Part Eleven of “The Isolation of Israel: Peril and Opportunity”
This is part eleven of Professor Paul Merkley’s series, “The Isolation of Israel: Peril and Opportunity.” Access to the previous installments can be found by clicking on the following links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3,Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, and Part 10.
A very brief history of “Anti-Semitism”
The term “Anti-Semitism” was brought into political and sociological discussion in our part of the world during the last two decades of the Nineteenth Century, deliberately and virtually in a moment of time, in order to meet a specific need. The need was to find “scientific” auspices for a new and respectable version of the age-old hatred of the Jews.
Beginning in the 1880s, political parties emerged throughout Europe dedicated to reducing and ultimately eliminating the threat to Enlightened European values posed by Jews and Judaism. Because deep-thinkers of that day did not wish to be identified with causes, regardless of import, that employed Christian vocabulary, the intellectuals who produced the agenda of these new “nationalist” parties concluded that they would have to distinguish their rhetoric from the “Christ-killer” repertoire that had sustained ant-Judaism throughout the Christian centuries. Out of these calculations grew the most virulent form of anti-Judaism the world had ever seen – the modern pseudo-rationalist, pseudo-scientific variety called “Anti-Semitism”.
The late Nineteenth-Century was a time when every “cause” – everything ranging from the Temperance Movement to the Women’s Rights movement and anti-War movement — required a supportive and well-tamed science. There was no shortage of volunteers stepping forward to offer results of their studies, conducted by the most rigorous scientific standards, and ready to serve the public. There was, for instance, phrenology (measuring skulls) and a number of theories about the inherited characteristics of the various races, proposed as valuable tools for the use of police. And there was no end of “historical” theories about how this race had split off from that race and had subsequently developed along lines that accounted for the distinct characteristics of the people who were their contemporary descendants.
Terms that resonated favorably in learned circles included “Teutonic,” “Nordic,” “Caucasian” and “Celtic.” Some theorists went to well-known passages in the Bible (notably the stories of and Noah and of the Tower of Babel, from the book of Genesis Chaps 6-11) to garner argument-resistant antiquarian credentials for their theories. Among other convenient terms mined from this unlikely source was “Semite” – derived from Shem, the ancestor of one of three branches of families descended from Noah. It sounded more professorial and it was certainly better form if you talked of the well-known features of “Semitic people.” “Jews” was, of course, what you meant — given that nobody around you actually knew anybody who belonged to any of the other nations supposed to have descended from Shem. Talk of “Semitic” characteristics – physical, mental, moral, spiritual and (with special titillating effect) sexual – was indulged with impunity. Who dared quarrel with “scientific” evidence, especially when it appeared above the name of some intellectual giant resident in some great University, a man with more academic letters after his name than you could shake a stick at?
Throughout the English-speaking world the virulent strain of “Anti-Semitism” never captured mainstream opinion; nonetheless, the Anti-Semitic worldview was reflected in the politics of “immigration reform” which resulted in imposition of quotas intended to reduce the fraction of Jews and other elements furthest removed from the ancestral Anglo-Saxon. Also drawing inspiration from these sources were the quotas on admission of Jews put into effect by colleges and universities and professional schools, all of which bodies required licensing at some governmental level. Such restrictive policies were justified by ersatz-Sociology – another ersatz science recruited for Anti-Semitic purposes – purporting to demonstrate the ill effects of permitting professions to be “over-subscribed” by races not as yet properly assimilated to the norms of Angle-Saxon society. Even the most decent people agreed that this was for the greater good. Tortured logic was thus required to disguise the fact that Anti-Semitism was the same old phobia feeding the same old hysterical conspiracy theories.
In pursuit of their commission to de-Judaize our civilization the leading scientists of the day accomplished the death of six millions of Jews while bringing about the moral ruin of the general populace of several of the nominally-Christian nations of Europe.
Anti-Semitism in disgrace
After the dust of Hitler’s war had settled, it became impossible for anyone seeking a place in respectable conversation about current affairs to employ the vocabulary of “Anti-Semitism” or to invoke the names of any of its leading spirits. The rhetoric of Anti-Semitism brought to too many minds those dark political forces that had won broad audiences within the general public and even broader audiences (proportionately) among the most highly-educated and that had led to the Final Solution. After the Second World War, leaders of progressive opinion scurried in new directions in search of more fashionable vocabulary. Today, “Anti-Semitism” (like homophobia) is something that no one will admit to. It serves only as a stick to beat your opponent with.
It took another twenty years or so for the haters of the Jews to find rhetoric that would serve for putting the old phobia into new bottles. The opportunity was presented by the Six Day War of June 5-10, 1967.
