Biblio File: The Puzzle of Antisemitism
Dec 1, 2016 | Paul Monk
The Host and The Parasite: How Israel’s Fifth Column Consumed America
by Greg Felton, Dandelion Enterprises, 2010, 504 pp.
The Devil That Never Dies: The Rise and Threat of Global Antisemitism
by Daniel Goldhagen, Little, Brown & Co., 2016, 512 pp., US$18.99
I have always found antisemitism perplexing. I associate Jewishness with a religion that doesn’t pester anyone; an intellectual culture that produces a disproportionate number of Nobel Laureates, comedians, musicians, philosophers, economists, novelists and philanthropists; and, perhaps not least, an outsider status with which, as an intellectual, I identify.
When I was a young man, I knew only one set of antisemites: Hungarian immigrants, who had come to Australia after the Second World War and the Communist takeover in Eastern Europe. They were neighbours and members of the Catholic parish in which I grew up. They were fine people in so many ways, but they espoused the most irrational and bigoted antisemitism. Moreover, they did so openly.
One of these neighbours, who was a wonderful cook and a motherly figure, would tell me that the Jews ran both the Communist movement and the world banks and would get us all one way or the other. I asked her, many years ago, after reading a fine book on the history of Budapest, whether she had frequented the old cafes on the Elizabeth Ring Road when she lived in the city before 1956. “No,” she responded, “because they were always full of dirty Jews.”
Another of our Hungarian neighbours, a gentle soul who cooked well and painted, said to me one afternoon, over a cup of tea in his living room, “You probably think that this sounds crazy, Paul, but back in the 1930s the Jews were taking over everything in Europe and something had to be done.” The stunning dissonance between his quiet statement and the realities to which he was alluding has always astonished me.
I first read about the Holocaust, in William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, when I was thirteen. It horrified me and continues to be a central preoccupation in my ongoing project of making what sense I can of the modern world and the human prospect. I simply could not reconcile the evident, basic humanity of these immigrant neighbours with the evils I had read about in appalling detail.
They exhibited no moral recoil at all from what Hitler and his willing executioners had done. For all I knew, they or their circles in Hungary may have been among those willing executioners. What was I supposed to say to them or do about their blatant expressions of racial prejudice and genocidal bigotry? In truth, I regarded these things as strange eccentricities and said nothing to them about the matter.
Yet at the same time, Jewish writers and singers and comedians were among the people I most admired: from Hannah Arendt and George Steiner, to Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, to Woody Allen and Jerry Seinfeld. I had been raised a Catholic and had learned to see the Hebrew Bible, or the “Old Testament”, as Christians call it, as a book of remarkable poetry and extraordinary tales. Nothing in it imparted to me the slightest sense that there was anything wrong with the Jews. Quite the contrary.
But for many years, I tended to put all this to one side, thinking that the problem had more or less been solved and that antisemitism was now universally condemned and, among all right thinking people, a thing of the past – because of the Holocaust, more than anything else. Only slowly have I come to realise that, alas, this is far from being the case.
The vehement revival of antisemitism in our time is often attributed, incorrectly, to the oppression by Israel of the Palestinian Arabs. Sometimes, more honestly, it is attributed to the very existence of Israel as a Jewish state in the Middle East. In these contexts, two things become conflated: anti-Zionism and antisemitism. The two are not the same. There have always been Jews who were anti-Zionists – and thoughtful, well-informed argument about the Zionist project, or more narrowly the behaviour of Israel as a state, has never bothered me to any great extent.
But the root of much anti-Zionism is antisemitism, not the other way around, and this is especially the case within the Muslim world, where it goes back to Muhammad himself and the denunciations of the Jews as such in the Quran. Moreover, antisemitism in Europe and in North America has been on the rise in troubling ways and it demands explanation, because it is out of all proportion to any empirical evidence or rational justification – as has always been true with this especially long-lasting and pernicious version of racism.
What precipitated my interest in collecting my thoughts on the subject was, of all things, a series of Twitter messages I received a couple of months ago, from an unknown individual called Greg Felton. He appeared out of nowhere on my Twitter feed declaring that Israel has no legitimacy and the whole UN project of creating a Jewish state in Palestine had been a matter of fraud and manipulation.
When I challenged him on this, he became vehement, so I Googled him. I discovered that he is a Canadian Neo-Nazi who, in 2010, had a racist book published. Originally published in 2007, it is called The Host and the Parasite: How Israel’s Fifth Column Consumed America. His publicity blares out the extraordinary claims that the United States has been totally infiltrated by the Jews; that only a military coup will save it from this invisible Zionist (sic) government; and that such a coup would free the United States to wage “total war against Israel.”
