Gilles William Goldnadel’s Nouveau bréviaire de la haine [New Breviary of Hatred] (Editions Ramsay, 2001–the nouveau is a reference to an earlier “breviary” by the anti-Semitism historian Léon Poliakov) is a little book written in a punchy polemical style, close to what the French used to call a pamphlet. Yet few books have more to say about the relation between the Holocaust, victimary thinking, and old and new anti-Semitism.
Goldnagel is a Parisian lawyer and defender of Jewish causes whose concern is to trace the origins of the new anti-Semitism that has been manifesting itself so violently, particularly in France, since the second Intifada began in September 2000. His key historical thesis is that the Israeli victory in the six-day war in 1967 was the turning point in attitudes toward Jews in the postwar era. To the idea that the Holocaust was the central catalyst of postmodern victimary thinking, Goldnagel adds the valuable nuance that awareness of the Holocaust (which he and other French writers prefer to call the Shoah) remained largely latent until this date. Jean-Michel Chaumont’s La concurrence des victimes [Competition among Victims] (Editions La Découverte, 1997), a study of reaction to the Holocaust referred to in Chronicle 258, attributes this change in Jewish and subsequently general opinion to the time required for the survivors to overcome their guilt (toward the dead) and shame (before the living). Goldnagel’s sharper point is that only after the definitive realization of Israel’s military strength were both Jews and the world at large ready to accept the reality of the Holocaust as something that had now been put behind them.
Extrapolating from this insight leads us to speculate that Israel’s 1967 triumph over her Arab enemies, greeted enthusiastically throughout the Western world, including–hard as it may be to believe–in France, was also the chief catalyst for the radicalization of victimary thinking that came to a head in the pseudo-revolution of 1968, also in France. The 1967-68 period is the apogee of the postmodern era. Just as Marxism was forged in the experience of the failed 1848 revolution, so deconstruction, the most consequential postmodern (anti-)metaphysical system, reflects the failed hopes of 1968. The Vietnam war, the immediate source of the widespread campus revolt of that year in the US, complemented Israel’s experience by exemplifying the (apparent) weakness of Western military force against a determined third-world opponent. The US saw itself as fighting a popular revolution in a country far away, whereas Israel was seen as fighting for its life against an alliance of hostile despotic regimes on its borders. Yet, ironically, its very victory would make it possible to apply the Vietnam model to Israel itself.
Goldnadel’s analysis draws a dialectical connection between the Holocaust, victimary thinking, and attitudes toward Israel–and, inevitably, toward Jews in general. Until 1967, the Jews were at least tacitly placed on the victimary side of the ledger in the binary persecutor-victim model that took its inspiration from Nazi-Jew relations, if not yet explicitly from the Holocaust. This view of Israel as heir to the victimary status of the Jewish victims of Nazism was echoed, from a very different perspective, by the Arab states, who expected to drive the “unwarlike” Jews into the sea. As a result of its crushing victory, viewed favorably as the triumph of the underdog, Israel changed places with its neighbors: henceforth, Israel was seen as the dominator rather than the dominated, and, as if in response to this new categorization, the Palestinians–Jordanians before 1967–acquired the victimary status they have preserved, and their leadership exploited, so successfully to this day.
Goldnagel is uninterested in penetrating the ultimate causality of anti-Semitism, which he calls a “virus” in the tradition of the Nazism=plague metaphor of Camus’ La peste. Thus he is content to explain the 1967 transformation of victim-Jew into conqueror-Jew by a kind of Hegelian “ruse of reason” through which the “virus” always finds new ways to propagate itself. One can well understand such fatalism. That “anti-Zionism” is no more than a euphemism for anti-Semitism, itself a racist euphemism for Judeophobia, needs no demonstration. When was the last time Chinese cemeteries in France were desecrated and Chinese people beaten on the streets of Berlin to protest China’s occupation of Tibet? Israel, Goldnagel sadly concludes, has become “the Jew among nations.” Nor can blanket hostility to Israel, as recently expressed, for example, by the (unreprimanded) French ambassador to Great Britain’s calling it “a shitty little country,” be dissociated from support for Palestinian terrorism. For their part, the forces backing this terrorism, in Palestine and throughout the Middle East, publish and distribute Mein Kampf and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, along with homemade anti-Jewish propaganda of a crudity that would have embarrassed Julius Streicher of the Nazi weekly Der Stürmer.
The link between anti-Semitism and terrorism is of crucial importance because, since September 11 at least, it has become increasingly clear that the central conflict of the post-millennial era is no longer between “world-systems” or civilizations but between civilization itself and the destructive violence of terrorist organizations. (Last week’s shelling of the new Colombian president’s inauguration ceremony by “leftist guerillas” is another corroboration.) Whatever form the mature global system takes, it will emerge from the new century’s efforts at containing this conflict, which opposes the modern state in its various forms to forces whose violence, whether or not ostensibly directed to some utopian or transcendental end, serves only the cohesion of the terrorist group. Terrorism tacitly expresses the most extreme form of victimary ideology: I kill you to demonstrate that I am your victim (and so you should feel guilty as I kill you). This is the point at which we must, for our own self-preservation, and even for the benefit of those who support the terrorists, reject the victimary model of the postmodern era and defend our civilization, warts and all, from its attackers.
The identification of Jews with power has always been at the heart of anti-Semitism, but only since 1967 has this mythical conspiratorial power become identified with the real power of a state. Today Western anti-Semitism is fueled, as Goldnagel insightfully observes, by an anarchic hostility to state formations that is both a symptom of and a reaction to globalization. In a time when European countries have essentially relinquished military force and are in the process of relinquishing national autonomy, Israel’s reliance on its army seems a throwback to a discredited era–“Tsahal,” as Goldnagel points out, is the world’s only army its detractors call by name, no doubt on the model of Hitler’s Wehrmacht. The anti-Semitic inclination of the anti-global left is perhaps best exemplified by that of France’s José Bové, whose claim to fame is having set fire to a MacDonald’s. Yet September 11 teaches us that we cannot afford to disdain the state power of democracies, above all, of the United States, the only force that can hope to contain global terrorism.
Today’s anti-Semitism is no longer, as could once be claimed, an affirmation of national pride; rejection of Israel is a pretext for hostility to modernity in general. The only alternative to the nihilist violence that would destroy (or “Talibanize”) our civilization is dialogue and commerce, the exchange of goods and words. I think Goldnagel would agree that we have an obligation to hope, and act on the hope, that global exchange will triumph over global violence. There is no reason to think that the modern market system has nothing to offer those countries whose leaders now indulge in anti-Semitism as a substitute for a productive economic policy.
One of the more hopeful experiences I have had in recent years is participating with Ammar Abdulhamid, a young Syrian intellectual, in a dialogue on some of these issues that has appeared in Anthropoetics 7, 2 as well as (the first half) in the online Arabic journal Maaber (which also includes the English text). I have no illusions that these modestly successful Internet publications will exercise any great influence on the inhabitants of either the West or the Middle East. Yet since terrorism, as well as anti-Semitism, with which it is increasingly synonymous, are in the first place refusals of dialogue, it is important to show by example that dialogue is not impossible.