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What is Anti-Semitism?

by Philip Belgrave

Anti-Semitism is a symptom of social distress. Anti-Semitism is manifested in Canada at present not as overt hostility to Jewish ethnicity, but through compensation reactions and avoidance behaviour. Liberal people will contend that anti-Semitism is first of all prejudice; which is true, provided it be simultaneously recognised that prejudice belongs to essential human nature. The highway and the byways of prejudice are broad and long, and the moral categories of prejudice are elusive; some are good, some bad, some rational, some irrational.

Consider the well known nursery rhyme about Doctor Fell:

      I do no like thee, Doctor Fell;
      The reason why, I cannot tell;
      But this I know, and know full well ,
      I do not like thee Doctor Fell.

This was written by the Oxford scholar Thomas Brown (1663-1704), and it satirises Bishop John Fell, a worthy who is still remembered by specialists for his promotion of the Oxford University Press and for other good works. It became popular in the nursery because it could mimic an easily imaginable childish outburst, flouting adult discretion and causing embarrassment and confusion all around. Though manifestations of anti-semitism tend not to be funny, historically they run the gamut from fun to fury, becoming more and more a problem as they approach the furious end of the scale.

Modern ultra-liberal criticisms of Shakespeare's comic play The Merchant of Venice and Dickens' comic novel Oliver Twist, in regard to the anti-semitism alleged to have been felt by the authors of these works, quite improperly slight the conventions of literary art that are normally accepted in the Western world.

When Dickens' novel was first published, the author was taken to task by a Jewish lady who disliked the slur on her "race" cast by his representation of the villainous Fagin. Dickens defended himself from the base of his knowledge of early Victorian London, where Jews were to be found providing the rudimentary direction and contacts of the generally unsophisticated underworld. The characteristics of these Jews, Dickens thought, were apt for caricature in the appropriate context. Nevertheless, Dickens made amends for Fagin in his later novel Our Mutual Friend, featuring the good Jew Riah.

William Shakespeare

Charles Dickens
Shakespeare would probably not have been affected by complaints as Dickens was. He understood too well the prerogatives and limits of art, and felt little urge towards correcting his work. But correction has been practised on Shakespeare from Jacobean times to the present. In one modem example, mention was made of a new production of The Merchant of Venice in England, featuring "crypto-Fascist" Christian Merchants in conflict with goodman Shylock who is forced to defend himself against their brutality. Media commentators implied that adjustment of the theme of The Merchant along the lines of this production, was a bold and fresh departure from the text; but actually it was only the latest of the kind, having become somewhat commonplace in the world of entertainment.

In Oliver Twist and in The Merchant of Venice, a comic villain who is a Jew has generally been allowed to pass muster because the integrity and high literary quality of the novel and play are conspicuous and generally accepted. But paralleling acceptance there is a persistent concern among the intelligentsia to set Dickens and Shakespeare on the right track in regard to the Jewish People, however irrelevant to literature such concern might be. A taboo is strongly felt in our "fine arts" community against portraying Jewish individuals as if they demonstrated significant conformity to an ethnic type. This taboo against "stereotyping" is a noteworthy symptom of our social distress. Though it is said to be safeguarding social harmony and ethnic camaraderie, it really means that we dare not give countenance to the fact that cultural and ethnic affinities profoundly affect individual attitudes and behaviours.

Stereotyping, it is said, led (with other influences) to "The Holocaust." "The Holocaust" comprises allegations that the Nazi German state planned and largely carried out the extermination of the Jews of Europe, in death camps and largely in gas chambers, to the number of about six millions, in a spirit of bureaucratic, banal and voluptuous detachment from humane feelings. "The Holocaust" is re-enacted every day, in our newspapers and magazines, on radio and television, and in the cinemas. It has developed into an entertainment genre, orchestrated by our intelligentsia, who satisfy their destructive impulses (directed against our traditional culture) by appealing to the sadism and masochism of the public.

Holocaust Revisionist Websites

The precursor of "The Holocaust" was the Dreyfus Case in France (1893-1903). Professor Guy Chapman's narrative and assessment of the famous Affair is entitled "The Dreyfus Case - A Reassessment" (Rupert Hart-Davis, 1955). Chapman sums up as follows, in his Preface and at the end of his book: "...anti-semitism played little, perhaps no, part in the arrest of the unhappy victim or in his trial ... the conventional story is overlaid with propaganda put out by partisans on both sides ... The Affair illustrates the influence of propaganda on history. Nine-tenths of the literature of the case is Dreyfusard; the Dreyfusard view, with its crude blacks and whites, has passed into history ..."(Italics added to the quotation.)

