Madmen in Authority

Jews Make the Best Demons: “Palestine” and the Jewish Question.

by Eric Rozenman (December 2018)

Eclipse of God (After the Uccello Panel Breaking Down the Jew’s Door), R.B. Kitaj, 1997


The most useful lever in antisemitism’s “return to the norm,” incorporating demonization and delegitimization as well as double standards, has been the lie of Palestine, the “Palestinian narrative.”


“Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.”  So believed John Maynard Keynes, the influential early 20th century British economist. If so, then the history of ideas is one of the most important, though often minimized, branches of the discipline. It is true especially in our age, surfeited with academic scribblers whose distilled frenzies go from fads to lethal movements, accelerated by Web-enabled digital democracy. Democracy in this sense perhaps is understood best as the electrified version of what Edmund Burke, John Adams and other 18th century liberal conservatives feared as mobocracy. Regardless, today’s virtual polity regularly features dilution of content but intensification of emotion via social media. Twitter, one key social media platform, is aptly named.


Where do our beliefs, our ideas that we imagine are simultaneously fresh and enduring, originate? Like coins worn by long use, they often come to us through many hands and over a span of time sufficient for superstition to reemerge as fact. Hoary notions—daubed with the rouge of contemporary jargon and sped along digitally—appear as new. If not from madmen in authority, then via ideologues who scribble as madmen’s handmaidens, relentlessly mainstreaming what otherwise would be marginalized.


So it has been with the lie of Palestine, with antisemitism veiled by anti-Zionism. It turns out Theodore Herzl, Leon Pinsker and Max Nordau were wrong. They and other fathers of political Zionism believed the antisemitism flooding Europe at the end of the 19th century resulted from Jewish statelessness. Return them to their ancient status as a sovereign people and the Jews too, like Europe’s re-emerging independent nationalities including Greeks, Italians and Germans in their newly sovereign or newly unified nation-states, no longer would be suspect strangers in lands not their own. Instead, they would be “normalized” in their old-new land, the Altneuland of Herzl’s seminal Zionist work. The Jews’ more than 1,800-year history of exile and wandering—stereotyped, belittled, scapegoated, ghettoized and ultimately slaughtered—would be ended.


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But it didn’t work that way. Rather, indigenous Middle Eastern antisemitism, particularly that rooted in Arab, Sunni Muslim imperialism, found itself reinvigorated by an incipient Islamism promoted during World War I by Imperial Germany to bolster Ottoman Turkey’s fight against Great Britain and France. It received a more thorough accelerant via World War II propaganda, funding and training from fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. This European imperialism manifested itself in an Arab nationalist form in mid-twentieth century with Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser’s pan-Arabism and competing Syrian and Iraqi branches of the Ba’ath (Renewal) Party. Renewal, in Arabic, was used commonly in Nazi propaganda to Arab audiences during World War II. Ba’ath Party founders acknowledged the inspirational example they found in the Third Reich, especially its strong man leadership principle, highly organized society and genocidal hatred of the Jews.


[1] .


Arab-Islamic imperialism reappeared in a puritanical religious manner early in the twenty-first century in the Islamic State’s murderous “caliphate.” The concept had been seeded world-wide through Saudi-funded, Wahhabi-influenced mosques and schools from Indonesia to northern Virginia. Much of that funding came from the West in the 1970s and after as petro-dollars. Wahhabi supersessionism went back several centuries in the Arabian Peninsula. From the 1890s through World Wars I and II the roots of Sunni militancy were nourished by German Arabists, beginning with Kaiser Wilhelm II’s Arabist advisor, Max von Oppenheim. Those von Oppenheim mentored played an even larger role in German Middle East policy during World War II, always hoping to promote jihad against the British and French.


The “Palestinian George Washington,” Haj Amin al-Husseini—the Nazis’ most important non-European World War II collaborator—also exercised a widely recognized and highly influential pan-Arab and pan-Islamic leadership. Taking up where the Third Reich ended, the Soviet Union and its satellites stepped in with subsidies, indoctrination and training. Thus enhanced, bolstered by Soviet anti-colonial agitation and attaching itself to Western far-left movements, a “new-old” antisemitism soaked back into increasingly receptive European societies as anti-Zionism after Israel’s miraculous 1967 Six-Day War victory. It increasingly became a universal antidote to European guilt over both pervasive Jew-hatred that led to the Holocaust and colonial crimes in Africa, the Middle East and other parts of Asia. Legendary Nazi-hunter Beate Klarsfeld, for example, saw one instance of the tendency after the Six-Day War in leftist German students finding it more convenient “to demonstrate on behalf of Palestinians than to reckon with the crimes of their own fathers”[2] .


