Guest article

October 19, 2003

We are all Jews now



Since September 11, 2001, George W. Bush has made no attempt to understand the motives of people who hate us. A few hours after the World Trade Center collapsed, he announced that "America was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world." Two days later, he spoke of terrorists who "hate our values" and "hate what America stands for." President Bush has never deviated from this theme. He insists that attacks on our soldiers in Iraq are led by people who "hate freedom."

In Mr. Bush's view, Arabs, the Taliban, al Qaeda, and Muslims all around the world do not hate us because we have hurt them or harmed their interests in any way. They hate us because they hate freedom, and America stands for freedom. It is only a small step to conclude that they hate us because we are good and they are bad. Some of the president's less simple-minded advisors paint a slightly more complex picture: Arabs are jealous of America's cultural and economic success, and their oppressive regimes channel internal discontent into hatred for America and Israel.

It is convenient but dangerous for Americans to convince themselves that their enemies have no real grievances, but want to kill us only because they hate our goodness and blame us for their own failures. If they really hate us for what we are rather than what we do, they cannot be reasoned with but must be treated as dangerous madmen. We need not think seriously about their motives or consider what we may have done to injure or offend them.

The almost deliberate blindness required for this point of view is particularly evident in the president's insistence that Iraqis attack our soldiers because the attackers "hate freedom." What they hate, of course, is occupation by foreigners, rule by infidels, daily humiliation, and the steady stream of Iraqi casualties added to the estimated tens of thousands we killed during the initial phase of the war. They do not hate freedom; they seek freedom from occupation and humiliation.

To insist that Osama bin Laden also hates freedom is equally obtuse, in light of his clearly stated reasons for opposing the United States: the presence of American troops on the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia, economic sanctions against Iraq, and especially our unwavering support for Israel. In his October 18 message to Americans he was quite explicit: "We are counting our dead, may God bless them, especially in Palestine, who are killed by your allies the Jews. We are going to take revenge for them from your blood, God willing, as we did on the day of New York." Mr. bin Laden has frequently denounced what he describes as the cultural and moral decadence of the West, but he has never cited it as a reason to kill us.

It is only by convincing ourselves we are the blameless victims of unfathomable hatred that we can justify acts that shock the world and that even our European allies oppose: preemptive war, unilateral violence, and detention without charges. We are so convinced of our own purity and of the irrational wickedness of our enemies that we turn on our former friends, most strikingly against the French, if they fail to understand that we are in a struggle of pure good versus pure evil.

There is a not-coincidental similarity between the president's views of good and evil and the Jewish preoccupation with anti-Semitism. Jews have always insisted that if gentiles dislike them it is because of who they are, not what they do. Adopting a view like that of Mr. Bush's view of attacks against the United States, they refuse to consider whether their own actions may cause hostility. In the United States, the Anti-Defamation League, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and countless smaller organizations are on constant alert for anti-Semitism anywhere in the world, yet the ADL and the Wiesenthal Center are silent as to why anyone would dislike Jews. The Steven Roth Institute of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism at Tel Aviv University has extensive files of reported anti-Semitism but nothing to say about what causes it. For those organizations, anti-Semitism is like Mr. Bush's conception of Osama bin Laden: an irrational upwelling of pure evil.

Some Jews have tried to explain anti-Semitism. Hannah Arendt concluded that 20th-century anti-Semitism was an outgrowth of totalitarian Marxism and Nazism that somehow singled out Jews as unacceptable outsiders. Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer of the Frankfurt School argued that it was part of what they called "the authoritarian personality" and was something akin to mental illness. In his 1978 book In Bluebird's Castle, George Steiner wrote that Nazis were anti-Semites because Jews had better, more humane values. Robert Wistrich, who calls anti-Semitism "the longest hatred," published his views in a 1999 book whose title summarizes his findings: Demonizing the Other.

