Hitler Is Dead

The case against Jewish ethnic panic.

BY: Leon Wieseltier


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The fright of American Jewry is owed also to a new recognition of the reality of antiSemitism. Up to a point, this is as it should be: The happiness of the Jews in the United States certainly demands a regular refreshment of their awareness of evil. There is something a little odd, though, about the shock with which the news of European anti-Semitism has been met, since it is for the Jews the oldest news. There was one blessing, and one blessing only, that the Second World War conferred upon the Jewish people, and it is that the future of the Jewish people forever departed Europe. Anti-Semitism in Europe must be fought, but not with the confidence that this will be a European fight, too. European nationalism includes no conception of the multiethnic state. European culture is permeated with a contempt for otherness. Indeed, the moral incompetence of European culture with regard to otherness now falls more heavily upon Muslims than upon Jews.

The acknowledgment of contemporary anti-Semitism must be followed by an analysis of contemporary anti-Semitism, so that the magnitude of the danger may be soberly assessed. Is the peril "as great, if not greater" than the peril of the 1930s? I do not see it. Jewish history now consists essentially in a competition for the Jewish future between Israel and the United States, between the blandishments of sovereignty and the blandishments of pluralism; it is a friendly competition, and by the standards of Jewish experience it is an embarrassment of riches. In many significant ways, the Jewish present is discontinuous with the Jewish past, and some of these discontinuities will stand among the finest accomplishments of Jewish history, though the ruptures were sometimes very bruising. The predicament of contemporary Jewry cannot be correctly understood except in terms of these saving discontinuities. Anti-Semitism has not disappeared, obviously; but Zionism was not premised on the expectation that anti-Semitism would disappear, it was premised on the expectation that anti-Semitism would not disappear, and in the United States the prejudice has never been granted political or philosophical legitimacy. (It was the legitimacy of Jew-hatred in European society that made it lethal.)

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