This is a recurring theme in anti-Israel sentiment today: the idea that a powerful, sinister lobby of Israel lovers has warped our otherwise respectable leaders here in the West, basically winning control of Western foreign policy. You see it in cartoons depicting Israeli leaders as the puppet masters of politicians like William Hague and Tony Blair. You can hear it in Alexi Sayle’s much-tweeted claim that the “Western powers” kowtow to Israel because they are “frightened of it… frightened of the power that it wields”. You can see it in the arguments of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt in their popular book The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, which holds an apparently super-powerful pro-Israel lobby in the heart of Washington responsible for the Iraq War and all other kinds of disasters. The claim is often made that Israel has corrupted Western officials, commanding them to carry out its dirty work.
Sound familiar? Yes, this has terrible echoes of the old racist idea that Jewish groups controlled Western politics and frequently propelled the world into chaos – an idea that was especially popular in the early to mid-20th-century Europe. Very often, anti-Israel protesters treat Israel not just as a nation at war – like Britain, America or France, which also frequently launch wars that kill huge numbers of civilians – but also as the warper of policy and morality in the West, as a source of poison in global affairs, as the architect of instability across the globe. Indeed, a few years ago a poll of Europeans found that a majority of them view Israel as “the biggest threat to world peace”. So Israel is undoubtedly singled out by Leftists and others, and even more significantly it is singled out in a way that the Jews used to be singled out – that is, as a sinister, self-serving corrupter of nations and causer of chaos.
Much of today’s anti-Israel protesting has a conspiracy-theory feel to it, with its talk about powerful lobby groups designing wars behind closed doors in order to isolate Israel’s enemies and boost Israel’s fortunes. And this is in keeping with Left-wing politics generally, today. The Left has increasingly embraced a conspiracy-theory view of the world. It is now very common to hear Leftists talk about the “cabals of neocons” who control world affairs, or the “cult of bankers” who wreak havoc on our economies, or the Murdoch Empire that “orchestrates public life from the shadows” (to quote Labour MP Tom Watson). All seriously analytical and nuanced readings of international trends and political dynamics have been elbowed aside by contemporary Leftists, who prefer instead to argue that dark, hidden, mysterious forces are ruining politics, plotting wars, and enriching themselves at the expense of the poor. And, as history shows us, there is a thin line between railing against wicked cabals and cults and wondering out loud whether the Jews are secretly running world affairs, or at least wielding a disproportionate influence.
Meet the new left, just as same as the old left. Or as Jonah Goldberg wrote in his 2006 review of historian Jeffrey Herf’s then-new book, The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda During World War II and the Holocaust:
According to the standard Holocaust narrative, the “Final Solution” was the product of hate or racism or, often, both. Anti-Semitism became popular in the 19th century; the Nazis expanded on it, constructing a pseudo-scientific biological racism that saw the Jews as a cancer on the body politic and the Holocaust as an attempt to excise the tumor. Herf does not so much debunk this version of history as cut through it.
In “The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda During World War II and the Holocaust,” he concedes that hatred and racism were important, but he argues that they don’t explain Germany’s unique efforts to destroy the Jews. It’s not as if no one hated the Jews until the 1930s.
The real answer isn’t hate, but fear. Poring through miles of speeches, private comments, journal entries, party memoranda and all 24,000 pages of Goebbels’ diaries, Herf concludes that the Nazis really believed that the Jews ran the world and wanted to destroy Germany. They believed that Jews controlled not only the Bolsheviks to the east but the capitalists to the west. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was a mere pawn of his Jewish friends and advisers. The British Parliament, Goebbels wrote in one diary entry, was in reality a kind of Jewish stock exchange. The Jewish-plutocratic enemy was everywhere, benefiting from, and responsible for, every piece of bad news for Germany. In fact, the Nazis were sure that the Jews had declared war on Germany first, giving them no choice but to respond to the Jewish campaign to exterminate the Germans. This paranoia led the Nazis to believe that rounding up millions of Jews and gassing them was an act of self-defense.
What is so frightening is how similar this is to the sounds from the Middle East today. Ahmadinejad — dismissed by sophisticated academics as a blowhard — calls the Holocaust a myth. Indeed, there is no Jewish conspiracy theory too outlandish in the Muslim world. Huge numbers of Muslims — even 45 percent of British Muslims — believe that the Jews were behind 9/11. Theories that the Mossad is behind every bad headline, from the Indonesian tsunami to bad soccer performances, are common on the Arab street. According to Herf, this is only the second time the world has seen this sort of radical anti-Semitic paranoia. And, again, too many in the unspotless West are saying, they can’t be serious.
As Glenn Reynolds noted yesterday at Instapundit, when it comes to Europe’s latest efforts at partying like it’s 1939, “There are a few things going on here. First, there’s guilt-displacement: If Israel is bad, then the Holocaust seems a bit less so. Second, opposing Israel and Jews gives Europe diplomatic leverage in the Middle East, to the point that one European Parliament member has called it a ‘proxy war’ on America.”
That’s from Glenn’s link to Jeffrey Gedmin’s recent Weekly Standard article on “Europe’s Amazing Anti-Israel Ways,” which is also well worth your time, provided you’ve taken the proper high blood pressure medication before reading.
Update: And speaking of partying like it’s 1939, “And Now… Europe’s Kristallnacht.”