An open letter to antisemites.
In an essay by the late editor of the Jewish Spectator, Dr. Trude Weiss-Rosmarin scintillatingly summarizes the character and essence of antisemitism. In the spring of 1895 when he was writing The Jewish State, Theodor Herzl noted in his diary: "It was erroneous on the part of the doctrinaire libertarians to believe that men can be made equal by publishing an edict in the Imperial Gazette." He was referring to the various nineteenth- century emancipation edicts, which conferred equality upon the Jews of Western Europe, and to the Dreyfus trial, which had convinced him that antisemitism cannot be legislated out of existence.
Herzl became a Zionist and promoted the Jewish state because he was convinced of "the emptiness and futility of efforts to combat antisemitism. Declamations made in writing or in closed circles do no good whatever." He added, "They even have a comical effect. It is true that in addition to careerists and simpletons there may be very stalwart people serving on such 'relief committees.' They resemble the relief committees formed after-and before floods and they accomplish about as much."
With pointed intuition Herzl noted in a few sentences what sociologists and psychologists specializing in the study of antisemitism recognize is "a strong and unconscious force among the masses," who react to the Jews with prejudice and hate.
Hatred of Jews and Judaism has been universal and ubiquitous in all societies where Jews lived as a minority and held onto their Jewish distinctiveness, refusing to assimilate and disappear. Peretz Smolenskin (18421885), a proto-Zionist ideologist of the Hibbat Zion (Love of Zion) movement, succinctly described hatred of Jews as "the eternal hatred of the eternal people."
Antisemitism is a disease that is endemic in all countries and all societies. It tends to turn into a virulent epidemic when economic and social problems become so oppressive that scapegoating is snatched at as an escape.
The current increase of antisemitism does not surprise those who know Jewish history. They know that the slander and death of Haman, the archenemy of the Jews of ancient Persia, has been the standard accusation of Jew-haters for over 2,000 years.
Jacob Wassermann, the German Jewish novelist, accurately described the Jewish plight: "Shall we seek obscurity?" he asked, and concluded:
It would be in vain, for they say, "He hides himself, the coward. His conscience must be troubling him." Approach them, frankly, with outstretched and open hand? In vain. They will say: "What tactlessness! How clearly you see the insensitive Jew!" Help them to shake off their chains? In vain. They will say, "How much did he make out of it?" Be faithful to them in peace, faithful in war? In vain. They will say, "He can turn his hand to anything and everything. He is protean." Live for them, die for them? In vain. They will say, "The Jew remains a Jew, first and last."
It never mattered what the Jews did. They were, and are, persecuted because, to quote Israel Zangwill, "If there were no Jews they would have to be invented for the use of the politicians. They are indispensable, the antithesis of a panacea; guaranteed to cause all evils. That is, to be blamed for all evils."
It would be a felicitous sequitur to remind the reader of one of the great non-Jewish minds of the twentieth century. The late philosopher Jean-Paul Sarte, himself a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp, wrote in his essay "Thoughts on the Jewish Problem" as follows:
The anti-Semite has created the Jew from his need, prejudice is not uninformed opinion. Antisemitism is an attitude totally and freely self-chosen, a global attitude which is adopted not only in regard to Jews, but in regard to men in general. It is a passion and at the same time a concept of the world. An anti-Semite is a man who is afraid, not of the Jews, of course, but of himself, his conscience, his instincts, his responsibilities, of attitude, of change, of society and the world, of everything except the Jews. He is a coward who does not wish to admit his cowardice to himself, a murderer who represses and censures his penchant for murder without being able to restrain it and who nevertheless does not dare to kill except in effigy or in the anonymity of a mob; a malcontent who dares not revolt for fear of consequences of his rebellion. By adhering to antisemitism, he is not only adopting an opinion, he is choosing himself as a person. He is choosing the permanence and the impenetrability of rock, the total irresponsibility of the warrior who obeys his leaders-and has no leader-he chooses finally, that good be ready made, not in question, out of reach. The Jew is a pretext: elsewhere it will be a different ethnic or skin color; the Jew's existence simply allows the anti-Semite to nip his anxieties in the bud by persuading himself that his place has always been cut out in the world. Antisemitism, in a word, is fear of man's fate. The anti-Semite is a man who wants to be pitiless alone, furious torrent, devastating lightening; in short, everything but man.
