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Volume 1, Issue 1 (November2006 / Cheshvan 5767)
Article 1/9

The Two Greatest Hatreds
By Barry Rubin

As the twentieth century began, Theodor Herzl recorded an amazing fact. Despite advances in technology, transportation, and communication, one thing remained as it was when the Turks conquered Byzantium, Columbus set sail, and oxcarts were the main means of travel.

That one thing was antisemitism. Indeed, Herzl mournfully pointed out, "After a short breathing space...bad times have come again...not only in the backward countries...but also in those that are called civilized."

Now, here we are at the onset of the twenty-first century and the cycle is being repeated.

But there is another phenomenon of which the same can be said. It is not so old as antisemitism, but it does date back to the time when men wore powdered wigs, people wrote with quill pens, and no railroad existed. That is anti-Americanism.

Today, the two most widely hated peoples in the world today are the Americans and the Jews or, in national terms, the United States and Israel. Moreover, these two unreasoning hatreds are closely linked. Apologists for this fact, or well-meaning souls who know no better, attribute this tragic situation to the narrowest and most immediate historical context, as if it is the result of the nasty personalities or latest deeds of President George W. Bush or former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, or to bad--or at least controversial--policies.

Yet there are far wider and deeper reasons for the flourishing of this sole permissible prejudice in an era which boasts of its record-high tolerance in human history, factors that make it far harder to combat or change the situation. Attributing hatred exclusively either to policy--what the United States and Israel does--or values--a dislike for what these countries stand for--misses the point. It is not merely a matter of better behavior or more effective public relations' techniques. Those who misunderstand and hate will not be so easily persuaded that they are wrong.

While some reasons for hatred are as fresh as the latest newspaper headlines, many of the themes bringing together contemporary antisemitism and anti-Americanism are a century or two old. To understand this better, let's look at five factors: claims that America and the Jews represent the same thing, that Jews control America, the manipulation of hatred for political advantage, the systematic misrepresentation of policy, and the structural problems of the United States and Israel as democracies facing enemies who are dictatorships.

The Parallel Threat

While some historical anti-American themes are quite different from anti-Jewish stereotypes--for example, America seen as anti-intellectual--most are startlingly identical. European critics saw both groups as brutally materialistic, fanatically devoted to money-making and profit. Similarly, both were portrayed as bearers of a corrosive modernism subverting cherished ways of life and existing nations. Equally, both were accused of seeking world conquest, through conspiracies, seizing direct control, or imposing their system through cultural contamination.

These themes are better known regarding antisemitism but also apply to anti-Americanism. In the nineteenth century the United States became the world's greatest political example, as in the twentieth century it became the globe's greatest power. In its ideological influence abroad America would be to the nineteenth century what the Communist Soviet Union was to the twentieth: an alternative to everything that existed, which attracted some and repelled others. As such, it was easy to view the United States as the negation and threat to all existing Western civilization, destructive of order and the enemy of traditional values.

As a revolutionary experiment, the United States was a new type of country, without monarch, aristocracy, strong traditions, official religion, or well-defined classes. It regarded itself as superior to existing European systems and its success would jeopardize them all. Many European writers, politicians, and ideologues saw the United States as a travesty to be despised or as a threat to be discredited. And if others among them liked what America was doing, that task became all the more urgent. Though surface aspects of these arguments shifted over time, Europe continued to see itself as the repository of high culture, high standards, coherent ideologies, and intellectual merit. Rather than critique the unbridled capitalism of America from the right, the later European view would apply the same arguments from the left. And shortcomings in their own society were often blamed on the imitation or influence of America.

In short, America--like the Jews--became for its enemies the symbol of modern capitalism and modern culture. Many of the most classic statements of antisemitism were made consistently by the advocates of anti-Americanism. Take, for example, the charge of greed and materialism, so closely linked to hatred of the new socio-economic system that replaced the traditional aristocratic-peasant dominated system.

Two centuries ago, the French traveler Perrin Du Lac complained that to Americans, "A brook, were it worthy of the muse of Virgil...is nothing to them but so much pure water, so of no value."[1] A leading European defender of America, the French nobleman Alexis De Tocqueville, claimed that Americans only "perceive the mighty forests that surround them [when] they fall beneath the hatchet."[2]

A few decades later, it was the Germans' turn. The dramatist Karl Gutzkow wrote, "It is unbelievable how easy the American can change ideas into money."[3] The poet Heinrich Heine, sounding like his contemporary Karl Marx talking about the Jews, explained, "Worldly utility is their true religion and money is their God, their once all-powerful God,"[4] Friedrich Rulemann Eylert spoke of Americans' "lying, deception, and unlimited greed" as "the natural and inescapable consequences of the commercial spirit...that like a tidal wave inundates...American society. Every harmless passion and all moral sentiments are blunted in the daily pursuit of money."[5]

The basic cultural critique of America prevalent today was also largely in place by the 1830s, long before the onset of mass production, Hollywood, or television. The United States was a mass culture based on the lowest common denominator. Instead of standards being set by an aristocratic and privileged class of intellectuals and artists, it society catered to the vulgar mob, with low values, bad manners and a grubby materialistic outlook.

