Ever since Adam Katz and I made an agreement with ISGAP (Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy) to publish a book on antisemitism, I have not ceased to point out that shunning all reference to the unique specificity of antisemitism has been fundamental to the approach to the subject by both Jews and their sympathizers. Admittedly, our scholarship in Rethinking Antisemitism: The First Shall Be The Last (Brill, 2015) made no attempt to compete with that of the acknowledged specialists of the question. But our basic point, which is more fundamental than a matter of scholarly references, was one that, as I have said many times since, remains simply taboo to those who attempt, never quite successfully, to discuss the subject of antisemitism.

Details aside, the central Jewish argument against antisemitism has been simply that it is based on false allegations: the Jews didn’t “kill Christ,” or spread the plague, or bleed little Christian boys to make matzoth (why, there isn’t any blood at all in matzoth!). And since antisemitism isn’t based on any form of evidence, it’s simply irrational. It’s a “disease,” a “virus,” a mental disorder. Etc., etc. Best illustrated by the famous joke about the Great War (as quoted by Hannah Arendt):

An antisemite claimed that the Jews had caused the war; the reply was: Yes the Jews and the bicyclists. Why the bicyclists? asks the one. Why the Jews? asks the other.’

Antisemitism is so profoundly rooted in Western civilization that it might well be called its “original sin.” The fact that, with whatever ridicule it may be received, the Jews’ claim to be the “chosen people”—the inaugurators of its monotheistic faith—is unanswerable within the cultural confines of this civilization is the one-line explanation of all the Jews’ suffering—and their glory as well. And that accepting this “sacrificial” truth is so painful that it is virtually impossible for self-conscious Jews to do so is all the more a demonstration that it is the truth indeed.

In modern, secular society one has sometimes imagined that one can ignore this truth, particularly in the privileged era of my own “silent” generation, too young to fight in the war, too old to be a product of it like the “baby-boomers,” and which nurtured arguably the least persecuted generation of Jews in modern history. Thus I was able to live my entire professional life in a world completely free of the active force of antisemitism, and with only the most trivial first-hand experience of it. That is in itself a rare and wonderful thing, but it provides no understanding of a phenomenon that has been an at least implicit element of Western culture from the outset and that began to assume its characteristic form with the beginnings of medieval society around 1000 AD. The point of our book was not to trace the historical development of antisemitism but to understand its roots in Western civilization, roots that the Holocaust had shown to be deep indeed, and which, as we have recently seen, were by no means deracinated with the defeat of Nazism.

That generative anthropology seeks to understand the human, its language, and its sense of the sacred “from the ground up” on the basis of a minimal hypothesis should not be misunderstood as claiming that, once this point of departure is supplied, all history can be “derived” from it. Human history is the progress of human self-understanding. By adding through semiotic communication a whole new category of degrees of freedom to life on Earth, humanity has evolved in a process by definition unpredictable from its minimal point of departure.

Thus when I speak of Jewish “firstness” in the world of Abrahamic religion, the mere fact of being the oldest of the three religions that comprise it does not allow us to “derive” the current role of Judaism in the world, nor indeed to predict the ancient splitting off of its two very different derivatives: Christianity, viewing itself as the fulfillment of the prophetic promises aroused by Judaism, and Islam, seeking to impose itself as the one true religion of whose revelation in the Koran the Bible of Judaism and Christianity was merely a collection of preliminary drafts.

Nor could it have been predicted from the first that, as appears today to be occurring, on the one hand the Judeo-Christian Bible would increasingly be understood as a dialectical unity, with the Jews accepted as the “elder brothers” of the followers of Christ, while on the other, a militant “jihadi” form of Islam would not only deny the validity of the Biblical religions but, reviving its originary drive toward world conquest, interpret the decline of Western sacrality, as reflected in the waning of the West’s religiosity as well as its political power and self-confidence, as a sign that the ultimate goal of a world caliphate was now within its sights.

To discuss antisemitism as though it were a “prejudice,” a “disease,” a “virus” is to refuse to understand the history of Western civilization itself. In today’s world only a fearlessly lucid understanding of the unique hostility aroused by the Jews can be of help in formulating strategies for the future.

As an example of how today’s educated Jewish mind understands the Jews’ current dilemma, I first refer the reader to Jonathan Tobin’s April 12 article (before the Iran attack on Israel) for the Jewish News Service, of which he is Editor-in-Chief: https://www.jns.org/why-the-left-united-around-hatred-of-israel/ .

