Commentary Magazine


Anti-Semitic Stereotypes in Zionism:
The Nationalist Rejection of Diaspora Jewry

The influence of 19th-century anti-Semitic concepts is more complex than is often realized—and, crowning irony of all, according to the Palestinian author of this penetrating article, they seem even to have found their way into the ideology of that Jewish movement which above all tried to reaffirm the strength and soundness of Jews and Jewish character. This study by Yehezkel Kaufman on anti-Semitic strands in traditional Zionist thought originally appeared, in a somewhat different form, in Be-Havle Ha-Zeman, Tel Aviv 1936.  This article was translated from the Hebrew by Jacob Sloan.

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It is customary to define the word “anti-Semitism” as “hatred of Jews,” but this definition is not accurate. Anti-Semitism is not Jew-hatred as such. It is the rationalizations men develop who are hostile to the Jew, to justify their hostility. Anti-Semitism is, thus, not the emotion, but the ideas revolving around it, in some cases even developing into a kind of “scientific system.” Anti-Semitism is related to provocation: it uses false charges and distortions of fact, and employs a whole structure of slander directed against Jewish religion, Jewish morality, the Jewish way of life, and the attitudes Jews exhibit toward their Gentile environment.

The chief techniques of anti-Semitism are: (1) fabrication—accusing the Jews of faults they never had; (2) generalization—referring the faults of individuals to the group as a whole; (3) singling out—selecting faults to which Jews are not particularly subject, and blowing them up into “Jewish faults”; (4) harshness—regarding things as faults in the case of Jews which are not considered faults in others. And since anti-Semitism is a system of beliefs, it may survive independently of hatred, so that there are Gentiles who are ideological anti-Semites, and have no hate for the particular Jews with whom they have dealings.

Anti-Semitism can also penetrate the beliefs of good Jews. In this case, its conclusion is: “And so you must change, Jews, and become like everybody else.” This Jewish anti-Semitism coincides with the most vicious brand of anti-Semitism in that it sees Jewish misfortune as flowing directly from the Jew’s own nasty characteristics and actions. It is the Jews’ fault—that is the reasoning common to both. And along with the assumption of Jewish culpability, Jewish anti-Semitism adopts the other anti-Semitic tactics: the fabrication of charges, the singling out of “Jewish” faults, the denial to Jews of the right to behave like other people.

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We have been suffering from this disease of Jewish anti-Semitism ever since the period of the Enlightenment. And we should recognize the disease for what it is, even when it puts on the disguise of Jewish nationalism. Indeed, the poison that flows from Jewish nationalist sources is perhaps the most dangerous of all.

The cardinal sin of the Enlightenment was that it concurred in the “case for the prosecution” and demanded that the Jews do penance as a means of conciliating the Gentile world. Typically, Judah Loeb Gordon describes the “enlightened man” who is Jewish as being superior to his fellow Jews in that he “admits to the truth”: i.e., he accepts as facts most of the complaints and accusations of the Jew-haters. As early as Mendelssohn’s time the Enlightenment drew the conclusion that the Jews must “make themselves over.” The Jews, it was said, despite their superior knowledge, are cheats, moneylenders, exploiters, separatists, hate the Gentiles, etc., etc. They have to “make themselves over” to deserve civil rights.

Aye it is true, O Jacob, you have ever been
        silly,
You have held on to folly, you have loathed
        Wisdom—
The bread of your house has been crooked
        dealings and usury,
Justified the insults, and the curse of your
        foes
.

This is Gordon’s version of “the truth” (in his Derech Bat Ami).

To deserve the “compassion of king and lords,” the Jews must devote their lives to knowledge, must stop being “like Balaam’s ass,” and speak “the clear language of every nation.” Or, in the words of Smolenskin, they are to be like all the other nations, “to seek and attain knowledge, to abandon the way of the rogue and the fool.”

