A case of secular antisemitic dogma

Hardcore antisemites in Norway are good examples of how entrenched dogma resist information and reason.

As a featured blogger on one of Norway’s leading online periodicals, I wrote a piece also in Norwegian summarizing and reflecting on the ADL global survey on antisemitism.

I might be suspected for planting (or even impersonating) a shill in the blog audience, because one gentleman seemed intent on illustrating my points with his comments, they key points of which I have translated below:

“I have earlier seen that comparisons between Israel’s Lebensraum and historical German Lebensraum is considered antisemitic … the same thing for comparing Nazi torture and Israeli torture, arbitrary Nazi detentions and arbitrary Israeli dentetions, etc. etc. … I don’t believe in a ‘Jewish global conspiracy,’ but there is certainly a pervasive cooperation around Israel … are such thoughts considered ‘antisemitic.’… Some of the questions, for example ‘People hate Jews because of the way Jews behave.’ There is something wrong with the question – the question presumes that ‘People hate Jews.’ This is very rarely the case. On the other hand, many of us have qualms about Jews because of the behavior of about 1/3 of the world’s Jews – the citizens of Israel. And that anyone can be adherents of a religion where a bloody Iron Age history is guidance for policy in today’s world (… this country was ours 2000 years ago…) A reformer is way overdue who creates an interpretation adjusted to today’s world? Why do we not see this? Why is the ground so infertile for such a reformation? … But back to the question – people do not think precisely. Easy to answer yes – even if what you think is not hatred by political opposition, and ‘Jews behave’ is interpreted as Israel’s actions.”

These are views characteristic of a very small but vocal group of irony-impaired people in Norway. They seem to mostly consist of middle-aged men who have time and boundless energy for endless debates on social media. They wage a rhetorical war of attrition and cede no ground.

But it may not be far-fetched to assume that this gentleman is overstating a sentiment that is widespread in Norway as well as Europe generally. While most people might think he was crude and hyperbolic, many would find a grain of truth in his views.

The rant quoted above may therefore be useful as an illustration of the inner logic of at least one form of European antisemitism. In order to counter it, we need to unpack it:

First, it is important to understand that they sincerely profess noble aspirations. Their goal is to promote an enlightened world and fellow humans by opposing forces that to them appear as obstacles to progress. These are people who are frustrated by an imperfect world and seek to isolate simple causes for all the troubles. The very premise for their outlook is that their intentions are pure, which is incompatible with even a smidge of antisemitism (or any other kind of bigotry).They are likely to be outraged by any accusation that they are promoting the opposite: Their views are not just a matter of conviction but of identity.

The absolute truth of certain narratives are central to this identity:

  • Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are but different expressions of the same fundamental dogma and can therefore be dismissed on the same basis. They therefore nothing against Christians, Jews, or Muslims, provided they limit their religious views and practices that conform with things that make visceral sense. To avoid confusion, they stubbornly ignore or dismiss as unreliable any assertions that contradict their convictions about others’ religions.
  • Israel is a result of religious fanaticism and must therefore be morally repugnant from beginning to end. The frequent comparison to Nazi Germany comes easy to them because they fervently hope for a type of symmetry: if the crimes committed against Jews are repeated by them, it becomes clear to them that Nazism and Zionism are cut from the same cloth.
  • It must therefore follow that support for Israel is heresy that must be condemned. These people have no problems with the fact that anti-Israeli attitudes engender antisemitic views: if Jews had any decency at all, they would also turn on Israel.

Aside from making logical leaps that easily cover the entire waterfront of rhetorical fallacies, these people tend to avoid talk of practical solutions: their goal is to advance doctrine rather than action. If only Jews, Christians, Muslims, Americans, Israelis saw things the “right” way – which is to say conform to the doctrine – then solutions would become self-evident.

You would be forgiven for finding all this similar to the rhetoric of the Spanish Inquisition: this is an insistence on seeing the world in a certain, two-dimensional way, distinguishing between forces of good and for bad, separating true believers from heretics, and subordinating basic facts and logic to a notion of higher truth.

There is no persuading these people. But because they derive their views by taking widespread views to their extreme conclusions and are largely oblivious to what is socially acceptable, they are a useful gauge for understanding memes that are more widespread.

About the Author
Leif Knutsen writes on Jewish and Israeli issues. He recently returned to Norway after 20 years in the New York area