In much of my recent work — books and articles — I have addressed the issue of antisemitism in the contemporary world. That the beast is once again slouching, not only towards Bethlehem as in the Yeats poem, but towards Oslo, Paris, London, Stockholm, Malmo, Copenhagen, Vienna, Berlin, Warsaw, Washington, Toronto, Sydney, Caracas, Brussels, Amsterdam, and many other cities and regions around the globe, should come as no surprise. From biblical times to the present moment, in their own homeland or “scattered among the peoples,” Jews have never been safe. This is precisely what distinguishes the Jewish people from the rest of humanity, the specific nature of their “chosenness.” Wherever they may find themselves they are always at risk, whether actively or potentially, targeted for slander, exclusion, or extinction.
In developing this argument in such books as The Big Lie (2007) and Hear, O Israel! (2009), I have been condemned by a number of my critics, who accuse me of exaggeration, self-pity, or a sort of obsolescence, as if my gaze were fixed on the past at the expense of a more amenable or complex present. The fact that many of these detractors are themselves Jewish is only to be expected, for Jews have a long history of wilfully ignoring the signs and rejecting the self-evident. It is not only the JINOs (Jews in Name Only), the “non-Jewish Jews” flagged by Isaac Deutscher, or the apikorsim (“wicked sons” of Jewish public life) enamored of their enemies who are blind to the historical fatwa against them. It is also those whom I refer to as the “good Jews” and whom author and Sun Media columnist Ezra Levant calls the “official Jews” — that is, a significant number of Jewish communicants, as well as their secular counterparts — who refuse to read the writing on the wall even when it is in their own language, inscribed in block letters, and blazoned on every street corner.
These Jewish critics — I have in mind people like Richard Just, editor of The New Republic, éminence grise Clifford Orwin of the Hoover Institution, and Canadian poet Harold Heft, among others who share their inveterate myopia — assailed my analysis as, variously, hyper-inflated, unfair to Islam, scare-mongering, one-dimensional, and so on, as if I refused to align my perspective with the mores of the enlightened and democratic West.
But the enlightened and democratic West is no longer what it very intermittently was — or rather, it is certainly not what it presents itself as being. The legacy media, academia, the political class, and an alarming proportion of the public have made common cause with the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish campaign of the growing Islamic hegemony in the realms of ideology and practice. This is especially true of Europe whose Jewish population is increasingly under threat. As French philosopher Guy Milliere observes in his new manuscript Dissident: Why Europe Is Dead and What It Means for America and the World (not yet published), “Almost everywhere in Europe, it is now dangerous for a practicing Jew to wear a yarmulke,” a development that he regards as a visible and repellant symptom “of a wider and more disquieting decay.” There is no doubt, he continues, “that there is something rotten in today’s Europe.”
Millier’s France, the land of liberty, equality, and fraternity — whose 600,000 Jews are outnumbered by approximately ten times as many Muslims — is a case in point. A French Jew has circulated an email detailing anti-Jewish acts of terror and vandalism in French society rarely reported in the media: “In Lyon, a car was rammed into a synagogue and set on fire. In Montpellier, the Jewish religious center was firebombed; so were synagogues in Strasbourg and Marseilles; so was a Jewish school in Creteil — all recently. A Jewish sports club in Toulouse was attacked with Molotov cocktails, and on the statue of Alfred Dreyfus in Paris, the words ‘Dirty Jew’ were painted. In Bondy, 15 men beat up members of a Jewish football team with sticks and metal bars. The bus that takes Jewish children to school in Aubervilliers has been attacked three times in the last 14 months. According to the Police, metropolitan Paris has seen 10 to 12 anti-Jewish incidents PER DAY in the past 30 days. Walls in Jewish neighborhoods have been defaced with slogans proclaiming ‘Jews to the gas chambers’ and ‘Death to the Jews.’ A gunman opened fire on a kosher butcher’s shop (and, of course, the butcher) in Toulouse; a Jewish couple in their 20′s were beaten up by five men in Villeurbanne…. [A] Jewish school was broken into and vandalized in Sarcelles. This was just in the past week.” We recall that it was France TV-2 that marketed the al-Dura hoax. Its Jerusalem bureau chief Charles Enderlin, profoundly implicated in furthering the scandal, received the Prix Gondecourt for his self-serving and dissembling screed Un Enfant est Mort (A Child is Dead). Agence France-Presse is little better, taking every opportunity to misrepresent and vilify Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, as indeed has French president Nicolas Sarkozy who, inadvertently speaking into an open mic, famously branded Netanyahu a “liar.”
