Why the Jews?

Bernard Joseph Harrison


Media discussion of antisemitism often fails to distinguish between antisemitism considered as ordinary ethnic prejudice that happens to be directed against Jews, and the very much stranger phenomenon of antisemitic animus against The Jews. Animus of the latter kind targets not individual Jews as such, but the Jewish community, considered as an organised collectivity operating a world conspiracy aimed at taking over and controlling non-Jewish society and institutions in the interests of Jewish world domination. Jews are the only diasporic group concerning which this collection of beliefs has ever been held (no-one has ever believed in, or spoken of, an Irish, or an Armenian, or Korean “World Conspiracy", that is to say). The question thus arises why this curious collection of delusive beliefs has come to form itself uniquely around Jews. This paper addresses a specific conflict, in recent discussion of this issue, between writers (e.g. Prager and Telushkin) who demand an explanation relating antisemitism to “specifically Jewish factors”, and others, such as David Nirenberg, whose work demonstrates the restriction of the content of antisemitic discourse to essentially non-Jewish concerns and obsessions, and its lack of reference to “real Jews”. The paper proposes a resolution of these differences in terms of new accounts, both of the ideological transactions through which antisemitism comes to serve the political interests of antisemites, and of the specific “Jewish factor” which has made the image of “the Jews”, in preference to other diasporic groups, so uniquely and perennially convenient in mediating such transactions and their political uses. 

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