As the second anniversary of 9/11 approaches, it is worth recalling that it arrives on the heels of another second anniversary, one that will get far less attention, but one that should not be forgotten.
I speak of the UN World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, which concluded on September 7, 2001. Ignoring its own name, this conference offered a global stage to those promoting a vile new version of anti-Semitic, racist hatred. Just days before September 11th would leave Americans numb with rage, Jews were alarmed by news from Durban, where global do-gooders mingled with pro-Palestinian fanatics whose leaflets depicted Jews as Nazis, Jews as fanged beasts, Jews as bloodsucking money-hungry parasites. This gathering of transnational trendsetters and savage anti-Semites was a sight not seen before, at least not by the many millions who read about and watched this international hate-fest unfold.
The specific content of the anti-Semitic imagery at Durban was not new, but the political and ideological context that gave it meaning was. Not enough people have yet come to grips with this new anti-Semitism. Instead, Americans liberals oppose public displays of Christmas scenes, call for yet more “tolerance” education in the schools, or, to take a current example, protest Mel Gibson’s depiction of the Jews of Jerusalem in his forthcoming film on the Crucifixion.
Perhaps this is to be expected. For centuries, anti-Semitism in the West was the deformed offspring of internal disputes within the Judeo-Christian tradition. The blood libel, charges of deicide, stereotypes about Shylock and money-grubbing Jewish merchants became the stuff of anti-Semitic mythology. Even Hitler’s anti-Semitic imagery drew on this tradition and integrated it into a racialist worldview in which Aryan purity was endangered by Jewish corruption and deformity.
The new version of anti-Semitism, that of the Muslims and leftists, integrate these images into a new paradigm, depicting Jews not as outcasts within Western society but new world-class oppressors of the poor and downtrodden. This is an appeal far more likely to disarm liberals and leftists and even win their sympathy than the older forms of anti-Semitism that presumed a Jewish community of marginalized victims. As a result, the new anti-Semitism is much harder to counter by traditional methods that rely on exposure, education and shame.
This new anti-Semitism is strongest in the Middle East, where it has mushroomed out of control in recent decades, and especially since the second Intifada began in 2000. It draws on certain passage in the Koran. More importantly, it then builds on these passages by directly incorporating all the details of Nazi racialist imagery — leering and lecherous Jews with hooked noses, Jews snatching and sacrificing children, Jews as deceitful parasites secretively plotting the destruction of the world. Needless to say, such Islamofascist Nazi-style hatred is not amenable to appeals to basic Judeo-Christian principles, the actual details of Biblical stories, or the pseudo-scientific nature of nineteenth century racial theories. It arises out of an entirely different context, one that makes it far less open to reasoned criticism.
Hizballah’s senior cleric Sheik Husayn Fadlallah, puts it this way:
“The Jews want to be a world superpower. This racist circle of Jews wants to take vengeance on the whole world for their history of persecution and humiliation. In this light, the Jews will work on the basis that Jewish interests are above all world interests.”
Then there are the views of the Syrian defense minister Mustafa Tlas introducing his insane book The Matzo of Zion: “The Jew can kill you and take your blood in order to make his Zionist bread.” Similar views were once common in the West, but at a time when the Jews were weak and downtrodden. What gives such notions more resonance and a different significance in the Middle East is that the Jews there have a state of their own. It is a powerful and successful state, a constant humiliating reminder of the failed states and societies of just about every other nation in the region. To the traumatized and angry Muslim masses, it is Israel that enables the Jews to carry out on a larger scale than ever the unspeakable acts of which fanatics like Fadlallah and Tlas accuse them.
Lest these views be seen as confined to extremists, recall that Egyptian television recently aired a 41-part series presenting The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as the plain truth. The Protocols are a vile Czarist forgery depicting a Jewish conspiracy to control the world. The paranoid delusion this forgery promotes is widely accepted throughout the Middle East. Along with Hitler’s Mein Kampf, it is one of the most popular books in the region now. However, despite the efforts of a few Jewish organizations, no well-publicized campaign against the Egyptian television series was ever mounted in the West, certainly nothing like the one gathering now against Mel Gibson’s film.
Historian Robert Wistrich , in a recent report for the American Jewish Committee, says this about the prevailing indifference toward this new anti-Semitism:
“The seemingly endless parade of grotesque falsehoods exhibited in Arab and Muslim defamations of Jews and the Jewish state scarcely seem to impinge on Western consciousness…. Not even the rampant Arab claims that the Holocaust was a fabrication invented by Zionists and Jews (which attracts much attention in the European media when made by neo-Nazis or far rightists) stir more than the faintest of responses in the West.”
Meanwhile, millions of Muslim immigrants from the Middle East have flooded into Europe in recent years. Islamic radicals among them have brought along their region’s version of anti-Semitism. In addition, both the so-called right and the anti-Israel extreme Left have joined their own versions of the disease to this repulsive Islamist stream. The result has been a terrifying upsurge of synagogue burnings, attacks on Jews in the streets, slurs and jokes in the media — along with silence or even snickering approval from the continent’s political elites.
