Jews And Gays: The Bonds Of Ostracism


I’ve long seen anti-Semitism and homophobia as closely related psychologically. They are particular manifestations of group-hatred in as much as bigots of both kinds actually fear the power these groups allegedly hold, and their ability to pass for goyim or heteros. There’s almost a kind of admiration mixed in with the loathing, and often a sense that the groups conspire together in secret. Here’s what I wrote on the subject a while back:

In her book The Anatomy of Prejudices, the psychotherapist Elisabeth Young-Bruehl proposes a typology of three distinct kinds of hate: obsessive, hysterical and narcissistic. It’s not an exhaustive analysis, but it’s a beginning in any serious attempt to understand hate rather than merely declaring war on it. The obsessives, for Young-Bruehl, are those, like the Nazis or Hutus, who fantasize a threat from a minority, and obsessively try to rid themselves of it. For them, the very existence of the hated group is threatening.

They often describe their loathing in almost physical terms: they experience what Patrick Buchanan, in reference to homosexuals, once described as a “visceral recoil” from the objects of their detestation. They often describe those they hate as diseased or sick, in need of a cure. Or they talk of “cleansing” them, as the Hutus talked of the Tutsis, or call them “cockroaches,” as Yitzhak Shamir called the Palestinians. If you read material from the Family Research Council, it is clear that the group regards homosexuals as similar contaminants. A recent posting on its Web site about syphilis among gay men was headlined, “Unclean.”

The reason I bring this up is because newly declassified documents from the Dreyfus affair in fin de siecle France reveal the connections and the complexities of the two identities. Two key sources framing Dreyfus as a treasonous Jew turned out to be two high-level spies from Italy and Germany. And they were having a torrid homosexual affair. It was to cover up this affair that the dossier (much of which was forged) was not made public. So homophobic gays were closeted and protected by the state in order to provide false evidence to convict a Jew.

And the fact that the dossier was kept secret for these reasons led to speculation about Jewish conspiracies to keep its details under wraps. In fact, the French government didn’t want to “disgrace” the envoys of Italy and Germany, by revealing the affair. The phobias fed each other, in other words, with the closet – both Jewish and gay – intensifying everything.

But the best thing about Caroline Weber’s column on the subject is this passage from Proust, where he compares the overlap between being gay and being Jewish in late nineteenth century France:

“Their honor precarious, their liberty provisional, lasting only until the discovery of their crime; their position unstable … excluded even, save on the days of general misfortune when the majority rally round the victim as the Jews rallied round Dreyfus, from the society — even the sympathy — of their fellows … but also brought into company of their own kind by the ostracism to which they are subjected, the opprobrium into which they have fallen, finally having been invested, by a persecution similar to that of Israel, with the physical and moral characteristics of a race … [finding] a relief in frequenting the society of their kind … forming a freemasonry far more extensive, more effective, and less suspected than that of the lodges … all of them required to protect their own secret but sharing with others a secret which the rest of humanity does not suspect, … playing with the other race … a game that may be kept up for years until the day of the scandal when these lion-tamers are devoured; obliged until then to make a secret of their lives.”

That man could write. Although taming lions is not as good as Wilde’s “feasting with panthers.”

(Painting:  Emile Zola, besieged by angry mobs after his testimony defending his defense of Dreyfus. By Henry de Groux, 1898.)