Wednesday, 5 March 2008
"Anti-Semitism is an elusive and protean phenomenon", Christopher Hitchens
From Christopher Hitchens' review of Memoirs of an Anti-Semite by Gregor von Rezzori in The Atlantic:
"Anti-Semitism is an elusive and protean phenomenon, but it certainly involves the paradox whereby great power is attributed to the powerless. In the mind of the anti-Jewish paranoid, some shabby bearded figure in a distant shtetl is a putative member of a secret world government: hence the enduring fascination of The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. (...)
Of course when Jews do achieve actual power, like the famous Rothschilds, they often become the targets of even more envy than other plutocrats. Political anti-Semitism in its more modern form often de-emphasized the supposed murder of Christ in favor of polemics against monopolies and cartels, leading the great German Marxist August Bebel to describe its propaganda as "the socialism of fools." Peter Pulzer’s essential history of anti-Semitism in pre-1914 Germany and Austria, which shows the element of populist opportunism in the deployment of the Jew-baiting repertoire, is, among other things, a great illustration of that ironic observation. And then there is the notion of the Jews’ lack of rooted allegiance: their indifference to the wholesome loyalties of the rural, the hierarchical, and the traditional, and their concomitant attraction to modernity. Writing from the prewar Balkans in her Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Rebecca West noticed this suspicion at work in old Serbia and wrote:
"Now I understand another cause for anti-Semitism; many primitive peoples must receive their first intimation of the toxic quality of thought from Jews. They know only the fortifying idea of religion; they see in Jews the effect of the tormenting and disintegrating ideas of skepticism."
The best recent illustration of that point that I know comes from Jacobo Timerman, the Argentine Jewish newspaper editor who was kidnapped and tortured by the death-squad regime in his country in the late 1970s. In his luminous memoir, Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number, he analyzes the work of the neo-Nazi element that formed such an important part of the military/clerical dictatorship, and quotes one of the "diagnoses" that animated their ferocity:
"Argentina has three main enemies: Karl Marx, because he tried to destroy the Christian concept of society; Sigmund Freud, because he tried to destroy the Christian concept of the family; and Albert Einstein, because he tried to destroy the Christian concept of time and space."
The three cosmopolitan surnames involved in this anti-Trinity, it was made perfectly clear to Timerman between thrusts of the electric cattle prod, were considered to be no coincidence."
Caricature from the antisemitic Viennese magazine Kikeriki (1912)