Recent conferences find that old-fashioned religious anti-Semitism, as exemplified by Islamic radicals, has joined with an “intellectual” Euro-leftist anti-Semitism, based in post-modern anti-nationalism:
- At the YIVO conference, Mark Lilla, who teaches European intellectual history at the University of Chicago, argued that in the past outbursts of anti-Semitism had often been associated with political crises: with the conflict between church and state in the Middle Ages, with the Enlightenment in the 18th century, with the rise of totalitarianism in the 20th. Now, he continued, another transformation is taking place. Throughout Europe a rebellion is under way against the very idea of the nation-state and its sovereignty.
In European consciousness the nation-state is associated with the evil forces of nationalism, xenophobia and fascism. After the Second World War, Mr. Lilla argued, Europe was able to avoid thinking about sovereignty altogether; the United States and NATO picked up the burden. As a consequence, Mr. Lilla said, the “idea of Europe” has received an “uncritical embrace,” while nongovernmental organizations are regularly appealed to as political ideals. In the midst of this, Israel is an anomaly, a nation-state of recent vintage, insisting on its status, strength and sovereignty, violating the spoken pieties of contemporary international life. This may be one reason that at the United Nations Israel has been treated as a pariah, unable even to serve on the Human Rights Commission (whose chair is Libya) or subject to resolutions that affirm the legitimacy of armed struggle against it.
Mr. Lilla is extending recent arguments made by Robert Kagan about the differences between America and Europe. Indeed, both anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism oppose modern nation-states that insist on older ideas of power. Even when Europe addresses issues of sovereignty — in affirmations of inviolable borders or in arguments for a Palestinian state — they are rarely examined seriously, Mr. Lilla said: “Even sympathy for Palestinians has an oddly apolitical quality in Europe.” Proposed solutions are little more sophisticated than imagining, as Mr. Lilla put it, “Hans Blix zipping around Palestine in his little truck.”
But this is not just a matter of political ideology. Alain Finkielkraut, the French intellectual, suggested that in the wake of the Second World War Europe was haunted by a “never again”: “Never again, power politics. Never again, nationalism. Never again, Auschwitz.” While America could forthrightly celebrate itself, for Europe remembrance opened “an abyss.” So Europe imagined a new world, “a world so humane, so unprejudiced, so open-minded” that the very idea of an enemy is not taken seriously.
But then, in the midst of this idealistic dream, the Jews intrude. Only this time they “are not accused of clinging stubbornly to their Jewishness but of betraying it.” Israel’s nationalism, its military and its particularism offend Europe’s left-wing universalism and anti-globalization sympathies and recall the catastrophic past.
….While once the Jew was attacked for an association with modernity and internationalism, now the Jew is attacked for a dissent from post-modernity and internationalism. Paradoxically, these attacks overlap the more traditional anti-Semitism of Islamic radicals and Palestinian nationalists who distrust liberal modernity, chanting “Death to the Jews” and spinning out their own imaginings of Nazism. [NY Times]
Fascinating theory, but one that lets Euro anti-Semites off the hook a bit – do they feel the same way toward other nationalistic, militarily serious countries, like the U.S.? Yes they do, but they also equate this U.S. “neo-con” perspective with Jewishness and alignment with Israel – if they project “Jewishness” onto every strong, nationalistic country then the question remains unanswered as to why the Jews?