A Seamless Garment?

It will be objected that the anti-Semitism of the Palestinian or Lebanese cannot be caused by the behaviour of Israel, on the grounds that anti-Semitism is a millennium or two older than the modern conflict in the Middle East. This assumes that whenever Jews are hated, then this is a fresh expression of a single, eternal phenomenon rather than something brought into being here and now. It denies the possibility that Jews may have been hated by one set of people for one set of reasons in 1096 and by another set of people for another set of reasons in 2011. There is no evidence for such a seamless garment; there is only an assumption, made entirely circular by the attribution of anti-Semitism to anyone who challenges it, and enforced by verbal abuse. The Palestinian may be wholly uninterested in the question of who killed Christ or in the historical blood libel; the Lebanese may have no belief in secret Jewish masters of the world; they merely dislike being bombed and bulldozed.

The hypothesis of the indivisible unity of anti-Semitism over two millennia may also be tested by the following thought-experiment: when someone objects to the savage conduct of the Nazi regime in occupied Poland, precisely what relationship does this have to Tacitus’ picture of the furor teutonicus?

The dogma that anti-Semitism “has no causes” takes on a strange cast if we reflect that the Jews thus become the first and only group in human history never to do something that got them hated by someone. Gentiles are often reproached for treating Jews as something entirely sui generis, but a group of people that is never at fault and against whose behaviour no complaint can be permitted is in fact sui generis. Neither as individuals nor collectively have any other human beings succeeded in persuading so many others to grant them such immunity, although certain groups and categories have endeavoured, not quite as effectively, to imitate the Jews in the stigmatisation of any utterance that does not suit them.

Common sense suggests, however, that just as no individual is without flaws that can annoy other people, so too can no group or subculture be without characteristics that may annoy other groups or subcultures.

This is by no means to say that the features of the Jewish group that annoy non-Jewish groups are such as to explain, much less justify, the Holocaust. We may agree that the background or underlying causes of the Holocaust are a matter of gentile psychopathology; we ought to note that many of the proximate causes were peculiar to the time, place and personnel; we may also agree that anti-Semitism of the Nazi variety has not been entirely exterminated, and that the evil plant is still being tended in dark corners. What is both false and dangerous, however, is the assumption that anti-Semitism is always and everywhere of this variety; that is, the assumption that Nazi Judenhat was merely the most destructive example of a single underlying complex, a complex also responsible for every possible other example of resentment of Jews, whether individually, groupwise or universally, at any other time or in any other place. This dogma serves to identify the smallest resentments with the great genocidal hatred, and thus to assert that anyone who harbours the former is also guilty of the latter.

According to this conceptual framework, anyone who finds himself annoyed by the actions of a single Jew or group of Jews is deceiving himself and us, for his annoyance is not connected to those actions at all, but is an irruption into daylight of this subterranean and universal hatred. His annoyance is of a single substance (homoousios, as a Christian theologian might say) with the Nazi psychopathology; he has, so to speak, downloaded it from some demonic WiFi network. Such a concept of anti-Semitism, as a seamless garment or all-pervasive “ether”, is not, however, sound history, psychology or sociology – it is merely metaphysical wuffle.

If, for example, the black residents of a New York tenement are found to hate their landlords, who happen to be Jewish (a fact that the tenants may or may not know), this metaphysics purports to tell us that their resentment has nothing to do with their socio-economic position, but is merely a local outbreak of the universal plague, that just happens by chance to manifest itself this time among slum tenants. Only if the landlords are not in fact Jewish is the obvious socio-economic explanation acceptable, and so normal aetiology can proceed. And the same can be said about the annoyance of the Palestinian watching his orchard being bulldozed to make way for subsidised housing for Russian immigrants; this, too, is held to have nothing to do with his land or livelihood, but instead to be an expression of a universal psychopathology of anti-Semitism, that just happens by chance to manifest itself on this occasion in an Arab orange farmer.

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