Jeffrey Goldberg published a worthwhile column yesterday for Bloomberg View that details some of the recent expressions of virulent Jew-hatred produced in the last year’s agitations in Arab countries. His inability to engage more deeply, however, with the forces currently revealing themselves in places like Tahrir Square, and his casual castigation of Jew-hatred as the “socialism of fools” robs the column of a more important impact.
Goldberg’s frame for the article is that hatred of Jews is inimical to the spirit of the Arab protests, which are driven by an “idealism” that “can’t be denied” since “the people of the Middle East are finally awakening to liberty.” Freedom we should all certainly wish to the region of the world (minus, perhaps, China) that remains least open to its charms. But there simply is no guarantee that the hatred for the tyrants Mubarak, Assad, Qaddafi, and Ben Ali that has brought so many to the streets in the past year is twinned essentially to a belief in democracy. For we must also ask for whom the new freedoms are intended and to whom power will now fall.
There are those, now marching to the front of the columns, whose belief in liberty, whatever pretty things they may have to say to the Western press, stops short for unbelievers. Capable and thorough as it was in the space of a single column, and filled with no less than seven specific and alarming examples of wild anti-Jewish expressions by significant revolutionary voices from Tunis to Damascus, Goldberg’s Jew-hatred hit list didn’t include the “kill all Jews” rally recently held in a prestigious Cairo mosque by the Muslim Brotherhood, the same political organization that soon enough may hold the reigns of power in the most populous and significant of all Arab states.
In her masterly book If I Am Not For Myself, Ruth Wisse offers a penetrating analysis of the thinking of August Bebel, the German socialist credited with coining the “socialism of fools” line. She writes:
“Bebel’s resolution on anti-Semitism makes no objection to it on moral grounds, since he is no less eager than anti-Semites to foment revolution… [His] emphasis on the error rather than the immorality of anti-Semitism implicitly acknowledges that the movements of the Right and Left are otherwise politically related in their means, while the failure to defend Jews for their own sake implies that Jewishness is of no independent value.”
Goldberg decries Jew-hatred for “dehumanizing Jews,” so he saves himself from the worst implications of Bebel’s formulation. Yet the fundamental error remains. The passions of the revolution remain above reproach, the descent into Jew-hatred a byway from the shining path. But mass hatred, as Wisse also notes, needs an object less abstract than Arab social deterioration. Once the dictators are dragged through the streets, other objects of derision must be
found to fill their place. It is hard to be optimistic that, in the short-term at least, Arabs will find a more attractive target than their imagined Jewish enemy and the real Jewish state.
In short, expressions of hatred for Jews may not be the Arab revolution hijacked, but the Arab revolution expressed. Time to start getting used to that possibility.