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They Poisoned The Wells:The Old/New Anti-Semitism

Exclusiveness and Intolerance in the Post-9/11 World
Montreal 10 March 2004

“The last anti-Semite will die only with the last Jew.”

~Victor Adler

Address to the Social-Democratic Congress

Vienna, 1898


“Anti-Semitism is the swollen meanness, injustice and envy of pygmy minds.”

~Mark Twain


“And what is anti-Zionism? It is the denial to the Jewish people of a fundamental right that we justly claim for the people of Africa and freely accord all other nations of the Globe. It is discrimination against Jews, my friends, because they are Jews. In short, it is anti-Semitism.”

~The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.




1. Anti-Zionism as Anti-Semitism

2. The Challenge of Islam: Fundamentalism and Fanaticism

3. The European Experience: Christian Neuroses and the Damning of the Just

4. The Futility of Appeasement and our Retreat from Reason

5. The Disease: Defamation of Doctrine and Suppression of Spirit

6. The Remedy: The Jew as Human Being



1. Anti-Zionism as Anti-Semitism


In days long past General de Gaulle once drank a toast to “…the State of Israel, our friend and ally…” A right wing anti-Semitic weekly in Paris, which fiercely upheld the idea of “Algérie Française”, soon published a long article under the title “Is it Possible to be a Friend of Israel and an anti-Semite at the Same Time?” The author concluded that it was.

He argued that Israel was a nation of peasants and soldiers while “…the Rothschilds were neither farmers nor warriors.”


How fitting a story for these times when so many “progressives” swear they are only fighting “racist Zionism” but have nothing against the Jews.


My purpose here is not to reconstruct and represent the historical truths of the Middle East conflict. We have done this before, particularly in preparation for the Quebec-Israel Conference we hosted. You can find several of these papers on our website.


What l do propose here is an examination of the causes and currents underlying the worldwide resurgence of what we will call, to paraphrase Herzl’s “Alte/NeueLand”, the old/new anti-Semitism in its modern guise.


Anti-Semitism denies equal rights to individual Jewish expression within a particular society. Anti-Zionism denies equal rights to collective Jewish expression within the broad community of nations. The former denies Jews’ lawful particularity, the latter denies Jews’ lawful sovereignty. Both are manifestations of exclusiveness and intolerance, dripping with interposition and nullification. They represent the message and metaphor of contempt. The imagery and iconography of hate.


For Zionism is nothing more, but also nothing less, than the Jewish people’s sense of origin and destination in the land linked eternally with its name. It is also the instrument whereby the Jewish nation seeks an authentic fulfillment of itself. Soviet Ambassador Andrei Gromyko said in the Security Council on May 21, 1948, that Arab military operations against Israel were aimed at the suppression of a “…national liberation movement…” The definition of Zionism is as simple as that. Truth does not change just because some may have tired of its own veracity.


 2. The Challenge of Islam: Fundamentalism and Fanaticism


This drama of Jewish national liberation is unfolding in a region where Muslim Arabs have realized their national “longing” in some twenty nations, comprising 150 million people, covering four and a half million square miles with vast resources and …not one single democracy. We are witness to immoral intellectual default. The absurdity of charges of racism against Israel stem from the very normalcy of Arab Muslims being citizens, Members of Parliament, Ministers and diplomats in Israel and the total impossibility of non-Muslims to be citizens, still less office-holders, in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and a dozen other states. As former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “…Zionism, as any other political force, may become many things, but it is not, nor can it ever become, racist, without ceasing to be Jewish.”


In its terrible isolation, Israel has become the old Jewish outcast. The outlawed, collective Jew of the nations. A pariah people has, as it were, created a pariah state. It is the ultimate demonization of the other. Yet the inheritors of the tents of Kedar sit upon mountains of lucre, hold the world to ransom through the possession of treasure and the utilization of terror, and are accorded obsequious obedience and ovation to their  murderous idolatries.


The sad irony is that the idea of a family of nations bound together in a covenant of peace and law is, in its origin, a Hebrew idea, first uttered by a poet of Israel in the streets of Jerusalem. Yet today, passions are free to rage without restraint of consequence, without responsibility of power, without a sense of common patrimony or allegiance, without a transcendental solidarity with the values of civilized man.


