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Today's Anti-Semitism Is a Ticking Time Bomb

Scott Olson/Getty Images

One of the trickiest but most critical questions of the present day is that of the new guises of anti-Semitism. Though we have been slow to realize it, anti-Semitism has morphed at each step in its history, completely changing its shape, its face, and even its software.

Anti-Semitism was pagan when, during the Roman empire, the Jews were resented for having a religion that took the magic out of the world. 

It was Christian during the centuries of the crusades, the Inquisition, the Medieval pogroms, and beyond—when the Jews were blamed for the suffering and death of Jesus Christ.

It was anti-Christian after people—following d’Holbach, Voltaire, the Enlightenment, and Voltaire’s slogan, “Let’s crush the infamous” (by which he meant the intolerance of organized religion)—began to reproach the Jews not for having killed the son of God but for having invented the One God, and thus, in a way, the son. 

It was socialist, anticapitalist, and pro-worker at the time of the Dreyfus Affair in Paris and of the anti-bourgeois socialism of the founding fathers of French socialism. The deviation laid at the door of the Jews then became their supposed conspiracy, orchestrated from the heights of “Jewish finance,” to oppress those whom anti-Semitic propagandist Édouard Drumont described as the small and humble.

It became racist as soon as modern biology took its place in the circle of the sciences, bringing with it the fad of categorizing human beings by their physiological characteristics. “We couldn’t care less whether the Jewish people killed or created Christ,” went this new form of anti-Semitism. “We don’t give a damn about the alleged misdeeds of its anti-worker plutocracy. But that the Jews are a race—an inferior one!—that is injecting its venom into races superior and pure, that worries us; that is unforgivable.” 

In short, it looks as if the world’s longest-running form of hate has never stopped searching for the right formula. 

It seems as if that hate knew that it could operate and gain traction only by casting itself in the terms of the dominant language of the time.

And the truth is that, in today’s world, none of those earlier languages really works anymore because, as Georges Bernanos put it so horribly but accurately, they have all been delegitimized by the apotheosis of horror to which they brought the 20th century. What this means is that anti-Semitism will be able to get back to work, to resume drawing crowds and firing them up, to be practiced not just without embarrassment but with a relatively clear conscience, only by hitching itself to a new system of justification. 

That system will hinge on three main tenets:

1. Jews are detestable because they are inseparable from a detestable state. This is the anti-Zionist tenet. 

2. Jews are all the more detestable because the cement that holds that state together is the belief in a persecution that may well be imaginary or, at the very least, exaggerated. This is the negationist tenet, the tenet of Holocaust denial.

3. By operating thus and cornering the market on the world’s available reserves of compassion, the Jews heap on top of that twin injury the insult of rendering humanity deaf to the sufferings of other peoples, beginning, of course, with the Palestinians. This is the tenet of competitive victimhood. 

Never mind that every one of these tenets is vile and deranged. Never mind that each is complete and demonstrable idiocy, and that its idiocy has been demonstrated many times over. And never mind the evidence—with respect to the third formulation, in particular—that it is specifically when the Holocaust is borne in mind and taken to heart that we recognize massacres for what they are and take up arms against them—in Bosnia, Darfur, Rwanda, and elsewhere.

These tenets serve only one purpose, which is to permit anti-Semitism once again to be heard and thus, once again, to be spoken. 

These arguments have only one virtue, which is, as with the old arguments about a God-killing, God-bearing, or racially impure people, to render acceptable that which was becoming unacceptable.

And the fact is that the effect of all three of these idiocies is to give idiots the illusion that they hate (the Jews) only because they love (the Palestinians, the “true” victims, the holy and noble cohort of resisters against “imperialism,” etc.).

These tenets stand separately, each providing a sufficient reason to pillory the Jews.

But they could also be woven together, combined, braided. One might then see them as three strokes in the portrait of a people diabolical enough to play on the keyboard of a triple perversity. One might use the water of Holocaust denial to turn the wheel of anti-Zionism, to pull the strings of competitive victimhood and more effectively delegitimize Israel, or to decry the perfidy of living Jews who twist what they hold most sacred—the memory of their dead—for the cynical purpose of supporting what is at bottom a criminal state. In each case, the hate-inducing effect would obviously be multiplied.

What confronts us is a giant time bomb with three fuses. Or three components, each isolated from the others for the time being, of a moral atomic bomb. But when those components are assembled, the conflagration will be fearsome.

To forestall their assembly, to prevent the combination of the three toxic tenets, to silence or marginalize those (such as Dieudonné M’bala M’bala in France, David Irving in Britain, and Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam in the United States) who are on the threshold of the bomb must be the task of those who bear the heavy burden of blocking, by law or by their words, the coming anti-Semitism. 

Translated from the French by Steven B. Kennedy.