Somebody asked me to expand on the remark I made Friday, when I said,
Today the impulse to hate — at least as it affects the more sophisticated Americans and Europeans — is directed at the concrete national expression of the Jewish people, the state of Israel, rather than at ‘the Jews’ … Irrational, obsessive hate is irrational, obsessive hate. Only the object is different. And the bloody results can be the same.
People that hate Israel every bit as viciously as the Nazis hated Jews are at pains to distinguish their hatred from antisemitism, because although anti-Zionism is acceptable, antisemitism is not.
Today, there is an absolute taboo in educated Western society against racist or ‘prejudiced’ speech. Even some words (or ones that sound like them) are absolutely forbidden. Do you recall this incident?
On January 15, 1999, David Howard, a white aide to Anthony A. Williams, the black mayor of Washington, D.C., used “niggardly” in reference to a budget. This apparently upset one of his black colleagues (identified by Howard as Marshall Brown), who interpreted it as a racial slur and lodged a complaint. As a result, on January 25 Howard tendered his resignation, and Williams accepted it [he was later offered another position] … Howard felt that he had learned from the situation. “I used to think it would be great if we could all be colorblind. That’s naïve, especially for a white person, because a white person can’t afford to be colorblind. They don’t have to think about race every day. An African American does.” — Wikipedia
The Wikipedia article lists several similar incidents. Of course the word ‘niggardly’ has nothing to do with the famous ‘n-word’, in etymology or meaning — it comes from A Swedish dialect word that means ‘stingy’ or ‘miserly’. I mention this to illustrate how incredibly touchy we can be about this kind of taboo.
How did we get here? In America, the fact of slavery followed by institutionalized racism and the struggle to end it was especially traumatic, in different ways, for both whites and African-Americans. Similarly, the Holocaust created a sensitivity to antisemitism in Europe and America. Explicit Jew-hatred is almost never expressed by the educated classes in the US and Europe (although it is quite common in the Muslim world — a recent poll shows that only 2% of Egyptians have a favorable opinion of Jews).
It is almost unthinkable that a university teacher today would delver a lecture accusing international Jewry of conspiring to take over the world, or saying that Jews have inordinate control over the US government. On the other hand, the equally false propositions that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinian Arabs (despite the fact that their number has grown steadily since Israel was established), and that US policy is warped by a powerful ‘Israel lobby’ are heard in classrooms every day.
Especially in left-wing circles, where political correctness is carefully enforced and nobody would dream of accusing Jews of putting Christian blood in their matzot, it is considered perfectly legitimate to accuse Israel of deliberately shooting Palestinian children, or of killing Arabs to steal their organs, on the strength of unsubstantiated statements made by Israel’s enemies — including those who themselves regularly practice murderous terrorism! But that doesn’t matter, because actual evidence is not required when the hatred is irrational.
We find irrational, obsessive and extreme hatred of the Jewish state everywhere on the Left, particularly among Jews. One example is here.
My thesis is that extreme Israel-hatred in this context is simply an evolved form of antisemitism. Let me explain.
Antisemitism is a meme.
A meme is “an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.”A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective pressures. — Wikipedia
While it’s possible to take analogies too far, the biological metaphor seems spot-on in this case. Like a living species, traditional antisemitism developed throughout European cultures (and spread to others) until 1945, because the environment was favorable to it. In fact, one can see the Holocaust as the logical result of this development, the final flowering of it.
But like biological population explosions in which a species’ excessive expansion can change its environment in ways that make it less hospitable to the organism, the horrors of WWII changed the cultural environment in which the antisemitism meme lives. At least among educated Westerners, a resistance to traditional Jew-hatred developed, and the meme was inhibited from reproducing there.
There were other reasons. I mentioned the trauma of white racism in America. An analogy was drawn between racism and antisemitism. A great amount of energy was directed towards extirpating all kinds of prejudice in our society. Political correctness developed, which helped suppress racism and antisemitism, but also has had other non-benign effects.
Unfortunately, like living creatures, memes have the ability to mutate and mutations that improve their ability to reproduce in a particular cultural environment will be strengthened by natural selection. So rather than dying out, the meme evolved. Jew-hatred became Israel-hatred. Instead of being directed at a group of people because of who or what they are, it was directed at the state that they created for themselves. The taboos against racism and prejudice were circumvented, because the meme could be presented as political opposition to a country rather than hate for a people.
Little else changed. The fundamental irrationality of traditional antisemitism, by which Jewish crimes and the evidence for them could simply be made up, remained. The ability of the antisemite to believe anything negative about the Jew no matter how outlandish, remained. The application of antisemitism to every area of human interaction — literature, music, sports, professions, etc., remained (consider academic boycotts, for example). The extreme vitriol that characterizes it, remained. And it appears that the ultimate goal — the destruction of the hated object — remains.
One way to see the connection between the Oldest Hatred and today’s attacks on Israel’s legitimacy is to note that what is being denied by Israel-haters today is that the Jewish people are a people, and they have a right of self-determination.
Keep this in mind the next time — and I’m sure there will be a next time, probably in the next few months — that there are massive anti-Israel demonstrations against the state of the Jewish people having the chutzpah to defend itself. Not much is new under the sun.