Two Baffling Conundrums on Modern AntiSemitism

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by Neil Godfrey

Jerry Coyne and Mano Singham have each posted their respective conundrums about Nazis and modern day antisemitism.

FTB (Freethought blogs) blogger Mano Singham raises his question in Why do neo-Nazis hate Jews?

But the anti-Jewish racism of Nazi Germany had a plausible explanation. Demagogues always face a particular problem. Part of their appeal is to pander to their followers by telling them how great their race is. This message resonates especially when they are not doing so well, as was the case in pre-war Germany. But then you have the problem of explaining why, if they are so great, their country and their lives are not wonderful. . . . 

Mano points out that the Jews in the US do not single themselves out as obviously different by living in ghettos; to most of us they are essentially indistinguishable from anyone.

So back to my question: Why do the current neo-Nazis hate Jews? I am genuinely baffled.

Mano’s blog post prompted me to pick up from my “waiting-to-be-read” pile of books Jacob Katz’s From Prejudice to Destruction: Anti-Semitism, 1700-1933. It had been some time since I read other answers to Mano’s question, such as Yuri Slezkine’s The Jewish Century and Israel Shahak’s s Jewish History, Jewish Religion, (see my 2011 post, Understanding the Reasons for Anti-Semitism) hence I had an added incentive to make Katz my next read.

Mano’s quandary arises from what I think is confusion between a moment of political exploitation of antisemitism and the reasons for antisemitism itself. Antisemitism has long lurked independently of persons in power who have taken opportunities to exploit and fan it.

That was part of my point in my previous post, Islamophobia Really Is a Twin of Anti-Semitism.

Hard on on heels of Mano Singham’s public query, Jerry Coyne posted his own somewhat perverse confusion in A thought about “Nazis”. I posted a short reply on Mano’s blog but Jerry seems to have a habit of banning from his blog views that dissent from his and he has certainly banned me from posting on WEIT (Why Evolution Is True) — though ironically he deplores the “deplatforming of Richard Dawkins by a Berkeley radio station as “a terrible blow to free speech” — so I cannot offer my response to Coyne personally.

Coyne has a conundrum that he posts in A thought about “Nazis” . . . .

But when I was thinking about this [recent public demonstrations by neo-Nazis], something struck me. I offer it up here as a conundrum. . . . . 

So why the hatred of Nazis but the concomitant demonization of Israel and—often—Jews themselves? It doesn’t make sense. 

“Demonization of Israel” — how did that get in there? What’s that about?

Coyne helpfully explains the grounds for his confusion:

Yet the widespread and proper denigration of Nazis doesn’t comport with the Regressive Left’s demonization of Israel and Jews, which sometimes verges on anti-Semitism. The BDS movement, Students for Justice in Palestine, and many other groups, student or otherwise, not only fault Israel for its oppression of Palestinians, but sometimes call for the dissolution of the state of Israel: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” Yet that state was created largely as a refuge for Jews fleeing from Hitler’s Europe and its aftermath, as well as for Jews oppressed everywhere.

Oh Jerry, Jerry. How the blind will not see.

Get over the loaded terminology and your stereotyped filters and look at the people on the ground and observe them and listen to them. I would love to see an end to the state of Israel as it presently exists and become instead a beacon for human rights and democracy — for all races and religions — in the Middle East. That means Jews and Arabs living side by side as equals and without discriminations against either party. Wouldn’t that be nice? You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one, you know. It’s what some (a few) Israelis, some non-Israeli Jews, and even some Arabs, Palestinians included, are asking for.

That’s not a genocidal wish. That’s not antisemitic. That’s respecting Israelis, Jews, Arabs as equals all deserving of equal rights. We don’t need to perpetuate more echoes of South African apartheid type states or colonial powers that guarantee for perpetuity the domination of one race or religion over others. That means we first have to acknowledge the realities that exist today in Gaza, the West Bank and the State of Israel.

“But they’ll kill all the Jews in their beds!” That’s what you fear, isn’t it.

At this point I must make clear I dissociate myself and my views from those who — and Islam convert George Galloway stands out as representative —

  • support the rights of Islamists to have their own laws and courts in our Western societies because those Islamist laws and courts do not meet the basic standards of the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights;
  • support tactics of violence and terror on the grounds that they target the “imperial powers” and are carried out for the cause of anti-Western independence.
Maryam Namazie

If I have to choose a side I choose to stand next to Maryam Namazie. Jerry Coyne has even posted supportively on Maryam at times so I do wish he would take more notice of what she has to say — about the views of Sam Harris, Islamophobia, and Palestine. He may find his little conundrum arose because of a false premise and that reality (as opposed to ignorant stereotypes and bigotry) does make sense after all.


