The Mystery of Antisemitism

For traditional Jews, it is the Three Weeks culminating with the 9th of Av that commemorates the tragedies and persecution of the Jewish people.  In the secular world, a significant segment of our population focuses on the threat of antisemitism all year long. 
On an organizational level, this focus is justified in terms of fighting antisemitism and the role education plays in promoting tolerance.
But in our personal conversations and certainly our literature, both classic and modern, the secular Jewish focus on antisemitism is more complicated than the interpretations offered in press releases and fundraising letters from Jewish organizations combating it.
Just as there is hatred of many other peoples and civilizations and convincing sociological, historical, and psychological explanations for this phenomenon, be they religiously, racially, or economically inspired or justified, so too there are many reasonable explanations that help explain the spike of hatred of the Jews in specific situations and in specific times (say, a Middle East war); but none truly offers a sufficient explanation for its ubiquitous presence or its longevity, nor for its intensity or scope.  If the answer works in one place but not another, it seems to many of us this can’t be the answer it its entirety.  The situations—and more strikingly, the antagonists–change; the hatred does not. It continues to ebb and flow, into new shapes and sizes. We become engrossed in its monitoring, and are constantly surprised.
Noteworthy is the lack of a coherent explanation from the haters themselves, particularly those not in a direct conflict with us.  They are not convincing when the litany of complaints is absurd, because they are not the motivations, but rather, afterthoughts and justifications. Excuses.
In the White Nationalist bible, “The Turner Diaries,” William Pierce did not even bother to explain his cold and absolute hatred for Jews in detail. The fact that a book without an exhaustive explanation, even an absurd one, is so influential to this movement is telling.  If no reason at all is sufficient for so many, then there is little need for a reason to be accurate for at least as many. Should not a half-truth be sufficient for many more still? 
This is part of what is so troubling to many of us.
Is the secular Jewish obsession with antisemitism partially driven by our desire to understand it, not just combat it?  Not just because of what has done to us in the past, or could be done to us in the future, or is being done right now, but because it is suggestive that our narrative of persecution may contain other truths as well, as we would not incur such specific global rage and resentment if in some way we were not a nation set apart?
I can’t help but suspect we are not merely obsessing over our desire to extinguish or at least diminish antisemitism, but also because of the strange questions it implicitly poses.  For antisemitism, from the beginning of our civilization, is, in many ways, the strongest proof of the mystery and uniqueness of the Jewish people. To openly acknowledge its strangeness is to acknowledge our own.  To accept that we would be forced to reopen and reconsider other aspects of our narratives we have, at the very least, downplayed.
And yet – this darkest aspect of our narrative continues, and all it connects to, is as relevant as it has ever been. 

4 thoughts on “The Mystery of Antisemitism

  1. David.
    Thanks for posting this. I’ve been more than a little obsessed over this, lately. There’s this Sword of Damocles hovering, and I’m sort of waiting for it to drop at some point, especially here in New York, where we are so densely concentrated – yet obviously butting heads with so many other communities that find us odious for one reason or another.
    I think you hit the nail on the head with the essential irrationality of at all. I keep trying to wrap my brain around being hated just for BEING. And the excuses are always the same: we’re too rich, too powerful, too insular, too groping, hacking, crude, effete – whatever. These days, Israel has become a red herring to some extent: a lot of the criticism echoing this sort of Medieval sentiment that comes just inches from calling blood libel. And it’s difficult for us here in America, which is largely tolerant and rational, to really grasp the sort of illogic // logic of hate. It’s ingrained, a sort of self-regenerative loop.
    I remember reading what the President of Malaysia said about us, and all I could think was… “Has he even met any of us? Ever? I mean… how many of us are there in Malaysia that would inspire this? And if none… where has he been to get this opinion of us? I mean, not even Israel – like, has he ever been to Brooklyn? West LA? Paris? Fez? Moscow? What is he… where is he getting this stuff?”
    And again, the meme-virus of Jewish hate, which is so damned easy to catch. And I keep wondering if it wasn’t Israel, what would it be that would make the present atmosphere so tolerant of this kind of behavior? Because it’s of a cyclical nature, and finally it occurs to that it’s irrelavent. Hate’s not a rational thing, so I have to stop addressing it on rational terms.
    I just try and stop it from propogating by being the best person I can, and by proxy, a better Jew. We’re each of us ambassadors, to varying degrees. But having been jumped, beaten, and ‘tuned up’ for just being a Jew, I do it with one fist closed.