For many European writers and thinkers, America represented everything they detested in modern life, everything they feared about the future, everything they detested in what was happening to their own countries. In a sense, though it was rarely expressed directly, the Jews represented the internal enemy and the United States was the external threat in cultural and political terms. Radicals and conservatives expressed this thought in different ways. The left portrayed the Jews as capitalists and the United States as a force for reaction and fascism; the right claimed the Jews were dangerous revolutionaries and the United States had much in common with the threat of communism and socialism.

While this tendency should not be exaggerated, these were persistent, continuous themes that influenced whole generations of Europeans down to the present day. One can even find parallels to contemporary Islamist movements among some right-wing Catholics, like Abbe Henry Delassus, whose book, Americanism and the Anti-Christian Conspiracy posited an American-Jewish alliance to destroy Christianity and take over the world.

And thus the loathing of America and of Israel carry with it this theme of opposition to change, modernity, and dozens of things feared and hated by people of diverse political viewpoints in many different countries.

With the end of the Cold War signifying both the disappearance of the Communist/Soviet threat and the reality of the United States as the world's sole superpower, traditional anti-American themes have reemerged. The 200-year-old nightmare of America dominating the world with its power, values, and culture now seems possible for the first time in history. It is not surprising that there should be such a resurgence of anti-Americanism, both directly and couched in terms of "globalization."

America as a Jewish Front

As Jewish immigrants became more numerous and influential in America during the late nineteenth-century, modern ideological antisemitism was developing in Europe. That movement's founder, the Frenchman Arthur de Gobineau, described how Aryans were losing control of America to immigrants who were "the most degraded kind of human beings."[6]

There were many others who believed this sort of thing and who increasingly focused on the Jews as the most powerful, indeed all-powerful, force in the United States. For example, the French conservative leader Charles Maurras blamed the Jews for an alleged U.S. policy of favoring Germany before and after World War One and then opposing it during Hitler's regime. Just after World War One, J.L. Chastanet wrote a best-selling book in France, Uncle Shylock, attributing the war to a plot by Jewish-dominated American plutocrats to enslave Europe in permanent debt. This kind of thinking could be found across the French political spectrum and had a lasting influence there.

Of course, the best-known thinking of this sort was found in Germany. In 1927, Otto Bonhard wrote Jewish World Domination?, theorizing that America was seeking to rule the world as a front for the Jews. nother best-seller in the Weimar republic, by Adolf Halfeld, posited that the Jews' qualities predestined them to rule America since they embodied all that country's main qualities.[7]

This became the official line during the Nazi era, but it had a broader European quality, as expressed in the writings of the right-wing Frenchman Robert Brasillach, in words that could have been expressed at most recent anti-Iraq war demonstrations in Europe. What separates us from America, he explained, is its hypocrisy, its dollars, and the fact that it is the bastion of Jewish power in the world.[8]

Most of the time, such sentiments have been more often whispered than shouted in Europe but they are now commonplace in the Arab world and Iran. Indeed, Usama bin Ladin's decision to target the United States for his global Islamist revolution was partly due to the conclusion that this would be more popular than attacking Arab regimes. Even at the height of the 1990s' peace process, when the United States was directly and indirectly the main source of financial aid for the Palestinian Authority, that institution's official newspaper referred to the U.S. Congress as the "Council of the Elders of Zion" of which the White House is a hostage; its official religious leader called on God to "destroy America for it is controlled by Zionist Jews"; and its minister of justice insisted that "five Zionist Jews are running" U.S. Middle East policy.

But such notions are by no means the product of the 1990s. In the earlier version it was more often Israel that was the puppet of the United States. Still, this amounted to the same thing in terms of the identity of antisemitism and anti-Americanism. Typical of this era was Yasir Arafat leading a 1969 PLO student convention in singing a song entitled, "America, The Head of the Snake" or stating, in 1986, that the United States is "the controlling force of neo-colonialism, imperialism and racism [which] employs Israel to spearhead its strategy of domination in the Middle East."

