Authors: Ron Rosenbaum
Table of Contents
AND HIS FAMILY
EDITED AND WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY
Afterword by Cynthia Ozick
I can't resist making note of a remarkable essay that appeared after the bound galleys of this book went to press: one by Holocaust scholar Omer Bartov, in the February 2, 2004, issue of
The New Republic
. It was a review of Hitler's so-called second book, the one he wrote after
but decided not to publish. Bartov's review was entitled “He [Hitler] Meant What He Said.” And speaking of contemporary Jew-haters, Bartov added, “These are people who mean what they say.” In other words, when terrorist groups use exterminationist rhetoric, we must face the possibility that they are not just making idle threats. As Bartov says, “There are precedents for this.” On the cover of
The New Republic,
the Bartov essay was billed as “Hitler Is Dead, Hitlerism Lives On.” My point exactly. Those who forget the past . . .
February 5, 2004
Kidnapped by History
1) A BAD JOKE, OR HALITOSIS OF THE SOUL
It is a mystery whose magnitude calls for humilityâwhy antiSemitism, why the persistence, the recurrence, of this particular hatred? “The longest hatred,” Robert Wistrich, one of the foremost analysts of that long history, called it.
I feel an even greater humility now, writing this final draft of an introduction, than when I began the first draft several months ago. Back then I had only just begun the process of assembling the pieces in this book, one of the most difficult challenges I've faced. There was so much to include, so much that space constraints forced me to leave out.
I wouldn't claim this collection is exhaustive, but the level of thought, of argumentation, the number of challenging perspectives in the essays herein, cumulatively exceeded my expectations. And left me feeling, when looking at my original introduction, that it didn't do justice to the scope and complexity of the work within. It still doesn't. So it won't hurt my feelings if you stop reading this now and skip to Jonathan Rosen's essay and all that follow.
I mention Jonathan's essay not merely because it opens the book but because rereading it, fifteen months after it was first published, gave me the idea for this book.
I had met Jonathan when he was cultural editor of
had been deeply impressed by his book-length essay/ memoir
The Talmud and the Internet
. We had served on a panel discussion about
Shadows on the Hudson,
I. B. Singer's post-Holocaust novel, and I had taken to having occasional lunches with him at that temple of secular Jewish culture on New York's Upper West Side, Barney Greengrass (“The Sturgeon King”).
It was at one of those lunches early in 2003 that Jonathan asked me if I could fill in for him at a speaking engagement at a Connecticut temple, because his wife was about to give birth, and I asked him for a copy of the piece he had written for the November 4, 2001, issue of
The New York Times Magazine
I'd wanted to refer to it in my substitute talk, and I was stunned at how prescient it seemed, reading it this time. Less than two months after 9/11 he'd seen the shape of things to come with remarkable acuity: the eruption of violence, physical and rhetorical, against Jews in the Middle East and Europe, that would soon become endemic. And I was struck by the precision with which he expressed feelings I'd begun to have on what he called “The Uncomfortable Question of AntiSemitism.”
Although his family experience was tragic in a way mine wasn'tâhis father had escaped Hitler's Vienna on one of the Kindertransports that rescued Jewish children, most of whose families, like Jonathan's father's family, were later murderedâ the feeling he described, in 2001, of being “kidnapped by history,” spoke to me and many people I knew.
He wrote at one point of having been born in 1963, part of the first generation or two of Jews to live, in America at least, without anti-Semitism as a significant fact of life, and now suddenly having Jewsâas Jonathan put itâ“being turned into a question mark once again.” If not here, then in much of the rest of the world.
A question mark again . . . a chilling phrase. The Question of Anti-Semitism contains within it several questions. Among them: What, if anything, is new about the so-called “new antiSemitism”? Why does anti-Semitism seem to have migrated from Right to Left? How does one define the difference, when there is one, between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism?
By that time, there had appeared a significant number of essays, polemics, and exemplary reports on these questions, and it occurred to me that it would be worthwhile to attempt to collect themâto document both the phenomenon of contemporary anti-Semitism and the responses to it, in a book such as this. Now that you know how this endeavor began, go, begin if you'd like. Go read Jonathan Rosen or Jonathan Freedland or Berel Lang or Ruth R. Wisse or David Mamet, or skip to the fiery Afterword that Cynthia Ozick was gracious enough to write for this book. I won't complain. I won't be taking attendance. And no penalties for not reading consecutively: yes, there's a logic behind the ordering of the sections, and some of the opposing polemics are paired off, but nothing prohibits your skipping around in the book.