The “enlightened” governments made the gift of rights conditional on Enlightenment: the Jews were to lose their undesirable traits, assimilate linguistically, take off their “filthy clothing.” And the “enlightened” Jews conceded the justice of these conditions. They did not demand equality under any circumstances, but “admitted” that the Jews must first become “like unto all the nations,” thus implying that they were worse than other nations. True, the intelligentsia defended their brethren and argued that persecution and discriminatory decrees had been the cause of their degradation. But they conceded the degradation; and, worse, conceded that this justified the denial of rights.

Their arguments ran something like this: There are no Jewish artisans or laborers; Jews are all merchants, storekeepers, and moneylenders; we live by “crooked deals and usury.” How could a nation like ours hope to be on equal terms with the others? (The non-Jews, of course, aren’t merchants or moneylenders or exploiters or oppressors; they all live off the fruits of their own labor!) We believe in “vanities” (meaning we believe in Hasidic zaddikim, and so forth), wear “filthy clothing” (meaning we have a special dress), speak a confused language (meaning a language of our own, Yiddish). (The non-Jews, of course, are all enthusiasts of the Enlightenment and of rational concepts; they all dress properly, speak “clearly.”) So, O Jew, “be a man out of doors, a Jew at home” (J. L. Gordon). That is how our “enlightened” admitted to the “truth.”

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This native variant of anti-Semitism struck deep roots in the soil of Judaism. The assimilationist Judaism of both the West and the East became completely infected. Remarkable phenomenon of spiritual decay! What a distance from Börne and Heine, those proud converts, to Weininger, or even to Rathenau! It gave rise to a deep feeling of inferiority, self-hatred, terror at the “call of the blood,” a mad race to escape that horrible Jewish shadow from which there is no refuge, to hide, even in suicide—all caused by the anti-Semitic “truth” that assimilatory Judaism accepted. Theodor Lessing, in his book Jewish Self-Hatred, erected a terrible memorial to many such hate-ridden souls.

Yet more bitter to recall is the fact that even the Jewish national movement was not safe from the anti-Semitic poison. It, too, accepted the anti-Semitic “truth,” and it still attempts to base Jewish redemption on an anti-Semitic foundation. Herzl seemed to recognize this when he wrote: “The Jews, too, faithfully say ‘Amen’ to the anti-Semitic slogan that we earn our living off the ‘feeder’ nations, and that were it not for them, we should be forced to starve to death. This is another evidence of the decline of our self-respect under the onslaught of false accusations” (The Jewish State, Introduction). And later he says: “No people has had so many misconceptions published about it as have the Jews, and we are so depressed, so weakened by our history of suffering, that we ourselves repeat the lies of our calumniators, actually believing them as completely as they do.”

But Herzl’s denunciation did not help. On the contrary, Zionist ideology itself was by no means free from the influence of anti-Semitism, and Zionism actually based the national movement on a rationale of charges that it took over from the anti-Semites, and attempted to find a core of justice in the hatred of the Jews. Jews of the Galut, the countries of dispersion, really deserve to be hated: their customs, tendencies, businesses, attitude to their environment, etc., are the source of the hatred, the justifiable hatred. Therefore, they must leave the Galut.

These nationalists failed to realize that it was not the Galut they were making obnoxious, but the Jewish people itself. The nationalist movement has identified itself with a severe criticism of life in the Galut. But criticism is of two kinds: there is devoted nationalist criticism, like Bialik’s, which overpowers and stirs us, and there is distorted abuse that depresses us. One can recognize the latter by its style, which is unrestrainedly abusive in referring to the Jews of the Diaspora, which is to say, all Jews from the day of the Exile to the present. The vocabulary of abuse in Hebrew literature—where Jews speak to one another without fear of exaggeration—is of a sort you will find only in anti-Semitic literature of the worst type.1

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The cornerstone of anti-Semitic nationalism is the premise that Jewish life in the Diaspora is “immoral.” Jewish nationalism ceaselessly emphasizes this premise, formulated in a thousand ways, and bases the idea of Zionist redemption on it. In what sense is life in the Galut “immoral”? The answer is: in two senses—the national and the social.