I tweeted him back, saying: “I’ve just found out who you are. You’re a complete lunatic. I’m going to buy your book and give it the full treatment.” I then blocked him on Twitter and ordered the book. While waiting for it to arrive, I read Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s The Devil That Never Dies: The Rise and Threat of Global Antisemitism (Little, Brown & Co., 2016). Goldhagen, of course, is the author of Hitler’s Willing Executioners and other books on antisemitism, each of which has come in for considerable scholarly criticism.
Goldhagen’s father, Erich, a retired Harvard professor, is a Holocaust survivor from Ukraine. Goldhagen himself studied and taught at Harvard for twenty years. During a lecture by Saul Friedländer, he had a “lightbulb moment”, in which he asked himself, “When Hitler ordered the annihilation of the Jews, why did people execute the order?” He set out to investigate who the German men and women had been who killed the Jews and what their reasons were. He came up with the thesis that they did so willingly and even enthusiastically, as bigoted antisemites.
His latest book, like his earlier ones, is a polemic against antisemitism – whereas Felton’s is an antisemitic polemic. The comparison is instructive and sobering. Goldhagen argues that antisemitism begins with what he calls the “foundational anti-Semitic paradigm” in the Christian New Testament and is reinforced within Islam, then in modern nationalist and secular racism, before being amplified and globalised in the 21st century by the effects of the Internet. Meanwhile Felton openly exhibits the antisemitic prejudices denounced by Goldhagen and unashamedly advances his variant on the old conspiracy theories about Jewish power and influence.
However, the further I read into The Devil That Never Dies, the more troubled I became by Goldhagen’s chronic tendency to exaggerate and make sweeping claims, without carefully arguing his point. Antisemitism, for one thing, surely did not begin with Christianity, as the Book of Esther and the celebration of Purim should have made clear to Goldhagen long ago.
Criticisms of his tendency to polemic have been levelled at Goldhagen again and again, starting with Hitler’s Willing Executioners, which was seen as overstating its case to the point of anti-German racism. In his 2002 book A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair, he indicted the Catholic Church for its deep background role and to some extent direct complicity in the Holocaust. Critics accused him of allowing scholarly standards to lapse for the sake of an anti-Catholic polemic.
His next book Worse than War: Eliminationism, and the Ongoing Assault on Humanity (2009) was described by one critic as having been “undermined by a casual approach to basic research, and by the author’s tendency to overreach and overstate his case.” Unfortunately, the same has to be said of The Devil That Never Dies. Goldhagen’s tendency to see antisemitism everywhere and to read “eliminationism” (genocidal intent) into it, paradoxically deprives the better parts of his case of their force and even their credibility.
What is striking about his argument, nonetheless, is that antisemitism has no rational basis in empirical fact, is wholly ideological and yet simply will not go away. Worse than that, the Internet and militant Islam are causing an ominous new wave of antisemitism with deeply disturbing implications. The best parts of Goldhagen’s book make this clear. The challenge is to find nuance and scruple, complexity and level-headedness in his overall judgements.
This is less of a problem in Felton’s case, because his argument lacks even the semblance of sound argument or maturity of judgement. There is a strange pair of disclaimers on the opening page of The Host and the Parasite, of a kind that immediately makes one wonder what both the author and the publisher are trying to guard themselves against.
The first, headed “Disclaimer and Reader Agreement”, reads, in part: “…Bad Bear Press and the author make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, currentness, suitability or validity of any opinions expressed in this book. Neither Bad Bear Press nor the author shall be liable for any accuracy, errors, adequacy, or timeliness in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.”
The second, headed “Reader Agreement for Accessing This Book”, reads: “By reading this book, you, the reader, consent to bear sole responsibility for your own decisions to use or read any of this book’s material. Bad Bear Press and the author shall not be liable for any damages or costs of any type arising out of any action taken by you or others based upon reliance on any materials in this book.”
In a lifetime of serious reading, I have never seen the like of this. Rather than implicate any of you, my own readers, in this strange farrago, I recommend that you not read Felton’s book. It is not worthy of your time or attention and should be allowed to moulder, unread, wherever physical copies exist. Alas, it is representative of a prolific and pernicious literature, both in print and on the web. It embodies what so alarms Daniel Goldhagen and constitutes the kind of evidence that might be adduced in extenuation of Goldhagen’s regrettable tendency to over-state his case.
Now, of course, to write that without then dissecting the book is likely to occur to many readers as tantalising. What is in this book, with its strange disclaimers, you may well find yourself asking. I confine myself to three indicators of Felton’s unhinged approach to reality.