After outlining what seemed to be the world’s surprisingly unsympathetic reaction to the sufferings of the Jews in the October 7 pogrom, Tobin tries to explain the strikingly unique negative response in the US to the Jews’ use of military force in response:

What makes this conflict so special is not the scale of the warfare or the especially dire plight of its victims. It’s the fact that the one Jewish state on the planet is one of the combatants. No war involving any European, Arab, Muslim, African or Asian antagonist with no direct American participant has prompted such a response from the American left, including those in which the United States was backing one of the parties, as is frequently the case.

That’s why it is clear that the reason so many Americans who identify with the political left have adopted the Palestinian cause—and forced Biden to abandon Israel—has to do with something other than the objective facts of the conflict. (my emphasis)

Indeed, the “objective facts” taken independently of the role of the “one Jewish state” cannot begin to explain the vehemence of the Left’s reaction. Tobin goes on to explain the phenomenon of Wokeness and its “intersectional” hostility to “white supremacy,” but not why the latter is for some reason embodied in exemplary fashion by the Jews, many of whom in Israel are in fact part of the same Semitic population as the Arabs who wish to eradicate them.

Tobin’s analysis ends thus:

But all the leftist money in the world could not have purchased the impact that came from the conquest of American education by progressives whose long march through its institutions has taken critical race theory from the political fever swamps of the far left to a position where it is the reigning orthodoxy in universities, corporations, journalism, popular culture and the fine arts. Without it, the political phenomena that cowed Biden into trying to rescue Hamas by threatening Israel would have been impossible.

All very true, but before October 7, although the growing problem of antisemitism on American campuses had already been noted, nothing had occurred comparable to the displays of open Jew-hatred that followed, and this, as Tobin remarks, began even before the Israeli Gaza offensive. And as to why the Jews should be the particular target of all this hatred, Tobin can only offer this:

The stubborn refusal of Jews to bend to others’ will or simply disappear contradicts the Marxist belief that the homogenization of mankind is part of achieving the dubious goals of its ideology.

I will let the reader decide whether this characterization of the Jews in relation to a 19th century ideology is a sufficient answer to the question.

My point here is not at all to accuse Tobin, one of Israel’s and Judaism’s most stalwart defenders, of any sort of failing, moral or intellectual, but rather to demonstrate how even the most eloquent voices for the Jewish community in the US and Israel are loath to confront the foundational relationship of the Western epistemology of resentment to its Jewish “remnant.” Tobin mentions the sinister influence of George Soros, but without pointing out how such embodiments of Jewish self-betrayal have been the inevitable products of centuries of Jew-hatred. Not that historical subtlety would necessarily be of great use in the current situation, but even in the absence of a more militant response, helping the Jews and their allies to better understand antisemitism’s historical underpinnings would hopefully embolden them to take a less purely defensive stance in the future against the updated versions of the age-old blood libels that are eternally dragged out of storage to be used against them. Are the Palestinian “women and children” indiscriminately slaughtered by the IAF after all so different from the little Christian boys cruelly butchered by the bloodthirsty Jews to prepare the bread of their Passover communion?

In a word, antisemitism is not a variety of “racism” save in the least precise sense of the term. It is not comparable either to anti-black racism in the US or to the hatred of the Hutus for the Tutsis. It is neither a form of “arbitrary” scapegoating nor a reaction to any well-defined set of historical facts, but a permanent temptation of Western culture.

None of this is meant to imply that “if only” Jews/Israelis had understood… or “if only” they were better prepared to publicly counter the antisemitic arguments (as Melanie Philips has recently argued concerning Israel’s failure to make its case against those who use Hamas statistics to demonstrate the modern version of blood libels) the results would have been these arguments’ utter discrediting. What is far more important is that the Jews and their supporters must realize that the roots of these arguments lie, not in their factual basis, but deep in the spiritual makeup of the West.

For there is evidently a limit as to what the Jews can do to dispute the forces of antisemitism. The most positive element of the current situation owes relatively little to the Jews’ ability to publicize their position. It is rather that, given the primacy of militant Shia-sponsored Islam as the driving force of the current wave of antisemitism, the Jewish-Christian alliance as well as the “Abrahamic” Jewish-Sunni alliance have been willy-nilly fortified. All those who in any way consider themselves Christians or who would resist Iran’s meddling in the Middle East cannot hesitate to take Israel’s side in what we must insist on calling this religious war.

