(A lecture by Jelena Djurovic given at Limmud Keshet conference, Montenegro, november 2013.)
If the Jew did not exist, the anti-Semite would invent him.
Jean-Paul Sartre,Reflections on the Jewish Question, 1945.
At the beginning of this lecture, which focuses on contemporary antisemitism as its main topic, I would like to define three terms which – although similar – do not have identical meanings. As I will use these words frequently, I would like to emphasize the differences between them:
Antisemitism – hostility towards Jews based on their religious, national or racial identity. The term antisemitism was first used by Wilhelm Marr in the 1870s to differentiate between old anti-Judaism and modern, political, ethnic or racial opposition toward Jews. In some languages (such as English), the word antisemitism is sometimes hyphenated. This practice, however, legitimizes the word Semitism as a racial denotation, while the original use of the terms Semitic and Arian/Indo-European indicates linguistic – not racial – groups. Jews (by changing the meaning of Semitism into a racial definition) are not a race: what unites the Jews is their nation, tradition, history, culture, identity, perhaps even fate. In addition, despite the fact that Arabic also belongs to the family of Semitic languages, when an anti-Semite speaks against Semites, it is the Jew whom he has in mind.
According to the most widespread interpretation, anti-Judaism is based on antagonism towards Jewish religious beliefs; hence, it differs from antisemitism in that antisemitism roots its hostility in racial and ethnic reasons. However, in his most recent work on this topic, Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition, Professor David Nirenberg (Department of History at the University of Chicago) uses the term anti-Judaism, because he holds that it covers a wider field of prejudices. Nirenberg writes that there is a set of certain ideas, ideals, cultural features, ways of thinking and attitudes toward life that – in the eyes of the Western civilization – collectively constitute „Jewishness”, not taking into account whether the person who practices them is in fact Jewish or not. Hence, I will use this term in this lecture.
Anti-Zionism is opposition to the political movement of Zionism, which emerged as an idea to encourage Jews to return to Eretz Israel. What characterizes anti-Zionism is the opposition to the political decisions made by the government of the State of Israel or, in its more radical form, opposition to the very idea that the Jews have the right to have their own state. In some modern texts, anti-Zionism is now called anti-Israelism.
Anti-Judaism – the old model of hostility toward Jews – has been in existence since ancient Egyptian and Roman times. However, the shape which it has, in one way or another, kept until today was given in the texts of the four canonical Gospels of the New Testament in early Christian times. In 386 AD, John Chrysostom, who would later became the archbishop of Constantinople, wrote eight homilies entitled Adversus Judaeos – “Against the Jews”. These homilies, which Chrysostom first recited while still a presbyter in Antioch, are considered to be one of the most violent denunciations of Jews to be found in Christian theology.
Only two years later, in 388 AD, the first Christian attack on a Jewish community in history occurred in Callinicum in Mesopotamia (present-day city of Al-Raqqah in Syria). An armed mob burnt the local synagogue to the ground.
These were the beginnings – or roots – of everything that the Jews have faced from that moment to modern times.
Early 21st Century and the Causes behind the new wave of Antisemitism, Anti-Judaism and Anti-Zionism
In order to present my topic – antisemitism in contemporary times and possible responses of Jewish and civil communities to this problem – in this short timespan as best I can, I would first like to determine the beginning of the 21st century both in the political and historical sense.
Some historians and political scientists have claimed that 20th century began with the October Revolution in Russia and ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall. This historical circle – which might as well be a dramatic one, because the story methaporically ends where it began – immediately reminds us of the influential book by Francis Fukuyama entitled The End of History and the Last Man (published in 1992). This renowned American scholar predicted that the fall of communist and socialist regimes in Europe and the Soviet Union would be followed by a sudden expansion of liberal democracy in various parts of the world. This process would, in fact, mark the end of human socio-cultural evolution, meaning that the model of liberal democracy as a social and political system represents the final form in the organization of human society.
Fukuyama could not have predicted that the beginning of the next century would bring seismic changes on the global political stage and that the forces which would endeavour to get in the way of this „liberal heaven” (led by the US, of course) were already preparing their onslaught while he was writing his thesis.
