Anti-Semitism’s many expressions

In 'Anti-Semite and Jew,' Jean Paul Sartre argued that anti-Semitism is best understood as “criminal passion” as opposed to an idea.

By
March 3, 2011 23:12
4 minute read.
Fashion designer John Galliano.

John Galliano 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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In Anti-Semite and Jew, Jean Paul Sartre famously argued that anti-Semitism is best understood as a “criminal passion” as opposed to an idea. “It is not a point of view based rationally upon empirical information calmly collected and calibrated in as objective a manner as is possible.”

Rather, wrote Sartre – in 1946, in the shadow of the Holocaust – anti-Semitism is “an involvement of the mind, but one so deep-seated and complex that it extends to the physiological realm, as happens in cases of hysteria.”

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Judging from a recent spate of high-profile anti-Semitic verbal attacks, all sharing the common theme of emotional outbursts, Sartre seems to have it at least partially right.

TV and movie star Charlie Sheen, currently in a fit of personal turmoil, lashed out in a radio interview at Chuck Lorre, the Jewish creator of the TV show Two and a Half Men. Sheen derisively noted during his hate-filled, nonsensical rant last week that Lorre’s Hebrew name was Chaim Levine, as though this somehow explained his aversion to the man.

Then there was John Galliano, chief designer for Christian Dior, whose behavior, according to sources quoted by The New York Times, “had become erratic” and who had of late “been drinking heavily,” apparently due to professional pressures. Last week, a video surfaced of Galliano taunting a patron at a Paris bar who he thought was Jewish.

“I love Hitler,” the designer declared in a slurred voice, adding that “people like you would be dead” and “your mothers, your forefathers” would all have been “gassed” if Hitler had had his way.

This week, it was WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s turn. British journalists, including the editor of The Guardian (who is not Jewish), were engaged in a Jewish-led conspiracy to smear his organization, Assange reportedly told Private Eye’s editor in a telephone call. Assange, currently under pressure as he anticipates multiple legal battles and a Swedish arrest warrant, was reacting to a Private Eye report that one Israel Shamir (aka, Adam Ermash or Jöran Jermas), an employed WikiLeaks associate in Russia, was a Holocaust denier.



In each of the cases, Sartre’s description of anti-Semitism as “an involvement of the mind, deep-seated and complex,” rings true. Gripped by emotional crises that undo usual political correctness, these men’s visceral, irrational hatred of Jews is exposed in all its vileness.

YET THE most common criticism of Sartre’s analysis is his disconnecting of anti-Semitism’s link to Jewish or world history. For the French existentialist, anti-Semitism is solely an irrational “criminal passion” lacking all of the complex cultural and religious baggage of, say, Jews’ purported role in the the Passion; or their refusal to accept Christian or Muslim faith; or their supposed guilt as “colonialists” and perpetrators of “war crimes,” accusations that tend to camouflage a modern version of anti-Semitism.

While there is little one can do to combat the sort of visceral anti-Semitism expressed by the likes of Galliano, et al, one not insignificant step has now been made toward eradicating a Christian-based anti-Semitism once institutionalized by the Catholic Church.

On Wednesday, the Vatican’s publishers released excerpts from Pope Benedict XVI’s newest book – Jesus of Nazareth – Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection – in which the pope makes a sweeping exoneration of the Jewish people for the death of Jesus. Benedict concludes that the “Temple aristocracy” and a few supporters of the figure Barabbas were responsible, not the entire Jewish people.

Already in 1965, the Catholic Church, in its most authoritative teaching on the issue in the Second Vatican Council document “Nostra Aetate,” rejected the notion that the Jewish people as a whole killed Jesus. However, Rabbi David Rosen, head of interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Committee, points out that the pope’s book may make a more lasting mark than “Nostra Aetate” because it is presented as commentary of Scripture, which is more accessible to the faithful than official church documents.

One may wonder why the church took so long to unequivocally scrap religious propaganda that has caused so much suffering. The pope’s clarifications do not offer much consolation for the innumerable Jews, including Holocaust victims, who have been murdered for the spurious charge of being “Christ killers.” Nor did the pope make an attempt at consolation for past misunderstandings.

But perhaps some among the church’s faithful unversed in the “Nostra Aetate,” who assumed Catholicism still legitimized hatred of Jews, will finally adopt true Vatican doctrine.

Unfortunately Benedict’s book will have no impact on Sartre’s “criminal passion” variety of anti-Semitism, which remains stubbornly prevalent – even among the world’s most successful and talented.

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