Such is the richness of European culture, even its decadence is creative. Since 1945 it has produced the truly remarkable phenomenon of anti-Semitism without Jews. How does Europe do that? Now it offers Christian anti-Semitism without the Christianity. An example of this is the recent cartoon in La Stampa – a liberal Italian newspaper – depicting the infant Jesus in a manger, menaced by an Israeli tank and saying, "Don’t tell me they want to kill me again." This reprise of that hardy perennial, Jews as Christ-killers, clearly still strikes a chord in contemporary Italy, where the culture is as secular as a supermarket.
In Britain, the climate created by much of the intelligentsia, including the elite press, is so toxic that the Sun, a tabloid with more readers than any other British newspaper, recently was moved to offer a contrapuntal editorial headlined "The Jewish faith is not an evil religion." Contrary to what Europeans are encouraged to think. And Ron Rosenbaum, author of the brilliant book Explaining Hitler, acidly notes the scandal of European leaders supporting the Palestinians’ "right of return" – the right to inundate and eliminate the state created in response to European genocide – "when so many Europeans are still living in homes stolen from Jews they helped murder."
It is time to face a sickening fact that is much more obvious today than it was 11 years ago, when Ruth R. Wisse asserted it. In a dark and brilliant essay in Commentary magazine, she argued that anti-Semitism has proved to be "the most durable and successful" ideology of the ideology-besotted 20th century.
SUCCESSFUL? Did not Hitler, the foremost avatar of anti-Semitism, fail? No, he did not. Yes, his 1,000-year Reich fell 988 years short. But its primary work was mostly done. Hitler’s primary objective, as he made clear in words and deeds, was the destruction of European Jewry.
Wisse, who in 1991 was a professor of Yiddish literature at McGill University and who now is at Harvard, noted that many fighting faiths, including socialism and communism, had arisen in the 19th century to "explain and to rectify the problems" of modern society. Fascism soon followed. But communism is a cold intellectual corpse. Socialism, born and raised in France, is unpersuasive even to the promiscuously persuadable French: The socialist presidential candidate has suffered the condign humiliation of failing to qualify for this Sunday’s runoff, having been defeated by an anti-Semitic "populist" preaching watery fascism.
Meanwhile, anti-Semitism is a stronger force in world affairs than it has been since it went into a remarkably brief eclipse after the liberation of the Nazi extermination camps in 1945. The United Nations, supposedly an embodiment of lessons learned from the war that ended in 1945, is now the instrument for lending spurious legitimacy to the anti-Semites’ war against the Jewish state founded by survivors of that war.
Anti-Semitism’s malignant strength derives from its simplicity – its stupidity, actually. It is a primitivism which, Wisse wrote, makes up in vigor what it lacks in philosophic heft, and does so precisely because it "has no prescription for the improvement of society beyond the elimination of part of society." This howl of negation has no more affirmative content than did the scream of the airliner tearing down the Hudson, heading for the World Trade Center.
Today many people say that the Arabs and their European echoes would be mollified if Israel were to change its behavior. People who say that do not understand the centrality of anti-Semitism in the current crisis. This crisis has become the second – and final? – phase of the struggle for a "final solution to the Jewish question." As Wisse said 11 years ago, and as cannot be said too often, anti-Semitism is not directed against the behavior of the Jews but against the existence of the Jews.
If the percentage of the world’s population that was Jewish in the era of the Roman Empire were Jewish today, there would be 200 million Jews. There are 13 million. Five million are clustered in an embattled salient on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, facing hundreds of millions of enemies. Ron Rosenbaum writes, "The concentration of so many Jews in one place – and I use the word ‘concentration’ advisedly – gives the world a chance to kill the Jews en masse again."
Israel holds just one one-thousandth of the world’s population, but holds all the hopes for the continuation of the Jewish experience as a portion of the human narrative. Will Israel be more durable than anti-Semitism? Few things have been.