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Neil Godfrey

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22 thoughts on “Two Baffling Conundrums on Modern AntiSemitism”

  1. Christianity, Judaism, Islam and all other religions serve the exact same function. They foster social cohesiveness by singling out individuals and groups which they define do not belong. Members of these groups may be outcast but also may be reabsorbed very easily by performing some base patronistic rituals which only mask underlying psychological issues. All religions take advantage of psychological issues, so it’s not in their interest to actually help anyone resolve them, only mask them or use them. Ultimately a religion itself survives to spread through the culture in which it exists and will use whatever advantages it can until they are used up.

    Violence emerges out of desperation. At what threshold any individual or group crosses into desperation varies. Once that threshold is crossed, if the group doesn’t immediately and firmly condemn that violence, then the violence will spread and become normalized as part of that group’s identity.

    All three of the major Western religions are in steep decline right now. There are illusions that this might not be the case, but violence in and of itself is proof that all of these groups are desperate and see no other way to stave off their decline.

    Christianity tries desperately to co-identify itself with America. By constantly reinforcing the illusion that Christian and American identities are the same, Christianity hopes to survive. American power is exerted in response to Christian Will rather than the will of the average American. Most Americans don’t actively exercise a Christian identity. Christians have used their privilege to grow their influence beyond where it naturally exists. Most Americans didn’t feel there was anything wrong until this power was abused to start religious wars. At the moment, people are tired of this and are now actively trying to reign back Christian influence over American government. But something else lately became apparent. Christian identity is closely tied to race. Different races have their own churches, but these different churches all perform the same function above for the specific isolate group.

    Meanwhile in Islamic countries, since these countries are actively self-defined as Islamic, people within them are automatically lumped in as Islamic, especially if apostasy is punishable by death. Islamists themselves are quite aware of the support they get from their own communities, so even if every single person attends Mosque and prays daily, if their political will doesn’t match the Islamic Political Will, it is not supported and feels the lack of support deeply. This creates desperation. Iran, which Christians are obsessed with demonizing, is exemplary in that despite being a firmly Islamic State, the majority of individual people in Iran are relatively liberal, the same could be said of any country. The average person in any particular Islamic (or any) country is not interested in being drawn into religious war, they just want to have work and food. War happens because ideological people gain control. Ideologies may be derived from or plastered over by religion to give war a moral veneer, or especially by demonizing the enemy through propaganda. You don’t need to provide moral veneer to resist self-evident evil.

    Take away from this that no member of any religion ultimately cares much about the minutia of their religion, especially those who are using it to rationalize evil, and since most people identify as religious, we decry religion knowing full well that the majority don’t really take it seriously, only those who are rationalizing evil will get defensive about it because their ideals are hitched to it. There are people who self-identify as agnostic who get defensive: those people are really the worst and most dangerous because their own security is primarily on their minds and will always ultimately defer to the most threatening faction and deny that they knew what would end up happening as a result. In the study of this branch of history, it’s the people who carried out the atrocities who have the most to deny and the most to lose from the truth being out.

    1. I have difficulties with some of this analysis. Don’t all groups, even your local hobby clubs, need some form of insider-outsider barriers and rules? The insider-outsider thing is not necessarily bad, is it?

      As for violence continuing IF “the group” doesn’t immediately condemn it — but the larger group does not see violence as being from itself or its own group, and perpetrators themselves identify with a group that is much more limited and narrowly defined than the “silent majority” around them. Hence sometimes the larger group goes into denial and cannot believe that violence came even from any subgroup of theirs. And the larger group itself becomes the target of the violence of the much narrower violence-focused group.

      As for violence or radicalization (e.g. Christian Right) being the inevitable result of decline — outside America we have had religions go into decline without that sort of violence at any stage. Australia for example.

      There are different types of nationalist-religious mix historically. Some people long for the past when the religion was very important and want their nation to return to those days; other nationalists want the symbols of religion to be unchallenged as an identity marker for their national identity and are not particularly religious themselves and certainly don’t want to restore the power of the church as in the old days.

      1. This analysis was actually modeled on a hobby group. If for example a club is aware that it’s losing members, it will actually become more “conservative” and threaten to shun members who don’t show up to events or fulfill their duties in order to force their compliance. Members will be expected to prove their membership more and anyone who doesn’t will be made to feel uncomfortable. Fear of the slippery slope takes over, fear that if people don’t take it seriously it will simply dissolve, which it actually will. Becoming a member of a group during a time like this seems easy at first because the group is desperate for members, but the expectations for commitment and seriousness are great. I was kicked out of a group like this before becoming a Christian but I never understood what that was really about until long after I left the church. Some people in the group didn’t want me to leave and wanted me to get another chance, but the leaders of the group wanted to maintain the integrity of the group.