If we – for the purposes of this lecture and using the 21st century as an example – choose to interpret certain decisive historic event as a marking point, we could say that the 21st century began on September 11th 2001. This was the day when the dichotomy between two fundamentally different and conflicting ideologies became clearer to see. On one side stand the democratic countries of the world, most notably represented by the US, the EU and Israel; on the other side are oppressive regimes scattered around the globe… This dichotomy became the paradigm of the world order in which states found themselves following the 9/11.
However, the emergence of modern antisemitism also coincided with the development of computer technology, the Internet, the transfer of media to computer screens, and the expansion of social networks. This process began a year earlier – in 2000 – with the outbreak of the Second Intifada or the Oslo War. Unsuccessful negotiations between Arafat and Barak held at Camp David in July of the same year made the situation even more dangerous. Conflicts broke out on the ground, but also in the new media. Anti-Israeli websites, blogs and portals calling for destruction of Israel became an everyday occurrence on the Internet. After a few relatively peaceful years, anti-Semitic feelings once again reached boiling point. At a superficial glance, the cause of this would appear to have been the policy of Israel; however, if we examine the matter more closely, we realize that the dissemination of hostility through new media was just a logical continuation of what had long been brewing in the minds of Israel’s open enemies (such as Iran) and some anti-Zionist Western intellectuals. Hence, the events in Israel had adirect influence on these new outbursts of anti-Zionism, but indirectly they gave rise to a new kind of antisemitism and anti-Judaism in European countries. Even though the larger part of the Jewish population lives outside their homeland and does not affect its decisions, they began to experience blurring of the line between benevolent criticism of Israel’s political actions and anti-Semitic messages.
In his new book The Devil That Never Dies: The Rise and Threat of Global Antisemitism, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen writes that antisemitism doubled its strength owing to the process of Internet globalization. As Goldhagen’s research reveals, prejudices against Israel are so strong that over 50% of surveyed Europeans feel that Israel is waging a war to extinction against Palestine, despite the fact that the Palestinian population has doubled in occupied territories during the last ten years. According to Goldhagen, the journalists who are aware of these data but choose not to share them, partake in this new, global antisemitism. (Goldhagen claims that in the 20thcentury antisemitism was mostly local and aimed at Jewish communities within certain countries, but in the 21st century it became globalized and began to include all Jews, wherever they might come from.)
Thus, at the very beginning we have two major political changes which – each in its own way – support the new direction of global antisemitism.
The first change was certainly the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon; in response to this, the US administration launched an open war against terrorist organizations in the Middle East and Central Asia, ultimately leading to the death of Osama bin Laden ten years later. On the other hand, Israel reacted preventively and defensively, by stepping up actions against Hamas and its satellites, while Netanyahu proved himself as uncompromising in his efforts to keep both political and military control over the situation. As a consequence, the old/new rhetoric (re)appeared among Islamic fundamentalists, but also among European neo-Nazi and antisemitic groups and individuals: people of Jewish origin – wherever they might live and whatever they might do – began to be perceived through the prism of Israeli and American political actions.
This chain of associations – found not only among the eccentric conspiracy theory advocates, some of which claim that workers of Jewish origin failed to show up for work on 9/11 – goes like this: the reason behind the American war against terror was to procure oil and protect its „favorites” in Israel (Of course, claims like these ignore the fact that terrorist groups do indeed exist). On the other hand, there were voices which claimed that the attack on the US was a just revenge for its imperialistic policy and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. As Christopher Hitchens wrote on September 20th 2001:
Does anyone suppose that an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza would have forestalled the slaughter in Manhattan? It would take a moral cretin to suggest anything of the sort; the cadres of the new jihad make it very apparent that their quarrel is with Judaism and secularism on principle, not with (or not just with) Zionism.
