thumbnail of Focus; Anti-semitism from Ancient Egypt to the Present
Hide -
This transcript was received from a third party and/or generated by a computer. Its accuracy has not been verified. If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+.
This morning, in the first hour of the program, we'll be talking about anti-semitism, something that seems always to be with us, even though periodically we act as if we have rediscovered it, as if somehow it is new. And that is a little bit in the nature, I guess, in the way that we think about it, talk about it, experience it. It's also the fact that if you look closely at the kinds of ideas and beliefs and things that people say, you discover that, in fact, some of these ideas are very, very old. They go back a long way. So this morning, in this first part of the show, we'll try to talk a little bit about why it is that anti-semitism stays with us, perhaps a little bit of where it comes from. And our guest for the program is David Nirenberg. He is one of the world's leading medieval and Jewish historians. He's professor of history and director of Jewish studies at Johns Hopkins University. He's an expert on the social and cultural relations between Christians, Muslims, and Jews in medieval Europe
and the Mediterranean, and has written a book dealing with some of these ideas. It's titled Communities of Violence, Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages, was published by the Princeton University Press back in 1996. He's here visiting the campus. His visit here sponsored by both the people in medieval studies and Jewish studies at University of Illinois. And was good enough to come and spend some time with us. He gave a talk yesterday. He's going to be speaking a seminar this afternoon. And we're pleased that he could be here. And of course, as is always the case, questions, comments are. Welcome, the number here in Champaign Urbana 333-9455. We also have a toll-free line. That's good anywhere that you can hear us. And that is 800-222-9455-333-WILL and toll-free 800-222-WILL. Well, thanks very much for being here. Thank you, it's a real pleasure. It seems that it's not difficult to find anti-Semitic sentiment expressed publicly and openly
and periodically when gets those examples. In fact, I was just thinking about here. Someone yesterday knowing that you were going to be on the show. And I hadn't seen it. Handed me a copy of Clipping from the New York Times. This is from Tom Friedman's column yesterday, which really doesn't directly confront this. But his point seems to be that he's saying is that Muslims and Jews would be in their interest to work together to sort of solve some of the issues in the Middle East. But what's very striking about it is the way he begins the peace, where he writes, reading the latest poll from the European Union, which indicates that 59% of EU citizens now consider Israel the greatest threat to world peace. And then he goes on to say reading reports that Mekis Theodorakis, the composer of Zorba the Greek, has opined that Jews are the root of evil and observing the latest bombing in Saudi Arabia by Islamist fanatics. The following, heretical thought comes to mind.
He says, the keepers of the Muslim holy places and the keepers of the Jewish holy places really need each other today. OK, then and now that gets us into a whole another issue. The thing that I'm struck by is the quotes that he begins with. This idea that 59% of citizens of the European Union would think that Israel was the greatest threat to world peace. That kind of stuff, you know, comments along those lines by the composer or by other people, leaders of various countries around the world. It's a fairly regular feature. These screenings crop up again and again. Yeah, absolutely. And what's amazing is that they crop up, we call those feelings anti-Semitic. But I think most of the people who hold those feelings don't think of them as anti-Semitic. They think of them as rational explanations for the way the world is working. I'll give you an example, which is a personal example. And I'm sure many people have had such personal examples. I was flying to Chicago last year. And I was sitting next to a couple who was alternating between Spanish and English.
And Spanish is my native language. And I often alternate between Spanish and English. So I turned to them and said, how do you decide when you get to speak Spanish and when you're going to speak English? And we struck up a long conversation. Most of the conversation was dedicated to their explaining to me or trying to convince me that Mossad is really secret intelligence agency was behind the bombing of the World Trade Center, that they had actually organized it in order to show the US what it's like to live under terrorist attack. And they didn't consider this argument at all anti-Semitic. They considered it to be irrational. I would call it conspiracy theory, but they certainly didn't think so. Now what was really most striking about all of this is who they were. The man was the head of academic affairs for the Washington DC public school district. And his wife was the head of multicultural affairs for the Washington DC public school district. So we're talking about highly educated people in positions of responsibility, in positions to educate our nation, who really believe this kind of logic is a good way of describing the problems,
the political problems we face in the world today. So the 59% of the European Union believe it is actually only surprising in that it's not higher. And a poll of the US might show, I think, similar numbers, maybe not 59%, but a significant minority. And what's really striking about that to me, of course, is just how old these ideas are. Yesterday's lecture, I started my talk about how old this idea that the chief enemies of mankind are the Jews with ancient Egyptians, who were the people who first articulated this idea. And around 400 BC. So it's really an idea with legs. And of course, it works very differently in different periods. I don't think the ancient Egyptians were using the Jews to understand why they were being attacked by Arabs. That wasn't their issue. They were using the Jews to understand why they were being attacked by Persians, or by Greeks, or by Romans. But the kind of work that Judaism does for us
and helping us explain why bad things happened to us, that really hasn't changed. And I guess that's what gives anti-Semitism its power. I think that it certainly seems to me that, while racism, you can see that just about everywhere. And that's not new. And certainly, there have been instances of genocide throughout history. That there's something about the nature of anti-Semitism. It's a little bit different in this way is that I can't think of too many other examples where one group of people would say that the world would be a better place. We would be happier. We get bad things would stop happening if only we got rid of these other people. Now, someone can very well tell me that I'm wrong and cite other examples. But there seems something about that, when it comes to anti-Semitism, that is a little bit different from other varieties of racism. And perhaps other instances where we've seen genocide.