        Why there wasn’t violence in Australia? Because like Canada and Europe they were able to implement socialized programs to support people aside from the church. Programs which didn’t exist in Weimar Germany. The United States has gone out of its way to try to prevent the government from making social programs available which would relieve people of their dependence on the charity that religion offers. The underlying reason for this resistance has always been racism: black people would be the primary beneficiaries as the poorest class. Australia and Canada have both had severe problems extending equality to the minority indigenous populations which are currently more segregated than blacks are in the US, but these problems are rarely openly discussed.

        Speaking as a Canadian, native people, like black people in the US, are often organized around Christian churches to defend their rights and distribute social services. This is even ironic for native people who struggle to maintain their own traditional cultures on the side. Meanwhile white conservative churches in Canada behave exactly like US evangelicals, completely oblivious to the fact that our laws and social programs are completely different. When conservatives were in power they openly tried to cut social programs like the Republicans they admire, but Canadians in general strongly opposed these actions, so instead they had to cut taxes and drive up deficits and debt to justify cuts, which is the way Republicans have done it. The fact is it’s much harder to take away programs people already enjoy than prevent them from being implemented in the first place. The important thing is the motive in all cases is racism and the churches serve to provide a moral veneer to cover that fact up. The fact that churches provide so much to black communities in the US makes it extremely difficult to convince black people that the churches are leaching off them. Hatred of atheists among blacks was extremely high until very recently.

        Violence occurs when individuals are collectively psychologically exploited by usually religious groups because religions are uniquely positioned to moralize violence. Radicalization is a misleading expression. Members of desperate groups feel their security comes from the group because that group has weakened their sense of security specifically to that end. If members leave, the group gets weaker and their security is threatened. It’s a self-reinforcing cycle which already existed in American churches since the 1960’s and grew steadily for decades. Members of American evangelical churches are completely complicit in the whole system. They might deny knowledge of violence, but they know it originates in their own church, they hear the calls from their pastors. Most of the active members are actually young often unemployed. Churches have desperately targeted youth. The only way to get older people to participate in violence is for the economy to crash to the point average people can’t buy food. Both Communism and Nationalism peaked during the Great Depression. This is not a coincidence. The last decade has seen some pretty extreme economic fluctuations and shifts in wealth. Most people under 30 in the US live with their parents out of abject desperation.

        Personally I find it ironic that euphemisms for the Jews such as Globalists and Deep State are constantly being used in a completely oblivious way by lots and lots of people including the media. The euphemisms may be new but the scapegoat is the same. Jews aren’t segregated and difficult to see in society at all. The people in charge of these groups need to use scapegoating because that’s how Christianity has always worked and the Jews have always been the scapegoat. Even as Muslims are more visible, easier, even popular targets, they still default to targeting the Jews. People who aren’t even “radicalized” can easily learn to rationalize killing people over empty symbolism like this. I don’t really respect the idea of radicalization. The average person is ready to kill with little provocation.

        1. Tige, I’ve never heard or seen “Deep State” used as a euphemism for Jews. “Globalists” is often used to refer to Jews, but “Deep State” is a term for the military-industrial complex and US intelligence (especially the CIA), not the Rothschilds or whoever else racists blame.

          1. Delusional thinking doesn’t have to make sense. The military-industrial complex is represented by big corporations which are controlled by wealthy men. Right wingers aren’t opposed to the military-industrial complex or wealthy men in general, they’re opposed to Jews controlling those big companies and their finances, which they are believed to do indirectly and behind closed doors.

            In order to understand the sea change taking place you have to realize that the right wing is quickly shifting from Christian dominionism through Christian libertarianism into post-Christian libertarianism. The idea that US intelligence agencies are co-opted by pro-Israel forces ironically emerges from the history of Christians using Israel as a means to an end, an end which is no longer relevant or “logical” to people who no longer see the Christian veneer of morality as useful or effective.

  2. As far as I can tell, once someone has decided to take on the Nazi brand of white supremacy, other stuff comes with it – like anti-semitism. I don’t see any real reason to look deeper than that.