In his final summation, Felton states that “a person who subscribes to the ‘common sense’ world of the official narrative of the last decade, does not question the notion that jet aircraft brought down the Twin Towers, that the US invaded Iraq for oil, or that al-Qaeda exists.” Never mind that these are an odd trio, since the second does not belong in the same analytic set as the first and third. We are, by his own account, literally inside the Matrix here and he tells us that he is Morpheus offering us the red pill and showing us “how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
A page later, he puts to his readers the proposition that: “The persistent illusion that the US is still run by a national government precludes consideration of any theory that might prove otherwise.” So, what is the actual government of the United States – at least as you see it after swallowing his fanciful red pill? Well, it is ‘Israel’s fifth column’ – the parasite of his book’s title. He calls it, with a rather quaint pun “AIPAC of wolves”. “Only a Congress prepared to de-Zionize the country could hope to address the cause of the abuse,” he asserts; without ever having made a plausible case that the US has in fact been taken over by Zionists.
But the climax to his bizarre polemic is in his recommendation, which truly has to be read to be believed:
“In an ideal scenario, the military would stage a coup, arrest the junta’s leadership, and set up a provisional government to oversee the drafting of a new Constitution. Such a military government could:
• Institute a Nuremberg style war crimes tribunal to prosecute the leaders of the Lobby and the junta for treason and crimes against humanity
• Declare null and void the Supreme Court confirmations of justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito and void all fascist legislation passed over the last six years, including the USA Patriot Act;
• Call for a proper investigation into the September 11 attack;
• Freeze and liquidate the assets of every Zionist Jewish and Christian organisation and place the proceeds into a bank account for distribution to Palestinians, Iraqis and Lebanese;
• Declare military, economic and political war on Israel.
Since the Constitution is, to all intents and purposes, null and void, citizens already have little or no protection against anti-democratic measures like arbitrary arrest, indefinite detention, or warrantless search and seizure, so life under military rule would make little difference. In fact, armed insurrection would help close the gap between political appearance and reality and focus attention on the Zionist enemy within…”
You will appreciate, I trust, from this passage not only what Felton really means about taking the red pill and going down the rabbit hole, but why he and his publisher inserted their sweeping disclaimers on the first page of the book. Not only is its scholarship grossly unreliable and its reasoning crackpot; but it is a direct incitement to sedition, insurrection, war and genocide.
After all this, the good master Felton has the hide to conclude with a quotation from, of all people, Marcus Tullius Cicero on the fact that an enemy within is more dangerous than an enemy at the gates. Cicero, of course, was talking about Catiline’s conspiracy to overthrow the Republic. Cicero was later to be murdered when Mark Antony and Octavian in fact defeated the last defenders of that Republic. For Felton to invoke Cicero when he is openly calling for an armed insurrection against the Republic would be comical if it was not for two considerations.
The first of these is that the prescription he offers for what ought to be done and his blatant antisemitism are far more redolent of Hitler or the Ku Klux Klan than of Cicero. That he calls the Bush and Obama Administrations “fascist” is simply one more piece of glib and incoherent rhetoric inside his Matrix. Transparently, his own agenda is both fascist and racist.
The second consideration is that the United States has just had a presidential election in which a demagogue with more than a passing resemblance to Catiline (or perhaps Sulla), in the person of Donald Trump, has won a stunning election victory and been elevated to the White House. Rather too many of those who support him openly think more or less like Felton.
We are now anticipating the inauguration of President Trump and a new era in American politics. The danger that Felton’s kind of “thinking” embodies, given the upsurge in populist anger and the demands for sweeping change in America, may start to get out of hand. That isn’t a reason to read Felton, though it might be a good context in which to read Goldhagen. Felton’s writing is a symptom of disturbingly widespread madness. Goldhagen’s evident sense of alarm might vitiate his scholarship at various points, but it may well be warranted in present circumstances.
It gives grounds for all of those committed to reason, constitutional democracy and the future of Western civilisation – including our many Jewish fellow citizens – to get seriously organised against these darkly pernicious and racist trends. For if we do not, we risk going down less the rabbit hole into Wonderland than an Orwellian memory hole into a dystopia we thought that victory in the Second World War and then the Cold War had banished.
Dr. Paul Monk is Managing Director of Austhink Consulting and holds a PhD in international relations from the Australian National University. He is a widely published commentator on international and public affairs and is the author of several books, including most recently, Opinions and Reflections: A Free Mind at Work 1990-2015 (Barrallier Books, 2015).