Yeah, I think that's true. I think what you just pointed to is what I sometimes call this fantasy of the perfect ability of the world. The world could be made perfect. If only we would get rid of the Jews. And I say this is a fantasy, but it's often said by many politicians today. I'm thinking, for example, of Saddam Hussein, who told the US right after the September 11th bombing that America's security could be obtained. And world peace could be obtained if only we would break our nefarious alliance with Zionism. And every day, some newspaper or other articulates the claim that if we sent, and I'm quoting a North African newspaper now, if we sent the Jews to the moon and gave their property to the Muslims, world peace would be achieved. So that's true, that fantasy of perfectibility. And the other thing that's really different about anti-Semitism from, I think, other forms of racism is that anti-Semitism is much bigger than the Jews. You don't find, say, with a black white racism, you don't too often find people calling non- blacks black.
It does happen. It is sometimes part of a strategy in which people insult each other. Lots of American presidents were called black by politicians in the South who thought that they were harming the southern way of life. But it's not a very powerful way of explaining the world. Whereas you very, very often find non-Jews being called Jews or Zionists or Judeisers by people. In the best example of America, America is considered by much of the world to be a Jewish nation, a Zionist nation, the great Zionist Satan is America. And we're not, of course, Jews are 5% or less of the population of the United States. So how does a nation of 380 million people become Jewish? That kind of logic is unique to anti-Semitism. It doesn't happen with other kinds of racism. Well, that obviously, the question is, why? What is this all about? And you make this argument. And I think it's very interesting that maybe one can see it in terms of the tendency that people
have to divide the world into us and them good and evil. And the idea that there is group of people that is us, wherever the us is, that are spiritually pure. So, and the people who are not us, obviously, they're not. So they stand for whoever the other people are. They end up standing for everything that we were against. Could be lack of spiritual or moral value. It could be enthusiasm for materialism. Whatever it is, the opposite of us. And that in this particular case, that seems to be what this is about. It's a way of defining the spiritually pure and upright from the people who are not. Right, I think that's very true. Well, what you're saying is that societies need enemies in order to identify themselves.
And that's an old truth of sociology and politics. Many politicians, and this hasn't gone away. Many politicians know that the best way to create social cohesion in their own society is the point to an enemy, either within their society or outside it, for people to coalesce against. And in a real sense, you could say that the Jews have served that purpose for many societies. What's curious, though, is that there are lots of enemies in the world, and people have chosen to have as enemies many different groups and different points in time. None of them have what I say. None of them have this kind of legs. None of them have endured for 2,500 years as the enemy. And there, you have to really start to think, well, what is a particular kind of shape this enemy takes that makes the Jews so useful, so that even when you don't have any Jews, here at Illinois, for example, you have a member of the History Department who wrote a book on anti-Semitism in Japan, which is a very important book, a very important form of anti-Semitism that's fueled a lot of the millennial movements
in Japan, like this group that poisoned in the subway. But Japan has no Jews, and it never has had Jews. How does that become an enemy that's meaningful to Japan? And there, I really think you need to look at the particulars of what the work Jews do, Jews and Judaism do in the minds of anti-Semites. And I think materialism is a good example. The divide between the worldly things, money, the desire to acquire, things like that, and things of the spirit, higher truths and higher, is often expressed in terms of Jew and non-Jew with the world being mapped onto the Jew. So, for example, American capitalism, long before that were Jews in the US in the 19th century already, one that were very few Jews in the US, American capitalism was being portrayed as Jewish, because it was thought to be more materialistic than European societies were. And that kind of work means that you can use anti-Semitism to attack all kinds of practices in the world, right?
