A ‘Rose’ By Any Other Name? Anti-Judaism, Anti-Semitism, Jew-Hatred, Anti-Zionism – The Times of Israel

Posted By on January 13, 2020

Students protest at an anti-Israel demonstration at the University of California, Irvine. (Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images/JTA)

In an interview in the New Yorker, the eminent medievalist, David Nirenberg, an authority on anti-Judaism, uses that term in an effort to make some sense of the upsurge in violent crimes against Jews across diverse societies and the disproportionate place of Jews in public discourse in countries with few Jews, like Poland and Hungary.

Nirenberg uses the term, anti-Judaism interchangeably with anti-Semitism, the most commonly used term (in varying spellings), for what I call Jew-hatred or anti-Jewish actions. There are distinctions in all this that make a critical difference to how we understand the problem we are facing, and therefore, to how to address it.

Anti-Judaism is about religiously based hatred of Jews. A vast library chronicles the Churchs teaching of contempt for Judaism, its incitement of fear, loathing, and hatred of Jews; its ascription of demonic power to Jews, literally, in league with Satan, and their inherent and insatiable drive to do harm to all non-Jews and to Christians and Christianity, in particular (after all a people who murdered God is capable of anything).

Scholars have shown how these tropes were secularized and thus, like a mutating virus, were able to travel from pre-modern, religiously-based societies to increasingly secularized, modern ones, giving Jew-hatred a new lease on life.

The point I make in my essay, A Plea Against Anti-Semitism (https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/a-plea-against-anti-semitism/), against the use of the terms, anti-Semites, or anti-Semitism, or the somewhat less problematically spelled, antisemitism, is that the people who originated these terms did so precisely in order to distinguish between a medieval, primitive, religious outmoded kind and theirs, supposedly based on scientific race and therefore, fit for modernity. Shall we say that such racists were in fact, theologians, no different than their Church predecessors? Was their material theological, the classic texts of the Christian argument against Judaism? Or was it a rather different argument, with very different consequences? In theological Jew-hatred, Jews can convert and, in theory at least, cease their loathsomeness thereby be reborn. In fact, many Jewish men who converted became high-ranking authorities in the Church itself, and all Jews who converted benefitted immediately, with exemption from anti-Jewish discrimination. Conversion meant something. This tolerance was not confined to Church elites. Even murdering mobs in the Crusades, for instance, or in pogroms across the map of Spain in 1391, gave Jews the choice of baptism or death. To racist Jew-haters, conversion does not exist.

The terminological difference applied to these different phenomena reflect substantive differences that are manifested in todays varying expressions of Jew-hatred.

It is true that racist and even anti-Christian Jew-haters could not have succeeded as they did, and clearly, still do, had there not been a prior, pervasive base of anti-Judaism, which is the shared Christian legacy of all European countries and is critical to understanding why Jew-hatred exists across so many geographic and cultural boundaries. Indeed, this is Jacob Katzs conclusion in his classic work, From Prejudice to Destruction. For all the differences between Europe and the US, this argument applies in the latter case, as well.

But one has only to read any of the Church documents about Jews either of the Catholic Church up to Vatican II, or Luthers anti-Jewish invectivesto encounter theologically-based opposition to Judaism, and to understand that calling militantly secular, atheistic, even anti-Christian Jew-hatred anti-Judaism, distorts both phenomena and their different goals and methods.

As for anti-Semitism, while linguists constructed a category of semitic languages, and scholars, a group of Semitic peoples in antiquity (who never called themselves such), Jews are not Semites; that is an absurd, racist proposition. The term anti-Semitism, however it is spelled, asserts that there is such a thing as Semitism, to which one can legitimately be opposed. The term, Jew-hatred implies no more about the emotions of its bearers than does the term, hate crimea recognized type of offense under US Federal lawabout its bearers. The focus in both cases is on the manifestation, in speech or other act. As in sexual harassment, it is on the experience of the victims, not on the mental state of the perpetrators.

The opposition of some Jew-haters was relatively moderate, expressed in support for legal discrimination against Jews and limits on Jewish immigration, but eschewing violence. For others, that did and does not begin to suffice. The official Church never argued for the murder of Jews, individually or in toto; the goal was conversion which, so unlike racist Jew-hatred was, in theory at least, the solution. Dead Jews brought the Church no gain, while every conversion testified to the truth of Christianity in the Churchs never-ending competition with Judaism for ultimate theological vindication. Jew-haters loosed from the theological limits of the Church had very different methods and no limits, as we know. Did a link between these phenomena play out in certain segments of European societies; was there a species leap, so to speak, between religious and racist Jew-hatred? Yes. Can that occur in other contexts? Yes. That does not obscure the real differences between these phenomena, their methods or their goals.

These distinctions are relevant now, too. To anti-Zionists, there are good Jews. Those are the apolitical kind quiescent on the Jewish national question; people who consider themselves members of a religion or a culture only; content to be a minority with equal civil (individual) rights but not nationalists and certainly, not supporting Jewish sovereignty in a state for themselves or any Jew. In this, they are distinct from non-Zionists, who simply prefer to live where they do and not in Israel, but who are not ideologically opposed to Jewish sovereignty in Israel.

The good old days in anti-Zionist thinking is the supposed Golden Age in Spain, in which Jews, like all dhimmi monotheistic non-Muslims, Christians, too lived as demeaned but protected subjects, suffering discrimination meant to demonstrate the superiority of Islam but free to practice their religions within certain limits (never as equal, much less competing, religious options), and to prosper economically. The category dhimmi was both religious and political; it was the political expression of Islamic religious dogma.

Political Zionism meant, and means, a Jewish declaration of independence from dhimmitude, which is intolerable in a certain strand of Islamic theological argument, and practice. The choice that adherents of this ideology put for Jews today is between dhimmitude, and politicideannihilation of a fundamentally illegitimate Jewish state. This is the ideology of the current regime in Iran and of other Muslim extremists. Conversion is an option in this ideology. Jewish national self-determination is not.

There is also a pragmatic reality, counter to this ideology, seen in the peace treaties, honored despite tensions, between Egypt and Jordan, polities with a deep imbrication of religion and state and not what anyone would call secular regimes. We see this dynamic in behind the scenes deals between various theocratic Gulf states and Israel, too.

However significant these political accommodations are, politicized theological positions mark this arena and neither anti-Judaism nor any spelled version of antisemitism encompasses this phenomenon. Anti-Zionism does, a position radical Islamists share with militantly secular and even anti-religious radical leftists. And with some religious Jews.

While there is no such thing as race, racism certainly exists. So, while we would do well to pay attention to the racist underpinnings of contemporary anti-Jewish violence, politicized anti-Judaism, married to anti-colonial discourse and expressed in blanket opposition not to specific policies of Israeli governments but to the existence of a sovereign Jewish polity, exists. This discourse excludes discussion of a nationality conflict, with its particulars but also with similarities to other nationality disputes, with regard to Israel and the Palestinians. Rather, it posits an illegitimate regime, to be extirpated.

Let us cut the ground out from under gas lighters who distract from their real intentions by claiming that calling anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism, is incorrect and impossible because those propagating it are (also, or the only real) Semites. Semitism is not a reality, a legitimate ground for opposition, violent or otherwise, nor a legitimating license for a political position.

It is time to make order between inadvertent obfuscation, seen in unthinking use of the term anti-Semitism, and the deliberate kind, meant to transmit hate and violence via mind games and yes, semantics. Which is what gave birth to this term in the first place.

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A 'Rose' By Any Other Name? Anti-Judaism, Anti-Semitism, Jew-Hatred, Anti-Zionism - The Times of Israel

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