Nov 15, 2012
But I prefer to distinguish anti-Semitism from mere intolerance. Many other groups are subject to prejudice and discrimination. American clubs and schools that formerly excluded Jews also excluded blacks and Asians. Other “middleman minorities,” like Koreans or overseas Chinese, have been attacked as intruders once their welcome ran out. Other peoples have been singled out for “bullying”—a current preoccupation of the Anti-Defamation League. The function of the Jews in international politics is quite different in scale and kind. Anti-Semitism is a political instrument—a strategy, an ideology, sometimes a movement that organizes politics against the Jews.
Thus, at a pivotal stage in the process we call modernization, anti-Semitism became the catchall for a politics of grievance and blame. Democracy, which was just then spreading eastward from England and France toward Romania and Russia, put politics in the hands of the people, and people needed explanations for things that were going wrong and assurances of how they could be improved. Autocratic rulers no less than politicians seeking election now felt obliged to account for hardships, offer remedies for crises, discourage rebellion, and encourage the confidence of populations facing all the anxieties of modernity. Anti-Semitism had such advantages over other political movements that some of those movements, like fascism, nationalism, and communism, incorporated elements of anti-Jewish politics as part of their programs.
From Ruth Wisse’s The Suicidal Passion – Who is damaged more by anti-Semitism- Jews, or those who organize politics against them, in The Weekly Standard 11/21/11
Personally I think the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) weakens its cause when it invokes against hatred in general rather than focusing on anti-Semitism. (I currently sit on the board of the southeast ADL). Anti-Semitism is unique, unfortunately, and thus requires a different response. By grouping it with other hatreds they dilute their founding mission.
Wisse observes that democracy may have fed the politics of anti-Semitism by becoming a tool to appeal to populist masses, and by being a convenient crutch for autocratic rulers that were now held accountable to a popular vote. Being a political tool may help explain why anti-Semitism seems to morph throughout history.