by Manfred Gerstenfeld. From Israel and Europe: An Expanding Abyss, 2005.
Andrei Markovits is the Karl W. Deutsch Collegiate Professor of Comparative Politics and German Studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He is currently writing a book on anti-Americanism. Markovits says: “Identity, modernity, and attitudes toward power are three key expressions in the analysis of European anti Americanism. Nobody knows what it means to be a European. It is unclear what Greeks and Swedes have in common. But one thing that they share is their not being American.
“No identity has ever emerged without an important counter-identity. Anti-Americanism thus enables the Europeans to create a hitherto missing European identity that must emerge if the European project is to succeed. This functional dimension of anti-Americanism is a key reason why among the two core proponents and protagon ists of the European project – the French and Germans, though not only them – anti-Americanism has become such a central part of political discourse.”
Markovits notes that one can enrich one’s perspectives on both anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism by analyzing their respective similarities and differences and, above all, their powerful relationship to each other. “Alvin Rosenfeld formulated the resemblances well: ‘Anti-Americanism functions in much the same way anti-Semitism has over the centuries – as a convenient focus for discontents of many different kinds and a ready-made explanation of internal weaknesses, disappointments, and failures. It is, in short, both fraudulent and counterproductive.’ “1
Paragons of Modernity
“Anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism relate to each other and empirically are almost always in close proximity, even if not totally identical. The overlap in bias between them has become more pronounced since the end of World War II.
“Like all other prejudices, their advocates prejudge the object and its activities irrespective of what transpires in reality. These attitudes express a dislike for the American as well as the Jewish essence, character, way of life, symbols, and people. They say more about those who hold the prejudice than the objects of their ire and contempt.
“In the 1870s and 1880s, European anti-Semitism be gan to accompany anti-Americanism in a regular and sys tematic manner. Linking Jews and Americans at this juncture seems surprising since Jewish immigration to the United States had not yet reached the large numbers it would have twenty years later, and American power in the world was still rather ephemeral.
“One explanation for this linkage is that both were seen in the minds of many Europeans, especially the mostly aristocratic elites, as paragons of modernity: money driven, profit-hu ngry, urban, universalistic, individual istic, mobile, rootless, and unauthentic (i.e. not connected to a specific location and land). Another aspect of modern ity is capitalism – a major anathema to the political left and also to many who do not identify with that political orientation.
“Anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism were thus per ceived as hostile to established traditions and values. Like any other prejudice, they are an acquired set of beliefs. Both are ‘isms’ which indicate they are institutionalized and commonly used as a modern ideology. As such, their discourses have their own semantics.”
”Jews Rule America”
“It was not the existing United States and its Jews that were feared and disdained, but the combination of Americanism and Judaism as concepts and social trends. After World War I, the false notion of Jews as rulers of America became pronounced. Expressions such as Jewish Wall Street, Jewish Hollywood, and Jewish jazz became commonplace, creating the image of a totally
“By then, all forerunners of the current anti-Semitic codes such as the ‘East Coast’ were permanently estab lished. Since then, in many European minds Jews and America have become inextricably intertwined, not only as representatives of modernity, but also as holders of allegedly uncontrollable power. America was powerful and the Jews there were perceived as even more so. Of course, European anti-Semitism had always maintained that Jews had much more power than they did in reality. Their putative power was further enhanced in anti Semitic minds by its allegedly clandestine and cliquish character.
“With America’s real power massively growing after World War I, power as a notion unifying Jews and America became more pronounced as well as more en during. The hostile perception of this alleged link be came as integral to National Socialism as it was to Stalinism later on, though with very different political accents and content.”
European Anti-Semitism Starts in 1010
“Historian Richard Landes dates the beginning of violent European anti-Semitism to 1010. It brought about the first organized massacres of Jews in Europe, and particularly in France. These systematic and politically motivated mass murders occurred in the context of Christianity’s new state-building, which required the creation of an identity.”
