In her 1973 The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt explains the virulence of modern antisemitism by the fact that the Jews, who had played an important role as international intermediaries in medieval Europe, were no longer needed in this role in the increasingly global political and economic marketplace of the early modern and bourgeois eras. The Jews were resented now that their access to monarchs and historically tolerated international connections were perceived as undeserved privileges. The classic expression of such sentiments was the sad 18th-century tale of Joseph “Süss” Oppenheimer, the basis of the novel and play Jew Süss, best known in its 1940 Nazi film version by Veit Harlan.
The degree to which these privileges motivated general hostility to Jews is a question for historians, but we can certainly connect the resentment of the court Jew to the more systematic reflections of Karl Marx, whose work on the Judenfrage I discussed in Chronicle 406. We have here an example of the contrast between a historical approach to human motivation and an understanding founded on originary anthropology. Resentment of the Jews’ “tribal” facility with money, both as local moneylenders and as international bankers—still detectable in the “antisemitism lite” of Mearsheimer and Walt or Thomas Friedman—is not simply the product of a chain of contingent circumstances (Christians can’t practice usury, European Jews have no fixed national home…) but reflects much more directly the Hebrews’ originary role as the discoverers/inventors of monotheism.
For the ethical insight of monotheism is that the originary sacred scene is defined by its model of moral reciprocity, and hence that the core of the ethics of the “tribe,” as expressed notably in the Ten Commandments, should be considered “categorical imperatives” generalizable to humanity as a whole. This emphasis on universal laws not bound by place reflects the exodic and exilic nature of Judaism from its beginnings, and provides an opening to the market’s generalization of exchange, and hence to the use of money, that was not available to “rooted” cultures. Jewish firstness has been transmuted into a greater facility and comfort with abstraction, a translation of the exodic relationship between a people and its communal god that is understood to be the One God and consequently encountered in a place but in essence detached from place. One can see perverse traces of an awareness of this in Palestinian claims that the Jews have no historical attachment to Jerusalem or to Israel generally. In factual terms absurd, these claims nevertheless reflect and indeed confirm the placeless or “exodic” essence of Judaism, in contrast with the Islamic goal of the conquest of territory for the Umma.
Marx’s reflections are the great crux of our understanding of modern antisemitism. No doubt, to affirm that the Jews worship not God but money is a calumny. But if we recall Marx’s punch line that in the modern world, all Christians have become Jews, the relation of the Jews to modernity is revealed to be exactly the same as their relationship to monotheistic religion: that of firstness. Just as in the Western world all Christians first “became Jews” in worshiping the One God, so they have now followed the Jews in “worshiping” money, which in less polemical terms simply means in conceiving the free market as the basic source of economic value. In no way does this imply a rejection of reciprocal morality, although it modifies the terms of this reciprocity, which comes to be embodied typically in the transaction rather than in the gift-exchanges of traditional society.
Except of course that, in contrast with monotheism, money, however much the Jews have been associated with it, is not a Jewish invention. And just as the Jews did not invent money, neither are they the masters of the market that its generalized use brings into being. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the height of antisemitic BS, describes a conspiracy that by definition can never be proven, its secret nature insuring that we can only “know” it through uncertain, unverifiable means, since its subjects will always deny its existence. We believe it exists because we find it useful to believe it exists, and believe it all the more because the accused deny it exists.
Thus the Jews become the “scapegoats” for the unpredictability of the market, or more specifically, its decentralized generation of information. Just as the sacred can be conceived in Durkheimian terms as the expression of the values of the society as a whole as against those of its individual members, so the market generates information about values that no individual can create on his own. But if the One God can be understood as a the guardian of humanity’s universal set of sacred values, the market has no center. The Jew who is the presumed “chosen” of the One God, that is, a human being inexplicably singled out as the first recipient of God’s revelation, comes in the context of the market system to be seen as himself the “god” of the system, the master of information that no one in fact possesses. This is one way of understanding the surprisingly greater virulence of antisemitism in the bourgeois era. What is new in the market system is that the unpredictable resultant of indefinitely many transactions is now systematically recycled as information into the economy. Where the product of unforeseeable operations could in the past be assimilated to the inscrutable will of a divinity, it can now be understood as created by a conspiratorial human will, and although no one can control a free market, conversely, no one can demonstrate that its workings are indeed independent of clandestine influences. Hence the figure of the Jew as the beneficiary of unjustly imposed firstness can be adapted directly to that of secret master of the market. This is not quite Marx’s idea, but by emphasizing Jewish primacy with respect to money, antisemitic ideology naturally extends itself in this direction.
Whence the series of book-length diatribes on the “Jewish question” that precede the Protocols, notably Toussenel’s Les juifs rois de l’époque (1847) and Edouard Drumont’s best-selling 1886 La France juive, whose very title asserts that France is essentially if not entirely in the hands of its Jewish minority. Such works are not, even mutatis mutandis, “texts of persecution,” although they certainly exemplify BS on a very large scale. Rather than reflecting the style of briefs to be used in a court case, they are works of “persuasion” designed to arouse “public opinion” to take unspecified measures to resist what is presented as near-complete Jewish domination. Their purpose was not to promote any specific program but to “raise consciousness”; as Drumont puts it, Aryan France is a sleeping giant that once roused will presumably make an end to Jewish domination. But it is striking that here and throughout the Dreyfus era, French antisemitism never had a concrete political program beyond supporting Dreyfus’ conviction and shouting “Mort aux Juifs!”
