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Absurdities about Anti-Semitism

We [who have freed ourselves of Jewish trauma] no longer spend every waking moment worrying about anti-Semitism, as we were taught to do. We know it exists, as do other forms of racism, but we do not allow it to define who we are, what we do, or what we think and feel about ourselves and about others. Being free from Jewish trauma means being free from fear of anti-Semitism.

Zionist Jews think I have gone insane because I don’t fear anti-Semitism and refuse to focus on it, but I think I have gone sane. I once received an e-mail from an Israeli who said to me: ‘You are naïve and stupid but regardless, when they finally come to get you, you will run to us and we will still accept you with open arms’ ...

This echoes the feelings of the majority of Israeli Jews and most Zionist Jews. Even very educated people feel this way. ‘Because we were victims of anti-Semitism we can never relax and must always be vigilant in case a new enemy of the Jews will come to destroy us.’

Living with trauma is a terrible thing and it leads to precisely ... the kind of crimes committed by Israel right now. Trauma that is a product of past hurts can make you believe that everyone hates you and wants to destroy you — now, always, not just in the past.

Avigail Abarbanel

 

In this essay I want to survey and critically examine three absurdities that Zionists tend to believe – and want us too to believe – about anti-Semitism. To highlight the underlying logic of these beliefs I present them in their most extreme form. I acknowledge that they are not always presented in this form, though they very often are. 

(1) Anti-Semitism is pervasive in Gentile societies

This does not mean that every single Gentile is regarded as an anti-Semite. On the contrary, there is a minor cult of “the righteous among the nations.” However, this cult itself implies that the righteous Gentile is an unusual, remarkable figure who stands out in sharp contrast to the general run of his or her fellows. From Herzl onward, Zionists have assumed that Gentile societies perceive Jews as aliens and are always prone to anti-Semitism, even if it remains latent for considerable periods.

In fact, during the Holocaust there were not just isolated Gentile individuals who protected Jews at risk of their own lives. There were also several European national and regional societies whose resistance to the Holocaust was on such a massive scale that it must be treated as a social and not just individual phenomenon. Such societies were: Denmark, almost all of whose Jews were taken to safety in Sweden; Italy, where 30-40,000 were saved, sometimes hundreds by the inhabitants of a single village; Bulgaria, where a popular uprising induced the German-allied government to halt the deportations at the last moment, with Jews already loaded in the cattle cars; eastern Belorussia, where 10% of the Jews in the Minsk Ghetto were smuggled out to join the partisans in the forest; and certain regions of France, notably the Vivarias-Lingon plateau in the southeast. [1] While it is not easy to explain why precisely these societies proved so resistant to anti-Semitism, [2] they surely provide ample reason to reject pessimistic generalizations about the all-pervasiveness of anti-Semitism even in Europe, let alone on the global level.

As Zionists expect to find anti-Semitism everywhere, they often “detect” its presence on the basis of the flimsiest or even completely imaginary evidence. The non-Zionist may then easily interpret what is actually innocent self-delusion as politically motivated falsification of reality. Thus in his brilliant documentary Defamation, dissident Israeli film-maker Yoav Shamir accompanies a group of Israeli teenagers on a brainwashing trip to Auschwitz. They are accompanied and guarded by security men who warn them that the Poles still hate Jews and frighten them into avoiding any contact with local residents. After three old men sitting on a bench call out to them: “Hi girls, are you from Israel?” they imagine that the men called them “Jewish bitches.” Later other members of the tour group embroider the story further and come to believe that the men also called the girls “monkeys” and “donkeys.”

Of course, it is difficult to tell delusion apart from intentional falsification. In some cases falsification seems the only reasonable way to explain far-fetched accusations of anti-Semitism. Due to the historical association with the Holocaust, an accusation of anti-Semitism is a powerful weapon that can be used for all sorts of dubious purposes. Defending Israel against criticism is often but by no means always the motive. Moreover, the weapon can be wielded by Gentiles as well as Jews. Thus one Hungarian friend of mine was groundlessly accused of anti-Semitism in the course of a struggle between rival academic cliques. Another old friend, engaged in a child custody battle following divorce, was accused of anti-Semitism by her (Gentile) ex-husband; her lawyer thought this was an attempt to influence the Jewish judge scheduled to hear the case. She was also accused of witchcraft, presumably to cover the contingency of the case coming before a Christian judge.

(2) All anti-Semitism is potentially exterminatory

Anti-Semitism comes in many different varieties and degrees. Some are extremely dangerous, while others are relatively trivial. The exterminatory anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust was historically unique and is unlikely to be repeated. However, Zionists tend to view all instances of anti-Semitism as potentially exterminatory. For example, when Jessie Jackson was reported as referring in a private conversation to New York as “Hymietown,” this was already enough for them to view him as a new Hitler. This sort of emotional overreaction is a sign of hysteria, of the absence of a sense of proportion – a basic attribute of sanity.

