Old habits die hard: The renewed anti-Semitism in historical context

June 03, 2002


[Note by Tom Gross]

Below, exclusive to this email list and website, is a wide-ranging essay by Jack Schwartz, a senior New York newspaper editor, which puts into historical context the recent growth in anti-Semitism in Europe. Schwartz explains how to some extent the current venom against Israel by elements of the European media and diplomatic corps has its roots in the modern, racial anti-Semitism of the late nineteenth century, as the heirs to that anti-Semitism now try and "compensate for the Original Sin of the Balfour Declaration by at least undoing its worst excesses, if not repealing it altogether."

Schwartz has worked as an editor for the NY Times arts and culture section, for Newsday, and elsewhere. He is among the founding subscribers to this Mideast Dispatch email list.


Old habits die hard
By Jack Schwartz
May 2002

The Holocaust ended more than 50 years ago but it began more than 100 years ago in succeeding tremors of anti-Semitism that spread throughout Europe leading to the abyss of the death camps. The rancor against the Jews was prompted, as often happened in the past, by their very success. By the third quarter of the 19th century Jewish emancipation in Western Europe was a fact in not only word but deed. Allowed to break out of their ghettos and shed their dress and habits, Jews became leaders in all aspects of Europe's march to modernity: They excelled in medicine, law, the arts, commerce and the political nostrums of the time that offered the illusion of progress. In doing so, they antagonized the forces of tradition high and low that felt themselves threatened by the advance of secular humanism and free enterprise. These included the landed aristocracy, the church, small tradesmen and an array of the disaffected who felt themselves ill-used or left behind by the advance of modernity. Rather than blaming their discomfiture on their own intransigence or failure to adapt to social and economic change, it was easier to blame the Jews. Their solution was to create or reinforce associations that would at once exclude the Jews as well as denigrate them, isolate them and put them back in their place. In effect, the Jews were to be re-ghettoized. (This literally happened in a prologue to later events after the defeat of Napoleon.) The means at hand were culture and faith.

Xenophobic nationalism was the religion of a century that ran from 1850 to 1950, ultimately trumping or suborning its only serious rival, socialism. In virtually all cases, as the myths of the various Folk German, Slavic and Latin were reinvented, the Jew was expunged from the corporal body of the nation as a vile foreign organism. The French, instigated by such leaders as Edouard Drumont and his Anti-Semitic League at the end of the 19th century, exploded in a paroxysm of Jew hatred during the Dreyfus trial, followed by subsequent spasms of anti-Semitism in the political movement Action Francais which in the mid-30's won almost half the French vote; in anti-Jewish legislation that created internment camps in France for "stateless" Jews BEFORE the Nazi conquest; in the Vichy Government - popular until the Allies turned the tide of war and, ultimately, in the enthusiastic roundups by the French police of Jews including children a Gallic touch that went beyond the German mandate for deportation to Auschwitz.

In Austria, Karl Lueger, the popular early 20th-century mayor of Vienna became the first European politician to be elected running on an anti-Semitic platform (the sentimental Viennese have still named a street for him); his spirit presided in the interwar years culminating in the anti-Semitic depredations of the Anschluss and the enthusiastic participation of the Austrians in Hitler's S.S., of which they formed a third.

Poland, which had the most serious Jewish problem, had hardly regained its independence after the Great War when, in the late 30's, it introduced a spate of anti-Semitic legislation designed to drive out the Jews including a ban on kosher meat. The German conquest absolved the Poles of the need to pursue their policies thanks to the Nazis own unique solution to the Jewish problem; to be sure, they were helped by zealous Poles in killing fields both small (Jedwabne) and large (Warsaw). And when the pitiful remnant of Jews returned after the war to claim the property that had been stolen from them, they were met by massacre in places such as Kielce. For good measure, the Polish Communist regime used Israel's growing military success against its Arab foes to persecute the few Jews who had survived and returned after the war, a harbinger of things to come on the part of Europe's Left.

