This essay – The Anti-Semitic Disease – by historian Paul Johnson, published in Commentary is certainly interesting. It has some good information about the history of anti-semitism in the West and in the Arab World, but it takes an odd spin.
Johnson argues that anti-semitism differs from ordinary racism and that it is an “intellectual disease”. I think he correctly argues that it has been persistent for a long time, within many different countries, and that it has been a feature of many ideologies and belief systems. Anti-semitism has been identified in many countries – mainly in the old Christian world of Europe, including Russia, and in the Americas, when and where Jews have lived in a Christian society or a post-Christian, partially secular society. Islamic anti-Semitism is newer. Islam has not been as dogmatic about its beliefs, historically, and had been tolerant of Judaism as a religion and Jews as a people until the rise of fundamentalist Islam in the 20th Century.
I don’t think anti-Semitism can be distinguished from other historical forms of oppression of ethnic and cultural minorities except by measuring the scale of the atrocities of the Spanish Inquisition, the Czarist militias, the Cossacks and the Holocaust against atrocities committed against other minorities in other places at other times. Johnson doesn’t argue the point – he just states it as his opinion. It seems to me that violence on the basis of race, culture and religion is the “disease”. Anti-semitism has been wide-spread because Jews have lived in isolated communities in many parts of the Western world for an extended period since the early part of the Common Era.
Johnson goes on to argue that anti-American sentiment in the Islamic world, the Third World, and in some sections of Western Europe represents an evolution of the anti-Semitic disease. His argument is plausible in several ways. Political leaders in those countries deflect discontent with social and economic conditions in their countries by blaming and demonizing visible scape-goats. Religious leaders sanction and endorse the movement. Ideologues supply a host of specious arguments. An ill-educated, uninformed, angry, alienated populace finds criticism of foreign, religious and racial cabals more credible than criticism of local leadership.
Commentary presents itself as a scholarly publication with an admitted neo-conservative and pro-Israel agenda. This piece is sophisticated sophistry in the service of the neo-conservative foreign policy of American exceptionalism. This article appeals to Americans to see themselves as victims of a movement similiar to anti-Semitism. Are Americans oppressed on the world stage? That’s an odd posture for the world’s pre-eminent economic and military power. There are many challenges to American interests and American power, but it is ridiculous to compare anti-American arguments in world politics to anti-Semitism.
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