Hatreds Entwined

By Yossi Klein Halevi

Why anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism are becoming one and the same.

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n January 2003, during anti-globalization protests in Davos, Switzerland, an AP photograph taken of the event showed several demonstrators carrying a golden calf. One of them wore a mask with the face of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon; another, a mask of American Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The Rumsfeld figure wore a large Star of David.
In that photograph is a convergence of the recurring themes of European anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism. Consider the golden calf, the first betrayal by the Jews of their divine mission, that biblical moment intimating that God had chosen the wrong people. And, crucially, it is a golden calf, resonant with Marxs phrase that money is the Jews’ “worldly god”—a charge often leveled by European intellectuals at Americans. Finally, it is Rumsfeld, not Sharon, who is wearing the Star of David—and the notion of Jewish domination of Washington is precisely what defines the latest permutation of anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism.
A key characteristic of those hatreds is their entwinement: One is often an expression of the other. And they have been nurtured by similar resentments and fears. There is jealousy: Both America and Israel, each in its way, are extraordinary success stories. There is cultural contempt: Both Jews and Americans have been portrayed in European and Muslim intellectual discourse as crass, money-grubbing hypocrites.
And there is fear. Jews and Americans have been seen as harbingers of a rootless world. Diaspora Jews of course embodied that terrifying spirit of rootlessness—a ghost people haunting the nations, as the Russian Zionist thinker Leo Pinsker put it.
America was perceived as the concretization of that threat. America terrified much of pre-World War II Europe—as it terrifies much of the Muslim world today—with its vision of a world where the slow accumulation of social and religious identities is replaced by a high-speed, high-volume, constantly shifting culture. A world remade in Americas melting pot image, with a global culture controlled by Hollywood Jews and a borderless world of finance controlled by Wall Street Jews.
Though anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism seem to resonate most deeply in Europe and in the Muslim world, those two regions are today moved by different, contradictory reasons for demonizing America and the Jews.
Muslim demonizers have adopted the old European contempt for America and the Jews as rootless and godless peoples. America isnt only hated for being the political patron of Israel; Israel is hated for being a cultural carrier of America. Ali Muhammad Besharati, a senior Iranian government advisor, recently explained why September 11 may have been a joint American-Israeli plot: “The American nation is a nation without roots. Therefore, this type of nation is ready to utilize any means and methods in order to pursue its goals.”
But where Europeans once despised America and the Jews as rootless enemies of tradition, now Europes demonizers despise America and the Jewish state for being excessively rooted—for rejecting the new European cosmopolitanism in favor of unilateralism, nationalism, and territorial possessiveness. As for the old accusation of American and Jewish godlessness, post-Christian Europeans fear an America and Israel European resentment toward America and Israel comes, in part, from an unconscious sense that these two nations, founded on a biblical sense of mission, have betrayed their messianic calling. Having repeatedly rescued Europe in the twentieth century, America has now exchanged its role as savior, in European eyes, for destroyer.
That duality—of savior and Satan—also applies to Europes tortured relationship with the Jewish people. Hatred for Israel tends to be a replay, in secular form, of traditional Christian contempt for the Jews. Once again, Jews have betrayed their redemptive mission—this time, their mission to be carriers, in the post-Holocaust era, of the new “religion” of human rights. And Europeans, with their passion for klezmer music and Woody Allen films, have embraced the suffering, wandering Jew—in fact Europeans in some sense are trying to become that wandering, cosmopolitan Jew. But instead of endorsing Europes post-nationalism and being worthy of its love, Jews abandoned their historic mandate, as victims, and chose a nationalist identity which, in European eyes, celebrates land and power and transformed the victims into victimizers. Once again, “physical Israel” has betrayed its calling. Implicitly, it is Europe, with its commitment to peace and human rights, that has learned the lessons of World War II, that is still, however secularized, “spiritual Israel.”

Yossi Klein Halevi is an Associate Fellow at the Shalem Center and a contributing editor of The New Republic. This essay is based on a paper presented at the conference on anti-Americanism sponsored by the Global Research for International Affairs Center of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzlia, September 2003.

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