Some Jews have argued that Christians hate Jews because they see them as "Christ-killers," but that does not explain persistent hostility toward Jews by the ancient Greeks and Romans, or why Muslims have repeatedly repressed Jews. The most common view among Jews is the one expressed by the World Union of Jewish Students in its brief Internet discussion of the causes of anti-Semitism, in which it concludes it is a "persistent hate without logic." That is an almost perfect expression of Mr. Bush's view of anti-American terror: it, too, is "hate without logic."

The Jewish dismissal of gentile grievances is just as sweeping and self-serving as Mr. Bush's dismissal of Arab and Muslim grievances against us. Human beings do not "hate without logic." Sustained hatred takes too much energy for it to be wasted on millions of innocents. Over the centuries, Jews have been disliked because of their clannishness, contempt for non-Jews, disrespect for national institutions, disloyalty, sharp business practices, and many other things people do not like. But just as Mr. Bush has convinced himself that the Iraqis who attack our soldiers "hate freedom," Jews have convinced themselves they are blameless targets of irrational hatred.

For many Jews, any criticism of Jews or of Israel is hatred and bigotry. Practically the entire world deplores Israel's treatment of Palestinians, yet the Israeli authorities refuse to examine their own motives or behavior. Instead, they insist their critics are anti-Semites, meaning, presumably, that if any other group treated Palestinians as they do, the world would approve.

It is, of course, very much in the interest of American Jews to encourage Mr. Bush in his delusions about the motives of our enemies. Arabs and Muslims hate us primarily because we support Israel and pay for the weapons with which it kills Palestinians. If we were to think about the motives of terrorists rather than dismiss them as delusional murderers, we might reconsider our support for Israel. That would be anathema for Jews, many of whom make no secret of their passionate commitment to Israel.

For the many influential Jews in Mr. Bush's circle and in the media, that is why it is important to encourage Americans to think like Jews, that is, to ignore or downplay the concrete reasons others may have to hate us, and to think of them as irrational fanatics who respond only to force. It is in the interest of Jews for gentiles to think like Jews, to see the world as a black-and-white battleground of the virtuous against the wicked, rather than as a complex tangle of competing claims in which there may be legitimacy on both sides. George W. Bush is only the most important and powerful convert to that view of the world.

It would be entirely in keeping with our increasingly Jewish way of thinking to invent a new word, analogous to anti-Semitism, to describe those who hate freedom. "Anti-libertism" or "libertophobia" are awkward constructions, but with enough repetition, Americans could be trained to believe that all attacks on the United States are just vicious, irrational acts of "anti-libertism" to be forcibly put down. Acts of "anti-libertism" obviously would be the work of maniacs rather than rational men acting on real grievances.

In fact, the word is unnecessary. We already have the word we need. Only America stands with Israel in a world filled with anti-Semites. Only the United States defended Israel when it bombed what it said was a terrorist camp in Syria in retaliation for a Palestinian suicide bombing in October. Only the United States and its client states — Micronesia and the Marshall Islands — voted with Israel against a UN General Assembly resolution in September urging Israel to withdraw its threat to "remove" Yasser Arafat. No fewer than 133 nations voted the other way. In 2001, when delegates to a conference on racism in South Africa criticized Israel, only the Americans walked out in solidarity with Israel. It is no surprise that the Arab world sees America and Israel as joint enemies. Muslims burn American flags at the same rallies at which they burn Israeli flags, and chant "death to America" with almost as much as passion as they chant "death to Israel."

Mr. Bush may as well announce that American and Israeli interests really are indistinguishable, and that attacks on the United States are really attacks on Israel, motivated by the same blinkered hatreds. Let us therefore use the word that most readily comes to mind, and recognize that those who hate us are, first and foremost, anti-Semites and that hatred of America is simply another form of "the longest hatred." More than ever, in our thinking and in our behavior, we are all Jews now. Ω

October 19, 2003

Gilbert Blythe is the pen name of a Washington-area journalist.


Published in 2003 by WTM Enterprises.

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