The hook-nosed Jew is making a comeback. He may not be featured in the blatantly grotesque caricatures of twentieth-century Nazi propaganda, but remove the thinly veiled overtones and the anti-Semitic content is much the same. New packaging, same vile taste.
Do I sound alarmist? Perhaps. But one can be forgiven for finding parallels to the greatest tragedy that has befallen the Jewish people, especially since that tragedy unfolded a mere seventy years ago. And especially when current parallels are beginning to mirror the origins of that tragedy in terms of methodology and gradual intensity.
Anti-Semitism in our day has been creeping up worldwide much as it did in Nazi Germany – slowly and seemingly linked to other phenomena. Germany did not become a Jew-killing machine overnight. Though the country was always rife with Jew hatred, no one, during Hitler’s early rise, anticipated an out-and-out policy of mass murder. A methodical and increasingly comprehensive trashing of the Jewish character was used to justify the marginalization of Jews, their subjugation, and, finally, their extermination.
A small but notable current exhibit at the New York Historical Society, “Anti-Semitism 1919-1939,” depicts the rise and power of the Nazi party through propaganda. After viewing the display of artifacts, publications, signs, book covers, even currency, I was struck by the dichotomy inherent in German indoctrination leading up to and following the enactment of the Nuremberg Laws of 1935.
A running theme of Nazi propaganda before the Nuremberg Laws was Jewish culpability for the economic disaster that befell Germany following World War I. And it ran the gamut of stereotyping Jews as rich moneygrubbers on the one hand to Bolsheviks and communists on the other. Conspiracy theories of Jewish world domination through capitalism and politics struck an eager chord with Germans ready to blame the devastating inflation and unemployment on anyone but themselves. A Nazi slogan printed on a 1,000 reichsmark banknote in 1932 read “The Jew takes our gold, silver and bacon and leaves us with this garbage…. Come to Hitler, become a National Socialist.”
Once the propaganda took hold, it was easy to transition from the written word to concrete forms of punitive legislation. Because after all, if Jews were responsible for all of Germany’s tribulations, why shouldn’t they be punished by being prohibited from working, studying, and generally living as other Germans? Nazi ideologues no longer had to resort to referencing the “capitalist” or “Bolshevik” evils of the Jews. The gloves came off. Now it was “Dirty Jews” or untermenschen.
It took nearly two decades for Nazi propagandists to push the anti-Semitic tendencies of the Aryan nation to their extreme and brutal conclusion. In our globalized world twenty years seems like an eternity. Which is why, despite the fact that the Holocaust is still recent history and there is widespread awareness that such atrocities can and did indeed happen, any resurgence of anti-Semitism today should be cause for alarm. Particularly when that resurgence seems to be following a distressing pattern.
Anti-Israel sentiment – usually indistinguishable from plain old anti-Semitism – began to grow and spread, almost imperceptibly at first, shortly after the 1967 Six-Day War; took on a harder edge during and after the 1982 Lebanon war; and fairly exploded in the aftermath of the failed Oslo Accords. In the span of two decades, the ill-begotten euphoria over Oslo turned into disappointment and frustration, with Israel almost universally blamed for Palestinian duplicity and terror. The flow of events presented the perfect opportunity for Jew hatred to become legitimate once more.
Substitute the words “capitalists,” “cheaters,” or “parasites” for “occupiers,” “colonizers,” or “Zionist imperialists” and— presto! – you have the new lingo of 21st century anti-Semites. The Protocols of the
Elders of Zion? Old school. Now there’s the “Powerful Jewish Lobby.” And in the ultimate debasement of language and reality, Jew haters use Holocaust references to castigate Israel for defending itself.
While it would be terribly gauche to yell “dirty Jew” while Holocaust survivors with tattoos on their arms are still alive, there seems to be nothing wrong these days with yelling “Zionist pig.” The virus infests academia and the UN, many mosques and some churches. It thrives in England’s Labour Party and in far left and far right political factions across Europe and South America. How else could BDS have spread so quickly in Europe and on college campuses the world over?
Traditional anti-Semitism from right-wing neo-Nazi type groups exists, but it is not nearly as prevalent as what is coming from the left. And while leftists can hardly be expected to malign Jews as socialists, they’ve borrowed a page from the Nazi handbook to justify singling out the Jew. How easy it is to condemn the Jew for his alleged abuse of others.
Fifty members of England’s Labour Party were recently suspended over anti-Semitic remarks that focused mostly on Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. But can anyone doubt that in many or most of the cases their sentiments are uncomfortably close to the old-fashioned Jew hatred that reigns at England’s Oxford University? The harassment and intimidation of Jewish students there has reached a level that prompted Oxford’s Labour Club co-chairman Alex Chalmers to quit a few months ago after complaining that many of its members “have some kind of problem with Jews.”
Such an admission is a frank assessment of the animosity facing too many Jews today. Although Israel’s critics utilize the phrase “cycle of violence” in a dishonest manner, the cycle does exist between Israel and its enemies, notably the Palestinians. But it goes something like this: incitement against Jews leads to violence against Jews, which in turn increases incitement against Jews.
Last week Israelis celebrated Yom Ha’Atzmaut – Independence Day – immediately after marking Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day. Some see the juxtaposition as one of cause and effect, with the horrors of the Holocaust paving the way for the birth of Israel. A vigorous counterattack is already long overdue against those whose vicious propaganda is aimed at reversing that cause and effect by using Israel to pave the way for more anti-Semitism.
From educators to politicians to the media, such indoctrination must not only be denounced but fought tooth and nail. The battle must begin with exposing the haters and their methods and end with ridding the world of its oldest scourge.Sara Lehmann