In the Western Sydney suburb of Eastern Creek, at the biggest road interchange in the southern hemisphere, thousands of red batons sprout from the ground in memorial of the Australian Light Horsemen of the First World War. Until last Thursday, the two huge signs that bookend the monument had read for an unknown amount of time; ‘Light Horse Interchange: Victims of Rothschilds’.
The ‘victims of Rothschilds’ addendum, which had been made with a spray-painted stencil, refers to the Nazi perpetuated myth, which had held strong currency in Europe since the early days of the 19th century, that the famously wealthy House of Rothschild formed the core of a Jewish cabal which was responsible for all of the wars in Europe since at least the Napoleonic era.
The most striking thing about this vandalism is what it says about the enduring currency of centuries old anti-Semitic myths. It underscores the recent words of Australia's Race Discrimination Commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane, that “reports of anti-Semitism have risen [in Australia], reflecting growing anti-Jewish feeling around the world”.
The vandalism is local evidence of the fact that what began as a European phenomenon has now gone global. It is a surprisingly common belief, which permeates online forums and some fringe media in the West (or some mainstream media in the Middle East), that a Jewish cabal controls the United States Government, and that this cabal orchestrated the September 11 attacks as an excuse to conduct war on the Arab world.
A Pew Global Research poll conducted 10 years after September 11 did not find a single Muslim public in which more than 30 per cent of those surveyed believed that the attacks were perpetrated by Arabs.
The anachronistic vandalism on the Light Horse Interchange is a dog-whistle to these contemporary anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. It is a neat illustration of the cogent line that connects today’s brand of the anti-Semitic ‘Jewish cabal’ myth to its European ancestry.
The historical fabrication that the Rothschilds (read: ‘the Jews’) orchestrated World War I is a particularly nasty lie for a number of reasons. It absolves the bellicose European powers of their responsibility for a war in which around 16 million people were killed, it distracts from the rampant and murderous colonial competition between these powers throughout Africa, Asia, and the Pacific, and it perpetuates the ‘stab-in-the-back’ myth, which laid the foundations for mass support of Nazism in Germany.
The accusation that a Jewish cabal orchestrated Europe’s wars so as to profit from them was merely one in a long litany of lies in which European tragedies, crimes, and follies are blamed on a Jewish conspiracy to divert responsibility from the supposedly peace loving and morally faultless Europeans.
It is a tradition that stretches back at least to when the black plague first swept through Europe in the fourteenth century, when Christian mobs, hungry for loot, undertook a continent-wide campaign of mass murder of European Jewry. The charge was that the plague was the result of a coordinated conspiracy of Jews to poison Christian wells. The result was entire communities of thousands put to the sword or stake.
In The Origins of Totalitarianism Hannah Arendt argues that it was this type of repeated pogrom against European Jewry by the Christian masses that created the conditions of wealthy Jewish support of centralised monarchical power in Europe, from which the anti-Semitic myths of government-controlling Jewish cabals drew much of their steam. Rightly fearing the violence of the European masses, wealthy Jews like the Rothschilds often supported those power structures that most effectively curbed the assault and pillage of their communities.
Anti-Semitic violence and hysteria thus created the very political conditions used to justify further anti-Semitic violence and hysteria. By this point the validating façade for rampant anti-Semitism had evolved from the more primitive accusations of blood-libel and well-poisoning, but this slightly more nuanced form was still undergirded by the same endemic racist myth of the conspiratorial Jew fomenting strife in peaceful Europe.
The particularly virulent strain of this myth that has emerged in recent decades enmeshes the classic international Jewish cabal lie with often legitimate criticisms of the state of Israel, and of American foreign policy.
The entwining of anti-Semitic canards with legitimate criticisms of Israeli and American militarism does not serve the cause of the Palestinian people, but it does legitimate oppressive regimes by portraying them as stalwarts against the ‘Jewish cabal’, and it also creates a convenient scapegoat upon which all of the regime’s own failings are transposed, as occurred so notoriously in Ahmadinejad’s Iran.
In the same way that the Rothschild myth absolved European powers of their responsibility for war, so too does this current iteration absolve those responsible for the turmoil that engulfs the Middle East. The legacy of European colonially enforced borders, American imperial interests, the corrupt, violent, and authoritarian local state and non-state actors and their sectarian strife, and indeed the violent and repressive acts of the state of Israel, are all real factors that go ignored when agency is laid upon the shoulders of an imaginary malevolent Jewish cabal.
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