In today’s time of instant communication, and instant destruction, our most acute predicaments require planetary solutions. We are all truly partners in a mutual fate. Yet at the very time when we can least afford to work without moral framework and intellectual rigor, political leaders vacillate in smug, pallid orthodoxy; academics and journalists cling to bankrupt and foolish notions of moral relativism; and the masses of humanity wallow in complacency, frozen in a mindset that does not care, existing in a world that cannot tell right from wrong.


The west is truly at one of its lowest points of discredit. Instead of echoes of penitence emanating from Chancelleries, we see mercantile calculation trumping exercise of conscience. Each act of barbaric Islamic terror is met by the embarrassed silence of the free world and the howling applause of the Arab street. International rectitude submissive to doctrinal inquisition. The price of buying Arab oil includes the buying of Arab lies.


3. The European Experience: Christian Neuroses and the Damning of the Just


But it is more than just money.  And more than just Arabs. The readiness of the west to rush in near celebratory urgency to participate in the damning of the just, has its beginnings in the mists of history. Whether Hellenic or Roman, the ancient Empires succeeded in divesting all conquered peoples, at least their urban elites, of their native language, culture and ethos. The Jews were the exception. More than the charges of deicide, it was the overpowering Jewish consciousness of independence that made them recalcitrant and incomprehensible. A truly uncanny and frightening breed. And thus they were branded as aliens, and burdened with the murder of the presumed Christ.


Thus the current anti-Jewish contagion is rooted in something deep and pernicious. When people suffered, felt threatened, were devastated by war or economic privation, felt events moving beyond their control, they sought out the Jews as scapegoats. As far back as the Days of the Black Plague even two Papal bulls from Clement VI pointing out that Jews were dying of the disease like everyone else and that charges of well-poisoning were “without plausibility”, could not stop the good people of Christian Europe from slaughtering so many that by the time the Plague had passed, few Jews were left in Germany or the Low Countries.


Only with the victory of industrial liberalism and the onset of secularization in the 19th century, could the Jews release the immense, pent-up, volcanic force of an imprisoned, yet still purposeful, people. A millennia and a half of chains unshackled. The economy of energy freed, Jews seized new opportunities with ferocious abandon. Yet just as the Jews engaged in this crucial societal moment of modernization, they were confronted by gentile classes, particularly ecclesiastical and peasant, not ready to join the race. Bewildered, dazed and powerfully affected, gentile Europe came to identify the whole process with the Jews, even though the pivots of production, with rare exceptions, were not in Jewish hands.


The Jewish “crime” was that yesterday’s pariah had grown, seemingly overnight, too mighty, too visible, too big for his boots. To the nobles who had lost their lands, and to the peasants who had become dispossessed, this revolution of industrialization had forced them to make their way to the cities and towns of Europe, and the Jews looked like invaders who had forestalled them.


The stage had thus been set for a profound Christian ordeal with civility that begat a deep neurosis in Europe’s relationship with Jews. Awe, obligation, resentment, contempt, hatred, guilt. An intensity of reaction to self-projected stimuli out of all proportion to reason. The programmed predisposition of generations of Europeans to turn Jewish character into Jewish caricature. Jews could not win for trying. They were either too clannish or too obtrusive; too cringing or too arrogant; too superstitious or too profane.


They were condemned as both capitalists and revolutionaries with competing conspiracy theories produced in support of each view. Bodyguards of lies protected the fanciful fictions of forgeries that were their fellow travellers. The microchip for the “Sturmer” mentality had been imbedded. The tension that ensued for the next hundred years was certainly not creative, and would find, inexorably, final conflict and climax only in Auschwitz.


4. The Futility of Appeasement and our Retreat from Reason


The past is prologue. The lessons of history cannot tell us what will happen next, but they can teach us how people tend to react.


It is sheer human vanity to expect logic—defined as a reasoned appreciation of enlightened self-interest—to determine the course of events. Rational thought and rational behaviour have rarely governed the history of man.