The plain narrative of the Dreyfus Case reveals that the essential moral issue related to military honour and dishonour, both being represented to a striking degree by the principal characters involved. Clerical and anti-clerical interests were secondary, and also represented by good and bad characters on both sides indifferently. The fact that Dreyfus was a Jew was also significant, chiefly because it increased the pitch and volume of the uproar, and its political "sensitivity." Propagandists used Dreyfus as a symbol of suffering Jewry, and were successful in establishing the gravely distorted idea that French anti-semitism was chiefly responsible for the miscarriage of French justice. The lesson is that "anti-semitism" is a term to conjure with. It calls up demons from the vasty deep.

"In the Second World War many Jews suffered, but the European Jews were not exterminated, nor were they the principal sufferers."

"The Holocaust" event to date, is much like the Dreyfus Case in moral atmosphere and in many of the details of attitude and action. In the Second World War many Jews suffered, but the European Jews were not exterminated, nor were they the principal sufferers. The Jews were the ethnic group most aware, organised, able to draw on international resources to act directly on their own behalf, and to conduct effective political lobbying. Nevertheless, in a letter to The Ottawa Citizen dated 30 March 1987 we find the following observation, typical of very many similar communications before and since: "The Holocaust was the most frightful crime that we, the human race, have ever inflicted on ourselves ... in impact and importance it is many times greater than all other (genocides) added together." This was from an academic, a professor at a Canadian University. From such people this kind of partisanship is to be expected, as a general rule.

The Academician was attempting to convey his impression that The Holocaust was not simply mass murder; it was the terrible breaking of the World's most sacred taboo: the one that applies to the Jewish people. In the Polynesian Islands, taboo was an element of culture that induced the people to regard certain persons, places and objects as sacrosanct. An analogous device operated in regard to Jews in medieval Europe, to relieve the strains of ethnic rubbing together in the towns, when the state was weak and violence close to the surface. Its subconscious effect, in the manner of the Polynesian institution, was as if a conscious decision had been reached not to take note of the alien presence. The lingering influence of taboo can be observed in the self-conscious and shuffling behaviour of Jews and Gentiles respectively, as we interact socially and politically in the contemporary Western culture.

Graphic from the Zundelsite - "A Detoxification Program to Cure 
the Politically Correct of the Hollywood version of the Holocaust"

What on earth is behind it all? Towards an explanation of the complex foundations of anti-semitic feeling, there is available the Biblical account of the sojourn of the ancient Israelites in Egypt. The story goes that wherever Joseph, the son of the patriarch Jacob, found himself in Egypt he took charge; and finally he was in charge of the whole country, under Pharaoh. Then Joseph said to his people starving in Canaan: "Do not look with regret upon your goods, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours" (Genesis 45:20). Joseph dealt hardly with the Egyptian people (Genesis 47:21). The Israelites were not assimilated; they settled in Goshen and grew into a potent multitude that frightened the state, which could not decide whether it wanted them to stay or to go. There were problems either way.

The ten plagues of Egypt may be regarded as symbolizing the distress of the country, and the mental breakdown to which the Egyptian people were reduced following the tenth plague, is noted in Exodus 12:36. These narratives of Genesis and Exodus provide us with vignettes that are poignant and authentic in feeling. Anti-semitism in Egypt in the 2nd Millennium B.C. would seem to have derived from a national sense of being overpowered by an alien presence, passing through steps of ambivalent behaviour in response, and ending in complete psychological collapse and the departure of the Israelites from Egypt.

In Canada we are striving to persuade ourselves that anti-semitic feelings are superlatively unaccountable and immoral. By ridicule and the law, we intend to keep expressions of anti-semitism in check. It has been attempted here to show that anti-semitic feelings, and ethnic or "racial" tensions in general, are not unaccountable, nor are they immoral in themselves. It may, on the other hand, be immoral as well as dangerous to pretend that there is not and never has been a real "Jewish problem," and that anti-semitism is primarily based on ignorance, tradition or irrational hate. Anti-semitism requires to be addressed intelligently and frankly for the sake of what it is: an authentic human problem with political, economic, cultural and psychological ramifications that are at least as important as the religious and "racial" elements on which our academicians now delight to dwell. A great deal of the moral life of men may be a process of transcending our dislikes and unconstructive passions through grace; a process that should be kept clear of any pretence that we can live without prejudices, or that our prejudices can have no legitimate reasons for existence. In sentimentality there is no salvation.


Philip Belgrave is a longtime Ottawa-based revisionist.

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