Roots of Anti-Semitism

    April 1999            
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Anti-Semitism as an Expression of Oposition to Jewish Ideals

By Robert Wolfe

A close study of the history of anti-Semitism shows that it is first and foremost an expression of political and cultural opposition to Jewish ideals. The earliest known anti-Semitic writings emanated from the ruling class of the Hellenistic empires of the Middle East, specifically the Ptolemaic empire based in Egypt and the Seleucid empire based in Syria. From that time to the present, anti-Semitism in its most virulent manifestations has been consistently associated with one empire or would-be empire after another.

Included in the list of imperial anti-Semites would be the Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, Spanish, Czarists, Nazis and Soviets. Each of these imperialist groups saw the Jews as obstacles to their program of conquest, in part because of the stubborn Jewish belief in the right of national self-determination, in part because of the democratic and egalitarian bent of Jewish culture.

But for the most part, the imperialists did not stress the real reasons for their hatred of Jews, but instead sought to defame the Jewish people through an endless series of idiotic accusations. Starting with the standard Greco-Roman charge that the Jews hated mankind, Jews have been accused of killing God, making fun of Mohammed, poisoning the wells, eating little babies, sucking blood, loving money and, most recently, scheming to rule the world.

The long history of such accusations makes it easy to depict anti-Semitism as an irrational obsession or exercise in scapegoating, yet although these theories do have a certain basis in reality, they also obscure the fact that anti-Semitism is at bottom a political tactic of authoritarian imperialists directed against the one group in human history whom they see as their most determined foe.

This analysis also applies to the Arab and Muslim would-be imperialists of today. Their efforts to demonize the Jewish people in general and Israel in particular are primarily motivated by a fear that Israeli democratic and secular culture will undermine the autocratic regimes which still predominate in the Arab and Muslim world. And the main reason why autocratic political structures still persist in the Arab and Muslim world despite their disappearance elsewhere is because the Arabs and Muslims have not yet abandoned the dream of empire which is inherent in their political and religious traditions.

Although the Arabs lack the industrial base and technological skills necessary for an empire of the traditional type, they still cling to the vain hope that the wealth which they derive from the sale of oil will somehow make it possible for them to establish a kind of cultural and religious domination over the rest of the world. So long as this hope remains alive, they will continue to cling to the twin ideals of autocracy and anti-Semitism.

What has happened in the past 10 or 20 years is that the anti-Semitic political culture of the Arabs and Muslims has infected the left in the democratic countries of the rest of the world. Motivated in part by fear of a cutback in the supply of oil, in part by a perception of the Arabs and Muslims as resisting the domination of Western imperialism, the leberal element in the democratic countries has taken over the Arab and Muslim stereotype of Israel as the root of all evil and internalized it. A kind of transmission belt has been established, whereby the Islamist view of the Jewish people as the "sons of pigs and monkeys" gets translated into a series of "politically correct" accusations directed against Israel by the left on an international scale.

The more Israelis that are murdered by Islamist suicide bombers, the more "racist", "colonialist" and "fascist" the left finds Israel to be. And from the left, the urge to lean on Israel is then injected into mainstream democratic culture through the mendacious slogan, "the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict is the key to world peace". Translated into the language of realpolitik, this reads, "Helping the Arabs and Muslims to eliminate Israel is the only way to appease them and prevent a further rise in the price of oil."

The power of left wing anti-Semitism in the world today derives from its synthesis of would-be realpolitik with would-be anti-imperialism. On the one hand, blaming Israel presents itself as a strategy for securing more oil at a lower price; and on the other hand, blaming Israel presents itself as a particular manifestation of a general tendency to side with the indigeneous peoples of the world against the power of Western imperialism.

This synthesis makes it possible for the left to have its cake and eat it too. It can remain faithful to its traditional stance in favor of the right of national self-determination, while at the same time catering to the appetite for oil of the very same Western powers whose imperialist tendencies it claims to oppose. It is able to achieve this synthesis because even in the past the one people whose right of national self-determination the left has never championed is the Jewish people.