First of all, the very fact of living on a foreign soil, outside a national homeland, in the midst of foreign nations, in the field of influence of a foreign culture, is “slavery, degradation, uncleanliness, a dog’s life,” etc.

Now, the emigration of human beings from their native lands and their dispersal in foreign countries is a general phenomenon that has been going on from antiquity to the present day. This emigration has been responsible for the disappearance of many nations and the submergence of thousands of their nationals in other nations. There is no people that does not have its Galut to this very day. But none of all those exiles who live abroad in foreign nations are slaves or dogs—none, that is, but the Jews. The Italians, the Irish, the Germans, and all the other nationalities in the American “melting pot,” the Germans in Russia and in other countries, the Chinese, the Japanese, who leave their native lands and try to strike roots in a foreign country—none of these is living an “immoral life” when he settles on foreign soil, in a foreign culture, not even when he completely assimilates—none but the Jew. Other nationalities are permitted to exist as “national minorities” and struggle for national minority rights. But if the Jews try to do the same, there’s talk of nothing but filth, decadence, slavery, and so on.

During the period of the Enlightenment the Jews were blamed for being hostile to culture, for detesting “knowledge,” for separatism. In the following period, the Jews were seized with a great passion for knowledge. The young people flooded the Gentile schools. They were impelled by a drive to put an end to “separatism,” to attach themselves to a foreign culture and live and be creative in it. Then the anti-Semites reversed themselves and discovered new Jewish faults: the Jew had fallen in love with their knowledge; he had stopped “isolating himself,” and had jumped head over heels into a foreign culture which he was spoiling!

The Jewish intelligentsia took this charge also (as they had taken the earlier, opposite accusation of Jewish “separatism”) straight from the anti-Semites, and accepted it, and this time again the nationalists concurred. “Yes, it is true; the Jews are at fault; they deserve the hatred of the Gentiles—because they are assimilating. Why, you can see yourself that the Gentiles hate an assimilating Jew more than one who stands foursquare with his nation and its culture.” They forgot the Gentile’s attitude to the ghetto Jews; they forgot the hatred of Jews in Russia, for example, where the Jewish masses were far from assimilating—they forgot everything. The nationalists accepted the anti-Semitic fiction without demurrer, so long as it helped make assimilation appear obnoxious.

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Life in the Diaspora is immoral from a social point of view as well—so went the nationalist indictment. The Diaspora Jew engages in “disgusting occupations” like storekeeping and jobbing. He looks for soft berths, hates work, lives like a parasite.

What is the basis of this accusation? An antiquated “physiocratic” approach to the middleman and banking that no intelligent adult believes nowadays. And, of course, it is “correct” only in relation to the Jews. The Gentiles may be middlemen and bankers without any quotas, but if the Jews engage in those occupations, they are parasites—so runs the reasoning of the anti-Semite. A “store” is clear evidence of the Jewish marginal existence in Shnipitzok, Kasrilevke, etc. (everyone knows there are no stores at all in London, Paris, Peking, Tokyo). The Jew is guilty and immoral because he tries to enter the liberal professions, and hopes to make a living from his education. (Obviously, among Gentiles there is no migration from the country to the city, where the soft occupations are located, and, of course, there are no rich bourgeoisie, no aristocracy.)

And what about the heart of the premise that the Jew won’t work with his hands? Modern “scientific” anti-Semitism began in Western Europe (particularly in Germany) where the Jews had been forcibly removed from the artisan and labor markets as early as the Middle Ages. For that reason Western anti-Semitism was able to formulate a broad generalization to the effect that Jews prefer to stand “behind their shutters” or lend money on interest, and run away from hard work—therefore, all Jews are contemptible. Anti-Semitism pretends that the supposed fact that the Jew is not a working man is the real reason for its hatred. One might ask: Why was the Jew hated when he was a working man, and why was every effort made to remove him from the labor market? And is it really true that the Jew isn’t a working man? Weren’t there millions of Jewish laborers and craftsmen in Eastern Europe and in Asia? Weren’t there whole trades that were almost entirely in the hands of Jews? Why were they persecuted there? There are no answers to these questions, yet the “generalization” does not seem to be affected.

