Monday, November 13, 2006
Why do people hate the Jews? Even asking the question feels vaguely anti-Semitic: should we even look for the reason? Besides, what's fascinating, when we look at the history of this long-lived ideology of Jew-hatred is that we can talk not of anti-Semitism, but anti-Semitisms.
Medieval Jew hatred was based in Biblical beliefs reinforced by social structures. The Christians, as a Jewish sect, sought to distinguish themselves from Judaism proper, and did so by claiming that the Jews had Christ put to death. Supposedly, the Jews watching Christ's crucifixion cried out that his blood was on their hands, and this became the 'blood libel'. In the same way that Christ redeemed mankind after the fall of Adam, Christianity condemned those who had been deemed the Chosen People. This is an example of the anxiety of influence- the sons condemning the fathers.
But, the Blood Libel was reinforced in Medieval Jew-hatred by a social structure in which Catholics were not allowed to handle money, and so relied upon Jewish "money-changers" and "court Jews". Jews were put in the horrible position of being legally restricted to working in areas of finance that they were then socially condemned for working in! Jews were considered parasites, partly because of their nation-within-all-nations status, partly because of Aristotlean and Biblical taboos about money, and partly because of their legal position in the principalities of Europe. Interestingly enough, many of them fled to the Ottoman Empire, where they were protected by the Sultans as 'people of the book', who are protected within Islam.
'Anti-Semitism' proper is a product of the 1800s and a response to the progress of liberalism in Europe. Hannah Arendt was right in arguing that the fate of the Jews was tied to the fate of liberalism throughout Europe. The ideas of religious tolerance and the universal rule of law protected the Jews and made their ghettoized existence an issue to be solved, a Jewish Problem. But, anti-Semitism is not of this mindset- it's more a rejection of these ideas in line with social-Darwinian ideas of struggle and the survival of the fittest.
Nationalists tended to be anti-Semites for two rather obvious reasons- How can a nation consider itself to be superior if another tribe is 'the chosen people'? And how can an order of nationally self-determined states allow the existence of a separate nation that exists in all nations? So, in the era of nationalism, Jews were the victims of nationalism, and paradoxically turned to nationalism in the ideas of Herzl.
So, the Jews are condemned for assimilation at the same time as they are condemned for not assimilating- charges that are incidentally made of 'illegals' in contemporary Amerca. They are condemned for being too clannish and not clannish enough- for being what Arendt called "parvenues and pariahs". Incredibly enough, they are supposed to be genetically inferior, but capible of the superhuman intelligence required to secretly run the world.
Enter The Protocols of the Elders of Zion- a product of the Tzarist secret police that claims to record the secret Jewish plans for world-domination. The book is a fraud, a lie, a myth- horseshit- and has been exposed as such over and over and over again. But, still it exists, and still it is taken as truth in many parts of the world. The question that Marc Levin hopes to understand in this documentary is why?
And I'll get right down to saying that he never does answer this question; but maybe it can't be answered. Instead, Levin shows us who believes the Protocols are genuine, and why they also tend to believe the contemporary blood-libel "The Jews stayed home on 9/11". We get the usual suspects- uneducated black Muslims, uneducated white supremicists, uneducated Arab Muslims, the Middle Eastern press, and briefly, the anti-War movement. Levin wimps out here a bit I think. We see briefly that the anti-War movement has siezed on the lie that Jews in power created the American war in Iraq, which Levin calls out as nonsense. But, he never interviews those members of the anti-war left who blame all of US foreign policy on the 'Zionists'. They can't be hard to find. I've encountered them coming from all backgrounds, and sadly often from the sort of progressive liberal backgrounds that should be the first to reject such horeshit. So, where are they in this documentary?
Levin also shies away from confronting the pro-Israeli warmongers. The salient point that Palestinian warmongers and Israeli warmongers are poisoning both cultures with their jingoistic 'we must kill them before they kill us' rhetoric is hinted at in the film, and then we move on. But I've found myself, in the last five years, alienated from both those on the left who "hate the Zionists" because I believe that Israel has the right to exist as a state and to defend itself, and from those on the Right who also support Israel because I believe that the Palestinians have the same rights, and that there will be no peace without a two-state solution. So, I've found that there are corners of the left that dabble in anti-Semitic crapola, and corners of the right that dabble in anti-Muslim crapola. But, where are the "partisans" of reason?
Levin, who is clearly a partisan of reason, answers the charge that the Jews who worked in the World Trade Center stayed home on 9/11- they didn't- and shows us Jewish communities rightfully terrified by the post-9/11 resurgence of jew hatred. He shows us a white power publisher who sells the Protocols and who thinks that Rupert Murdoch is a jew! And he shows us how prevalent anti-Semitism is in the arab media, including a horrifying interview with a three-year-old Palestinian girl who already sees Jews as the enemy of her religion. Like so many other documentaries of this sort, we come to realize how serious and widespread the problem of ethnic and religious hatred is in our culture, which can be taken as both a call to action, and a serious reason to become depressed!
But, Levin tends to interview liberals who agree with him and wackos who don't, which is sort of stacking the deck. Also, the documentary is quite rambling. We learn that anti-Semitism has had a Renaissance as of late, on the left and the right. We learn that many Arabs hate Jews, and vice-versa. But, many of us knew these things already. What needs to be asked is how the modern Enlightenment tradition of religious pluralism and tolerance (and state secualarism and scientific rationality!) can possibly be salvaged. All the other questions are irrelevant.
Posted by Rufus at 10:13 AM