Darkness of Anti-Semitism Descends on the West

Hatred of the Jew, wrote Max Nordeau in The Conventional Lies of Our Civilization (1884), is a symptom of the degeneration of the national spirit and character, and this is as true now as it was when Nordeau penned these words. Anti-Semitism is the public expression of the underlying irrationality that brings the great civilizing project of the West into serious question, from the time of the Greeks and the Romans through the advent and diffusion of Christianity to the present importation of Islamic Jew-hatred into the Western cultural matrix.

It is the way in which we turn against ourselves, the pagan residue of acrimony against what Jewish-Canadian poet A.M. Klein called the annunciation of "the world's first fidelity," by which he meant a God who is one, the strenuous gift of the Ten Commandments, and the primacy of individual judgment in the drama of salvation. This is Judaism's bequest to mankind, sustained by the love of the irreplaceable earth over which we have been given stewardship -- there are only, by my count, six mentions of an afterlife in the entire Hebrew Scripture.

I would not hesitate to say that anti-Semitism is the social and intellectual tumor of Western civilization caused in large part (though not only) by the doctrinal and ideological diet prescribed by the Christian church. For with the "conversion" of Constantine, the church merely carried on where the pagan Greeks and Romans left off. Even today, the Orthodox churches refer in their Easter liturgy to Jews as "God-killers" and supplicate, "Repay them, Oh Lord." And the Vatican authorized the revival of the Tridentine Mass, which originally referred to Jews as "perfidious" and portrayed them as living in "darkness." (Despite a papal modification, the mass still retains a prayer for their conversion.) The latter is by no means as destructive as the former but its revival in the midst of a worldwide anti-Semitic movement is surely perplexing.

Hatred of the Jew is the perpetual vestige of Western resentment and vexation against its own civilizing imperative, the rankle at the center of the Western psyche and the last hurdle to maturity. This too was Winston Churchill's understanding of Jew-hatred, which he described as Western civilization's revolt against its own central values as manifested in art, science, and political and religious institutions. It is no exaggeration to say that the Jew is the test case of a civilization -- a test we appear to have failed.

The evidence for this thesis, especially in the contemporary historical moment, comes from many different directions: the reluctance to deal adequately with terrorism, the political contriving against our own best interests, the serpentine efforts to exculpate the enemy, the relativizing of moral principle, the Left's betrayal of its own liberal culture, and the renewed "treason of the intellectuals.'" But there can be no doubt that the mounting acerbity toward Jews in the court of public opinion and the isolation of Israel as a pariah state is merely the reflection, the mise-en-abîme, of this long offensive against our very survival.

We should not be overly surprised at the apparent paradox. If Freud was right in claiming that the individual seeks his or her own path to the grave, so we might say that each civilization arranges its own death. Anti-Semitism might then be read as the sign of our antinomian destiny as we contend against the terms and demands of our cultural patrimony and continue to anathematize our unacknowledged effigy, passing over our true antagonist today, militant Islam. One obvious reason that the Islamic threat is not taken as seriously as it should is that it chimes so harmoniously with the growing strain of anti-Semitism in the West: the jihadists, the leftward intelligentsia, and a considerable stratum of public opinion have made common cause with one another.

Indeed, there is a feeling among more people than we might suspect that, with regard to those we call Islamists, we are really on the same side. This is certainly true of Western Europe where, as Bruce Bawer writes in While Europe Slept, "the multicultural elite [is], almost without exception, allied with the Islamic right." Pascal Bruckner, in his recently published La Tyrannie de la Pénitence, has added a psychological twist to Europe's hostility toward Israel and Jews, viewing it as an attempt to excuse its complicity with or passivity before Hitler's Final Solution: if the Jewish state can be "proven" to be no different from or even worse than the Third Reich, then Europe is off the moral hook.