Anti-Semitism Without Anti-Semites

Secondly, if you want to come to terms with anti-Semitism, you must realize that it is not a fixed quantity like the meter prototype in Paris or the definition of the volt, watt, or ampere. Like all social phenomena, anti-Semitism is susceptible to transformation. Even poverty is no longer today what it once was at the time of Oliver Twist. The anti-Semitism that we are most readily inclined to discuss is an artifact of the last century and the century before that. It is the anti-Semitism of fools, who are still chasing chimeras. [In the late 19th century, the German Social Democrat August Bebel famously described anti-Semitism as the "socialism of fools." -- Translator's Note] The common anti-Semite has no real idea about the object of his obsessions, but only a diffuse feeling. He lets off steam by painting swastikas on aluminum siding and scribbling "Juda verrecke" ["Jews go croak!"] on gravestones. He is a case for the police and the local courts, but nothing more than that. Nobody is going to feel sympathy for thugs who raise their arms to give the Hitler salute and shout "Juden raus!" ["Jews out!"]. This sort of anti-Semitism is ugly, but politically irrelevant: it is its own death notice.

The modern anti-Semite looks entirely different. He does not have a shaved head. He has good manners and often an academic title as well. He mourns for the Jews who died in the Holocaust. But at the same time he wonders why the survivors and their descendants have learned nothing from history and today treat another people as badly as they were once treated themselves. The modern anti-Semite does not believe in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. But instead he fantasizes about an "Israel lobby" that is supposed to control American foreign policy like a tail that wags the dog. For the modern anti-Semite, it goes without saying that every year on January 27 he will commemorate the liberation of Auschwitz. But at the same time he militates for the right of Iran to have atomic weapons. For "how can one deny Iran what one has permitted Israel or Pakistan?" as Norman Paech [the foreign policy spokesperson of the German Left Party] has put it. Or he inverts the causal relationship and claims that it is Israel that is threatening Iran and not vice-versa -- as [German Middle East scholar] Dr. Udo Steinbach did in a recent radio interview. The modern anti-Semite finds ordinary anti-Semitism disgraceful. He has no problem, however, embracing anti-Zionism and is grateful for the opportunity to express his resentment in a politically correct form. For anti-Zionism is a sort of resentment just like classical anti-Semitism was. The anti-Zionist has the same attitude toward Israel as the anti-Semite has to Jews. He is not bothered by what Israel does or does not do, but rather by the fact that Israel exists. That is why he participates so passionately in debates about the solution to the Palestinian question -- which could well mean a final solution for Israel. On the other hand, he is left indifferent by conditions in Darfur or Zimbabwe or Congo or Cambodia, because there are no Jews involved in those places. Ask the foreign policy spokesperson of the Left Party, for instance, how many statements he has issued about "Palestine" and how many about Tibet.

Earlier -- let's say at the time of classical anti-Semites like Wilhelm Marr, Karl Lueger, and Adolf Stoecker -- everything was plain and simple. There were Jews, there were anti-Semites, and there was anti-Semitism. After 1945, for the well-known reasons, we then had in Germany an anti-Semitism without Jews. And now today we are again confronted by a new phenomenon: an anti-Semitism without anti-Semites. Another new phenomenon is the professional profile of what might be called the "leisure time anti-Semite" who does his regular job during the day, perhaps even in a federal government office, and then in his spare time writes "critical" texts on Israel that appear on obscure anti-Zionist websites. [The reference is to Ludwig Watzal, an official of Germany's Federal Office for Civic Education (BpB), many of whose articles have been reprinted on the site antimperialista.org. See here on Watzal. The BpB has resisted calls for Watzal's dismissal, arguing that the writings in question are not connected to his professional activity. -- Translator's Note] Nobody wants to be an anti-Semite, but the "anti-Zionist" hall of shame is getting increasingly crowded.

Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are two sides of the same coin. If the anti-Semite was convinced that it is not him, the anti-Semite, who is to blame for anti-Semitism, but rather the Jew himself who is to blame, so too is the anti-Zionist convinced that Israel is responsible not only for the suffering of the Palestinians, but also for the hardship it suffers itself. The older persons among you will perhaps remember what a Green Party politician, who is still a member of the Bundestag, said about the Iraqi rockets that were fired at Israel at the time of the first Gulf War in 1991: "The Iraqi rocket attacks are the logical, nearly unavoidable consequence of Israeli policy." [The author of the quote is Green Party Member of Parliament Hans-Christian Ströbele. -- Translator's Note] At the time, the same Green Party politician also opposed the delivery of defensive weapons like Patriot rockets to Israel, because this would, he claimed, lead to an escalation in the hostilities.

Today, some 17 years later, we hear similar remarks about rocket attacks on Israel from southern Lebanon or the Gaza Strip: namely, that they are the logical, nearly unavoidable result of Israeli occupation and that Israel would do well not to react in order to avoid escalating hostilities. The modern anti-Semite pays tribute to Jews who have been dead for 60 years, but he resents it when living Jews take measures to defend themselves. He screams "Beware of the Beginnings!" when a handful of weekend Nazis hold a demonstration in Cottbus, but he justifies the policies of the current Iranian president and defends the continuation of German business with Iran.

Ladies and gentleman, we will not solve the problem of anti-Semitism: not at this hearing nor at the next. But the mere fact that you are discussing the issue -- when there are also other and more pressing problems that need attention -- is a good sign. If I may in all modesty make a suggestion: leave the good old anti-Semitism to the archaeologists and antiquarians and historians. Devote your attention to the modern anti-Semitism that wears the disguise of anti-Zionism and to its representatives. You will find some of the latter among your own ranks.

I thank you for listening.

English Translation by John Rosenthal