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Jewish Journal

Anti-Semitism: ‘Jealousy born of envy’

by Brad A. Greenberg

February 25, 2008 | 3:55 pm

Also in the new Atlantic is a piece by Christopher Hitchens about Jews and “the 2,000-year-old panic.” Pegged to the re-release of an old novel, Hitchens writes that Jews are discriminated against for the opposite reasons other minorities are.

Almost every tribe or ethnicity has a rival tribe or ethnicity that it views as inferior or dirtier or more primitive: the Hutu with the Tutsi, the Sinhalese with the Tamil, the Ulster Protestant with the Irish Catholic, and so forth. The “other” group will invariably be found to have a different smell, a higher birthrate, and a lazier temperament. These poor qualities are sometimes attributed even by Jews to Jews: elevated German and Austrian Jews once wrinkled their nostrils at the matted sidelocks and large families of the poor Ostjuden who had come from the backwoods of Galicia and Silesia; and Ashkenazi-Se­phardic rivalry in Israel sometimes recalls and resembles this hostility. But garden-variety racists do not usually suspect the objects of their dislike of secretly manipulating the banks and the stock markets and of harboring a demonic plan for world domination. Gregor von Rezzori, in his newly reissued novel Memoirs of an Anti-Semite, meshes the micro and macro versions of interwar anti-Semitism very skillfully indeed:

  They spent their childhood skipping among mounds of horse dung and flocks of gay sparrows, warbling Hebraic words of wisdom in Jewish schools … disappearing then to the next town. They returned gangling, cheeky, precocious, and self-confident a couple of years later, unfurled little red flags, and chanted socialistic marching songs; then they went off again. The next time they came back they were unrecognizable—polished, poised, coiffed, and manicured, lugging doctorates on their proud shoulders; they dug themselves in and became dentists, high-school teachers, professors of music, and God only knows what other intellectuals, married similar solid burghers and produced streams of progeny, teaching them to speak refinedly through their noses, packing them off to the Sorbonne to get equipped the better to meddle with the course of the history of civilization.

“Jealousy born of envy” is the way that Rezzori (1914–1998) elsewhere summarizes this combination of anti-intellectualism fused with the hatred of material success and the suspicion of social and international mobility. If the Jew isn’t a mutinous prole, he is a stinking bourgeois!

(Hitchens began the piece with a joke about Der Stürmer, the Nazi rag depicted above: “A sour old joke from prewar Germany has two elderly Jews sitting in a Berlin park, with one of them reading a Yiddish paper and the other one scanning the pages of Der Stürmer. The latter Jew is laughing. This proves too much for the former Jew, who says: ‘It’s not enough you read that Nazi rag, but you find it funny?’ ‘Look,’ replies the other. ‘If I read your paper, what do I see? Jews deported, Jews assaulted, Jews insulted, Jewish property confiscated. But I read Der Stürmer, and there’s finally some good news. It seems that we Jews own and control the whole world!’”)

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