[I wrote this essay at the time of the Jenin siege (April 2002) as an effort to explain the “new anti-Semitism” coming from the Left and link it to earlier expressions of Western anti-Semitism which, as far as I could make out, derive from the (right-wing) authoritarian hatred of Jewish influence on culture. It was too long to publish at the time. Overall it constitutes a theoretical framework for understanding why cultures find Jews so problematic. I post it here for readers who might share in my astonishment at the nature of Judeophobia in the 21st century.]
Antisemitism: Medieval, Modern, Postmodern
One Guide to the Perplexed at the Dawn of the Global Era
“Is it possible that the whole world is wrong and Israel is right?”
— Ahad Ha-‘Am, 1893 (about the blood libels)
— Kofi Anan, 2002 (about the Jenin “massacre”)
How impoverished a world, when the answer to that is no.
The Millennial Cusp of 2000 and Philo- and Anti-Judaism in the West
In 1996 I wrote an essay on Jewish-Christian relations entitled “The Social Bermuda Triangle: Jews, Modernity and Apocalypticism” in which I expressed concern over the possible effect that the passage of 2000 might have on the exceptional period of philo-Judaism that has marked Western society from the end of the Holocaust until the present. Indeed the last 60 years may well mark the most exceptional and sustained period of philo-Judaism in the history of Jewish-gentile relations, and the results – a flourishing and creative civil society precisely where those relations are best – seems to support the larger argument of this paper about the relationship between Judaism and civil society. On the other hand, as an historian familiar with the pattern of Christian and post-Christian history, in which periods of philo-Judaism end up flipping into their opposite and generating a sometimes furious episode of anti-Judaism, I wondered about a downswing in the aftermath of 2000.
I chose this date as the point of the downturn for two reasons. First, it was the date of choice for many of the evangelical and fundamentalist Christians whose support of Israel and whose love of Jews is intimately connected to their desire to convert them, and to see the final apocalyptic events play out through the fate of the Jews. Given the powerful historical role of apocalyptic hopes and disappointments in triggering the philo-/anti-Judaic dynamic, I was concerned that the (inevitable) passage of 2000 might provoke a classic case of (post-) apocalyptic scapegoating: Jesus did not return because of the refusal of the Jews to convert according to the Christian messianic scenario. Second, Muslims had become acutely aware of the Jewish-Christian messianic alliance at the approach of 2000, especially the desire to build the “Third Temple” on the site of the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque. Illustrating the first rule of apocalyptic rivalry – one person’s messiah is another’s Antichrist – the Muslims depicted Jews as agents of the Dajjal (Antichrist), who would himself be Jewish.
I therefore speculated that we might even see an alliance between some bitterly disappointed fundamentalist Christians and the apocalyptic enemy of 2000 – Islamism. At any rate, I argued, Jews should prepare themselves for a rough ride, and, while the philo-Judaic sun shone before 2000, they should strengthen their alliances among their current friends, liberal and conservative, secular and religious. In particular, I meant that we should clarify the nature of our relationships, so that the tacit expectations might not lead to bitter disappointments. When I spoke to prominent Jews about this issue, I received a condescending, sometimes aggressive rebuke. Don’t be silly or alarmist! Alan Dershowitz quoted me in his The Vanishing Jew (p. 97n), as a lone voice cautioning against his unrestrained optimism that the era of state-sponsored Antisemitism and open displays was over.
Sadly, my concerns have proven founded. Although I was wrong about the Christian Evangelicals who have remained remarkably loyal to Israel, I was right about a post-2000 alliance, this one between the radical “left” and the apocalyptic Muslims. In trying to understand how matters could have come to this pass, I have composed the following exploration of Judeophobia, medieval, modern, and, alas, post-modern.
Anti-Semitism: Conceptual Backround, Jews and Civil Society
Anti-Semitism: Medieval (Prime Divider)
Anti-Semitism: Modern (Civil Societies)
Anti-Semitism: Arab-Israeli Conflict (Prime Divider vs. Civil Society
Anti-Semitism: Post-Modern (Civil Society Self-Destructing)