    1. Unlike in the time of the original Nazis, lots of people interpret this as a game, call it contrarianism. When things get serious those people abandon the movement. We’re seeing lots of people whining about the consequences to them because they weren’t that serious, but it’s impossible to tell the difference between someone who’s serious and someone who was just horsing around with his friends. We condemn them because not only were the consequences for themselves not on their minds, consequences for the people they targeted weren’t either. Unfortunately the entire Republican party was built on this behavior for the past several decades. If you look deeply into it, there’s actually nothing there. The big disappointment will be all the Republicans walking away from it without paying any consequences.

      1. You can’t look deeper into their dialog because they are not conscious of it. Antisemitism doesn’t make sense in modern culture, it’s entirely derived from historical, traditional prejudices mainly stemming from the Christian dependence on skapegoating to absolve sins.

        1. Anti-Semitism makes sense in modern culture unless you believe that globalization has erased the meaning of ethnicity, which is hardly the case.
          I personally believe that modern culture is going to become more anti-Semitic from the traditional culture, cause modern culture is based on knowledge and not in traditions, and the knowledge that the OT was created in the Hellenistic ages as a means of ethnic propaganda, is going to give another meaning to anti-Semitism (with globalization or not).
          That’s why I am saying that we must look deeper, cause Judaism collected the ancient wisdom and projected it in the past when none had it, and by doing so it positioned the Jews in the role of the scapegoat and Christianity just used it.

          1. Perhaps researchers need to be on the alert to different racial groups using their work to support their respective claims of superiority over the other.

          2. “Globalism” and now “Deep State” are desperate efforts to make it seem like antisemitism is still relevant while simultaneously trying to not appear antisemitic.

  3. So criticizing the government of Israel is EXACTLY THE SAME THING as being opposed to modern-day neo-Nazis and other white supremacists.

    Jerry Coyne is worthless. Everything he says that isn’t FOX News-inspired gibberish is said a lot better by somebody else.

  4. Like his fellow new atheist, Coyne blames religion for most human misbehavior. And among religions, he is obsessed with the evils of Islam. He refuses to acknowledge western terrorism and imperialism of Muslim countries as the primary reason for jihadists terrorism against westerners, insisting that their hatred of the west derives directly from the Quran. He has a mission to protect the free speech of Islamophobes against “snowflake regressive leftists” who he accuses of censorship whenever they try to deny a platform to inciters of violence against Muslims. Yet as Neal mentions, he is quick to shut down any dissenting views on his own blog.

    When it comes to Israel and the horrors of the occupation, Coyne is not only in denial, he bends over backwards to avoid implicating the Jewish religion. Something fishy here. Coyne claims to criticize all religions impartially, but his Criticisms of Christianity are mostly trivial, his criticism of Hinduism nonexistent (he seems to have a rich Indian patron), while he (like Harris) portrays Islam as an existential threat. One must suspect that under the guise of an atheistic critic of all religion, he is actually a special pleader for Israel, concentrating his venom on its critics. He denies there is such a thing as Islamophobia but is quick to make accusations of anti-semitism. He claims he is a liberal but is most often in agreement with right wing neocons. As an atheist who finds all religions to be a mix of good and evil, I think Coyne and his ilk to be disingenuous embarrassments.

    1. Jerry Coyne like Sam Harris remain attached to Judaism culturally. It’s not possible to distinguish Judaism as a culture and a religion since it was racist in origin. Attacks upon Jews/Israel can be defended on cultural groups in spite of being religiously motivated.

  5. From what I’ve seen of it, modern anti-Semitism is a way of putting a face on impersonal social trends, which can be a much more emotionally satisfying way to feel angry about them. So, instead of saying “social, economic, and political trends have made it so that most people can no longer support a family on one income”, one can say “the Jews’ schemes have made it so that most people can no longer support a family on one income”. Now there’s a bad guy that one can imagine oneself fighting against.

  6. Scapegoating has always been part of the way societies and politicians work. Trade unions have been common scapegoats; schools are often blamed for problems by lowering standards; the unemployed poor are often blamed because they are said to be lazy free-riders, etc. Racism seems to be different in that certain groups are always there for opprobrium even when social and economic conditions are good.

    1. Well, people always have a level of anxiety that needs to be managed, because life is always uncertain and potentially threatening. Even when things are going very well, any individual always knows that all good things eventually come to an end. A subset of people are especially sensitive and feel acutely worried no matter how well things seem to be going objectively. If scapegoating is a way to deal with fear and anxiety, then there’s always going to be some degree of demand for it.

    2. Judaism morally institutionalized scapegoating. Jesus sacrifice for sins rolls up all of that into the singular foundation of Christianity. The average person knows that when not associated with his religion, scapegoating is wrong and accomplishes nothing. Even accurately placed blame usually accomplishes nothing.

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