Anti-Semitism may seem to be a static, unchanging phenomenon but in fact the obsessive hatred of Jews has a history that goes back millennia and continues to evolve.
Developments since World War II and the Holocaust have been especially fast-paced and portentous. Here are four of the most significant shifts:
From right to left: For centuries, anti-Semitism was the hallmark of the right and merely episodic on the left. To take the ultimate examples of these trends, Stalin's Judeophobia was peripheral to his monstrous project, but Hitler's was central to his. Even a decade ago, this pattern still basically held true. But recent years have witnessed a rapid and global realignment, with the mainstream right increasingly sympathetic to Jews and Israel and its leftist counterparts cooler and more hostile.
From Christian to Muslim: Christians developed the abiding tropes of anti-Semitism, (such as greediness and ambitions to world domination), and historically Christians killed most Jews. Therefore, Jews regularly fled Christendom for Islamdom. In 1945, this pattern abruptly changed. Christians came to terms with Jews, while Muslims adopted both the old Christian themes and murderousness. Today institutional anti-Semitism is overwhelmingly a Muslim affair. One result has been a steady reverse exodus, with Jews now fleeing Islamdom for Christendom.
From religious to secular: What began as a rejection of the Jewish religion evolved over the centuries into a bias against the supposed Jewish race, (thus, our continued use of the nonsensical term anti-Semitism) and lately has evolved into anti-Zionism, or hatred of the Jewish state. An astonishing 2003 poll in which Europeans found Israel to be the leading threat to world peace indicates the depth of this new sentiment.
The conflation of anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism: Jews and Americans, Israel and the United States – they have merged in the minds of many around the world, so that one prejudice routinely implies the other one too. The two hatreds also share a basic feature: neither is susceptible to rational argument, so each is better understood as the symptom of a psychological disorder than of some arcane political logic.
Combining these developments prompts several reflections on the parlous future of three major Jewish communities.
Israel faces the most extreme danger, surrounded as it is by enemies who in the past generation have dehumanized Jews in ways reminiscent of Nazi Germany in the 1930s. In both cases, governments have engaged in a systematic campaign to transform the Jewish next-door neighbor into a beast-like threat that can only be controlled through his destruction. In Nazi Germany, this outlook culminated in the death camps; today, it could, and I stress could - I am not predicting it will - end up in a hail of nuclear bombs descending on Israel, a prospect that one powerful Iranian leader has publicly mused on. This in turn could result in a second Holocaust, again of six million Jews.
European Jewry is next most in danger, though in a more mundane way: Political and social isolation, depredations by Islamists, Palestinian radicals, and other hotheads, and a growing sense that Jews have no future in that continent. An exodus may take place in the near future that replicates the post-World War II exodus of Jews from Muslim countries, where the Jewish population has collapsed from about a million in 1948 to 60,000 today.
And finally, the United States: American Jews may not have been conscious of it, but they have lived these past 60 years in one of Jewry's golden ages, arguably more brilliant than those in Andalusia, Aragon, Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, and Prague. But now, in a milder form than in Europe, Jews face similar currents swirling through American life, especially the Islamist surge coddled by leftists. The golden age of American Jewry, therefore, is ending. American Jews have had the relative luxury of worrying about such matters as intermarriage, coreligionists around the world, school prayer, and abortion; if current trends continue, they increasingly will find themselves worrying about personal security, marginalization, and the other symptoms already evident in Europe.
As the 60th anniversary of V-E and V-J days approach, it is clear that problems apparently buried in the crematoria of Auschwitz and Birkenau have revived and are increasingly with us.
This article follows the outline of a recent lecture delivered at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.