“[M]odern Zionism might not have arisen as an active national movement in the 19th century without contemporary antisemitism considered in a continuum of centuries of persecution.” (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Until the mid-18th century most Jews and Christians were “serfs,” legally property of the landed aristocracy. With the emergence of the nation-state most serfs were freed as nationals of those states. The Jews were not so welcomed. Jewish “emancipation” spread over a century and was met with anti-Jewish reaction at every turn. Ideologically committed with revolutionary zeal Napoleon imposed emancipation on every country conquered. But emancipation was as quickly reversed in wake of his retreat following Waterloo. The year 1819 saw a massive three-month-long pogrom spread across Europe reaching as far north as Poland and Denmark. And this was followed by the emergence of political parties with an antisemitic program which extended as far as the United States. It was against this backdrop that the Zionist movement emerged.
Not even the most historically-aware prophet of the Jewish national movement could have imagined how dangerous the threat to the Diaspora was: that within a few decades a democratically elected government would pass laws legalizing a state program of extermination. Secularism set in motion a radical solution to the West’s millennial Jewish Problem.
Christianity’s Jewish Problem
Christianity’s problem with Jews and Judaism emerged in the earliest days of that religion’s emergence. Jewish survival in the Christian era raised questions regarding Christianity having replaced the older religion. Historians over the years have sought to explain the “Jewish Problem,” the two most popular being that it is a survival of early competition for converts; the second suggesting that Christianity “replaced” Judaism which made it the New Israel. Although both explanations are credible and not exclusive, I suggest a more existential threat to Christian claims involving the absence of historical evidence to support the new religion’s claims. (A more thorough discussion of “Christian Insecurity” may be found in my book, The Jewish Problem and its Final Solution: Modernity and Destiny)
Christian Insecurity was first suggested in The Kingdom of God by the fourth century theologian St. Augustine. In it he writes that the Jews, “by their own scriptures, [are] testimony that we have not forged the prophesies about Christ…” In fact “the prophesies” were based not on the “original” Hebrew or Aramaic texts, but on the Greek translation of Jewish scripture, the Septuagint. The Greek translation of Isaiah 7:14 is “parthenos” which does mean “virgin.” But in the original Hebrew Isaiah 7:14 reads, “almah,” an “unmarried maiden.” If such fundamental differences exist from Hebrew to Greek, clearly Augustine’s concern is well-founded; even if he was unaware of such areas as translation for error.
But Augustine’s response to the three-centuries concern haunting the new religion for three centuries and its adaptation as “Witness Doctrine” by the Vatican at the end of the fourth century provided a “justification” for Jewish survival, if highly marginalized, alongside Christianity. Jews and their “replaced” religion according to the Doctrine would preserve the “original” (Hebrew) scripture as “evidence” that the prophesies regarding the coming of Jesus were not “forged.” And, it was expected, “the Jews” would, en masse, eventually realize their “blindness” regarding their messiah and convert. That would be the final evidence of Christian Truth.
But over the centuries they “stubbornly” refused to convert. And it is impatience at “the Jews” failure to convert that describes the millennial Jewish Problem.
From Jewish Problem to Jewish Question
If the Jewish Problem is an expression of religious insecurity and intolerance, how did it happen that the Holocaust was perpetrated and led by a post-theocratic secular nation-state? Even the term adopted to describe Germany’s program of extermination, “The Final Solution to the Jewish Question,” targets not the millennial problem for religion, but a modern response to a pseudo-scientific “question.”
Persecution of “the Jews” in the West dates back to roughly the fourth century. Throughout that period the existence of Jews represented the existential threat feeding the Problem. With the gradual replacement of theocracy by secularism anti-Judaism there was a long-established history and culture, including stereotypic caricatures of Jews still surviving today. Creatures of curiosity, primitive science sought answers to their continuing presence in the West. Since Jews were historically traceable back to the Middle East they were classified as “Semites” providing their detractors “anti-Semites.” Among their detractors were some of the most famous figures of the Enlightenment, Voltaire and Diderot.
A century before the birth of Adolph Hitler, Voltaire chillingly described Jews as unalterably “born with raging fanaticism in their hearts, just as the Bretons and the Germans are born with blond hair. I would not be in the least bit surprised” (he wrote), “if these people would not some day become deadly to the human race…” Even Napoleon, rightly recognized as extending the French “revolutionary” ideal of liberté, égalité, fraternité to the Jewish community said he did “not intend to rescue that race…from the curse with which it is smitten, but I would like to put it in a position where it is unable to propagate the evil.”
So, how explain that anti-Judaism of religion was adopted by secular society as antisemitism? As I explain in my The Jewish Problem and its Final Solution, “The evolution of human society is based on, but not determined by, its history. It is the interaction between the potential of History confronting the challenges of Environment that describe the range of possible futures. Antisemitism (anti-Jewish persecution) exists just below the West’s, (Christendom’s) consciousness. It is always, even in the physical absence of Jews, available to burst open when conditions, such as economic hardship such as those preceding the recent Holocaust, achieve critical mass. And even as we today are reminded by recent history just how close to the surface are those antisemitic stereotypes, the point between violence potential and actualization are not measurable by mathematics but by socio-pathology.