If the Holocaust was but the most recent effort to solve the West''s Jewish Problem, and it did not quite succeed, what does that represent for the Jewish future?
The “What” of antisemitism in everyday America is well described in the 1965-70 Berkeley Study. The Study was most successful in describing the “Why” of American antisemitism in its first volume, Christian Beliefs and anti-Semitism. Where it is weakest is disregarding the persistence of antisemitism throughout the Diaspora as an inheritance of 1700 years of Christian history. And so ADL clings stubbornly to the same failed efforts of the past, that which is easiest to quantify and analyze: there is an obvious correlation between “education” and “prejudice!” But nowhere does this important effort, polling the pulse of American antisemitism over time, define that which is said to inspire “prejudice.” And so the follower of the polls is left with a “mysterious” something aggravated somehow by economic and social strains among our non-Jewish neighbors.
Extensive and continuing surveys are not necessary to prove that “education” expands experience and has the potential to increase “tolerance.” Under this formula Germany, likely the most “educated” and “cultured” country of that period should have been least likely to perpetrate the “extermination” of the Jewish people! But it did.
According to ADL since education leads to increased tolerance the way to overcome antisemitism is to educate Christian America regarding Jews, Judaism and specifically Jewish contributions to America. And ADL has devoted itself to this mission for the past century. Yet antisemitism continues to rise and fall according to economic and social stress, its baseline hardcore and most dangerous faction, that which ADL classifies “extremes,” never falling below 10%. And this figure is well above the hard core who are credited with executing Hitler’s Final Solution. Fifty-million Americans, according to ADL’s most recent polling, hold extreme antisemitic views. And still the explanation falls back on the traditional and time-proven failed approach of educating Christian America out of its antisemitism!
Both American Zionism and the Anti-defamation League appeared at about the same time, their leaders drawn from the same Jewish elite. In Europe Zionism was a revolutionary movement. American Jewry, maintaining exceptionality for its homeland, sought for and found a compromise providing a definition of Zionism allowing for America-the-exceptional: Since there was no Jewish Problem in the United States it was American Zionism’s role in the movement to be philanthropic, to work for the creation of a refuge in Palestine for European Jews. American Jewry needed no land of refuge since America was our new Jerusalem. And, for the most part, this attitude remains unchanged today. Even with our awareness of the Holocaust, our awareness of the tragedy that ended our earlier community insisting their country “exceptional,” German Jewry. Not surprisingly it was German Jewry’s attitude towards their fatherland that arrived was brought to the United States by émigrés who would become the leaders of American Zionism, and the Anti-Defamation League.
Jews remaining in Germany clung to their faith in their fatherland’s “exceptionality” almost to the gates of Auschwitz. Martin Buber, at the time a community leader, assumed the German people would quickly tire of Hitler and National Socialism and put them out of office. He discouraged emigration as defiance of Hitler, describing Nazis not “real” Germans. In the end the “educated and cultured” Germans on which Buber and many Jews placed their faith stood by in silence as their Jewish neighbors were dragged off to their fate.
Is antisemitism’s dramatic rise in Europe today understandable due to a decline in education and culture? Not yet seventy years after Auschwitz and racist and anti-immigrant political parties with an antisemitism agenda are sprouting across that continent. Echoes of nineteenth century Germany: street rallies with shouts of death to “the Jews,” and physical assaults recalling the rise of Nazism in Germany.
The question we Jews should be asking is: if “education” fails as explanation for Germany and the Final Solution, for 21st Century resurgent political antisemitism in Europe, then clearly ADL’s approach is wrong, and with it the optimism regarding American “exceptionality.” And that which is needed to be avoided is Jewish denial of the facts clearly present in history. The millennial Jewish Problem which Hitler clearly addressed, that same millennial Jewish Problem permeates all of Christendom, including America’s City on the Hill.
If the Holocaust was but the most recent effort to solve the Problem, and it did not quite succeed, then what does that represent for the Jewish future?
As the above photograph of that otherwise “normal-appearing” Westboro picketer suggests, at a fundamentalist religious level the reason for traditional anti-Judaism is a matter of eternal Jewish guilt, beginning with scripture. First Century gospel accusations became, with the Middle Ages, superstition-fed stereotypes to a population seemingly under constant threat by forces beyond control. Jesus failed to return as expected at the turn of the millennium, the year 1000; the Black Plague- inspired superstition providing centuries of anti-Jewish stereotypes, today vouchsafed in Western society’s cultural “subconscious.”
Christian scripture condemning “the Jews”; subconscious cultural stereotypes describing “the Jews”: these represent the bedrock of antisemitism. Both exist beyond the reach of “education”, our continuing and optimistic fantasy represented by generations of Jewish idealists and Christian “liberals.” How educate Christians that Christian scripture, their “inerrant word of God,” is itself the source of antisemitism? Catholic theologian Rosemary Ruether’s admits that which we Jews refuse to accept, that her religion is threat to Jews:
“The wheat and the tares have grown together from the beginning, and so it may seem impossible to pull up the weed without uprooting the seed of Christian faith as well… “Nazism arose as the final repository of all this heritage of religious and secular anti-Semitism… In Hitler, the Fuehrer empowers himself with the ultimate work of Christ to execute the “Final Solution to the Jewish question.”
Anti-Jewish stereotypes born of scripture and accumulated over centuries are deeply ingrained in the psyche of the West, its cultural unconscious. With enormous and consistent effort the determined few may, with constant effort, force them down, deny them expression even under extreme environmental stress. And these are those honored today in Israel’s Yad v’Shem as “righteous gentiles” for risking their own lives on behalf of saving Jews from the Holocaust. That their numbers are tiny represents the limits to which “education” has possibility of success.
The more immediate question is not ADL’s interfaith outreach, its focus on educating those open to dialogue. Interfaith dialogue is always positive in principal and should be supported. That it will not fulfill its intended goal is the problem.
What accounts for our faith that we, of all previous generations of Jews, in defiance of two thousand years experience; that we “American Jews” are truly the “chosen,” have finally “arrived,” the exception to the previously unbending historical rule?
This insistence, particularly in the shadow of the Holocaust, expresses a millennial Jewish yearning, the need to belong, to be accepted by our neighbors. This yearning, born of rejection and persecution, even in awareness that the present is, if anything, even less likely to provide, to accept us, is so powerful as to overwhelm even the clearest presentation of fact-based warning.
Pinsker and Herzl raised alarm decades before what for them would have been unimaginable: a final solution to the millennial Jewish Problem. Perhaps before the Holocaust we, as our community in Germany, might assert “exceptionality.” But that was before the Final Solution and its six million murdered as solution to the Jewish Problem. Can we afford the self-deception, our insistence on maintaining that the Holocaust happened over there? Does our need for acceptance overrule judgment and reason, our physical survival? And what will denial achieve for us which history describes around the corner?