France may be leading the way but antisemitic incidents and/or anti-Israeli sentiment are on the rise in Italy, Germany, Austria, Ireland, Spain, Hungary, the UK, Sweden, Holland, Poland, and, of course, Norway. The hour of the European beast, to paraphrase Yeats, has come round once again.
It would be a serious mistake, however, to assume that America is exempt from the phenomenon. The “Representing the People” website, which is promoting a “Holocaust II” program, should not be dismissed as a fringe insanity. It is a symptom of the plague that is spreading. “REMOVE ONE JEW A DAY,” it solicits in caps. “If every American would remove only one Jew from the face of the earth, the entire problem would be solved. Can we count on you?” On the 73rd anniversary of Kristallnacht, vandals set cars aflame and painted Nazi graffiti in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn. As a recent survey conducted by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) indicates, antisemitic attitudes now hover at 15% of the population and climbing. (Other polls suggest that support for Israel is rising, but this does not impact a hardcore sediment of anti-Jewish feeling.) And why is it, asks Ashley Rindsberg in The Jerusalem Post, that so vindictive and calumnious a book as Gilad Atzmon’s anti-Jewish excretion The Wandering Who? is openly sold on Amazon and Barnes & Noble when “a book of equivalent hatred (for any other group)” would surely be proscribed or quickly removed from the shelves?
It is no secret that antisemitism tends to flourish in times of political instability and economic tribulation, as at the present historical juncture when people ignorantly seek a scapegoat on which to project their confusion and resentment. But the truth is that it remains always latent even in halcyon periods. The sense of security that Jews have urgently sought and too often take for granted is a psychological delusion that works against an indispensable vigilance, a temptation that weakens the sine qua non of self-preservation. Jews who believe that assimilation provides asylum from the world’s “longest hatred” — no less, for that matter, than those Israelis who believe that accommodation with the Islamic adversary will lead to lasting peace — are living in a fool’s paradise.
In fact, as French-Jewish philosopher Alain Finkielkraut has persuasively argued in The Imaginary Jew, it is precisely the urge to assimilation that much of the Gentile world holds against Jews, even those whose “will to integration” leads them to become antisemites themselves. Assimilation is an example of “historical irony attaining a tragic perfection,” for it was the very “will to integration that was really the crime.” The effort to melt into the mainstream, the desire for respectability and approval, is nothing less, according to Finkielkraut, than “a bad bargain with emancipation” which culminates one way or another in disdain, hatred, ostracism — or worse.
This is the message of the Book of Esther (and its associated Purim festival), which cautions Jews that the attempt to blend in is always idle, that even a place at court is no safeguard against antisemitic malice and that Jewish identity, however inscrutable or contested, cannot be forsworn. This is true of today’s “court Jews” as well, that cabal of journalists, editors, professors, authors, pundits, and pamphleteers who fulminate against their own while maintaining their coveted status in the corridors of preference. One recalls how the philosopher Moses Hess, formerly a passionate assimilationist, was shocked into reality by the Damascus riots of 1840 and became what we might call a proto-Zionist.
Similarly, Theodor Herzl, founder of the Zionist movement and author of the epochal The Jewish State (1896), was himself a staunch assimilationist until he visited France and saw with his own eyes the swollen cloud of mindless and deep-seated hatreds let loose by the Dreyfus trial. The conclusion he came to, however painful and against the grain, changed the course of his people’s history and cannot be controverted by the dejudaicized Jew who still wishes to preserve his sense of reality and ultimately to survive. Today there can be no question that, in the words of legal commentator Stephen Kruger, “The lowest common denominator of countries large and small is Jew-hatred.”
American Jews, who think they are safe, should read the report, first issued as a Faculty Working Paper, by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. The report accuses Israel of being a torture state, of not being a genuine democracy, and of not being a reliable partner of the U.S. But their salvos are not directed solely against Israel. They then proceed to abuse influential American Jews like Paul Wolfowitz, David Wurmser, and Douglas Feith for orchestrating the American involvement in Iraq and purport to show how the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) “manipulates the media” and “polices academia.”
