No one views Israel with indifference. As an old joke puts it, a philo-Semite is just an anti-Semite who likes Jews. Bari Weiss quotes this joke (to disparage Donald Trump) without grasping its deeper meaning. Anti-Semitism and philo-Semitism respond to the same thing, namely, God’s promise to the descendants of Abraham and Sarah. Supersessionist Christians hate the Jews because they covet the Election of Israel. Other Christians take heart from the miracle of Jewish survival and bless the Jews in the spirit of Genesis 12:3 and Romans 11.
The same people may do either at different times. The great-grandparents of today’s evangelical Christians were the Protestants who blocked Jewish immigration before and during World War II. When everyone professed Christianity, it was fashionable to despise Jews as recalcitrant holdouts against the manifest truth of the gospels. When the cultural tide turned against Christianity during the 1960s, though, the miracle of Jewish national rebirth in the Holy Land appeared as a sign to Christians that the God of the Bible kept his promises.
Israel’s success is the point of departure for both the new philo-Semitism and the new anti-Semitism. The mainstream American Jewish organizations put the Holocaust at the center of their representations to the broad public. But revulsion at the mass murder of Jews did not cause the surge of sympathy for Israel among Christians. On the contrary, the Holocaust at first reinforced the common Christian belief that God had abandoned the Jewish people. Israel’s rebirth and flourishing moved Christian opinion. Israel’s victory in the 1967 war was seen as a validation of God’s promise to the Jews and a beacon of hope to Christians.
“The love of the peoples for their own ethnicity is sweet and pregnant with the presentiment of death,” Franz Rosenzweig wrote in The Star of Redemption. “Thus the peoples of the world foresee a time when their land with its rivers and mountains still lies under heaven as it does today, but other people dwell there; when their language is entombed in books, and their laws and customs have lost their living power.” No one is indifferent to the prospect of his own demise, much less to the demise of his kind. But Israel does not face this prospect. It is the nation that “shall dwell alone, and not be reckoned among the nations” (Num. 23:9).
To consider the eternal people is to confront eternity itself. The daily Jewish liturgy declares that God gave Abraham the land of the “Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, and the Perizzite, and the Jebusite, and the Girgashite” peoples who left no trace of their mortal existence except in Jewish memory. Aramaic, the language of Babylonian civilization, flourishes (except in a few Syrian villages) because scores of thousands of yeshiva students learn Talmud.
That is why Israel evokes existential hatred in some cases—and in others, profound love. The exceptions prove the rule: China and India regard the Jews with benign indifference, because they take for granted that their own civilizations are timeless.
Anti-Semitism, Weiss observes, appears in the written record with the Hellenistic Egyptian priest Manetho in 300 b.c. Throughout the next twenty-four centuries, the West was hostile to the Jews. Philo-Semitism as a significant political and cultural force is much newer. A 2017 Pew Institute survey reports that Americans express 67 degrees of “warm feelings” toward Jews, compared to 66 degrees toward Catholics and 65 percent toward mainline Protestants. The strength of American philo-Semitism is due largely, though not entirely, to the influence of American evangelicals. Evangelical influence in a few other countries produces the same outcome: In Brazil, it propelled Javier Bolsonaro into the presidency, and made Latin America’s largest nation a new ally of Israel.
Not once does Weiss mention evangelicals’ support for Israel, nor their manifest sympathy for the Jewish people. From what I can tell, she has ignored evangelicals throughout her writing career, except for a 2018 Times interview with Ralph Reed that puts evangelical support for Trump in a bad light. Weiss complains, “If the Christian Bible is the most important book in Western civilization and Jesus is that civilization’s most important figure, the Jews’ rejection of him and his message means that anti-Semitism is baked into the very foundations of the world we inhabit.” Yet an earthquake has dislodged this foundation during the last generation. A majority of the most impassioned Christians—evangelicals, conservative Catholics, and others—have allied with the Jewish people. Western hostility to the Jews is concentrated in secular Europe and the American left.
