What accounts for anti-Semitism—one of the most enduring and persistent hatreds in human history?
Some historians have seen it as a product of dysfunctional societies in which chimerical fantasies about Jews have taken hold. Others have emphasized the role of Christian anti-Judaism and the dehumanizing stereotypes it helped to form in the Middle Ages. Still others have pointed to factors ranging from economic pressure to ethnic hatred, xenophobia, and the universal need for scapegoats. Finally, there have been those who, recognizing that Jews have not been simply the powerless or passive objects of prejudice, view Judaism itself—and the challenge it poses to non-Jews—as a contributing element.
It is one thing, however, to recognize that Jews have interacted with their persecutors in complicated ways, and wholly another to present them as largely responsible for the irrational hatreds to which they have so often fallen victim. Yet that is what Albert S. Lindemann, a history professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has now done in this deeply pernicious book.
Lindemann’s thesis is that modern European anti-Semitism is linked to the “rise of the Jews,” that is, to the very substantial increase in the cultural, political, and economic power of Jews beginning in the nineteenth century. That thesis is controversial because it identifies real conflicts of interest between groups as central to anti-Semitism. Although Lindemann is well aware that anti-Semites often exaggerate Jewish behavior, and occasionally even invent it, his book challenges the still common view that anti-Semitic attitudes are nothing more than the fundamentally irrational
residues of Christian religious ideology or the psychological projections of inadequate personalities…
Lindemann notes that Jews were highly resistant to attempts by the tsarist government to russify them, remaining a nation apart in dress, language, diet, and civil law. The tsarist authorities attempted to keep Jews apart from the Russian peasants because they believed Jews exploited the peasants economically and corrupted them with alcohol. Jews were often in the position of managing peasants for Russian
aristocrats and in lending money and providing alcohol to them as innkeepers. Stereotypes of Jews as prominent in the liquor trade, usury, prostitution, and criminal activity were hardly figments of anti-Semitic imaginations.
I converted to Judaism in 1993. I found it inspiring even though many of the Jews I met were uninspiring. Over the past 20 years, I’ve found that most of the great people I’ve known are Orthodox Jews and most of the worst people I’ve known are Jewish.
Lindemann contends that antisemitism has not been as widespread, pervasive, and destructive as is generally assumed. A Jewish historiography of victimization (“Leidensgeschichte”), he claims, has focused disproportionately on antisemitism as a sentiment among Gentiles and as a force that has shaped the destiny of Jews. Lindemann suggests that the historical master narrative that places antisemitism at the center has been constructed as an “ideology of revenge” (p. 14) against the Gentile majority. Such a view of history also serves the more practical purpose of “preventing suffering in the future, largely by exposing the sinful or corrupt nature of Gentile society and its responsibility for Jewish suffering” (p. 15). “Almost never,” Lindemann continues, is the study of antisemitism seen as a “means by which Jews could become aware of their own sins” (p. 15)….
In Lindemann’s view, antisemitism has not been merely the product of Gentile fantasies about Jews, but has to be understood in the context of real interactions between Gentiles and Jews. Lindemann is especially critical of the proposition that Christian religion (or religiosity) has been a primary source of antisemitism. Lindemann’s emphasis is on the social and economic spheres, in the “everyday secular world” in which “Jews have been as capable as any other group of provoking hostility” (p. xvii).
One source of Gentile hostility toward Jews, in Lindemann’s view, has been Jewish exclusivity. Although he concedes that survival as a despised minority in the corporate society of medieval Europe necessitated internal cohesion, Lindemann argues that Jews and Judaism (in its traditional form) had long maintained an attitude of exclusiveness that many Gentiles found offensive. Lindemann points to the Jewish idea of “chosenness,” a Talmudic preoccupation with blood purity (pp. 72-73), and a contemptuous attitude toward “Goyim.” The reference to Esau in the book’s title reflects Lindemann’s contention that Jews have been as guilty of making Gentiles into “the other” as have Gentiles in doing so to Jews (pp. 3-5).
As for the book’s subtitle, Lindemann argues that hostility toward Jews has been exacerbated in modern times by the “Rise of the Jews” (p. 20), the term used by the author to encapsulate the successes achieved by many Jews in the economic sphere, in the professions, in cultural life, and in politics. While distancing himself from antisemitic theories about Jewish conspiracies, Lindemann argues that there was a high degree of plausibility to the widespread subjective perception among Gentiles that Jews, “a once despised and legally set-apart group, seemed to be prospering more than others,” and seemed to be “assuming power over non-Jews” (p. 21). “Anti-Semites,” Lindemann writes, “believed that Jews were everywhere, and in a sense they were almost everywhere that counted in modern society, in significantly greater numbers than strict proportionality would have assured” (pp. 19-20). Employing terminology that is guaranteed to raise the ire of many readers, Lindemann observes that “western civilization is undeniably a ‘jewified’ civilization, however offensive the word may be to our ears because of the ugly use made of it by anti-Semites; it might as well be used proudly” (p. 19). Such provocative formulations complicate Lindemann’s otherwise not especially controversial contention that “the goal of modern anti-Semites was to undo the rise of the Jews and the perceived threat of Jewish power and ‘jewification’ inherent in that rise” (p. 22). (It should be emphasized that Lindemann always surrounds the word “jewification” with quotation marks.)
