anti-joodse pamfletten tijdens betoging in Libië okt 2011 (Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images)“Why Literally Everyone in the World Hates the Jews, and What To Do About It”

Two new scholarly books show how even the most neutral academic can feel bound to answer anti-Semites’ demonic vigor in kind – By David Mikics – September 4, 2013 –

In many parts of the world, Jews are increasingly unwelcome in the 21st century. The number of countries in which wearing visibly Jewish clothing such as a kippa means risking physical violence has hit an all-time high. On both the individual and the national level, Jews are targeted with extraordinary ferocity: We hear Israelis (but no one else) being compared to Nazis; we are told that Jewish nationalism is oppressive and archaic; that Israel is a uniquely racist country; that Israel’s terrible misdeeds explain why people hate Jews. Instead of being seen as ordinary or all too human, Jews are seen as carriers of a uniquely transcendent evil. No other group of people on the planet is accused so much and of such fantastic wrongs. For a few decades after the Holocaust, it seemed that anti-Semitism might wane or even die out. That hope has now been defeated. Could anything we do or say stem the tide, or will Jew-hatred persist as long as there are Jews to hate? …

Anti-Semitism is an inert object of a kind not usually met with in the social sciences. While historians try to see everything in its context to show how our human environment alters our beliefs, anti-Semitism resists context; it is a rock-hard conviction so persistent and monomaniacal that, for all we can tell, it will never go away. In the words of Edouard Drumont, the 19th-century anti-Jewish propagandist, “All comes from the Jew; all returns to the Jew.” Yet when we recognize this persistence, we enter, disturbingly, into a debate with the anti-Semite. The Jew-hater and the maligned Jew face off eternally, one playing offense and the other defense. This is the anti-Semites’ revenge: They make us sound like ranters when we complain about them.

But it’s crucial for Jews to talk about anti-Semitism, even as we hear that Jews are so secure these days that anti-Semitism can’t be very significant; that Jews discuss anti-Semitism in order to claim special privileges; that Jew haters are merely nutty rather than dangerous; that talking about anti-Semitism in the Muslim world means that you are a “Likudnik,” or something worse. We have to rebut these wrong-headed sentiments. But a further challenge looms: When we talk about anti-Semitism, we risk confusing our personal wounds with the larger history we’re trying to grasp. Scholarly detachment is a needed remedy. But as two recent books show, being detached is harder than it looks, since even the most neutral academic feels bound to strike back, to answer the anti-Semite’s demonic vigor with a few accusations of his or her own. …

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David Mikics is the author, most recently, of Slow Reading in a Hurried Age. He lives in Brooklyn and Houston, where he is John and Rebecca Moores Professor of English at the University of Houston. – foto: anti-joodse slogans tijdens een betoging in Libië op 7 okt. 2011. (Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images)