ANTI-SEMITISM

A bright straight line links Elie Wiesel's memoir And the Sea is Never Full -- specifically its chapter Anatomy of Hate -- with Jean-Paul Sartre's book, Anti-Semite and JewThe abstract below reflects Sartre's and Wiesel's thoughts and words, verbatim, not mine. I stitched them together; my only original contribution here is categorization.

Start with Sartre:

"PASSION. Anti-semitism is a passion. The anti-semite has chosen to live on the plane of passion. It is not unusual for people to elect to live a life of passion rather than one of reason. But ordinarily they love. The anti-semite has chosen hate and basic sadism. It is the state of passion that he loves. There is nothing but passion and a lightning-like certainty. To a long-term enterprise the anti-semite prefers an explosion of rage. Anti-semitism is a comprehensive attitude that one adopts not only toward Jews but toward people in general, toward history and society. Anti-semitism precedes the facts that are supposed to call it forth; it seeks them out in order to nourish itself upon them. Ordinarily hate and anger have a provocation: I hate someone who has made me suffer. Anti-semitic passion does not have such a character. The Jew only serves as a pretext.

 

IMPENETRABILITY. How can one choose to reason falsely? It is because of a longing for impenetrability. There are people who are attracted by the durability of a stone. They wish to be massive and impenetrable. They wish not to change. Anti-semitism is more than a mere opinion about the Jews; it involves the entire personality of the anti-semite. Since they are afraid of reasoning, they wish to lead the kind of life wherein reasoning and research play a subordinate role, wherein one seeks only what one has already found, wherein one becomes only what one already was. At the outset, the anti-semite has chosen to devalue words and reasons. How entirely at ease he feels as a result. To the anti-semite, intelligence is Jewish; he can thus disdain it in all tranquility. If the anti-semite is impervious to reason and to experience, it is not because his conviction is strong. Rather his conviction is strong because he has chosen first of all to be impervious. Anti-semitism favors laziness of mind and childish, elaborate fabrications which give the anti-semite his resemblance to the extreme paranoiacs. Never believe that anti-semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obligated to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-semite wishes to be incommunicable.

 

INTIMIDATION. Anti-semites seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert.  The anti-semite has chosen to find his being entirely outside himself, never to look within, to be nothing save the fear he inspires in others. It is inevitably the Jew who makes all the concessions; the anti-semite doesn’t make any. He has the advantage of his anger. People say, “Don’t irritate him. We must not irritate the anti-semite” They speak softly in his presence. The anti-semite is the man of the crowd, lest he stand out from the herd and find himself face to face with himself. “I hate the Jews” is uttered in chorus; in pronouncing it one attaches himself to a tradition and to a community. The social bond is anger. The collectivity has no other goal than to exercise over Jews  a repressive sanction. The person is drowned in the crowd, and the ways of thinking and reacting of the group are of a purely primitive type. The anti-semite has a nostalgia for periods of crisis in which the primitive community attains its temperature of fusion. He wants his personality to mesh suddenly into the group and be carried away by the collective torrent. He has this atmosphere of the pogrom. He adores a social order that is egalitarian and primitive, one with a heightened temperature, one from which Jews are excluded. The anti-semite accords esteem, respect, and enthusiasm to anger, hate, pillage, murder, to all forms of violence, to aggressive personality. These characteristics give him a semblance of existence; they make him come alive for a moment.

PROPERTY. The anti-semite’s virtue depends on property, a concrete possession, primitive ownership of land: my country and my soil. It is in opposing themselves to the Jew that anti-semites suddenly become conscious of being proprietors. Anti-semitism is a means of establishing their status as possessors. By treating the Jew as an inferior and pernicious being, the anti-semite affirms at the same time that he belongs to the elite, although there is nothing he has to do to merit his superiority. To this end the anti-semite finds the existence of the Jew absolutely necessary. Otherwise to whom would he be superior? The anti-semite is in the unhappy position of having a vital need for the very enemy he wishes to destroy.

CONCLUSION. In espousing anti-semitism, the anti-semite does not simply adopt an opinion, he chooses himself as a person. He chooses the permanence and impenetrability of stone, total irresponsibility. He chooses to acquire nothing, to deserve nothing. He assumes everything is given to him as his birthright. The Jew only serves him as a pretext, persuading himself that his place in the world has been marked out in advance, that it awaits him, and that tradition gives him the right to occupy it. The anti-semite is someone who wishes to be pitiless stone, a furious torrent, a devastating thunderbolt."

Wiesel echoes the same thoughts:

"The fanatic inspires and breathes fear. So afraid is he of doubt that he pushes it outside the law. He pretends to possess a unique and eternal truth. Insist on a discussion, and he takes offense. He accepts questions only if he alone has the right to answer them. The fanatic accepts only answers: his own.

An idea degenerates into a fanatical postulate the moment it excludes those who oppose it. Whoever declares that he knows the path leading to God better than others causes me to turn away. For the fanatic is a zealot, a madman. It is he who Nietzsche was talking about when he said it was not doubt but certainty that leads to madness.

Usually it is the fanatic who shies away from a real debate, a civilized dialogue. He is convinced that he does not have to fight to win, that he has won before hearing the first word. For him, used as he is to  monologue, any exchange is an aberration. His discourse is monolithic, closed to doubt and hesitation, hostile to external influences...deprived of diversity. He wants everyone to resemble him. Convinced that he is the sole possessor of the meaning of life, he gags or kills the Other in order not to be challenged in his quest.

Since other people's freedom frightens him, the fanatic does not feel free and alive except when others are not. The fanatic prevents others from dreaming, loving, thinking in pursuit of their own quest for identity. His goal? To imprison the ideas of others, to paralyze their imagination. For the fanatic, the Other should remain locked in the present, without memory and without hope.

Hate denies all possibility of metamorphosis or transcendence. Combating fanaticism means denouncing the humiliation of the Other. It means celebrating the freedom of the Other, the freedom of all Others."

Below is a clip of Wiesel singing a Hasidic song at the end of a 1991 lecture. It is sad to think that such a beautiful voice could've been eliminated from the world (as many were during the Holocaust). At the same time, it is gratifying to know that his voice survived to sing this song. This is what you get when hatred does not win:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An interviewer once asked Wiesel, "Are you hopeful for the next generation?"  Wiesel replied, "What is the alternative? To give in or give up? I wouldn't do that. So I invent hope and I cling to it. Hope does not flow; there are too many obstacles and it is not easy to be hopeful. But I owe it to children. I would never write a novel that is only dominated by despair. There is always, somewhere, a moment of hope."

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Rabbi Joachim Prinz, speaking immediately before Martin Luther King during the March on Washington, explained the need for vigilance against the attitudes described by Sartre and Wiesel: 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The need to remain vigilant is captured neatly by Christopher Hitchens, who--giving a lecture on anti-semitism--references Albert Camus' novel "The Plague" and Bertolt Brecht's play "Arturo Ui":

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks gives his answer to why anti-semitism is the world's oldest hatred:

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Tying anti-semitism into the larger emphasis of this entire website, Itzhak Bentov offers a spiritual context (refer to Rabbi Wolpe's reality of the intangible) in which to understand how preposterous hate is: