How Anti-Semitism Became Respectable Again

The world was anti-Semitic in 1944, when Ben Hecht wrote A Guide for the BedevilledThe majority of educated, civilized, and rational people believed that the Jews in some fashion had brought their own problems upon themselves. Hecht began fighting anti-Semitism after an unsettling exchange with a New York hostess, who explained to him that Jews had to acknowledge their own responsibility in the matter of their persecution. This polite Gentile lady explained:

The Jews complain. They suffer dreadfully, and they accuse. But they never stop to explain or to reason or to figure the thing out and tell the world what they, and only they, know...They are--how shall I put it--collaborative victims, a thing they refuse to see...The Germans are not a race of killers, fiends, of a special and different sort of sub-humans.

Not that she approved of Nazi genocide, to be sure; she may not have known the extent of the butchery, but she  knew that dreadful things were happening to Europe's Jews. But she thought that the Germans must have had some kind of provocation to hate the Jews so deeply. Why else would the Germans hate Jews so much?

When did the old anti-Semitism return? For half a century the horror of a million Jewish children murdered by the Nazis stopped the mouths of the anti-Semites, but that memory has worn off. What Hecht's interlocutor believed in 1944, most liberals believe today, not to mention the vast majority of Europeans. Yes, the Arabs hate Jews, and express this hatred in a barbaric way, they will allow, but that is because Israel has provoked the hatred.

Tripwires that once seemed taboo are being crossed every day. One was triggered in the new action film "Triple 9," which portrays a gang of ruthless Russian mafia killers operating under the cover of a kosher meat business. There are some violent Jewish criminals, but I have not been able to find a single example of an observant Jew among them. The filmmakers have invented a stereotype that has no instantiation in the real world.


Anti-Semitic caricatures used to be off limits. When Dickens created the far less offensive character of Fagin in Oliver Twist, he atoned by inventing the saintly Jewish figure of Rina in Our Mutual Friend. One finds unflattering portrayal of Jews here and there in English fiction (including some despicable poems by T.S. Eliot) but nothing like this filth. It's become acceptable to hate Jews.