You can say, well, American policy is Jewish because America's only interested in money. And that's regardless of whether there are any Jews in the US or regardless of its policy towards Israel. And the same was true for other empires in the past. The Roman Empire was accused of being Jewish by the Egyptians because of its tax policy. The Roman Emperor Trajan was called a Jew lover. The Roman Emperor Claudius was called the son of a cast off Jewish whore. So these come by the Egyptians. So this is a very old, kind of anti-imperial, anti-power language. And I think what we need to understand, in order to understand why we are seen the way we are in the world, and why we're judyized the way we are in the world, is the shape of this language. We can't just say, oh, it has to do with our policy in Israel, oh, it has to do with what we're doing in Afghanistan. It actually has to do with ways of thought available to us, the ways of thought we've been taught to use in making sense of power. And America is the great power. And it's one of the reasons why it's now the most judyized society.
Our guest in this part of Focus 580, David Nirenberg. He's Professor of History and Director of Jewish Studies at Johns Hopkins University. He's one of the words leading medieval and Jewish historians. You see, we're visiting the campus to talk about some of these ideas and questions, comments are welcome, 3, 3, 3, 9, 4, 5, 5, till 3, 800, 2, 2, 2, 9, 4, 5, 5. I guess it still doesn't quite, or the question that continues to nag is why Jews. And once you understand the function of the symbolic function, the idea that, again, it sort of allows you to define yourself by saying that you're not this other. We understand about the idea of the other. But the other could be any other. You can fill in the blank. Imagine something, make something, pick something. Some other group of individuals could, why Jews? And though that's a very important question,
because, for example, the French famously treat the Belgians as other, and they're constantly telling Belgian jokes. But they would never fantasize that the world is run by the Belgians, or that the Belgians are about to take over France. So the question of why the Jews was a really important one. And here, I hate to talk about such a controversial and difficult subject in the kind of sound bite fashion. But I think the responsibility really lies with a historical period of early Christianity. That is to say that the way in which early Christianity defined itself and represented itself against the Jews is what created a powerful language for anti-Judaism. And particularly the way in which early Christianity defined the Jews as hypocritical materialist enemies of the godly spiritual Christian community. It's that definition of the Jews, not only as enemies, not only as materialist and blind, but also as hypocritical, that is, as appearing to be holy,
but actually being evil, that made them so useful for explaining just about anything, anything that looks holy, but can actually be made to look materialist and hypocritical. So it became a very powerful language, which was very important for Christianity in differentiating itself from Judaism and in explaining to itself why its Messiah had been killed and why the majority of Israel to whom this Messiah had come had not recognized him as the true god. So that logic at the foundations of Christianity spread through the Mediterranean world and Europe through in the form of Christianity. And it became a very powerful way in which Christianity often criticized itself. Christians would look at other Christians who were believing or behaving in a way they didn't think was appropriate. And they'd say, that's Jewish. For example, if a Christian was too interested in money, they'd say, well, he's a materialist, he's Jewish. Or if a Christian wanted to read the Bible in a certain way, say more literally than another Christian,
they'd say that Christian is Jewish. That's why, for example, Martin Luther was accused by the Catholic Church of being Jewish. And that's why Martin Luther accused the Catholic Church of being a materialist and having big institutions and lots of laws and being Jewish. So it became a language with which Christianity could criticize and make sense of all of the world. And especially of its own self, its Christian world. And project onto any flaws or faults in that world could project a month of the Jews. So if Christian is acting materialistically, it's not a Christian problem. It's because he's being Jewish. And I think that's the logic that made it so powerful. And then spread throughout the world, we could talk about how it spread through Islam and how it's now part of a kind of transnational vocabulary. Well, I think it's important to maybe, or it helps to understand to think about what was going on at the time of the early Christian church, that it was a small group trying to establish itself,
trying to define itself and say, this is who we are, as opposed to who other people are. It was certainly early on, there were people who thought that the second coming was going to happen in their lifetime. So to them, virtually nothing else would have mattered. It would, the old ways of doing things, the old laws, worrying about the future, the idea of making money, all of that kind of stuff. They would have said, well, this, you know, Jesus is coming back, and it could be tomorrow. So this other stuff, this really doesn't matter. And anybody who was sort of going about daily life on a day-to-day basis was not with the program. And I, particularly, you know, understand how they would be hostile to Jews, other people, living there, because they saw themselves as being all of the same group in the same tradition, and that they were, you know, they were supposed to be, they were supposed to be along with the program.
