Alvin H. Rosenfeld (ed.), Deciphering the New Antisemitism

, June 20, 2016

Alvin H. Rosenfeld, ed., Deciphering the New Antisemitism, Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2015, 568pp.

I am in Norway on business for my product and written on a wall I read ‘Down with Israel.’ I think, ‘What did Israel ever do to Norway?’ I know Israel is a terrible country, but after all, there are countries even more terrible….why is this country the most terrible? Why don’t you read on Norwegian walls, ‘Down with Russia,’ ‘Down with Chile,’ ‘Down with Libya’? Because Hitler didn’t murder six million Libyans? I am walking in Norway and I am thinking, ‘If only he had.’ Because then they would write on Norwegian walls, ‘Down with Libya’ and leave Israel alone.

Philip Roth, The Counterlife (1986)

While reading Alvin Rosenfeld’s formidable, encyclopedic, and terrifying collection of essays entitled Deciphering the New Antisemitism, I kept wondering what Hannah Arendt would make of it. Her classic study of the subject, called simply Antisemitism, was written in the late forties and published in 1951 as the first volume of her three-volume Origins of Totalitarianism. She ended Antisemitism with this remarkable statement:

Thus closes the only episode in which the subterranean forces of the nineteenth century enter the full light of recorded history. The only visible result [of the Dreyfus Affair] was that it gave birth to the Zionist movement—the only political answer Jews have ever found to antisemitism and the only ideology in which they have ever taken seriously a hostility that would place them in the center of world events.

Were Hannah Arendt to publish this statement today, she would immediately disqualify herself for employment in most American or European universities. Can one imagine Vassar College, in which even the Jewish Studies faculty is knee-deep in the muck of Israel-hatred, hiring the Arendt of 1951 to teach about Zionism, or even to give a lecture on campus? Would she be allowed to set foot on the grounds of Brandeis University? And what about Rutgers, which long ago established a Hannah Arendt Professorship of Sociology and Political Science but now hires semi-literate crackpots like Jasbir Puar, who travels about the country lecturing at elite colleges on how Israelis “shrink” Arab children and steal organs from dead Palestinians in order to carry out their bloodthirsty program of “weaponized epigenetics.”

When Arendt wrote Antisemitism — a book whose effect Norman Podhoretz likened to that of a great poem or novel—her vision was as yet unclouded by the haughtiness towards established Jewish institutions and “those coarse Israelis” which her research assistant at Schocken in 1947 (a young literary critic and socialist, Irving Howe) had already noticed when he worked for her. Neither had it been distorted by what a German-born, Hebrew University Professor Gershom Scholem called the “heartlessness” that permeated her book on the Eichmann trial, in which she accused Jewish leaders of collaboration with the Nazis.

She would not have been surprised to learn that the “new antisemitism” is largely a left-wing enterprise, or that it flourishes openly on university campuses in student organizations (Black Lives Matter, Students for Justice in Palestine, BDS) and in those academic departments and programs, based on nothing more than the revolution du jour, which threaten to turn many colleges and universities into dens of mediocrity. Neither would she have been shocked to learn that “progressive” Jews (examined in Doron Ben-Atar’s essay in this book) play a major role, as modern “apostates,” in “kosherizing antisemitism.” She would have been surprised to learn, however, that an anachronistic reversal of cause and effect now permeates progressive thought. Indeed, the single movement in which Jews took antisemitism seriously is held to be the sole reason for “worldwide hostility” against them, of Middle Eastern chaos, and in such bogus (if not demented) academic enterprises as “intersectionality,” the cause of every evil on the planet, ranging from race riots in Missouri or underpaid teaching assistants in Manhattan, to man-made global warming and avian flu. This is especially the case in Middle East Studies, where, as Martin Kramer long ago pointed out, if you expect to acquire wisdom from the majority of its professors, you should also try warming yourself by the light of the moon.

