- Nov 22, 2003
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The Uses of Anti-Semitism by Nelson Ascher
The Past is Prologue
In this essay, exclusive to PJM, Nelson Ascher observes, We are spending precious time getting surprised or scared, wondering about the hatred itself, its depth and extension. Thats important, but not whats most important right now. What we need to understand is that this hatred is being once again used cynically to obtain certain results.
We all have spent too much time talking about the widespread anti-Semitism in the Muslim world and discovering, to our surprise, that many in the West actually share this feeling, while many more couldnt really care less. This is a mistaken approach.
Instead of trying to understand why they hate us and why they (and many others) hate the Jews (something I hope well be discussing for several generations), what we have to understand right now is: what is anti-Semitism good for? What are the uses of anti-Semitism?
Whether those who manipulate anti-Semitism are themselves anti-Semites (or anti-Zionists or whatever), whether they personally share the hatred, all that is irrelevant right now. The historical roots of the hatred, its psychology and so on are not questions we have the time to analyse, dissect, discuss endlessly nowadays. (And were still debating the Holocaust, how and why it happened etc., 62 years after the end of WW2, without having reached anything resembling consensual answers.)
We are spending precious time getting surprised or scared, wondering about the hatred itself, its depth and extension. Thats important, but not whats most important right now. What we need to understand is that this hatred is being once again used cynically to obtain certain results.
Besides being anti-Semitic themselves, the Nazis used anti-Semitism brilliantly to subvert other countries and societies. Though Nazism was (among other things) a form of German expansionism, wherever there were anti-Semites the Germans would also find collaborators. Anti-Semitism was used by the Germans to undermine from the inside countries, societies and armies that could or would stand up to them.
The Nazis managed to convince millions and millions of Frenchmen and Poles, Belgians, Norwegians etc. and, yes, Brits and Americans that, since they were fighting a common enemy, the Jews, they werent really the mortal enemies of France and Poland and Belgium and Norway and England and the US. Untold millions were eager to believe that Germany wasnt really threatening them and their countries, that the Germans didnt really want to conquer, exploit and kill them. Why? Because they either thought that they could make a common cause with the Nazis against the Jews, or remained indifferent, neutral and defenseless because, being indifferent to the fate of the Jews, they believed it was none of their problem. Many of them even turned against those in their own countries who wanted to fight the Nazis and blamed them for putting everyone else in danger just to protect the Jews.
In short: if the Jews were used in the beginning as scapegoats, their main use throughout the war was as a tool to divide and conquer. Thanks to their sincere or opportunistic ant-Semitism the Germans were able to paralyse important forces in the countries and societies they wanted to defeat and submit.
Thats just what is happening once again before our very eyes. Though the Jihadists have their own clear, even megalomaniac goals, and while they kill thousands in the US or fight for Sharia in Europe, while they complain about East Timor or fight for Kashmir, it is enough for them to involve the Jews, particularly Israel, in their struggle or their declared agenda to get the active support or at least the indifference of those in Europe, the US and elsewhere who would like to believe that their complaints, grievances and goals are restricted to or only motivated by Israel. Of course, they also declare theyre fighting against America, but then, for those who hate America anyway (and often the Jews and/or Israel too), the same logic works perfectly.
The Jihadists have shown us how brilliantly they can manipulate for their own purposes something as irrelevant as half-a-dozen cartoons in a Danish newspaper. Thus, it is rather unimportant whether Israels destruction is or isnt their main goal (it isnt). They seem to have discovered through trial and error that the hatred of Jews is alive and well in the West and, as the Nazis did before, they are using it not only to further their own different goals, but to recruit collaborators and to paralyze whole countries and societies as well. It goes without saying how terrible this is for the Jews themselves, but it is at least as dangerous to the rest of the West that is allowing anti-Semitism to be used against itself. Hatred of the Jews and of Israel is the loaded weapon the Jihadis are putting in the hands of a civilization thats willing (again) to commit suicide.
Nelson Ascher is a journalist, essayist and poet who works for Globo News in Sao Paulo.