Anti-Americanism is many centuries younger. Markov its quotes an unpublished paper by Ira Strauss, who claims that a pre-ideological fear of and resentment toward America, emerged among Europe’s elites around the end of the fifteenth century. The aristocracy and the clergy understood after 1492 that Columbus’ journeys and his discovery of the new world could undermine their established positions.3
“Anti-Americanism as a word may not have been co ined until the beginning of the twentieth century. The sentiments it denoted had, however, been commonly un derstood and employed in Europe since the late eight eenth century if not before. From then on some Europeans were worried about America, which they saw as a distorting and destructive force. These thoughts were held by Friedrich Nietzsche, Charles Dickens, Knut Hamsun, Stendhal and many other European intellectuals across the continent. One cannot really confine either anti-Semi tism or anti-Americanism to one – or even a few – Euro pean nations. At a particular time, anti-Semitism – and anti-Americanism – may have been more pronounced in one European country than another, but both share the characteristics of being pan-European and not nation-spe cific phenomena.
“Already in the eighteenth century, in some cases even before the establishment of the political entity called the ‘United States of America’ in 1776, many European elites viewed America as degenerate. The ‘de generation’ thesis enjoyed wide acceptance throughout Europe. One eighteenth century author, Dutch naturalist Cornelius de Pauw, decried the existence of America as ‘the worst misfortune’ that could have happened to all humanity, upsetting even the New World’s dogs who – according to de Pauw – never barked.4 The view of America as degenerate has remained a major staple of the European elite’s opinions until today.”5
Germans Extol Native Americans
“The Germans’ inordinate extolling of native Americans as ‘noble savages’ whom they regarded as true soul mates in the defense of authentic culture against the onslaught of America’s materialist and venal civilization, was unique among Europeans. Nowhere is this theme more visible than in the writings of Karl May, whose pulp fiction became a staple read by every middle class child – boys in particular – throughout the twentieth century.
“May’s books feature a German – presumably the au thor himself – under the assumed name of Old Shat terhand who, together with his blood brother Winnetou, chief of the Apaches, fights the good fight against an assort ment of evil-doers consisting of venal Englishmen, drunken Scots, cunning Jews, and excessively cruel Com anches and Sioux, their native American allies. May’s books feature every anti-American, anti-British, and anti Semitic concept commonly held by Germany’s middle class until 1945, if not beyond.
“The hatred of and contempt for America of the Nazis – as well as most European fascists – needs no elaboration. America embodied every social and political dimension the Nazis found antithetical to their very essence. To them, America was a mediocre, mongrel nation, devoid of culture, ruled by a Jewish-dominated East-Coast-based pluto cracy whose mission was global domination in politics, economics, and culture. Associating America with root lessness – ‘Bodenlosigkeit’ -became a basic German view on America that went far beyond the blood and soil ideology of the radical right and the Nazis.
“However, the concern with the fate of native Amer icans that is among Europeans’ antagonisms toward America, remains in its acuteness, singularly German. By constantly invoking the genocide of native Americans, Germans can readily point to the Americans’ own holocaust and thus experience some sense of expiation, particularly since they see America – ruled by its East Coast intellectuals (a convenient code word for Jews) – as Germany’s most unforgiving daily reminder of its Nazi past.”
The Major Differences: The Holocaust and Violence
“While the two European prejudices overlap, there are also huge differences. Anti-Semitism has killed millions of people, while European anti-Americanism has only mur dered a few. There were never any pogroms against Amer icans. Violence, as a rule, did not go further than the destruction of property and the burning of many Amer ican flags. There has never been a blood libel about Arner ICans.
“Another major difference is that of power. Since the nineteenth century, America has become an increasingly powerful country. Its military might was very influential in World War I and was powerful well before then. The Jews only had power in the warped imagination of their enemies.
“Israel, however, after the 1967 Six-Day War, became increasingly perceived as being far more powerful than it actually was. The image of the strong and tough Jew emerged and similarities with the Americans increased in the perception of many Europeans. They started to resort to characterizations of Israel’s essence and its very exis tence – as opposed to its policies – with rather similar terms and tones that resembled old-fashioned European anti-Semitism.”
