In his monumental study The Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism From Antiquity To The Global Jihad (Random House 2010) Robert Wistrich, professor of modern European history at the Hebrew University focuses on how exterminatory anti-Semitism adapts and proliferates in the modern era. Unfortunately, despite the horrors of the Holocaust and modern day political correctness, which castigates prejudice against minorities, anti-Semitism is not retreating. In fact – from Russia to Latin America, from England to Spain, from Morocco to Pakistan, it flowers. And, something to which many close their eyes, it has become intertwined with anti-Americanism. In what was to this reader the most interesting chapter “Shylock Meets Uncle Sam,” Wistrich documents the melding of these two hatreds.
Take the Moslem world. In Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state of 150 million inhabitants (98% Muslim) with no Jews, government officials veered off into long diatribes about the Jews when interviewed by the Village Voice’s Michael Kamber. He says fundamentalist religious leaders, who educate hundreds of thousands of children, “spoke of little else”. In Pakistan ¾ of the population cannot read. So they tend to trust their religious and political authorities. Blaming both the Jews and America for all the world’s evils is “an essential element of their reality.”
Wistrich says the West is ignorant of the fanatical indoctrination in Palestinian society,… in summer camps, the press, TV, the mosques, and the schools. The culture of hatred is not just against the Jews, it is against the West and against Christians, but it is “scarcely reported on in any depth.”
As for Moslem attitudes in general, Wistrich says “Even the most paranoid anti-Semites in the West—except for the Nazis—would have had great difficulty in equaling the pathological levels of paranoid delusion, delirium, and raw hatred that echo from the ever-expanding corpus of writings and speeches consulted in researching this book.”
Islamist literature warns against the threat of a global culture “controlled by Hollywood Jews and a borderless world of finance controlled by Wall Street Jews.” Both Israel and America are seen as colonizing nations.
Throwing Israel under the bus would not save us, if you believe President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, who promised protesting Iranian students that they would “soon experience a world without the United States and Zionism”.
But what does Europe – a continent that supplied us with many of our citizens – think of us?
Wistrich quotes a biting, satirical remark by Joseph Joffe, publisher of the German newspaper Die Zeit, who says:
“Indeed, the United States is an anti-Semitic fantasy come true, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in living color. Don’t Jews, their first loyalty to Israel, control the Congress, the Pentagon, the banks, the universities, and the media? This time the conspirator is not “World Jewry,” but Israel. Having captured the “hyperpower,” Jews qua Israelis finally do rule the world.”
Wistrich says “Like the Jews, Yankees are widely stereotyped as inveterate money grubbers, relentlessly pursuing profits while backed up by awesome military power.”
In February 2003, for example, 57 percent of Germans thought the United States was a nation of warmongers. Says Wistrich: “America becomes synonymous with wolfish capitalism rooted in its ‘divine mission’”, which is a Calvinistic sense of chosenness inherited from Old Testament Jews.
A widespread notion was that a cabal of Jewish “neocon” officials secretly engineered the second Persian Gulf War in 2003. There were conservative Jews in the administration who hoped to democratize the Middle East, but America’s “superhawks” as the BBC sardonically branded them must, in this view, have had a hidden Zionist agenda for which they hijacked American policy for Israel. Millions in Europe believed this.
According to a Eurobarometer poll in October 2003, no less than 53% of Europeans regarded the US as the major threat to international security. This placed America on a par with Iran, though still behind Israel, though Sweden, Finland, Greece and Spain singled out the US as the greatest threat to world peace of all countries in the world.
There is a similar psychology to anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism, says British journalist Daniel Johnson. “Both rely on fantasies about power and influence, discerning hidden patterns, concocting atrocity stories, gliding over inconvenient disconfirming facts.”
The intertwining of the two prejudices – against America and against Jews, has happened before. In 1906 a German historical catalog equated Americanization with Judaization, and forty years later the German Marxist Max Horkheimer observed that wherever one found anti-Americanism, “anti-Semitism is also present.” Germans resented not only the American victors in WWII, but the Jews who supposedly ruled America.
In street politics in France and other countries, Israel was compared with Nazis, as was the U.S. for its supposed genocide in Iraq. In February—March 2003 slogans such as “the Jewish war” (the Iraq war) and “Down with the American-Zionist aggression” accompanied the anti-war demonstrations. The fascist dictator Saddam Hussein could be transformed into a hero of peace, for whom at least one-third of all French people were rooting in 2002-3.
In Sweden, the paper Aftonbladet blasted the United States as “the greatest mass murderer of our time” and warned that the United States was planning a holy war against Moslems that could create a “disaster of biblical proportions here in Europe”.
As for the Arabs, they actually believe that American is on a crusade against them. Jews are the twins in this crusade. Such libels are endless repeated on TV, radio, the press, schools, and sermons, as well as from their governments.
After reading Wistrich’s chapter on the subject, we can ask if anything can be done against this intertwined hatred for both America and Israel. If America withdraws from both Iraq and Afghanistan, will it be seen as less of a threat? If America detaches from Israel, or weakens Israel, as anti-Semites here and abroad would like, will America be safer?
Perhaps all this could alleviate some of the hostility in the short term, but as Wistrich says “Anti-Americanism, like anti-Semitism, is organically resistant to empirical argument and rational discourse. …it inflates the power of the target group, demonizes its motivations, and holds it responsible for all social evils.” He also says that Anti-Americanism is basically irrational at the core, and what is more, if you just go by actions, America has done a lot for Moslems – helping Afghanistan fight the Soviets, saving Kuwait and Saudi Arabia from an invasion by Saddam Hussein, and saving Bosnian Moslems from a possible genocide by Serbs.
As Osama Bin Laden said “Every Muslim, the minute he can start differentiating, carries hate toward Americans, Jews, and Christians; this is part of our ideology. Ever since I can recall I felt at war with the Americans and had feelings of animosity and hate toward them.”
When policymakers read the headlines about demonstrations against a particular American policy, or Israeli policy, it would help them to know that there can be a widespread irrational mindset and set of beliefs behind those demonstrations. Anyone who is interested in current events, or even just human psychology, would benefit by reading A Lethal Obsession.”