And so there, you can see that, again, is this way of defining the world into the spiritually pure, the people that are ready, preparing themselves for this thing could happen anytime, and the people who are not. Absolutely, that's, the crucial thing is to remember that each of these early Christian positions took, was evolved in a very specific context. And it wasn't just an early Christian strategy, you know, all these Jewish groups, like the Essenes, even the Pharisees, saw themselves as holier and having the right way of reading as opposed to the other groups that didn't. And the Essenes often talked about other Jewish sexes as not Jewish. And so in that sense, I think the early Christian groups were trying to differentiate themselves, trying to explain why they had the right understanding of Jewish scripture, and the other Jewish groups didn't. Of course, that evolves over time. In Paul, you can really see how Paul is trying to explain how his way of reading makes better sense of the Jewish scriptures than other ways of reading.
By the time you get to the gospels, which scholars believe were written different periods between 70 and 110 A.D. roughly, you start to see it kind of a different need. I need to demonize the Jews more, partly because the Romans of Conquered Jerusalem, and it's not necessarily helpful to be seen as Jewish, also because there's a deeper split between the Jewish community and the Christian community. So anti-Judaism in the gospels places, slightly different role. So you're absolutely right. We have to really understand, in its own historical context, the development of each of these attitudes. What I think is most problematic, though, is how, after, let's say the third, fourth, fifth century, when Christianity becomes the official religion of the Roman Empire and of most of Europe, how these ideas start to evolve free of any real competition with Jews. Now they are a way of thinking about the world, not a way of thinking about our own particular struggle as a small Christian community with a dominant Jewish one. Yeah.
Why do you, well, again, I guess, here coming back to the big question is, why it is that that way of thinking about Jews and the symbolics, the name of the significance of Jew, why is it that just didn't fade out at some point? Why is it that it continued and it's still with us? Well, I think that, in a way, the values that encode anti-Judaism are all the values we hold most dear. Christianity and also Judaism taught us to imagine that the spiritual is higher than the carnal and that our ideals should be expressed in spiritual ways. This isn't just Christianity or Judaism either. Pagan, Platonism, philosophy has taught us the same things. So those values are our dearest values. We don't want a world which is just about matter and just about the world. We want a world that has higher values. But Christianity also taught us that we should think about that world in terms of the low, the carnal being Jewish, the high, the pure, the ideal being spiritual and Christian. And so in a way, this logic, which carried forward
past Christianity into modern philosophy, I don't want to bore you with Hegel and people like that, but very much into our own modern philosophy, it's still our ideals. What we don't realize is the extent to which our ideals about making the world a better place are actually often easily displaced into anti-Judaism, precisely because they were born from this Christian logic. And that's what I think most tragic about this whole thing, all of us who often think about making the world better and what really matters in the world are thinking in terms which can easily deflect into anti-Judaism. And that's why so many Jews today on the left, that is Jews who share a certain progressive social vision who are leftists and who have been very actively occupied in anti-globalization, anti-capitalism movement, et cetera, find themselves abandoned by the left, find themselves unable to participate because that left is becoming increasingly anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist.
And in a way, I think that's the best example of what I mean when I say that even our most modern ideals, our most modern desire to prevent incoming inequalities and to prevent, say, the vast disparities of wealth between the third world and the first, easily get translated into these terms of the Jew is self-interest, materialism, et cetera. And we have to be anti-Jewish, anti-Zionist in order to be idealist and either idealist of the left or idealist of the right. We have a couple of cars. We have someone here who's on a cell phone, so I want to get that person first and that will be line number two. Hello. Yes, hello. Yes. Do you hear me? Yes. Thank you so much for taking my call. Unfortunately, I didn't get the name of your speaker, so I apologize if I cannot address him by his name. But in any event, I heard his comment that anti-Semitism takes its cover from the ancient time.
That is not right now, maybe at some point in time, it could have been true, but it is not now. If we go back during the ancient time that the Persian Empire gave the refugees to Jews, that kind of refutes that argument even at the ancient time. However, let's go back to the 20th and 21st century. The anti-Semitism, first of all, it is very, very important that we distinguish between the people of Israel and the government of Israel. Government of Israel is nothing but a Zionist regime, which is very much like the South Africa apartheid. They do pursue their genocide. We will see every year, years after years, killing, killing, massacred, and genocide,
all the people of Palestine, and how they killed the children, eight years, nine years old, because they are throwing stones at the tanks and bulletproofs and the brutality of the Israeli agents. Even in those agents that they do not want to pursue this genocide, they are prosecuted and persecuted. They are in jail in Israeli jails, because they cannot go ahead and kill this innocent Palestinian and destroy their home. It's unbelievable. And unfortunately, the word has been silenced about this crime. Look what is going on. So that is one thing. Let's go back and stop talking about this ancient, what is going on at that time, and that's the reason and all that. Look back, look carefully, what kind of a policy, what kind of a crime is Israeli government is perpetrating on the innocent people, all right?
