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Fri Nov 2, 2018, 04:50 AM

Anti-Semitism Is a Conspiracy Theory

The mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Squirrel Hill is believed to be the worst single attack on American Jews in our history. That’s grim—it’s 2018, a hundred years after the lynching of Leo Frank and 75 after the near extermination in Europe. Worse is the foreboding that the pulse of anti-Semitism—the harassment and violence that have begun again in Germany, the United Kingdom, and Sweden, and escalated to mass murder in France, Belgium, and Denmark—have begun to reverberate here. As Jews continually appear as the most frequent targets of religious hate crimes, the slaughter in Squirrel Hill seems to punctuate a foregone conclusion.

To be sure, we’ve seen flares—in L.A. in 1999, Seattle in 2006, and Kansas in 2014. The enemies of liberal democracy, who seek to destroy it in a revolutionary conflagration, always feel an urgency and ecstasy in purging the Jews. Yet with the accelerating entropy of our politics under Donald Trump—an American president who makes speeches about corrupt “globalists” who put America second—for many Squirrel Hill feels different. Indeed, it is just one of three attempted or successful white-supremacist mass murders in the last two weeks.

One consequence of the increase in militancy and growing sense of peril is that it seems to be waking people up to the fact that anti-Semitism is not the same as other forms of racial or religious bigotry. Even in a country where the apogee of exploitative racism—slavery, of African-Americans—eclipses our historical awareness of the hysterical hatreds of Europe, it has become difficult to miss that anti-Semitism is something else. It is a racist conspiracy theory, and that drives it to a very different end—the salvationist violence of mass murder and genocide.

There is a sudden interest in the conspiratorial quality of anti-Jewishness among people in the center and on the left as they watch the growing obsession on the right with George Soros and “white genocide.” But becoming more aware of conspiracism is not the same as understanding it. “Anti-semitism [sic] is the source code for almost every form of religious and racial bigotry,” announced Huffington Post’s editor in chief, Lydia Polgreen, in a heartfelt tweet. “It’s the hideous seed from which hatred grows.” Poignant, but wrong. While all forms of racism share a common ancestor in xenophobia, anti-Semitism evolved in a religious struggle for survival and has followed a distinct path.


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