By Reginald Grünenberg
Anti-Semitism is not an opinion, and even less a political judgement*. It's a clinical personality disorder.
First published in Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung of April 8, 2012, p. 9, under the title Die Welterklärungsmaschine.
Jews are strange people. Therefore, I'll have to tell a little story. When I moved to Paris in 1984 to study political science at Sciences Po, my father lived there with his fiancé Raymonde Silberring, a Moroccan Jew with an Israeli passport. She was well-off because her late husband, the cacique of Tel Aviv – a personality with enough charisma and authority to settle disputes between enemy gangsters and entire gangs in the underworld – had run an extremely lucrative nightclub and left her a considerable fortune. She had a heart of gold and there was always something going on with her, but when she was in a bad mood, she would rip the power cables out of the wall. My father was proud of her heritage, for she was a direct descendant from Eleazar Ben Ya'ir, the legendary leader of the last Jewish resistance to the Roman invasion. When the conquerors stormed the Masada fortress on a mesa in 73 AD, Ben Ya'ir persuaded his one thousand followers to commit collective suicide. The Romans were shocked, and their historians reported this event with awe. Since then, Masada has been considered the strongest symbol of the Jewish will for freedom.
Raymonde, who played poker or baccarat in the Club des Milliardaires, the Billionaire's Club, knew many wealthy Jews and regularly held sumptuous dinners for her friends. At the magnificent table with much silver, crystal, goose liver pâté (kosher), Beluga caviar (possibly not kosher, since the sturgeon has fins but no scales, whereby the fins could also be a kind of scales – a hotly disputed question since Rabbi Maimonides in the 12th century), Bœuf Stroganoff (not kosher at all) and wines from the estate Lafite-Rothschild (not kosher, but Baron Edmond de Rothschild had at least brought viticulture to Israel in 1882 where they also produced kosher wines), there were always two Gojim, my father and myself.
It was a surreal and initially frightening world for me, because until then I only knew Jews from documentaries in black and white, as they were shown at school. There they were emaciated miserable figures wearing the infamous yellow badge, the Star of David, on worn-out clothes. Or corpses dug into mass graves by bulldozers after the concentration camps were liberated. Jean-Paul instead sold islands in the Caribbean, Bernard organized the Paris-Dakar Rally, and Bernadette owned a delicatessen chain with her pretty daughter Féline. They were always in a good mood, and apart from 'la bouffe', the eternal number one theme in Paris, wining and dining, they preferred to talk about real estate, jewelry, cars, and other people. When it came to historical, political or literary questions, they gladly turned to my father or myself, because these children of Abraham were not as much interested in education as is commonly imagined with Jews. What surprised me back then was how they could sit at the table with both of us Germans so lightheartedly. I imagined what it would have been like to be born a Jew. That's what scared me. For I would have become an angry, yes, vengeful Jew, certainly also an ardent Zionist, who would have consecrated a house altar to Theodor Herzl, the author of The Jewish State (1896) and founder of Zionism. Initially, I expected that at some point during these illustrious societies, which at later hours slipped into permissive carousals, the restrained hatred would break through. But nothing happened. On the contrary, these were some of the most beautiful and exciting evenings of my student life in Paris. These and later encounters have repeatedly confirmed that Jews are strange people, for they have already forgiven us Germans for one of the greatest crimes in human history. In this way, the model of the Jews of all people has made the most difficult teaching of the Christian faith accessible to me, namely the forgiveness of evil.
But if Jews are strange people, how much stranger are anti-Semites, especially German anti-Semites? In view of the fact of the Holocaust and the lack of retaliation by the Jews, I simply could no longer imagine how anyone could justify his hatred of the Jews. All veils of anti-Semitic myths seemed to have long since been lifted. But appearances are deceptive. A commission of experts of the German Bundestag, the federal parliament, confirmed the studies of the last decades by stating that even today 20 percent of Germans are latently anti-Semitic. This makes anti-Semitism more common and widespread than depression (5%), asthma (7%) or diabetes (8%). There are two topics with which the anti-Semite can express his concern as justified indignation, unchallenged up to the best circles, namely the German compensation payments and the existence of the State of Israel.
Yet, the question of reparations is settled long since. The purely material damage suffered by Jews from German persecution and the Holocaust is estimated at 230 to 380 billion US dollars. The total compensation that Germany has paid to date and will continue to pay is only 100 billion US dollars, half of it in the form of modest pensions to victims of National Socialism living in Israel. But the founder of the Jewish World Congress Nahum Goldmann, who had negotiated the Israel Treaty with Konrad Adenauer in 1952, in which only 3.5 billion Deutschmarks were agreed upon for compensations, was so surprised by the expansion of the payments in the following years that he wrote back in 1978: "One cannot therefore accuse the Germans of being petty and of not having kept their promises".