The only anti-Semitism these elites energetically oppose is the supposedly "right-wing" form. These groups base their hatred of Jews on pseudo-scientific racial theories and a violent defense of perceived racial and national superiority. It is every bit as vicious and violent toward Turkish and Algerian immigrants as it is toward the Jews. In its extreme xenophobia, it represents all that embarrasses enlightened opinion in Europe about the continent’s own sordid past. As a result, liberal elites there are only too happy to condemn this form of anti-Semitism.
The anti-Semitism of the Left itself is another matter. Like all the Left’s hatreds, its version of anti-Semitism derives from its relentless politicization of life. Its transnational hopes (regarding Europe, in any case) prevent it from sympathizing with neo-Nazi anti-Semitism. Nor does it draw on the Christian varieties. Much of the left in Europe is contemptuous of all religious views, Christianity in particular. Its deepest obsession is Israel, not the Crucifixion. It is focused on recent Jewish history, not on Biblical stories. The Left does occasionally twists Biblical themes to fit its political and secular anti-Semitic focus.
At Davos, Switzerland, last January, for example, a group of anti-globalization activists wearing yellow stars of David carted around a golden calf in protest against Israel. In the past, Muslim societies and the Nazis alike forced Jews to wear similar yellow stars as badges of humiliation. Why the protesters would have openly reproduced such colossal bigotry is hard to fathom. As for the golden calf, is it plausible to think that an accurate account of Genesis would have disabused the protesters of their obtuse and anti-Semitic use of this symbol? It’s not likely they would have cared. Their real focus was on Israel and its alleged crimes, not on the Bible.
The same is true of the now infamous cartoon appearing in the Italian newspaper La Stampa during the Palestinian take over of the Church of the Nativity in 2002. The cartoon depicted a baby Jesus looking up from the manger at an Israeli tank, saying, "Don't tell me they want to kill me again." Obviously, the cartoon does restate the ancient charge of deicide against the Jews. However, it’s hard to believe that La Stampa, a liberal newspaper, or its readers actually give much thought to the Crucifixion. Far more significant is the way the cartoon equates the entire Jewish people and its long history with the state of Israel. In so doing, it unmasks the left’s standard claim that its stance is merely anti-Israel, not anti-Semitic. The Left’s deep and abiding anti-Semitic animus toward Israel is what should most concern us, not an occasional crude reference to Christ and the Crucifixion. In fact, far more common now than images of the golden calf or the baby Jesus are the many grotesque caricatures equating Israeli leaders and their policies with those of the Nazis. This bizarre linkage exposes the current anti-Semitic obsessions of the left. Devotion to Christ or Christianity is not on its agenda.
Antagonism toward Israel is widespread in Europe now. This makes it easy to cloak anti-Semitism as anti-Zionism. It is this cover that allows so many intellectuals, members of the media, even government officials to look the other way, remain indifferent, or even voice their own contempt for Jews and for Israel. It is this that makes it easy for those who otherwise oppose racist xenophobia to ignore its ugly manifestations among Arabs and Muslims — or even to endorse these as nationalist resistance to colonial oppression.
As one honest leftist recently acknowledged in this spring’s Dissent:
“Sneering chatter of a powerful international Jewish lobby, once the stock and trade of fascist propaganda, has now become a staple of left-wing comment on Israel in the British and European press. By contrast, the activities of Arab, Muslim, and pro-Palestinian advocacy groups in the media and public discussion of the Middle East have gone largely unremarked.”
Yet the problem is not simply with Europe. America’s multicultural mania leads to a similar tone-deafness with regard to the new anti-Semitism. For example, take my own field, K-12 history and social studies education. In recent years, all of the major annual national teachers conferences have regularly include dozens of sessions on the Holocaust. Most of these sessions draw from the Holocaust all sorts of politically correct lessons about the need for tolerance toward racial, religious and gender subgroups here at home. Yet in my many years of attending these conferences, I have yet to see even one session on anti-Semitism in the Middle East or Europe. Instead, the newest mantra in the field is the need to counter prejudice and negative stereotyping of Muslims and Arabs — to the point of ignoring, or even excusing, the new totalitarian forms of anti-Semitism among them.
This stress on “tolerance” leads to efforts to monitor expression, sanitize textbooks, and remove all offensive references from stories and films. The approach trivializes anti-Semitism and underestimates its deeply irrational nature. This is naïve in the extreme. It suggests that anti-Semitism is little more than a big misunderstanding, an error in reasoning that better reasoning can correct.
Such an approach underestimates the emotional and intellectual appeal of the new anti-Semitism. The new forms of anti-Semitism are ultimately not based on mistaken notions about the Crucifixion, or about the racial or national characteristics of the Jewish people. And they are not amenable to reason at all. In the Middle East, the new anti-Semitism is rooted in a profound and traumatic sense of helplessness in the face of the forces of modernity. It offers its adherents a totalitarian fantasy of bloody vengeance and ultimate triumph. In the West, among both the left and right, it appeals to people deeply alienated from their own civilization, so alienated that they have turned in hatred against both its Christian and Judaic traditions. Containing and countering these new forms of anti-Semitism will demand a far tougher, more aggressive fight than we have seen so far against deeply entrenched ideas and determined foes.