What is most disturbing is that this mendacious and bigoted report, which has since resurfaced in book form as The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, has the authority of a great American university behind it and, equally distressing, is only one of such numerous propaganda documents to come from heretofore unimpeachable sources or presumable experts. The most recent of such venomous screeds, as we have seen, is Gilad Atzmon’s The Wandering Who? which reinforces the canard of Holocaust denial, justifies the libels of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and effectively blames Jews for all the world’s ills. That Atzmon is himself a Jew places him squarely in the ranks of the apikorsim, a traitor both to himself and to his people, one of those “value-added Jews,” as Nidra Poller calls them. “I no longer felt any attachment to the Jewish causes, Israel or the Jewish people,” he confesses; far better to play the saxophone, to be reassured that he “might possess musical talent,” and “to draw closer to the Arab sound” as he proceeds to defame Israel and Jews.
His type proliferates, as do instances of complicity. In November of this year, the Jewish antisemite, backer of the Iranian ayatollahs, and conspiracy theorist Richard Falk, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Palestinian territories, spoke before the human rights center at my alma mater, McGill University in Montreal. To characterize this event as a “disgrace,” as some observers have done, is a reverberating understatement. It is a veritable obscenity. Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, gets it right: “someone who consistently contorts reality to fit a preconceived agenda — one that always ends up excusing the preachers of hate and the perpetrators of terror — has no place in an institution of learning premised on the principles of rational and empirical inquiry.” And, it should go without saying, has no place in the Jewish community either.
It is time for Jews to wake up and smell the viscid stench of bigotry and hatred that has begun to fill the air. What David Hume said about slavery in Essays moral, political, and literary is also true of murderous intentions, namely, that evil “has so frightful an aspect to men accustomed to freedom, that it must steal upon them by degrees, and must disguise itself by a thousand shapes, in order to be received.” Before you know it, you are in chains. Only, as noted above, in the current moment the signs are increasingly conspicuous. The averted gaze and the serene assumption that “it can’t happen here” leave a people unprepared in the face of social depravity and political infamy. There is no longer any excuse for obliviousness. Nor is there any warrant for disowning, condescending to, or pillorying the messengers who bring premonitory tidings. Worse, there can be no forgiveness for partnering with antisemitic and anti-Zionist mustalids, as did the Jewish Studies Program at the University of California at Davis, inviting Gilbert Achcar, a defender of the Nazi collaborator Haj Amin al-Hussein, the notorious Mufti of Jerusalem, to “grace” the podium.
Whether in Israel or the Diaspora, Jews must recognize that the winds have shifted once again, that appeasement is a failed strategy, that pandering to the haters or joining their serried columns will not save them in the long run, that assimilation is no ironclad guarantee against the depredations of the morally benighted, that pretending otherwise and loitering in a state of occulted nonchalance and smug indifference is nothing but the harbinger of tragedy, and that awareness, courage, and the readiness to defend against assault in whatever way that may be called for have become necessary. Jews must shed their complacency and take the initiative, establish pro-active organizations willing to vigorously support their cause, cease funding universities where anti-Jewish groups, a leftist professoriate, and compliant administrators multiply, acknowledge that “interfaith dialogue” with Islamic clerics is a tactical maneuver on the part of a determined antagonist, know who their real allies are and welcome their advocacy, vote intelligently in elections rather than fall back on slogans and abstractions that play to their inflated sense of “social justice,” understand that as it goes with Israel, so it will go with them — in brief, stop arming the enemy. For the lesson of the Jewish saga across the killing fields of history is that what has happened before can happen again. And today we are witnessing both the resurgence of an old and barbarous malignity and a growing cohort of Jewish quislings and historical illiterates.
As Ethel Wilson writes in her story “We Have to Sit Opposite,” on one level about a train journey from Austria to Germany in the 1930s, but with allegorical implications pointing to a somnolent era that had closed its eyes to the advancing dangers of the time: “Many people slept until they reached Munich. Then they all began to wake up.” The trouble was, they had overslept.