Sobering Exhibition in Berlin
Is Anti-Semitism on the Rise?

By Michael Scott Moore in Berlin

Visitors move past recent photos of vandalized Jewish cemeteries at the new exhibition in Berlin.


PREFACE

Anti-Semitism is on the rise everywhere. Two of the most popular anti-Jewish conspiracy myths today assert that the Jews were responsible for 9/11 (please see APPENDIX 1) as well as the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia. Jewish conspiracy theories are even now making their rounds in China, of all places (please see APPENDIX 2) [We URGE you to see our recent article on Anti-Semitism in the Muslim world, "Egyptian Anti-Semitism — It's Much Worse than Most People Imagine."]

Indeed, an official of the Anti-Defamation League sees an "explosion" of anti-Semitism around the world.

Kenneth Jacobson, deputy national director of the ADL, speaking on Aug. 11, 2009 at Temple B'nai Abraham ticked off incident after incident, from boycotts of Israel in Europe to violence against Jews in France to shootings in the United States. Jacobson said,

"I am terribly troubled by what's going on. Constraints against anti-Semitism are being peeled off layer by layer each time a wave of violence happens. After the Holocaust happened, it was not very respectable to be anti-Semitic. Now, with historical distance...people are getting more comfortable expressing anti-Semitism."

He pointed to website chatter that focuses on Jews and power in the midst of the recession. "It's right out of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," he said, "this combination of Jews and money and Jews having power and using it in an evil way."

It isn't just rhetoric he's worried about — it's rhetoric that leads to violence.

In part, Jacobson blames the recent outbreak of anti-Semitism on the recession the world is currently undergoing. He writes:

"At such times, it is easy for "demagogues and others to turn people away from their anxieties.... This is a time when anti-Semitism flourishes." [We urge you to see our article, "Anti-Semitism & the Economic Crisis: the Two go Hand-in-Hand."]

We need to carefully guard our hearts against such thinking — and that's more difficult than many people realize: For instance, I was recently bombarded by emails asserting that the 2004 Indonesian Tsunami (as well as the recent Japanese Tsunami) was created by mad scientists working for the CIA. They evidently had no idea that the genesis of this thinking was rooted in an anti-Semitic myth, and if they had persisted in believing it, they would have been led step-by-step into a web of anti-Semitism.

— Antipas

INTRODUCTION

When an exhibition on contemporary anti-Semitism opened this month at the Foreign Office in Berlin, Deputy Foreign Minister Gernot Erler said it was "appropriate" that the topic wasn't squirreled away in a historical museum but on display in the bright atrium of a German ministry.

"Anti-Semitism has sadly not been left where it belongs, in the poison cabinet reserved for the pathogens of hard-to-cure diseases of the past," he said. "Unfortunately it is a phenomenon of today's Europe which our foreign policy has to confront as well."

The exhibit, called "Anti-Semitism? Anti-Zionism? Criticism of Israel?" is a series of anti-Jewish posters and cartoons from Europe and the Middle East. It covers manifestations of anti-Semitism in the era of September 11, the second intifada, and the Iraq war -- from left-wing groups in Europe calling for boycotts of Israel to white supremacist bands and soccer hooligans behaving badly on the distant right. [Please see our article, "Left-Wing Anti-Semitism Generated out of the Black Community: a New Phenomenon."]

"We have to uncover the roots of anti-Semitism," said Wolfgang Benz, director of Berlin's Center for Anti-Semitism Research, in an interview with the German daily Die Welt. (The Center organized the exhibition along with Jerusalem-based Yad Vashem, Israel's official Holocaust memorial.) "Above all we have to show that behind all forms of Jew-hatred there's some sort of instrumentalization: Jews are made responsible for grievances which they had nothing to do with."

The exhibition shows ugly examples of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that surfaced after the September 11 assaults in America and the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia. (Jews were blamed for both.)

Other parts show recent photos of virulent far-right graffiti and broken headstones in Jewish cemeteries in Germany. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's 2005 speech called "A World Without Israel" receives a wall panel's worth of commentary, and so do protests against "Zionism" by Palestinians in Europe who carry signs comparing Ariel Sharon to Hitler.

"The Islamic world," said Benz, "takes its recipes from the poisonous kitchen of 19th-century European nationalism. Racism originally was quite foreign to Islam, in contrast with European cultures."

One striking panel shows the lurid covers of various editions of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The book, which purports to describe a Jewish world conspiracy, was a hoax invented by an anti-Semitic Russian journalist in the late 1890s and propagated in Europe by the Nazis. [We urge you to see our articles, "Origins of the Illuminist Myth" and "Pat Robertson, Illuminism, and the New World Order."]

