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.
Certainly, the evidence of mounting anti-Jewish sentiment not only among the European intellectual classes but among the European laity as well cannot be doubted. Recent polls and studies reveal a sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents in Western Europe, with Holland taking the lead, followed by France, Britain, and Belgium. Other surveys have pointed to Spain, Norway, and Sweden as aspirants to the tainted crown.
That Israeli officials are subject to impeachment if they set foot on British soil, or that a Spanish court is presently considering, under the principle of “universal jurisdiction,” prosecuting Israeli leaders for “war crimes,” is only par for the course. Yet, with the sole exception of Sudanese strongman Omar Hassan al-Bashir, whose crimes became too massively conspicuous for the world to continue to ignore, not a single major Islamic political figure, responsible for promoting jihad or for committing terrorist provocations, is under pending legal threat in Spain, the UK, or any other European country. Terror-sponsoring and genocidal advocate Ahmadinejad, for example, travels freely.
But the form in which anti-Semitism reveals itself most conspicuously in the current historical moment is the political and media quarantining of the state of Israel, chiefly under the septic influence of the ubiquitous Left. Jew-hatred has been lateralized, so to speak, as ostracism of the Jewish state. The notorious Mohammed al-Dura affair is a prime example of the media and official complot against Israel. The Palestinian 12-year-old, ostensibly shot by the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) at the Netzarim Junction in Gaza on September 30, 2000 — an “event” circulated by the government-controlled-and-financed France 2 TV and picked up by every major news outlet in the world — was almost certainly staged by pro-Palestinian interests.
That eight years after the original episode the French Court of Appeals overturned a lower court decision against Philippe Karsenty, head of the Media Ratings website, who had been sued for defamation after he challenged the veracity of the France 2 scoop, has not had much effect on demythologizing the scandal. The mainstream media have been eerily quiet about the second trial and its verdict in Karsenty’s favor, giving the news not even a fraction of the coverage it lavished on the original event, which it accepted at face value. Burying the calumny plainly has face-saving value, but it also allows the media to shelter its overt anti-Israeli docket from public scrutiny.
Significantly, the media have refused to recognize that the true story, with all its emblematic implications, is not al-Dura, who was either shot by his own people as a “martyr” for the cause or not shot at all but spirited away after the event. The true story is the case of the Egyptian child suffering from cystic fibrosis who could be cured only by a medicine produced in Israel, called Creon 1000, which the Egyptian Ministry of Health has refused to import or accept. The fact that a child who might be saved by an Israeli product is left to malinger and possibly die is the true story of the Muslim Middle East.
This is in the nature of things. Whether it is Mohammed al-Dura, or the clueless Rachel Corrie who was accidentally killed when she placed herself before an Israeli bulldozer blocking an arms-smuggling tunnel and was immediately beatified as a victim of Israeli “brutality,” or any of the innumerable fabricated episodes during the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead in Gaza intended to demonize Israel, all exposed by accurate scrutiny as complete frauds, the topers in the meadhall of the Israel-bashing consensus will not be easily persuaded to end the party. They are having far too good a time of it. For the Jew has once again been gibbeted, in the shape of an Israeli, a Zionist, or a member of some immoral “lobby” subtly dominating the public arena — today’s detergent version of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
We can detect the influence of this attitude throughout the American press corps as well. While providing hourly updates on the terrorist rampage in Mumbai in November 2008, it took them two days to report that the Lubavitcher Chabad House had been struck and its occupants butchered. For the New York Times, the scene of the attack was an anonymous “office building.”
Even on a more benign level, the anti-Jewish bias is evident. Many of our media conglomerates refuse to sell Internet promotional space to the Jewish Agency on the grounds that its message is “political.” They have doubtlessly forgotten that the message inscribed on the Liberty Bell, from Leviticus 25:10, is also political: “Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” I suppose we should be grateful, too, that they have not agitated to remove another political message, that of the Jewish poet Emma Lazarus’ sonnet, “The New Colossus,” which graces the Statue of Liberty. But they have not lifted their lamp beside the golden door.
The lies and slanders continue to proliferate. In the miasma of popular sentiment, fiction and truth can scarcely be distinguished. From the standpoint of anti-Jewish sentiment in particular, fiction and truth are epistemological isomorphs and cannot be separated from one another. Which is to say, fiction becomes truth and truth, fiction. Unfortunately, the malediction of Isaiah has been forgotten or dismissed: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness.”
This inversion has now become standard procedure. And Israel and its people, whom Isaiah called “a light unto the nations,” are now threatened by an encroaching darkness. But so, as it turns out, are we all.