And go back to see that this government under Sharon, Sharon, right before it became elected, was wanted, was recognized as a war criminal in Europe. Then he became a prime minister, and then, you know, the whole thing has been stopped. He has a mastermind that he has carried out so many, so many wars, so many killing, so many of innocent people. The history is there, people can go and look at it. So this issue of the anti-Semite and all that, when people just go back and repeat the crimes of Israeli government, then that is labeled as anti-Semite. Let's stop it. This is enough. The word needs to come to a peace, to a peaceful situation. And what is going on? Why the American government's policy, you know, has been labeled, you know, as a partner of crime with Israel, is because they're pursuing the order of Israeli government.
You know, the lobby in Washington is very powerful, okay? Well, let's get, I appreciate the comments of the caller, and let's get a response here from the guest, and talk about sorting out disentangling what one might feel about the government of Israel, current government of Israel, and its policies. How does that, how do we un-not that from anti-Semitism? No, I, in fact, I think the caller is very helpful because she's actually, I think, performing for us the problem, the problem of how we disentangle the effects ideologies have on how we perceive the world and how the world actually is. For example, to lay my own cards on the table, and by the way, my name is David, I agree with a caller that the Sharon government is not pursuing constructive policies, and I would prefer very different policies,
and I think many people would. The question then is, why do we see, why do we describe these policies in the terms we do, and why do we give them the importance in the world that we do? For example, the caller frequently used the word genocide. Now, last I checked, and I'm not a modernist, I don't keep up on these statistics every day, but last I checked, the death toll among Palestinians is about 3,000, the little higher than 3,000, so far in the second anti-fada, and among Israelis about 900. So let's call that a ratio of four to one. That's the ratio that you can see in a war, but not in a genocide. I don't understand why we would call these kinds of conflicts genocidal. The caller's comment, for example, that the jail percentage is that the large percentages of the Palestinian community are jailed by the Israelis, and leaving aside my own feelings about how Israel is pursuing its own security, and I think it's doing many things that I would not favor. Its jail percentages are, the percentage of Palestinians
and jail don't seem to me appreciably different from the percentage of black Americans and jail in Baltimore that I live in. In fact, they're lower. So why are we not sitting here talking about the genocidal policies of the United States? Or why are we not talking about the genocidal policies of the Russians in Chechnya, where many more than 3,000 Muslims have been killed by occupation forces? When we talk about Shiroin as a war criminal, many world leaders are indicted as war criminals on vastly political grounds. Bush is often referred to in Europe as a war criminal, and we, in America, tend to recognize the political nature of accusation that Bush is a war criminal. But we don't tend to recognize the political nature of the accusation that Shiroin is a war criminal. So I guess what I'm trying to say is that the reason we call is what Israel is doing genocide, and the reason we attribute to it, the world importance that we do, is because our ideologies predispose us to attribute this kind of importance to actions by a Jewish state, that we would not
see in actions by other states or even our own. It has very much, I think the color is a great example of how our ideological preconditioning, about how we think about what the problems of the world are in terms of Judaism, makes us find in the world the problems we want to find, focus on them, and project onto them all the problems of the world. Well, I don't mean to be in any way to put words into your mouth, but I could imagine some people hearing you, as marvelously articulated as you were, and responding to the caller, and hear you saying that buried in, embedded in the criticism that many people will make of the government of Israel and its policy in regards to the Palestinian, that anti-Semitism is in there. No, no, I see the problem absolutely. I see what you're saying.