The present book emerged from a conference held in April 2014 at Indiana University, organized by Professor Alvin M. Rosenfeld, founder of its Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism. It was attended by forty-five scholars from around the globe. The book consists of Rosenfeld’s introduction, eighteen lengthy and heavily annotated scholarly essays, and an excellent index (something frequently missing from collections of essays by “divers hands”). The essays are arranged in four groups: I: Defining and Assessing Antisemitism; II: Intellectual and Ideological Contexts; III: Holocaust Denial, Evasion, Minimization; IV: Regional Manifestations.1

The sheer abundance of evidence adduced in this book that antisemitism now flourishes in a dizzying variety of forms and expressions raises the question of whether it will be with us for as long as the Jewish people exists. The question is implied in the essay “Virtuous Antisemitism” by the Israeli philosopher Elhanan Yakira. Strictly speaking, it does not belong in a book dealing with the “new” antisemitism at all because it deals primarily with two Frenchmen: the religious philosopher and physicist Blaise Pascal and the historian Ernest Renan. It gets no closer to the contemporary than Jean-Paul Sartre’s curious lucubrations on the subject. But Rosenfeld is too astute an editor to have balked at a beautifully written essay that opens a new line of investigation into the whole subject of antisemitism, from its beginnings in Christendom to the present. Yakira starts from the fact that antisemitism “has always been, in the past as well as the present, a phenomenon of high culture” and also “a specific phenomenon” rather than an indiscriminate part of “man’s inhumanity to man.” Antisemitism is not only, as the late Robert Wistrich called it, “the longest hatred” but also “the strangest and most incomprehensible.” Indeed, Yakira argues that there is an important form of it without hatred at all. We might adduce Dickens’ Oliver Twist as an instance. When Dickens wrote that novel he harbored no hatred of Jews and had no programmatic or conscious intention to harm them. Indeed, Dickens once said Fagin was “such an out- and –outer that I don’t know what to make of him.” But Fagin was already made for Dickens by the collective folklore of Christendom, which had for centuries fixed the Jew in the role of Christ-killer, surrogate of Satan, inheritor of Judas, corrupter of the young.

Yakira, however, goes beyond this in his definition of a genuinely “virtuous,” authentically innocent antisemitism. It takes the form of anti-Judaism, but of an anti-Judaism so complex and ambiguous that it has been largely ignored even by such students of the subject as David Nirenberg. Pascal did not merely write “hundreds of … allusions and often lengthy discussion of the Hebrew Bible…of the Mishnah, the Talmud, and Parshanim;” he also looked upon Jewish history with admiration and compassion. “The encounter with this people,” wrote Pascal in his Pensées, “astonishes me, and seems worthy of attention. I consider this Law that they boast having received from God, and I find it admirable. This is the first law of all the others, and even before the word law was used among the Greeks….I find it strange that the first law is also found to be the most perfect…” But Pascal also wrote: “It is an astonishing thing…to see the Jewish people subsisting since so many years, to watch it always in misery. It is necessary for the proof of Jesus Christ both that it subsists for proving him and that it be in misery, since they crucified him….” Has there ever been a stranger combination of admiration, respect, and compassion with acquiescence in and justification of suffering, misery, and persecution than this “virtuous antisemitism?” Or should we perhaps call it by Arendt’s term, – “immoral thoughtlessness”? The Christianity of Pascal, to say nothing of its weaker forms, is no longer the living religion of Europe, whose empty churches have been the subject of lament in certain quarters and jubilation in others for many years. Nevertheless, antisemitism once again permeates the old continent, and nowhere more so than in France, where the spirit of Voltaire long ago conquered that of Pascal, and where an aggressive and militant Islam now threatens to conquer Voltaire—and the Jews as well.

Rosenfeld’s collection opens with a stunning essay by the French novelist and social critic Pascal Bruckner entitled “Antisemitism and Islamophobia: The Inversion of the Debt.” With surgical precision Bruckner explains why dissolution of the Christian belief that Jews are deservedly punished for crucifying the savior whom they failed to acknowledge has not brought an end to European antisemitism. G.K. Chesterton once observed that “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in ‘nothing’; on the contrary, they believe in everything.” Bruckner analyzes the “semantic racketeering” by which “one and only one religion escapes the climate of raillery and irony that is normal for the others.” That religion, of course, is Islam. Devotees of the new European religion of “human rights,” with the full support of such prominent figures as England’s Catherine Ashton and America’s Hillary Clinton, have “turn[ed] the criticism of Islam into an international crime, recognized as such by the highest authorities.” The very same UN bodies that regularly condemn Zionism as a form of racial discrimination and apartheid, “the useful idiots of both left and right, who are always on the lookout for a new racism,” have decreed that “one must never laugh at Islam, on pain of being accused of discrimination.”

