The Elephant in the Room

At regular intervals, Rudy Reichstadt, the director of the Internet website Conspiracy Watch,will write for K. a column on anti-Jewish conspiracy theories in Europe, including the phenomenon’s recurring themes, local variations and main leaders. First of all, we will take a look at the frequency with which anti-Semitic motifs appear in contemporary conspiracy culture.

 

Caricature antisémite, 1899 © Mahj

“[The radical loser] needs to find culprits who are responsible for his fate.” In the first pages of his short essay devoted to the “men of terror,” Hans Magnus Enzensberger suggests that conspiracy theories are a response to the need to attribute one’s own failures to an external party. Following in the footsteps of James George Frazer and René Girard, who view the scapegoat as having an unchanging character, Enzensberger writes that “the loser is mostly content to glom on to various potential perpetrators that drift freely in society.” He continues: “The threatening forces arrayed against him are not difficult to identify. They are usually foreigners, secret services, communists, Americans, multinationals, politicians, infidels. Almost always they are also Jews. [1]

“Almost always Jews”: the German essayist is not the first to make this remark. But why the Jews? In The Imaginary Jew, Alain Finkielkraut already observed that the vulnerability of the Jews to the accusation of conspiracy lay in the elusive and sui generis nature of their historical condition[2]. As explained also by Umberto Eco in his 1995 lecture on Ur-fascism at Columbia University, “the simplest way to bring out a conspiracy is to appeal to xenophobia. However, the conspiracy must also come from within. Thus, Jews are usually the best target, since they have the advantage of being both inside and outside. [3]

Let us be clear: not all conspiracy theories are anti-Jewish, far from it. And if it is difficult to dispute that modern anti-Semitism is essentially based on “the idea of a Jewish conspiracy on a planetary scale[4]”, conspiracy theories are not systematically anti-Semitic. The proof: one finds conspiracy theories about everything, including the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, which a fringe of the Israeli nationalist right, hardly suspect of anti-Semitism, attributes to a conspiracy by the left.

The fact remains that contemporary conspiracy culture is studded with anti-Semitic themes. Pierre Birnbaum recently point out in a column of in Le Monde that “the anti-Semitic element” of the assault on the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021 was underestimated. As the historian recalled, “many people carried anti-Semitic signs, brandished The Turner Diaries, the ‘bible’ of the American alt-right which foresees the destruction of Washington, the deportation of Jews and Blacks to gigantic concentration camps. The neo-Nazis of NSC-131 were present as were the Proud Boys, who sometimes wear T-shirts that read “6MWE” for “6 Millions Wasn’t Enough,” referring to the number of Jews killed by the Nazis. ”

Anti-Semitism was also almost immediately a fixture of far-fetched ideas about the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. On February 24, 2020, the German-speaking Swiss conspiracy website Kla.tv (“Kla” stands for “Klagemauer”, the German word for “Wailing Wall”) published a video on YouTube that went viral in no time at all, claiming that the American billionaire George Soros was behind the new coronavirus, which was presented as a laboratory-made “biological weapon”.

On March 3, 2020, the oft-condemned polemicist and supposed comedian Dieudonné asserted in a video that “the coronavirus and its terror propaganda will justify an extraordinary financial crisis by which Rothschild and their cronies will steal the entire savings of sheep all over the planet. ”

On the same day, an apocryphal quote from Jacques Attali – another bane of French conspiracy theorists – was re-emerging on social networks, falsely attributing to François Mitterrand’s former advisor the statement “a small pandemic will allow the establishment of a world government”!

On March 25, 2020, on YouTube, Alain Soral, head of ‘Égalité & Réconciliation’, one of the most-visited conspiracy sites in France (it has at times drawn nearly 10 million visits per month), drew up a list of Jews “now in charge of state medicine”: “So we have Lévy, Buzyn, Hirsch, Guedj, Deray, Jacob, Salomon… I mean… It’s Schindler’s List, right!” In the wake of this, the neo-Nazi site ‘Démocratie participative’, blocked by Internet service providers by court order but still managing to receive half a million monthly visits, headlined an article “The Jewish Conspiracy Against France”. A diagram was circulating on conspiracy forums mapping the “Judeo-Masonic plot” behind Covid-19 and labelling French personalities with pictograms in the form of an intertwined square and compass and/or a Star of David, the one next to Emmanuel Macron’s photo being accompanied by a question mark – one can never be too careful.

As far as conspiracy is concerned, we can saythat anti-Semitism is the elephant in the room.

Is this because “one of the marks of anti-Semitism is its capacity to make one believe stories that cannot be true[5]” as Orwell noted? In any case, the recognition of the centrality of anti-Semitism in the contemporary conspiracy theory subculture is sometimes mysteriously resisted. This timidity raises questions.

Of course, the press has not been silent about the anti-Semitic dimension of Covid-skeptic conspiracy. But with a few exceptions, the mainstream media have almost all been absent in confronting this problem head-on. It is as if avoidance mechanisms had been put in place to avoid seeing what it is impossible not to see. As if the question of anti-Semitism could only be considered obliquely, the musty emanations of a past time, the archaic reflex, the basalt of history. It was as if the cause of the struggle against anti-Semitism was suspected being, at base, only a parochial struggle. As if we were afraid of giving credence to the idea that the fight against conspiracy is a fight for the Jews.

The “war for the Jews”, an old anti-Semitic theme, too…


Rudy Reichstadt, march 2021

Notes

1 Hans Magnus Enzensberger, “The radical loser”, publié en anglais sur signandsight.com, paru initialement en allemand dans Der Spiegel, 7 novembre 2005
2 Alain Finkielkraut, The Imaginary Jew, University of Nebraska Press (April 1, 1997)
3 Umberto Eco, “Ur-Fascism“, 1995.
4 Walter Laqueur, The Changing face of antisemitism: from Ancient Time to the Present Day, Oxford University Press, 2006.
5 George Orwell, “Antisemitism in Britain”, Contemporary Jewish Record, avril 1945.

Support us!

You can help us
Donate

With the support of:

Thanks to the Paris office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation for their cooperation in the design of the magazine’s website.