Rational thought tells us that the elimination or permanent weakening of Israel, or the status of Jews the world over, would not restore the happy days of cheap oil nor calm the belligerence of Islamic fundamentalism. Rather the contrary would be true. Released from the cautions required by the existence of Israel, radical Islamists would be subject to no restraint whatever. The liberal democratic West, particularly the United States, would be left with no frontline ally in the Middle East.


The logic of the situation is as obvious as it was in 1348 that to burn a thousand Jews would not save a single person from the plague.


But the world is again on the edge of the looking-glass. White becomes black, black becomes white. A  message is creeping out, like a serpentine virus. If only Israel would give in, if only the Jews of the world would shut up, then problems would vanish. Stop sending money; give up land; give up water; give up Gaza; give up the Golan; give up Jerusalem. And hey—while you’re at it—why not share a democratic state with Yassir Arafat?


Too many today view the blood from the collective political suicide of the Jewish people as a reasonable offering to the thirsty tyranny of the God of Islamic theocratic terror. They forget, to all our peril, the futility of appeasement as a remedy. The primordial lesson of the twentieth century was not that independent pre-emptive military response would unleash anarchic bloodbaths--to the contrary-- failure to respond, and worse, attempts to appease, would allow time for barbarous leaders to arm themselves to the teeth and embroil the world in devastation heretofore unimaginable.


The road to Auschwitz did begin in Munich. The Jews have learned that lesson well. They will not oblige Islamic bloodlust by opening their own veins.


5. The Disease: Defamation of Doctrine and Suppression of Spirit


Israel is today’s excuse for anti-Semitism, not today’s cause.


The issue is not whether the free world will continually be attacked by varied waves of Arab Islamic fundamentalist terror. It will. The Islamists only constant claim on the world’s attention is through blackmail and murder. The issue is at what point will the West confront them, using its weapons of arms, money and markets, to come to terms with the modest, but no less equal, claim of another Middle Eastern nation to pursue its life in peace and security.


Today’s anti-Semitism is fuelled by an Islamic Arab fundamentalism, fed with a prodigious glut of advantage and wealth, that seeks the imposition of monolithic exclusiveness not only in the Middle East, but in the Western world as well. Western Liberals must realize that what is being sought is an end to any  “deviancy” of diversity. It is not only the Jews that are anathema. The goal is one faith, one state.


This mentality of defamation of doctrine and suppression of spirit has imbedded a new microchip that makes it acceptable, indeed necessary, to brutally suppress Kurdish individuality, immerse the Christian particularity of Lebanon in  blood, and assail Israel’s vocation as well as assault Israel’s existence. In a region where many nations, tongues and faiths had their birth, a monopoly is now sought only for Muslim pan-Arabism.


6. The Remedy: The Jew as Human Being


As always in history, from the Crusaders’ massacres to the Black Death to the Dreyfus Affair, from Czarist pogroms to Nazi butchery, the Jews have been the distraction not the disease. This reaction is now so old and enduring that it can almost qualify as an historical principle.


Anti-Semitism is independent of its object. What Jews do or fail to do is not the determinant. The impetus comes out of the needs of the persecutors and a particular political climate. Despite the passage of time, anti-Semitism endures past its historical origins precisely because of the uses it serves. It rises with the right or the totalitarian left. It remains more or less quiescent while democratic institutions survive. The lesson of this is that the climate of the whole is what all must be concerned with.


There remains the fundamental reality that somehow the Jewish right to live and to exist on a basis of genuine equality, as a right, not a privilege, has not yet found full expression in this world. If Jews are to be intimidated with the spectre of new waves of anti-Semitism or bullied with hints about dual loyalty, then free people everywhere are at risk. For the litmus test of society’s progress is that even if incarnated in injustices and evils, it can provide the tolerance for small, modest lights in the darkness.


If it is true, as Seymour Martin Lipset once wrote, that the human being is a political animal, then it is time to recognize that the Jew is a human being. And if, after so many attractive and romantic moments of history, our final political destination is always  the destruction of the Jew, then we are doomed to the unalterable course of destroying our own humanity.


Beryl P. Wajsman


Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal












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