The exaggerated perception of the danger presented by anti-Semitism comes from seeing it as both pervasive and potentially exterminatory. The task of combating anti-Semitism is equated with the task of preventing a second Holocaust. As a result this task is assigned top priority, and anxiety that a certain course of action may fuel anti-Semitism trumps any arguments that may be advanced in its favor. This then makes it impossible to argue, for instance, that the American public should be fully informed about Israeli misdeeds even if this involves a risk of temporarily increasing anti-Semitism (until the resulting shift in public opinion enables the US to improve Israeli behavior). If we are faced with another Holocaust, after all, then nothing else matters. 

(3) The behavior of Jews never plays any part in creating anti-Semitism

Looking through my mother’s papers after her death, I came across a little dog-eared booklet of rabbinical maxims. The theme of many of the maxims was that Jews must behave well and put pressure on other Jews to behave well because bad behavior by any Jew endangers the reputation and safety of all Jews. We are all in the same boat. I reflected that nowadays it would be considered politically incorrect to say that. Anti-Semitism may be attributed to various causes but never to the behavior of Jews themselves, because that is “blaming the victim” and by definition Jews are always “the victim.” I think there are general cultural reasons for this change of attitude, including the impact of the Holocaust (whatever we did, we could hardly have deserved that). But the rise of Zionism is surely a major factor.

Anti-Semitism has indeed often had extraneous causes over which Jews have no control, such as the traditional Christian teaching that “the Jews killed Jesus” or the fabrication and dissemination of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. But this does not mean that Jewish behavior cannot also be a significant factor. An instance that comes to mind is the outburst of anti-Semitism among black people in Crown Heights in 1991 that followed an incident in which Hasidic Jews did nothing to help black children injured in a car accident. Each case needs to be considered on its merits.

Before the rise of Zionism, many of the policies pursued by Jewish communities were consciously aimed at combating anti-Semitism by demonstrating consideration for the well-being of Gentiles. So despite the traditional ban on informing against fellow Jews the community leaders of British Jewry decided to help the police catch Jewish criminals. They organized charitable medical services for poor Jews in the East End of London and also for their Gentile neighbors.

My sister and I heard of the generous help that our grandmother gave an anti-Semitic neighbor when she fell sick – how she cleaned this woman’s house, bathed her, fed her kids. We were taught that this kind of response was effective as well as moral (“and she never insulted ‘the bloody Jews’ again”). See also this story.

For over half a century now, the crimes committed in the name of the Jewish people by the Zionist movement and the State of Israel have been a major generator of anti-Semitism, not only among Arabs but throughout the world. By dissociating ourselves from these crimes, we objectively help to hold anti-Semitism in check – whether or not that is part of our purpose. I recall speaking at a meeting held by the New York section of the International Jewish Peace Union, established by the late Israeli fighter for peace Maxim Ghilan. After my talk I was approached by a man who identified himself as Irish. He asked me two questions: (1) Did I mean what I had said? and (2) Was I Jewish? He evidently had trouble digesting the fact that my answer to both questions was yes, because he repeated the questions to make sure. He then confessed that Israeli actions had turned him into an anti-Semite; now he saw that he was wrong and apologized.

The absurd Zionist doctrine that Jews are always and everywhere innocent victims in an irremediably hostile world bent upon their destruction does untold damage to relations between Jews and Gentiles. Above all, it does great harm to those Jews who believe this absurdity and to those who suffer the brunt of their displaced wrath as they fight back against their mostly imaginary enemies. As the great French philosopher Voltaire said, “those who believe in absurdities will commit atrocities.” 

Notes

 1. On Denmark see here. On Italy see Elizabeth Bettina, It Happened in Italy: Untold Stories of How the People of Italy Defied the Horrors of the Holocaust (Thomas Nelson, 2009). On Bulgaria see Tsvetan Todorov, The Fragility of Goodness: Why Bulgaria’s Jews Survived the Holocaust (Princeton University Press, 1999). On eastern Belorussia see Barbara Epstein, The Minsk Ghetto, 1941-1943: Jewish Resistance and Soviet Internationalism (University of California Press, 2008). On the Vivarias-Lingon plateau in France, see Philip Hallie, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed (Harper, 1994) and Patrick Henry, We Only Knew Men: The Rescue of Jews in France during the Holocaust (Catholic University of America Press, 2007).

 2. Simple explanations in terms of religious culture do not work. While the regions in France that saved the most Jews were predominantly Protestant, many Jews were also saved by Catholic Italians. Philo-Semitic Eastern Orthodox Bulgaria stands in sharp contrast to its intensely anti-Semitic but likewise Eastern Orthodox Romania. In eastern Belarus, the “internationalist” (i.e., inter-ethnic) culture of the early period of Soviet rule played a key role.  

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