Another Tack: Vague and not uncommon

Like it or not, where shallow pop-culture predominates, so does an equally superficial pop-conscience.

Few of my past columns have elicited as much hate-mail as a recent Tack on perfidious Swiss neutrality. Several messages, oozing with particular vitriol, were signed by Arab names. The authors of others purported to be Swiss. Though in cyberspace nothing should be taken at face value, some of what supposedly originated on the Alpine moral high ground did have that ring of authenticity - like the one which affirmed the precedence of Swiss interests over "some goddamned foreigners," i.e. Jews. "No wonder we Swiss don't like your people," the writer summed up. Dejecting as it may be, the Swiss - or enough of them who share the above sentiments - aren't alone. Europeans by and large still don't and never did like "our people." In generations past there was nothing disreputable about Jew-phobia. It was indeed often customary and casually accepted in polite society and the intelligentsia. Today, anti-Semitism (the term coined in the late 19th century by German journalist Wilhelm Mahr and applied exclusively to Jews - contrary to disingenuous Arab affectations) is no longer overtly respectable. Especially among politically correct circles, anti-Semitism has gone underground and donned new disguises. The Holocaust - even when denied or deliberately dwarfed - has given anti-Semitism an unpleasant aftertaste. Yet this too is used to berate Jews. They allegedly brandish accusations of anti-Semitism with manipulative intent to silence all criticism, particularly of the Jewish state. Such circuitous reasoning eventually turns Jew-haters into righteous, persecuted underdogs, while Jews are cast as exploitive, ferocious hounds. Reviling the Jewish state is today just as proper and urbane as turning sophisticated noses at Jews was for T.S. Eliot and his prewar milieu. Reacting to verses like "The rats are underneath the piles/The Jew is underneath the lot," Eliot's friend Leonard Woolf (Virginia's devoted Jewish husband) described him as only "slightly anti-Semitic in the sort of vague way which is not uncommon." That vague anti-Semitism is just as "not uncommon" in Europe's current widespread de rigueur demonization of Israel. SHIMON STEIN, Israel's former ambassador to Berlin, noted not long ago that for some elements in German society, "Israel's existence is hardly self-evident." He discerns "consistent erosion" in how Israel is perceived among the progeny of the Holocaust's perpetrators. In recent decades "Israel is depicted as diabolically evil," while German governments increasingly acquiesce to EU censure of Israel. Memories of made-in-Germany genocide no longer suffice to underwrite a "special relationship" with the state the Jewish remnant founded. A recent SAT1 poll showed that 52 percent of Germans recognize no "significant obligation to the Jewish state." Many Germans, moreover, frown at special relations either on the grounds of "Jewish extortion," or because of the imperialistic sins they ascribe to the Jewish state. The mind-blowing upshot is that the children of murderers, sadists, collaborators, bureaucrats, robbers - those who didn't see, those who didn't want to know, those who saw and knew but didn't act - now consider themselves morally superior. They now presume to haughtily preach to the children of the slain, gassed, burned, shot, buried alive, starved, tortured, degraded, dehumanized, enslaved, dispossessed, bereaved and orphaned. In our topsy-turvy reality nothing is unthinkable. Germany is now extensively regarded in all European countries as the continent's leader, while Israel is deemed a pariah. Descendants of the world's worst guys parade as good guys and arrogantly portray descendants of the most downtrodden as flagrantly deficient of virtue. A recent BBC poll found that Israel is the world's second most unpopular country, just a tad behind Iran and marginally more detested than Pakistan. Runner-up status is little consolation even if last year, in a similar BBC poll, Israel topped the list of countries deemed to have "the most negative influence on the world." In 2003 the EU citizenry voted Israel "the greatest danger to world peace," and the same happened in 2000, when Ehud Barak headed Israel's most conciliatory government until then. It's not Jewish deeds which are the root cause of the abhorrence - not in this 21st century, nor in the 20th, 13th, eighth, first, or BCE. JEWS ALWAYS attracted and still attract abuse - even when they call themselves Israelis. From time immemorial they found themselves in the eye of whatever storm was brewing. They didn't rouse the tempest, but it always revolved around them. From the dawn of history Jews were civilization's codifiers of ethics and harbingers of progress. That in itself was enough to render them unbearable irritants, for which they paid horrifically. Europeans who decades ago shouted "Jews to Palestine," and showed no mercy to those who didn't flee in time, now shout "Jews out of Palestine." With Jews unwanted anywhere, the bottom line precludes Jewish survival. This, beyond all else, is what should have been uppermost in our minds yesterday, Holocaust Remembrance Day. So long as Hitler merely targeted Jews, the world didn't mind. Germany was battled only when it aggressed against others. Throughout, no one fought to save Jews. Their rescue was World War II's belated byproduct. If Ahmadinejad guarantees to only nuke Jews, then the rest of the world could learn to somehow tolerate Iran's bomb. A Jewish-only target is almost a plausible compromise. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Here is where Israelis' dulled self-preservation instincts must take over. If we blame ourselves to curry favor with cynical maligners, to make them like us, to secure their approval and good press - if we obsess about their opinion of us - then we're goners. If we don't overcome our awe of not-uncommon Judeophobes - vague or otherwise - then our 2,000-year-old hope is tragically lost.