Weiss has written not a book about anti-Semitism but an exhortation to the dwindling cohort of Jewish liberals who want to support Israel and defend Jews against slander and mayhem without abandoning the dogmas of a left that turned against Israel long ago. That explains but doesn’t excuse the deficiencies of the book. Her recitation of the history of Jew-hatred reads like a Wikipedia entry, pocked by denunciations of political figures she doesn’t like. Steve Bannon, for example, is “the president’s political Rasputin,” who “crisscrosses Europe, regularly meeting with men like Nigel Farage and Viktor Orbán, trying to stoke blood-and-soil movements in countries with a real history of such politics.” To which British “blood-and-soil” movement does Weiss refer? As proof of Bannon’s anti-Semitism, she reports that “Bannon’s Breitbart” characterized Bill Kristol as a “renegade Jew.” Not Bannon, but rather the Jewish conservative activist David Horowitz, made that charge. I have known Steve Bannon for years, and it is ludicrous to call him an anti-Semite. This sort of mud-slinging is as unprofessional as it is banal.
Behind Bannon, Weiss avers, lurk the Nazis of the alt-right and their avatars in Eastern Europe: “When right-wing populists in Europe and here at home accuse the Jews of betraying the dominant Christian culture by supporting immigrants and other minorities, you will hear the chants of those Nazi supporters who gathered in Madison Square Garden in February 1939 from beyond the grave.” Who are these populists? I encounter such lunatics on occasion in the comment sections of articles I publish online, but it is absurd to assign them any weight in American politics. This is mere McCarthyism, slandering conservatives like Bannon by a very remote association.
Weiss excoriates the Netanyahu government for “aligning the Jewish state with the right-wing governments of countries like Hungary and Poland, whose current leaders are outspoken defenders of Israel even as they stoke bigotry and Holocaust revisionism at home.” That is a prejudicial distortion. The Poles and Hungarians hope to salvage something noble from their national history by emphasizing their resistance to the Nazis—for example, the refusal of Hungary’s wartime premier Admiral Miklós Horthy to permit the Germans to deport his country’s Jews. I have a far less charitable view of Horthy than do my Hungarian friends. The Poles suffered horribly under Nazi rule and bridle at the mention of Polish collaborators. But it is entirely false to speak of “Holocaust revisionism” in the case of Hungary, where the history of the destruction of Hungarian Jewry is amply remembered in museum and monument.
Viktor Orbán’s Hungary this year broke ranks with the European community and opened the first-ever European diplomatic office in Jerusalem, after the United States moved its embassy to Israel’s capital. On May 1 of this year, Hungary, alone among its twenty-eight members, objected to the E.U.’s rote denunciation of Israel’s defense on the Gaza border. Jewish life in Hungary flourishes, with a large community of Israeli residents in Budapest, one of the few continental European cities where Jews can wear religious garb in the street without fear of harassment.
The reason lies not in realpolitik but in the realm of the spirit. A country of nine million people with one of the world’s lowest fertility rates, Hungary is fighting for national survival. Israel has roughly the same population and a per capita GDP just slightly higher than Hungary’s, but the fertility rate is above three children per female, by far the highest in the industrial world. Israel has secured its demographic future by dint of ebullient national spirit, and today’s Hungarian nationalists admire the Jewish state as a “paragon and exemplar of a nation,” in the words of Franz Rosenzweig.
One might call this phenomenon disenchanted nationalism. After the French Revolution, Romantic nationalism attempted to turn the former subjects of Christian sovereigns into Christian citizens of national states. Novalis’s call to restore the magical and mystical to the center of culture involved conjuring a new national identity out of the legends of the mythic past. Heinrich Heine, the great Jewish writer, spent his career mocking the Romantic reconstruction of the imagined medieval past as a “revolting mixture of Gothic lunacy and modern lie.” Heine inspired Nietzsche’s contempt for both nationalism and Christianity. Richard Wagner, the paragon of Romantic myth-making, could not help but hate the Jews (even as he copied the plot of The Flying Dutchman from Heine and the score of its overture from Mendelssohn). Nor for that matter could T. S. Eliot; Bleistein jeers at The Golden Bough with bent elbows, “with the palms turned out.” For the same reason, the late Joseph Campbell hated the Jews and their Bible, which refutes the supposed universality of the Hero’s Journey. Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy reports: “In Germany during the orgies of Hitlerism a certain Jewish journalist was asked to correct the book of a Nazi authoress; and in return for the favor she agreed to take him to see Goebbels and Goering. After tea with them he came back as though enlightened and told his friends: ‘They cannot help persecuting us; they are playing Red Indians, and they know that we cannot take their game seriously.’”
