Category Archives: Antisemitism

Why Anti-Muslim hostility is comparable to Anti-Semitism

Justifying a view of Muslims as essentially untrustworthy and potentially violent by quoting the Koran has an interesting historical analog.

Johann Andreas Eisenmenger

In 1700 Johann Andreas Eisenmenger collated and published a comprehensive account of the reasons Jews posed a threat to Christian society. Translated, the title was Judaism Unmasked. The Jewish religious texts, Eisenmenger warned, were the evidence that the Jews hated and sought the harm of non-Jews. He brushed aside contemporary Jewish intellectuals who interpreted their own writings more in accord with modern values and went straight to the sources themselves.

. . . casting aside the interpretations accepted by his contemporary Jews in his quest to reconstruct the world of Judaism by studying the sources themselves.

From a range of Jewish texts he set out

to prove the worthlessness of the Talmud to which the Jews attribute religious authority close to that of the Bible. Five chapters are devoted to Jewish beliefs regarding the Messiah and to eschatology and resurrection. All this is intended to prove that the Jews are ingrained with superstitions and illusionary conceptions.

However, Eisenmenger attacks Judaism principally for its attitude toward other religions and their adherents. The point of this attack is to show that the Jews are commanded by their religion to abuse that which is sacred to all other religions, and above all that which is sacred to Christian­ity. The Jewish tradition prohibits robbery, deceit, and even murder only in relations between Jews, while the property and even the life of the Christian are as good as outlawed. If that is the tenor of the tradition into which Jews are initiated from childhood, one should not be surprised by their actual behavior should they be found abusing articles of Christian worship, that is, desecrating the host, or be caught in deceit, robbery, or even murder. (Katz, 17-18)

He supported his belief with Jewish texts saying that the Jews were commanded by their religion to commit the very crimes he accused them of.

Eisenmenger . . . wanted to demonstrate that everything derogatory or discriminatory that appeared in the Jewish tradition regarding any people whatsoever was seen by the Jew as applicable to his Christian contemporaries. The Christians are identified with the minim of whom it had been said, “Lowering down, but not raising up”; with Amalek, whose memory the Jews are commanded to blot out; and even with the seven nations whom the conquerors of Biblical Canaan were commanded to destroy. In the future, in the Messianic age, the com­mandment of destruction would apply to all mankind save the Jews. As the Jews awaited their redeemer every day, it stood to reason that they would carry out the commandment of destruction even in the present on those whom it was within their reach to injure and harm.

Eisenmenger’s point of departure was the belief that the Jews were habitually robbing and murdering their Christian neighbors. He believed the tales of ritual murder, of the desecration of the host and the like, regardless of whether they stemmed from folklore or from medieval chroniclers who failed to distinguish between fact and fancy. He supported his belief with Jewish texts saying that the Jews were commanded by their religion to commit the very crimes he accused them of. In his attempt to make this point, Eisenmenger drives his interpretation to the height of ab­surdity. In every case where he found such expressions as “deserves death” . . . he explained them as requiring a death penalty to be imposed by human hands. . . . Jewish scholars would also interpret metaphors and figures of speech literally whenever the conclusions to be drawn from such interpretations corresponded to their views. . . . To anyone who is knowledgeable in traditional Jewish literature, Eisenmenger’s interpretations read like a parody of both the legal and homiletic literature. . . . . [F]or the reader who is unfamiliar with that literature: he may fall for Eisenmenger’s conclusions, not knowing that they are no more than the very assumptions that preceded the writer’s examination of the material. He may accept the image of the Jews as a community of superstitious fools, hostile to those around them and despising whatever is holy to their neighbors. Completely unscrupulous in their behavior toward the stranger outside their community, therefore they cheat and wrong those who have business contacts with them, and this they do by command of their religion. If they are brought to court, their oaths are not to be trusted because they regard lying under oath of little consequence when their fellow litigant is a non-Jew. Their loyalty to the state is no more than lip service; and, in fact, they violate the law with impunity and are willing to betray their king and serve his enemies as spies and secret agents. The Jew cannot even be trusted in matters of life and death, and Christians who take treatment from a Jewish doctor endanger their lives. Eisenmenger fully believed the reports, in Christian chronicles and folk tales alike, that many a child had died at Jewish hands in order to satisfy ritual needs. Eisenmenger tried to gain the reader’s confidence by quoting chapter and verse demonstrating that the absolutely unethical behavior of the Jew derived from that decadent source of his religion, the Talmud and Rab­binical literature.  (19-20)

According to […], Islam does not develop, and neither do Muslims; they merely are. . . .

