[cross-posted to Daimnation!]
During the summer Olympics a few weeks ago, famed Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis was interviewed by an Israeli reporter. He denied having an anti-semitic in his body, and then spent the rest of the interview saying Jews were “at the root of evil,” “hold world finance in their hands,” “control most of the big symphonic orchestras in the world,” that “there is a group of Jews who surround Bush and control the policy of the United States,” and that the 9/11 attacks were almost certainly carried out by the Americans, probably with assistance from the Mossad. For good measure, he also denied there was any anti-semitism in Europe: “it really allows the Jews to do whatever they want. Not only psychologically, but also politically, it gives the Jews an excuse. The sense of victimhood. It gives them a license to hide the truth. There is no Jewish problem in Europe today. There is no anti-Semitism.”
That Theodorakis – a cultural superstar in Greece – had no qualms about spouting this nonsense is disturbing enough. That the International Olympic Committee subsequently awarded Theodorakis the “Olympiart Prize” – as “a man who symbolises the spirit of the country of origin of the Olympic Games” – is downright terrifying.
59 years after Auschwitz, Jew-hatred is back: that’s the thesis of Gabriel Schoenfeld’s The Return of Anti-Semitism. Schoenfeld, a senior editor for Commentary magazine, argues that a rabid hatred of the Jews – stoked by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and alternatively tolerated and encouraged by the region’s despotic governments – has engulfed the Middle East, that the phenomenon is growing rapidly in Europe, and that it’s even showing up in North America at levels unimaginable just a few years ago. (He begins his book by noting the security barriers and alarms set up outside his workplace, the American Jewish Committee headquarters in New York. It sounds like a military base.)
It’s almost impossible to look at modern antisemitism without dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and as Schoenfeld notes, today’s Jew-haters have simply taken all the old antisemitic slanders, replaced the word “Jew” with “Zionist” or “neocon”, and carried on as usual. That’s why it’s among the “anti-imperialist” left, instead of the extreme right, where antisemitism presently finds its most fertile ground. But where does legitimate criticism of Israel end, and blatant antisemitism begin? That’s a difficult question, and Schoenfeld doesn’t really give a satisfactory answer. (Here’s my own test: if a “Zionism is Nazism” protestor is willing to condemn the region’s Muslim theocracies as persistently and loudly as they condemn the Jewish state, we can probably take her at her word. I leave it to you to determine how often that happens.)
Much of The Return of Anti-Semitism will be familiar to regular readers of weblogs like LGF, Silent Running or Harry’s Place, which since 9/11 have documented many of the antisemitic incidents described in the book. British MP Tam Dalyell babbling about a “Jewish cabal” controlling the American government, the Saudi newspaper Al-Riyadh “reporting” blood libels about Jews using childrens’ blood for religious rites, “anti-Zionist” protestors at San Francisco State engulfing and threatening a Hillel rally – these incidents got a lot of attention in the blogosphere as they were happening, and The Return of Anti-Semitism only describes a few incidents blog devotees will not already know about. (The most disturbing: newspaper columnists in Sweden – Sweden – denouncing Judaism as “warlike and murderous” just after the Lebanon invasion in 1982.)
The Return of Anti-Semitism relies primarily on secondhand sources and contains little original research. Schoenfeld, as a Jew, would not have been allowed into the most rabidly antisemitic nations of the Middle East, but there’s no indication he made any attempt to personally investigate any of the incidents he describes.
Still, the book is worth reading, especially if you haven’t been closely following this disturbing phenomenon over the past few years. (I’d recommend it to high-school students, in particular, as an introduction to something which really should be discussed in social-studies classes.) A majority of those involved in anti-globalization, anti-war, pro-Palestinian or Islamic movements may not be antisemitic – but a growing number of their comrades have crossed that line, and they seem surprisingly unconcerned about it. Antisemitism may not yet be respectable in “progressive” circles, but resistance to it seems to be wearing down.
And that’s how anti-Jewish persecution – which invariably leads to persecution against other groups – always gets started. Either we fight the monster now, or we deal with something much, much worse in a few short years.