The Sixth Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism has convened in Jerusalem during blistering, baffling times. The crazy partisanship buffeting the West generates atmospheric conditions conducive to Jew-hatred. Antisemites rise when faith in society falls. Antisemites flourish when the pathological in politics starts looking normal. And antisemites rejoice when Jew-hatred goes mainstream, when what should be a clear moral question that unites us – is someone demonizing Jews or not – degenerates into yet another partisan wedge issue dividing us.
While the range of delegates Left to Right, Jewish and non-Jewish, represents the many good people fighting Jew-hatred, too many other good people view antisemitism through the same partisan prism they use for everything else. The resulting myopia has too many liberals denouncing Trumpian antisemites, alt-Right bullies and the resurrected Euro-fascists, while ignoring left-wing antisemitism, especially on campuses. Meanwhile, too many conservatives condemn Progressive delegitimizers, antisemitic anti-Zionist BDSers and totalitarian Israel bashers, while ignoring right-wing antisemitism, especially among conservatives in power.
Fighting antisemitism with partisanship is like fighting fires with lighter fluid. Liberals must confront left-wing antisemitism – even when it masquerades as “just” anti-Zionism, perfumed with human rights talk.
And conservatives must confront right-wing antisemitism – even when it’s masked by pro-Israelism. Meanwhile, the mystery remains: how come the far Left and Right cannot agree on anything but their shared loathing for Jews – just as they did in the 1930s? Some scholars explain that animals and the elements threatened humans for so long, we remain addicted to anxieties and aversions, even in today’s safe, surprisingly functional Western societies. In 2017, Prof. Ronald Hutton argued that, seeking to justify this irrational discomfort, some decide “certain humans have the power to blight” and represent “a direct.... internal threat to the community.”
These people “cause harm by uncanny,” even “magical,” means – illustrated by their strange “traditions.” They represent “evil across the world.”
These intimate outsiders, who blend in so well, often trigger “spontaneous anger and horror” because they are so well-positioned and so threatening.
“What an extraordinary power they possess,” Hutton exclaims, “and what a remarkable range of meaning and emotion they encompass.”
Today’s maniacal Right casts Jews as this nearly supernatural threat – globalized, ubiquitous, threatening, evil. That’s why those haters proclaim: “You will not replace us” – (with “your globalism)” and “Blood and Soil” – meaning “Jew get out, you don’t belong.” Today’s fanatic Left casts Israelis as the modern boogeyman – calling them Nazis, racists, imperialists, colonialists, threatening world peace, slaughtering Palestinian innocents.
Hutton wasn’t writing about antisemitism. Nevertheless, his analysis from The Witch: A History of Fear, from Ancient Times to the Present applies – rather eerily. Three centuries into our “emancipation” from Europe’s ghettos, Jews remain the most foreign yet familiar people to white Westerners.
Jews, like witches, fit in, “pass.”
And Jews, like witches, have these bizarre ancient traditions and beliefs that make them different, threatening.
That “they” look like “us” makes “them” particularly vile – “they” should know better and be like “us” too.
While not every critic is a bigot, fears of the menacing monsters next door plunges politics from its usual idiocy into insanity. Modern Jews are too post-modern for the radical Right and too pre-modern for the loony Left. The alt-Right disagrees rationally, reasonably, with the many Jewish liberals and postmodernists.
The dispute escalates by imputing to the Jews some mystical uniformity, power, reach. Similarly, the thought control-Left disagrees rationally, reasonably, with Israelis and Zionists on various issues from the validity of nationalism and religion to the morality of Israeli policy toward Palestinians.
That dispute turns irrational by exaggerating Israel’s evil and impact.
Dupes of today’s demagogues – be they fancy-pants professors or Israeli officials – please note: you can’t love Jews and hate Israel, the Jewish state, where almost half the world’s Jews live, just like it’s hard to love Italians while hating Italy. Similarly, you can’t purport to love Israel, the Jewish state, and hate Jews: it’s like loving America yet loathing English-speakers: although not the same, the overlap’s too intense.
Fortunately, this isn’t the 1930s. Israel exists. Many Western powers won’t tolerate the intolerance toward Jews previous generations tolerated.
And the Jews are the Wicked Witches of the West only to a small, pathological minority.
Finally, an essential idea from The Zionist Ideas: Zionism is much more than anti-antisemitism; master the Zionist Jew-jitsu, turn the negative into a positive.
Most Zionists, including Theodor Herzl, refused to treat the Jewish state simply as a refuge. In his 1896 Zionist manifesto, Der Judenstat, Herzl said: “whatever we attempt there to accomplish for our own welfare, will react powerfully and beneficially for the good of humanity.”
“Antisemitism has also taught many educated Jews the way back to their people,” Herzl’s friend Max Nordau explained, endorsing the broader quest to stop ignoring your community and not just defend it, but embrace it: “The principle of nationality has awakened a sense of their own identity in all the peoples; it has taught them to regard their unique qualities as values and has given them a passionate desire for independence.”
Here, then, could be the anti-antisemites’ prayer: O God – or o political gods (whichever you prefer): Grant us the integrity to blast our own political allies when necessary.
Grant us the judgment to distinguish fair critics from unfair fanatics. Make us smart enough to build a grand alliance against all hatred. And make us wise enough to realize that spending too much time hating haters imperils the soul.The writer is the author of The Zionist Ideas, which updates Arthur Hertzberg’s classic work and was just published by The Jewish Publication Society. He is a Distinguished Scholar of North American History at McGill University. Follow on Twitter @GilTroy. www.giltroy.com.