The New Anti-Zionism and the Old Antisemitism: Transformations

By Jospe, Raphael | Midstream, May-June 2006 | Go to article overview

The New Anti-Zionism and the Old Antisemitism: Transformations


Jospe, Raphael, Midstream


I. INTRODUCTION: THREE THREATS TO JEWISH EXISTENCE

In his "Letter to Yemen" (1), Maimonides (1135-1204) describes three types of Judeophobia, that is, fear of and antipathy towards the Jews and Judaism. In his analysis, Judeophobia is characterized by three different types of attempts to eliminate the Jewish people, contradict the Torah, and to abolish Jewish religion:

1) Physical eradication. Enemies of the Jews, such as the Biblical Amalek, Sisra, Sancherib and Nebuchadnezzar, and the Roman Titus and Hadrian, attempted to eradicate the Jewish people by force, conquest and the sword.

2) Ideological polemic. The ancient Syrians, Persians and Greeks attempted to undermine Judaism by proofs and polemics of their intelligentsia and scholars.

3) Religious supersession. Christianity and Islam have attempted to supplant Judaism by claiming a new prophetic revelation superseding the Torah.

If we apply Maimonides' 12th century analysis to the situation of the Jewish people at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century, we find that the physical and religious threats remain, but in many respects the main threat is ideological in nature.

As for the physical threat, despite terror and weapons of mass destruction facing Israel, and despite the growth of rabid Judeophobia in Arab and Islamic countries, and the increasing Judeophobia in Europe among the children or grandchildren of the generation of the Shoah, the Jewish people today--as opposed to Maimonides' time--possess, and are able to employ, the physical power provided by the sovereign State of Israel.

Regarding the religious threat, although fanatical and extremist Islam is increasingly and overtly Judeophobic, the extremists do not represent all of Islam, and there remains a long legacy of Jewish-Muslim symbiosis and cooperation (of which Maimonides himself is a prominent example). Although fundamentalist Christianity often remains unreformed in its supersessionist claims which delegitimize Judaism, much of the Christian world has undergone a major transformation regarding the Jews and Judaism since the Shoah, and especially since Vatican II. Even today's fundamentalist Christians often see Jews in a positive light and are supportive of Israel and Zionism, for reasons relating to their ideology of millennialism.

Turning to the ideological threat: For much of the 20th century it was identified primarily with right-wing fascist and Nazi ideologies, and the threat from totalitarian Communism was often unconsciously underestimated or deliberated downplayed. But what we now witness in the Western world, after the fall of most of the totalitarian regimes, is a revival of the ideological threat from an unanticipated source--the liberal or left-wing intelligentsia, in the name of universalism. In many respects, this liberal or leftist universalism is the most dangerous ideological threat today. Since it claims to speak in the name of progressive morality, it is intellectually seductive, and even Jews themselves are susceptible to it. The threat, therefore, sometimes comes from within, and not just from without.

The premise common to all the different forms of the ideological threat is that the Jews somehow violate the universal norm by insisting on maintaining their own particular identity and distinctive way of life, and that the Jews, by being different, are, therefore, an impediment to universal well-being and happiness. In other words, the offense of the Jews is simply that they exist as Jews--they are different, and wish to remain so.

II. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF THE IDEOLOGICAL THREAT

1. The Ideological Threat: Classical Greco-Roman Versions

The Greeks and Romans often accorded the nations they conquered a fair degree of religious autonomy. In a polytheistic context, there was no inherent contradiction between the continued worship of local gods and the official worship of the gods of the conquerors. …

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