This is the first in a series of articles by David Solway. David Solway is a Canadian poet and essayist. He is the author of The Big Lie: On Terror, Antisemitism, and Identity, and is currently working on a sequel, Living in the Valley of Shmoon. His new book on Jewish and Israeli themes, Hear, O Israel!, has just been released by Mantua Books. This article was originally published in Frontpage Magazine on February 18, 2009.
of Hasmoneans lay with trembling knees
concealed and cowering—the sons of the Maccabees
…crammed by scores in all the santuaries of their shame.
Chaim Nachman Bialik, The City of Slaughter
As what Israelis call the matzav, the “situation,” continues to darken and both Jews in general and Israelis in particular confront the growing storm of antisemitism throughout the world, the question must be posed: Why are Jews—not all, of course, but a truly disconcerting number—so prone to turn against themselves and make common cause with those who, given the chance, would delight in their extermination? Why suppress the core of their identity, their defining essence, and encrust it over with a self-simulacrum that falsifies their nature? As if one could indemnify oneself against oneself. As if, to quote Horace Kallen, one could change one’s grandfather.
Are they not cowering in “the sanctuaries of their shame” while at the same time strutting at the podium of their adversaries? Have they interiorized the antisemite’s evaluation of their presumed unworthiness? Is this the real meaning of “assimilation,” the absorption into the plasm of Jewish cultural and intellectual life of a microbial pathogen? Most such Jews, of course, profess not to be anti-Jewish but “only” anti-Zionist, unaware that so facile a distinction puts them squarely in the camp of those who are anti-Jewish and would like nothing better than to see the Jewish community either deprivileged or rendered desolate.
These are Jews who have used whatever means at their disposal to attack the very country that was founded to provide them with shelter in adversity, believing instead that Israel is the greatest obstacle to their dream of seamless assimilation. It is Israel, they feel, that stands in the way of their desire for acceptance by provoking the world’s undiluted animosity, and it is Israel, therefore, that must be resisted, denounced, contained and defeated. The sequel would then presumably lead to harmony and perfect integration into their host societies. Mired in illusion, they are unaware that History is not on their side.
Let us call these perjurious specimens Theobald-Jews. According to the Benedictine monk Thomas of Monmouth in his The Life and Miracles of St. William of Norwich (1173), it was an apostate Jew, a certain Theobald, who, swore that Jews had killed twelve-year old William, a tanner’s apprentice, to fulfill their “Passover blood ritual” in the fateful year of 1144—the first recorded such episode in a long line of murderous defamations.
As a matter of interest, the paradigm of ritual-murder accusation goes back at least to 40 B.C.E. when, as we read in the Contra Apion of Flavius Josephus, the antisemitic grammarian Apion accused the Jews of Alexandria of slaughtering a Greek man, “lying upon a bed in the temple,” for the purposes of ritual cannibalism. “How is it possible,” Josephus asks, “that the entrails of one man should be sufficient for so many thousands of Jews to taste, as Apion pretends?” But antisemitic logic has never been especially profound or intelligible. “It is a great shame,” Josephus concludes, “for a grammarian not to be able to write a true history.” But the shame is shared by many.
The blood libel as such, however, seems to be a medieval Christian invention, fostered with the help of those who were, or were once, part of the Jewish community itself. Apostate Jews were at the source of many of the blood libels in the medieval period and, mutatis mutandis, they are still with us today. Witness Italian-Jewish historian Ariel Toaff who, in Bloody Passover: The Jews of Europe and Ritual Murders, speculates that there might have been some truth to the accusations that the Italian Jews of Trent committed acts of human butchery in 1475 in order to make their passover matzot with the blood of Christian children.
In effectively offering their own up to sacrifice, this lurid sept of anti-Zionist Jews are only participating in the latest form the ancient blood libel has taken. We see this metaphorical transfer at work today in Gaza where, from the grotesque standpoint of the Theobald-Jew, Israel is indiscriminately shedding blood to feed its appetite for conquest and spoliation. Indeed, aligning his sense of canting outrage with the greater anti-Zionist polemic, “Theobald” has convinced himself that Israel, as it were, bakes Palestinian blood into its daily diet.
If we were only dealing with a mere scattering of Jews who have adopted so invidious a position, the situation would be manageable. But the world is brimming with Theobald-Jews ready to betray their own people to serve what they regard as their advantage, or the need for acceptance, or as an expression of their own self-loathing, and in the process cater to the ammoniac hatred of the current brood of crypto-antisemites posing as anti-Zionists. “These words—observe, the words of a converted Jew—we reckon to be all the truer,” wrote Thomas of Monmouth, “in that we received them as uttered by one who was a converted enemy.”
In today’s world, of course, conversion is no longer necessary; compliance will do. The value of the turncoat is well understood by the anti-Israel organizations which co-opt him or her. A timely example has just been afforded by the pro-boycott, anti-Zionist University and College Union in the U.K., which has created a Facebook page in order to build, according to its spokesman Mike Cushman, an international network of “anti-Zionist Jews to support Palestinian resistance and seed new Jewish anti-Zionist organizing.” The apostate Jew, the apikoros or “wicked son,” who confers legitimacy on the vengeful campaign against Jewish interests or the state of Israel, is the antisemite’s most effective weapon. Even the word “antisemitism” was coined by an apostate, the half-Jew William Marr whose 1879 pamphlet, The Victory of Judaism over Germanism, launched the modern antisemitic movement in the West.
An act of psychic displacement has taken hold in the Jewish soul, variously leading it to shrink in self-abasement, to retire into the shell of subdued anonymity, to do everything in its power not to call attention to itself, to suffer indignities quietly, to suspect its own motivations and to accept the scriptures of a demonic inquisition. The culmination of these prodigies of self-denial is the well-attested tendency of the insecure and self-doubting Jewish soul to turn about and attack itself, like an immune system gone awry.
Millennia of social and cultural quarantine must have their effect on the sensibility of a people, producing a creature who is always in danger of becoming reflexively disenchanted or of contracting that wasting disease which Ruth Wisse in Jews and Power has called “the veneration of political weakness.” Only the strong survive themselves. One thinks of that memorable scene in novelist Paul Scott’s Raj series, in which a scorpion, trapped in a ring of fire, coils up with the heat and appears to sting itself with its own lethal tail. Analogously, surrounded by the flames of enmity, misprision and commination, the self-reviling Jew shrivels back upon himself, the autonomic convulsion of an ailing and enervated soul.
But he goes even further, anticipating his own demise by self-administering the piqûre de grâce, doing the work of his tormentors as if in agreement with their salvos of defilement and vilification. He may even delude himself into believing that the high conception of justice inherent in the Jewish faith requires him to decry the Zionist enterprise which is its flickering and terrestrial embodiment, if not to renounce that very faith itself. By a bizarre act of metaphysical commutation, the self-despising Jew becomes the antisemite’s loyal deputy, assuming liability for the world’s mortal caricature of him and willing his own eclipse.
It’s a kind of solution, after all.