The American operations in Iraq and Afghanistan; the formulation of the so-called Negroponte doctrine at the UN Security Council; and renewed friction in Israel – all of this emboldened those who were just waiting for reasons to start propagating their views, opinions and criticisms in the media. The first result of this was the negative connotation given to American and Israeli political decisions; the second result, however, was the new wave of so-called intellectual antisemitism. Not unusually, the harshest critiques and most abrasive texts were penned by intellectuals of Jewish origin – for example, Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein (this circumstance need not be negative as such). This pair certainly cannot be accused of antisemitism: Chomsky is a son of a Rabbi, while Finkelstein’s parents are Holocaust survivors. In addition to this, they cannot be denied the right to say or write whatever they might think. However, the dangerous ramification of the writings and lectures in which they criticize Israel or some Jewish authors, are in fact the reader comments. These comments – whose importance frequently surpasses that of the original – sometimes change the course of the debate and influence the reader’s impression of the main text. The discussion under the text starts off as on-topic, but frequently ends with „the global Jewish conspiracy” or various stereotypes about members of the Jewish community. As one of the most influential leftist intellectuals in the world, Chomsky additionally encourages the commentators by his external acts. Let us not forget that Chomsky attended a Hezbollah meeting in Lebanon and offered his support to the controversial French professor Robert Faurisson, who denies the Holocaust and the gas chambers in his books, going as far as to claim that The Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank) is in fact a forgery.
Neither Finkelstein, who is often hysterical in his public appearances, nor Chomsky in his role of the soft-spoken sage, can be considered members of the American ruling establishment. But indirect antisemitism is sometimes fed by those who do indeed belong to this establishment. Let us consider Ron Paul, a long-serving Congressman and a presidential candidate. Paul recently took part at the conference „The Road to Peace” organized by the Catholic organization the Fatima Center, considered to be the largest group of radical anti-Semites on American soil.
I have used these examples to illustrate how texts relating to Israel can be used as a playground not only for the commentators’ anti-Zionist tirades but also for their anti-Semitic outbursts. Also, conferences on the „road to peace” or tolerance organized by radical groups might not be what their titles suggest.
The problem is what remains behind the texts, the conferences, the videos: the comments and replies to those comments which are (often without having been moderated) published beneath editorials and YouTube videos. It is here that outbursts of unabashed hatred abound – and this hatred is being read or watched by hundreds of thousands who will soon cast their votes to determine the direction of European and American foreign policy. Not to mention the Islamic fundamentalists who find further justification for their acts in such material.
Precise data is impossible to collect owing to the very nature of Internet content, its size and complexity, but there are opinions that in 2010 User Generated Content (on social networks, comments on media websites and blogs, reviews of various services, products and events, etc.) exceeded the amount of professionally created content (media, academic institutions etc.). We can only assume that in 2013 this gap became even greater in favor of User Generated Content.
Also, the influence of this content is continually growing. Studies reveal that user reviews have a much stronger influence on potential buyers of products or services than the information provided by the manufacturer or service provider.
The situation is not much different when it comes to news and editorials. Their influence is constantly diminishing in comparison with the user-created content (comments, reviews, blogs…). In a way, the authority of the article less and less depends on the academic reputation of the author (or some other assessable criterion), and is becoming increasingly dependent on how the anonymous mass audience appraises the article or the hypothesis contained therein.
Taking into account the huge influence of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter (where all content is user-generated and not subject to any moderation), it becomes clear that in the 21st century the Internet provides fertile ground for the dissemination of antisemitism.
This is a problem that plagues all Jewish communities in the modern world. In the second part of this lecture, I will offer suggestions for the ways in which each and every one of us can help stop the dissemination of hatred and hostility toward the Jewish people.
The aforementioned Christopher Hitchens was one of the bravest and most lauded journalists in the Western hemisphere, famous – among other things – for his atheism. He discovered that he had Jewish roots at the age of 38, but that did not deter him from objectively writing about Israel, in a manner which illustrates that it is possible to criticize political decisions, but at the same time be a resolute opponent of anti-Semitic speech. Ten years ago, following the bombing of the Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul, Hitchens wrote:
The worshippers at the Neve Shalom were not killed for building a settlement in the West Bank: They were members of a very old and honourable community who were murdered for being Jews.
This short quote shows that it is harder to be a Jew in the 21st century than it was twenty years ago. The antisemitism which emerged after the American interventions in the first decade of this century is often accompanied by (and inseparable from) various forms of anti-Americanism and anti-Europeanism. This new brand of antisemitism is often not limited to the political decisions of the State of Israel in the field of foreign policy or internal affairs and the culture, customs and religion of the Jewish people. Hence, this new antisemitism becomes an aggregation of anti-Zionism and anti-Judaism.