Anti-Zionist antisemitism spread from the Near East through Europe to North America, particularly through academia, some Protestant churches and communications media by the end of the 20th century. American Jewish defense organizations, self-disarmed by uncritical diversity worship, imaged that Jews as a free and independent people held membership like other peoples in a multi-cultural rainbow. As a result, they too often recognized and confronted the new/old antisemitism belatedly and half-heartedly.


But anti-Zionist antisemitism illustrated how Herzl’s old-new Jewish state, Israel, conveniently had become the Neualt Jude, the new-old Jew. The collective, or collected, Jew replaced the individual, wandering Jew as target—not that individual Jews outside Israel would remain shielded. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, despite having examined post-World War II genocides elsewhere, as of this writing has yet to present an exhibit or symposium forthrightly addressing the renewed potential—fomented particularly by Islamists and the post-liberal left—of the specific catastrophe it commemorates. George Will might recommend staring into the black hole of the Holocaust to achieve a realistic appreciation of the depths as well as heights inherent in society and politics, but even for some of those most familiar with the Shoah, the possibility that it remains a process rather than having been an event mutes critical speech.


In the mid-1960s, Elie Wiesel wrote The Jews of Silence, about Soviet Jewry brutally repressed by the communist regime. Today’s functional equivalent are those Jews emotionally unwilling or psychologically unable to speak for Zionism and Judaism, for Jewish peoplehood. When not silent they sometimes sublimate and, seeking protective coloration in an increasingly threatening environment, rhetorically impugn Israel and its advocates for violating standards no other country is held to.


From classical antiquity through medieval Christianity to the 19th and 20th centuries many people have believed the worst about Jews: Killers of non-Jews, killers of Christ, of children, of nations. When those superstitions have lain dormant, Jews, though almost everywhere and at all times a minority, often tiny, not only survived but also prospered. When those beliefs led to action, forced conversions, expulsions, pogroms and the Holocaust resulted.


Today Jews and non-Jews again live in a time of intensifying, spreading antisemitism. Anti-Zionist antisemitism strives to make intellectually respectable, even mandatory, hatred of the Jewish state. It thereby returns to acceptability open hostility to the Jewish people. The falsehoods entwined in the Palestinian narrative reopen “the Jewish question,” as in “what crimes have the Jews committed now and what must we do about, with and to them?”


Journalist Jonathan Rosen observed, shortly after al-Qaeda’s destruction of the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001 that Jews—the Jews—had become a question mark again, as in, “What, are you still here?” “I had somehow believed that the Jewish Question, which so obsessed both Jews and antisemites in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, had been solved—most horribly by Hitler’s ‘final solution,’ most hopefully by Zionism. But more and more I feel Jews being turned into a question mark once again. How is it, the world still asks—about Israel, about Jews, about me—that you are still here? I have always known that much of the world wanted Jews simply to disappear, but there are degrees of knowledge, and after September 11 my imagination seems more terribly able to imagine a world of rhetoric fulfilled.


[3] .


No, not strange at all. Its “normality” is made clear by the recurrent vitriol against a central—and chronically, often intentionally misrepresented—Jewish concept, that of the Chosen People with a Promised Land. Chosen people not by virtue of being somehow superior, but rather exactly because of their comparative insignificance in numbers and raw power. That is, as the rabbinic sages taught, selected just so, to carry a message much greater than themselves. Promised land as in a stage, a platform from which to exemplify Judaism’s message, rather than as an unmerited reward. Promised “because from Zion shall go forth Torah, and the word of God from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3).


Yet Jews as the bearers of Judaism have been from the start also a sort of superpower, a spiritual one, carrying this universal—if often unwelcomed—divine message of individual ethical responsibility. But even when unwelcomed the message has been so inescapably influential that both Christianity and Islam were compelled to present themselves ab initio not as something completely new but rather as inheritors and completions of Judaism, branches superseding the trunk. The former grew as “the new Israel,” the latter as “the final revelation.”


