People speak of anti-Semitism as if it were a monolithic evil. But it’s not. There are two distinct strains of Jew hatred. Unfortunately, our society is still fixated on fighting the one that went out of style four decades ago.
The difference between the two begins with the way Jews are depicted. Look at the two images above. The one on the left, a poster published in German-occupied Poland in 1941, exemplifies the Jew-hatred spouted by the Nazis. (The caption reads: “Jews and Lice: They cause typhus.”) The image on the right, a poster circulated on Canadian campuses this week to mark “Israel Apartheid Week,” typifies the more recent variant.
Aside from the obvious — the language and style of illustration — what crucial difference do you notice?
Now look at the image on the right. Aside from retaining the general sense that the Jew (or, to give the fig leaf its due, “the Jewish state”) is a scourge upon the world, everything has changed. The Jew is no longer diseased and wretched. Just the opposite: He is an omnipotent, teched up superman, murdering a defenseless Palestinian child from above.
In this latter detail — the use of a child victim to communicate the extent of the Jew’s evil — the anti-Israeli propaganda of today is similar to the posters and textbooks of the Nazi era, which often showed shadowy Hebrews menacing German children. But the Nazis usually took care to personalize the Jew as a craggy, hook-nosed ghoul — an image meant to further the idea that Jews were so genetically inferior as to be literally inhuman. Aside from editorial cartoonists in the Arab world (many of whom faithfully copy Nazi-era stereotypes to this day), anti-Semitic propagandists of our own age typically omit the Jew’s features altogether in favour of a faceless, Star-of-Zion-emblazoned tank or helicopter. As in the Nazi era, the Jew isn’t fully human — but now he’s an all-powerful Nazgûl instead of a pitiful Gollum.
What explains this radical transition in the presentation of anti-Semitic propaganda? Three factors.
The first is ideology: When the Nazis went down to defeat, they took with them the intellectual basis of “germ-theory” anti-Semitism — the toxic notion that certain races or groups are genetically inferior or parasitical. In our era, to compare Jews to leeches is to announce oneself as a bigoted creature from society’s discredited fringe.
The second reason is tied up with the history of Israel itself: After the Jews established their own state in 1948, it became impossible to typecast them as mere parasites contaminating foreign hosts. This was especially true after the Six-Day War of 1967, in which Israel scored a crushing military victory against Egypt, Jordan and Syria — not the sort of maneuver you’d expect from typhus-stricken old men.
The third reason is political: The leaders who find anti-Semitism useful today aren’t extreme nationalists such as Hitler, Stalin or Mussolini (though Hugo Chavez admittedly has been wandering into that territory). Instead, they are radical Muslims — and their allies in Western activist groups, who speak the tropes of anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism, anti-Americanism, anti-racism and all the other fashionable antis. In this left-wing intellectual climate, disparaging any race or religion per se is off limits. The preferred tactic is to disparage the allegedly colonial, imperialist, racist etc. nature of their actions.
In keeping with our society’s obsession with victimhood, the propaganda strategy against Israel now is entirely passive aggressive. While the Nazis loved to dwell on the virility and superhuman indomitability of Aryans, the Jews’ enemies now are represented in propaganda by 5-year-olds carrying teddy bears. (For more in this vein, watch the 60-second promotional movie on the Israel Apartheid Week web site, in which you will see a cartoon mock-up of Gaza’s population that contains no men of military age — just a bunch of sorrowful kids, mommies and granddads.) The moral dimension of the conflict — terrorism versus counter-terrorism, a society seeking peace versus one that seems addicted to war — has been replaced by a sentimental Marxist-inspired tale of the virtuous oppressed rising up against an evil oppressor.
Broadly speaking, in other words, the locus of anti-Semitism has moved from the right side of the political spectrum to the left. Here in Canada, where I live, you still do see a few isolated anti-Semites of the Nazi persuasion here and there. But for the most part, the neo-Nazi movement is confined to a few self-parodic Internet chat rooms (many of whose members, we’ve learned in recent years, are actually bored human-rights bureaucrats looking to stir up hate-speech charges). These days, the hatemongers targeting Jews’ right to live peacefully spout the mantras of “social justice” and “peace studies,” not racial purity. Their movement is dominated by the sort of leftists and minority activists whom the Nazis (neo or otherwise) would have up against the wall in a heartbeat if they had the chance. (Running down through the published list of 11 speakers at the University of Toronto’s Israel Apartheid Week, for instance, you will find no fewer than three Canadian aboriginal activists. Who knew these people were such experts on the Middle East?)
It also must be admitted that the anti-Semitism of today is a lot more subtle than the old-fashioned variety: Except in clear cases of blood libel such as the IAH poster, it’s often hard to tell where legitimate criticism of Israel ends and Jew-hatred begins. As a result, Jews themselves — middle-aged university professors and career feminists, most typically — are often drawn into radicalized campaigns against Israel, and sometimes even can be seen marching gullibly arm-in-arm with Kafiyeh-clad protestors chanting for Jewish blood in Arabic.
It’s a disgusting spectacle, especially when you hear their maudlin rhetoric — “massacre,” “crime against humanity,” “genocide,” “holocaust,” etc. If these words may be applied to the unintentional killing of several hundred Gazans during a counterterrorist operation, how does one describe the wholesale slaughter of tens or hundreds of thousands in places such as Chechnya and Darfur? (”Mega-massacre”? “Giga-genocide”?)
You don’t have to be anti-Semitic to pervert language or logic in this way, but it certainly helps. And I can see why many of my correspondents want universities to ban Israel Apartheid Week, or at least the most vicious IAW propaganda.
Though I personally don’t care much for censorship, one might even think that this is the sort of issue in which Canada’s human rights commissions (which became famous when they tried to slip a gag on Mark Steyn last year) might take an interest. But you’d be wrong.
Canada’s entire human-rights establishment, like its counterparts in other Western nations, was built in the 1960s and 1970s on the assumption that anti-Semitism would always be a creature of the extreme right. And to this day, the dinosaurs who run the nation’s human-rights commissions — along with their allies in the identity-politics industry — persist in the ridiculous notion that the main threat to Jews emanates from old Nazi fossils, or the eight unemployed hamburger-flippers who get together in Calgary every year to exchange badly rehearsed Hitler salutes.
They treasure this conceit for an obvious self-serving reason: Vilifying Nazis is easy. Taking on politically correct Muslims and campus lefties on parade is hard. Anti-Semitism thrives when lazy people look the other way. That much, at least, hasn’t changed.
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