Why anti-Semitism is part of European culture

In popular European culture, such as drawings and cartoons, one finds anti-Semitic motifs.

AEK Athens' Giorgos Katidis (C) celebrates a goal during a Super League soccer match by making a Nazi salute (photo credit: REUTERS)
AEK Athens' Giorgos Katidis (C) celebrates a goal during a Super League soccer match by making a Nazi salute
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Anti-Semitism is not only part of European history but also an ingredient of its culture. The lengthy anti-Semitic history of Europe is rife with defamation, discrimination, double standards, pogroms, expulsions and other persecutions. It reached its profoundly low point with the Holocaust. The genocide was implemented not only by Germans and Austrians, but also by many of their collaborators, not necessarily all pro-Nazi, in the occupied countries.
As far as Holocaust history is concerned, almost all occupied countries eventually admitted the truth of their failure and of their varying degrees of collaboration with the Nazis. Most of them apologized. A few weeks ago, Luxemburg became the most recent country to do so. The one major exception is the Netherlands. The current prime minister, Mark Rutte (Liberal Party), recently gave, for the second time, a non-relevant answer to parliamentary questions in order to avoid admitting the scandalous failure of the wartime Dutch government. While in exile in London, it showed no interest in the mass murder taking place – the annihilation of three-quarters of the Netherlands’ 140,000 Jews by the German occupiers. The Jewish community had been present in the Netherlands for centuries.
While there is little debate about the anti-Semitic history of Europe, a more detailed explanation is required regarding anti-Semitism being an ingredient of European culture, and arguably a dominant part in regard to its Jews. To avoid any misunderstanding, this does not mean that nowadays most Europeans are anti-Semites.
The recently deceased leading academic scholar of anti-Semitism, Robert Wistrich, has provided much of the infrastructure for understanding and proving that anti-Semitism is an integral part of European culture.
See the latest opinion pieces on our page
A few years ago, I invited him to speak at The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs on the tradition of European intellectual anti-Semitism.
Wistrich explained that Christian clergymen and many leading Christian theologians “taught contempt toward the Jewish people” during the Middle Ages and through the millennia. Such credos were not limited to the Catholic Church.
Regarding the Protestant reformer Martin Luther, Wistrich stated that, “His denunciations of Jews are among the most violent in the history of anti-Semitic defamation.”
Wistrich detailed how intellectual trends in Europe influenced the mutation of anti-Semitism accordingly. He explained how the anti-Semitic Jewish tradition continued during the Enlightenment, illustrating it with the hatred Voltaire felt for the Jewish people. Wistrich also mentioned the subsequent generations of anti-Semites, such as the German idealist philosophers of the 18th and 19th centuries, including Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer and later on, Karl Marx.
He claimed that with rare exceptions, the French socialists of the early 19th century laid the groundwork for late 19th century anti-Semitism.
He remarked that Edouard Drumont’s anti-Semitic work, La France Juive (“Jewish France”) was the bestseller of its time. It had about a hundred editions.
Wistrich added that much of Nazism, fascism and even some types of socialism – which have major components of anti-intellectualism – also had intellectuals as their founders. In his major work, titled A Lethal Obsession, Wistrich devoted a sizable chapter to what he called “Britain’s Old-New Judeophobes.” He mentioned the widespread anti-Semitism in British literary classics over the centuries. He wrote that in the UK, “Anti-Semitic sentiment is also a part of mainstream discourse, continually resurfacing among the academic, political and media elites.”
A variety of leading European novelists were extreme anti-Semites. One of the more famous ones was the Frenchman Louis-Ferdinand Céline, who was convicted after the Second World War for collaborating with the occupiers. There are also ancient anti-Semitic sculptures on buildings, for instance on the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris.
In popular European culture, such as drawings and cartoons, one finds anti-Semitic motifs as well.
It is a mistake to believe that Nazism and its evil “culture” ended with the defeat of Germany in 1945. Many Nazis did not repent. Others tried to imbue their children with Nazi ideology.
After the war, there were not enough untainted judges or officials in Germany to fill the required government posts. Among the former Nazis occupying high positions in post-war Germany was the Christian Democrat Kurt Georg Kiesinger was Germany’s chancellor from 1966 until 1969. Even many of the doctors who investigated Jewish survivors in the course of health claims had a Nazi background.
If one asks who the most important post-war European philosopher was, many will name Martin Heidegger. His recently published notebooks leave no doubt that his world of ideas was profoundly anti-Semitic.
The fact that a substantial number of Europeans today agree with the statement that “Israel conducts a war of extermination against the Palestinians” is a major example of contemporary European anti-Semitism. This statement was deemed accurate by more than 40 percent of EU citizens aged 16 or older. It fits the anti-Semitic culture of Europe perfectly.
The American political scientist Andrei Markovits succinctly summarized a key element of Europe’s current reality: “Europe has a major unresolved relationship with its past. The constant analogizing of Israelis with Nazis comes from the European gut. This, of course, is a double effrontery. By doing this, Europeans absolve themselves of their own history. At the same time they succeed in accusing their former victims of behaving like their worst perpetrators.”
The leaders of the continent where Nazism was born and allowed to flourish nowadays devote relatively little of their admonitions to the Nazi-like policies and statements emerging from various terrorist organizations in the Middle East. These include Hamas, the largest Palestinian party. The genocide promotion of the latter is not Hitler’s Nazism, but a Nazism originating from parts of Islam.
The next time European representatives criticize Israel regarding its policies, the Israeli answer should be that in view of Europe’s past, they would do best to focus on Islamo-Nazism.
Those officials of the EU and of its member countries who constantly and disproportionately admonish Israel have but immoral legs to stand on.
The author’s recently published book,
The War of a Million Cuts, analyzes how Israel and Jews are delegitimized, and how one can fight these attempts at delegitimization.