A modern example for this discussion would be to ask to what extent did American support for Israel bring about the 9/11 terror attacks?
US support for Israel was a “major cause” of the 9-11 attacks, according to University of Chicago Professor John Mearsheimer and Harvard Professor Stephen Walt, who appeared at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last week to promote their book The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy.
“A critically important issue when talking about America’s terrorism problem is the matter of how US support for Israel’s brutal treatment of the Palestinians relates to what happened on September 11,” said Mearsheimer, who played the role of attack dog, while Walt set the stage.
Mearsheimer suggested that the notion of payback for injustices suffered by the Palestinians is perhaps the “most powerfully recurrent in [Osama] Bin Laden’s speeches,” who, he said, had been deeply concerned about the plight of the Palestinians since he was a young man. He said that Bin Laden’s concern had been reflected in his public statements throughout the 1990’s – “well before 9-11.”
Citing the 9-11 Commission report, Mearsheimer and Walt argued that Bin Laden wanted to make sure the attackers struck Congress because it is “the most important source of support for Israel in the United States,” adding that Bin Laden twice tried to move up the dates of the attacks because of events involving Israel.
Mearsheimer and Walt went on to argue that 9-11 architect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s animus toward the United States stemmed not from his experiences in the United States as a student, but rather from his violent disagreement with US foreign policy favoring Israel. “Its hard to imagine more compelling evidence of the role US support for Israel played in the 9-11 attacks,” said Mearsheimer. “In short, the present relationship between Washington and Jerusalem is helping to fuel America’s terrorism problem,” he went on to say. They said that US support for Israel motivates some individuals to attack the United States and “…serves as an important recruitment tool for terrorist organizations,” according to Mearsheimer. He said that US support for Israel generates huge support for terrorists in the Arab and Islamic world.
Suggesting that Israel had outlived its usefulness to the United States, Walt added that “Israel may well have been a strategic asset during the Cold War,” but that “…the Cold War is now over.” He said that America’s unconditional support for Israel in the Middle East is “one” of the reasons “we have a terrorism problem, and it makes it harder to address a variety of problems in the Middle East.” At the same time, Walt admitted the US’s problems in the Middle East would not disappear if it had a different relationship with Israel, and that the US “does benefit from various forms of strategic cooperation.”
Walt also noted that Israel’s human rights record was not “significantly better than that of the Palestinians,” adding that any reasonably fair-minded look at the history of the conflict shows that “neither side owns the moral high ground.”
Mearsheimer and Walt argued that Israel and the pro-Israel lobby in the United States were two of the main driving forces behind the decision to invade Iraq. “It is hard to imagine that war happening in their absence,” said Mearsheimer, who added that Israel was the only country besides Kuwait where both “the government and the majority of the population favored the war.” He said that the Israeli government pushed the Bush administration hard to make sure that it did not lose its nerve in the months before the invasion.
Mearsheimer said there was “no question” that the “neo-conservatives were the main driving force behind the war, but they where supported by the main constituents in the [Israel] lobby, such as AIPAC.” Citing a 2004 editorial, Mearsheimer said that as President Bush attempted to sell the war in Iraq “America’s most important Jewish organizations rallied as one to his defense. In statement after statement, [Jewish] community leaders stressed the need to rid the world of Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction. Concern for Israel’s safety rightfully factored into the deliberations of the main Jewish groups.”
Wikipedia has an entry on the motives for the 9/11 attacks:
In his November 2002 “Letter to America”, Bin Laden described the United States’ support of Israel as a motivation: “The expansion of Israel is one of the greatest crimes, and you are the leaders of its criminals. And of course there is no need to explain and prove the degree of American support for Israel. The creation of Israel is a crime which must be erased. Each and every person whose hands have become polluted in the contribution towards this crime must pay its price, and pay for it heavily.” In 2004 and 2010, Bin Laden again repeated the connection between the September 11 attacks and the support of Israel by the United States.
Support of Israel was also mentioned before the attack in the 1998 Al-Qaeda fatwa: “[T]he aim [of the United States] is also to serve the Jews’ petty state and divert attention from its occupation of Jerusalem and murder of Muslims there. The best proof of this is their eagerness to destroy Iraq, the strongest neighboring Arab state, and their endeavor to fragment all the states of the region such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Sudan into paper statelets and through their disunion and weakness to guarantee Israel’s survival and the continuation of the brutal crusade occupation of the Peninsula.”