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Anti-Semitic Myths in Islamic, European Society

July 6, 2010

Edward Rothstein today offered a review in the New York Times of A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism From Antiquity to the Global Jihad by Robert Wistrich and Trials of the Diaspora by Anthony Julius. It was a good review  that highlighted the continuing evolution of Anti-Semitism.

The issue for today’s world and for productive discussions for peace in Israel (and elsewhere) is the expanding Nazi mythology of Jewish conspiracies that infected the Islamic world in the 1930s and 40s.

This amplifies virulence as well: the Jew, for the anti-Semite, is not just a danger, but the greatest danger exerting the greatest powers. In current paradoxical parlance, the Jew is, in essence, a Nazi. The Jew does not just devour a Christian child’s blood, but the blood of all innocent children, and more completely, the blood of all innocents.

Is any evidence needed? Appearances are irrelevant; argument is illusion. What use is visible fact when the power of the Jew is in the web woven below the surface? Jewish autonomy is itself evidence of Jewish threat. Moreover, confrontation requires courage. Anti-Semitism never sees itself as a hatred; it views itself as a revelation. An attack on the Jew is never offensive; it is always defensive. This is precisely how the Nazis portrayed it. It is precisely how Islamist ideology does as well, evident, for example, in the principles and founding documents of Hamas and Hezbollah.

In a recent book, “Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World” (Yale), the historian Jeffrey Herf shows how Nazi propagandists literally taught Arab audiences the language of anti-Semitism through popular radio programs in Arabic. Nazi ideology bears many resemblances to that of contemporary Islamic extremism, some the consequence of careful teaching. That teaching is still present in the Arab world, amplified by political leaders and imams, often annexed to denigrations of Jews taken from Islamic sources.

I admit that I was a bit concerned towards the top of the article when Rothstein presented a list of questions that seemed ready to dismiss the books. Where would this lead?

Surely this attention is a bit overwrought? Aren’t we in an age that must be “post” all such sentiments — postmodern, post-Auschwitz and post-anti-Semitic? Haven’t many anti-Semitic doctrines (or their consequences) been largely overturned? How many people today would advocate ghettos or extermination? Who still believes that Jews bake Christian children’s blood into matzo? Many countries have forbidden hate speech; hasn’t that enforced a decorous social tact? And while it is difficult to ignore the vulgar hatreds expressed by Muslim protestors or in the newspapers of the Arab world or even among Westerners, aren’t those just frustrated expressions of justifiable political grievances?

Sadly, as the books show, this ancient hatred is renewed in each generation. I remember our neighbors on Rheem Blvd. in Moraga in the late 1950s and early 1960s. My brother Jamie and sister Ann and I played with the two kids, roaming around the neighborhood. They were from Oklahoma.

However, when the grandparents came to visit, the two kid weren’t allowed to play in our yard. And I seem to remember that we were discouraged from playing in their yard. The reason: concerns over blood libel, that we would kill these kids and use them for some ritual purpose. No kidding.

Check out the full NYT review.

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