Nationalistic anti-Semitism thoughtlessly accepts this physiocratic generalization and repeats it as gospel truth, reminding us of it early and late. What is the Jew in the Galut? “A storekeeper and a middleman.” Why is he hated? “Because he isn’t a worker, because he is a parasite.” Is this hatred justified? “Yes, because his life is contemptible.”

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These falsehoods infect all our Hebrew literature and the mind of our youth. If you were to open the notebook of a Hebrew school student, you might read such phrases as these: “The Jews in the Diaspora are living unhealthy lives, as unsavory tradesmen, and sometimes have unsavory private lives too. . . . They are corrupt. . . . The Gentiles around them are living healthy lives.” Or: “The Jews in the Galut prefer storekeeping, banking, and peddling,” and that is why the Gentiles hate them; “the lack of Jewish farmers and Jewish workers has been the reason for their unnatural lives, and has aroused hatred.”

In the course of the fourth conference of the Histadrut (January 1933), one of the leaders of the workers delivered a message something like this from the platform: “What is self-preparation? . . . First of all, preparation for Gentile jobs, the self-preparation of the Jewish worker to become a Gentile . . . to do Gentile work . . . to make a profit the way Gentiles do. . . . The Jewish village girl shall live like a Gentile country lass, etc., etc.”—The purpose of self-preparation is not only to turn the Jewish storekeeper into a worker but—into a Gentile!

For decades the notion was rooted in the mentality of the German Jews that hatred of the Jews had its source in the “social structure” peculiar to Judaism. Not “parasitism” merely, but a completely new version: it was a faulty “social structure,” an unnatural stratification, which was the legitimate source of hatred.

After the Emancipation, Jews were drawn to the liberal occupations, and became doctors and lawyers in large numbers. Anti-Semitism uttered its charge: the social structure of the Jews was detrimental to the native economy. The Jewish nationalists hurried to include this in their philosophy, too. “The social structure,” they said, “is the source of all evil.” Even Herzl believed that the Emancipation had failed because the Jews had become a “middle class” in the ghetto. But Herzl made that remark in passing, while the German Zionists developed this basically anti-Semitic point of view into a complete law.

“Our social structure,” they argued ceaselessly, “is the source of our misfortunes. Our trouble is due to our abnormal ‘stratification’; we have far too many merchants and professionals in proportion to our workers and farmers.” Zionism adopted this analysis, and took as its goal the effecting of a change in the Jewish social structure.

It is true that the ideals of Zionism will not be realized without some change of this kind in the social structure of our people. But that’s another and different story. The question we are dealing with at this point is whether it is possible to accept the singular social structure of Western Judaism in our time as the real reason or even the justification for anti-Semitism, as the foes of the Jews contend it is. The facts are clear enough: the hatred is far older than this social structure, and clearly does not flow from it. Besides, Jewish life in Eastern Europe proved that the Jewish social structure is not the cause of anti-Semitism. Furthermore, those who hate the Jews most are for the larger part members of the same class. What reason can there be to believe that, if the Jews had a larger proportion of farmers and workers, those classes would not dislike them? Herzl aptly emphasizes (in contradiction to his statement quoted above) that the very areas where Jews were attempting to settle on the soil and become farmers immediately became nests of Jew-hatred. The attitude towards Jewish workers in Hitler Germany shows how little genuine truth there is in this Law of Social Structure. From every point of view, the physiocratic law has only a superficial and artificial connection with genuine Zionism. But German Zionists uncritically accepted it under the influence of anti-Semitism.

