A series of “myths and counter-myths” regarding post-Holocaust Judeophobia in Europe has contributed to an atmosphere of fear and confusion, scholar Jonathan Judaken told a May 4 gathering in New Brunswick.
Those misunderstandings are fueled by political pundits and so-called experts who do not properly consider the historical complexity surrounding the situation and must be deconstructed, he said. “We can’t digest what is happening in simple sound bites.”
Judaken presented “Reckoning with Post-Holocaust Anti-Semitism in Europe” at Douglass College Center in New Brunswick at a program sponsored by Rutgers University’s Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life.
Judaken, who holds the Spence L. Wilson Chair in Humanities at Rhodes College in Tennessee, specializes in how intellectuals represent Jews and Judaism, race and racism, European cultural and intellectual history, existentialism, and post-Holocaust French philosophy.
Judaken said the “Judeophobia” of today stems from the embracing of four key issues — Holocaust denial, extreme Left anti-Zionism, Islamist Judeophobia, and anti-Israeli anti-racism — which often “distort reality.”
“Saying anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism is too simplistic,” said Judaken; mainstream leftist parties in Europe, for example, have condemned anti-Semitism and supported Israel, he said.
“There is no internal tradition of anti-Jewish enmity in Islam,” he said, but other issues, including the Middle East situation, radical Islamization, and the history of European colonialism have all been contributing factors.
The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign against Israel paints the country as “a racist, colonial, apartheid” state — which, Judaken said, “we all know is nonsense” — and promotes itself as an anti-racist movement.
However, not all BDS supporters are anti-Semitic and although Jews in the movement are often labeled as “self-hating Jews,” Judaken said, many base their participation on Jewish values.
Holocaust denial is infused with myths, including one that holds that the war to kill the Jews was orchestrated by Jews, that there were as few as 300,000 Jews murdered, and that the gas chambers were used to disinfect people — “all of which ties together with the Jews and Israel,” which, deniers contend, exploits the “Holocaust” to extort restitution money from Germany, said Judaken.
However, he said, Holocaust denial “is really a fringe phenomenon in Europe and the United States” and is actually illegal in many European countries — although it continues to be a concern in the Middle East and parts of the developing world.
Anti-Zionism began after Israel was established in the former Soviet Union under Stalin, who simultaneously supported Israel as a way to expand economic interests while opposing British interests in the Middle East, said Judaken. Zionism was seen as part of “bourgeois” society and opposition to cosmopolitanism, leading to Soviet trials and often executions of alleged Zionists.
“Stalin actually believed Israel could become a people’s democratic orbit of the Soviet Union, but that deteriorated with his increasing anti-Jewish paranoia,” said Judaken. Later anti-Zionism “became systemized and internalized” and after the “debacle” of the Six-Day War became focused on the supposed genocide of the Palestinian people.
While Islamization and the Middle East have contributed to violence against Jews in France, which has the largest Jewish and Muslim populations in Europe, the attacks are also motivated by resentment, “colonial racism,” and “institutionalized racism.”
This “banilieu Judeophobia” was so named by Judaken because it breeds in the banilieus, housing complexes outside cities like Paris where many Muslim immigrants live. Many come from African countries such as Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, places that were the origins of many French Jews.
“It’s hard to lay claim to being French when you are put in an environment where you are constantly policed and told you are not really French,” said Judaken, in contrast to the French Sephardi Jews who arrived as full French citizens and received assistance from already established Ashkenazi organizations.
By the same token, it is a fallacy that Jews are “leaving France in droves.” Rather, emigration has held at about 2,000 annually, although, he said, there was a small spike last year.
Likewise, “the myth of Eurabia” — that a Muslim tide is overtaking Europe — sounded suspiciously “like the old Jewish canard of the Judaization of Europe.”
Judaken said of the 43 million people in Europe, only 5.8 percent are Muslim, amounting to 2.7 percent of all Muslims worldwide.
“If we want to understand, we have to get past the polemics,” Judaken explained. “It’s always more complicated.”