HOOSHANG MESHKINPOUR, M.D. is a gastroenterologist affiliated with the University of California, Irvine. As a Jew in Iran he experienced anti-Semitism in his childhood. Recently he published “Being Hated: The Anatomy of Anti-Semitism,” a comprehensive analysis of the history of anti-Semitism and its roots in earlier forms of anti-Judaism. An important conclusion he comes to is that Jewish separation and isolation – whether imposed or voluntary – bred mistrust in almost every context, and that the remedy to anti-Semitism lies in contact between Jews and non-Jews.
What led you to research and write this book? About six years ago I started working on this project. I had sent a copy of my previous book “Faith, Fortitude, and Fear” to one of my colleagues who was a professor of social sciences at UCI. He came back to me a couple months later and said, “Listen, I read this book cover to cover. I was looking for an answer to my question, and I didn’t find it.” His question was essentially, why do people throughout history who have not had any contact with Jews still hate them? This very question led me to explore the subject and write this book.
You distinguish anti-Semitism from earlier forms of anti-Judaism. Holocaust scholar Ruth R. Wisse claims that the difference lies in institutionalization, and that the term “anti-Semitism” should only be used in reference to the modern phenomenon of the mechanization of the nation-state against the Jewish people. Do you agree or disagree with her conclusion? Very often anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism overlap. There is more focus on theology within anti-Judaism. For example, the issue of usury having a negative connotation in regards to Jews is more compatible with anti-Semitism, while the perception of Jews as “Christ killers” is much more implicit in anti-Judaism. The former is economic while the latter is a theological issue.
You also consider the Spanish Inquisition to be rooted in anti-Judaism while the Holocaust manifested out of anti-Semitism. However, weren’t Hitler and the Nazis’ pseudoscientific theories about Aryan supremacy informed by earlier Spanish concepts of “purity of blood” and racial superiority? As I’ve said, there really is much overlap between the two, but the doctrine of the Inquisition actually comes from Deuteronomy 13:1-10. There is a chapter from that book that the Christians of that period used to justify their hatred of Jews. It basically condemned the Jews for not accepting Christ.
You also discuss the role that Jewish participation, and the misconception of an overrepresentation, in commerce and finance has played in the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere. How can Jews combat this misconception without apologizing for the success of individual Jews and Jewish families within capitalist economies? The point is that financial capitalism had a lot of negative connotations, particularly in Europe and the United States, in the latter part of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century. For that reason, when Jewish bankers lent money to the governments of that period it was not perceived kindly by the Gentile masses. They viewed these transactions as a secret conspiracy between the powerful, which did not have any practical implication in the lives of the average European or American. Jewish money was not seen being used to fund projects that would benefit the general populace, such as large construction projects that would employ many people. As a result, many political parties arose with anti-Jewish sentiments in their platforms both on the right and the left. It was easy to appeal to large numbers of people with the idea that Jews were social parasites. For that reason, almost 80 years before the Nazis, the gentile masses had made up their mind that the Jews were only concerned with money and power. In 1933, when Hitler came to power, he did not have to preach anti-Jewish sentiment. The climate was already there. All he added to that was the idea that Jews could not be rehabilitated and therefore must be eliminated.
Recently, a Democratic primary candidate in the election for New York City Council, Thomas Lopez-Pierre, stated that “greedy Jewish landlords” were to blame for black and Hispanic renters being priced out of homes in his district. Would you unequivocally condemn that statement as anti-Semitic? I think he was trying to exploit the issue, but it certainly has anti-Semitic connotations, no question about that. Even if he did not have that intention, his views on the issue can certainly be perceived as anti-Semitic.
How has the dissipation of the United States’ white majority revitalized anti-Semitism in this country, and what degree of culpability do you lie at the feet of right-wing news media and talk radio pundits in preying on people’s ignorance and prejudices? They certainly bear a large responsibility. They look for every kind of excuse to marginalize minority groups. I agree that the reality of the shrinking white racial demographic in America is a factor. We should never forget that White Supremacy has a strong anti-Jewish sentiment, and on every occasion its proponents want to blame the Jews.
Do you think the nativism and ethno-nationalist populism that has swept the West has allowed for less savory characters to have more influence? I’m very concerned about the populism that has taken hold, not only in this country but in Europe as well. I certainly think that there should be a lot of concern for Jews and other minorities within these societies. We have to fight against that in anyway we can. This is more or less what happened toward the end of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century in this country, with regards to the Alien and Sedition Acts.
The book is available on Amazon, Kindle, and other platforms.
Perry Fein is a contributing writer to Jlife magazine.