I think we need to maintain a constant and relentless criticism of any polity that we think is in the wrong. Beginning with the most powerful polity in the world, which is our own, I think it's our democratic duty to be relentlessly critical of the way we act in the world. And I actually think that the way in which the US acts in the world, not specifically vis-a-vis Israel, but say vis-a-vis oil economies, et cetera, has a lot more to do with the power of the new anti-Semitism than almost anything else. But I think it's our duty to be relentlessly critical of all policies, and including the Israeli. But I think we also have to be very, very aware of what we are fixing when we are relentlessly critical of those policies. When we're relentlessly critical of Israel, we are trying to make Israel a better place, better for Palestinians, better for Jews. We're not going to, if we think we're making the world as a whole, a better place, then we're thinking disproportionately about the importance of Israel. It's the disproportionateness that is fueled by anti-Semitism, not the criticism. So I would say what we have to remember when we criticize
Israel is that we're criticizing a nation of 5 million people of actually very small importance, even in the Middle East, and that we don't fix Saudi Arabia by criticizing Israel. We don't fix the world economy by criticizing Israel. We don't solve the world problem of racism as the Durban conference thought it was doing by criticizing Israel. We have to realize, we have to be honest, about what we solve when we criticize Israel. We are only trying to help Israel be a better polity or if we're honest, and we feel differently, we're trying to end Israel as a polity, but we're not going to solve the problems, the broader problems of the world by doing so. That's what I think we have to keep in mind. And when we get confused about that, that's when we become anti-Semite. We have about 15 minutes left in this part of Focus 580, and I should introduce again our guest, because maybe people have been listening for a while. We're talking with David Nyronberg. He is Professor of History and Director of Jewish Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He is one of the world's leading medieval and Jewish historians.
And he's here visiting the campus. And questions or comments are certainly welcome. As we continue to talk, 3-3-3-9-4-5, toll 3-800-2-2-9-4-5. Next caller up is in Champaign County, on line one. Hello. Hi. I find your presentation a good example of something. You say, your own policies are not constructive, and you criticize her for calling them genocidal. I think most people would agree that they're somewhere in between. So I think you might be presuitable on that point that calling it non-constructive is not right. What you just said about Israel, criticizing Israel is just trying to help Israel. When you're criticizing Israel, really, you're criticizing US policy, because a lot of Israelis, even then, I've talked to, don't like being a military outpost for an American empire.
And that's what a lot of people I think need to get to to criticize. And that's why we're entitled to criticize Israeli policy, not just prima facia for its own sake. So there's a lot more at stake. You said you weren't implying that anti-Semitism was at the root of criticism of Israel, but you introduced this whole result from Europe implying that it was evidence of that. And I think that, of course, there's probably a fraction of the respondents in that poll that reflects the anti-Semitic residual anti-Semitic fanatics, Nazis, in Europe. But I think most of them are not motivated by anti-Semitism. They're just astonished by the kind of impunity that Israel has in the world, particularly in the West Bank.
And that's not to be dismissed at all. I was actually motivated to call about more economic issues and not going into the religious parts. But the old quote that anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools is, I think, an important thing maybe come back to at some point. And though, by ethnic group, Jewish people, and that's hard to define since there's so much intermarriage, et cetera, and so many different fractions. But Jewish people are, by ethnic group, the richest in this country, and it may be true of the world, too. But that doesn't mean that they are the ruling class. They mean that they're probably a slightly higher fraction of the elite in this country than they are of this country, 5% or 6%. But so I was really motivated to call about the economic thing. And you're talking about your liberal policy
on feeling uncomfortable and working inside of anti-globalization movements, et cetera. I think you need to get over it, basically. I don't want to dismiss you the same way you dismiss the aluminum that just called prior. But well, again, I'm inclined to. Let's get a response. Well, I didn't think I was dismissing the previous caller on the contrary. I thought that I was trying to separate both what's very helpful about her point and what is hyperbolic about her point. And I think that's always a problem with discussions of Israel. And I guess I'd try to approach your very, again, very helpful intervention the same way. You say criticism of Israel is criticism of the US. And I say that to the extent that that's true, we should be criticizing the US. I think, of course, we need to criticize Israel for the effect of its policies. And there effect in, as you say, the West Bank
in the occupied territories, which are, after all, the only part of the world that has ever experienced what you could legitimately call Jewish tyranny. But I don't think we can criticize the US as a vehicle for criticized Israel as a vehicle for criticizing the US. I think for that, we need to criticize the much vaster, much more powerful policies of the US. And I'll give you an example of that slippage in your own question. You said people feel this 59% feel the way they do because of the impunity of Israel in the world. And then you corrected that and said, in the West Bank. No, I would have been adding it more specifically. The Israel has been help made to the US policy in Argentina, Central America, Guatemala, Israeli agents, you know, with appropriate cutouts. We're used to supply galleal rifles to real smart. And if I say I'm anti-Zionist, percentage-wise, I'm more anti-Christian scientist. There's a higher percentage of Christians in this country who I'm anti than I am anti-Jewish Zionist.
