Would I be at all interested in the history and horrors of anti-Semitism if I were not a Jew? Hard to say. But I would like to think so. It is a powerful, terrifying but fascinating force in world history for at least the past 2000 years. And continues to be so.
Just visit the issue of the “quenelle” salute or the boycott of Israel or the powerful emotions the topic still engenders as evidence. David Nirenberg in this book “Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition” explores this deep and disturbing concept.
It is actually not identical to anti-Semitism because he demonstrates that anti-Judaism functions as an explanation for life’s problems, tragedies and disappointments. Although he does not rely on the term “scapegoat” itself—it surely is that. He describes overhearing a conversation after 9/11 between a construction worker and his friend. When discussing what happened they both agreed–it was the Jewish influence on making New York City the center of greedly capitalism…..and besides, the Jews killed Christ. He was amazed by the quick conclusions that had been made. He noted that a similar conversation could have taken place in the 13th century.
It has occurred in societies and cultures in which there were few if any Jews at all. Shakespeares Merchant of Venice played to an audience in which no Jews would have been present. They had been expelled during the Crusades and allowed back in by Cromwell. It didn’t matter.
To Nirenberg, anti-Judaism is a system of thought. It is a way to make sense of the world, a world in which chaos and suffering abound. It is an easy fix for whatever ails an individual or a community or a nation. It has universal appeal because it seems to explain all failures and frustrations. It is dangerous because we have seen the consequences of its beliefs.