All of the persecution in these three Roman Catholic countries was fiercely stoked by the church which as David Kreutzer has pointed out in his well-documented book used all the canards of modern, racial anti-Semitism to inflame its followers. To be sure, anti-Semitism was not limited to Roman Catholic nations. Although some of the worst excesses in the war years occurred in those states indeed in realms under virtual Vatican sway, such as Fascist Slovakia led by the murderous Monsignor Jozef Tiso and the Ustasha regime of Croatia where many death camps were actually commanded by priests - there was enough blame to go around among other Christian nationalities. The Swiss, for one, who turned away from their borders upwards of 50,000 Jews left to a grim fate at Nazi hands, and who helped in the S.S. despoliation of their victims. And we should not forget the Germans themselves who orchestrated the Holocaust and whose pastors in the anti-Semitic spirit of Martin Luther were still offering Hitler heartfelt although no longer obligatory well wishes on his birthday as the Allies approached the gates of Berlin. As for the Russians, their long history of pogroms urged on by their Orthodox priests and czars, the depredations of the Black Hundreds and a virulent anti-Semitism that led the one-time seminary student Josef Stalin to plan an annihilation of Russian Jewry thwarted only by his death, was marked by a seminal work of anti-Semitic brilliance - the czarist secret-police forgery known as "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion." "The Protocols," which purport to be a document that reveals a Jewish plot for world domination, have been used by several generations of Jew haters from the Nazi propagandists in Berlin to their Arab heirs in Cairo. All of this European anti-Semitism, of course, was prefaced by the long rehearsal of 2,000 years of church-instigated Jew-hatred in Christian lands leading to the persecution, slaughter, despoliation and exile of Jews from virtually every European realm.

Old habits die hard and it was naןve to think that the virus of European anti-Semitism was extinguished along with most of Europe's Jews in the flames of the Holocaust. Rather, it went underground to re-emerge in a new virulent strain on the very same European soil that soaked up so much Jewish blood over the centuries. Jew-baiting, taboo in a Europe guilt-ridden over its complicity in the Nazi genocide has now re-emerged in a fresh form suitable to a new era. The Leopard of anti-Semitism always changes its polemical spots Blasphemy, Christ-killing, Xenophobia in keeping with the spirit of each age that seeks to morally justify its attack on the people of Israel, but it's goal is always the same: to demonize and delegitimize the Jews. What world Jewry naively mistook as an end to endemic anti-Semitism due to the horror of the Holocaust and the hope of Israel was simply a window that offered a brief respite before the next onslaught. The wrinkle this time is that European anti-Semitism has been appropriated and adapted by the Moslem world which has its own legacy of denigrating and despoiling the Jews going back to the Prophet and recycled back to the Continent.

Although or perhaps, because Europe has little love for its own recent Moslem immigrants, it has embraced the cause of the enemies of Israel in the Middle East. But what is of relevance here are two phenomena: 1. The re-emergence of anti-Semitic tropes in European newspapers which derive from a medieval template of Jew-baiting and 2. The resurgence, increase and intensity of physical attacks on Jews by a growing Muslim population. Although decried on the one hand by the European community, they are on the other hand, abetted by the European media in their shrill attacks which conflate jeremiads against Israel with anti-Semitic imagery. This wink-and-a-nod brand of Jew bashing has a legacy that goes back to the patrician disdain for, and priestly abhorrence of, Jewish "arrogance" that affected shock when their attitudes took the concrete form of physical violence against Jews. Whether bishops inveighing against the Jewish massacres by Christian mobs in Speier and Worms during the Crusades or burghers holding their noses at the depredations of Kristallnacht, the people whose high-sounding anti-Semitism permitted these atrocities were affronted by, and distanced themselves from, the very anti-Semitic acts that their attitudes had encouraged. This disingenuous and base tradition has returned with a vengeance today. We need only look to the French, for example, who hold their noses at the anti-Jewish hooliganism of France's Moslem thugs while filling Le Monde with anti-Semitic venom that justifies the very attacks they decry.

