Fred SkolnikThe writer is Editor-in-Chief of the 22-volume second edition of the Encyclopaedia Judaica, winner of the 2007 Dartmouth Medal and author of The Other Shore (Aqueous Books, 2011), an epic novel depicting Israeli society at a critical juncture in its recent history.
The recent ADL survey on anti-Semitism around the world (in 102 countries), with its not so startling finding that one out of four people harbors anti-Semitic feelings, has received a great deal of publicity. Among the countries that come off well is the United States, with a 9% anti-Semitism rating. Latin America, on the other hand, shows 27%, Western Europe checks in at 24%, with the United Kingdom at 8% and Greece at 69%, Eastern Europe at 34%, and the Middle East and North Africa, not surprisingly, at 74%.
The survey put 11 questions to the 53,000 participants, concerning stereotyped attitudes toward Jewish loyalty, money, power, influence, behavior, etc. Negative replies to six or more of these indicators established the respondent as anti-Semitic. The survey has already been criticized for the somewhat arbitrary cutoff point of six indicators. Why not five? Why not four?
A more direct approach might have been to ask participants straight out if they had positive, negative or neutral feelings about Jews, though the ADL questionnaire is admittedly more subtle in getting anti-Semites to give themselves away. In any case, the finding that just 9% of Americans are anti-Semitic
Jew haters hate Jews first and then find the reasons to.
is generous to say the least, considering that 26% of Americans believe that the Jews killed Christ and 18% believe that "Jews have too much power in the business world."
But what non-Jews say about Jews is really not the point. The point is why they say what they say. In this respect the ADL itself does not seem to understand what anti-Semitism is, or is at least representing it in a manner that is liable to give people a false idea about what it is.
Jew hatred is a pathological condition whose causes are to be sought in the mind of the Jew hater rather than in historical circumstances or in the real or imagined actions of the Jews. Circumstances, historical or social, may awaken or exacerbate Jew hatred, but to do so, the hatred must already be there. We kill for this or that immediate reason, but we would not kill if we did not have murderous feelings. Jew haters hate Jews first and then find the reasons to. This is the one basic distinction that has to be made to understand the nature of Jew hatred.
The accusations made against Jews, from Christ killing on down, have therefore been, all through history, not the causes of Jew hatred but the pretexts or rationalizations or vindications for it. Whether such accusations were true or not, whether the Jews really were well poisoners or usurers or Host desecrators or ritual murderers, or "think they are better than other people" or "don't care what happens to anyone but their own kind," is entirely irrelevant. The hatred or animosity or aversion felt by Christians toward Jews had nothing to do with what the Jews have done.
Since Jew hatred has historically infested the entire Christian world, it must necessarily have had the same cause everywhere, which, if not the Jews themselves – their crimes or bad character – must lie in the nature of Christianity itself, or in human nature as such, or in a combination of the two.
In the time of the early Church, new Christians did not understand that it was the Jews they were meant to hate until the Church told them to. They would have been happy to hate someone else. It is after all a fact that people incited by the Church to hate Jews hated other people as well, with or without the prompting of the Church.
The hater looks around for someone to hate. The Church gave him the Jew. Admittedly, he might have found the Jew without the help of the Church, just as he found others to hate, but it is the Church as the prime mover that bears the guilt, and therefore it has to be said, without qualification, that the hatred of Jews that the Church brought into the Christian world is responsible for every act of violence ever directed by a Christian against a Jew.
In the early Church, Jew hatred always involved two principal elements: resentment and rivalry. Though the Jews were not active proselytizers like the Christians, their religion nonetheless attracted outsiders and was therefore perceived as competing with Christianity in the business of winning souls. How Christianity responds to rivalry can be seen in the religious wars inspired by the emergence of the Protestant faith. Why the Christian responds so violently to rivalry is once again more a matter of pathology than of ideology.
Nietzsche described Christianity as the religion of resentment par excellence – "a resentment experienced by creatures who, deprived as they are of the proper outlet for action, are forced to find their compensation in an imaginary revenge … the vindictive hatred and revengefulness of the weak" (The Genealogy of Morals). Certainly Christianity attracted the downtrodden, the oppressed and the spat upon, and brought with it great hatred of the strong.
Paul states this very clearly (1 Corinthians 2:27-28):
"But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;
"And base things of the world, and things which are despised, has God chosen, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are."
But while this may explain why the Christians hated the Romans, or the rich and the powerful in general, it still does not explain why they hated the Jews or any other spiritual rivals, namely, why they hated those who were as weak as themselves. In fact, even when the Church became strong, the resentment did not abate, for, especially in its strength, it continued to attract the weak.
Why do the weak hate or resent the weak? Some will say because they remind them of their own condition, causing them to hate in others what they hate in themselves. Some will say in order to elevate themselves over and above these others and have something lower than themselves to despise and against which to measure and affirm themselves. Some will say because the others do not acknowledge their superiority, even challenge it and deride it, thus diminishing those who wish to think highly of themselves.
Whatever the cause, it is supremely ironic that Christianity as a religion professing love should have attracted so many followers who were prone to the most vicious kinds of hatred.
The Christian found his strength and identity in his faith, attaching himself to a community and to a system of values and beliefs that gave him his sense of dignity and worth, so that whatever threatened it threatened him as well. Without this faith he had nothing and was nothing. Without it he became what he had always been. Out of this faith he built a great tower and inhabited it as though he were a tower himself, full of righteous pride.
The Jew refused to acknowledge the truth of this faith and thereby shook the foundations of the Christian's idea of himself and undermined the elaborate structure he had erected to sustain himself and magnify his self-esteem. The Jew stood against him stubbornly maintaining that the truth lay elsewhere and thereby enraged him as any creature is enraged when its sustenance is stolen from out of its mouth and the solid ground on which it stands is pulled out from under its feet.
The Jew stood against the Christian and would not give him the affirmation that he required to elevate himself above the Jew - and the Christian hated him for it.
That affirmation could only be found among other Christians. When the Christian stood alone he remained weak, undistinguished, but when he joined together with the others and became part of a crowd or mob or community looking down at the 'miserable' Jews, he felt strong, secure, exalted, and together with the others invented all the reasons in the world why he should continue to hate them.
The Jew, however, would still not acknowledge the primacy of the Christian faith and this gnawed at the Christian soul, it made the Christian's stomach churn and brought the heat to his face, it reminded him of who and what he was, but he did not understand his own pathology and continued to believe his own lies.
Many observers have understood the need of the mediocre to place themselves above a despised group. In conventional sociological terms this is called racism or bigotry. In the Christian world it was known as truth.
The ADL survey links anti-Semitism to stereotyped views of the Jews, but these are the result of anti-Semitism and not the cause of it. It would be a mistake to think of anti-Semitism as the product of erroneous ideas about the Jews. It is the product of sick minds.