Right. Well, I think the real issue is the slippage precisely between Israel and the West Bank and Israel and the world. I think to the extent that you want to focus on allies and proxies of the US. There are many allies and proxies of the US. I know many people supplying rifles to many different civil wars and many different parties and many different US proxies. The Israel is only one of them. And the interesting and in fact is a relatively minor one in most of the world, except in the West Bank and the occupied territory. And then finally, I'd say your point about anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools. I guess what I'd say it's also the anti-Americanism of fools or the anti-colonialism of fools. And there are more intelligent ways to the anti-American and anti-colonial, more direct ways. And I think probably more effective ways. Because one of the things that I think we will find is that we can actually affect change in how the US treats Israel. We should fight to affect that change
if we believe that that's for the good. And clearly you do. But I think what we'll find is that it won't affect American policies elsewhere that is to say to the extent that you think America is fostering a globalization or a colonialism or a neo-colonialism that's dangerous. Effecting its relationship with Israel is not going to change those broader policies which have much more impact in the world than Israel's policies. So I guess I'm just calling for a sense of proportion in what our pressures and our indignation about Israel can achieve. And I think I'm also calling for us to address those of us who feel or those of you who feel a certain way about the evils of the world to look more realistically at where those problems come from and more direct ways to address them. I have to, I hope the caller will forgive me. I just have to jump in because we just, as I say now, we're less than 10 minutes. We have some other callers. And I'm going to try to give them a chance to get into the conversation. And we'll go next to Belgium by Danville. Line number four. Hello.
Hello. Yes, I have been in many times called anti-Semitic because I point out the fact that a great deal of the problem in the West Bank is that they're American Jews who've immigrated to Israel and pick up these positions right smack in the middle of trouble. And I say, this is our problem. So people say, you're anti-Semitic because you don't want these people to go back. So no, no, I'm not. I'm just pointing out the exact problem. And it's so sad that we're all labeled that these names, when many of us are not trying to do that, we're just trying to point out the problem. And I don't know if this ties in exactly with the first gentleman or the first lady that talked. But I don't see why I should be pointed out as being somebody who's horribly disfigured with this name of anti-Semitic. But no, all I'm saying is the problem is the policies of Israel. And a lot of those policies of Israel point back just as the previous column says
to the United States and that these people go to right in the middle of the problem and masturbate it. Would you like to go on with that? Certainly. Yeah, no, I think first, I don't think you should be calling, I guess I've been trying to make this clear throughout every call. I don't think that you should be called anti-Semitic for criticizing what's going on in Israel and in the occupied territories by no means. And I think that there are many, many Jews in Israel and non-Jews in Israel and many Jews outside of Israel who would agree with you that the settlements are a great provocation and a barrier to peace. I think where people would perhaps feel more uncomfortable would be in the unilateral assignment of causality or blame, as to say. When you say it's the settlers who are the cause of the entire problem in the Middle East, then you're probably vastly oversimplifying the problem. And when you oversimplify the problem in that way, then the question becomes, well, why do we
tend to see problems in certain simplified ways and not others? So I guess what I'm trying to say is there's nothing anti-Semitic about criticizing Israel. There's nothing anti-Semitic about criticizing the PLO. And there are many people who, many Palestinians who feel that the PLO has not been the most constructive in pursuing their interests or negotiating peace either. There's nothing anti-Semitic in either those positions. But what the anti-Semitism comes in is when we tend to, when we unknowingly tend to project our sense of responsibility and blame in only one place, we do so because of our ideological structures, preconditioning, our preconceptions. But we're not aware of those preconceptions and how they structure our thought. And that's the danger. And that's why I would disagree with the first color above all in this, history does matter. That is to say, understanding how a long history of thinking and of talking about the world and of making sense of the world shapes the tools available to us with which
to understand that world will help us understand why we see the world today the way we do. And will help us to see where some of those perceptions are not necessarily helpful and where we might adjust them so that we can affect better change in the world. We have other callers, again, I'm trying to get at least one more. This next person is in Champagne and on line three. Hello. Good morning. With all the respect, I sort of I agree with some of these callers that say state that you're a guest speaking kind of sending a link towards a position that they're taking. And specifically, you mentioned the left instead that the left was anti-semitic. You made that sort of a blur. And I think the left can better very characterize, at least part of it, as objectively seeing the United States policy as being respect to Israel as being out of whack in that we're supporting the current policies of Israel towards Palestinians there. And also that if we're analyzing the general situation,
our support for the Israelis and the West Bank or what's happening in the West Bank is using our planes, our helicopters. You know, that's how it plays in the Middle East. It is a major factor in how we're going to settle things in Iraq and with the Islam people. And I think any other arguments are valid. I understand there's a projection going on, and anti-Semitism doesn't exist. But would you agree, perhaps, that you can take a position that is anti-Zionist, if you call it Zionism, the extreme tactics employed by the Israelis upon occasion? Do you agree that we can be objective and see this as I'm not lining it? Or do you think that's becoming an aborder anti-Semitism? Well, no, no, not at all. First, you raise a lot of interesting points as I have all the previous callers. And I'm not trying to be kind of sending. I'm trying to engage them on the level of depth and complexity they deserve.