The French are not alone. The BBC has regularly introduced anti-Semitic slanders bruited by Arab "correspondents" into its news programming. The British newspapers are full of anti-Jewish sneering, not least of which comes from the venerable Guardian, bellweather of the British Left, which has taken to anti-Semitic caricature in its rantings against the Jewish state. It is the kind of journalism that the Guardian would have once decried as worthy of the British Fascist Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirts in the 30's. Now, wrapping itself in the flag of Palestinian Rights, it sees fit to indulge in the race-bating of Neo-Mosleyism. Most recently, it decried the Israeli incursion into Jenin, the self-described capital of Palestinian terrorism, as something that "looks," "smells" and "feels" like a crime. (A flourish evocative of Hermann Goering's boast that he could "smell" a Jew at twenty paces.) Leaving aside their editorialist's forensic gifts from afar, what the Guardian was all-but-saying before any fact-finding was begun, was that a massacre had occurred although reporters on the scene found this not to be the case. One would have to believe from the intemperate tone of this article that the editors would be disappointed if a massacre HADN'T taken place. All this selective dudgeon in an editorial that not once mentioned the hundreds of Jewish dead from the homicide bombers sent out from this terrorist breeding ground.

What makes for such outrage not on the part of the Arabs, who at least have a stake in this but from these Men of the Left who come from a tradition of intellectual fair play and social tolerance? I would venture to guess that the rabid tone of the editorial reflects an outline of anti-Semitic assumptions the Jew as usurper, manipulator, oppressor, and yes, murderer ingrained in British society, which simply have to be colored with whatever hues are currently in vogue on the palette of Jew hatred. England exiled its Jews in 1290 and was judenrein for almost 300 years, which perhaps explains why it avoided the slaughters of its peers on the Continent during the late Middle Ages, early Renaissance and Reformation. This didn't stop the English popular mind from inventing the Jew of Malta and Shylock (who, let's face it, is a villain who insists on his pound of flesh, loses his daughter and is forced to convert), and later Fagin and T.S. Eliot's insidious Jew as well as the entire panoply of anti-Semitic detritus of the British ruling classes from the Social Darwinism of Houston Stewart Chamberlain whose racial writings inspired Hitler to the ravings of Lytton Strachey and the sneering of his Bloomsbury friends to the Quisling opportunism of Lord Halifax and the Windsors to the pro-Arab, anti-Zionist tilt of the Old Boy network in the Foreign Office. It must have been so hard for them to have swallowed the reality of a Jewish homeland after the politicians had made the mistake of committing themselves to one.

There is an obligation afoot today among their heirs in Whitehall and Fleet Street to compensate for the Original Sin of the Balfour Declaration by at least undoing its worst excesses, if not repealing it altogether. The Jews may have been Clever but the British had Character, something a Jew could never attain. With such a legacy, it is easy to see how the toffs at the BBC and the Guardian are susceptible to believing, and writing, the worst about the Jews and their state, and borrowing from a rich patrimony of anti-Semitism to do so. In a sop to its liberal past, Guardian writers have tried to distinguish between their opposition to the existence of the Jewish state a political position and anti-Semitism, a cultural one - as if the destruction of Israel and its concomitant loss of Jewish life and subsequent dislocation and denigration would not be a disaster for the Jewish people and an anti-Semitic event on the scale of a Second Holocaust.

Anti-Semitism has a long history in Europe that won't go away. The only people to deal with it in a serious way were the Germans, given their role in the Holocaust. Interestingly, Germany is the only major country in Western Europe where there is not a heavy majority opposing Israel. Most of the other nations believe that either they defeated the Germans (France) were conquered by the Germans (Austria) or remained neutral (Switzerland). Therefore, their consciences are clear. We hear much chastisement from the Dutch about Israel's policies toward the Palestinians (the overwhelming majority of Holland's Jews went to the Nazi ovens with nary a finger being raised by the Dutch who, alas, failed to show the same courage as the Danes). Ditto for Belgium, which is so eager to try Ariel Sharon of Sabra and Shatila (but not Yassir Arafat of Munich and Ma'a lot) for war crimes. With the exception of the Danes, the same sorry story is true throughout Europe. Nations who collaborated with, benefited from or turned a blind eye to the Nazi extermination of the Jews are now making common cause with the next inimical threat to their existence.

