A common theme pervades the current formulations of anti-Semitism:
• After the Holocaust, anti-Semitism did not die; it just went underground for a while.
• Anti-Zionism appropriates the traditional markers of anti-Semitism, promoting it under the guise of legitimate criticism of Israel.
• Anti-Semitism migrates from culture to culture. In the Middle Ages its locus was Christian Europe. Today it is large swaths of the Islamic world.
• Anti-Semitism is rooted in the political right, beginning with anti-Semitic political parties in Germany in the 1870s.
• Anti-Semitism is rooted in the political left, beginning with the Bolsheviks, who extirpated all Jewish practice in the USSR.
• Anti-Semitism is not “just” a hatred, it is an ideology, beginning with Mantheo in ancient Greece.
The common theme here is that anti-Semitism is “vertical.” It is to be understood in relation to its history. It may change or even mutate over time, but it is impossible to understand without reference to its long and sordid history as “the oldest hatred.”
There is much truth in this, of course. But it blinds us to the current anti-Semitism, which is very different. It is “horizontal.” It shares much with contemporary political and cultural discourse. It is not just a strictly Jewish-focused phenomenon of a piece with Jewish history.
It is not just “vertical.”
To illustrate the point, let us step away from anti-Semitism and look at two phenomena in contemporary discourse.
• Gun control. I am a proponent of gun control. Still, I acknowledge the value of the armed man who heroically stepped forward to kill a gunman at King Soopers in Arvada, Colorado. He saved many lives because he had a gun. In today’s discourse, one is not allowed to acknowledge a counter-argument. Guns must be virtue or vice, nothing in between.
Positions, pro or con, must be total. Concession is weakness.
• Trump. His post-election behavior ruined his name with countless supporters, not to mention with all of his opponents. Still, his presidency had its achievements. In today’s discourse, one is not allowed to acknowledge all sides of his record. Trump must be apotheosized or demonized. Positions on his four years, pro or con, must be total. He must be dragged into every political conflict as the decisive metaphor for or against the political right and the political left. Subtlety is excised.
So it is with anti-Semitism.
Subtlety is excised. It partakes of this either-or discourse.
In particular, context is excised. Cause-and-effect is replaced by effect alone: Babies died from Israeli weapons fired on Gaza; ergo, Israel is evil. Israel must either be supported blindly or hated. The anti-Semitic position is hatred, for positions on Israel cannot acknowledge any position that is not total.
Subtlety is different. Israeli weaponry wreaks suffering because Israel, to survive, must respond to prior terrorist attacks perpetrated by people who oppose the existence of Israel, and who hide babies and other civilians among their own weapons, inviting suffering.
Much of contemporary discourse does not admit of subtlety. Only of either-or. That is the horizontal seedbed of anti-Semitism today.
I have a metaphor for this: neck-braced. In much of contemporary discourse, one is not allowed to turn this way or that to see a broader picture — only a very narrow span.
Complex dynamics are not seen. Thus, it’s the moral thing to do to hate Jews because . . . look what Jews do! They kill babies in Gaza.
Neck brace: It’s another word for confirmation bias. One reads only that which one already agrees with; one is moved only by positions one has already decided are right. One has only one line of vision.
Horizontal anti-Semitism flows from much of the the prevailing mode of discourse. The differentiated character of virtue and vice has atrophied.
Neck brace: oversimplification.
Neck brace: Israel’s achievements are excised by a one-size-fits-all mode of political analysis. Anti-Semitism is of a piece with the mental lockstep that says that guns are always bad, that Trump did nothing right, that abortion is never right or never wrong, that to be a real environmentalist is to reject controlled burns. The rejection of controlled burns in California has led to unprecedented environmental damage there, and why? Because of the horizontal mode of contemporary discourse that says either you’re a environmentalist or you’re not; either every tree must live or not; either you see Israel as messianic or as evil . . . either-or, either-or.
Anti-Semitism is horizontal.
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