What Bruckner labels “the equivalence principle” places antisemitism and the trumped up phenomenon called Islamophobia on a par. He acerbically poses the question: “Why does everyone want to be a ‘Jew’ today, especially the antisemites?” How dare the Jews monopolize all that beautiful Holocaust suffering, which other groups would like to claim, ex post facto, for themselves? Thus, the Holocaust “fascinates people not as an abomination, but as a treasury from which … they can draw advantages, the occasion of being singled out by misfortune…the potential for winning an inalienable immunity.”

The “equivalence principle” leads to “the substitution principle,” whereby the destruction of European Jewry has become “a monstrous object of covetous lust.” The message of the Holocaust must be “inclusive,” the word which should strike terror into every Jewish heart. It is, for example, no surprise that the Academic Council of America’s “Open Hillel” organization, dedicated to subverting Hillel’s tradition of supporting Israel against its manifold ideological and military enemies, should adopt “inclusivity” as its guiding principle. Forgetting that exclusion is as much a function of intellect as inclusion turns out to be not only obtuse—as once upon a time we were taught as freshmen in college– but dangerous. “Muslims,” according to British Muslim leader Iqbal Sacranie, “feel hurt and excluded that their lives are not equally valuable to those lives lost in the Holocaust time.” This is the message conveyed by the late Edward Said Shlomo Sand, and Enzo Traverso (about whom more presently). About forty years ago, I published an essay on Holocaust envy entitled “Stealing the Holocaust”; but, as Proust remarked, ‘’everything has already been said, but, since no-one pays attention, it must be repeated every morning.”

Thus, Bruckner (who may be France’s Jonathan Swift) demonstrates that “the Judaization of the Muslims necessarily lead[s] to the Nazification of the Israelis.” Arendt would surely have been puzzled by this desire of Arabs and Muslims to latch on to the mournful coattails of the Jewish history of discrimination, expulsion, and murder. Nor are they alone in this matter: Barack Obama, constantly assured by a large contingent of Jewish sycophants that he is “really” a Jew himself, has actually made public acknowledgment of the supposed fact, especially on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

No book about the new antisemitism could be complete without discussion of the burgeoning school of antisemitism denial, which challenges Rosenfeld’s organizing premise. It is a hideous progeny of the more famous Holocaust denial, dealt with here in powerful essays by Bernard Harrison, David Patterson, and Aryeh Tuchman. Noam Chomsky is only an “agnostic” with respect to Holocaust denial; but he is a true believer where antisemitism denial is concerned: “Antisemitism,” Chomsky has declared, “is no longer a problem, fortunately. It’s raised, but it’s raised because privileged people want to make sure they have total control, not just 98% control. That’s why antisemitism is becoming an issue.” Beautiful and touching words! Other prominent devotees of antisemitism denial may be found in Berkeley, California, that great center of prophetic utterance. The busiest of them is Judith Butler, who expresses her blindness to antisemitism in prose of a stupefying opacity that often seems like the written equivalent of speaking in tongues.

The subject is masterfully dealt with by University of Minnesota Professor Bruno Chaouat in the essay entitled “Good News from France: ‘There is No New Antisemitism,’” a fine piece of writing that is as savagely ironic as Bruckner’s. (This trio of essays by Yakira, Bruckner, and Chaouat confirms Christopher Caldwell’s recent observation that “France is now on the front lines of the world’s most pressing crises.”) Chaouat chooses Enzo Traverso as a representative member of this school of apologetics for raw murder. Traverso, after a career in France’s university system, was named Professor of Humanities at Cornell University; apparently the quiet life of Ithaca and the warmth of an endowed chair in a cold climate overcame his oft-expressed aversion to America.

