Anti-Semitism Without Anti-Semites

Last month, the Domestic Affairs Committee of the German Bundestag held public hearings on anti-Semitism in Germany. Many of the speakers chose to focus on the "classical" anti-Semitism to be found in what in Germany are euphemistically called "right-wing extremist" milieus, i.e., among skinheads and self-avowed neo-Nazis. The journalist Henryk Broder, however, located the problem elsewhere: namely, in the mainstream "anti-Zionist anti-Semitism" to be found, for instance, among academics ... and Bundestag members. Pajamas Media here presents a complete English translation of Henryk Broder's statement to the Bundestag's Domestic Affairs Committee.

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I thank you for the invitation to this hearing. It is an honor for me to be able to speak to you. I know that there has been some unhappiness on account of my participation. But I am sure that by the end of my statement you will not regret having invited me.

This is not the first hearing on the issue of anti-Semitism and it will not be the last. Ever since the writer and self-avowed Jew-hater Wilhelm Marr published his "The Triumph of Germandom [Deutschtum] over Jewry" in 1879, thus becoming the leader of political anti-Semitism in imperial Germany, there have been numerous attempts made to define, explain, and neutralize anti-Semitism. They have all failed. If this was not the case, we would not be here today. Every discussion of anti-Semitism starts with a definition of the concept. And many get no further than that, such that after all the efforts to get a grasp on the phenomenon one is left merely with the finding that anti-Semitism is, as the old joke goes, "when one can't stand Jews even more than is normal."

I would like, therefore, to concentrate on two points: two arguments to which one has to pay special attention if one does not want to conduct a merely virtual debate. Firstly, anti-Semitism is not a matter of a prejudice, but rather of a sort of resentment. In and of themselves, prejudices -- literally "pre-judgments" [Vorurteile] -- are harmless. I have prejudices, you have prejudices: everyone does. It is only negative prejudices that bother us. If I say to you that Germans are hardworking, disciplined, and show their guests great hospitality, you will happily agree with me. If, however, I say that Germans are cheap, infantile, and lack a sense of humor, you will presumably get upset. That's an unacceptable generalization, you will say. It is the same with Jews. We gladly hear positive prejudices expressed -- on the "people of the book" or Jewish humor -- but negative prejudices, which thematize our worse tendencies, we take as an insult.

The distinction between a prejudice and a resentment is as follows: a prejudice concerns a person's behavior; a resentment concerns that person's very existence. Anti-Semitism is a resentment. The anti-Semite does not begrudge the Jew how he is or what he does, but that he is at all. The anti-Semite takes offense as much at the Jew's attempts to assimilate as at his self-marginalization. Rich Jews are exploiters; poor Jews are freeloaders. Smart Jews are arrogant and dumb Jews -- and, yes, there are also dumb Jews -- are a disgrace to Jewry. The anti-Semite blames Jews in principle for everything and its opposite. That is why there is no point in trying to debate anti-Semites or in wanting to convince them of the absurdity of their views. One has to marginalize anti-Semites: to isolate them in a sort of social quarantine. Society must make clear that it disdains both anti-Semitism and anti-Semites: just as it disdains parents beating their children and rape -- including spousal rape -- even though it well knows that it cannot monitor everything that transpires behind closed doors.