When Jews is news

Posted: Oct 30, 2006 12:01 AM
When Jews is news

"Jewcentricity" is a word that sounds like it was coined by an embittered anti-Semite. But it's actually the inspiration of Adam Garfinkle, a Jew, writing in The American Interest magazine to call attention to a phenomenon that has roots in anti-Semitism and runs from the silly to the sublime: " . . . the idea, or the intimation, or the subconscious presumption . . . that Jews are somehow necessarily to be found at the very center of global-historical events."

"Jewcentricity" is most evident in the recycling of "The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion," a fictitious text commissioned by the czar's secret police for a Russian audience at the end of the 19th century, describing a fanciful cabal of Jews who plan to take over the world. Some critics of the neoconservatives, some of whom are Jewish, cite the protocols, so called, in their accusations that Jews have hijacked American foreign policy. Others, critical of Israel, hyperventilate over the power of the "Israel lobby."

"The Protocols" have naturally become a best seller in several Muslim countries, including Turkey and Egypt, where they were turned into a television series. ("Semitic Sex in the City," however, it was not.) "The Protocols" were featured on the Iranian stands at last year's book fair in Frankfurt "to expose the real visage of this Satanic-enemy," along with an abridged edition of Henry Ford's literary thriller, "The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem" (which never made it to the screen). "The grip of the Jewish parasitic influence," asserts the preface of the new edition, "has been growing stronger and stronger ever since [Henry Ford's time]."

Serious examples of "Jewcentricity" are reflected in the media obsession with Sen. George Allen's Jewish mother, who was born in Tunisia and barely escaped the Holocaust, and before that, with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's Jewish roots in Czechoslovakia. The national newspapers and television networks spent considerably more time investigating the senator's "blood" parentage and its likely effect on his re-election campaign than the blood being spilled in Darfur. "Why?" asks Adam Garfinkle. "Because . . . Jews is news and there are no Jews in Darfur." That doesn't slow down the conspiracy theorists in other countries, with or without Jews, from obsessing over the myth of sinister Jewish power.

Germany's Jewcentricity is of a completely different order. No negative slur against Jews goes unanswered in the law courts or in the court of public opinion. This has hardly eliminated prejudice against Jews. In an anti-Semitic prank with echoes of the Third Reich, a high-school student in eastern Germany was forced by bullies not long ago to wear a sign around his neck in the school yard: "In this town I'm the biggest swine because of the Jewish friends of mine." The teacher reported it, the chief of police was firm in his outrage, and the state minister of the interior promised an investigation. Germany does not tolerate public exhibition of Nazi symbols.

But the strain of anti-Semitism that many thought would vanish after the horror of the Holocaust has again risen again in the Middle East and among European fellow travelers of the Islamists, whose rhetoric targets Israel in a way that Hitler would readily recognize. Israel is the euphemism for the demonized Jew. The Jews become, as Jonathan Rosen observed in The New York Times, "interchangeable emblems of cosmic evil."

It's not simply an empty gesture that maps available in Middle Eastern countries show Israel erased. Hezbollah demonstrated its capacity to send rockets into Israel, and the Iranian nuclear threat is aimed first at Israel.

Jews remain convenient scapegoats as they continue to haunt the fantasies of rationalizers and haters who want to avoid responsibility for their own culpability. In the 1930s, Jews were blamed for everything that went wrong in Germany (and later in Eastern Europe). Today they're perceived as the seminal cause of Islamic terrorism, subject to the same old media stereotypes that thrived in Nazi newspapers. Getting rid of the Jews in Europe wasn't enough.

"Jewcentricity" serves a specific purpose both in the Middle East and in Europe. It unites the Muslims against a common enemy and conceals their own divisions and discontents, which would be there even if there were not an Israel to hate. Increasing Muslim populations in Europe threaten the peace in ways that absent Jews do not. But we can blame the Jews, anyway.

The Nobel Prize-winning Hungarian novelist Imre Kertesz observes that Europeans mask their criticism of Israel in mournful tones about the Holocaust but use the language that led to Auschwitz. "Because Auschwitz really happened, it has permeated our imagination, become a permanent part of us," he says. "What we are able to imagine -- because it really happened -- can happen again."