Covers from Europe in the 1930s show grinning Jews squeezing blood from the globe; a cover from an Arabic edition shows Jews slicing open a bearded man's throat. But the Jewish "plot" outlined in the text still has currency in the Muslim world: The exhibit shows a cover from one edition that was on sale, illegally, in the Iranian pavilion at the 2005 Frankfurt Book Fair.

The Difference Between
Criticism and Anti-Semitism

The show also takes on the controversial subject of how to distinguish legitimate criticism of Israel from political debate masquerading as anti-Semitism.

It devotes a wall panel to a cartoon by Dave Brown, published in Britain's Independent newspaper in 2003, which shows Ariel Sharon stalking a battlefield with a headless child in his mouth, half-naked, posed like the Roman god Saturn in Francesco de Goya's famous painting, "Saturn Devouring One of His Sons."

"What's wrong?" says Sharon in the cartoon. "Have you never seen a politician kissing a baby?"

The cartoon received sharp criticism from the Israeli government but went on to win first prize from the British Political Cartoon Society in 2003.

The award, back then, led to fierce debate on blogs and in the letters columns of British newspapers. But the exhibition in Berlin restricts itself to noting that Brown's image reminded many Jews of the blood libel, the ancient anti-Semitic horror tale that Jews use children's blood in religious rituals.

It doesn't examine whether Brown meant to be anti-Semitic. "My cartoon was intended as a caricature of a specific person, Sharon," he said at the time, "in the guise of a figure from classical myth who, I hoped, couldn't be farther from any Jewish stereotype."

That's certainly arguable, but the exhibition would need a bigger venue -- maybe even a museum -- to handle such questions in detail.

Juliane Wetzel, a spokeswoman at the Center for Anti-Semitism Research, agreed that the topic was huge. "We just wanted to show current trends in anti-Semitism, and show what was lying behind them," she told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "And we didn't want to restrict our treatment of anti-Semitism to the far right, because this comes up again and again in Germany -- that anti-Semitism only exists on the radical right. Which isn't true."

APPPENDIX 1

Conspiracy Theories About Jews and 9/11
Cause Dangerous Mutations in Global Anti-Semitism

New York, NY, September 2, 2003 ... Two years after the horrific 9/11 attacks on America, hateful conspiracy theories claiming the attacks were actually carried about by Israelis and Jews continue to gather force around the world, causing dangerous new mutations of global anti-Semitism.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), concerned at how such rumors continue to find acceptance despite two years of intensive efforts by watchdog groups and democratic governments to combat them, today issued a report coinciding with the second anniversary of the attacks, documenting the continuing spread of 9/11 conspiracy theories and the potential for this "Big Lie" to rationalize and fuel global anti-Semitism.

According to the League's report, Unraveling Anti-Semitic 9/11 Conspiracy Theories, the canard of Jewish or Israeli involvement in 9/11 has gained widespread acceptance in the Arab and Muslim world, parts of Europe and even in the United States.

"The 9/11 attacks have fueled an entire new genre of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories leading to an environment where rumors about Jews are finding acceptance in the mainstream," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director.  "As we gather to commemorate the second anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the Big Lie shows no signs of diminishing.  In fact, it is finding new acceptance every day.  That is not just disturbing, but tragic, because we cannot win the war against terrorism without first winning over the hearts and minds of people in the Arab World who accept anti-Semitic 9/11 conspiracies as fact.  What's really needed is a concerted effort by democratic nations to reject anti-Jewish conspiracies."

Unraveling Anti-Semitic 9/11 Conspiracy Theories documents how anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon spread around the world with lightening speed, ushered along with the help of global electronic communications, especially the Internet and satellite television.

According to ADL, the rumors, while finding expression in the media, speeches and in public statements, have also brought together a disparate group of Jew-haters who are using the Big Lie to fuel anti-Semitism.

"Never in the history of the Jewish people has one terrible lie about 'Jewish control' spread so quickly and with such power, captivating not only those on the extreme fringe but the educated elite, particularly in the Muslim and Arab word," said Mr. Foxman.  "The Big Lie has been repeated by imams, the press and government officials in the Arab world, and is contributing to disturbing and dangerous mutations in global anti-Semitism."

The League's report documents the spread of the Big Lie from the first whisperings of blame against Jews in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, to more recent manifestations and permutations. Among the ADL's conclusions:

  • The Big Lie has united American far-right extremists and white supremacists and elements within the Arab and Muslim world that are exchanging and repeating information, ideas and conspiracy theories.

  • The 9/11 conspiracy theories are essentially updated versions of classical anti-Semitic canards, claming that Jews are inherently evil and intent on manipulating and controlling world events to their own benefit.  It is essentially a modern manifestation of the anti-Semitic, "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," the infamous 19th century Russian forgery that purported to map out a Jewish conspiracy for world domination.

