Many people thought that anti-Semitism was over, that the Shoah had been enough to show the monstrosities to which it can lead, that reason had triumphed.
But no, it’s still there. It is not confused with legitimate criticism of the Israeli government. Nor does it boil down to despicable support for the monstrous terrorists of Hamas. Today, denying Israel’s right to exist within secure, recognized borders is a form of anti-Semitism. And too many people hide their despicable anti-Semitism behind good-natured “anti-Bibism”.
So we must fight evil, with reason. And to do that, we must first explain the deeper, immutable causes.
Millions of pages have been written on this subject. And I’ve written a few hundred. To cut a long story short, I would say that, in my opinion, anti-Semitism finds its main source in the detestation of those to whom we would like to owe nothing.
History has placed the Jewish people in the position of appearing (wrongly) as the inventors of monotheism; and many followers of subsequent monotheisms can’t stand the existence of people who can claim to be the first worshippers of their own God. The Catholic Church, for example, has long presented itself as the “Verus Israel”, the true chosen people, thus legitimizing the annihilation of the Jewish people.
History also placed the Jewish people in the position of having a country that others later claimed as their own, with a city as its capital, where the other monotheisms later placed their sacred sites. A country which, despite dispersion, had never disappeared in their hearts, and which was not re-established because of the Shoah, but whose rebirth, sketched out during the First World War, was instead delayed by the Second, only to become the only democracy for thousands of miles around.
History also obliged it to play the role of banker to princes and then merchants: until the end of the 18th century, Jewish communities were not allowed to settle in any city, in the Middle East or Europe, unless they committed themselves to this profession, which was forbidden, on principle, to the followers of other religions. And, since it’s clear that we hate the people to whom we owe money, we often find a reason to hate them enough not to pay them back.
Finally, history has placed the Jewish people in the position of being the first people to oblige all its members, boys and girls alike, to know how to read and write (the text of its law), to debate philosophical questions, to seek invariants, which has created the conditions for seeing a few giants of universal thought appear there more than anywhere else. And we hold it against them that Jesus is Jewish; that Spinoza, Freud, Marx, Einstein, more than a quarter of the Nobel Prize winners in physics, medicine and chemistry, and so many others, are of Jewish origin, even when they were not believers and when they were first seeking some universal truths. Judaism has thus found itself, particularly in the Middle East, the embodiment of the unbearable reason, the dreadful modernity, the intolerable democracy, the detestable West. In short, it is resented for everything it has contributed and continues to contribute to the world.
Naturally, this people, like others, is far from perfect. They have their share of imbeciles, mediocrities, upstarts and gangsters. Naturally, like all the others, it is no longer an autonomous entity, but a melting pot of all the civilizations in which it has lived and continues to live. It cannot be reduced to a nation, the State of Israel, and even less to its current government, which I, along with many others, have described as criminal, plunging headlong into the trap set by Hamas in its indiscriminate attack on the Palestinian people, and risking creating the conditions for its demise.
Faced with this picture, it’s tempting to despair, to think that once again, anti-Semitism, for a moment dormant, will return, claiming millions of victims, only to appear, as it always does, as the harbinger of much wider misfortune, affecting many more non-Jewish people, who thought they could shelter themselves from the world’s violence by diverting it to this scapegoat.
Of course, racism is not confined to anti-Semitism, and many other people are its victims throughout the world, and particularly in France, where Muslims all too often become the new outcasts, after the Italians, the Poles and the Portuguese.
We can then think, like Stephan Zweig, that democracy is lost, that Western civilization has had its day, that life isn’t worth living because we’re always caught up in its monstrosity. Or that, like so many others, it’s the human species that doesn’t deserve to survive, given all the harm it’s doing to itself and the rest of the living world.
And then you look at the world, and say to yourself that, for millennia, despite episodes of barbarism, it is always in the end the alliance of reason, morality and beauty that has triumphed over the alliance of fanaticism, perversion and ugliness. And that, at a time when it is so barbaric, humanity is still producing masterpieces, inventing solutions to its own problems and advancing freedom and justice.
Anti-Semitism reveals the state of the world: it is the hatred of the best in itself. It is the desire to kill both father and mother. It is the hatred of reason, tolerance and gratitude: those who cannot admire cannot be admired. If you can’t be grateful, you can’t expect us to be.
Let those who play with it, and those who don’t fight it because they don’t think it concerns them, know this. If they do not fight anti-Semitism, if they are not the first victims of this barbarism, they will be the next. Very soon.
Image: anti-Semitic tags discovered on 3 November in Strasbourg. Credits: Ivan Capecchi/Actu Strasbourg.