Traverso argues that antisemitism died after the Holocaust. In effect, he restates the ugly (and also mistaken) witticism that “it’s easy to get rid of antisemitism; just get rid of the Jews.” He is in the tradition of Europe’s prodigious explainers: Jews, he explains, are hated, attacked on the streets of France, Jewish children and their teacher executed in a Toulouse schoolyard (an act of savagery to which Traverso warms with something akin to blood lust) not because they are Jews but because they have become “conservatives,” “colonizers,” and “imperialists.” Their Muslim murderer, according to Traverso, hated them because he was hated, a victim of that shadowy mirage called “Islamophobia.” (“There is always someone more guilty,” wrote the Hebrew poet Abba Kovner, “/(the victim),/the victim.”) Since Jews have chosen “the camp” of reaction and domination by ungraciously and ungratefully giving up on Europe for Israel and America, they deserve and should expect hatred. “In Traverso’s reasoning,” observes Chaouat, “hatred of Muslims cannot be understood as related in the slightest to the rise of radical Islam whereas the cause for Judeophobia is to be found among Jews who identify with Zionism and the State of Israel.”

For Traverso, killing Jewish children in a schoolyard because they are Jewish is not an antisemitic act at all, only a reaction by the killer to his own “exclusion” from “pure-blooded” French society. For the sage of Ithaca, guilt for shooting Jewish children at point-blank range falls upon their Jewish parents, who acquiesce in the killing of Arabs in ‘Palestine’ by other Jews. And so on and on with this mind-deafening sociology of justification for murder. Have human beings ever sunk lower for a proof?

“Plus ça change,” said Prince Talleyrand, “plus c’est la même chose.” In 1976, forty years ago, Saul Bellow wrote that “there is one fact of Jewish life unchanged by the creation of a Jewish state: you cannot take your right to live for granted….The Jews, because they are Jews, have never been able to take the right to live as a natural right.”

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Note

1 PART I: Defining and Assessing Antisemitism: 1. Antisemitism and Islamophobia: The Inversion of the Debt/Pasacal Bruckner; 2. The Ideology of the New Antisemitism/Kenneth I. Marcus; 3. A Framework for Assessing Antisemitism: Three Case Studies (Dieudonné, Erdogan, and Hamas)/Gunther Jikeli;4. Virtuous Antisemitism/Elhanan Yakira. PART II: Intellectual and Ideological Contexts: 5. Historicizing the Transhistorical: Apostasy and the Dialectic of Jew-Hatred/Doron Ben-Atar; 6. Literary Theory and the Delegitimization of Israel/Jean Axelrad Cahan; 7. Good News from France: “There Is No New Antisemitism”/Bruno Chaouat; 8. Anti-Zionism and the Anarchist Tradition/Eirik Eiglad; 9. Antisemitism and the Radical Catholic Traditionalist Mvement/mark Weitzman. PART III: Holocaust Denial, Evasion, Minimization: 10. 17. Antisemitism and Antiurbanism, Past and Present: Empirical and Theoretical Approaches/Bodo Kahmann; The Uniqueness Debate Revisited/Bernard Harrison; 11. Denial, Evasion, and Antihistorical Antisemitism: The Continuing Assault on Memory/Davd Patterson; 12. Generational Changes in the Holocaust Denial Movement in the United States/Aryeh Tuchman; 13. From Occupation to Occupy: Antisemitism and the Contemporary Left in the United States/Sina Arnold; 14. The EU’s Responses to Contemporary Antisemitism: A Shell Game?/ R. Amy Elman; 15. Anti-Israeli Boycotts: European and International Human Rights Law: Perspectives/Aleksandra Gliszczynska-Grabias; 16. Delegitimizing Israel in Germany and Austria: Past Politics, the Iranian Threat, and Post-national Anti-Zionism/Stephan Grigat; 17. Antisemitism and Antiurbanism, Past and Present: Empirical and Theoretical Approaches/ Bodo Kahmann; 18. Tehran’s Efforts to Mobilize Antisemitism: The Global Impact/Matthias Küntzel.

About Edward Alexander

Edward Alexander is Professor Emeritus of English Literature at the University of Washington. He is the author of numerous books including Jews Against Themselves, Resonance of Dust and The Jewish Wars .