In a more recent decade, the well-known novelist Cynthia Ozick wrote in an insightful essay:
Antisemitism is: a self-administered reprimand to its perpetrators and servants who respond by painting the Jews as they see themselves. Say that the Jew is savage, and you confer to your own savagery; libel the Jew with blood ritual, and you describe your own practice; declare that the Jew suppresses your motherhood, and you admit to your enduring refusal of Jewish sovereignty. When the Jewish state defends itself against attack, cry aggression. Cry racism when the Jewish state opens its arms to refugees of every color, to Vietnamese boat people, to Bosnian Muslims. On the American campus, profess diversity and malign the Jews. Whatever you are, maligner, reviler, aggressor, oppressor, racist, strongman, murderer, liar, denier-to see your own face, look to what you say of the Jews. Antisemitism is the anti-Semites' looking glass. Antisemitism is a kind of Platonism; it has no need of real Jews. It can thrive where no Jews have ever lived, where all the Jews are already dead. Antisemitism had nothing to do with the Jews; it is not about the Jews. It is, it always has been, it always will be, about the body and soul of the anti-Semite.
The aforecited representative excerpts need no more corroborating support as to the tragic mendacity of the antisemites, from religious texts, to secular socialism, to the intellectual pleiad of the prophets and leaders of enlightenment who had disdain for their own history and, despite their glorification of the great ideals for all humanity, nevertheless did not hesitate to malign the Jew. This oxymoronic perception regarding the world and the Jew has thus far proved to be incurable within Western civilization, which attests to its own skin-deep ethos when it comes to the Jew in the world.
In this regard, notwithstanding the ideals and idealism of Western culture and civilization which are deeply indebted to the Torahitic-prophetic visions for an ideal world community, this intrinsic indebtedness to Judaism is the source of its eternal awareness and thus an irritation beyond a real cure. The eternal truth has yet to be digested by our Western civilization, and herein lies its convulsing failure. In short, all of its ideals in the last two thousand years have been veneer deep, and as long as this Western culture fails to absorb the proper dosage of cure for its self-deception, human tragedies--from local genocides to the enormity and extent of the "Shoah"--will intermittently recur. The proof: The Holocaust was executed in view of the Western world with soto-voce piously remorseful pronouncements, yet tolerated in a most spiritually, ideologically, and morally decadent manner. It testified bluntly that our civilization has no moral backbone. It is and continues to be a civilization of individual rights, at best, at the expense of collective moral responsibility for one another.
The Jew, who introduced to mankind the ideal guideposts of one God and one human brotherhood, has been allowed to suffer and intermittently been murdered. For, intrinsically, the Jew still represents the dreamer of a terrestrial world where people can live and survive in peace with each other. This ideal, which is the mainstay of a continuous existence of the Jewish people, is incomprehensible to a predatory human race whose existence has been based on brute power. Yes, the Jew is an irritant, an idealist of the prophetic genre, and indigestible to a carnivorous world.
As an Auschwitz survivor, I have suffered no more and no less than any of my brethren, yet even Auschwitz could not destroy my vision of a world that may eventually disinfect itself from its lingering prejudices and self-propelled arrogance. The Holocaust was the result of a bankrupt civilization whose silence was deafening in post-Holocaust years. This civilization has reemerged with a vengeance at the reestablishment of Jewish political independence in the land of its fathers, roaring bitterly at any time when Israel defends itself against her predators, a mandate granted all sovereign nations yet begrudged when it comes to the Jewish state. Frankly, we are not surprised at the noises of these cowardly voices.
Hitler is dead and the times have radically changed. Antisemitism's reemerging grating voices are sound bites of the cacophony of an idiotic chorus, but this time there is no more fear. The Jewish people swore at the annihilation sites: "NEVER AGAIN" will we tolerate its barking predators; whether our enemies like it or may grind their teeth, better hear us: we are here to stay forever. Tear your larynx. You suffer from a disease that only idiots can continue to incubate.
Murray J. Kohn is a rabbi and professor of Holocaust Studies at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
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|Author:||Kohn, Murray J.|
|Publication:||Journal for the Study of Antisemitism|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2009|
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