Edward Said, see How anti-Muslim hostility has replaced the old anti-Semitism

Jewish history was also conceived as a single historical unit both by Jewish tradition and by Christianity, the latter, of course, regarding the ap­pearance of Jesus as a decisive turning point. However, while the tradi­tional concept, Jewish or Christian, was that the unity derived from a divine mission, Voltaire explained it in terms of permanent qualities deeply rooted in the spirit and character of the people. Evidence of these characteristics could be taken from any period in the history of the people: after all, periodization is essentially an external matter, and time creates no barriers between generations. Consequently, Voltaire’s method allowed him to transfer his data from one period to the next and to attribute the basic characteristics of the Biblical people to later generations. Likewise, it is hardly surprising to find the converse: qualities discovered in later periods are attributed to Biblical Jews. That Jews are drawn to money and that they deal in business transactions and usury could be postulated in the light of their occupation in the Middle Ages and modern times, and Voltaire projects this stereotype back to the Biblical age. For example, the Bible does not indicate explicitly any desire on the part of the Jewish people to rule over other nations, but in the Talmudic and medieval periods deluding images of the Messianic era did arise. These were the basis for the Christian polemic contending that the Jews sought world domination. Ex post facto, polemicists found supporting material for this view in the Bible as well; Voltaire accepted their Christian accusations and incorporated them in his rationalistic indictment. (42-43)

Katz describes a list of other prominent names through history who followed the arguments and methods of Eisenmenger and Voltaire, too many to cover here in any sort of detail. The point is clear:

The reference to the Talmudic sources, usually based on Rohling’s Talmudjude, became a steady feature of anti-Semitic propaganda.

Or if not the Talmud, it was the Old Testament that rang out the warning:

Duhring, on the other hand, held, as we have seen, the Old Testament’s teaching responsible for Jewish immorality and regarded the “recent citation of Talmudic instances” to be superfluous. (267)

One dramatic scene . . .

In a gathering of some five hundred participants in April 1882, a speaker named Franz Holubek declared that “The Jews have not shown themselves worthy of emancipa­tion . . . The Jew is no longer a co-citizen. He made himself our master, our oppressor . . . Do you know what gives these people the right to put their foot on our neck? The Talmud, in which you Christians are called dogs, donkeys, and pigs.’’ This invective provoked an uproar in the au­dience, causing the police to dissolve the meeting. Holubek was indicted for interreligious incitement but in the ensuing trial, defended by Pattai, he was found innocent. The line of defense was that the alleged invective conformed to scholarly established truth as stated in the learned treatise The Talmudjude, by August Rohling, professor of Hebrew literature at Charles University in Prague. (285)

Katz, Jacob. 1982. From Prejudice to Destruction: Anti-Semitism, 1700–1933. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.


Trying to understand today’s antisemitism

An article in caught my eye and initially repulsed me enough to make me deliberately ignore it at first: Ever blamed “the Jews”? You have blood on your hands too.

My first thought was, Hang on, I blame “Australia” and “Australians”, too, for inhumane treatment of refugees and war-loving “all the way with the USA” enthusiasm whenever the US finds another excuse to invade someone. I blame the white British peoples and white Americans for a history of imperialist and even genocidal adventures. And if I speak critically of Israel I am similarly speaking of the nation as a whole for their treatment of black (even though religiously Jewish) races in their midst and of Palestinians generally. Far from my mind is that there is any racial essence in every single Australian, British, American or Jewish person that predisposes them to racist and genocidal (as defined by the United Nations) attitudes and actions. I know I have many like-minded opponents of all these evils among Australians, and I know they exist in the US, UK and Israel, too.