From Shylock Jew to Rambo Jew
“This attests not to the end of European anti-Semitism but to a mutation from the Shylock Jew – which is unacceptable in contemporary Europe – to the highly legitimate perception of the Rambo Jew, to use Daniel Goldhagen’s excellent characterizations. 5 This crude cine matic character has become a synonym for America and Americans in European discourse of the past two decades. “The Arabs are now presented as the victims of the Jews. One expression of European anti-Semitism is that the Jews – who should have been regarded as victims – are seen as perpetrators. In 2002, the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk named America and Israel as the only two countries today that strike him as being ‘rogue states.’ 7 His view is a widely shared one among Europe’s elites, as well as, increasingly, its general publics.
“The European emphasis has recently been on ‘hyper power’ – ‘hyperpuissance’ as former French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine called it – and its alleged abuse. Euro peans claim to have learned a valuable lesson from their own history: any power – particularly an unbridled one – will always be abused by those who wield it. Especially since the Vietnam War, Europeans have viewed the United States as not only all-powerful but also as prone to abuse its unparalleled might at will, particularly against the weak nations of the developing world.
“Since the Six-Day War, Europeans began to see Is rael in a very similar light. Indeed, it was after this event in particular, that the link between Israel and the United States became a pernicious and indelible staple of Euro pean politics and discourse until the present. In Western Europe as well as the United States, left-wing in tellectuals began to perceive Israel as America’s pit bull after the Six-Day War. Israel became America’s tool in the latter’s imperialist designs on the Middle East and beyond.
“Recently the imagery presented by these people has become completely inverted. Since the Second Gulf War of the early 1990s, and a fortiori during the current Iraq conflict, many have come to view the United States as Israel’s tool. The European and American left – as well as the right – have come to view the current war against Iraq as a thinly disguised American proxy for Israel’s purposes. Attributing this American policy to a neo-conservative cabal whose members are openly -and constantly – identified as Jewish by both the left and right, it is a short step to arguing that America has become the willing executor of Israel’s wishes and desires. The old anti-Sem itic trope of America being controlled by East Coast Jews and manipulated to act in the Jews’ interest seems more than coincidental.”
Europeans Seeing Themselves as Embodiments of Virtue
“Historically speaking, and even after 1945, anti-Amer icanism and anti-Semitism were much more pronounced on the European right than on the left. Traditionally, all the mythologies of the right were linked to land, church, holiness, and aristocracy, and the right has been more concerned than the left about modernity and the fear of its undermining traditional collectives. The left – at least until its ‘New Left’ variant of the late 1960s – was much more accepting of modernity.
“Many Europeans see themselves as the embodiments of virtue. They blame both the United States and Israel for behaving like Europe did before 1945. They try to sell the argument that Western Europe has become a post national, multilateral, multicultural, and above all post statist entity, to which old style realpolitik is anathema. They claim that America and Israel, on the contrary, follow such a policy with the assertive, unilateral, and particularistic characteristics that were typical of pre-1945 Europe, which the new ‘good’ Europe has learned to reject.
“The power element as a main motif in the anti-Israeli discourse also becomes very clear from another perspective. When I was in Berlin a few years ago, thirty graves were desecrated at the big Weisensee Jewish cemetery. Some of the most overt and vehement critics of Israel participated in the protest demonstration against this de secration. They saw this as a nasty act because it targeted dead Jews directly, and the small Jewish community cur rently living in Germany indirectly. European anti-Semi tism has changed in the sense that it is illegitimate to express hatred for powerless Jews, i.e. Jews living in Europe. The resentment is now reserved almost exclus ively for Israel and – oflate -Jews in America, the much maligned ‘East Coast.’
“That is why European elites which have reveled in criticizing Israel at every possible turn oppose overt dis crimination against the powerless Jews in Europe, even though the threshold of shame about anti-Semitism has been lowered significantly over the past decade. European Jews are not in the physical danger they were in the 1920s or 1930s, nor is today’s anti-Semitism the same as it was in that period. Certain Jewish individuals in Europe might face physical assaults as Jews, but the Jews as a collective are not physically threatened the way they were before World War II.”