When oppressed, the Jews—at least a critical mass of them—preserved that universal spiritual message. Most Jews, like most non-Jews, are in the historic sense quite ordinary people. But when relatively free, they—or at least individual members of their tribe—have been astonishingly productive, inexplicably disproportionate contributors to civilization. Those contributions extend over three millennia, from some of the greatest poetry ever written, epitomized by the “Song of Songs,” to the fundamentals of the computer age as developed by Johann van Neumann and advanced by his students and disciples. They were often Jewish, many of them Israeli. They are closely analyzed by George Gilder as both examples of individual Jews’ disproportionately high creativity and the benefit to mankind at large from free, liberal capitalistic societies[4] . One advantage of such societies is the opportunity they offer to that sliver of unusually creative Jews. The Jews amount to less than 0.25 percent of the world’s population. Yet from among them have emerged 25 percent of all Nobel Prize winners—100 times more than “proportionate.” No other people, large or small, comes close. Reason enough to hate them and their exceptional state.


Prof. B.Z. Sobel of Haifa University (by way of Ohio’s Miami and Massachusetts’ Brandeis universities) used to say that of all peoples who were influential beyond their own borders in antiquity, only two remained so and basically intact in modern times—the Chinese and the Jews. The Chinese, of course, were never exiled from their homeland and constitute roughly one-fifth of humankind, not a fraction of a fraction of one percent. Of the scores of nations born or re-born since the end of World War II, few have begun with less and none achieved more, democratically, economically, scientifically, culturally and militarily, and none under such unrelenting threats, as Israel. Envy and resentment being constants of human nature, here lies emotion enough to revive antisemitism through anti-Zionism. But a pretext, a trigger, is required to transform emotion into action. That trigger has been the lie of Palestine.


So the resurgence of antisemitism via anti-Zionism is not strange after all. Rejection, supersession, envy, fear, scapegoating long have found in Jews, as a small tribe, in the Jew, isolated or isolatable, the prototypical object and ideal target. Instead of strange, resurgent antisemitism—at times wearing and at others discarding the cloak of anti-Zionism—amounts to a regression to the mean. In 2016, Prof. Alvin Rosenfeld of the University of Indiana, a specialist in the study of antisemitism, admitted he’d been wrong for many years to believe that after the Holocaust hatred of Jews would not reappear as a major trend throughout the West.


Israeli novelist Aharon Appelfeld, writing as had Rosen, shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 horrors and one year into the Palestinian Arabs’ second intifada that would murder 1,100 Israelis and visitors before sputtering out in 2005, put it this way:


“I used to feel that those of us who had suffered in the Holocaust were immune to fear. I was wrong. We are more sensitive to danger. We can smell it. A few days ago, a Holocaust survivor came over to my table [at a Jerusalem coffee shop where Appelfeld often wrote] and enumerated the dangers ahead of us. During the war, he had been in three death camps. He was a master of dangers. There wasn’t a danger that he didn’t know in the most minute detail.


“The daily disasters evoke images of the Holocaust. Fifty-six years have passed, and the images don’t go away. Last night, a man approached me and said that he reads all my books with great diligence. Like me, he was an orphaned child during the war, roaming the forests and taking refuge with farmers. He, too, arrived in Israel. He is an engineer, and he is worried about Jewish destiny. Why do the Jews arouse such hatred? he asked. We had naively thought that all the anger and hatred toward us would disappear once we had our own state. I didn’t know what to say. I have never dealt in abstract questions—I try to see the world in pictures. And so I kept quiet while he, dismayed, also kept quiet”[5] .


At first glance, it might seem odd that Jews should have been, and are again in many quarters—in the Middle East and Europe, and increasingly in North America—the subject of a question, the “Jewish question” or even “the Jewish problem” that requires a “solution.” The query is not new. The Enlightenment stimulated, among other things, “local learned societies” that brought the movement “down from the realm of books and ideas to the level of concrete reforms,” according to historians Lynn Hunt, Thomas Martin, Barbara Rosenwein and Bonnie Smith. These societies often sponsored essay contests, such as the one in Metz in 1785 which asked, “Are there means for making the Jews happier and more useful in France?” The society “approved essays that argued for granting civil rights to Jews”[6]. Two decades later Napoleon Bonaparte would adopt such means, though historian Berel Wein has argued that the emperor was interested more in the Jews’ ultimate disappearance through assimilation than their continuance as a distinct people. In any case, Napoleon’s emancipation of Jews from their ghettos and social and economic restrictions was opposed by monarchs across the continent.


Enlightenment fathers, including Denis Diderot and Voltaire, disdained the Jews. The former said they bore “all the defects peculiar to an ignorant and superstitious nation.” As for the latter, Voltaire’s antisemitism was criticized by America’s second president, John Adams, in an 1808 letter. Adams famously wrote, “How is it possible [that he] should represent the Hebrews in such a contemptible light? They are the most glorious nation that ever inhabited this Earth. The Romans and their Empire were but a Bauble in comparison of the Jews. They have given religion to three quarters of the Globe and have influenced the affairs of Mankind more, and more happily, than any other Nation ancient or modern.”