Even in the German-speaking countries, the mechanisms of parliamentary democracy were never really able to deal with the “Jewish question,” beyond tolerating garden-variety prejudice and petty discrimination, and permitting such restrictions as the numerus clausus. Hitler alone in his murderous obsession formulated a full-fledged antisemitic program to defend “Aryan” society against the Jews. The classic quotation from the end of Vol. 1, Chapter 2 of Mein Kampf is, “Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.” More than a simple demonstration of man’s inhumanity to man, the peculiar horror of the Holocaust reflected what appeared at least after the fact as a fully coherent anti-Jewish policy that took with full seriousness the ideological principle of bourgeois antisemitism. (As Timothy Snyder points out in Bloodlands [Basic Books, 2010], had the German conquest of the Soviet Union accomplished its goals, it is likely that the Jews who perished in the extermination camps would have been deported to the East and worked rather than gassed to death.) Of course even were the Protocols a true reflection of reality, the Holocaust would have been a moral horror, but if the Jews truly conspired to dominate the world one could nevertheless defend, if not the gas chambers, then Hitler’s basic position on “the Jewish question.”
To make this point with respect to the Holocaust is in no way to minimize it; on the contrary. The coherence of Nazi ideology did not merely lead to horrible deeds, it reflected a pernicious view of the human world: the denial of Jewish firstness in the discovery of monotheism, which is the denial of the Jewish and subsequently Christian basis of Western civilization and of modernity as we know it. And this in the name of the fantastic idea that the free market, as the translation into economic terms of the Christian and ultimately Jewish intuition of the originary scene and its moral universality, is in fact a wholly immoral instrument of Jewish domination.
The postwar situation, despite the great ethical advance constituted by eliminating virtually all de jure group-based distinctions between humans, reflects the incapacity of the victimary consciousness stimulated by the Holocaust to grasp the ideological basis of Nazism. One might say that the horrors of the camps did Hitler a perverse service by masking the specifically antisemitic rationale of his ideology. But in any case, antisemitism itself would surely have survived the Holocaust. The new source of its energy if not of its ideological content would be found in the Muslim world. The state of Israel, the embodiment of the Jews’ return to their Middle-Eastern homeland after their millennial experience of what had evolved into the modern Judeo-Christian civilization of Europe, became the focus of Muslim hostility as an alien product of the Jewish Diaspora. But where Hitler’s antisemitism corresponded to the affirmation as serious truth of the BS of the Protocols, Muslim hostility to Israel is ideologically grounded in the universal destiny of Islam, the corollary of which is that no previously Islamic territory can fall into non-Muslim, and surely not Jewish hands. Muslim antisemitism explains the obvious backwardness of the Muslim world with respect to the modern marketplace and its technology by identifying modernity with the Jews. The dominant position of the US in the world economy is easily enough associated with the same Jewish dominance. Sayyid Qutb’s exhortations to postwar Islamism, catalyzed by his horror at the licentiousness of 1940s Denver, Colorado, combine with horror at the dominance of Israel in the Middle East—and such as Mearsheimer and Walt are happy to solidify the link.
Whereas we can observe how modern antisemitism evolved in the light of the completed history of Nazism, we lack this advantage for the antisemitism of the postwar era. The Holocaust allows us to understand the horror of taking seriously the extrapolation from Jewish “exilic” abstraction to conspiratorial power over money and the market. Muslim hostility to Israel, in contrast, has not finished working itself out, and there is at least a sliver of hope that it can ultimately be resolved through cooperation between Israel and the liberal elements of Palestinian society. No doubt this hope has continually diminished in the years since the Camp David agreements, Oslo, and the growth of antisemitism in Europe and Asia (and on the American left) as if in resonance with Middle-Eastern hostility to Israel (see Chronicle 302 for a discussion of Mohammed Mahathir’s 2003 speech to the Islamic Summit Conference), increasingly gives the impression that the old paradigm has been revived in a modified form.
Today’s Jews are seen less as the masters of the capitalist market than as using their wealth to control the political process directly. The existence of Israel allows the Elders of Zion to come out of the shadows as agents of the Jewish State—a state, alone of the nations of the world, considered openly by many as intrinsically illegitimate. From the Muslim standpoint, “Palestine” is a land of the Umma to which the Jews have neither legal nor historical rights. The oft-repeated claims that Jews never inhabited Palestine, that the Palestinian Arabs are descendants of the original “Canaanites,” that Jerusalem was never a Jewish city… mirror the Muslim claim that the Uncreated Koran is older than the Torah, from which, as the most superficial reading makes clear, it derives most of its religious history. For the Muslim world, Israel is the demonstration of the spuriousness of Jewish firstness; the Jews who claim to be returning to the land of their ancestors are European colonialists occupying a territory with no ancient connection to Jews at all. The insistence on such claims is significantly exacerbated by the objective reality of “post-socialist” Israel’s increasingly striking economic success, which contrasts all too evidently with the “third world” status of Muslim countries, dependent on oil wealth originally discovered and processed by Western interests.