Marx and the Marxists were always fanatic opponents of the concept of Jewish national self-determination, and the anti-Zionist tradition which they founded was given an added impetus by the global ambitions of the Soviet Union and its Communist supporters. Although Communism has been generally discredited as an economic and political system, its traditional hostility to Zionism has never been subjected to a systematic critique by the rest of the left on an international scale. It therefore required no great effort for the international left to internalize the Islamist message so far as Israel was concerned and translate it into "politically correct" anti-imperialist rhetoric. Left wing anti-Semitism in the world today is essentially the continuation of an old tradition which has assumed an increasingly virulent form as a result of Islamist pressure.

What would Israel look like if it were to be described in the same language which the left uses for all other small countries? It would be described as the outgrowth of the world's oldest, most deeply rooted and influential movement for national liberation. Has not the Jewish people struggled for national self-determination against one empire after another for a period of over 3000 years? Have we not suffered casualties literally in the millions in the course of this struggle? Are not both Christianity and Islam outgrowths of this struggle, the one translating Jewish ideals into the language of Greco-Roman imperialism, the other into the language of Arab imperialism?

Is not the international left itself deeply indebted to Jewish ideals, as reflected in the long line of leaders of Jewish descent who helped to shape modern left wing ideology, starting with Marx himself?

But Christianity, Islam and Marxism are as one in concealing their debt to the Jewish struggle for national self-determination and ascribing their respective ideologies to the inspired guidance of a single individual, be it Jesus, Mohammed or Marx. Their need to mystify the real source of their beliefs is the ultimate cause of the massive blind spot which the international left has developed in relation to the Jewish struggle for national self-determination.

Elimination of this blind spot ought to be the primary goal of any program of "hasbara" or explanation of the Israeli position to left wing opinion. Such a program ought to be composed of three major components:

  1.   Exposition of Jewish history. Apart from the material contained in the so-called "Old Testament" or Tanach, most leftists know little or nothing about Jewish history prior to modern times. Their concept of the Jewish past skips from the time of Jesus to the Holocaust with a huge 2000 year gap in between. There is no way to understand the origins of the state of Israel without reference to the long struggle waged by the Jewish people during this 2000 year period to reverse the verdict of the so-called "Jewish Wars" and reestablish a Jewish state in the land of Israel.

Efforts to portray Zionism as an imperialist, colonialist movement are most easily defeated by an exposition of the efforts which the Jewish people made in every generation for 2000 years to preserve the Hebrew and Aramaic language culture of ancient Judah and actually settle in the land of Israel.

  2.   Exposition of the relationship between the founding of the United Nations and the birth of Israel. The same Allied coalition that defeated the Nazis was responsible both for the creation of the United Nations and for the decision of the United Nations to accept the creation of a Jewish state in the land of Israel. Conversely the main opposition to the birth of Israel came from Arab and Muslim states whose political leadership had been pro-Nazi during World War Two.

Arab and Muslim support for the Nazi cause was not merely a reflection of anti-British feeling but sprang from a deep sense of identification with the doctrines of National Socialism. In particular, the postwar "Arab Socialism" of Nasser in Egypt and the Ba'athists in Syria and Iraq was a direct outgrowth of pro-Nazi ideology and motivated the "Arab Socialists" to shelter and protect Nazi war criminals after the war.

  3.   Exposition of the Middle Eastern basis of Israeli society and culture. Close to half of the Israeli Jewish population consists of Jews and their descendants who came to Israel from other parts of the Middle East, most notably Morocco, Tunisia, Iraq and Yemen, after the founding of the state of Israel.

Moreover, the great majority of the European Jews who founded the state of Israel came to the Middle East fleeing from persecution in Europe, persecution which was overtly motivated on the grounds of "anti-Semitism", namely hatred of Jews as "Semites", members of a non-European "race". And in point of fact, the more Middle Eastern the physical features of European Jews, the more intense the persecution directed at them. Israelis today speak a Middle Eastern language, Hebrew, and include in their number approximately one million Arabs, most of whom also speak Hebrew and who have the same rights of citizenship as all other Israelis.

There needs to be a concerted effort to document these points and bring them to the attention of the left on an international scale. It is the international left, far more than the right, that holds out the promise of a better world, and it is high time that the pivotal role of the Jewish people in the long history of the struggle for a better world were recognized.

It is because we have played this role that we have been subjected to such sustained and genocidal persecution, and this remains as true today as it has ever been.

The cause of secular democracy will never triumph in the Middle East until Israel is accepted as an integral part of Middle Eastern society and culture both by the Arabs and Muslims and by the world at large.


from the April 1999 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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