Commentary Magazine


The Return of Anti-Semitism by Gabriel Schoenfeld

The Return of Anti-Semitism
by Gabriel Schoenfeld
Encounter. 193 pp. $25.95

There are two divergent attitudes toward anti-Semitism today, each of them held by Jews and Gentiles alike. The groups who espouse these two views might be termed the deniers and the alarmists.

Deniers simply refuse to admit that anti-Semitism is a threat at all, and commonly accuse their alarmist counterparts of collective hysteria. Despite a global wave of attacks on Jewish targets, they either dismiss the evidence point blank (President Chirac: “There is no anti-Semitism and no anti-Semites” in France) or blame the victims (Israel in general, Ariel Sharon in particular; the “Israel lobby” in the United States; the “Holocaust industry”; Tony Blair’s “Jewish cabal”). When all else fails, they seek to distance the current phenomenon from the lethal past by redefining anti-Semitism as anti-Zionism or as a subspecies of “anti-colonialism.”

As for alarmists, they regard the deniers as either self-deluding fools or knaves (that is, anti-Semites manqué). Either way, the deniers are said to be betraying the Jewish people and, particularly if they are Jews themselves, the memory of the Holocaust. Whatever the subjective reasons for the denial, objectively it is held to weaken resistance to the threat. If the view should prevail that anti-Semitism is only a problem for ultra-Zionists, and not too serious a problem at that, then the immune system forged during the mid-20th century to extirpate older forms of anti-Semitism will fail to be mobilized to confront the new, bastardized anti-Semitism that is now emerging.

Who is right? More than a half-century after the Holocaust, has anti-Semitism returned with a vengeance? Or is it all a figment of overheated ( Jewish) imaginations—an irrational fear born of collective persecution mania? In The Return of Anti-Semitism, Gabriel Schoenfeld has produced a masterly survey and analysis of the evidence. Schoenfeld does not pretend to be disinterested—his own family suffered at Nazi hands, and he opens this book by describing the ever more elaborate security measures that surround his local synagogue as well as the office building that houses COMMENTARY, where he works. But if he is hardly dispassionate, Schoenfeld is at pains to be objective in describing the threat posed by the new anti-Semitism. Nobody who reads this book could be left in any doubt about its gravity.

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Schoenfeld divides his overview into three parts, covering the Islamic world, Europe, and the U.S. The most lurid examples occur in the first section. Among Muslims, both indigenous and formerly European strains of the bacillus have combined to generate a virulent epidemic that is now threatening not only Israel but, through the current Islamist jihad, the West in general.

It cannot, of course, be taken for granted that the motivation of al Qaeda is specifically anti-Semitic, even though that organization has explicitly linked Jews and “Crusaders” in its pronouncements, and even though its most spectacular act of terrorism was an assault on New York, which not only has the largest Jewish population of any city in the world but is also demonized (as “Wall Street”) in countless anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. But Schoenfeld leaves no room for doubt. He quotes Osama bin Laden and his chief lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahiri denouncing the “Judeo-American alliance,” asserting that “America is now controlled by the Jews, completely,” and blaming “Jewish-Zionist blackmail” for American support of Israel. Schoenfeld also investigates specific attacks on American soil: the murder of Rabbi Meir Kahane in 1990, the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, and September 11 itself. In each case, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories fueled the fantasies that motivated the terrorists.

The evidence amassed by Schoenfeld suggests that anti-Semitism is now ubiquitous even in Muslim countries where virtually no Jews still live (Egypt, Iran, Pakistan), or where there never were any to begin with (Malaysia). Most disturbing of all is the reappearance of discredited myths like the blood libel and the lurid accusations contained in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Even mainstream Muslim intellectual and political leaders often deny the Holocaust. Mohammed Heikal, Egypt’s most respected journalist, claims that Jewish victims of the Nazis “did not exceed 300,000 or 400,000,” citing such notorious western Holocaust deniers as Roger Garaudy and David Irving. Mahmoud Abbas, the “moderate pragmatist” who was briefly Palestinian prime minister, wrote a doctoral dissertation on “The Secret Relationship between Nazism and the Zionist Movement,” basing his “research” largely on the work of the French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson.