  • September 11 conspiracies have spawned an entire industry that includes anti-Semitic books, pamphlets, videotapes, Web sites and speakers.

  • 9/11 conspiracies have laid the foundation for the proliferation of similar conspiracy theories about other global disasters.  For example, some conspiracy theorists claim Israel was complicit in the destruction of Space Shuttle Columbia and suggest that shuttle astronaut Col. Ilan Ramon was actually a "spy" for Israel.  Others blame Jews and Israelis for "pushing" the U.S. into war against Saddam Hussein.


APPPENDIX 2

THE JEWISH CONSPIRACY IN ASIA

Few Chinese, Japanese, Malaysians, or Filipinos have ever seen a Jew — and yet antisemitism persists

A Chinese bestseller entitled The Currency War describes how Jews are planning to rule the world by manipulating the international financial system. The book is reportedly read in the highest government circles. If so, this does not bode well for the international financial system, which relies on well-informed Chinese to help it recover from the current crisis.

Such conspiracy theories are not rare in Asia. Japanese readers have shown a healthy appetite over the years for books such as To Watch Jews Is To See the World ClearlyThe Next Ten Years: How to Get an Inside View of the Jewish Protocols, and I'd Like to Apologize To the Japanese — A Jewish Elder's Confession (written by a Japanese author, of course, under the made-up name of Mordecai Mose). All these books are variations of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Russian forgery first published in 1903, which Japanese came across after defeating the Czar's army in 1905.

The Chinese picked up many modern western ideas from the Japanese. Perhaps this is how Jewish conspiracy theories were passed on as well. But Southeast Asians are not immune to this kind of nonsense either. The former prime minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Bin Mohammed, has said that "the Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them." And a recent article in a leading Filipino business magazine explained how Jews had always controlled the countries they lived in, including the United States today.

In the case of Mahathir, a twisted kind of Muslim solidarity is probably at work. But, unlike European or Russian antisemitism, the Asian variety has no religious roots. No Chinese or Japanese has blamed Jews for killing their holy men or believed that their children's blood ended up in Passover matzos. In fact, few Chinese, Japanese, Malaysians, or Filipinos have ever seen a Jew, unless they have spent time abroad.

So what explains the remarkable appeal of Jewish conspiracy theories in Asia? The answer must be partly political. Conspiracy theories thrive in relatively closed societies, where free access to news is limited and freedom of enquiry curtailed. Japan is no longer such a closed society, yet even people with a short history of democracy are prone to believe that they are victims of unseen forces. Precisely because Jews are relatively unknown, therefore mysterious, and in some way associated with the west, they become an obvious fixture of anti-western paranoia.

Such paranoia is widespread in Asia, where almost every country was at the mercy of western powers for several hundred years. Japan was never formally colonized, but it, too, felt the west's dominance, at least since the 1850s, when American ships laden with heavy guns forced the country to open its borders on western terms.

The common conflation of the US with Jews goes back to the late 19th century, when European reactionaries loathed America for being a rootless society based only on financial greed. This perfectly matched the stereotype of the "rootless cosmopolitan" Jewish moneygrubber. Hence the idea that Jews run America.

One of the great ironies of colonial history is the way in which colonized people adopted some of the very prejudices that justified colonial rule. Antisemitism arrived with a whole package of European race theories that have persisted in Asia long after they fell out of fashion in the west.

In some ways, Chinese minorities in Southeast Asia have shared some of the hostility suffered by Jews in the west. Excluded from many occupations, they, too, survived by clannishness and trade. They, too, have been persecuted for not being "sons of the soil". And they, too, are thought to have superhuman powers when it comes to making money. So when things go wrong, the Chinese are blamed, not just for being greedy capitalists, but also, again like the Jews, for being communists, since both capitalism and communism are associated with rootlessness and cosmopolitanism.

As well as being feared, the Chinese are admired for being cleverer than everybody else. The same mixture of fear and awe is often evident in people's views of the US, and, indeed, of the Jews.

Japanese antisemitism is a particularly interesting case. Japan was able to defeat Russia in 1905 only after a Jewish banker in New York, Jacob Schiff, helped Japan by floating bonds. So The Protocols of the Elders of Zion confirmed what the Japanese already suspected: Jews really did pull the strings of global finance. But, instead of wishing to attack them, the Japanese, being a practical people, decided that they would be better off cultivating those clever, powerful Jews as friends.

As a result, during the second world war, even as the Germans were asking their Japanese allies to round up Jews and hand them over, dinners were held in Japanese-occupied Manchuria to celebrate Japanese-Jewish friendship. Jewish refugees in Shanghai, though never comfortable, at least remained alive under Japanese protection. This was good for the Jews of Shanghai. But the very ideas that helped them to survive continue to muddle the thinking of people who really ought to know better by now.


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