Silence and disregard contribute to the development of antisemitism. In this part of the lecture I will present several examples from Serbia, my native country. Hate speech against Jews and participation in the Holocaust that occurred in the 20th century, have, in a way, been legitimized and obliterated in the 21st century. Even though one cannot antisemitism in an everyday conversation with the citizens of Belgrade, it is there, maybe not as an active agent in social environment, but a certain actuality of hate speech is being tolerated, ignored, overlooked, and even glorified.
As you may know, Bishop Nikolaj Velimirović compared Adolf Hitler with Saint Sava in a lecture held at People’s University Kolarac in Belgrade, in 1935. I quote:
“However, we must commend the current German leader, who, being a simple workman and a man of the people, realized that nationalism without faith is nothing but an aberration, a cold and vulnerable mechanism. And here, in the twentieth century, he introduced the same ideas as once Saint Sava himself, and as a layman, he has undertaken the most important job for his people, which is a trait of a true saint, a genius and a hero.“
Vladimirović’s antisemitism is undisputed; thus, he wrote in 1944: “All modern European principles were crafted by Jews, who crucified Christ: democracy, strikes, socialism, atheism, religious tolerance, pacifism, universal revolution, capitalism and communism. These are all Jews’ inventions, as well as their father’s, the devil. And all this with an intent to humiliate Christ, to annihilate him, and to put their Jewish messiah on Christ’s throne, not realizing to this very day that their father is the Satan himself, who had harnessed and whipped them with his lash. My brothers, the things Jews do against God the Father and God the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, are no surprise. For the Lord Jesus Christ himself said that the devil is their father and how they engage in their father’s delights... That is something to think about, Serbs, my brothers, and in that sense retrieve your path before your minds, wishes and acts. Don’t be seduced like the sons of Satan! May the Lord be your shepherd. Amen.”
The man who wrote these words in the chapter called "The Jews and Their Father the Devil" was canonized by the Serbian Orthodox Church in 2003.
Only a small number of media, and mainly those with a limited readership, have condemned this act. Velimirović‘s canonization gives a kind of legitimacy to the antisemitism within the institution which citizens of Serbia have the most confidence in, namely - the Orthodox Church; therefore this act must be taken very seriously.
The Neo-Nazi groups such as the relatively new Srbska Akcija, readily chose the day of Saint Nikolaj of Žiča to be the patron saint day of their organization.
This type of indirect antisemitism in Serbia, whose consequences will be discussed later, is strengthened by the social and political evasion of certain topics. The initiative to build a memorial museum at Staro Sajmište, on the left bank of the Sava river, the site where a large number of Serbian Jews were killed, is being ignored by the authorities, who justify their inaction by complicated property ownership issues. The atmosphere that led to pogroms against Belgrade Jews was created by the collaborationist regime of Milan Nedić, who, in addition to Velimirović, represents another example of how the anti-Semitic act, which has not been fully explained or condemned, can pour over from one century into another.
Notably, on 22 October 1941, in occupied Belgrade "The Great Anti - Masonic Exhibition " was opened, funded by the Nazi occupiers. The central theme of the exhibition was the alleged Judeo - Masonic - Communist conspiracy for global domination, similar to the propaganda that the Russian Secret Police, prior to Russian Revolution, published in the notorious hoax called "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion." A large amount of propaganda material had been prepared for the exhibition (200,000 brochures, 60,000 posters...) The Serbian newspapers of the time, such as Obnova and Naša Borba glorified the aforementioned exhibition, proclaiming that the Jews were ancient enemies of the Serbian people. Art was thus used as a tool for creating the image of "others"; on billboards as well as on postage stamps issued later by the government, Jews were depicted as both communists and capitalists. British scholar, historian and author Norman Cohn, characterized this as a "warranty for genocide." An exhibition of these posters, most of them owned by a world-renowned illustrator and designer Mirko Ilić, has travelled through all the major cities of the former Yugoslavia, but could not be displayed in Belgrade.
