It was the always observant Mary McCarthy who observed that antisemitism is the one form of intellectuality that appealed to stupid people. But she may have overlooked its appeal to ambitious politicians, too. They're always on the lookout for some mania they can use for their own purposes. Whether to seize power at the beginning of their rise or to hold onto it at the end. Or anytime in between.
Think of the way Southern demagogues back in the bad old days knew that, whenever they needed a way to stir folks up, they could always rely on the Race Issue.
How far and wide today's tide revolutionary tide may sweep in the Islamic world isn't yet clear, but the most predictable development is that the Jews will be blamed for it.
In a pinch, America will serve nicely as a whipping boy, too. The best strategy is to blame both. Just listen to some of the statements out of Yemen, where an autocrat struggling to hold on against his subjects' growing discontent is much in need of a scapegoat, or two, to distract his people. Addressing gullible students in Sana'a, that country's embattled ruler -- one Ali Abdullah Saleh -- shared a great discovery he'd made:
"I am going to reveal a secret. There is an operations room in Tel Aviv with the aim of destabilizing the Arab world. The operations room is in Tel Aviv and run by the White House."
Call it a twofer. It turns out that both the Americans and the Jews are responsible for all his troubles. In that little room in Tel Aviv, insidious plotters are orchestrating all the unrest in the Arab world. That's where those rising up against their betters from Tunisia to Saudi Arabia "are sitting day and night with the American ambassador...." They "hand him reports and he gives them instructions." Now we know.
It sounds like an Arab version of that old forgery, the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," a staple of European antisemitism that Hosni Mubarak's propaganda machine serialized on Egyptian television back in the day, when his hold on power seemed permanent.
Antisemitism remains the last resort of Arab dictators desperate to survive, as it was their first resort on their way up. It's a trajectory as old as Herr Hitler's rise -- and fall -- in Germany. Once the most advanced of nations. It soon enough became the most depraved. East or West, the fatal virus is the same.
But antisemitism is no longer the rage it once was in France, where the Nazis set up a puppet regime in Vichy. And in occupied France, the French obliged their occupiers by rounding up their Jews for what was politely called Resettlement in the East.
But the times (and fashions) have a-changed. Last week the colorful, not to say bizarre, fashion designer John Galliano was dropped by Dior just three days before his fall-winter collection for 2011-12 was due to be unveiled at the Paris fashion show. It seems he'd made some unseemly remarks about Jews during a late-night blow-up at a trendy Paris bar. Naturally, his performance was captured on video. Isn't everything nowadays? The more things change, the more they're videotaped.
Who knows, M. Galliano may be able to find a new career in Iran designing the latest in burqas. But even in Teheran, cries for democracy are heard again. And again the leaders of the opposition are jailed and demonstrators beaten. It's a hard thing to extinguish, the hope of freedom. Anywhere.
The crumbling old pillars of tyranny are shaking throughout the Middle East. Which is when scapegoats are most in demand, and the Jews are the traditional choice. But there may come a time when even Jew-baiting won't work any more.
What country will be the next to be roiled by revolution? It's a question that must keep various Middle Eastern potentates awake at night. Now it's they who wait for the knock on the door. Or for it to be kicked in.