Absolving Europe’s Relationship to its Past
“As far as Israel is concerned there is an additional dimension that is not relevant to anti-Americanism. Europe has a major unresolved relationship with its past. The constant analogizing of Israelis with Nazis comes from the European gut. This, of course, is a double effrontery. By doing this, Europeans absolve themselves of their own history. At the same time they succeed in accusing their former victims of behaving like their worst perpetrators. This discourse is not new. It was already widespread during and after the 1982 Lebanese War when – for instance – a German newspaper featured side-by-side on its front page the infamous photograph in the Warsaw ghetto of a Nazi soldier marching behind a little Jewish boy who was holding up his hands, and a parallel photo of an IDF soldier marching behind Arab youngsters in Beirut.
“These attacks must focus on Israel because old style anti-Semitism is part of an easily identifiable racism which is not publicly acceptable discourse in today’s ‘virtuous’ Europe, even though it exists unabated. Israeli psychiatrist Zvi Rex was correct in saying that the Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz. In an analogous manner, I would argue that Western Europeans will also never forgive the Americans for being daily reminders that it was the Americans – together with the Red Army – who defeated Nazism, and not the Europeans themselves. Im potence breeds resentment, which in turn breeds disdain, hatred, and contempt.
“By constantly repeating the warped analogy of the Israelis with the Nazis, Europeans absolve themselves from any remorse and shame, and thus experience a sense of liberation. They know how to hurt the intended target by equating it with the very perpetrators who almost wiped it off the earth in the most brutal genocide imaginable. No other vaguely comparable conflict has attained in Europe anywhere near the shrillness and acuity as has the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; not the mass murders in Chechnya, not the ones in the many post Yugoslav wars, and not the murders of Muslims at the hands of Serbs and Croats.
“A new tone has emerged among European intellec tuals. Criticizing Jews – and not just Israel and Israelis – has attained a certain urgency that reveals a particularly liberating dimension. ‘Free at last, free at last, we are finally free of this damn Holocaust at last!’ In this context Europeans posit that Jews – who created a culture of guilt and shame for Europeans, and kept them from speaking their minds as they wished – now behave just like they did. The lid is off; Jews are once again legitimate targets.”
Left-wing Anti-Semitism: Hiding behind Anti-Zionism
“Since the Second World War – and especially since the ascent of the New Left in the late 1960s – left-wing anti Semitism has remained conveniently veiled by anti-Zion ism. However, the European left’s hatred of Israel has become much more potent over the last 15-20 years for one crucial reason: it is the left’s language and discourse -not the right’s -that have been adopted by the European mainstream.
“The right – mainly by dint of the continued illegitim acy and unacceptability of Nazism and fascism in Euro pean public opinion – has had a much more circumspect influence on public opinion pertaining to Jews and Israel than the left. Because classical anti-Semitism – certainly in its praxis – was mostly associated with the European right, the left enjoyed a certain bonus when it came to discussing all matters relating to Jews and Israel. The left could take liberties with being anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic that the right could never take. This bonus enabled the left to employ anti-Israeli discourse that -in the meantime -has become completely common and acceptable parlance in Europe.
“Because of this general acceptability and overall legitimacy, left-wing anti-Semitism is much more relevant and disturbing than right-wing anti-Semitism, which has remained essentially the same, without mutations. Today’s neo-Nazis are ugly and generally unpleasant, but as they are beyond the pale of acceptable European dis course, they are not particularly dangerous. To borrow an analogy from an American automobile commercial: right-wing anti-Semitism was your father’s anti-Semitism. It is obsolete.
“The Guardian, the BBC, the Independent , in short the bulk of Britain’s – indeed Europe’s – leading and respectable media did not become anti-Israeli under the influence of the National Front. Rather it was due to changes in European attitudes and the altered nature of discourse among Europe’s intellectuals in the wake of the late 1960s. When I am in a hotel in Europe and switch on the television to see the news on the Middle East, it is very clear from the words used and codes employed, where the sympathies lie. Being openly anti-Israeli is no longer limited to the liberal left, but has become more or less acceptable public discourse in virtually all Western European countries.
