Jewish Political Studies Review 21:1-2 (Spring 2009)
Philosopher and historian Pierre-Andre Taguieff has made a lifelong study of racism and anti-Semitism. In his powerful new book, he explores changing attitudes towards the Jews and Judaism, Zionism, and the State of Israel. Why use “Judéophobia,”, and not anti-Semitism? “Phobia” is taken today as meaning irrational feelings of hatred and revulsion. Anti-Semitism, he says, is the “racial” form of Judéophobia which brought about the Holocaust. Traditional anti-Semitism today is but one element in the overall picture. In fact, he claims, following the war, anti-Semitism as such has become a marginal phenomenon limited to skinheads and neo-Nazi fringe groups. This is the author’s “working hypothesis,” and it is undoubtedly one of the most controversial elements of the book.
Taguieff presents a sweeping panorama of the changing image of the Jew, from the period of the Enlightenment – mid-eighteenth century – to the present day. This is not an easy book. It sometimes reads like a textbook, with a wealth of details, not always readily comprehensible to people not thoroughly grounded in the history of France and Europe. It is also backed by copious notes, which account for nearly a third of the book. Step by step, Taguieff traces what he perceives as the gradual disappearance of hatred of the Jews based on religion alone as the main motor of anti-Semitism. New forms are appearing: Voltaire, who condemned all religions, had harsh words to say about Judaism and the Jews. He abhorred them and launched what Taguieff calls “modern anti-Judeo-Christianism” (89).
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, we can see the emergence of “neo-pagan racial anti-Semitism” (96), which somehow found its place within the context of the new socialist theories and the fight against capitalism, with Rothschild the banker replacing Shylock in popular imagery. As the century drew to an end, it seemed that attacks against the Jews were coming from every available quarter. Conspiracy theorists saw a sinister Jewish plot to take over the world (Protocols of the Elders of Zion), while pseudo-scientific studies pointed out the inherent racial inferiority of the Jewish people. These racial themes led to the “biologization of the Jewish question.” The stage was set for the Holocaust.
But Taguieff is more interested in what is happening now than with what happened in the past – because he believes that the past is just that. It is his contention that during the past forty years the perception of the Jew in the world has been transformed beyond recognition. For centuries Jews had been stigmatized in the Western world as “aliens” – Oriental, Asians, or Semites – belonging to an inferior race, and European countries wanted to be rid of them. Not anymore. The Jews, says Taguieff, are now branded as being part of the Western imperialist world and as oppressors. Ironically, at the same time, the very same Europeans who pointed a finger at the landless, wandering Jew now condemning him for being a “Zionist,” and as such a “nationalist.” To put it briefly, “[a]t the core of anti-Semitism in the strict sense of the term was the refusal to accept the presence of the Jews within the nation; what is at the root of radical anti-Zionism is the refusal to grant Jews the right to want to be a nation” (10). In other words the Jew, once a repulsive Asian, has now become an arrogant westerner, perceived as a threat to world peace. Hatred of the Jew and hatred of the West now go together. This new phenomenon is exemplified in the fight of the Islamic world against the Judeo-crusaders or against a so-called Zionist-American plot against Islam and Muslims.
Taguieff made the interesting choice of expounding his theory backwards, so to speak. The first part of the book is devoted to the present situation and what he calls the meaning of the “American-Zionist amalgam” in the context of the Cold War, the massive influx of immigrants from Muslim countries into Europe, and the Middle East issue. He does not mince his words: “Radical anti-Zionism [is] a contemporary manifestation of judéophobia” (352).
“Let us start again with the present which is characterized by the reinvention of the ‘Jewish Question’ on the basis of the total rejection of Israel and the demonization of Zionism,” says the author (352). By the term “total rejection,” he explains that “I aim to point out that there are no conditions, limitations or measure to the hatred directed against Israel as a Nation State in which the Zionist project was brought to fruition” (357). For Taguieff, the substitution of Israel for the Jews as a focus of hatred is a new phenomenon triggered by the second Intifada – the so-called “Al Aksa intifada” – which led to attacks against the Jews throughout Europe. Anti-Zionist propaganda was used to “nazify” Israel, he says. Stories planted in the press and false accusations such as the Al Durra affair unleashed a torrent of accusations and a thorough demonization of the Jewish state, reincarnating the old blood libels: Israel today is seen as a brutal oppressor deliberately killing innocent children.
Turning his attention to the situation in France, Taguieff sees all the manifestations of Judéophobia coming together. This includes a so-called humorist such as Dieudonné standing on stage disguised as an Orthodox Jew, wearing a black hat and side locks, making the Nazi salute while saying “Isra-Heil!” and a spate of vicious attacks against Jews culminating with the torture and assassination of a young French Jew, Ilan Halimi, in February 2006.
“What can be done?” asks Taguieff. “Those who believe they can answer that question straightaway probably never thought about it” (496). His conclusion is bleak: “Only the man who has been enlightened by the ambiguous teachings of the past can be truly attuned to what is happening with no advance warning” (496).
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. “Ce qui était au coeur de l’antisemitisme au sens strict du terme, c’était le refus de la presence des Juifs au sein de la nation; ce qui fonde l’antisionisme radical, c’est le refus de reconnaitre aux Juifs le droit de se vouloir une nation” (translated by the reviewer).
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Michelle Mazel, born in Poitiers (France) during the war, is a graduate of Sciences Po – the Institute for Political Science – and the Paris Faculté de Droit. She is a writer of both fictional and non-fictional works and currently resides in Jerusalem.