Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Portrait of the Writer as a Political Schizophrenic, Part III

Anti-Semitism

The question of a "new" anti-semitism is a misleading one. It implies something pure, sprung fully formed, rather then a piece of a continuum. The culmination of long tradition. The synthesis of a monstrous dialectic. Firstly, the anti-semitism we face today is of a piece with the Leftwing political tradition of anti-semitism, which has its origins in the Enlightenment and specifically the writings of Voltaire (who was in turn influenced by several pagan anti-semites from the pre-Christian era). This progressive anti-semitism saw the Jew and the Jewish religion as obstacles to mankind's advance and as the agents of the monotheistic irrationalism which had destroyed the pagan world of beauty and reason. The Enlightenment worshipped the world of ancient Greece and Rome and despised the Judeo-Christian ethic which had replaced it. Clearly, their rejection of Judaism was of a piece with their rejection of Christianity, but they singled out Judaism for special scorn and fear. It was the Jew who had turned loose the snake into the Garden of Eden. It was the Jew who had smashed the graven images to smithereens. In the words of 19th century French philosopher Renan: "O chaste and lovely images of the true gods and goddesses! This ugly little Jew has stigmatized you with the name of idols!"

This tradition of anti-semitism was later to be eclipsed by the reactionary anti-semitism of the late 19th century, which reached its apogee with Hitler and the Nazi regime. However, it never really died out. Both Marx and Bakunin, the chief theorists of communism and anarchism, respectively, were strongly anti-semitic, and identified he Jews with the owning and exploiting classes of society, i.e. with reactionary and counterrevolutionary forces. (It is no coincidence that many current Leftist anti-semites, Noam Chomsky, for instance, are strongly influenced by Bakunin. It should be no surprise that the most outspoken and violent anti-semites outside the Muslim world are overwhelmingly intellectuals and activists from the communist/anarchist tradition of Marx and Bakunin.) In the Leftist religion, of course, to be identified as an exploitative reactionary is no less a demonization than the libel of Christ killer or poisoner of wells was in the Christian tradition.

This strain of anti-semitism, unlike the racialist anti-semitism which Hitler would make the cornerstone of his movement, has space for those of Jewish ancestry to take part. Much as Christian anti-semitism allowed for, and even celebrated, Jewish apostasy; Leftwing anti-semitism counted Jews as among some of its most fanatic adherents and foremost theorists (witness Marx himself, the son of an apostate who had been baptized at the age of nine). One of the largest and most violent instances of Jewish participation in Leftist anti-semitism was in the Soviet Union, where many Jewish communists organized and took part in the brutal suppression of the Jewish religion and national identity that followed the revolution. Richard Pipes writes the following in his excellent Concise History of the Russian Revolution:

The persecution of Jewish religious observances was entrusted to the Bund, the party of Jewish Social-Democrats which in 1921 merged with the Communist Party. The Bundists shared the Bolshevik scorn for religion and hated with a particular passion Zionism, its much more successful contender for Jewish loyalties. Organized into "Jewish Sections" (Evsektii), they carried out the usual antireligious activities, desecrating synagogues and transforming them into clubs or warehouses. They also abolished the traditional Jewish organs of self-government. It was the Jewish Sections that persuaded the Russian Communist Party to ban Hebrew as a "bourgeois" language...and persecute Zionists. (p. 341)


This seemingly extraordinary situation of a Leftist Jewish organization enthusiastically taking part in pogromist activity as a result of its political ideology proves less and less unusual the more one studies the phenomena of Jew-hatred. In fact, anti-semitism has almost always given special emphasis to its Jewish adherents. Many of the earliest examples of pagan and Christian anti-semitism were the work of recent apostates (including St. Paul, formerly Saul, himself) and the first burnings of the Talmud were occasioned by the agitations of recent converts determined to consolidate their repudiation of their former faith. This seems to bear out the assertion that the anti-semitism we are dealing with today has a great deal more in common with pagan and Christian anti-semitism than Hitlerian racialism.

Of course, the argument is quickly made that what we are facing is not anti-semitism per se, but a particularly virulent form of anti-Zionism. That is to say, the repudiation of a political entity and not a religious or national collective. I disagree strongly with this assertion, and it is worth it to explain why.

First and foremost, the phenomenon we are discussing is an act of negation. Confusion arises from the fact that this ideology does not negate the abstract Jew, the totemic Jew, as Hitler's did; but rather the concrete Jew, the Jew of the world. I will explain: through the Holocaust, the Jew has become a secular humanist idol. A symbol. A monument to man's inhumanity to man. This Jew is worshipped unconditionally, beloved even. Sometimes with a disturbing fervor. But one must remember that this Jew is a graven image. A shadow erected in the secular humanist mind. A spectre haunting the collective unconcious of the professionally concerned. It is nothing but a thing of wood and stone given life by the adoration of its worshipper.

Against this totem is reared another figure: the Jew of life. The Jew of reality. This Jew is deeply problematic for the humanist, for he walks, breathes, occasionally talks out of turn and forgets his place. But most of all, he is useless as a martyr. No creature of flesh and blood can be worshipped as an idol can. This destruction of his most cherished totem arouses in the humanist a feeling of desperate betrayal, one which leads quickly to contempt and then, inexorably, to hatred.

This phenomenon, with its roots in the Leftist anti-semitic tradition and its feet solidly planted in post-Holocaust secular humanism, has led to a fascinating, if horrifying synthesis. Where once anti-semitism was negated by humanism's anti-racism, given new impetus by the Holocaust, the two have merged into a new phenomenon: one which seeks to annhilate the Jewish people in the name of the highest of human values. Genocide in the name of the angels.

Needless to say, this has led to some of the most extraordinary acts of cognitive dissonance of our time: Jenin, a massacre which never occurred, has become a symbol, and the slaughter which occasioned Operation Defensive Shield, an actual act of genocidal slaughter, has disappeared entirely from the world's collective unconcious. Leftists march in the streets of the world's capitals toting signs which denounce racism and yet are adorned by an Israeli flag with the Star of David replaced with a swastika. How easily, and with such orgasmic joy, do forbidden words slip once again from trembling lips. Such liberation, indeed, as could only have been dreamt of half a decade ago. Nazi, genocide, racist, imperialist, murderer, ethnic cleansing, baby-killer, prophet-killer, Christ-killer, child-slaughterer; with such ease has the whole world taken once again to the old names and faces.

The object of this scorn and terror is the Jew of life. The Jew who refuses to die. Who cannot be deified and cast in iron to be genuflected before as the crucifix of humanism. The State of Israel, as the most prominent example of this refusal, of this revolt against the imperialism of forms, is unquestionably a symbol and a target, but anti-Zionism is too small for what is going on here. We see the same monster at work in Europe, where a wave of anti-semitism is furiously denied by the legions of the right-thinking (self-appointed, of course). In the Arab world, where all the manifestations of anti-semitism past have merged with their war against the Jewish State in an extraordinary mosaic of fanatical violence. In America, where the complex tangle of peace and war is once again boiled down to the secret cabal, the Elder's conspiracy. The Jew who is transparent, who barely exists, who lives in that Moloch before which the enlightened worship, can live. But all others must die. It is not a "new" anti-semitism we face, it is the culmination of a historical process, of a dialectic of hatred which began with the Enlightenment. It is a universalism which, in its quest for universal justice, has become murder. As all quests for the universal must inevitably become murder. It is a form of spiritual imperialism, a negation of the Jew who lives. And for this, this terrible betrayal of daring to exist on his own terms, the Jew must be made to pay the price.

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