“It is by dint of this left-liberal voice, not the right’s old-style anti-Semitism, that 59 percent of Europeans viewed Israel as being a threat to peace, putting this country in first place ahead of countries such as Iran, North Korea, the United States (!), Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, in that order. China was mentioned by 30 percent of the respondents, placing it in eleventh place, and Russia by 21 percent, thus ranking it as number 13. Not surprisingly, Europeans had the best opinion about themselves, placing Europe as dead last in terms of rep resenting any danger to world peace. Only 8 percent of the respondents listed the European Union or any of its members as threats to peace.
“The respondents in the Netherlands were particularly critical of Israel, viewing it as a threat to peace by a whop ping 74 percent. The equivalent figure in Germany was 65 percent. These results should not come as a surprise to anybody who has followed the one-sided reporting of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by the vast majority of the European press for quite some time now, particularly since the beginning of the so-called second Intifada in Sep tember 2000.8
“It is becoming increasingly common in certain extreme right-wing – and of course left-wing – circles in Europe to seek out radical Islamists as allies. Jews and Americans receive pride of place in the hierarchy of their respective hatreds, thus fostering this otherwise bizarre alliance. After all, right-wing extremists everywhere, Europe included, adhere to racist views and detest peoples hailing from different cultures, speaking foreign lan guages, and following other religious beliefs. German neo Nazis do not like Palestinians or other Muslims but they hate Jews and Americans even more. They thus establish a convenient common ground between themselves and others who hate Jews and Americans as much as they do. Anti-Semitism has thus yet another voice in these highly pluralistic and democratic societies, with their often very receptive audiences.
“This development reinforces my view that among all the prejudices that have beset European history, anti Semitism has constantly assumed a place all its own. It is related to racism yet different from it, furnishing its own category. It is also back with a vengeance in acceptable European discourse.”
Common Icons of the Left and the Neo-Nazis
“If one were to list the major icons that defined the core of what it means to be left-wing these days, to be a progres sive, there is no doubt that an active antipathy toward Israel and the United States would be on this list. Most likely both enmities would hover around the top of the list rather than its bottom. The sad fact is that a dislike of and disdain for Israel and the United States have become as essential to being a progressive as are income redistribu tion, the defense of workers’ rights, the protection of the environment, and feminism. Tellingly, virtually none of the other items on this list would appear – almost by definition -on an equivalent list that defines what it means to be a rightist in contemporary Europe. However, antipathies toward the United States and Israel – and openly against Jews – would surely also assume pride of place on that list.
“To be sure, open hostility toward and resentment of all things American is voiced with even greater abandon than similar sentiments pertaining to Israel. This is cer tainly still the case among left-wing intellectuals in Ger many and Austria, where an unbridled hostility toward Israel is still not completely acceptable due to the shadow of Auschwitz – unlike in France and Belgium, the two most egregious examples. It is not that German and Austr ian left-wing intellectuals hold views that differ substan tially from their counterparts in the rest of Europe. It is just that the threshold of shame vis-a-vis all things Jewish -including Israel -is still a tad higher there than elsewhere in Europe. But the current situation’s massive deteriora tion is best exemplified by the fact that in Vienna a memor ial for Kristallnacht on 9 November 2003 was disrupted not by right-wing but left-wing “anti-racist” radicals. To be sure, their action received much praise by representa tives of the far right.
“What drives the liberal left in Europe is dislike and hatred of Israel and America, and not a genuine sym pathy for and identification with downtrodden Muslims. When Slobodan Milosevic and his associates were busily killing thousands of Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo, the European left remained very quiet, in effect objectively taking the side of the Serbian perpetrators. It was not the slaughter of innocent Muslim women and children that really riled the European left. Instead, what mobil ized thousands in the streets of Berlin, Paris, and Athens once the much-belated step was taken to intervene on behalf of the brutalized Muslims, was once again the American bogeyman.