And one of the points you raised is this question is the left anti-Semitic. And I certainly don't mean to imply that the left is anti-Semitic. The left is many things. There is no left. There's no monolithic left. There are many, many left with many different interests. But what I was trying to suggest, and I think you can see this in many of the slogans and anti-globalization rallies and many of the websites today, is that the left has started to adopt explicitly anti-Semitic symbols like the star of David deforming into a swastika or like chance Yankees, Nazis, and Zionists, no more chosen peoples, or not, sorry, Yankees, Yankees, and Jews, no more chosen peoples, that are the doodraw on what we call popular anti-Semitism. So but those are just small strands. I'm not suggesting that the left is as a whole anti-Semitic. And absolutely, I agree with you that one can say that, for example, one can be anti-synist in the sense of saying, I believe that certain hard nationalism as it presents itself in the settlements is dangerous and has profound repercussions for the world
and not be anti-Semitic. Absolutely, I agree with you. So in that sense, I'm not trying to suggest, in any way, that criticism of the conditions of the world, and it's particularly conditions in Israel and the occupied territories, is anti-Semitic necessarily. And second, or third, your point about the consequences in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I do agree there, too, that our policies in Israel do have consequences to our policies in the rest of the world. But I also want to be a little clear about the limitations I see to that. And that is that I think we can address many of these issues in Israel we can bring, and we ought to bring pressure to bear on the Israeli state, especially given the amount of aid we give them. But I don't think we should fantasize that that will miraculously fix our relationship to the Islamic world, because the differences that exacerbate the tensions between us and the Islamic world
are much deeper than that. And they have to do with profound structural inequalities with oil economies, with the kinds of regimes we support throughout the Arab world, regimes which, after all, stay in place largely by projecting hatred against them toward Israel. So I would say that we should, again, and I guess I'm repeating something I've already said, we do need to be critical of a certain Zionism that we think is dangerous. If we think it is, those of us, and I'm not giving up on the left, those of us who have certain attitudes and certain beliefs should continue to fight for them. But we should not fantasize that they are going to achieve more than they actually can. And when we start to fantasize that, that's when we become anti-Semitic. Well, my apologies to it. We have some colors we can take. We've just used our time, and we want to say thanks to our guest, David Nirenberg, his professor of history, and director of Jewish studies at Johns Hopkins University. Here visiting the campus, thank you very much.
Thank you very much, and thanks to your colors.
Anti-semitism from Ancient Egypt to the Present
Producing Organization
WILL Illinois Public Media
Contributing Organization
WILL Illinois Public Media (Urbana, Illinois)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/16-js9h41k23m).
Episode Description
With David Nirenberg (Professor of Humanities, The Johns Hopkins University)
Broadcast Date
Talk Show
Race/Ethnicity; Religion; race-ethnicity
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Guest: Nirenberg, David
Host: Inge, David
Producer: Brighton, Jack
Producer: Travis,
Producing Organization: WILL Illinois Public Media
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Illinois Public Media (WILL)
Identifier: focus031114a.mp3 (Illinois Public Media)
Format: audio/mpeg
Generation: Copy
Duration: 48:25
Illinois Public Media (WILL)
Identifier: focus031114a.wav (Illinois Public Media)
Format: audio/vnd.wav
Generation: Master
Duration: 48:25
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Focus; Anti-semitism from Ancient Egypt to the Present,” 2003-11-14, WILL Illinois Public Media, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 25, 2024,
MLA: “Focus; Anti-semitism from Ancient Egypt to the Present.” 2003-11-14. WILL Illinois Public Media, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. July 25, 2024. <>.
APA: Focus; Anti-semitism from Ancient Egypt to the Present. Boston, MA: WILL Illinois Public Media, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from