Anti-Semitism Re-tooled as Anti-Zionism.
Paradoxically, the new rhetoric took hold just as the people of Israel were proving to an incredulous world their readiness and their capacity to defend their infant state against the combined armies of the Arab world. Immediately upon their humiliating defeat, the very people who had untaken this war for the purpose of eliminating the Jews from the Middle East were transformed by secular opinion into “victims” and the former “victims,” the Israelis, were re-defined as “oppressors.”
Progressive people routinely expect a moral bonus as well as exemption from the duty of critical analysis when they attach themselves to the cause of the self-described “oppressed.” And thus a new “ism” emerged – Anti-Zionism. Its central tenet is that the Jews alone, of all the nations on earth, have no right to defend themselves against declared enemies. This change in rhetoric from “Anti-Semitism” to “Anti-Zionism” did not change the deeper reality: the irrational spirit that had infected the minds of three generations so that they managed not to notice while six million citizens were marched to their deaths in fiery ovens had not disappeared.
Just as Anti-Semitism in the late-Nineteenth century drew upon progressive pseudoscience to give moral urgency to the task of removing the influence of Jews from public life, so today the best opinion, reflected in attitudes of media elites, of academics, and of the class of those who strive to affect public policy discussion, proposes “Anti-Zionism” as a cause which commands support from all people of goodwill. For all the double-talk, however, hatred of Jews is still what it is about.
After June, 1967, this line of Anti-Zionism found unembarrassed expression. The victory of the Jews, Anti-Zionists now said, had settled the question that they were the more powerful. This conclusion could not be doubted – even though in 1967 the Arabs had outnumbered Israelis by forty to one in population and more than six hundred to one in territory. Zionism could now be denounced by liberals as selfish assertion of the right of the Jews to take away “other people’s land.” It was, in short, “imperialism.”
The Reverse Side of Anti-Zionism: Pro Palestinianism
With ever-increasing intensity and doctrinaire absoluteness, Anti-Zionists have come to embrace the Palestinian People, their peculiar self-understanding, and the Anti-Zionist narrative that they have developed as a rebuttal to the history of the modern State of Israel. With this intellectual and ideological equipment, they have pressed the Palestinian People into the model of aboriginal-peoples-exploited by- white-Civilization.
According to this alternative narrative, the United Nations, stunned by recent rumors of a terrible “Holocaust” and unable to think objectively, accepted in 1947 the “myth,” proposed by the Jews and dear to the hearts of “fundamentalist” Christians, that the ancestors of the Jews once had a Kingdom somewhere within what the British government was now governing as The Mandate of Palestine. Palestinian “historiography” (if sheer assertion without reference to any documentary or archeological evidence can be dignified by such a term) asserts that the Jews, or Israelis, call them what you will, never resided in this area until the day before yesterday. In order to keep this dogma unsullied, Muslim religious authorities on the Temple Mount have been hauling away to garbage dumps the debris from their never-ending work of construction below the surface of the Temple Mount.
Political, religious and educational authorities alike teach as conventional wisdom that there never was a Kingdom of Israel, there never was a King David, there never was a Temple. Moses, however, did exist; he was a Muslim teacher who led Muslims in Exodus from Egypt. [Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik , Palestine Media Watch, Apr. 2, 2012’ “Jewish History denied http://palwatch.org.] (While we have your attention: “Moses was succeeded by Saul, the leader of these Muslims in liberating Palestine. This was the first Palestinian liberation through armed struggle to liberate Palestine from the nation of giants led by Goliath. This is our logic and this is our culture.” [PA TV (Fatah), Feb. 15, 2012; http://www.palwatch.org/main.aspx?fi=157&doc_id=6716.]
To their shame, academic friends of Palestine and leaders of all the mainline churches sit through endless elaborations of this knuckle-dragging nonsense at conference after conference charged up to the expense accounts of the World Council of Churches and major Protestant denominations, for the purpose of showing solidarity with Palestine in its struggle with the Jewish oppressor. Up to a point, this passivity can be explained as a requirement of courtesy. But it is also clear that suppression of historical-criticism speaks to our culture’s declining faith in historical fact and, more specifically, to the sophisticated version of this anti-historicism that has overtaken teaching in all the seminaries and which operates unchallenged in the Schools of Religion of the major Universities.
We note, for example, that it is a Professor in the Harvard University Divinity Schoolwho is being celebrated as I write as the discoverer of yet another fragment of proof that Jesus had a wife. Once one gets down on all fours to engage “historical” discussion at this level, the enemy of truth has already won.