Meanwhile I'll just press forward here, for those who remain and those who return, with some observations, some contentions, some conjectures, some controversy.
I'd like to begin by talking about a little-known site on the Web I'd become fascinated withâand its metaphoric resonance. It's called “Exposing the Exposer.”
It's a site run by two guys named Zachary and Mo and is entirely devoted to exposing
website, run by a guy they call “Mickey.” It seems that Mickey (real first name Michael) began
website by promoting postâ9/11 conspiracy theories about Jews masterminding the World Trade Center attacksâremember the spectral “4,000 Jews” (or Israelis) who were supposedly told to stay home that day by that secret cabal behind it all, the Elders of Zion?
Postâ9 /11 anti-Semitic conspiracy theories soon became a portal for Mickey to enter the underworld of preâ9/11 anti-Semitic theories. So his website lurched from the false announcement “NPR NEWSCASTER: ISRAEL HAD ADVANCE KNOWLEDGE OF SEPT. 11” to a defense of the ancient “blood libel” charges that Jewish ritual called for using the blood of murdered Christian children to make pastry for religious feasts. New anti-Semitism, old anti-Semitism: it was one-stop shopping for the Web-surfing Jew-hater or credulous recruit at Mickey's site.
But Zachary and Mo weren't having it; they weren't letting him get away with it so easily. On
website, “Exposing the Exposer,” they ceaselessly do just that: expose every myth, every poisonous slur Mickey posts, however many times it has been exposed before. They just won't let the sad, silly fellow (Mickey's other cause, aside from slandering Jews, is public nudityâthus, perhaps, the added resonance of their nickname for him: “The Exposer”) have a free ride on the information superhighway. Not without their cleansing ridicule.
There's something appealing about the spirit of their mission. As Simon Schama recently pointed out in a talk at a YIVO Institute conference, the Web can be a “verification-free” environment, and trying to fight the tide of Internet anti-Semitism is a Canute-like task. And yet Zachary and Mo, the two guys who run the “Exposing the Exposer” website, take a zestfully comic approach to pulling the rug out from under the crude and stupid slurs that “Mickey” propagates. Somehow by using the diminutive “Mickey” they not only invoke the cartoon mouse, but make it seem as if the guy they're addressing is not a bad sort, just a bit mentally challengedâlike the slow one in
Of Mice and Men
: “Tell me about the rabbits, George.” For poor “Mickey,” the Jews are like “the rabbits”âan illusion that makes sense of a world confusing to his undernourished (let's say) intellect. “Tell me about the rabbis, George.”
At first I wondered, indeed
might wonder: why pay attention to this obscure website that exposes another website? There are worthy organizations that take on the Big Lies and the Big Distortions, such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. On the Internet there's the indispensable Tom Gross, former Middle East reporter for the U.K. Telegraph (and son of the London literary couple John and Miriam Gross), who is a one-man army when it comes to exposing the hypocrisies and prejudices of the mainstream press for his media-centric weblist. There's the remarkable MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute, which has devoted itself to translating what's being said about Jews in Arabic and Islamist media. There are webloggers like Andrew Sullivan, Jeff Jarvis, and Meryl Yourish, who keep close track of American developments. The Web is the New Frontier of the new antiSemitism, the realm where the future of the struggle of truth against fiction may be won or lost in a universe of ever-proliferating linked sites such as those of Mickey and his ex-posers.
Maybe it's futile, maybe lies will always outrun the truth. But I came to admire the guys for trying to keep up. The mistake of underestimating the power of lies and incitement has already been made once. They exist like a subterranean river of poison that occasionally breaks to the surface. And reading “Exposing the Exposer” gives one a chance to put the mind behind the very model of a modern anti-Semitic Internet site under the microscope. You can sense that Zachary and Mo, in addition to being jocularly contemptuous of Mickey, are fascinated by him. Cancer researchers do not
cancer, but they're deeply intrigued by the way tumors work. So it is with the study of anti-Semitism.
One of the things that can be gained, for instance, from the study of Mickey's site is a reminder of the continuing malign power of
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,
that czarist fraud that purportedly exposed a secret Jewish conspiracy to rule the world.
