The Anti-Semite’s Pointed Finger (An essay by Ruth Wisse)

Here is a powerful new essay by Ruth Wisse on anti-Semitism.  Wisse is the Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard University, and is the author of, among other books, Jews and Power.  The present article is based on a talk delivered in August at the Conference of the Yale Interdisciplinary Initiative for the Study of Anti-Semitism. Here she argues that: (a) that anti-Semitism cannot be arrested by any remedial action of the Jews; (b) that there are harmful consequences for pretending that concessions from Jews can stop the aggression against them; and (c) that anti-Semitism forces a choice between protection of the Jews and, under the guise of liberalism, complicity with their enemies.

Why can’t we set ourselves the goal of eradicating anti-Semitism? All across the civilized world, people track anti-Semitism, expose it, oppose it, decry it. And yet no one seriously considers the possibility of bringing about its end. Is this because of some lack of capacity or courage? Or do we face in anti-Semitism something, to use the phrase of the Yiddish writer L. Shapiro, as eternal as the eternal God?

Two other scourges of modern times have seen their power greatly diminished if not eliminated. Fascism was crushed in World War II, and Communism lost its political base in 1991. These movements still have their adherents, but their sustaining polities went down to defeat. Yet anti-Semitism, which figured prominently in both, has metastasized and, according to one of its foremost historians, Robert Wistrich, “will probably get worse.”

Many reasons—historical, religious, sociological, ideological, even epidemiological—have been adduced for the persistence of what Anthony Julius has termed the “sewer” of anti-Semitism. All have merit. But the one reason that remains but dimly understood, and even stubbornly resisted, is the political—and yet it is the one, I believe, that accounts for the phenomenon’s continuing success. Politically, anti-Semitism succeeds by working through misdirection, and its opponents no less than its adherents tend to be taken in by some of its deceptive strategies.

A good place to begin probing the resiliency of anti-Semitic deception is with the origin of Zionism. Zionism arose, in part, as a response to modern political anti-Semitism, but the movement’s history reveals an early and profound misdiagnosis of the problem.

It was first and foremost a movement of national self-determination, a familiar force in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But unlike other national movements, whose efforts to liberate subjugated peoples was opposed by existing polities—-nations and empires—Jews confronted a transnational political force that would come to be known as “anti-Semitism.” Zionists believed that the way to address the problem was by normalizing the political condition of the Jews themselves. Jews had been for too long a dependent minority in other people’s lands. Since anti-Semitism attacked Jews as usurping aliens, the provocation would presumably be removed once the Jews packed up and went home. It seemed to make independent sense, at a time of proliferating nation-states, for Jews to re-establish their homeland: once they did so, logic suggested, they would at last become a politically unexceptional people.

Zionism achieved its primary goal. I will not dwell here on the marvels of Israel, except to emphasize that Zionism succeeded in accomplishing whatever depended on Jewish effort, energy, and will alone. But what about the expectations of political normalization its founders and builders possessed so fervently? Those who settled the land and attained sovereignty were entitled to expect that they, like the populaces of other new nations, would be accorded “normal” treatment commensurate with international custom.

In this, Zionism proved mistaken.

Read rest of essay, here: wisse2

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