Another example is the monument at the Staro Sajmište execution site. Some right-wing intellectuals objected to the erection of a monument, arguing that Sajmište belonged to the territory of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) back then (this part of Belgrade was on the territory of NDH during German occupation). Yet, it should be noted that the Jews from Belgrade and the rest of Serbia were killed at this particular location, and that they ended up there thanks to the collaborationist government of Serbia. If this argument doesn’t cut it, there is also a report from the Jewish Community which states that the majority of Serbian Jews, approximately 8000 of them, were killed in the concentration camp Topovske Šupe in Belgrade’s neighborhood Voždovac. Voždovac wasn’t on the territory of NDH. The gas vans called Dušegupke (mobile gas chambers with exhaust fumes transmitted into the rear compartment where the victims were locked in, resulting in death by carbon-monoxide poisoning) were departing from Staro Sajmište, but their main death-route passed through Belgrade city centre.
In June 1942, the report to Berlin stated: Serbien ist Judenfrei. Vienna, where the German soldiers arrived in March 1938, managed to protect their Jews until October 1942, while Berlin held out until 1943.
Milan Nedić, a convicted collaborator, like Marshal Petain in France and Vidkun Quisling in Norway, was included in the list of 100 most influential Serbs by the Serbian Academy of Science and Arts. His portrait hanged on the wall in the Serbian Parliament along with portraits of all Serbian prime ministers and was finally removed at the initiative of Ivica Dačić, current Prime Ministre of Serbia (as of November 2013). The portrait of other Nazi governor of Belgrade, Dragi „The Sheriff“ Jovanović, was also there until recently, along with other mayors of Belgrade.
Sweeping things under the carpet, blurring of historical facts, historical revisionism and apologetic attitude towards the collaborationists still causes trouble for Jewish community to this day. Hate speech from the XX century pours over into the new era.
Serbia provides us with another example for this thesis. Namely, in March this year, around the date of the commemoration of the NATO bombing of Serbia, the posters printed and put up by the neo-Nazi organization (Blood & Honour / Combat 18 -Blut und Ehre was the motto of Hitler jugend) appeared on the streets of Belgrade.
As you can see, the process of connecting the "Jewish and Masonic conspiracy" with the American foreign policy is obvious. During the bombing, many Serbian media quoted the names of Clinton’s cabinet members (Madeleine Albright, Robert Rubin, William Cohen, Dan Glickman) noting that they were all "Jews". Of course, everyone had disregarded the fact that Glickman was the Secretary of Agriculture, Rubin Secretary of Finance, while Albright was raised Catholic and William Cohen was a member of the Unitarian Church.
Nevertheless, as the old adage says, "silence is consent" and thus little or no reaction at all to these examples actually generates the antisemitism and anti-Judaism which we are gradually getting used to, while the walls of Belgrade, the European metropolis with nearly two million inhabitants, are covered with symbols like these.
A few days ago, one of the leaders of the Red Star football club fans Ivan Bogdanov, known as the "Beast from Genoa," was photographed in a shameful Nazi pose with his hand held up high and a shirt that says "Auschwitzland - Arbeitmachtfrei". On his right arm, there is a tattoo of a number 28 (B and H, Blood and Honour).
The image was posted on one of the Facebook pages of Red Star fans and generally received a positive feedback. The Serbian State Prosecutorial believes that there is no ground for criminal liability in the case of Ivan Bogdanov and stated that he might only be charged for misdemeanour.
But even the print media is not immune to direct or indirect antisemitism. Last week, in one of the most popular daily newspapers, after a "poetic" text about football fans, whose sympathetic tone was protested against by civil activists, a new "corrective" text was published to explain the symbolism behind the number 18 - the amblem for young neo-Nazi groups, which, in this case, appeared on the apartment door of an LGBT activist.
