Reflections on the New Anti-Semitism
An investigation is now proceeding under the auspices of the United Nations Human Rights Council into Israel’s conduct during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. There is not so much as a mention in its mandate of Hamas’ seven-year rocket barrage against civilian communities in southern Israel which provoked the long-deferred Israeli response. Note well. It is not Hamas -- a terrorist organization whose charter promises the annihilation of the Jewish state, which has deliberately violated international law by using its own civilians as human shields, firing missiles from its own population centers, storing ammunition in hospitals and mosques, and commandeering ambulances as troop carriers, and that continues to hold a kidnapped Israeli soldier in illegal detention -- which is being investigated. It is Israel that is being singled out for condemnation, the country of which British military expert Richard Kemp, in a BBC interview in January 2009, said: “I don’t think there has ever been a time in the history of warfare when any army has made more efforts to reduce casualties and deaths of innocent people than the IDF is doing today in Gaza.”
The world is once again thirsting for Jewish blood, an ironic reversal of the old blood libel canard. We see this vampiric appetite expressed in a multitude of different ways: in the international media, as we have observed; in the theater (My Name Is Rachel Corrie, Seven Jewish Children); in film (Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ); in opera (the antiphrastic staging of Camille Saint-Saen’s Samson et Dalila in Antwerp in May 2008, with the Philistines cast in the role of the Israelites and the Israelites as the oppressors of the Philistines); in the tarnished and largely one-sided reports of NGOs like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (the latter soliciting funds from Saudi Arabia); in international conferences on racism (Durban I and II, which turn into flagrant anti-Israel and anti-Jewish hatefests); in the General Assembly of the United Nations (whose current president, Miguel d’Escoto Brockman, is an outspoken opponent of the Jewish state); on university campuses where Israel Apartheid Week is one of the hottest shows around; in Barack Obama’s defaulting on the commitment of the previous American administration regarding the natural growth of Israeli settlements and construction in East Jerusalem; and so on, ad vomitatum.
And there seems no way at present of evading the growing pandemic of anti-Jewish feeling and anti-Israeli denunciation that is infecting the contemporary world. “What is new about the new anti-Semitism,” writes Phyllis Chesler in The New Anti-Semitism, is “that it is worldwide. … Jews are being verbally and visually attacked everywhere.” The Jew is someone for whom there is no elsewhere. This is my definition, but there have, of course, been many definitions of the Jew over the millennia, most of them pejorative. I need not rehearse them once again, for the Dictionary of Received Opinion is open to all and readily available. It is, in effect, the one dictionary that need not be purchased, lodged in the inner life of the West like a demonic version of the Gideon Bible in hotel room drawers.
There is no disputing this. What the great English Renaissance author Sir Thomas Browne called the Pseudodoxia Epidemica (or Dictionary of Received Opinion) is especially rich and hospitable when it comes to the vilification of the Jew. In his master work of that title, Browne set out to dispel common prejudices of every kind, a Herculean effort which, fraught with “discouragment of contradiction, unbelief, and difficulty,” he described as the “disswasion from radicated beliefs.” Concerning the Jews, he is in no doubt about the ubiquitous and diabolical error of such “radicated beliefs.” “In the conceit of the evil order of the Jews,” he writes, “Christians without a farther research into the verity of the thing, or enquiry into the cause, draw up a judgment upon them.” It is only the “more ocular discerners” who know otherwise.
Today, it is not only Christians (or Muslims) who “draw up a judgment upon them” but, as Chesler indicates, a vast, secular, politically correct, mainly liberal-left constituency busily adding a sheaf of extra pages to the common Pseudodoxia, comprising a thick appendix of stigmatic designations. Obviously, this has mainly to do with Israel, conceived as the new Jew on the block and the national incarnation of the “longest hatred” as it manifests among us. Anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli sentiment has become so pervasive that it reminds me of the philosopher Nicholas of Cusa’s definition of God as a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. But in our demented age the definition applies not to love but to hatred, not to the worship of the Lord but to the derogation of the “satanic” Jew.
The fact must be faced. Although there are writers of integrity, talent, and impressive scholarship, truly “ocular discerners,” who have taken up the defense of Jews and of Israel, it seems increasingly like a fruitless struggle. The words of Israel’s defenders in the infosphere are simply unable to fill the ever-expanding circle of hostility, deprecation, and vengefulness in which Jews and the Jewish state now find themselves. It is, rather, the words of their adversaries that proliferate and block out the horizon of discourse -- the invidious message of those who should never be taken at their word.
Thankfully, there is a countervailing fact as well, which has to do with the long history of courage against all the odds and the unprecedented resilience of the Jewish people -- and, of course, with those honorable and gracious advocates for truth and decency who come to the defense of Israel. As hapless as the battle may seem at times, there can be no reneging. “Nor have we let fall our penne,” wrote Browne, even though we “are oft-times fain to wander in the America and untravelled parts of truth.” Browne was a devout man who would have based his practice on a passage like that of verse 130 of the above-quoted psalm: “The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding to the simple.” I would add only the hopeful rider: and to the sophisticates as well.
But for those of us who are not religiously observant, the imperative to speak, write, and act remains in force. In the interests of the survival of Israel and the integrity of the West, and despite all the impediments raised against the simple truth, we need to get the word out.