The acclaimed British novelist Howard Jacobson opened his speech at the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem last October with piercing sarcasm: “The question is rhetorical. When will Jews be forgiven the Holocaust? Never.”
However, there has been a shift in the underpinnings of anti-Semitism. Israel has become the collective Jew among the nations, as the late French historian Léon Poliakov said about the new metamorphosis of Jew-hatred.
Jacobson was piggy-backing on the eye-popping insight of the Israel psychoanalyst Zvi Rex, who reportedly said: “The Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz.”
The anti-Semitic logic at work here is Europe’s pathologically guilt-filled response to the Holocaust, which, in short, is to shift the onus of blame to the Jews to cleanse one’s conscience. Two German-Jewish Marxist philosophers – Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno – coined an esoteric sociological term for what unfolded in post-Shoah Germany: Guilt-defensiveness anti-Semitism.
On the one hand, Adorno and Horkheimer may come across as kitchen-sink psychology. On the other hand, the explanatory power behind anti-Semitic guilt animating hatred of Jews and Israel can provide a window into Europe’s peculiar obsession with the Jewish state.
Europe is largely consumed with imposing discipline and punishment on Israel. How else to explain the efforts by the German government and fellow EU member states to label products from the disputed territories? The EU refuses to apply the same label system to the scores of other territorial conflicts ranging from China/Tibet to Turkey/Cyprus to Morocco/ Western Sahara.
The origins of Europe’s disturbing preoccupation with Israel can be traced to the late 1960s. The Austrian Jewish writer and Auschwitz survivor Jean Amery recognized that “anti-Zionism contains anti-Semitism like a cloud contains a storm.”
The German-Jewish author Henryk M. Broder perhaps best captured the toxic mix of pathological Holocaust guilt with the desire to dismantle Israel. In an article he wrote in the early 1980s he told his contemporary Germans: “You’re still your parents’ children. Your Jew today is the State of Israel.”
Sacha Stawski, an expert on anti-Semitism in the German media, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that “Israel-related anti-Semitism is probably the most common and most persistent form of anti-Semitism in all levels of society today.”
Stawski, who is a German Jew and editor-in-chief of the media watchdog website Honestly Concerned, added: “Today it is no longer fashionable to hate Jews outright, but it is perfectly acceptable to debate about and to demonstrate against the very core of the Jewish state’s existence – in a way and with emotions unlike that about any other country.”
The social-psychological theory articulated by Adorno and Horkheimer might, just might, provide a macro-level grasp of a pan-European epidemic that is fixated on turning Israel into a human punching bag.
Benjamin Weinthal reports on European affairs for The Jerusalem Post and is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.