As Gilbert observed in an interview, Churchill and many of his contemporaries were deeply versed in the Bible. But unlike most others, for Churchill the Bible stories were real, including those about Moses, God’s promise to the Jews, and Jewish values. Visiting Jerusalem in 1921, the colonial secretary gave a speech in which he said “we owe to the Jews in the Christian revelation a system of ethics, which, even if it were entirely separated from the supernatural, would be incomparably the most precious possession of mankind, worth in fact the fruits of all other wisdom and learning put together. On that system and by that faith there has been built out of the wreck of the Roman Empire the whole of our existing civilization.”


During Churchill’s short visit to British-controlled Palestine that year, he was struck by “the contrasts between the extraordinary negative points of view put forth by the Palestinian Arabs and the equally positive ones put forth by the Zionists,” Gilbert said. “Churchill didn’t like negativism and he couldn’t comprehend why the Palestinian Arabs were being so negative. It’s quite curious. If you have a look” at what they told him, “you’ll find that three or four [assertions] are actually in the Hamas Charter today, such as the world Jewish conspiracy and so on . . . When Churchill spoke to the Palestinian Arabs, he actually said to them, ‘You’ve got to help the Zionists. They’re people of quality and inasmuch as they’ll succeed, you’ll succeed. Without them, you won’t succeed’”[7].


If false, that statement would have been fatuous irrelevance. If true, easily heard as a condescending reproach. In any case, Churchill told Parliament that “the Jews have developed the country, grown orchards and grain fields out of the desert, built schools and great buildings, constructed irrigation projects and water power houses [electricity generating plants], and have made Palestine a much better place to live than it was before they came a few years ago. To Jewish enterprise, the Arab owes nearly everything he has.” But “fanaticism and a sort of envy have driven the Arabs to violence.”


Religious and ethnic fanaticism and a sort of envy are elements bleached from the Palestinian narrative by Western proponents but enduring in Palestinian rejectionism. For example, Hamas (the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement), to which Gilbert referred, is a U.S. government-designated terrorist organization. It has dominated the Gaza Strip and contends strategically, though at times cooperates tactically, with Fatah, the main component of the Palestinian Authority that administers the West Bank. Though funded by Iran’s Shi’ite Muslim Islamic Revolutionary Republic, Hamas is a branch of the Egyptian-based, anti-Western, anti-Christian and anti-Jewish Muslim Brotherhood. Founded in 1928, the Brotherhood became the incubator of Sunni Islamic extremist movements eventually including al-Qaeda.


The Brotherhood’s credo was and is: “Allah is our objective. The Prophet [Mohammad] is our leader. The Quran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.” Western journalists and academics periodically discern what they believe are noteworthy divisions between Hamas’s “armed” and “political” wings—as if it were not a unitary organization.


Envy and hatred of the Jews, including on the part of Palestinian terrorists, at times may be muted by immediate personal self-interest. Hamas leaders including Ismail Haniyeh, Palestinian Authority “prime minister” after the 2006 elections, have sent family members to Israel for medical treatment while their organization simultaneously prepared to murder Israelis[8] . And not just family members. During a mass hunger strike by Palestinian Arabs jailed on terrorism charges in 2017, the former head of Israel’s bureau of prisons claimed Israeli care saved the life of Hamas’ new leader in the Gaza Strip. Orit Adato (Lt. Gen., Res.) “pointed to Yahya Sinwar, the hard-line Hamas leader in Gaza, who, she said, is alive today only because of brain surgery he received, reportedly for a tumor, while in Israeli prison.


“When they say they are not being treated well, I would ask you and others to give a phone call to one specific person, Yahya Sinwar, who is alive nowadays just because of life-saving surgery he was given,’ she said.[9] The terror group leader served 22 years after being sentenced to multiple life terms for masterminding the kidnapping and murder of two Israeli soldiers in 1988. He was one of more than 1,000 Palestinian terrorists and terrorism suspects exchanged for one captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, in 2011. “In March, Sinwar was elected Gaza leader of Hamas, a terror group publicly committed to the destruction of Israel by violent means which has fought three wars with Israel since it seized control of the Strip [from Fatah] in 2007.”


