The New Anti-Semitism (which is Very Like the Old Anti-Semitism

We are, unfortunately, beyond the point where we can make a useful distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.  This distinction had always been the fallback position of the Israel-bashers, but it doesn’t work anymore, if it ever did.  This change has little to do with the undeniable turpitude of the Netanyahu government, which certainly complicates the matter, but doesn’t justify the loss of that distinction. 

In the anti-Semitic imagination, the Jew is always suspect unless he can demonstrate the he is “one of the good ones.”  The conditions for being one of the good ones can vary.  Throughout the history of European anti-Semitism, being one of the good ones meant rejecting Moses and accepting Christ.  But even that was hardly enough.  Those Spanish Jews who chose to convert instead of to emigrate when the Jews were expelled in 1492, the Conversos, were never fully accepted as Christians.  They were accused of being “crypto-Jews, of practicing Judaism in secret, and were hounded by the Inquisition.  Many were burned at the stake. In Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, the unfilial Jessica is welcomed among the Christians for her conversion while the law that convicts her father brands him as an “alien,” because he is a Jew.  While Felix Mendelsohn was always considered a Jew by his contemporaries, he was accepted in German polite society as “one of the good ones” because his family had accepted Christ.

Deborah Lipstadt documents this unfortunate tendency in the American Protestant establishment as late as the 1940s:

Ross convincingly demonstrates that the Protestant press used theological grounds to justify its failure to protest the Final Solution. Ross observes that "Christians were to either seek to convert Jews to the Christian faith or to pray for them. To affirm the Jews as Jews, religious or nonreligious, seems always to have been an unacceptable alternative." In the ultimate irony, after the war was over, rather than condemn those who had perpetrated this action the Protestant press reserved its anger for those who made the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan."[1]

 Even the horror of the Holocaust couldn’t shake the suspicion of the Jew from the anti-Semitic imagination. 

With the advent of late 19th and early 20th century race theory, there was no way for a Jew to be one of the good ones.  Jewishness was now a racial characteristic; conversion would no longer do the trick.  The editors of Henry Ford’s anti-Semitic screed,The Dearborn  Independent, claim not to object to the Jewish religion:

"The Jewish Question is not in the number of Jews who here reside, not in the American's jealousy of the Jew's success, certainly not in any objection to the Jew's entirely unobjectionable Mosaic religion; it is in something else, and that something else is the fact of Jewish influence on the life of the country where Jews dwell. ...It is not the Jewish people, but the Jewish idea, and the people only as vehicles of the idea, that is the point at issue. . . What Idea? The old idea of 'get' instead of 'make'"

Since Jewishness is itself the problem for the racist anti-Semite, there is no way for the Jew to redeem himself.  The Holocaust is the logical end-point of this pernicious doctrine.  Notice that this writer makes a hard distinction between Americans and Jews.

Mendelsohn, convert though he was, was no longer acceptable to the racist anti-Semite. There is the famous story of the SS officer who, after the Nazi takeover of Prague, was charged with removing the statue of Mendelsohn from the frieze on the Prague Opera House which included statues of the great composers.  Since the SS officer had no idea what Mendelsohn looked like or which statue was of Mendelsohn, he solved his dilemma by removing the statue with the biggest nose.  He ended up removing the statue of Wagner. 

The doctrine of the suspect Jew is with us once again.  A recent event at UCLA is indicative of this reemergence. A student who had applied for a position on the Students Council’s Judicial Board found herself confronted by the following question by the members of the Student Council: “Given that you are a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community, how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view?”  The anti-Semitic trope in this question, the divided loyalties of the Jew, is age-old; the context, however, is new.  The Council was trying to determine whether the applicant would support the Council’s endorsement of the BDS movement’s boycott of Israel.  Apparently, “unbiassed” in this context means pro-BDS.  Interestingly, they didn’t ask the applicant about her attitudes about Israel or BDS; her Jewishness alone was enough to make her suspect.  In this case, only publicly renouncing the Jewish state would have made her “one of the good ones.”

Or consider the following uncomfortable exchange between myself and an acquaintance at a recent dinner party.

She: Isn’t it great the Jeremy Corbin is now the leader of the Labor Party.

Me: While I appreciate the growing influence of the Left, I worry that Jeremy Corbin has a little too much of the Socialism of the fools about him.[2]

She (after I explained the meaning of that phrase): Well, as a Jew, I suppose you have your own opinion . . .

Me: It has nothing to do with my being Jewish; it has to do with my being able to recognize an anti-Semitic trope when I see one and hear one.

What my acquaintance was telling me when she said, “as a Jew, you have your own opinion,” is that because I am a Jew, any argument I make about this subject is automatically suspect and, therefore, invalid because it will be the Jewish perspective.  Therefore, she has no obligation to take that argument seriously.  She, herself, was using another age-old anti-Semitic trope, “the oversensitive Jew.”

What has caused this reemergence of the Socialism of the fools on the left is what we have been calling, in these essays, the sentimentalizing of victimhood, which has little to do with actual compassion of victims, but rather is the impulse to divide the world into a false binary of victim categories and victimizer categories and assigning moral superiority to the victim categories and moral turpitude to the victimizer categories and denying them a legitimate political voice.  In the dinner table conversation, my acquaintance denied the validity of my argument because Jew has become a victimizer category. 

The New York Times article about the UCLA incident tells us about the aftermath of the Student Council’s anti-Semitic outburst:

“But in the weeks since, that uncomfortable debate has upended this campus of 29,600 students that has long been central to the identity of Los Angeles. It has set off an anguished discussion of how Jews are treated, particularly in comparison with other groups that are more typically viewed as victims of discrimination, such as African-Americans and gays and lesbians.”

Interestingly, the discussion centered on the condition of victimhood, the all-important consideration in the neo-Anarchist imagination.  Are Jews in a victim category because of the Holocaust, and so due the same deference we give to “African-Americans and gays and lesbians,” since they fit the definition of a victim category, or are Jews now in a victimizer category because they are seen as victimizing Palestinians?  Clearly, the verdict has settled on the latter, leading to the reemergence of the Socialism of the fools among the neo-Anarchist left.  So the only way to become “one of the good ones” is to renounce Zionism and any allegiance to the idea of a Jewish state.

In his account of the Labor Party annual meeting last year, Howard Jacobson tells us:

“But condemnation of Zionism was as febrile as ever and any Jew — particularly any Israeli Jew — willing to join in could count on a standing ovation. No man is a prophet in his own land but an anti-Zionist Israeli is a hero in this one.”[3]

The spectacle of Jewish Labor Party members approaching the microphone, eager to identify themselves as “one of the good ones” to the cheers of the rest of the conclave is grotesque and frightening.


[1] Deborah E. Lipstadt

Modern Judaism

Vol. 10, No. 3, Review of Developments in Modern Jewish Studies, Part 1 (Oct., 1990), pp. 283-296


[2] “Anti-Semitism is the Socialism od the fools” This all-too-true remark is generally attributed to the German Marxist, August Bebel.

[3] “The Phony Peace Between the Labour Party and Jews,” By Howard Jacobson

New York Times, Oct. 6, 2017