What is new is that, in contrast with the era of bourgeois antisemitism, the Jews no longer inhabit the same countries as their “victims.” Following the creation of Israel and such events as the Iranian revolution, almost all Jews have been forced out of the countries of the Muslim Middle East, in most cases leaving their property behind. This objectively scandalous turn of events (cf. the “Palestinian refugee crisis”) has never aroused the least indignation anywhere outside of Jewish circles; expelling Jews is understood as a legitimate act for Muslim countries in the face of the existence of a Jewish state that will presumably command Jewish loyalties. So there is no Egypte juive or Irak juif for a latter-day Drumont to chronicle. In consequence, today’s Jewish achievements are seen less as the sort of local crimes chronicled by the latter than vaguer and vaster criminal enterprises on a world scale, illegitimate a priori because they take place on “occupied” territory. The Jews insure their continued world domination by, for example, promoting drug addiction among Gentiles (dixit Iran VP Mohammad Reza Rahimi this August 7) and even, in the writings of “serious” Muslim scholars at major Middle-Eastern universities, by means of the familiar pre-Passover blood-letting.
This is not “scapegoating” on a level with blaming the Jews for poisoning wells during a plague. It is a cosmic denial of Jewish solidarity with the human race. The point is no longer to catch and execute some poor Jew (if one could be found) on blood libel charges, but to condemn the Jews en bloc in what are essentially Satanic terms. In this manner, today’s Muslim antisemitism offers an even more global explanation of the way of the modern world than that of the Nazis, who were after all participants in modern industrial society. Indeed, contemporary Muslim antisemitism synthesizes medieval, modern, and postmodern BS into what would appear to be antisemitism’s maximal form, as the explanation for all evil in the world. Unsurprisingly, we await in vain any outcry of indignation at this from the Western political world, the academy, or the media—which prefers to give a pass to any Palestinian action however heinous against Israel and its population.
Yet, believe it or not, it takes only a small shift in perspective to envisage the Middle Eastern conflict as putting an end to antisemitism as a distinct phenomenon. For today the Muslim world sees “the Jews” as a single coherent interest group functionally identical to Israel. To the extent that there are Jews in other countries, notably the United States, the Jews manipulate these countries through money and guile (AIPAC!) to defend the interests of Israel. Whatever difficulties this new antisemitic ideology may create for Jews in the West, it does in effect, as Toynbee predicted long ago, assimilate the Jewish people in a way never possible in the past to a nation-state in the Western sense. This is “progress” to the extent that antisemitism comes to resemble other national hatreds—even such things as the blood libel are not foreign to national hatreds in Europe and elsewhere—and no longer singles out the Jew as an insidious presence within Christian or Muslim society itself. Thus the advantage conferred by the firstness of the “chosen people” that so enrages the Muslim world and its sympathizers becomes no more than that of a modern liberal democracy (run, it must be said, by a people known for its intellectual ability) in a world of pre-industrial despotisms.
Although a few Muslim countries have indeed recognized Israel, the Palestinian refusal of recognition remains the key to Arab and Muslim public opinion. By maintaining the Jews in an imaginary diasporic status, this refusal remains the great obstacle to the “withering away” of antisemitism, a fact of which its defenders are very much aware. Given the importance of overcoming the refusal and the seeming triviality of the obstacles involved, I have a modicum of sympathy for, although by no means agree with, the many liberal Jews in the West and in Israel itself who blame Israel for not pulling out all the stops to help put in place the “two-state solution.” Even the disappointment of Gaza as an example of a future Palestinian state cannot be allowed to constitute a definitive counter-argument. Yet the idea of the equivalent of the Sderot rocket barrage raining down daily on Tel Aviv should suffice to purge all but the most optimistic of Shimon Peres’ Polyanna vision of a cooperative sister Palestinian state in the near future.
My impression is that, barring some unforeseen catastrophe such as a nuclear war with Iran or a general middle-eastern conflagration, another generation at least will be required before any real progress can be made. Meanwhile, we will presumably have to put up with acts of Muslim antisemitism in Europe and their stimulant effect on the remnants of bourgeois antisemitism, typified today less by the sorry group of Neo-Nazis than by the victimary Left. “Post-Zionism” will continue to flourish among the “progressive” Jewish intelligentsia in Israel and elsewhere. Yet I continue to believe that the real solution must, and hopefully can, be found in the Middle East. No doubt it will have to await the definitive defeat of contemporary jihadism, the latest embodiment of the ancient dream of Muslim world conquest. But when the suicide bombers stop, assuming they will have failed to destroy the West, it will be time for the Israelis and the Arab world, and for the Jews and the West as a whole, to truly make peace.
When the world does away with antisemitism, then the Messiah will truly have come—bringing with him a new set of problems for the next phase of human history.