Sunday, 19 August 2007

Anti-Semitism is a political phenomenon

In an interview with Nextbook, Ruth Wisse, professor of comparative literature at Harvard, discusses her new book, Jews and Power. She makes the point that anti-Semitism is not merely a form of discrimination (the moral argument) but is also a political phenomenom that should be taken much more seriously by political scientists. She warns that “a society that resorts to anti-Semitism will destroy itself”.

"… The Zionist movement attributed the problem of anti-Semitism to the fact that Jews did not have a land. The idea was that you would make the Jews unexceptional by reclaiming the land, a reasonable hypothesis at a time of emerging nation-states. No one understood that by then anti-Semitism had become such a potent political instrument that it could be used whether or not Jews had a land. In fact, no sooner had Hitler been defeated than the Arab League formed around opposition to Israel. Arabs began to use the politics of blame much more vigorously than Europeans ever did. Anti-Semitism is even more important to Arab societies and to some Muslim societies than it was for European societies, because they feel they are starting from so much farther behind the West in the process of modernization. They feel so much more threatened by modernity and the concept of equal rights.

Anti-Semitism is treated as merely a form of discrimination. It gets a cluck-cluck of the tongue and then everyone says, "Oh, isn't that horrible. They hate the Jews. They shouldn't hate the Jews." There is no sustained analysis of why these countries need it so profoundly—of what role it is playing in their political culture and in their political institutions and actions.

… The time has really come when political science has to take much more seriously that anti-Semitism is a political phenomenon, the most successful ideology of modern times. It is the only ideology that made its way from Europe to the Middle East, and played a central role among so many different peoples. Jews have to become much more comfortable with analyzing the political aspects of their existence. Yes, they are a religious civilization. Yes, they have a rich culture. But their political existence is what has become most problematic. The politics of blame ultimately kills more people than AIDS, for example, because it foments aggression which, ultimately, the Jews are too small to contain.

So, anti-Semitism is not just a Jewish problem?

It is not. Politics organizes against the Jews because they are a convenient target. It's safer to foment aggression against the tiny Jewish people than against Britain or America. But as we see in retrospect, Hitler's war against the Jews was a generative force for the war against all that the Jews represented, and the same now holds true for the Arab war against Israel. Bush and Blair have come in on the side of the Jews against terror for the same reason that Roosevelt and Churchill had to come in on the side of the Jews of Europe, because the enmity against the Jews is directed, ultimately, against them."

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