Even if Heine had held his tongue, the Romantics would have hated the Jews. Three-and-a-half millennia of recorded Jewish history stands as a refutation of Romantic re-enchantment. The history of King David, now extensively confirmed by archaeology, is roughly contemporaneous with the god-infested fairytales of Homer, yet it cites not a single supernatural event (with the possible exception of Saul’s vision of Samuel). Instead of gods and heroes, the Hebrew Bible portrays fallible humans, a reluctant prophet leading a rabble of slaves unfit to enter the Promised Land until a generation had died in the desert.
Nineteenth-century anti-Semitism was of a wholly different character from the Jew-hatred of traditional Christian society. In the Middle Ages, Jews were murdered in frightful numbers and expelled from every major European country except Italy, where a small population persisted in ghettos with fixed numbers of houses. But Christians were murdered in larger numbers. Aquinas approved the slaughter of heretics but not of Jews. The Thirty Years’ War reduced the population of Germany and Central Europe by perhaps two-fifths but resulted in little persecution of the Jews; on the contrary, many German princes allowed Jews to return to the depopulated cities whence they had been expelled a century earlier. The intellectualized, systematic Jew-hatred of prosperous, peaceful Europe after the Napoleonic Wars stands in contrast to the persecutions of the chaotic and violent Middle Ages.
No such systematic Jew-hatred can be found in mainstream American political life. At best, Europe had tolerated the Jews. But George Washington in 1790 wrote to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport, “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.” Harry Jaffa rightly called this statement “an epochal event in world history.”
America is the anti-Romantic nation par excellence. Rip van Winkle goes to sleep in the timeless epoch of “once upon a time,” bowling with the ghostly crew of the Half Moon, but awakes in the new era brought about by the American Revolution. As a multiethnic nation, America had no use for the knights errant and Nibelung legends of European Romanticism. It adopted the King James Bible as its national epic, and internalized the history of Israel as its national story.
That is why Weiss ventures into the absurd when she attempts to identify American conservatives with the anti-Semitism of the old European right. Especially grating are her obsessive denunciations of Donald Trump, given her observation that today’s anti-Semitism is overwhelmingly a Muslim problem: “Muslims across Europe are far more anti-Semitic than the general European population. A 2015 survey by the Anti-Defamation League broke down the numbers country by country. In Germany, 56 percent of Muslims hold anti-Semitic views, compared with 16 percent of the total population. In France it is 49 percent to 17 percent. In the U.K., it is 54 percent to 12 percent.”
For the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims, it is disheartening to consider that an Israeli Jewish population of merely six million defeated multiple Muslim armies in four major wars and many smaller conflicts. It is possible to argue from the Qu’ran that the Land of Israel properly belongs to the Jews, but only a tiny minority of Muslims holds this view. The vast majority believes that Israel’s existence is a temporary aberration, like that of the Crusader States in the medieval Holy Land. The Muslim doctrine that Jews and Christians falsified and perverted the original Scriptures revealed to them by prophets, until they were restored by the Seal of the Prophets, militates against acceptance of a revived Jewish State.
That is why President Trump’s decision to move America’s embassy to Jerusalem has such importance. If the world does not recognize Jerusalem as the Jewish capital, many Muslims reason, it does not recognize the permanence of the Jewish state, for what is Zionism without Zion itself? The refusal of most of the world’s governments to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has nothing to do with respect for the peace process, such as it is, but instead panders to the Muslim refusal to accept the existence of the State of Israel. Not since President Truman recognized the new State of Israel in 1948 has an American president done so much for Jewish legitimacy.
