I just attended a one-day symposium organized by the Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism, co-organized by Steven Baum, Neal Rosenberg, and Winston Pickett, held at the Wiener Library on Russell Square (right down the street from the notorious SOAS, and a Palestinian Fair). The program is appended below.
Here are the remarks I made on the first panel about defining anti-Semitism. The remarks were based on a longer essay, written in 2002 on anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semitism and Moral Schadenfreude:
Reflections from a Medievalist
Medieval historians who follow the argument made by Gavin Langmuir on the subject agree to distinguish between anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism. Here is my version of the distinction.
Anti-Judaism: zero-sum – I’m up because you’re down, I’m right cause you’re wrong, I’m good cause you’re bad. We make ourselves look bigger by making other look smaller.
Produces phenomena like the Dhimma, Easter ceremonies where Jews have to kiss a pigs ass, Augustine’s doctrine of the Jews’ dispossession from the Land of Israel as testament to/proof of Christian truth. Theologically speaking, these are all forms of supersessionism, the zero-sum theology par excellence in which “we” the new chosen people erase, displace “you” the old and now discarded chosen people. Culturally/psyschologically speaking, these are honor-shame versions of monotheism: what appears on the surface of things is what’s true. If we dominate, we’re right.
Anti-semitism: negative-sum – exterminate or be exterminated; your very existence threatens my existence; delirious paranoia.
Apocalyptic dualism: Nazis, Protocols, current Jihadi apocalyptic Judeophobia. The link between the two derives from the fact that the (fragile) ego that depends on the subjection of the other, feels threatened with annihilation when it loses that dominion. Thus, the fear of loss of honor when faced with independence of the despised other becomes literally a fear of the extinction of the self.
This is the challenge to Europe after the Holocaust: Christians and post-Christians have to live with non-dhimmi Jews, independent, judged by the same standards. This has been extremely valuable for Europe, and for the first time in its millennial-long existence, Europeans repentant from their anti-Semitism have managed the EU and the Euro, two forms of cooperation literally unthinkable before mid-20th century. As Michel Gurfienkel said in response to the question, on what day should we celebrate the European Union? Holocaust Day.
Denied anti-Semitism, however, Europeans have engaged in a proxy form in their support for Arab anti-Zionism: let the Arabs harry Israel since we can’t. As a result the vicious policy of Arabs keeping Palestinian refugees in miserable conditions so that they could blame Israel has found widespread support among Europeans – both in intellectual and political/diplomatic circles.
In significant part, this has been because the new, proxy anti-Semitism has appeared on the left; it is a progressive, “human rights” based anti-Semitism – pluralism, multi-culturalism. And it’s an anti-Semitism in denial: the vast majority of the people who empower Muslim anti-Semitism don’t think that they’re in any way anti-Semitic.
Retrospectively this susceptibility to pro-Palestinian Jew hatred has been catastrophic for the world.
If we think of Jew-hatred as an addiction to an alcoholic substance, then anti-Judaism is like wine and beer while anti-Semitism is like high grain alcohol. Then the following statement can be made: since 2000, the Europeans have been hitting their wine and beer, while keeping an open bar for their Muslim resident aliens.
Moral Schadenfreude and the European Cholesterol Count
My experience is that the post-Holocaust mutations of anti-Semitism are particularly hardy breeds, which can resist the appeals to sympathy for the Holocaust since these new forms now clothes itself in a progressive “human rights” garb and invoke Nurnberg and Geneva to attack Israel.
As someone who’s worked for over a decade on these problems, I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re not going to succeed by appealing to the sympathy of people so armed with this new, resistant, “progressive” brand of anti-Semitism by arguing that it’s bad for Jews. My sense is that only by alerting people to the dangers to them of embracing anti-Semitism, consciously or unconsciously do we stand a chance of reaching most people. After all, the consistent pattern of Anti-Semitism, pre-Holocaust and post-Holocaust has been that the Jews are only the first target of the anti-Semites. Six million Jews were murdered in WW II, but over 40 million gentiles also died.
In post-modern, proxy anti-Semitism, this aspect of the problem is even greater than it has been in the past, where it would take an historian looking retrospectively to realize that there was a cost of Jew-baiting, that not long after the attacks on the Jews, the Inquisition came to town, that the fires that burned the Jews soon after burned Christian dissidents. But today, when one selects as one’s proxy for anti-Semitism, a group like the Jihadis, who hate Christian and post-Christian infidels almost as much as they hate the Jews, it’s safe to say that the indulgence and encouragement of anti-Semitism among Muslims is nothing short of suicidal. In terms of the cognitive warfare that the Islamists are waging against the West, Israel is the soft underbelly.
