BY ADINA LEVINE
In a lecture entitled, “Why Anti-Semitism Succeeds,” Professor Ruth Wisse asserted that anti-Semitism is a political maneuver that blames the Jews as a diversion from the root causes of problems. In speaking to a filled Pound Hall classroom two weeks ago, Wisse linked the historical and economic roots of anti-Semitism to its modern-day manifestation through anti-Israel sentiment.
“Once it has been successfully determined whether Israel is responsible, it doesn’t matter whether I get up and say I support Israel,” explained Wisse. “It only serves the greater cause of making Israel the subject, when Jews are not the cause. They do not bear responsibility. It’s a complete figment of the imagination, but very effective one.”
Defining anti-Semitism on a political level, as “the organization of politics opposed to Jews” distinct from individual anti-Semitism, Wisse compared the premise of anti-Semitism to a magician’s hat trick, focusing the audience on the irrelevant hand to divert attention from the real force of the other hand.
“Blame is the politics of the pointing finger,” asserted Wisse. “When really, you’re looking at the wrong feature, the wrong political action, the wrong political target.”
By engaging in the conversation, Jews succumb to the charge that they are the subject of the controversy, argued Wisse. Instead, they should not defend themselves as long as the premise erroneously remains that the focus is the Jews.
“Never defend,” enjoined Wisse. “When somebody says, ‘Why doesn’t Israel honor the Arab right of return? Why is Israel building this wall?’ the minute you agree to answer to that charge, I think you’ve lost. The only way to do it is to say ‘why is it that 55 years after the creation of the state of Israel have the Arabs not accepted the presence of the Jewish states? There are 23 Arab states, why should there not be one Jewish state?’ That’s the question to ask, every other question is secondary. Never, never agree to make Israel the subject.”
The politics of making Israel the enemy is a strategy employed by politicians to avoid dealing with problems in their own countries, by asserting a common enemy as the root of the problems, Wisse claimed.
“The Arab rulers displaced Palestinians so that they can muster their politics against Israel,” maintained Wisse. “Arab rulers have needed Israel as an enemy more than anything else in their political lives. Without Israel, it’s hard to know what they would have had to face in the last 55 years.”
A Harvard College Professor and Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature and Comparative Literature, Professor Wisse asserted that the “political disease” that blames the Jews as a means for diverting the focus from the real cause of the problems was historically utilized by other autocrats, including Hitler.
“Adolf Hitler used anti-Semitism most creatively for everything that was troubling Germany,” commented Wisse. “[He said] ‘The Jews are responsible and therefore I have to take control over the legal system to pass laws to protect us. The Jews are corrupting our values, therefore I have to take over the education system. I have to take over the media to prevent infiltration.”
In this way, claimed Wisse, the focus of anti-Semitism was a diversion from the root cause of his political takeover of Germany. This “politics of blame” is employed by the Arabs in shifting the focus from their own aggressiveness to blame the Jews.
“The only aggressor is the Arabs.”
Wisse also suggested that Israel’s position as a no-fail target has its historical roots in the medieval tyrant’s ability to expel the Jews at whim.
“It was always profitable to expel Jews or to destroy them or to displace them, and there was never any political cost to be paid,” Wisse said. “When you consider how many situations there are for aggression, when you consider that this is a people by its political constitution who are unable to resist this, it’s not so difficult to see how Jewish history has repeated itself in so many different forms, so many different excuses in pretty much the same patterns.”
Israel is still a no-fail target, asserted Wisse, because its basic proclivity is to exist in peace, not to take over other countries. In this way, she noted, the aggressor has the upper hand, knowing that the country does not want to respond with counter-aggression.
“There is no cost of overruning the state of Israel,” asserted Wisse. “All the country wants is to be able to live free of aggression from any other polity and everybody knows it. The pacifist hope ensures the aggressor that he is going to suffer no consequences for his aggression. This makes it a very uneven battle.”
The only difference between the status of Israel as a no-fail target and the historical expulsions of Jews with no repercussion is Israel’s ability to defend itself, said Wisse.
“It’s a high level of achievement to have soldiers being killed in defense of their country rather than the wholesale slaughter of people,” commented Wisse.
Wisse has written on anti-Semitism and contemporary events in the Wall Street Journal, Commentary, and the Jerusalem Post. She passionately spoke about Israel’s right of existence, and the problem that anti-Semitism still exists.
“I don’t understand how are the Christians to have countries, the Muslims to have countries, are the Jews not to have one country?” she exclaimed. “What is this?”