Why Anti-Semitism Persists
Repeated over and over again, history becomes nature.
April 23, 2009 - 12:00 am
In his 1995 book Assimilation and Its Discontents, Israeli political historian and prolific author Barry Rubin speaks of a time when “anti-Semitism became too minimal to inspire fear or defiance.” Indeed, for both the Israeli sabra and the diaspora Jew, particularly in America, “anti-Semitism’s rout and the acquisition of equality … raises the question of what to do next.” Only a little more than a decade has passed since Rubin wrote those lines but the “question of what to do next” has taken on a completely different complexion. For once again anti-Semitism has returned with a vengeance.
I suspect that Rubin’s cheerful temperament may have clouded his view and caused him to forget that anti-Semitism is unlike other forms of irrational hatred and operates under a different set of laws. One might put it this way: because it has happened before, it will happen again, which is not the tautology or unverifiable assumption that it appears to be. We need to recognize the mechanics that operate in this past-future homology.
Anti-Semitic sentiments, outbreaks, pogroms, and holocausts, in virtue of their millennial repeatability, have become entrenched in human consciousness as a “natural” inevitability, as something that must happen again because it has consistently happened before. Anti-Semitism and its consequences, as they act themselves out in the social and historical realms, have gradually come to acquire the character of a deeply harbored expectation, a necessary effect of an immutable cause, as if it were a part of the phenomenal world, the prolonged absence of which dimly registers as a gap in the normal sequence of events. This gap or hiatus must be filled to restore the equilibrium of things, which is why anti-Semitism is felt as somehow legitimate. It is its recession that is intuited as unnatural.