The hate message left on the door of a gay activist Boban Stojanović was signed by a number 18, which in neo-Nazi symbolism represents the initials of Adolf Hitler, by the first (A) and eighth (H) letter of the alphabet. In the streets we often encounter hate speech and acts of hate which show that the neo-Nazis are on the rise and represent a threat to Serbia. The responsibility for the vandalism directed towards Stojanović was claimed by a neo-Nazi group "Combat 18", whose members are mostly active in the territory of the Republic of Srpska, which is an offshoot of the eponymous British movement that emerged in the early nineties ("Combat 18"). The aforementioned number 18 was also seen on the flag of Squad 18 (the most extreme neo-Nazi subgroup of the United Force, fans of the football club “Rad“) hanged by the supporters of FC Rad last night in front of a cafe near the stadium in honour of their murdered leader. More than 50 of his friends, fans of FC Rad and bikers, gathered outside the cafe, and the tribute was payed by holding the burning torches in a manner similar to the Nazi salute.
Serbian neo-Nazis, as well as their ideological supporters around the world obsess with the Jewish conspiracy and the existence of so-called ZOG (Zionist Occupation Government). Under this term, they imply the entire legal, political and economic order and perceive themselves as revolutionaries and warriors who fight against it.
What can we - as Jewish community members and compatriots - do about this?
In May this year, a Forum Against Hate Speech on the Internet was held in Belgrade. According to Milan Antonijević, the executive director of YUCOM, one of the methods to counter this negative phenomenon is to discontinue with the policy of impunity for such acts.
"Where does hate speech come from? From the mentioned impunity, to the very messages – sent by the politicians and by other segments of society, the so-called elements of civil society such as the Church, which expresses attitudes that incite hate speech which later, when you read them, especially in the comments, result in a continuation of this speech that does not receive any judgement whatsoever," said Antonijević.
What we, as members of the Jewish community, friends and families can do about it, is not to passively observe the phenomena I have mentioned. Every outburst of antisemitism and anti-Judaism must be a reason for the Jews to raise their voice both as a community and individually. We will issue statements and address them to the relevant government departments of the countries we live in – and they will certainly not remain unheeded. If we already enjoy the protection of the organizations of civil society, then we must work even harder and more efficiently than they do.
On the other hand, engaging in the discussions on the forums, or commenting below the articles in daily newspapers is quite futile, because the rational arguments that we could present, will be drowned in the myriad of other irrational, pathological and hateful comments.
However, there are a number of groups on the social networks, and notable websites, which treat the problem of antisemitism in a constructive way. Also, there are the texts of prominent authors where we can find good analyses of the policies of the State of Israel, both those who support these policies, and the others, which competently criticize them. When you encounter these kinds of articles, share them with friends via email or social networks - it's the least you can do.
The affirmation of Jewish culture, recommending films that deal with contemporary Jewish issues, as well as with the Holocaust, is another example of how, through constructive action, we can draw attention to this community – a community which has left its legacy to mankind, not only of cultural, but also of capital historical, political and scientific importance.
I'll finish with another quote of Christopher Hitchens, who said:
Because anti-Semitism is the godfather of racism and the gateway to tyranny and fascism and war, it is to be regarded not as the enemy of the Jewish people, I learned, but as the common enemy of humanity and of civilization, and has to be fought against very tenaciously for that reason, most especially in its current, most virulent form of Islamic Jihad. Daniel Pearl's revolting murderer was educated at the London School of Economics. Our Christmas bomber over Detroit was from a neighboring London college, the chair of the Islamic Students' Society. Many pogroms against Jewish people are being reported from all over Europe today as I'm talking, and we can only expect this to get worse, and we must make sure our own defenses are not neglected. Our task is to call this filthy thing, this plague, this—this pest, by its right name; to make unceasing resistance to it, knowing all the time that it's probably ultimately ineradicable, and bearing in mind that its hatred towards us is a compliment, and resolving (some of the time, at any rate) to do a bit more to deserve it.
Below, in addition to references to the texts that I have quoted, here are links to web sites which I read and recommend, Jewish-themed movies that are though provoking, and books that I think are important for the understanding of contemporary Jewish problems.
Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition by David Nirenberg
The Devil That Never Dies: The Rise and Threat of Global Anti-Semitism by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
Why are Jews liberals? By Norman Podhoretz
A Convenient Hatred: The History of Anti-Semitism by Phyllis Goldstein
The Changing Face of Anti-Semitism: From Ancient Times to the Present Day by Walter Laqueur
Translated by: Ksenija Latinović