Friday, September 01, 2006

The Twists and Turns of Contemporary Antisemitism and Antisemites

In the past few weeks, I've been reading a blog (Blogging the Middle East) by a fascinating Lebanese thinker (Anarchorev a.k.a. Anarchistian), who also happens to be a self-confessed former racist, antisemite and Holocaust denier (see her remarkable "Confessions of an Ex-Neo-Nazi"). Even though I disagree with almost everything this blogger writes as well as her manner of expressing herself (her contempt for those who disagree with her line is always palpable), I admire this writer's political engagement and energy. The members of her cheering section are a little less interesting. As you can imagine, her blog also attracts its share of hardcore Jew-haters. I'm talking about people with no real connection to the Middle East who are nevertheless filled with pathological hatred of Israel and Jews. Of course, they'll also be the first ones to condemn you for accusing them of antisemitism - before you have even done so. In this post, I try to look a little more closely at some of the rhetoric employed by crypto-antisemites.

Before I begin, however, let me point to a major change in the history of antisemitism. Few antisemites today want to be known as such. Unlike their predecessors, today's antisemites realize that publicly confessing to antisemitism - something which the inventors of the term did proudly - will delegitimize them to the point of no return, at least in the West. Furthermore, although there are still plenty of Holocaust deniers around, including presidents of certain countries, denial of the genocide of European Jewry is a taboo in most of the civilized world. This is an unfortunate situation for those who hate Jews and everything connected to them. Thus, antisemites have had to adjust to the new situation in which they found themselves after WWII.

One of the favorite devices of post-1945 antisemites has been to accuse Jews of conspiring to force the world to act according to the wishes of world Jewry by using the Holocaust as a sort of stick with which to beat non-Jews into submission. Thus, a few years ago, the German author, Martin Walser, referred to Jews as holding the "Auschwitz-Keule" (Auschwitz-club) over the heads of Germans. Thus, Jews are accused of exaggerating the genocide of European Jewry and manipulating the guilt complexes of non-Jews.

A related accusation to the one above is the charge that Jews deliberately minimize the suffering of others, sometimes in order to cover up their own horrendous crimes. This is a permutation of the classic anti-Jewish trope that accuses Jews of an especially heinous form of chauvinism because their religion includes the notion that they are the chosen people. Never mind that many other peoples entertain similar notions about themselves.

Another favorite device of contemporary antisemites is to accuse the Jews of being today's real Nazis. This is employed even by people who actually deny the Holocaust.

Let's look at some passages, which combine all the various devices. Here is an exchange on "Blogging the Middle East" between Anarchorev (formerly Anarchistian) and Chris Swift:

Swift writes:

What I would love to see is a naval and air blockade of Israel! How loud would they all scream and whine then?

(He likes to refer to "them" or "your kind" when speaking about Jews.)

Anarchorev responds:

What I would love to see is a naval and air blockade of Israel!
That would be the peak of anti-Semitism, wouldn’t it? …. :)

This really sets off the "discussion." Swift writes back:

Yes, it certainly must be. I mean, after all, to condemn the policies of Israel means you’re an anti-semite.

The problem with playing the “anti-semite” card (and I appreciate your sarcastic wit, Anarchorev) - the problem with this is that it is now…boring. They have sucked all the sympathy out of me that they’re going to get for the Holocaust. There have been so many tv specials and movies and newspaper articles, that I’ve now reached a saturation point. I am now anesthetized to it. I now officially do not care about the Holocaust. Of all the massacres and barbarian tragedies that have happened over time, it seems we are only allowed to “know” or “care” about the Jewish Holocaust (which affected untold numbers of non-Jews also [but we’re not supposed to know about that, are we?]). I do not care how many Jews died in WWII. It happened. Get over it. And stop using it as a weapon. It’s boring.

And although I’m not quite prepared to make the “Jews are the New Nazis” analogy (at least until George “where are our assassins when we need them” Bush starts selling Israel stocks of Zyclon-B), it is very interesting and curious how many direct comparisons can be made between official statements of Nazi officials and Israeli officials - justifying their actions. Curious, indeed. (I won’t delineate them here; I think we know what they are.)

