By Manfred Gerstenfeld
New types of antisemitism related to the Holocaust have developed over the past decades. One of the most publicized is Holocaust denial. Even worse and much more widespread is Holocaust inversion: Israel and Jews are portrayed as behaving like Nazis. Studies have revealed that more than 40% of Europeans believe this. In addition, there are Neo-Nazis who want Germany’s extermination policy to be completed. A typical expression of this is that Hitler’s work should be finished. We find supporters of this also in the Muslim world.
Far less known is the hate mongering attitude called “secondary antisemitism.” This expression was coined by the philosopher Theodore Adorno and co-worker Peter Schönbach of the Frankfurt School in the early 1960s. The dynamics of German guilt and defense mechanisms of part of its citizens were studied at the school.
Lars Rensmann, who currently teaches at Groningen University in the Netherlands, explained secondary antisemitism as a new source of resentment against Jews. He said that it is motivated by the wish of many Germans to repress and split off Holocaust remembrance and guilt from the collective memory of a tainted nation. Jews are thus collectively blamed by their very existence for reminding Germans of their nation’s crimes, guilt and responsibility.
Two psychologists have stated this concisely. Israeli psychiatrist Zvi Rex said, “Germany will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz.” Another Israeli, German-born, Holocaust psychologist Nathan Durst said, “Outbursts with antisemitic undertones are also connected to Europe’s guilt vis-a-vis the Holocaust. If the guilty person is bad, the Jewish victim becomes good. The moment it can be shown the latter is bad too, the ‘other’ – that is, the European – is relieved of his guilt feelings. To claim that Israelis behave like Nazis reduces the sin of the grandparents. Then the children of the victims can no longer be the accusers. This equalizes everybody.”
Various studies have shown that secondary antisemitism is widespread. One recent example is a report on Austrian antisemitism ordered by the country’s parliament. The study had a fairly large sample of 2,700 interviewees and separated the responses into three groups: native Austrians, Turkish speakers and Arab speakers.
The interviewees were asked whether they agreed with the statement: “Jews try to obtain advantages due to the fact that they were victims during the Nazi period.” Thirty-six percent of Austrian natives agreed with this, as did 51% of Turkish and 59% of Arab speakers.
Another statement submitted to the interviewees was: “I oppose that it is raised over and over again that in the Second World War Jews died.” The language of the statement whitewashes the truth that Jews died because they were murdered. Thirty-seven percent of native Austrians agreed, as did 46% of Arab and 55% of Turkish speakers. Yet Arabs and Turks have no reason to feel guilty about the Holocaust. The answers concerning these two statements show that – like elsewhere in Europe – among Muslims, antisemitism is significantly wider spread than among the native population.
Secondary antisemitism is not limited to the major perpetrating nations of the Holocaust – Germany and Austria. A 2017 study on contemporary antisemitism in Great Britain found that 10% of the general population believe that Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes. Thirteen-percent agreed with the statement: “Israel exploits Holocaust victimhood for its own purposes.” From that survey one can also see that secondary antisemitism is relatively important compared to other forms of Holocaust-related antisemitism. Two-percent of the interviews believe that the Holocaust is a myth. Three percent believe that the Holocaust has been exaggerated.
The study also separated out interviewees with strong anti-Israel attitudes. Twenty-three percent said that the Holocaust has been exaggerated, and 49% found that Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes. This is yet another proof of the link between anti-Israelism and antisemitism.
Statistics on Muslim interviewees in the UK were obtained as well. Holocaust-related antisemitism was stronger among Muslims than among the general population. Among Muslims, 8% said they believe the Holocaust is a myth, and 14% said the Holocaust has been exaggerated. Among religious Muslims the figures were even higher. Ten-percent thought that the Holocaust is a myth, 18% that the Holocaust has been exaggerated.
Many Europeans don’t want to know that antisemitism is an integral part of their societies’ cultures. This does not mean that there are no Europeans who fight antisemitism or that most Europeans are antisemites. Yet the above shows a different perspective on the way in which European culture is interwoven with antisemitism. Even the genocide of Jews in Europe has led to new forms of antisemitism, not only in the perpetrator countries, but also elsewhere.
The writer is emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, and the International Leadership Award by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.