Concerning the foundation and the existence of the state of Israel since 1948, the anti-Semite claims that both are controversial among Jews themselves. With books such as The Holocaust Industry (2000) and Beyond Chutzpah. On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History (2005), Norman Finkelstein, a legal fundamentalist, political dimwit and Hezbollah admirer, fights against Alan Dershowitz, the conservative hard-boiled star lawyer from New York, who defends the country with his brilliant The Case for Israel (2004). The German anti-Semite cheers Finkelstein, experiences his coming-out as an anti-Zionist, and is committed to the liberation of Palestine. Anti-Zionism, however, is based on a dramatic transfiguration of the six wars and two intifadas with which the neighboring Arab states not only wanted to defeat Israel since 1948, but to destroy it. For as presumptuous and precarious as the founding of a Jewish state in Palestine was – because of the flight and expulsion of 700,000 Arabs and despite the legal Jewish settlement since 1880 – it was so justified by Israel's repeated victories over the Arab forces and its ethnic cleansing plans. That Israel grew stronger and bigger through every further assault without declaration of war, with every act of violence and terror, the aggressors have still not understood this dialectic. The State of Israel in its present form is the work of its Arab enemies. The Palestinian people, an entity invented by the Arabs – for until 1967 there were no plans on the Arab side for an independent Palestine – can only be commiserated in this context. They were instrumentalized for decades by the notorious Arab warmongers and permanent war-losers. Even worse, their own corrupt Palestinian leadership boycotted the two-state solution in Camp David in 2000 when it was actually within reach.
If these reasons for hatred of the Jews have become untenable, where does it come from? And why the Jews? Over the years and many encounters with anti-Semites, there has been growing evidence that this is a kind of mental illness that is probably incurable. Anti-Semitism is a one-way ticket. The strongest indication of this is the fact that there are no testimonies of 'former anti-Semites'. The assumption that anti-Semitism and its afterbirth, anti-Zionism, are indeed forms of clinical personality disorder has already been expressed several times. The Romanian physician and Zionist Karpel Lippe wrote already in 1887 about symptoms of the anti-Semitic mental illness and the philosopher Constantin Brunner published 191 9 his book Der Judenhass und die Juden, 'The Hatred of Jews and the Jews'. In it he stated: "Psychopathia antisemitica belongs to general psychology, more precisely to psychological anthropology". Brunner, himself a Jew, showed real compassion for the afflicted: "How and to what extent can we help the lamentable people who have gone mad over the Jews, and how can we save others from the same unfortunate person in the future?" Further impulses came from the 1944 Psychiatric Symposium on Anti-Semitism in San Francisco. The approaches presented there were further developed by individual psychoanalysts such as Bela Grunenberg. But today, the psychological aspect no longer plays a role in anti-Semitism research. The shift in the foundations of the social sciences and humanities from acting human subjects to 'systems', 'structures', 'functions', 'discourses', and 'contexts' has led us to know less about this subject today than ever before, including the anti-Semite. The result of this metatheoretical ban on the subject** is that the anti-Semite is now seen as the natural product of a sick, capitalist alienated society. As Jean-Paul Sartre wrote in 1944 in his famous book Reflections on the Jewish Question: "We agree with the anti-Semite on one point: We do not believe in human 'nature', we refuse to regard society as a sum of isolated or isolable molecules." Sartre's frequently quoted statement that anti-Semitism is the fear of humanity was only a lay-psychological attribution, an overstated cliché.
To get to the root of anti-Semitism, we must explore the thoughts of the anti-Semite and reproduce them in such a way that he could feel understood. What do I mean by that? Here's a shot. Anti-Semitism is known to be a passion that intimately links the anti-Semite with the existence of the Jew. He feels pleasure paired with contempt and deepest security at the thought: The Jew explains the world, capitalism or communism, the difference between rich and poor or at least the Middle East conflict. This is an important achievement by which the anti-Semite debts himself to the Jew. If one reverses this statement, one also recognizes the fear associated with it: "Without the Jews, I no longer understand the world!" For the Jew has become part of the cognitive apparatus of the anti-Semite, a powerful, reassuring machine for explaining the world, which he can no longer do without. Hence the Jew, for he cannot be replaced in this function. In the final stages of this disease, the anti-Semite begins to seriously suffer from it and tries to heal himself, increasingly developing a willingness to move from words to action: The world that the Jew explains to me, he has also created. I want a new world – one without Jews.
After the failure of all other approaches, it's time to deal with the anti-Semite again as the philosopher Brunner intended, namely as a severely afflicted subject, as a patient.
*What it requires to be or to become a judgment that can be rightly qualified as 'political', that is the main theme of my book Political Subjectivity. The Philosophical Foundation of Democratic Individualism, published in English 2018. Here is a preview on Acadamia.edu.
**I covered this topic in greater detail in my essay What is a Democrat? An Attempt to Define the Democratic Personality, equally published in 2012.