PJ Media

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.

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