Take the case of Muhammad al Durah, the nuclear bomb of Jihadi cognitive warfare, the first blood libel of the 21st century, the first spread by an identified Jew, the first post-modern blood libel. Europeans loved this story: “This picture erases, replaces the image of the boy in the ghetto.” From a moral point of view, it’s hard to imagine a more deranged statement. Only when one realizes that al Durah was Europe’s get-out-of-Holocaust-guilt-free card does such “logic” make sense.
But even as they showed it endlessly on their TV screens, soothing their own unrepentant breasts, Europeans were waving the flag of Jihad in front of their Muslim population, awakening a radical Muslim Street in Europe.
So one of the things that I’m working on is the seeming endless appetite that Europeans have for what Nidra Poller calls “lethal narratives” about Israel (and David Hirsh calls “the Livingstone formulation”). If pictures of dead babies were trading cards, then the latest conflict illustrates clearly that a baby killed by Syrians has very low value, but when the child is identified as killed by Israelis, the value shoots up.
Hence let me introduce the term Moral Schadenfreude: it is the core of the anti-Judaism I discussed above. It designates the thrill (frisson) that accompanies the ability to accuse Israel, to knock it off its moral pedestal, to announce (as one of my friends did repeatedly in the years after al Durah) “this time Israel’s lost the moral high ground.” Somehow there is a great pleasure that accompanies inflicting moral pain on the Jews. Somehow one gets great pleasure from being able to say, “You Jews, two thousand years you suffered persecution and no sooner do you get power, but you turn around and do it to the poor Palestinians. You’re just as bad as everyone else (off the pedestal), you’re as bad or worse than the Nazis (sadistic version).”
I think this pleasure derives from a form of supersessionism that has spread to non- (or post-) Christian circles in the post-war period. Despite what a sad reflection it represents of the moral self-confidence of the agent, there seems to be a kind of moral bullying at work: I make myself look bigger by making you look smaller. Every time I degrade you, I elevate myself.
One of the implications of this analysis is that the Western secular Left is also supersessionist, as in the case of Jostein Gaarder. In order to pose as the moral cutting edge of global consciousness, the Left seems to feel that putting Israel down makes them look good. Few cases make a stronger case that, imagining one can be a better person without believing in God, can lead one to disastrous moral immodesty. After all, all those Christians and Muslims who beat up on the Jews invoked their belief in God to justify their contempt and sense of moral superiority. So, having tossed aside God, we secular, atheist, progressives… beat up on Jews, thinking we’re morally superior.
Lethal Narratives are like rich truffles, so tasty that there seems an almost bottomless appetite for them, and the European intelligentsia are like a fat man with a 300+ cholesterol count who just can’t stop popping those yummy truffles of moral Schadenfreude. Jon Donnison tweets a picture of a dead Syrian baby as a dead Gaza baby. WTF? What business does a BBC correspondent have in participating in dead baby porn? Does he realize he’s playing the role of a picador, trying to spur the Arab bull into a rage so he’ll attack Israel? And does he not understand that, as an infidel, he’s next?
Can an intelligentsia commit civilizational suicide? Apparently yes. Can we stop it from doing this? We cannot refuse to try.
Perhaps if we Jews and Israelis show some sense of self-preservation rather than rushing to self-immolate to prove what “good” Jews we are, we will serve as examples to those Europeans who, even if they won’t admit it, nevertheless their dogged attraction to moral Schadenfreude about us reveals, have an insecurity complex about Jews, and, in deeply twisted and suppressed ways, admire us.
JSA Sunday Symposium Program
8:30am Introductory Remarks David Hirsh, Neal E. Rosenberg, Steven K. Baum
9am Panel 1 Defining the New Antisemitism
Chair: Kenneth Marcus: Bat Ye’or, Winston Pickett, Richard Landes
10am Panel 2 Mapping the Rise of Contemporary Antisemitism
Chair: Manfred Gerstenfeld: Mark Gardner, Robert Wistrich
11am Panel 3 Antisemitism on Campus
Chair: Kenneth Lasson : Clemens Heni, Dave Rich, Ronnie Fraser
Noon Lunch Break
Screening of the documentary film Unmasked Judeophobia followed by Q&A
Gloria Z. Greenfield and Shimon T. Samuels
2pm Panel 4 Assessing Current Approaches
Chair: Lesley Klaff:| Gunther Jikeli, Hagai van der Horst, David Feldman
3pm Panel 5 The Politics of Fighting Antisemitism
Chair: Irwin Cotler: Rt. Hon Denis MacShane, Ben Cohen, Paul Iganski
4pm Panel 6 What Can Be Done? Strategic Interventions
Chair: Ruth Klein: Francisco de Almeida Garrett, Julian Hunt, Philip Spencer
5pm JSA Closing Remarks Robert S. Wistrich
Awards & Honors: Steven K. Baum, Lesley Klaff, JSA Editorial Staff
(Wine) & Cheese