Several days ago, a Jewish friend of mine remarked that he was “shocked to learn that there were so many Jew-haters in America.” I responded that I was shocked as well, but differently. I’ve been watching the recrudescence of American and European anti-Semitism for several years, so its existence came as no surprise. What I found shocking was the explosion of raw hatred in the wake of the October 7 Hamas atrocities in Israel and the sudden and massive sense of empowerment this seemed to give to the haters. Above all, I was shocked at the extent to which this was a phenomenon of America’s own children. I never thought it would come to this. How to explain this? I believe the answer lies in something we should call “Holocaust envy,” which is very different from the traditional strain of anti-Semitism.
Once and for all, we need to reject the twin notions of collective guilt and collective innocence.
Hamas, along with Hezbollah, ISIS, and the theocratic regime in Iran, collectively represent a millennial hatred, not just of the Jews, but also the whole thrust of modern Western civilization. In a previous American Spectator article I described Israel as the “canary in the coalmine” for all that we hold dear. Once Israel is snuffed out, they are coming for us. are the modern embodiment of a millennial hatred. Moreover, and in spite of “progressive” insistence to the contrary, these Islamic radicals are the true heirs to Nazism. Its ideological godfathers in the Muslim Brotherhood are very much the children of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who was, quite literally, Hitler-adjacent. (READ MORE from Jim McGee: Chinese Threat Looms at the Open Border)
There is no doubt that the Hamas murderers of October 7 are the Grand Mufti’s spiritual descendants, completely dedicated to his — and Hitler’s — genocidal agenda. Moreover, thanks to uncontrolled immigration and an utter lack of commitment to cultural assimilation, thousands of young Arabs, steeped in the witches brew of radical hatred, have taken up residence across the Western world. We’ve seen them screaming their hatred in the ever-expanding demonstrations that have convulsed our major cities.
But let’s be honest with ourselves — not all those screaming faces belong to immigrants from the Middle East. Many among them, perhaps sometimes even a majority, belong more directly to us; they are our colleagues, our neighbors, above all, our children. What accounts for the spread of this poison? Why have young Americans succumbed, in such great numbers, to the transcendent ugliness of “Jew-hatred?”
I believe the answer is quite straightforward, and is the logical consequence of the pursuit of victimhood that we see everywhere around us. As I discussed in a previous American Spectator article, once upon a time we honored heroism, and in doing so cultivated agency rather than passivity. Now, however, we have elevated group victimhood above individual agency. In the new intellectual universe of “intersectionality,” we divide the world into “oppressors” and “oppressed,” assigning collective guilt to the former and collective virtue to the latter. This is the logic behind the “systemic racism” enterprise and behind the whole vast apparatus of “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” It partakes deeply of the Marxist conception of “powerful historical forces,” but is even more tyrannically inclusive in its reach into every corner of life.
The “oppressors” of course, are the usual suspects, white, straight, Christian, conservative, along with such “white-adjacent” categories as Asians or even those blacks who have rejected the victimhood narrative — think Clarence Thomas, Tim Scott, or Thomas Sowell. Being an oppressor, of course, is a bad thing, so no one competes to join its ranks or to ascend to the top of the oppressor hierarchy.
The competition among the “oppressed,” however, is another matter. Being “top victim” is an important status attribute, and sinking to the bottom of the victim ladder risks becoming an outcast, potentially even being relegated to the ranks of the oppressors. Consider the plight of those bland gay white men, the Pete Buttigieg’s for example, condemned for not being “queer” enough. Stable black families, married with children, find themselves criticized for “trying to be white,” and dismissed accordingly.
On an individual level, we’ve seen the absurdities this creates. Elizabeth Warren’s pursuit of Cherokee maiden status, or Rachel Dolezal’s pretense of being black. At the group level, however, it creates both bizarre alliances and bitter competitions. “Queers for Palestine” may be the most bizarre of alliances, considering the likely fate of any LGBT person in Hamas-ruled Gaza (in contrast to the gay-friendly cities of Israel), but the elbowing and shoving is no joke. Asian-Americans, after all, were once welcomed as “persons of color,” but have now been banished. They’ve achieved too much, and their suffering is too remote and too small scale. Their credit for having been victims of discriminatory laws and WWII roundups apparently has expired, and their exercise of individual agency repeatedly gives the lie to the notion of group oppression.
Unfortunately, for the competitors in the victimhood sweepstakes, the Holocaust makes nonsense of their carefully constructed pyramid of oppression. The Holocaust, of course, was a world-historical victimhood event, in fact, the victimhood event by which all other forms of group victimhood are measured. No amount of historical special pleading for one group or another can stand comparison with the sheer awfulness of its industrialized mass slaughter, and only a few in modern times — the Rwandan and Armenian genocides — come close. For those who choose to define themselves through their group victimhood, the uncomfortable truth is that the Jewish people retired the trophy eighty years ago.
