- Die Sprache der Judenfeindschaft im 21. Jahrhundert by Monika Schwarz-Friesel, Jehuda Reinharz
As opinion polls continuously show, antisemitism is common in all European countries, notwithstanding decades of Holocaust pedagogy and remembrance. In most countries, about twenty to forty percent of the populations credit various anti-Jewish stereotypes. These may be minorities, but they are strong ones, in many cases as large as that which voted for Hitler in 1932 and 1933. A common consensus, one found even in academic circles, is that this phenomenon rests at the social and political fringes of democratic society—primarily in resentful sections of the lower classes and in extremist political milieus. Monika Schwarz-Friesel and Jehuda Reinharz’s inquiry into “verbal antisemitism” in present-day Germany offers a more nuanced and more disturbing picture: antisemitism is at home in the mainstream of German society and politics. This disconcerting assessment draws on a methodologically thoughtful qualitative analysis of 14,000 emails and letters sent between 2004 and 2009 to the Central Council of Jews in Germany (Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland) and between 2004 and 2012 to the Israeli Embassy. Most of these unsolicited communications were written in response to military conflicts such as the 2006 Lebanon War and the Battle of Gaza in 2007; some were inspired by the sixtieth anniversary of Israeli statehood.
Only a few of the letters and emails were anonymous; most are signed with name and address, often disclosing—or boasting—the social status of the author, a remarkable fact that facilitated the researchers’ categorization of writers’ class and ideological orientation. It indicates that substantial portions of mainstream German society feel little hesitation—contrary to the common assumption that in post-Holocaust Germany antisemitism has been largely excluded from “respectable” political discourse—in blatantly expressing antisemitism: requests to “finally exterminate” the Jews or to “reopen the gas chambers” (p. 337) are not unusual.
Still, the “correspondents” themselves may reflect some of the stigmatization of antisemitism since 1945. Many pretend they are raising their voices not as antisemites, but as upright citizens or as “critical thinkers” (p. 97) whose conscience and moral integrity oblige them to speak out. As Schwarz-Friesel and Reinharz put it, this “antisemitism [End Page 301] without antisemites presents itself as anti-racist and reputable while working in almost all common anti-Jewish stereotypes and prejudices” (p. 397, my translation). These writers’ self-image as critical thinkers is embedded, nevertheless, in traditional anti-Jewish stereotypes, in particular the image of a Jewish conspiracy, materialized today in a global Jewish “dictatorship” whose most effective weapon in the sphere of public opinion is clubbing any critic of Jews or Israel as an antisemite (p. 167).
Die Sprache der Judenfeindschaft meticulously dissects the components of current German verbal antisemitism and draws out its ancient continuities. The letters and emails draw upon the repertoire of two thousand years: Jews as parasites, as quintessential “Others,” as Christ-murderers, and even as child murderers (the medieval blood libel). Traditional clichés, however, gain traction only through assimilation into current politics, most prominently condemnation of Israel. The conflation of traditional antisemitism (or anti-Judaism) and current anti-Israel expressions is crucial: instead of criticizing aspects of Israeli political behavior, writers deny the legitimacy of Israel altogether, simultaneously holding all Jews (or those in Germany) responsible for Israel’s alleged evil-doing. “Make sure,” demanded one 2006 email to the Central Council, “that your country stops its attacks on Lebanon.” Another in 2002 rhetorically asked whether it “bothers [the Central Council] that your country continuously murders [and] commits massacres” (p. 118). Taking up older traditions, this anti-Israelism relies on “the three D’s”: it demonizes Jews (“Are Jews even humans?” asked one writer in 2009 (p. 207); it delegitimizes the state of Israel (“the biggest mistake in human history” (p. 236); and it employs double-standards to hold Israel solely to account for things other states and political structures do.
Drawing as well on 1,002 letters to Israeli embassies in Vienna, Bern...