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The Jewish nationalist bill of complaint against the Jewish people also contains an original charge, not borrowed from the arsenal of foreign anti-Semitism. The complaint is that the Jews have neglected their own movement for redemption, Zionism. Now, this complaint may be basically correct. But—the tone sets the music. The man who disregards the special quality of the Zionist demand for redemption, the man who states the problem in terms that seem to indicate that the redemptive effort is not succeeding because we are “Yids” who prefer to remain peddlers like our forefathers—that man, though he be a Jew, is nothing less than an anti-Semite.

Our nationalist accusers find our ancestors guilty because they went into exile to trade and become peddlers and the like, and we are at fault for not having broken with their pattern. The Zionists are particularly to blame for not having got out of the Galut and taken the rest of the nation along with them. Our ancestors had a slave mentality, for “even before the destruction of the Temple, the masses voluntarily left Palestine.” Why? To find themselves “fleshpots” abroad! And the Zionists are particularly culpable. “We are helots, slaves of our own free will,” if “in the course of fifty years the renascence movement has not instilled in the Jewish will a drive to redemption and a homeland.”

As a matter of fact, there are many nations whose nationals have left and leave their homeland “of their own free will” (that is to say, for economic reasons, or because of persecution by a foreign power) and many nations that have suffered the humiliation of slavery for decades and even centuries. I doubt that any Irish nationalist ever upbraided his nation in such style for deserting Ireland en masse and going after the “fleshpots” in America. I doubt that any Polish patriot ever defamed his nation because the masses accepted foreign rule and took no part in the Polish rebellion for independence. I doubt that the fighters for Indian liberation ever insulted their nation for bowing to foreign domination, and even contributing Indians to the police and army, weapons of their own suppression.

Another parallel: for decades, the European proletariat prepared to wage war on the enslaving, exploiting class. They created powerful institutions and great organizations that exerted much influence on political life in Europe. But what happened eventually? With the expansion of European capitalism, the proletariat appeared to be deserting the idealistic vision of emancipation and to prefer the “fleshpots,” or perhaps just plain onions and garlic. During World War I, the proletariat forgot its fraternal internationalism and fought alongside its class enemies on the national battlefronts. After the war, there was still no sign of a “will to auto-emancipation.” Quite the contrary! The proletarian seemed to be interested in defending the capitalist system!

Yet I believe I am not mistaken when I state that no socialist has been so bold as to scold the European proletariat for being “dogs, slaves, worms. . . .” The fight against “opportunism” has been directed entirely at the leaders, from the time of Eduard Bernstein to the present. The leaders are the ones who are found guilty of treason, hypocrisy, luxury-hunting, and so forth; no one has had the audacity to blame the class as a whole. Even the Communists, a tribe adept at mudslinging, don’t have the nerve to charge the proletariat with treason, slave mentality, etc.; they, too, blame the leaders for the failure of the proletariat.

But that’s not the way it is with us Jews. Why, you can see for yourself! These people couldn’t even accomplish so small a thing as the emancipation of a nation scattered abroad and divided among various economies all over the world; they couldn’t even move a nation of sixteen millions into a tiny country, every foot of whose soil is purchased with endless toil and tremendous suffering! When all the other nations are forced to leave their homelands (for only the Jews leave “of their own free will”) they return immediately, not being servile or cowardly. They do not stay away from their “fatherlands” a moment longer than they have to. It is only the Jews—never the other nations!—who would not give up storekeeping and peddling and become farmers and hired hands.

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It is a sad opinion one hears many people expressing—that anti-Semitism is in a certain sense an anteroom to Zionism. Many Zionists, and not only Western European Zionists, believe with complete naivety that to be “good Zionists,” we must first become “good” anti-Semites, we must first hate ourselves.