Historically, we rewarded individual agency, and, even when injustices arose, we understood that the remedy lay in empowering individuals, not rewarding groups.
And then, insultingly, like Marlon Brando long-ago at the Oscars, the Jewish people declined to accept the award. The whole meaning of “Never Again” can be summed up simply — we will never again depend on others, and we will go down fighting rather than surrender. The whole postwar Zionist project, the creation and flourishing of the state of Israel, comes down to this. Even the postwar treatment of actual Holocaust victims represents a rejection of the intersectionalist victimhood enterprise. The ones I’ve known personally, and the many more I’ve read about, simply chose to try and get on with what was left of their lives, building something positive on the foundations of their heartbreak. Unlike, for example, the San Francisco slavery reparations project, which called for massive sums to be distributed on the basis of the faintest of connections to slavery, when it came time for actual Holocaust victims to receive restitution from Germany, substantial proof of their status had to be documented, and, even then, the restitution amounts were scarcely generous. (READ MORE: The Lie Behind the ‘Hearts and Minds’ Plea)
The Jewish experience offers a categorical reproach to the victimhood narrative. Much of what passes for victimhood here in the U.S. and in Western Europe is mere victimhood cosplay. Those whose whole concept of political reality involves dressing up in “handmaid’s tale” costumes demonstrates a fundamental unseriousness. In a world where an FBI office investigates Catholic conservatives and Pope Francis fires Bishop Strickland, apparently for being too conservative, the very notion of such “oppression” seems utterly ludicrous. But, as the whole history of the anti-Trump “resistance” tells us, the clamor for victimhood and the fantasy of oppression have become important to those whose existence is now defined by their position on the hierarchy of victimhood.
The refusal of Jews, particularly the Jews of Israel, to play along with this silliness represents an insult, a deep and anger producing insult, to our rising generation of woke fantasists. And it doesn’t take a doctorate in psychology to recognize that such insult frequently turns into resentment, and, eventually, outright hatred. This, then, is the locus of “Holocaust envy,” and, however unserious these people seem to be, its implications are deadly. Despite the “hate has no home here” yard signs, despite the peace and love posters on dormitory doors, these are often very angry people, ready to deny the Jewish people respect, insistent upon the priority of their own “suffering.” And the resentment runs only deeper when so many of these people are members of the most privileged classes in the most privileged countries in the world.
They are ready to be seduced by every victimhood message, and Hamas deliberately exploited this readiness. Not for nothing has their post-October 7 strategy relied upon hiding behind the civilian population of Gaza, provoking a massive Israeli military response, and then screaming loudly about Palestinian victimhood. This game has been played many times before, and, too often, it has worked to stay the hand of justice. The historian David Hackett Fischer once observed that “right does not vary with might, even inversely,” noting, trenchantly, that the underdog “may be a dirtier dog than the top dog.” In this moment, we need to insist, as often as it takes, that Hamas is a very dirty dog indeed.
In the final analysis, the progressive drift into anti-Semitism, the hatred of Jews and of Israel, the “Holocaust envy” that animates their hatred — all these things call on us to tear apart the whole sorry victimhood sweepstakes. Once and for all, we need to reject the twin notions of collective guilt and collective innocence. This doesn’t mean indifference to genuine victims; we can respond to the victims of a tornado, for example, as individuals in need, and without recourse to some grand group identity. And we can recognize that collective guilt, in whatever form it takes, represents the most vicious form of injustice. The Nazis had a term for it, Sippenhaft, and under its heading they rounded up not only the military officers who tried to assassinate Hitler, but also their siblings, their wives, and their children. The current proponents of “systemic racism” theory and the attribution of guilt by race are trafficking, despite protestations to the contrary, in this same foul conception.
Our country was built around the principle of individual responsibility and accountability. Historically, we rewarded individual agency, and, even when injustices arose, we understood that the remedy lay in empowering individuals, not rewarding groups. This we need to reclaim, firmly, decisively, uncompromisingly. Only then can we transcend the hatreds of the moment, not least the hatred of Jews that is the byproduct of “Holocaust envy.”
James H. McGee retired in 2018 after nearly four decades as a national security and counter-terrorism professional, working primarily in the nuclear security field. Since retiring he’s begun as second career as a thriller writer. His 2022 novel, Letter of Reprisal, tells the tale of a desperate mission to destroy a Chinese bioweapon facility hidden in the heart of the central African conflict region. Not incidentally, it is also a meditation on the nature of heroism as exemplified by an international team of special operators. You can find it on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback editions, and on Kindle Unlimited.