? Is it not demeaning to play along with the idea that Jews should have to sing for their supper to earn what is naturally due to them?
The second version of the plea is “I am worthy because of my ethical standing.” This manifests as a burning desire for Jews to advertise their goodness and takes the form of setting higher standards for themselves than for anyone else. Typically, when Israel’s shortcomings are weighed against the similar shortcomings of other nations, some Jew will say: “We are bound to behave more ethically than others because we have a responsibility to be a light unto the nations.” This is incoherent nonsense, morally speaking, because the basic principle of meta-ethics, universalisability, means one standard for everyone. For Jews to hold themselves to a higher standard implies more than one ethical standard and this is both morally and logically incoherent. Freud would probably have regarded this as moral grandstanding or narcissism, the result of feelings of inferiority. There is also an irony here. When others hold Jews to a higher standard (as in holding Israel to a higher standard than other nations) we shout "foul", but we are happy to do this to ourselves.
Another fruitless and demeaning exercise is the attempt to elicit pity from others. We do this by expecting others to feel the same pity we feel for ourselves, and therefore erect Holocaust memorials, teach Holocaust studies and ensure that Yad Vashem is the first stop for foreigners visiting Israel. The belief here is that by imparting information on the Holocaust, we will reduce the chance of it happening again. This belief is essentially misplaced, for if the innocence of Jews did not protect them in the first instance, why should advertising that innocence now be more effective?
The antisemite draws his own conclusions from the Holocaust: (1) it demonstrates that the Jews are an easy target; (2) it demonstrates that the international community was prepared to abandon the Jews in their hour of need; and (3) it suggests that there must be a reason why Jews were selected for such treatment in the first place. Rather than putting a stop to anti-Semitism, focussing on the Holocaust may actually encourage it.
Let us not succumb to the idealistic, utopian belief in the brotherhood of all men. The lion lying down with the lamb makes a good fairy-tale but the real world is quite different. The English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes pointed out that man is irredeemably imperfect and very often violent, venal and base. The last few hundred years makes this abundantly evident. And it is the very groups that preached utopian brotherhood and still do, that failed to live up to their ideals. Christianity failed to live up to its own teachings in its treatment of the Jews and right now, so has liberalism.
The most important thing for Jews to remember is just this: Jews are not responsible for anti-Semitism. Jews cannot get rid of it by going to charm school nor eradicate it by any amount of explaining, clarifying and pleading. While the temptation to take responsibility is natural, for it relieves one’s sense of impotence, it is an illusion. Non-Jews invented and practice anti-Semitism and they are the only ones who can eradicate it. They need therapy, not Jews.
Promoting the study of politics against the Jews
The study of anti-Semitism as politics against the Jews, should become part of the Western academic curriculum. More than Holocaust studies, anti-Semitism as a contemporary political ideology should become part of syllabuses in political science, sociology and philosophy. Its dangers to Jews in particular and Western civilisation in general should be clearly recognised. The risk of failure is to put everyone at risk.
Jean Amery, a Holocaust survivor who eventually committed suicide defined himself as "a vehemently protesting Jew." It was his way of affirming his humanity and the dignity which the Nazis had denied him. We too, must become vehemently protesting Jews. We too must affirm our right to live as Jews by our own definition and on our own terms.
Let us put an end to the game of Jewish victim. I spoke earlier of the “pointing finger” and how Jews habitually fall for this trick. Now is the time to move from defence to offence even if this means confronting our accusers with accusations of our own. Jewish self-affirmation has never been an exercise for the faint-hearted. While our tragic history confronts us with our own particular predicament, it has also strengthened us by endurance for over 2000 years. But we must understand our history and how it affects the way we think. Jews have always had to live on their toes – it is our tragedy but it is also the reason for our extraordinary success.