The Warped Case for Jew-Hatred: Martin Jay "Explains" How Jews Cause Antisemitism

By Alexander, Edward | Midstream, February-March 2004 | Go to article overview

The Warped Case for Jew-Hatred: Martin Jay "Explains" How Jews Cause Antisemitism


Alexander, Edward, Midstream


There is a great temptation to explain away the intrinsically incredible by means of liberal rationalizations. In each one of us, there lurks such a liberal, wheedling us with the voice of common sense.

--Hannah Arendt (1)

The academic boycotters of Israeli universities and the professorial advocates of suicide bombing of Israeli citizens are in the front lines of the defense of terror, which is the very essence of Palestinian nationalism. (2) But they themselves are supported by a rearguard of fellow travelers, a far more numerous academic group whose defining characteristic is not fanaticism but timeserving timorousness. In the thirties, "fellow travelers" usually referred to the intellectual friends of communism (well analyzed in David Caute's book on the subject (3)), although Hitler competed with Stalin in attracting people from America and Britain who never actually joined the Nazi or Communist parties but served their purposes in the conviction that they were engaged (at a safe distance) in a noble cause. At the moment, as Martin Peretz has pointed out, (4) the favorite cause of peregrinating political tourists is the Palestinian movement; and the reason why fellow travelers favor this most barbaric of all movements of "national liberation" is that its adversaries are Jews, always a tempting target because of their ridiculously small numbers (currently, 997 out of every 1000 people in the world are not Jews), and their enormous image (as Christ-killers, corrupters of the young, thieves, agents of Satan, beneficiaries of Judas, devils dancing around the cross, Zionist imperialists).

As a representative example of the academic fellow-traveler in the ongoing campaign to depict Israel as the devil's own experiment station and make it ideologically vulnerable to terror, take the case of Martin Jay, a professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of books about the Frankfurt school in Germany and "ocularcentric discourse" in France. In the Winter-Spring 2003 issue of Salmagundi, a quarterly journal of the social sciences and humanities, Jay argues, in an essay entitled "Ariel Sharon and the Rise of the New Anti-Semitism," (5) that Jews themselves, primarily Sharon and the "fanatic settlers" (22) but also the American Jews who question the infallibility of The New York Times and National Public Radio, or protest the antics of tenured guerrillas on the campuses, are "causing" the "new" anti-semitism. Jay, unlike such people as the late Edward Said (of whom he writes with oily sycophancy), does not deny the existence of a resurgent antisemitism, although his examples of its manifestations are vandalized synagogues and cemeteries, "tipping over a tombstone in a graveyard in Marseilles or burning torahs in a temple on Long Island [as] payback for atrocities [my emphasis] committed by Israeli settlers" (14); such unpleasant words as stabbings, shootings, murder--all of which have been unleashed against Jews in Europe as well as Israel--are not part of Jay's vocabulary. But his main interest is in proposing that the Jews are themselves the cause of the aggression against them. "The actions of contemporary Jews," Jay alleges, "are somehow connected with the upsurge of anti-Semitism around the globe" (21), and it would be foolish to suppose that "the victims are in no way involved in unleashing the animosities they suffer."(17)

Although Jay's main concern is the (supposedly) "new" antisemitism, his heavy reliance on the thesis and even the title of Albert Lindemann's unsavory and deviously polemical book, Esau's Tears: Modern Anti-Semitism and the Rise of the Jews (1998), suggests that he believes political antisemitism, from its inception in the 19th century, has been in large part the responsibility of the Jews themselves. Lindemann's book argued not merely that Jews had "social interactions" (a favorite euphemism of Jay's) with their persecutors but were responsible for the hatreds that eventually consumed them in Europe; antisemitism was, wherever and whenever it flared up, a response to Jewish misbehavior. …

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