Hamas (as an Arabic word, the acronym Hamas means “zeal”) does not conceal but rather spotlights its Islamic fanaticism. Its fervor is inculcated in Gaza’s children—at early ages they are costumed by adults as suicide bombers and shown cartoons of Israelis as rats and spiders, Israel and the United States as vultures—and celebrated at mass rallies by the “resistance’s” adults. Israel’s humanitarianism toward believers such as Sinwar may reflect a Jewish obligation—Micah’s injunction to love mercy—to fellow human beings. It may reflect Israeli policy, or perhaps Jewish foolishness. Maybe all three. What it does not demonstrate is racism toward Palestinian Arabs, including their worst representatives. 


Asked about parallels between early 21st century radical Islam and 20th century Nazism, Gilbert said “what they have in common, for whatever reason, is that both of them have decided that the most effective demon is the Jew. All I can say is that Churchill was a persistent opponent of antisemitism.” Radical Islam—better, Islamic supremacism—and Nazism do have demonization of Jews in common, and not by accident. Cross-pollinizing between the two ideologies intensified early in the Third Reich with a key Palestinian Arab-Nazi connection. This tie, and a close parallel, between Palestinian Arab movements and the Soviet Union and its clients, such as Cuba, in the 1960s and ’70s, are discussed below. It was not Zionism and the Jewish state that was born in ideological sin, but rather its enemies, Palestinian Arab rejectionism in particular.


Demonization is central to antisemitism, and to Islamist anti-Americanism. For that reason, leaders of Iran’s Islamic Republic long have labeled Israel “the little Satan,” the United States “the great Satan.” The phrases are not rhetorical flourishes but rather expressions of core belief and motivation. At mass rallies organized by the Iranian government and its supporters, mentions of “the little Satan” and “the great Satan” have been and continue to be followed by shouts of “Death to Israel!” and “Death to America!” Sometimes the rallies feature parades of military units and equipment, including missiles draped with banners emblazoned with vows to fulfill those shouted demands. For example, when Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen attacked a Saudi frigate in the Red Sea—perhaps mistaking it for a U.S. vessel—killing two Saudi sailors and wounding three, a voice narrating a video tape recording of the attack shouts the Houthi battle cry: “God is great, death to America, death to Israel, a curse on the Jews and victory for Islam!”[10] . The words, theatrics and deeds resonate far from Iran and not only among Shi’ite Muslims.


The Nazi Holocaust made antisemitism—Jew-hatred—disreputable in the West. For two generations. But the oldest hatred is back, revived and recertified by the lie of Palestine. Hence the Hamas Charter calls for the destruction of Israel, the establishment of a Sunni Muslim theocracy over it, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and genocide of the Jews. Even so, Hamas has Western apologists, including leading members of the British Labor Party. And demonstrators outside the White House in 2003, who opposed the U.S.-led war against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. They also denounced Israel in solidarity with the terrorist organization. “We’re all Hamas now!” some declared.


Some insist they do not hate Jews as individuals and would tolerate them as members of a religious minority, one perhaps quaint, obsolescent or irrelevant. But simultaneously they are convinced by the Palestinian narrative and so believe the Jewish state to have been the wrong, even criminal answer to the Jewish question, a question reopened and clamoring once again for “the right” answer. 



[1] Nazis, Islamists and the Making of the Modern Middle East, Rubin and Schwanitz, pages 128-129.

[2] “Militants of Memory,” Bookshelf review by Benjamin Balint of Hunting the Truth, by Beate and Serge Klarsfeld, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018, Wall Street Journal, March 21, 2018.

[3] “The Uncomfortable Question of Anti-Semitism,” The New York Times Magazine, Nov. 4, 2001.

[4] The Israel Test: Why the World’s Most Besieged State is a Beacon of Freedom and Hope for the World Economy, Richard Vigilante Books, 2009.

[5] “Talk of the Town, Tuesday and After,” The New Yorker, Sept. 24, 2001.

[6] The Making of the West: Peoples and Cultures, A Concise History, by Hunt, Martin,  Rosenwein and Smith, Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013, page 576.

[7] “Churchill and the Jews: One of his finest hours,” by Amy K. Rosenthal, World Jewish Digest, and

[8] “Hamas leader’s daughter treated in Israel hospital,” The Telegraph (U.K.), Oct. 20, 2014.

[9] “We saved the life of Hamas’ Gaza leader, says Israel’s ex-prison chief, dismissing strikers’ complaints,” Times of Israel, May 11, 2017.

[10] “Exclusive: Pentagon Believes Attack on Saudi Frigate Meant for U.S. Warship,” Fox News, Jan. 31, 2017.



Jews Make the Best Demons: “Palestine” and the Jewish Question.

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