The true movement for Jewish redemption does not rest on such foundations. Only a superficial point of view could link Zionism to the rationale of anti-Semitism. The movement for redemption has no need to arouse hatred for the Galut by these means. On the contrary, it shows, or, more correctly, it ought to show, the extent of the falseness of these charges, and how they change in every period—in order to draw the correct conclusions: that it is not this or that situation which is the true source of the infectious hatred, but Galut; not the Jews in Galut, nor their characteristics, nor their occupations—but Galut itself. Redemption rests on the negation of anti-Semitism no less than on the negation of Galut.

What is Galut? Galut is not a special “social structure,” or an oversupply of doctors or lawyers, or a passion for storekeeping, or separatism, or assimilation—but the state of the eternal alien into which the Jewish people have declined as a result of definite historical factors (which I have attempted to describe elsewhere), and for which no one is to blame. It makes no difference what the occupations and social conditions of Jews may be. It makes no difference what their attitude toward foreign cultures may be. They will be disliked whether they are doctors or farmers, merchants or workers, or whether they are all of them put together. They will be disliked whether they speak a “jargon” or a “pure” language, disliked not because they are worse than any other nation, or because they are an “inferior race,” or because they are moneylenders, or because they are parasites, or because their lives are “immoral,” or because the Gentiles are wicked and Jew-haters by nature—but solely because the Jewish nation is an eternal alien.

Therefore there is no solution in a change of the “social structure,” in altering areas of employment, and so forth. There is only one solution—escape from alienation. Not by assimilation, but by a national effort—that is the primary commandment of our era.

Only a comprehension of the true nature of the Galut—its tragic nature—can serve as the foundation of the movement for redemption. Not the tragedy referred to in those hyperbolical sermons about “the great human tragedy of the people, fighting in the name of the ideal of justice,” but tragedy in the essential meaning of the word: the conjunction of historical factors that have burdened the Jewish people with a cruel and unique fate, so that every vital manifestation, not bad in and of itself, has invariably been transformed into an evil. Emigration, dispersal, ghetto, assimilation, a longing for social amelioration, commerce, higher education—all these are not special to the Jews, and are not generally considered evils. It was only the conjunction of special factors in the existence of the Jewish nation that transformed these phenomena into a great and terrible evil—Galut; the Jews were blamed for their history.

There is no place in the idea of national redemption for “love” of anti-Semitism. Zionism sees anti-Semitism, too, from a tragic point of view; even anti-Semitism is not “guilty.” The end of anti-Semitism will come only with the end of Galut; but Zionism can never accept the claims of the anti-Semite. The Zionist ideal is not the redemption of slaves sunk in mud and filth, living “immoral lives” and hated for that reason by the Gentiles who earn their living by the toil of their hands. It is not the idea of worthless men who have been forced, by a need to find solace for their damned souls, to live “immoral lives” like the Gentiles. That is not the ideal of redemption.

Zionism is the idea of a nation attempting to escape the burden of a cruel fate laid upon it by the causal factors of its history. It is not redemption from moral sin, but from tragic accident. It is not a progression from the filth of worms to the height of man, but an heroic effort the like of which has never been seen before. Will this nation have the strength to carry through a redemptive effort unparalleled in history? Let us continue to have faith, and hope. But faith will not issue from contempt, and hope will not spring from insult. We must give our youth the pride of pioneers, not the depression of a people burdened with a sense of their sin and victims of a feeling of guilt. Pride is the only true nourishment for redemption.

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Footnotes

1 Frishman: “Jewish life is a ‘dog’s life’ that evokes disgust.” Berdichevski: “Not a nation, not a people, not human.” Brenner: “Gypsies, filthy dogs, inhuman, wounded dogs.” A. D. Gordon: “Parasitism, people fundamentally useless.” From the articles of Shwadron: “Slaves, helots, the basest uncleanliness, worms, filth, parasitic rootlessness” (see his writings in Moznaim, 1933, Nos. 33-38). In honor of the anniversary of Histadrut, Davar, the Palestinian newspaper, printed in vowel-pointed headlines: “National renaissance, the regeneration of a parasitic nation.”

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