Hatreds Entwined

By Yossi Klein Halevi

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

In 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.”
Anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism help Europeans cope with their two historical burdens, the Holocaust and colonialism. By transforming Israelis into the new Nazis, Europeans relativize the Holocaust. And by attacking Americans as the new colonialists, Europeans prove they have repudiated colonialism.
A recurring motif of European anti-Americanism, already evident in the nineteenth century, is the notion of a uniquely American hypocrisy. Once America spoke in the name of freedom yet permitted slavery; now America speaks in the name of democracy yet ignores human rights. On September 11 of this year, Le Monde chose to commemorate the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington with a cartoon showing a plane marked “U.S.” crashing into twin towers marked “Chile 1973.” According to this view, hypocritical America pretends to be a victim, yet is in fact a victimizer. Similar notions of Israel as a victimizer masquerading as a victim are routine in European discourse on the Middle East. In the demonizers political passion play, America and Israel assume the role of Pharisees, hypocrites who promise freedom and democracy but deliver the golden calf.
In the new Europe, many equate virtue with powerlessness. And so what is particularly galling about America and Israel—what truly defines them as Pharisees—is that both invoke the language of idealism to justify their use of power. The Jewish problem with Europe seems to be one of timing: When Jews were powerless, many Europeans worshipped power and despised the Jews for their supposed cowardice. Now, when Jews have regained power, many Europeans worship powerlessness and despise the Jews for their supposed aggression.
Last winter, I was in Rome just after the massive demonstration against American intervention in Iraq, which drew upwards of three million people. The atmosphere in the city was frightening in its political uniformity. Peace flags hung from seemingly every balcony. Nowhere did I see a sign, a sticker, expressing an alternative position. Instead, there was this graffiti: “Sharon-Bush-Blair: The real axis of evil.”
In citing Ariel Sharon and George Bush, rather than Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein, as symbols of evil—and note that Sharon appears first in this anti-trinity—Europeans are not merely opposing the foreign policies of America and Israel but demonizing them. The lack of relationship to objective reality in this political critique can be seen in the demonizers timing. Demonization of America intensified after it was attacked on its mainland for the first time since the War of 1812. Demonization of Israel intensified after it became the first country in history voluntarily to offer shared sovereignty over its capital.
The twin demonization of America and Israel is the vindication of the Iranian mullahs notion of the Great Satan and the Little Satan. And there is another vindication at work here, as well. The old Soviet Pravda routinely invoked the “Tel Aviv-Washington axis,” imagining a Nazi Israel and an all-devouring America. That perspective has now become mainstream in much of the European media. At least so far as the attitudes of many Western Europeans toward the United States and Israel are concerned, the Soviet Union has posthumously won the Cold War.
In the last two years, the demonizers have focused on the Bush administrations neo-conservative Jewish advisors as proof of the existence of that “Tel Aviv-Washington axis.” Like the pre-World War II isolationists of the America First Committee, who warned against a “Jewish war,” the new demonizers are obsessed with the neo-conservatives—or “Likudniks,” as theyre often disparagingly called—who have dragged America and the world into war, all for the sake of Israel. Referring to the Jews, the French ambassador to England, Daniel Bernard, is reported to have said, “Why should the world be in danger of World War III because of those people?” The venerable catchword “cabal” has made a comeback, finding its way into critiques from isolationist Pat Buchanan to British Labor Party MP Tam Dalyell. With the emergence of a neo-conservative “cabal” manipulative and Jewishׁthe demonizers have finally found their proof.

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