After the April 13 Iran attack

Following this first ever direct Iranian attack on Israel (more symbolic than truly dangerous), another piece by the JNS calls for “A new approach to antisemitism.”

Not since the 1960’s, when bigots tried to prevent racial integration, has America seen such raw hatred.

But this time, elite institutions and civic leadership have responded with moral confusion, indecency and ignorance of the nature and history of Jew-hatred.

And what is proposed is, in a word, to start opposing antisemitism with the same severity as racism:

Perhaps nothing encourages antisemitism more than the impunity enjoyed by today’s antisemites. This is the result of a pervasive and systemic failure to enforce laws, prosecute violations and punish the Jew-haters for their crimes. For example, out of 118 antisemitic hate crimes in New York City brought to trial between 2018 and 2022, the perpetrator was convicted and sentenced to significant prison time only once. In this context, is it any wonder that during the same period, there was a huge jump in antisemitic hate crimes in the city?

This is unacceptable. Consequences matter. We need to change the calculus for the antisemites. We must impose painful social consequences on those who engage in hate crimes and violence. We must identify and restrain those who promote an ideology of Jew-hatred—including in universities and the media. Many might not want to hear it, but punishment is far more effective at curbing bad behavior than education.

We propose a new approach to fighting antisemitism that draws on strategies that have effectively curbed hatred of other minority groups, such as the black and LGBT communities.

Almost anyone who explicitly speaks or acts in a racist or anti-LGBT manner quickly faces punishment in the form of social and cultural ostracization as well as legal sanctions. Society has come to recognize that unless these haters are punished, they rarely stop. Similarly, society must enforce existing laws—especially civil rights laws—and arrest, prosecute and severely punish antisemitism and antisemites. Antisemites must also face social and cultural ostracization.

In the educational system, the U.S. government must adopt the same approach it uses to protect blacks and sexual minorities. Jewish students must receive equal protection. Institutions and especially their leaders that fail to give them equal protection must face severe consequences.

An initial step would be requiring the educational system—including K-12—to cleanse itself of hateful ideologies. Additionally, high school and college curricula must include an honest examination of our tribal nature, recognizing that we are not exempt from evolution and identifying how we can restrain its negative impulses.

My point in citing this long passage is not to debate its potential effectiveness, but to point out that nowhere is it even hinted at why antisemitism is treated differently than “transphobia” et al, let alone straight anti-black racism. Why is expressing hatred of Jews given less consideration than—not even insulting or mistreating the transgendered, but merely refusing to speak about them using “their” pronouns? Is this somehow suggested by the term “hateful ideologies”? And why do the references to our “tribal nature,” which creates the potential of hostility, e.g., of non-Jews toward Jews, not apply in anything like the same degree to any other group, ethnic, sexual, economic…? Why, in moments of “tribal” tension, do the Jews arouse more hatred and at the same time receive less protection than any other group?

Clearly the failure to provide an explanation for this difference reflects less simple ignorance than the traditional Jewish prudence that, on the one hand, would prefer the Jews to be considered like any other ethnic minority, but on the other hand, precisely for that reason, cannot attempt to explain why, even in our “enlightened” modern society, outside of exceptional historical moments such as the aftermath of the Holocaust, the Jews are not treated like any other minority, and have not been for a couple of millennia.

Clearly an article of this kind is not the place for such explanations. But it is this prudent refusal to avoid emphasizing the uniqueness of their situation that in fact prevents the Jews, even when they study in detail the effects of antisemitism throughout the ages, from denouncing and seeking actively to modify the specific forms taken by this specific hatred.

On this point, it should be mentioned that both Trump’s mustering of conservative Christian support and his opening to the Sunni Arabs through the Abraham accords reflected an intuitive grasp of the strategic necessity of bringing the Abrahamic religions together to prevent atavistic elements of Islam from profiting from the post-colonial South-North dichotomy via the “red-green alliance.”

And an only slightly more aggressive stance would not fear to point out in the context of these examples of antisemitism that, in our age of aggressive victimhood and cry-bullying, the Jews remain the sole minority group who are automatically suspected of deserving their persecution, following a pattern that can be traced back to the New Testament’s blaming them for the Crucifixion.

It is today more urgent than ever to point this out and to put an end to it. If indeed the West is to maintain its role as the world’s dominant civilization on the still-lengthy path toward a global culture, it will have to face up to this problem and correct it, following the lead of the Catholic Church on the one hand and the Abraham Accords on the other.