Perhaps the experience of those avatars of Mittel-Europa, the Austrians and the Swiss each at the heart of the Continent in both history and geography can help explain the psychology that drives this. After all, Israel is a democracy with the very same commitment to tolerance, humanism and liberal values that these nations celebrate. Arrayed against it is a sea of 300 million Arabs whose spearhead, the Palestinians, are led by a thuggish terrorist and dictator reflective of the other tyrannies ubiquitous in the Arab world, all of whom are implacable enemies of Israel and, with little prodding, the West. Would it not make sense that the Austrians and the Swiss, along with their European compatriots would stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel? Why then, does the European Union support Arafat's corrupt, dictatorial regime? Why do European politicians, intellectuals and their peers in the press consistently side with a faction whose interests are inimical to everything for which they putatively stand?

In the case of the Austrians, they claim to be the first nation "conquered" by the Nazis. The fact that they wildly celebrated the Anschluss and welcomed their native son Adolph Hitler in his triumphal return at the head of the German Army, reveled in the Walpurgisnacht of anti-Semitic persecution that followed and joined ranks with the Fuehrer to conquer Europe, has somehow been erased from Austrian history. And, of course, having committed no crime against the Jews, there is nothing for which to atone. But the Austrians know better. Actually, they won the war that is Hitler's War Against the Jews. And like all winners (except, of course, the Israelis on the West Bank), they're entitled to the spoils. Who, after all, is living in all those stately houses in Vienna that once belonged to the Jews who populated more than a third of the city? How did they get them? We know the answer. So do the Austrians. There has never been an attempt except for the barest tokenism to compensate the heirs of those despoiled many of them murdered by the state or by the inheritors of the expropriation. Collective guilt, unacknowledged but nonetheless there, gnaws just beneath the surface of the Austrian conscience. One does not have to be Dr. Freud one of the Jews driven from Vienna (whose offices have been charitably converted by the Viennese to a museum) to understand that the Austrians must harbor a great deal of resentment toward a people whom they have wronged and whom they feel has the moral high ground on them. Similarly, the Swiss who have had to eat crow as their shameful financial shilling for the Nazis and theft of Jewish holdings has come to light in recent years despite their stonewalling must be seething at what may seem to them as the never-ending blandishments of the Jews and their lawyers.

What better way for the Austrians and the Swiss and the French and all their other European brethren who were complicit in the Nazi extermination but for reasons of postwar expedience got off the hook to ease their collective conscience and cut the Jew back down to size, than by showing that the Jews, too, are morally reprehensible? Back to a level playing field! Were the Jews persecuted? They persecute. Were they oppressors? They oppress. Were they the victims of a Nazi genocide? They are Nazis who commit genocide. Just as the Fascist theology of Social Darwinism and neo-Paganism freed Europe from any remaining Christian restraint in dealing with the Jews, so the cause of Palestine has freed today's Europe from any residual guilt about the Holocaust. If the Palestinians didn't exist the Europeans might have had to invent them. One of the unsought benefits of the Palestinian Liberation Movement is that it has liberated Europe from being in moral thrall to the Jews, from being forever in debt to them for the crime against humanity that was the Holocaust. Now, it is Europe who can accuse Israel and thereby the Jews of crimes against humanity and, in so doing, wash the slate clean of its own crimes without ever having to fully acknowledge them. What a weight has been lifted from Europe's conscience. The Palestinian cause has finally "normalized" the Jew in a way unforeseen by Israel's founders. It has allowed Europe to make the Jew as "normal" as the Christian in the realm of oppression. The possibility that this may not be true that Israel is fighting a struggle for survival against an array of intransigent and inimical forces is something that Europe cannot countenance because that would put the Jews back on their moral pedestal. This explains the impassioned, indeed excessive efforts of the Europeans to make the Palestinian case for crimes against humanity on the part of Israel and, therefore the Jews.

