Anatomy of hatred

Article published on Feb. 11, 2004
community published
Article published on Feb. 11, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

The history of anti-Semitism in Europe is as old as the diaspora of the Jews. The age-long prejudices, which today’s anti-Semites also use, are predominantly based on one thing: xenophobia.

In 1945 the holocaust seemed to lend fresh legitimacy to the concept, which had come under criticism, of Jewish history as one of martyrdom; yet this breach in civilisation emphasised the impression of the omnipresence of suffering through anti-Semitism in the 2000 year Jewish history. Indeed one thing is certain for historians, and that is that the Shoah is not the result of a teleological hatred of the Jews that has been steering towards Auschwitz since the Middle Ages; however the question remains how anti-Semitism can maintain a constant factor in world history. How were the Jews of all people continually made objects of hatred? And why does an anti-Semite hate? Or is it, as according to Sartre, that only the latter creates the Jews?

Fear of foreigners

The history of anti-Semitism is also the history of xenophobia, for in the majority society in which the Jews of the diaspora lived after their expulsion from Palestine, anti-Semitism mostly served to express negative integration. For Europe’s Christian anti-Judaism “the Jew” was and remained the murderer of Christ, particularly during the Crusades. Whether in the form of the Judensau (Jewish sow), which is still brought into some churches today and was propagated by Luther, or through spreading legends of ritual murder and desecration of communion wafers, “the Jew” took over the role of demon in Christianity’s Manichean concept of the world. The phenomenon of integration by exclusion is also characteristic of the modern strain of anti-Semitism (a phrase first coined by Wilhelm Marr in 1879). The insurmountable divide between majority and minority in the modern age was no longer inevitably religion, rather nation and eventually “race”. National Socialism is paradigmatic of this, its propaganda ideal of the “classless Aryan community” being the other side of the legalised persecution of the “Jewish race”. Thus a feeling of belonging together was brought about by conspiracy theories – rather like the one of being surrounded by the “red and gold Internationale” – as a result of which the anti-Semite persecutors appeared as victims of persecution by the Jews. The notorious Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, which the tsarist secret police cooked up in 1905, are an example of this, whereby they masterly directed the aggression of the people to a “common enemy”.

In times of crisis, Jews always functioned as scapegoats for the masses. In the Middle Ages this took place in connection with unexplained natural disasters. As Europe was afflicted by the plague in 1348, thousands of Jews died at the stake because of accusations of well-poisoning. In Russia in 1881 a series of pogroms also led to a wave of emigration of Jews, who were collectively held responsible for the assassination of Alexander II because one of the terrorists was a Jew. And in Germany the turmoil of the First World War gave rise to a repeated outbreak of virulent anti-Semitism, in the course of which the “Jewish question” of the 19th century was brought up once more. Solidarity with East European Jews and foreign connections seemed to emphasise that Jews were not “deeply rooted” in Germany and were therefore different, however many of them might fall at the front for the Kaiser.

The archetypal role

An otherness, made uncertain by its being indefinable. So how should we consider Jews, then? In Israel they are a nation. Yet many Jews see themselves first and foremost as American etc. On the other hand, in Eastern Europe they are regarded as one of the many ethnic groups; in the Third Reich as a race distinguished by a hooked nose; in today’s Europe as a denomination. The incessant anti-Semitism contributed to establishing this collective otherness, rather like in the case of money. For religious reasons it was forbidden for Christians in the Middle Ages to pay taxes. Since Jews could neither own land nor become members of craft guilds, the only possibilities for work left for them were trade and banking. Anti-Jewish discrimination thereby created a particular role, which in the end was branded as shameful racial characteristics by modern anti-Semites. Yet tragically the irrational, modern reactionary anti-Semitism of fascism then also aimed at the “subversive” and “callous” aspects of the modern age with which the Jews wanted to surmount their traditional role: liberalism, the rationalism of the Enlightenment and other elements of “civilised progress”. Even the particular moral role created by the experience of the Shoah could not allay the hatred, rather it led to the idea of also convicting the Jews as a “people of perpetrators” as well as the reproach that a “holocaust industry” would really market Jewish suffering in the meantime.

Anti-Zionism, at that time propagated by an alliance of particular left-wing groups, old anti-Semites and some Muslims, was directed against the state of Israel and its politics. It more or less explicitly reproached Israel for not having learned from how the Jews in Europe continued to fare: suffering racial discrimination and persecution. In contrast with Christianity, the relationship of Islam to Judaism has not been strained from the outset, however. Hence Muslims stress that Jews in the Islamic world fared better than those in Christian Europe. And it cannot directly be a question of anti-Semitism either, for Arabic belongs to the Semite languages as well. Nevertheless it is noticeable that anti-Zionism has imported the centuries-old stereotyping of Jews. So the alleged Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion also appeared as advice against Israel in a completely different context. The concept of the enemy globalised in the meantime as a non-fixed, simplified answer to difficult questions that only seldom have a direct relevance to Jews, has survived its hate-filled creator.