Similar types of statements could be found daily in the official and semi-official media of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and until recently, Iraq. The latest version of this thesis, that the United States and the Jews (or Israel) are essentially the same enemy, have been the conspiracy theories attributing the war against Iraq to a Jewish cabal that told American leaders what to do.[9] It is a measure of the sophistication and courage of American intellectuals to hold these views.

Such ideas have transcended marginal myths to attain great acceptance in Europe and the Middle East. Whatever efforts or success the United States may have in trying to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict will not--as past experience has shown--make this demonology go away.

The Slander of Policy

It is a common place to say that the United States and Israel are hated in much of the world because of their "policy." But this ignores the all-important question of how that policy is presented. If the motives, doings, and goals of these countries or peoples is presented as the embodiment of evil, it is not surprising that hate is inspired. When the spin put on these things is systematically unfair and based on outright lies, the victim is those being smeared in this manner.

The pioneer in this respect regarding anti-Americanism was the Soviet Union. For the first time in history, beginning in the 1920s, a country and international movement became a state sponsor of anti-Americanism. Misrepresentation was carried out using a wide range of methods, ranging from the obvious and ludicrous to the brilliant and subtle, disseminated worldwide in all conceivable media.

These claims and arguments had an enormous effect on the thinking of the European left and most Third World intellectuals, already predisposed to believe the worst. Of course, it can be argued that the conclusion, for example, that the United States was imperialist or greedy or aggressive was a direct result of experience with its policies in the world. There is of course much truth in such an assertion. But whatever the accuracy of this point, the antagonism has been no doubt deepened and broadened by the way U.S. policy or actions were defined by its ideological and direct adversary. The same cycle exists today.

For example, if the U.S. goal in attacking Iraq is explained by a desire to seize that country's oil, destroy Islam, enslave Muslims, and so on, then clearly the response would be anti-Americanism. But if the intended goals are shown to be quite different, anti-Americanism would not be the response, no matter how much the realism or implementation of these goals might be criticized. Critical analysis of motives, however, can never take place through controlled media aand ideological institutions such as universities.

The same point applies to Israel. If governments, intellectuals, and media insist that Israel is racist, fascist, and genocidal, uninterested in peace, deliberately seeking to kill Palestinians, seeking to conquer the Arab world, and so on, the result is far different from viewing any misdeeds as mistakes or excesses. The a priori assumption of Israel's unrelenting evil prevents an analysis of how means mesh with ends.

In this context, too, should be seen the argument that anti-Americanism in the Middle East is merely or mostly the result of U.S. support of Israel. It is easy to show that this attitude was widespread long before U.S. policy saw Israel as an ally as well as in the periods of greatest U.S. efforts to pressure Israel and to meet Arab demands. Anti-American propaganda in the Syrian media, for example, was well-established by 1959 and was included in children's programming by 1962. In 1965, a U.S. embassy dispatch from Damascus on Syrian domestic politics was entitled, "When you have a problem blame the United States."

Regarding Israel, the greatest upsurge of global anti-Israel (and antisemitic) propaganda and sentiment occurred after Israel made the most far-reaching and riskiest concessions in order to attain peace. The fact that this was met with a rejection by the Palestinian leadership and a war against Israel whose main instrument was anti-civilian terrorism should have done more than anything to discourage the idea that Israel was evil. Precisely the opposite has occurred. Israel and the U.S. are seen more and more as singularly, cosmically evil.

Clearly, what is at work is not some sophisticated policy-based critique. To say that the United States, or Israel, is hated because of its policy is to ignore the fact that the policy has been first so misrepresented as to make it seem hateful.

The Realpolitik of Hatred

But who is responsible for this misrepresentation and why is it now flourishing? The production of hatred against others has long been one of the most effective techniques for mobilizing support by those who wish to retain or seize power. This point is made not to posit some anti-American or antisemitic conspiracy, yet visibly large elements of this trend have been deliberately produced for political profit.

Briefly, though, the obvious yet incredibly neglected argument on this point goes as follows. Regimes which are corrupt, repressive, and incompetent, which lead their people into one disaster after another, require an explanation for their sad state of affairs. The same is true of movements which want to seize power. Just as European governments and radical movements once used antisemitism for political purposes, so do modern Middle East regimes deploy hatred of the United States and Israel.

People are told every day, in schools and places of worship, in all the media, and from the lips of government officials and opposition leaders, that America and Israel are the roots of all evil. Is it surprising that most believe this? Virtually no alternative argument is permitted and when it does get through can be dismissed as the deception of bad-intentioned foreigners or local traitors. This culture is created and reinforced daily, and over decades.

