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What Is It About the Jews’ Haters?

The question that is usually asked about Jew hatred is what it is about the Jewish people that makes others hate them so much. In the generations before the Holocaust, Germans called this the Judenfrage, the “Jewish question.” The idea was that the presence of Jews in Germany was a problem for the country. In the same way, large elements of the global Left and significant portions of the Right now take it for granted that there is an Israelfrage: that the existence of a Jewish state is an enormous threat to “world peace,” human rights, Palestinian self-determination, or some other noble-sounding ideal.

As is always the case with longstanding hatred of racial, ethnic and religious minorities, blaming the victims gets things exactly backwards. There is no “Jewish problem” and there is no “Israel problem,” though Jews and Israel have their problems just like anybody else. There is a Jew hatred problem and an Israel hatred problem, and deny it as loudly as they may, those who obsess over the unique iniquity of the Jewish state have a mentality saturated with Jew hatred.

It’s common knowledge among those who study Jew hatred as a sociopolitical phenomenon that the Jews are like the proverbial canary in the coal mine; an uptick in attacks on Jews always foreshadows some larger social dysfunction. It turns out that is true on the global stage as well as within nations. Just over twenty years ago, the UN sponsored a “World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance” in Durban, South Africa. Held from August 31 to September 8, 2001, the gathering quickly devolved into obsessive attacks on Israel that were immediately turned against all the Jewish groups and individual Jews participating, prompting the United States and Israel to walk out. Here is one account:

Copies of the anti-Semitic work, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, were sold on conference grounds; anti-Israel protesters jeered participants chanting “Zionism is racism, Israel is apartheid,” and “You have Palestinian blood on your hands”; fliers depicting Hitler with the question, “What if I had won?” circulated among conference attendees. The answer: “There would be NO Israel and NO Palestinian bloodshed.”

Observers quickly noted the irony of these events occurring the week before the 9/11 attacks on the United States and wondered if there was a connection. From today’s perspective, it is not just a coincidence that this global hate-in against the Jewish people came just before the worldwide trend toward right-wing populism mingled with intolerant nationalism that has seized hold of developing and fully developed democracies around the world. That doesn’t mean there was some hidden hand manipulating events behind the scenes, which is itself a trope closely associated with Jew hatred. The true link is that rising levels of this oldest form of hatred of a specific people, religion, and nationality signal the outbreak of national hatred and war fever in which almost everybody is caught up. And those enormous developments further inflame Jew hatred.

This is an American story, too. Synagogues across the country now require a constant police presence to protect worshippers, as has long been the case in Europe and other parts of the world. Ilhan Omar rails against what she imagines to be the malign influence of Jewish money, while Tucker Carlson spends every night ranting to his millions of viewers that there is a plot to “replace” white American Christians with darker skinned people, a neo-Nazi delusion that is always blamed on Jews (hence the chants by the Nazis who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 that “Jews will not replace us!”). Carlson hasn’t said the word “Jew” yet, but he doesn’t have to; all his viewers have to do is Google “replacement theory” and they’ll discover the Jewish hidden hand behind this imaginary threat to them and everything they hold dear.

What is it, then, about the Jew haters? Something is upsetting them about the state of the world, and usually their own personal situation, and they need someone to blame. Jews have been a convenient target for over two thousand years. But once they start on the Jews, they usually don’t stop with them.

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