Memoirs of an Anti-Anti-Semite

David Mamet, in his 2006 book The Wicked Son, throws out a Molotov cocktail in his first paragraph: “The world hates the Jews.” That’s strong language, and one needs to back it up these days in order not to be called an anti-anti-Semite.

What’s an anti-anti-Semite, you ask? Someone who has it in for anti-Semites and their nasty world view. Spotting anti-Semites used to be easy, before they went underground. Anti-Semitism used to be quite common, especially here in Europe, where most countries decided at one point or another in their history that the Jews living within their borders were far too many. These people didn’t want to live near so many Jews, so they periodically drove them out or killed them. This was the opposite end of the spectrum from “light” Jew-hatred, as in T.S. Eliot’s poem “Burbank With a Baedeker:”

The rats are underneath the piles.
The jew is underneath the lot.

As if to amplify his hatred through orthography, note that Eliot wrote “jew’ and not “Jew.” The Nazis would perfect the dehumanization process within a few decades of the publication of Eliot’s poem. For further discussion of Eliot’s anti-Semitism, see Anthony Julius, T.S.Eliot, anti-Semitism, and Literary Form.

This is just a brief reminder that anti-Semitism was once a commonplace in “civilized societies.” It went out of style after the Shoah,  because the anti-Semites were forced to recognize the consequences of their hatred. Or perhaps because a new culture of “human rights” was developed to safeguard the world against future genocides (the term was coined by Raphael Lemkin). This new culture is embodied by the UN, an organization which has spent more time condemning the State of Israel for long-term border disputes than any other country or conflict on earth.

Which brings us to anti-Zionism, which replaces anti-Semitism through the use of a “legitimate” target: Israel. As a modern state, the logic goes, Israel shouldn’t be exempt from criticism. Agreed. But it isn’t as if Jews, before Israel came into existence, had been exempt from criticism–quite the opposite. So now the game is to suffocate the Jewish State with lawfare, beating the ploughshares of “human rights” discourse into the swords of anti-Zionism. But even so, is anti-Zionism simply anti-Semitism in disguise?

We live in an age when many people have a romantic idea of murdered Jews. Europe is positively in love with the concept of the “diaspora Jew,” the embodiment of the rootless cosmopolitanism which has become the new European dream now that nationalism is–ahem–dead. No matter that this same “international Jew” was the target of Henry Ford, Stalin and Hitler. But a Jew-free Europe is a nostalgic Europe (except for France and England, there are only negligible Jewish communities in Europe today–and take a look at France and England to see how they adore their Jews).

Paul Kriwaczeck, in the opening pages of his book Yiddish Civilization, writes of an elderly Polish woman who makes a living handcrafting wooden figures of Hasidic rabbis. The author notes that “such a gift at Easter is supposed to bring good fortune.” That the craftswoman may never have seen a Hasidic Jew in the flesh is no matter. “They are part of our culture,” she says. A taxi driver elaborates: “In the distant future Polish people will recount to each other stories about a time long, long ago when Jews lived among us. But they will be like the folk tales other nations tell their children about ogres, giants and fairies.”

So in a world without Jews, one must simply invent them. If you can’t take them in person, perhaps a lucky figurine will be easier to swallow. Israel makes things a lot easier in another respect: you can hate the Jews from afar, without ever having to come into contact with them face to face. In Arab and Muslim countries where millions revel in anti-Semitic propaganda a la Der Stürmer, the revelers have probably never seen a Jew, much less an Israeli. They get their rocks off hating an image.

All this to say that spotting anti-Semites is hard work. Even the real ones hide behind more acceptable ideologies today. Their venom is still poisonous, mind you. It’s just that it takes a detective to root them out. Once you’ve got one pegged, however, watch your tongue, because calling an anti-Semite by his real name will only get you a libel suit. “Anti-anti-Semite!” Right back at ya’, babe.

So if you write something criticizing Israel’s critics for their lack of precision, invention and originality, or because they criticize Israel for stuff everyone does worse, or for things that simply ain’t true, you get called an anti-anti-Semite. The Israel Lobby has become the “acceptable” version of this knee-jerk defense mechanism, counter-criticism to silence all criticism.

It has been pointed out recently on this blog (see comments) that Israel is a racist country because it is impossible to become a citizen unless you are a Jew. I don’t have to tell you that there are around a million Arab citizens of Israel for you to know this is bull. What lies beneath this canard, however, is strange and disturbing. Let’s get this straight: for centuries, millennia even, Europeans ghettoized, expelled and murdered Jews so as not to have to live with them in peace. Muslims were better, as long as Jews knew their place and kept to it. Now there are very few Jews left in any Arab-Muslim lands. Most of the world is happily judenrein. And now that the Jews are gone, they bitch because they can’t all move to Israel and become Israeli citizens? Since when does everyone want to live in a Jewish neighborhood, anyway?