“From the first persecutions till the present moment, you will find Jews engaged in practically every movement against Our Divine Lord and His Church. A Jew as a Jew is utterly opposed to Jesus Christ and all the Church means... by Satan we mean not only Lucifer and the fallen Angels, but also those men, Jews and others, who... have chosen Satan for their head.” The speaker went on to claim that the international press and Hollywood were controlled by the “Jew-enemy”.
These words are not from a 1930s speech in Nazi Germany. No, they were spoken by our very own Prince of Darkness, the future ruler of Catholic Ireland, Archbishop John McQuaid, at the time president of Blackrock College, on Passion Sunday 1932, in Cavan. It is unlikely that the ‘Jewish problem’ was at the forefront of the minds of his Cavan audience.
McQuaid must have come into contact with mainstream European anti-Semitism during his studies in Rome, when anti-Semitic political movements such as L’Action Francaise had their followers in the Vatican, but anti-Semitism as a political doctrine makes little sense in the Irish context. This is the irrational power of anti-Semitism: it never needs an actual cause – except the mere existence of the Jews.
People will always find some explanation for anti-Semitism. The old tropes of the Jew as moneylender, as banker, international financier and controlling cabal, live on in Kanye West’s recent outburst against the Jews who control the media and fashion. This sits comfortably alongside the Jew as Bolshevik, popular in eastern Europe. In Poland, the anti-Semitic explosion of 1968, which led to the expulsion of thousands of Jews, is explained as a revolt against Soviet control. It is claimed that many of the apparatchiks put in place by Stalin were Jews. That is a fact, brilliantly portrayed in the award-winning movie, Ida. But it was not a Jewish conspiracy.
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I have heard the same stories in places such as Hungary and Latvia. Yes, there were many Jews in the Communist Party, and in the NKVD, forerunner of the KGB. When the Soviets returned to Latvia in 1944, driving out the Nazis, those Jews in the NVDK may not have been kind to those many Latvians and Lithuanians who had enthusiastically helped the Nazis in slaughtering their Jewish neighbours. But how did anti-Soviet resentment come to reinforce anti-Semitism? It seems irrational. And that is the problem with anti-Semitism.
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Anti-Semitism is so deeply ingrained in Western societies that it can be difficult to identify, even in yourself. I can give my own personal history as an example. My wife is of Jewish descent, as is my daughter, of course, so I thought I would be highly attuned to the workings of anti-Semitism, which I have occasionally seen up close. In addition, the captains of my soul, from Sigmund Freud to Woody Allen, from Jacob Frank to Frank Kafka, have often been Jewish. But you can still be an inadvertent anti-Semite.
I was the victim of the mindset which makes us expect that Bipoc people are not racist, and transgender people are socially liberal, that a child of immigrants, such as Suella Braverman, will be be pro-immigrant. Sadly, this is not true
After I met my wife, the child of Holocaust survivors, I got to know the other members of her, of necessity, small family. One of them was a famous Dutch columnist, a sort of local Nora Ephron. She had come to Holland before the war as a child refugee with her wealthy Berlin Jewish family. We got along fairly well, but I always found her disturbing in some way I couldn’t quite fathom. There was a cognitive dissonance which took me decades to figure out.
My problem with her, I eventually realised, was that she was a colossal snob, despising everyone she considered below her on the social scale, treating them with insufferable rudeness and arrogance. Not so unusual, but what was causing my dissonance was the fact that she was a snob – and a Jew. Given her experience as a child refugee and her historical experience as a member of a race which had been despised and persecuted, how could she despise others? This was a form of anti-Semitism, in that I expected her to behave better because she was a Jew. I was the victim of the mindset which makes us expect that Bipoc (black, indigenous, people of colour) people are not racist, and transgender people are socially liberal, that a child of immigrants, such as Suella Braverman, will be pro-immigrant. Sadly, this is not true. As the poet Auden has it: “Those to whom evil is done/do evil in return.”
Which brings us the case of Israel. The latest anti-Semitic trope is that a possible cause of the upsurge of anti-Semitism is the actions of the Israeli state. But you could argue that the state of Israel was founded as a response to upsurges in European anti-Semitism, rather than as the result of a Messianic religious longing, as some politicians in Israel would have us believe.
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Since its inception, Israel has been a precarious project, but its leaders have always been strategic thinkers, and their strategic goal has been to consolidate and defend the state of Israel, and certainly, for some of them, such as Bibi Netanyahu, to expand it illegally beyond the pre-1967 borders, into the so-called Greater Israel. In pursuing this strategy, Israel can accused of weaponising anti-Semitism. Netanyahu was quite happy to support Donald Trump, who used anti-Semitic tropes against their mutual enemy, George Soros. But Trump had promised him Jerusalem, and perhaps more.
This merely underlines the absurdity of blaming the current rise in anti-Semitism on Israeli actions. As we commemorate the Holocaust again, in the face of rising anti-Semitism, it is worth remembering that even if Israel didn’t exist, anti-Semitism would continue its merry way.
Michael O’Loughlin is a writer and poet.