To be sure, there are the more prosaic reasons for Europe's tilt toward the Palestinians:

1. The guilt that European nations feels for their own colonial adventures: France in Algeria where torture and counter-terror the real thing was Government policy for years; the British everywhere from India (the Amritsar massacre), Kenya (more torture and counter-terror against the Kikuyu resistance) Northern Ireland (the massacre of marchers at Derry) and, oh, yes, Jenin, (where handcuffed Palestinian prisoners were shot and homes blown up arbitrarily in response to a 1930's Arab insurgency that was far less threatening than the current intifida). And, of course, there are the Belgians in the Congo where more than 10 million blacks were enslaved and slaughtered hardly more than 100 years ago under King Leopold whose legacy continues to this day in the massacre of half a million Tutsi by Hutu murderers with the collusion of, guess who? The French. For Europe to displace its collective guilt for this overwhelming oppression by singling out Israel is politically shameful but psychologically effective. The Palestinians maintain it is unfair that they must pay the price for Israel which they claim was fashioned out of European guilt over the Holocaust. In fact, the Jewish homeland was forged two decades before the Holocaust in the same series of mandates and treaties that created several Arab states including Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. More to the point, it is Israel that is currently paying the price for Europe's predatory colonial past.

2. Expediency rationalized as sophistication. Europe is dependent on Arab oil; it also does considerable business with Arab states including Iraq (alas, the French again) and so naturally, it does not want morality to get in the way of its business interests.

3. Cravenness. Europe has a burgeoning and increasingly active Muslim population that can vote. They are visible; they are active. There are not many Jews left since the Europeans killed most of them in the Holocaust. (France has Europe's largest remaining Jewish population, 600,000; it has six million Muslims.)

4. Anti-Americanism. To the extent that Israel is seen as America's "client," Europe, in its resentment of American "hegemony," has tilted toward the Arabs.

5. Post-colonialism. Two generations of studies in Relativism, Deconstructionism, Multi-Culturalism and Post-Colonialism has created a culture of European intellectuals, journalists, "humanitarians" and leaders who are in contempt of their own Western values and are willing to embrace any "ism" up to and including Islamo-fascism and the lies that go with it as an alternative to Western democracy.

6. Television. A tank in front of a building provides a riveting visceral picture. To explain why the tank got there involves words, which is a cerebral activity that takes time and thought. Once again, Iconography, a traditional tool in Gentile demonography of Jews, trumps the power of the Word. In the hot medium of television, pictures have a natural advantage over words, a reality that gives the terrorists a distinct advantage. No one sees them plotting an attack but people see the Israeli response. Yes, images of Israeli terror victims flash on television but they seem to recede before the constant repetition of pictures of Israeli soldiers in front of wailing Arab women. The delusion that this is a David and Goliath situation, overlooks the array of political, economic and military forces aligned against Israel and forgets that, at the end of the day, David was a Hebrew and Goliath was a Philistine.

There may be those who genuinely object to the policies of the current Israeli Government on the West Bank. This includes many Israelis, many Jews in the Diaspora and many genuine friends of Israel. But this does not explain, nor can it justify the campaign of vilification against Israel in Europe that has spilled over into an open season against Jews. The current drive to isolate Israel is redolent of an ancient anti-Semitic effort to ghettoize the Jew, except this time on an international basis. The UN debates on Israel's policies, like the "human rights" fiasco in Durban last year, are modern equivalents of the "disputations" set up by the church in medieval Spain whose purpose was to prove the superiority of Christianity over the fallen Jewish creed. The verdict is already decided.

It is important to unmask the current European onslaught against the Jewish state and, by implication, the Jews for what it is: a recrudescence of anti-Semitism, only by another name. Elie Wiesel said recently that he could not imagine living through another Holocaust in his lifetime. To prevent this, all people of conscience must recognize the motives of those in Europe abetting the Arab agenda for what they are. And we must speak out against the Arab program whose goal is the destruction of the Jewish state a true second genocide which, should it succeed, might not even burden the European conscience this time around.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.