November 24, 2006

Charles Krauthammer accuses Europe of anti-semitism

Charles Krauthammer, a Neo-conservative commentator in the United States, has just written a column which illustrates exactly the problem with neo-conservative commentary in the United States. His column is about the film Borat and he argues that Sasha Baron-Cohen in Borat satirises the wrong people, Baron-Cohen goes for the redneck evangelicals who sing anti-semitic songs in Arizona and Krauthammer objects. He suggests that the Jews haven't had a better friend than America since King Cyrus, that Truman and Nixon were the greatest friends of Israel in the 20th Century but told anti-semitic jokes, that Baron Cohen ought to look at Venezuala, Iran and particularly his home continent Europe for evidence of anti semitism rather than at the evangelicals in the United States, who are Krauthammer concludes,

the only remaining Gentile constituency anywhere willing to defend that besieged Jewish outpost

There are two important mistakes made here- the first is that supporting or attacking Israel is nothing to do neccessarily with anti-semitism. An argument could be made for example by an anti-semite that Israel as a country was a good thing because all the Jews could be exiled to it. Furthermore much of the support for Israel on the Christian right comes not out of philo-semitism or the idea that Jews are individuals just as Christians are who deserve love and hatred on exactly the same terms, but out of a desire to advance the day of the Lords coming- a day on which Jews in Israel would be amongst his first victims. The Christian Right's desire for Israel to prosper therefore is part and parcel with a possible anti-semitism- as this Salon article makes clear

Their Jewish allies usually choose to ignore the fact that the Christian Zionist's apocalyptic scenario ends with unsaved Jews being slaughtered and condemned to hell.

In the same piece Salon makes clear as well how the Christian Right's agenda at home in the US, for school prayer and an increased identification of the state with the church is hardly welcoming for Jews in American society. If one takes for example this column by Greg Koukl, the message that Christianity amongst religions is uniquely right and uniquely good and that other religions like Islam and one presumes Judaism are wrong and lead to evil is neither subtle, true nor philosemitic. America is a complex society and these are only some views- but Krauthammer is wrong to conclude that there aren't strands on the evangelical right which are anti semitic and also wrong to conclude that being pro Israel means you aren't anti semitic.

The second of Krauthammer's mistakes is more greivous though- whereas the first is about the self identity of America as philosemitic- something hard to attack when American attitudes are compared to Iran and given the complexity of American society and its general tolerance something that is probably quite true of many (especially those outside the evangelical right)- his second mistake is about Europe and like the mistakes made by Mark Steyn and others shows how Krauthammer's view of the world is distorted and quite frankly ignorant. Europe is not anti-semitic. It has anti-semitic elements- just like America does- it has temptations towards anti-semitism and whereas in America those tempting voices lie often on the right (and can hide behind the idea that if you are pro-Israeli you can't be anti-semitic), in Europe because of the reputation of Israel they lie often on the left (and hide behind the argument I voiced above that being anti-Israel is not the same as being anti-semitic). Europeans are more hostile to Israel than Americans but as we've seen above hostility or support for Israel is not the same as hostility or support for Jews. One can condemn what is happening in Gaza and be philo-semitic and many Jews one should note do. One can condemn it and be anti-semitic- but the decision about whether you are pro or anti-semitic lies in your attitudes to Jews- not your attitude to Ehud Olmert.

Krauthammer infers that there are large ammounts of anti-semitism in Europe (without any qualification) just like Steyn and others do because he can find a couple of examples of anti-semitic statements. A Norwegian intellectual, some discontented French youths and the infrequent torching of synagogues by often Muslim youths incriminate an entire continent of 300 million people in anti-semitist desires which he tells us are rising to levels unseen since, yes the Holocaust. Krauthammer needs to recall that most of the synagogues in Europe don't get burnt down (no comfort for those whose place of worship has been burnt down but crucial nonetheless), that Europe consists of vastly different countries with vastly different social problems- that a statement about Britain is as likely to be true in Poland as one about Texas is to be true about Quebec.

Krauthammer's two errors- the conflation of anti-semitism and disapproval of a particular government (especially given the recent appointment of Leiberman, a government that is far from ideal itself) and the idea that an entire continent thinks the same way and the comparison of the position of Jews in Europe to Jews in Europe in 1940- are real errors that Krauthammer needs to confront.


dreadnought said...

This is a great post! I refuse to accept that Europe is anti-Semitic and I would be appalled if Jews here felt threatened or that the UK was in anyway anti-Semitic. It is not anti-Semitic to condemn Israel for subjugating the Palestinians and annexing the West Bank, and perhaps Europe’s history of imperialism and annexation, made particularly notorious by the Nazis, make it more sensitive to these actions. Certainly, there are anti-Semites in Europe but no doubt white supremacists in the US are none too fond of Jews either. As you have said previously with regard to Muslims, there are extremists but it is clearly incorrect to label the entire in this manner.

As a footnote, I heard today on BBC radio that FD Roosevelt suggested, in conversation with King Abdul-Aziz of Saudi Arabia, that the Jews who were moving to Palestine could eventually be re-settled to Poland as he had heard that the Nazis had killed over three million Jews there.

Gracchi said...

Cheers Dreadnought- I agree with you of course- another footnote comes this interesting article by the young conservative Ben Shapiro who shows quite how odd the equivalence is by accusing many Jews of being antisemitic themselves.

We shouldn't shy away from the fact that there are anti-semites in Europe just like there are in America but Europe is not incredibly anti-semitic and though Jews stand in danger of attack from thugs like the BNP or some Muslim groups and that is to be deplored- there is no danger in my view at the moment of state sponsored anti-semitic harrassment.