It's funny that Swift first explains his indifference vis-a-vis the Holocaust as a product of anaesthesis through over-exposure. "They" no longer merit his sympathy, because "they" have been on TV too much already. Then, he shifts gears and suggests that the fact that "they" have received so much exposure is due to a conspiracy on "their" part to monopolize suffering. "They" are not letting him care about non-Jewish victims! Next, he jumps to a different register again - pure callousness. "It happened. Get over it." Or, "It's boring."

The second paragraph is "interesting and curious" in its own right. Well, not really. It's just dumb. He's not really prepared to make the analogy but then does so anyway.

At the risk of boring Kishkushim readers, I want to look at the trajectory that the discussion took from there. Tanya, another reader, expands on Swift's accusation that the Jews monopolize suffering. She accuses Jews, in somewhat veiled terms, of monopolizing the term antisemitism. Her comment is basically a version of a classic argument used by Arab antisemites and their apologists. The argument is that since Arabs "are Semites" (indeed, the claim is that they are the “real Semites,” unlike the fake Ashkenazi Jews), they cannot be antisemites. Here is Tanya's post:

it needs to be clarified where the term ‘ANTI-SEMITISM’ derives from: ‘SAMI’ the people who descended from ‘SAMI’, son of ‘NOAH’ in arabia. this applies to the arabs of the region who are ‘SAMI’ or ‘SEMI’, which includes jewish, muslim and christian arabs. this does not apply to

the word ‘SEMI’ has been taken out of context and manipulated to apply to only one religion, THIS IS WRONG, however, this has been done deliberately so serve a purpose.

Swift responds:

Yes, indeed. The term covers a wide range of peoples and, for some reason or other, seems to apply only to Jews now!? It’s basically a non-sequitur. What the heck happened there?

The term covers a wide range of peoples? It’s a non-sequitur? Obviously, the best solution to the whole antisemitism problem is to eliminate the term entirely. That way, one no longer has to worry about saying antisemitic things about “them.” The true crime is not antisemitism, but the attempts by Jews to deny the true meaning of the term. Never mind that the term antisemitism was invented by a proud German Jew-hater in the 1870s called Wilhelm Marr for whom Semite meant Jew (he coined the word to give German anti-Jewish prejudice a more “scientific” – i.e., racial – foundation). Never mind, that if one looks at usage of the term by antisemites since then, it has almost always been with reference to Jews and not to Arabs. Never mind that the Nazis’ avowed antisemitism did not prevent the Mufti Haj al Amin from becoming very friendly with them. Given the historical record, Tanya’s claim that “this does not apply to non-Arabs” is of course utter nonsense.

Tanya’s comment is deeply problematic for a host of other reasons. First of all, she really seems to believe that there is such a thing as a “Semitic” race or group of people. Yes, SHEM was one of the sons of Noah, but the terms “Semite” and “Semites” are products of the racist European imagination of the late 18th and 19th centuries. The designation only makes sense in linguistics, where we can speak of Semitic languages such as Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Amharic. There are no people called “Semites” unless you believe in racial science.

Finally, it is surely the height of chutzpah that Tanya and Swift blame JEWS for monopolizing the term antisemitism. As if Jews are responsible for the fact that antisemites have used the term “Semite” almost exclusively to mean Jews.

"What the heck happened there?"


Angry Anarchist said...

her blog also attracts its share of hardcore Jew-haters.
I am not aware of any Jew-haters currently commenting on my blog. Those who have done so in the past have been banned, just like those who have expressed racism towards Arabs.

Amos said...

Last I checked, 1930s-style racial science was alive and kicking on your blog. See Swift's remarkably asinine posts on Semites, Khazars, and other nonsense. It was pretty obvious what this guy is all about from some of his earlier insinuations and language. It would be nice if Jews (whose evidence he would never accept in any case) weren't the only ones challenging this kind of garbage.

Angry Anarchist said...

Racial science? Isn't that what is used in ISRAEL to determine who's a Jew and who isn't?

John said...

Uhh, no! Halakhic law (Jewish religious law) determines whether one is recognized as a Jew by the Israeli Rabbinate and other Orthodox Rabbinates around the world. Are you trying to equate Jewish law - the halakha - to racial science? Please elaborate, because that would be a rather anachronistic comparison.

Amos said...

Anarcho, racial science is what your cheering section uses to separate "true Semites" from the "Khazars" in order to come to the perverse conclusion that Jews have no tie at all to the Holy Land.