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A paranoid search for a scapegoat

06 May 2016

HITLER’s Mein Kampf is a horrible book. I read part of it last year to instruct myself on the sources of Hitler’s hatred of the Jews. The early chapters suggest that his prejudice was visceral and deep-seated. He describes the Jews he encountered in terms of utter contempt: they are “unkempt, ignoble and water-shy”, the last phrase blending a slur about personal hygiene with an unpleasant Christian sneer towards the unbaptised.

He goes further. What Hitler sees as outer uncleanliness is a manifestation of inward rottenness — “moral mildew”. He writes about how he has come to believe that the Jews are a malign influence in all walks of life: they run the press, the trade unions, and the arts, he says. They insinuate themselves into all the institutions of social democracy. He concludes that “the personification of the devil as the symbol of all evil assumes the living shape of the Jew.”

Of course, Hitler needed a scapegoat, a convenient repository of public loathing against which to build his flawed dream of empire. But his anti-Semitism was not a cynical ploy: it was inscribed into every aspect of his personality, and he made sure that National Socialism would always be looking for its “final solution”. Jews were what stood between his ambition and the violent purity of the Third Reich.

Psychologists see in anti-Semitism a well-known mechanism by which individuals and societies attribute their unacceptable emotions to a convenient “other”, whom they deem to be unassimilable. Hitler’s Jews were targets for the unacknowledged violence of European society, both in its Christian and its “Enlightenment” manifestations.

It is disingenuous for the Labour Party to pretend that there is no crisis over anti-Semitism. Although Labour has always been a broad church, those on the Far Left have always had the characteristics of a sect: defined by doctrine, and fired by inflammatory rhetoric. They assume the moral high ground, but their quest for purity is fuelled by paranoia, and they are always in need of scapegoats.

The Jews are, once again, convenient. There are many who, while appearing to support the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians, have redefined Zionism as a form of Western imperialism, and are working up accusations against “the Jewish press” and “Jewish money” which have scary echoes of Mein Kampf.

Such murmurings play into the victim narrative that is so widespread in parts of the Muslim world, and are an expression of impotence and failure. When British Jews start saying that they no longer feel safe here, we should all be worried. We are fostering fascism in the guise of the self-righteous Left.

 

The Revd Angela Tilby is Diocesan Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, and Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for the diocese of Oxford.

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