Is anti-Zionism the same thing as anti-Semitism? Of course it is, because the anti-Zionism of the left stems from the left’s embrace of the putatively anti-colonial sentiments of radical Muslims, to whom all Jews are Zionists. Weiss is at her most convincing when she complains about Jew-hatred on the left. “In order to be welcomed as a Jew in a growing number of progressive groups, you have to disavow a list of things that grows longer every day. Whereas once it was enough to criticize Israeli government policy . . . now Israel’s very existence must be denounced. . . . Where once Jewish success had to be explained, now it has to be apologized for. Whereas once only Israel’s government was demonized, now it is the Jewish movement for self-determination itself.” Weiss observes that “Jewish lesbians holding rainbow flags with Jewish stars were kicked out of the Dyke March in Chicago in 2017,” and that “two years later, the Dyke March in Washington, D.C. officially banned flags with Jewish stars.” She does not know, or does not care to mention, that the left—by which I mean the universalist Enlightenment—has always despised the Jews, from Voltaire to Kant to Marx.
Marc Weitzmann, by contrast, tells an important story with grace and fervor, though it is marred by a translation so unidiomatic that one almost hears a Maurice Chevalier accent reading the text. Like Weiss, Weitzmann’s perspective is left-wing, but his political commentary is ancillary to a compelling narrative.
The heart of his book recounts the murders of French Jews perpetrated during the past decade and a half by Muslims of Arab and African origin, and the indifference, obtuseness, and dishonesty of the French authorities. The French elite showed itself feckless in confronting the shadow world of petty criminals that Iraq, Syria, and Iran had seeded with terrorists. During the 1990s, the Mitterrand government “welcomed the Algerian elections won by the [extreme Islamist] FIS, and even allowed the Islamist militants to take shelter on French territory” during the bloody civil war with the Algerian army.
Weitzmann’s account of the 2006 murder of the young French Jew Ilan Halimi, lured to an apartment building in an overwhelmingly Arab cité by the self-styled “Gang of Barbarians” and tortured for three weeks, is exemplary journalism. The casual criminality of the perpetrators was abetted by scores of witnesses, any one of whom might have put an end to the ordeal with a phone call to the police. Halimi’s death ranks among the most shameful episodes of Jew-hatred in European history. Yet the French elite averted its eyes and demanded that the world do so as well. During a four-month trial of the Gang of Barbarians, Weitzmann informs us, “Newspapers published op-eds denouncing the communitarianism of ‘some’ who by ‘systematically manipulating’ the facts—i.e., claiming anti-Semitism where there was none—took ‘the risks of raising one community against the other.’”
In 2012, a French-born man of Algerian descent shot dead a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse. “For the left,” Weitzmann writes, “the emergency was not so much to exonerate the killer as it was to save France’s Muslims from any prejudice that might result from Mohammed Merah’s actions.” The perpetrator was not a lone wolf, but the habitué of Muslim Brotherhood mosques in Toulouse, and had traveled in terrorist-controlled tribal areas of Pakistan. Yet President Nicolas Sarkozy’s head of internal security, Bernard Squarcini, told Le Monde, “Mohammed Merah radicalized himself alone, in jail, by reading the Koran. There is no belonging to any network.”
What accounts for this toxic blend of indifference and mendacity? It stems in part from the French elite’s inability to confront its own past. “French administration simply wasn’t ready to cope with words as heavily charged as ‘anti-Semitism,’” Weitzmann tells us, because “in France, the betrayal had come from above. It was the elite of the country of reason, the bearers of reason themselves—the intellectuals, the politicians and the military—who had first collaborated with the Nazis.” And France, like other European countries, hopes to manage a large, growing, and increasingly disgruntled Muslim population by sweeping such problems under the carpet.
But there is a broader context: The European elite wants to dissolve formerly fractious nations into the European Union, where enlightened administrators will rule over popular passions. They are anti-Semites for the same reason that Viktor Orbán is a philo-Semite: Israel, the original nation, remains the paragon of nationhood, an inspiration for those nations that want to survive, and a living remonstration for those who wish to fade away.
David P. Goldman is a columnist at Asia Times.