As was true in nineteenth-century Europe, the very potential appeal of American institutions, ideas, and culture--often because of or in spite of their shortcomings--makes it all the more necessary to discredit them. If the United States tries to achieve compromise peace between the Arabs and Israel, as happened in the 1990s, those seeking to block success have all the more reason to slander the United States and Israel. For them, the Arab-Israeli conflict is too valuable a political tool (and excuse) to abandon. When the United States seeks to overthrow a dictatorship in Iraq and replace it with a democracy, those who wish to remain or become dictators and fight for anti-democratic causes have all the more reason to foster anti-Americanism.

In Europe, there is a parallel but somewhat different. On one hand, traditional anti-American themes are very much alive and have become reactivated at a time when American power on both cultural and political planes is at its highest point in history. If America has found its post-Cold War enemy and threat with reference to Middle East dictatorships and terrorist groups, many Europeans find that the United States fills the same function for themselves.

On the other hand, as it was once said that antisemitism was the socialism of fools--something proven daily in the twenty-first century--that may be even more true for contemporary anti-Americanism. The collapse of Communism and of many of the accompanying ideas has left the less moderate European political and intellectual left without a cause. Anti-Americanism seems to be about the best candidate to fill that vacuum.

There is no intention here to oversimplify complex issues. Of course, there are diverse perspectives, varying interests, reasonable differences of opinion, and so on, between Europe and the United States. Yet the question here is not why there are debates or conflicting policies but why this fact has taken on a level of hysteria, slander, and hatred that goes beyond a disagreement based on mutual respect. At some point, the sincere sentiment of many is influenced, mobilized, and radicalized by the self-profiting efforts of others.

The Uneven Playing Field

As hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue, political slander is the tribute dictatorships pay to democratic rivals. Or, to put it another way, one can use a famous legal saying: If the facts are on your side, pound the facts; if the law is on your side, pound the law; if neither is on your side, pound the table.

Promoting anti-Americanism and antisemitism is a very effective way for those with poor cases to pound the table. It does far more than distract people from thinking about their own problems. Those using these tools also have the advantage of diverting attention from the perpetrators who are their real problem.

The Iraq war is a remarkable lesson about such matters, showing how the world works in terms of informational battles, elite opinion, and media behavior. One revelation form the experience was the American discovery that things thought to be true because they applied only to Israel were now shown to work almost equally against the United States.

Problems attributed to an Israeli weakness in international public relations also hold true for the mighty American system. Attitudes attributable to antisemitism are paralleled by the effects of anti-Americanism. Large sectors of the European and Middle Eastern media--and sometimes the American media--cover Israel.

What was revealed so effectively were the deeper, systemic, problems of how governments, media, and intellectuals function and view the world that can strike against any well-intentioned democratic state defending itself. In the context of the factors discussed above are such matters as the following:

Being a democracy battling a dictatorship earns you little or no special credit and can be an outright disadvantage. The assumption of the dominant sector in the intellectual class--which runs much of academic, the media, and all verbal, opinion-forming sectors of society--is that democracies lie about as much as dictatorships, especially if the dictatorship claims "progressive" credentials. All "truths" are equal, and some more equal than others.

Forcing its own intellectuals and media to voice a single line makes the dictatorship sound popular abroad. Since all Iraqis or Palestinians say the same thing it must be true. In contrast, a democracy's dissenting voices about its real or imagined shortcomings can be used to undermine its assertions. To make matters worse, these are the claims of a "people" versus those of a "government." You can imagine what the opinion-making class is more likely to believe, and the populist credentials of the dictatorships are artificially amplified.

In addition, since no critical information comes out of the dictatorship, the only way we know it does anything wrong is by its enemies' assertions. And all these data, no matter how well-documented--from Israel on Arafat's backing of terrorism; from the United States on Saddam's repression and concealment of weapons--can be dismissed as partisan.

Then, there is the fair-minded "neutrality" of those who shape opinion in the media, academia, and elsewhere. "Patriotism" is identified as a right-wing belief and is replaced by its opposite: to doubt, criticize, slander, or at least avoid agreeing with your country's position,n seems political courageous and morally noble. "Why should we assume the United States is telling the truth? Let's give equal weight to Saddam Hussein's version."

As a result, if a democratic state makes a mistake--an Israel or U.S. attack that inadvertently killed civilians--they are denounced as something close to war criminals. But if their adversaries torture people to death, employ terrorism, and do a dozen other things, the response is "Well, how do we really know this happened?"