  2. David, awesome/ thought provoking elucidations on the abstruse reasoning’s & mystifying undertones and subtexts generally associated with the hatred thing. I guess the crux of the issue though really is what should the main focus should be. If you believe in g-d what does he expect /want /need /require in terms of focus and objectives. Are the hatred issues just intended as distractions and vehicles for easy digression traveling purposes from correct objectives paths? Are we supposed to be able to keep the global what really is our purpose for living focus? And maintain the altruism/ care & concern for everyone , that should be the inherent basis of every soul, albeit the acutely painful in your face distractions with the levels peaking on a consistent basis? We would need a lot more than the pollyana perspective and high doses of Ritalin, Concerta or Adderall XR, QID to keep things in focus and things could get costly in the long run especially considering the fact that there is no generic on the Adderall XR.
    So in addition to free will/choice/rules and faith you got the in your face distractions feature at no additional up charge.
    Is pure and unadulterated distraction some kind of new high risk color option on the proverbial roulette game of life ? So it’s traditional Red or Black for the low risk 50/50 sort of individual , green if your feeling especially unfocused ,attracted to healing powers of green jade and the random lucky star thing and the new pink for the I’m so inherently lucky I can get sidetracked by the diamonds and glitter of the think pink option on the local roulette choosing level wheel but still win on the global wheel of everyone loves me life level .(Mohegan sun nights have never felt soo good).What does g-d really want everyone to focus on. i guess we could choose the roulette red or black colors of free will /faith and choice -50/50 gamble , but it’s getting way too hard to ignore the green jade option and the new blinding glittery pink option. So once you get the black and red free will /choice/ faith thing all in focus and are aware of the green and pink risks and sidetracking options, the cumulative questions just keep getting harder. Why am I putting all of my emotional effort into roulette? why do the fickle green and pink options sometimes dont really like me and want me to lose but at other times love me way more and facilitate with the winning of so much more than the red and black offer .Is there a way to channel the positive only energies of the green and pink options . What about the other gambling games, how do I know which game is more meaningful/profitable in the long run. What about the other rooms, should we frequent other casino’s also .So many options/choices and they all come complete with their own set of dazzling confusion features and painful distractions. Maybe I should just have a smooth shot of peach Absolute and with the Ritalin for the just peachy focused outlook.

  3. I’m glad this is being discussed. “Mystery” and “irrational” however, might skewer the discussion. I think that ethnography and history provide some guidance. I think these points are defensible:
    1) Social institutions (states, fraternities, “churches”, etc., etc.) exist as control mechanisms. Someone has galvanized a following to protect turf or beliefs.
    2) There are various categories of membership in an institution. Outsiders are admitted (or tolerated) with the presumption that their presence will have a net positive effect; and usually the minimum one is that they will be respectful to the instiution and abide by the rules.
    Sometimes the dues are simple: pay your taxes and respect the symbols of authority. The Jews in Cochin and Kaifeng got along well with the “m’dinah” (nu, that = “institution”; why not?) These were the rules in Rome. When some Jews loudly broke them, we all were smashed. Some Christian churches really broke them, and were really smashed.
    Those institutions, of course, were static and long-lived. In medieval Christendom and Islamdom, institutions were much more unstable and frenetic. The Church/Mosque grew up with these institutions and usually knew how to react to new factors of personalism. When the Jewish army arrived, it might be able to react pragmatically to the directing egos. Sometimes they were unable to get a fix on the son’s or conquering warlord’s ego quickly enough, and were strangled. As were any other group (or “sub-institution”). Such is life. To a certain extent, we must tow the leader’s line, whether it be a rebbe, a shver, or a moneylender. The alternatives are to contest or leave.
    I propose that the Gypsies are a teriffic example that Antisemitism (not a very old word, BTW), is not that unique. If there were objective “detestation” indexes, they might outweigh the mamlekhet-kohanim vi-goy qadosh.
    My driving point, and one which I wish you all would pursue further, is that while it is true that many anti-Jewish agitators aren’t very articulate about their hatred, it is my experience that Jews also tend to ignore the non-theological reasons why we are detested. Certainly the hatred is real and intense, but I don’t think it is all provoked by the reputed buy in the red pajamas. The Amsterdam k’hillah didn’t think that Spinoza was playing by the rules. The Venetian k’hillah launched an inquisition of the Ramkhal for the same reason.
    In Germany there were 3.5 reactions to “modernism”. Mendelssohn, Geiger, and Hirsch tried to camoflauge (ie, Germanize) their Jewish distinctiveness sufficiently so as not to appear outlandishly exotic (that is, not to be a red flag, a target, for the German nationalists. The other 2 groups thought it was timely to dump their Jewishness. The smaller, but more dynamic group challenged the very social and mental bases of the establishment. The larger group just assimilated. Mordecai Marquez’s daddy (Karl Marx’s daddy) thought that Sprinkling was an acceptable price to pay for continuing his legal career, and of course we all know that Mordecai strode off on the different fork. And we all know which of the 3.5 types of reaction provoked German rage. And it may be argued that the “radicals” were indeed rocking the boat, and that the new warlords could not pursue their revised goals without dealing with them.
    Possibly we should ask, What do we do — or tolerate — that provokes this reaction now? If identifiable Jews engage in provocative behavior, should it be endorsed or emphatically denounced by a large “Jewish” voice? I think our record is poor. I won’t trouble you with p’sukim about ignoring the behavior of a brother/sister. But give the Haters the benefit of the doubt that when they see a community ignoring the behavior of its radicals, it is ipso facto coutnenancing such behavior. Which of us doesn’t make such extrapolations in various circumstances?
    Maybe the “drei Voch” observance has goals besides just remembering the pain. Maybe we should be asking “lama yirg’zu ha-goyyim?”. We know very well why the first two instances of Khorban occurred. We’d best not continue to ignore those lessons. Kol tov.

  4. Jews are obsessed with antisemitism because antisemitism kills.
    Its longevity is not hard to understand: two daughter religions have a problem with the continued existence of the mother religion, particularly since it suggests that they may be wrong.

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