The impact of European attitudes on Islamic anti-Semitism brings Schoenfeld to compare the two varieties. He cites the eminent scholar Bernard Lewis, who argued in 1987 that, while the Arab world had indeed adopted all of the most pernicious notions of Western anti-Semitism, this had remained a “top-down” phenomenon, a preoccupation of intellectuals; the popular hatred of Jews once common in Europe was lacking in Arab society, Lewis thought. But in the years since the publication of Lewis’s book on the subject, Schoenfeld believes, anti-Semitism has in fact thoroughly permeated the “Arab street.” It is now as popular a cause as it ever was in pre-war Europe.

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What, then, of Europe itself, the original breeding ground? In Schoenfeld’s telling, the memory of the Holocaust, far from immunizing the continent permanently against the disease, has merely forced anti-Semitism to mutate into sinister new forms.

For one thing, the identification of anti-Semitism with right-wing politics no longer holds, either in Europe or in the U.S. Indeed, the greatest threat to Jews in the West now comes from an unholy alliance of leftists and Islamists. The new anti-Semitism in the West, Schoenfeld writes, usually begins with hostility to Israel, but it does not stop there. By identifying prominent Jews as “Zionists,” by casting doubt on their allegiance to their native countries, by attributing to them disproportionate power and influence, the new anti-Semitism has grown to monstrous proportions while cloaking itself in a mantle of political correctness. Actual assaults on Jews, the desecration of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues, the stigmatizing of visible signs like the yarmulke: all this is hushed up, glossed over, or explained away. In an incident that occurred after Schoenfeld’s book went to press, the European Commission tried to suppress a report that not only confirmed a rapid rise in anti-Semitic violence across Western Europe but also frankly laid most of the blame on the continent’s 20 million or more Muslim immigrants. Yet the Commission saw nothing amiss in publishing a survey claiming that Israel was seen by Europeans as the greatest threat to world peace.

Schoenfeld is at his incisive best in dissecting the betrayal of the Jews by the European and American intelligentsia. This new trahison des clercs—the second in a century—takes the form of depicting Zionism as a racist or imperialist creed, thus undermining the legitimacy of Israel and holding it responsible not only for Palestinian suffering but even for Islamic terrorist attacks on the West. Indeed, Israel and the American “neoconservatives”—often a euphemism for Jews—have become stand-ins and scapegoats for everything of which European bien pensants disapprove.

Nobody who considers the history of the last century can doubt that this intellectual offensive is cause for dismay. Anti-Semitism is notoriously an attitude of mind so insidious that it can infect even those who consider themselves vaccinated by reason of intellectual superiority. Take A.N. Wilson, a quintessential English man of letters: novelist and biographer, journalist and aesthete—a heady cocktail of high Anglicanism and ready wit. Yet Wilson uses his newspaper column to disseminate anti-Zionist propaganda, on the basis of which he then concludes, “reluctantly,” that Israel has forfeited its right to exist. The salon anti-Semitism of earlier literary generations was ignored until Auschwitz; the demonization of Israel and the “Jewish lobby” now passes almost unnoticed in the same way.

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Between Europe and the United States there is now deep antipathy on the issue of anti-Semitism, as there is on the related issue of terrorism. Many Europeans are deniers and many Americans are alarmists. Europeans deniers are convinced that the “neocons”—a/k/a the Jews—are now running Washington for the benefit of Israel, just as the Jews have supposedly always run Wall Street and Hollywood. American alarmists are convinced that Europeans are anti-Semitic recidivists.

The first step toward a meeting of minds on this subject would be to acknowledge that anti-Semitism exists on both sides of the Atlantic, that many neocons are not Jewish, and that U.S. foreign policy is conducted primarily to serve U.S. interests. What I like most about The Return of Anti-Semitism is that, while it does not indulge in crude Europhobia, and indeed does not spare America at all, it comes down firmly on the side of those who think that we have plenty to be alarmed about. Schoenfeld’s book should be required reading not only in the White House, where it probably will be read, but in the chancelleries of Europe, where—alas—it probably will not be. Nobody who looks into this book will remain in any doubt that anti-Semitism has increased, is increasing, and must be diminished.

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About the Author

Daniel Johnson is a columnist for The New York Sun and was formerly a columnist and senior editor for the London Times and Daily Telegraph.




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