I later did have cause to return and read the Salon article by Matthew Rozsa and learned I had reacted too quickly and ignorantly of what he had written. I should have paid more attention to “the Jews” in the title. No, I have never blamed “the Jews” for the atrocities of Zionism. We have two different terms when it comes to Jews or Jewish people, and I have just used them now, as does Matthew Rozsa. I find it hard to imagine an antisemitic bunch of neo-nazis denigrating “the Jewish people” but I can imagine them spitting out the word “Jew”. I haven’t quite put my finger on the best way to spell out the difference clearly in words but I no doubt will as I think it through some more.

I have been very fortunate to have grown up in a family and in social circles where antisemitism was deplored so I have never been able to personally understand the thinking of antisemites (though I can understand it “intellectually” of course). But recent events I have read and seen in the news have added to my incomprehension.

Trump (sorry to bring him in to the discussion) clearly lent moral support to the antisemitic demonstrators at Charlottesville when he said there were fine people on both sides. I have read and am led to understand that when certain circles speak of “globalists” they are implicitly referring to Jews, to George Soros as a prominent representative, with shades of “world conspiracy” thinking. Recall Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

But here’s the complicating part that I am not quite sure I completely understand. Trump also boasted of his enthusiastic support for the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and moved the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Stuff the Palestinians. How could one demonstrate any more clearly some sort of philosemitism?

How does that move sit with his respect for the “fine people” of Charlottesville and sinister warning of Soros’s role in “financing” the “thousands of invaders”, a mixed band of criminals and “middle-easterners”, marching to the United States?

I turned back to Edward Said’s Orientalism in a search for some help. I recall he spoke of the bifurcation of anti-semitism since the Second World War: the despised Arab had taken the place of the “ghetto-bred Jew” while the “Jewish people” had become “dehumanized” in reverse — they were now effectively angels who could do no wrong and any faults were merely the side-effects of over-zealous good intentions.

But that was too simplistic. We see here someone who both backs Israel to the hilt and sends derogatory dog-whistles to antisemites at the same time.

It’s the same with that other branch of “semitic peoples”, too, isn’t it. The Arabs. We hear dire warnings of “unknown middle easterners” (hear “terrorists”) joining the invasion caravan on its way to the US. But at the same time we have a devotion that reaches over into subservience to the rulers of Saudi Arabia.

I guess if there is a common point here, it is that Jews and Arabs are on “our side” (or rather we are on “their side”) when they are contained in their state borders and demonstrate an ability to use decisive power to crush the Muslim cum Middle Easterner threat and give us oil. But most of all, the Saudi Arabian elites “do as they are told” by the West — give us oil, support Israel, and keep certain terrorists under check. (We set aside the actual facts for the moment — Israel’s responsibility for launching Hamas and Saudi Arabia’s financing of world-wide extremist Islamism — and confine ourselves to public impressions. Iran also crushes radical dissent and could give us oil but there is a need for vengeance there going back to the humiliating events surrounding the overthrow of the Shah, I think.) When certain Jewish people (“Jews”) and Arabs are “like us” — violent and keeping “Arabs” under the thumb of occupation and imprisonment, and wealth-generating in our interests — they are “good”.

So I returned to read Matthew Rozsa’s article and found some degree of confirmation:

Both sides, of course, will frequently target the state of Israel, which certainly deserves criticism for its treatment of the Palestinian people but has also attracted a certain breed of anti-Semite who embraces Israeli atrocities as a cover for their own bilious views. Here’s an easy tell that distinguishes bigots from legitimate critics: The former will come up with arguments that hold every Jew accountable for the actions of Israeli officials, and are likely to lump Israeli misdeeds into larger diatribes against “the Jews.”

And Edward Said covered that point, too, when he wrote

The common denominator between Weizmann and the European anti-Semite is the Orientalist perspective, seeing Semites (or sub-divisions thereof) as by nature lacking the desirable qualities of Occidentals. (Orientalism, p. 306)

Like us, good. Not like us, bad.