At any rate, the democratic states must meet a higher standard. Their mistakes matter and they are held accountable for each and every one. Dictatorships, however, are given the benefit of the doubt or in effect forgiven by the racism of low expectations.

Now, consider some parallels:

  • Both the United States and Israel are headed by internationally unpopular leaders against whom virtually any slander can be launched.
  • In both cases the bystanders ridicule the existence of very real threats. Thus, their defensive actions can be judged as unnecessary and aggressive.
  • Their enemies are judged with excessive apologetics. Even if the individual leaders of these parties are judged harshly, their actions are excused--and those of the United States and Israel held in contempt--because of what is seen as sympathy for their peoples. Yet it is precisely their own leadership which so impoverishes and endangers those peoples.
  • Whether in talking about the U.S. and British or the Israeli army, there are many who will not hesitate to tell any lie and make any exaggeration. And they will find more innocent, but quite willing, ears to believe them.
  • The fact that their adversaries lose every battle is taken to prove that the United States and Israel are bullies. The differences between the two sides' casualty figures are viewed not as showing the foolhardiness of the provocations offered by the weaker side but its victimization.
  • In the Arab world, though, the losers are simultaneously victims and heroes, whose victory is proclaimed up to the moment of total, undeniable defeat.
  • In Europe, there are many who wrongly believe that hating the United States and Israel will make the Arabs love them, do business with them, and not kill them.

The informational battle is unwinnable not because ineptness but because Arab and many European governments, all of the Arab and much of the European media, and a large part of the world's intellectual class will not give you a fair chance. They will quickly declare your intentions bad, your leaders dishonorable, your plans unworkable, and your efforts unsuccessful. Whether terrorism in Europe will change or strengthen these attitudes remains to be seen.

Yet what is most important here is that the outcome of history is determined not by the wars of words but on the battlefields and in the material sphere of achievement. The army of lies never surrenders but it is actively forced back from trench to trench.

Already in the first postwar days of U.S. control of Iraq it was already facing the kind of frustrating and bad publicity producing situations as Israel had long experienced. These showed that one did not have to be at fault to be blamed. Consider two incidents. In the first, U.S. forces were attacked by pro-Saddam holdouts. During the fighting, a captured Iraqi ammunition dump exploded killing six Iraqi bystanders. The result was an angry demonstration in which fist-waving men shouted, "No Saddam! No Bush! Yes to Islam!" Furious residents pelted US troops with stones as they tried to take some of the wounded to a military hospital.[10]

Two weeks later, U.S. troops killed and wounded a number of Iraqis after some gunmen in a large peacefully demonstrating pro-Saddam crowd fired at them in the town of Falluja. It is possible though that the men were shooting in the air. Said a senior American officer present, "There were a lot of people who were armed and who were throwing rocks. How is a U.S. soldier to tell the difference between a rock and a grenade?"[11]


[1] Durrand Echeverria, Mirage in the West: A History of the French Image of American. Society to 1815, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957), p. 252, and Antonello Gerbi, The Dispute of the New World: The History of a Polemic, 1750-1900, (trans. Jeremy Moyle. University of Pittsburgh Press, 1973), p. 342.

[2] Alexis De Tocqueville, Democracy in America, vol. 2, pp. 72-74.

[3] J.W. Schulte Nordholt, "Anti-Americanism in European Culture: Its Early Manifestations," in R. Kroes and M. van Rossem, eds, Anti-Americanism in Europe, (Amsterdam, Free University Press), 1986) p. 9.

[4] Wolfang Wagner, "The Europeans' Image of America," in Karl Kaiser and Hans- Peter Schwarz, eds. America and Western Europe, (Lexington, MA, Lexington Books 1979), p. 24.

[5] G.T. Hollyday, Anti-Americanism in the German Novel, 1841-1861, (Berne, Peter Lang, 1977), p. 27.

[6] Ibid, pp. 103-106.

[7] Ibid, pp. 97-8.

[8] Robert Brasillach, Journal d'un homme occupe* (Paris, 1955), p. 438, 445.

[9] Robert J. Lieber, "The Neoconservative-Conspiracy Theory: Pure Myth," Chronicle of Higher Education, May 2, 2003.

[10] AP, April 16, 2003.

[11] Reuters, April 29, 2003.

About the Author
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and editor of Covenant, A Global Jewish Magazine. His many books include Assimilation and its Discontents (1995), and with Judith Colp Rubin, Hating America: A History (2004), and Yasir Arafat: A Political Biography (2003), both published by Oxford University Press.

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