It is, alas, one of those lies that have become immune to disproof, a template always awaiting some traumatic public or personal tragedy with the appeal of a “knowing insider's” insight.
And so for Mickey there was a ready-to-hand way of explaining 9/11: it was all the work of a secret cabal of Jewsâ here, the Mossad, Israeli intelligenceâmanipulating things from behind the scenes, in this case engineering the hijacking of the jetliners, the murder of thousands, in order to blame it on “innocent” Islamist terrorists.
and their updated version, distributed by Henry Ford as
The International Jew,
became (in German translation) a basis for Hitler's vision of “Jewry” and the Jewish conspiracy as well: Jewish capitalists were secretly in league with the Jewish Marxist anti-capitalists to make puppets of everyone else. The
is not just a silly conspiracy theory: in Hitler's hands it became what the historian Norman Cohn called “a Warrant for Genocide.”
And now the
are back with us, not just in Western Web media, not just in disguised form in 9/11 conspiracy theories, but in widespread Arabic translation of the original Russian version and, of course, in a forty-one-part TV series broadcast on Egyptian television in 2002.
The study of this sort of phenomenon is important, yes, but still, it's demoralizing; especially if, like me, you're Jewish and you spent a decade or so working on a book about Hitler and you thought you'd left the whole hideous subject behind and then you find yourself spending months immersed in the recent literature on anti-Semitism.
When I was working on the book that eventually became
a kind of intellectual history of postwar theories about the origin and nature of Hitler's anti-Semitism, friends would ask me, “Isn't it depressing spending so much time on the subject?” Of course it was, I'd say, trying to put a brave face on it, but the debates about the source of evil, the theodicy of the Holocaust, the modes of explaining the particular virulence of Hitler's anti-Semitism, the question of degrees of evilâ
weren't depressing, they were intellectually stimulating arguments. Here were some of the best minds of the century in deep disagreement about some of the most important issues of history and human nature.
Anyway, that's what I'd say for the first five years. For the next five years until publication in 1998 the intellectual stimulation was outweighed by the emotional drain. I lost some of the zest for the task that the “Exposing the Exposer” website guys still display. (I hope they don't get tired.)
So I understand if some might approach a collection of essays about anti-Semitismâmore suffering! more despair! many Holocaust references!âwith a certain reluctance or weariness. A reluctance or weariness probably equaled or exceeded by my own when I approached this projectâand now, as I'm writing this, as I approach its conclusion.
Finishing the Hitler book had left me in a black hole of despair: the historical record was too fragmentary to offer any certainty, the mysteries were unresolvable, the images unshakable. It was a hole I'd begun to crawl out of by beginning a book about Shakespearean scholars and directors.
By early 2003 I had handed in half that book; as a writer I was having the time of my life, exploring challenging questions with brilliant Shakespeareans. I felt I'd earned these pleasures.
But something happened. As Paul Berman put it, “something's changed.” It was all the more shocking, coming at a moment, a brief, now lost moment at the end of the twentieth century when the signs seemed to point to normalization. In America a Jew had been nominated for the vice presidency with almost negligible backlash. That same summer, at Camp David, Israelis and Palestinians seemed close to a dramatic breakthrough to a two-state compromise that would allow both peoples, both in their own ways victims of history, to live in peace.
Then everything began to unravel: the peace talks broke down, the Second Intifada with its terror tactic of “suicide bombings” began, European demonstrators, and increasingly many in the United States, began to turn against the Jewish state, denouncing its efforts at self-defense while “explaining” the acts of those who murdered its children.
For a time I tried to ignore it and to look away, and then that became impossible. For me I guess it culminated with the March 27, 2002, Passover massacre in Netanya when twenty-nine worshippers were blown apart by a so-called suicide bomber (a misleading term; I'm not fond of the alternative “homicide bomber,” because of its redundancy. I prefer the simple term “mass murderer”).
What made this mass murder different from other mass murders? The astonishing leap by much of the world to demonize the response, blame the victims. When the Israeli Army rolled into Jenin, in early April 2002, to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure responsible for the mass murder at Netanya, the world seemed to me shockingly eager to believe fraudulent claims of a “massacre” committed by Israelis while all too often ignoring the original massacre that prompted the self-defense measures.