“No far right in Europe has a more nasty anti-Serbian history than the German and Austrian, both of which have been long-time supporters of the most vicious anti Serbian fascists in Croatia and elsewhere. Still, their hatred of Serbs could not compete with their hatred of Americans, and once the United States intervened against the Serbs on behalf of the Bosnian Muslims and their Kossovar co-religionists, German and Austrian neo Nazis and far rightists rallied to Milosevic’s side in their unmitigated condemnation of NATO’s American-led interventions.”
Anti-Americanism: A Producer of Identity
“The debates about a European identity, European consti tution, and what will constitute the soul, flesh, and blood of this new entity – never mind its skeleton which is now being gradually put into place – have not even begun yet. We have no idea what shape it will take, where it will go, who will lead it, or who will be the winners and losers. But one thing is certain: in order to create common values, counter-values are always necessary. One can only become something by clearly defining what one does not want to be. It is in this context that anti-Americanism – perhaps for the very first time in the 200-plus years ofits European history – has assumed a clear and important function: helping to forge a common ground among otherwise very disparate entities.
“No mobilization around these European counter values could have been more emphatic than the huge demonstrations on Saturday, 15 February 2003. Never before in Europe’s history did so many millions of Euro peans unite in public on one day for one purpose. From London to Rome, Paris to Madrid, Athens to Helsinki, Barcelona to Berlin, Europeans across most of the political spectrum united in their opposition to America’s impend ing attack on Iraq. Many demonstrators carried anti-Isra eli slogans. This was an immensely impressive and powerful expression of genuine public sentiment in which we could observe a complete congruence – a voluntary and democratic ‘Gleichschaltung’ – between Europe’s elites and masses, between the right and the left, and between government and opposition. Those few governments that dissented – notably the British, the Spanish, the Italian, and some in Eastern Europe – constituted lonely voices in a much more powerful choir of uniformity that shouted unmistakably: Europe will define itself in opposition to the United States. This opposition was not only aimed at the current policies of this particular administration, but at the values and characteristics that Europeans viewed as comprising the core of what it means to be American.
“A number of European intellectuals – quite correctly in my view – proclaimed this day as the one historians will someday view as the true birthday of a united Europe. Unlike any other day in European history, it united Euro peans emotionally, and not just through the decisions of a faceless bureaucracy issued in impenetrable language from Brussels.
“Anti-Americanism is much more than just a con junctural phenomenon in Europe, a temporal fad. Its exis tence is structural; America is ‘un-Europe’ or Europe’s ‘other.’ Its function is to help create a common political European identity. As such, this structure will grow in importance and will remain present for a very long time. Anti-Americanism has always existed among Europe’s el ites. In the course of the past three years, there developed – perhaps for the very first time – a congruence between elites and masses on this sentiment.”
Alvin Rosenfeld, Anti-Americanism and Anti-Semitism: A New Frontier of Bigotry (New York: American Jewish Committee, 2003), p. 21.
- Richard Landes, “What Happens when Jesus Doesn’t Come: Jewish and Christian Relations in Apocalyptic Time,” Terrorism and Political Violence, volume 14, Spring 2002, (London: Frank Cass, 2002).
- Ira Strauss, “Is it anti-Americanism or anti-Westernism?” (unpub lished paper, 2003).
- Cornelius de Pauw, “Recherchesphilosophiques sur les americains,” Oeuvres philosophiques, volume 1 (1974): II [French].
- Dan Diner discusses de Pauw, de Buffon, and other authors and thinkers of the time in his Feindbild Amerika: Ueber die Bestaetigung eines Ressentiments (Munich: Propylaen Verlag, 2002) [German].
- Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, “The Globalization of Anti-Semitism,” The Forward , 2 May 2003.
- See Rosenfeld, Anti-Americanism and Anti-Semitism: A New Frontier of Bigotry , p. 9.
- “Europaer sehen Israel als Bedrohung,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung,
3 November 2003 [German].
“Europaeisches Misstrauen gegenueber Israel und den USA. Ergeb nisse der Eurobarometer-Umfrage,” Neue Zuercher Zeitung, 3 Nov ember 2003 [German].