The recent conflict between Gaza and Israel has brought to light the prevalence of misinformation concerning Israel. This misinformation is not solely rooted in Arab Islamism but also finds its origins in Russian/Soviet antisemitic propaganda, which has permeated numerous media outlets and a significant portion of academia over the past five decades.
In his recent article “The Soviet Roots of Far-Left Antisemitism,” Bradley Martin meticulously examines this troubling history.
“In 1955, the USSR would begin to sell weapons to Arab countries. Even the cause of Palestinian liberation and statehood was largely invented by the Soviets, considering the blueprint for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Charter was drafted in Moscow in 1964 and approved by 422 Palestinian representatives hand-selected by the KGB, according to Ion Mihai Pacepa. Such “liberation fronts” were “seen by the USSR as centers of Marxist indoctrination and opposition to democratic and capitalist movements,” states an article in the Stanford Review.“
Antisemitic lies, first spread by the Soviet Union and later adopted by the Arab League and some UN members, are now being actively promoted by professors and students who support a pro-Palestinian Soviet ideology. This troubling trend has reached prestigious institutions like Oxford, Columbia, Yale, and others worldwide, often under the pretext of free speech. To address this issue, initiatives like AMCHA compile lists of biased professors by documenting antisemitic incidents on different campuses.
Under the influence of these false narratives, including claims that “Zionism is racism,” “Israel is an apartheid state,” and a “colonial power,” such ideas have become distressingly familiar. This alarming trend aligns with the notion often attributed to Goebbels, suggesting that “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it often enough, people will eventually come to believe it.”
These lies don’t just stay as words; they’ve led to terrible incidents of antisemitic terrorism against Israel and Jews worldwide. Furthermore, these baseless lies and antisemitic tropes are strategically designed to incite hatred towards Israel and Jews.
In his book, Not In God’s Name, Confronting Religious Violence *1, Rabbi Jonathon Sacks delves into the intricate web of ideological violence present in various belief systems, coining the term “altruistic evil” to describe these psychological roots. Despite the pervasive nature of such violence in ideologies like Islamic jihad and antisemitism, people often shy away from scrutinizing them, driven by an aversion to the horrors of historical events like the Shoah, Jim Crow laws, and Jihadism.
Rabbi Sacks recognizes our common human susceptibility to complex thoughts that fuel ideologies demonizing others. Whether it’s Islamic jihad or antisemitism, these ideologies, labelled as “altruistic evil,” cleverly exploit our natural inclination to be morally upright in supporting fellow citizens. In the process, they skillfully manipulate fundamental aspects of our humanity.
Sibling rivalry is a common aspect of childhood, often triggered by the perceived loss of attention when a new sibling is born. Aggressive feelings toward siblings, even to the point of violence, are well-documented and can fuel ideologies of hatred.
Hostility toward outsiders is a survival mechanism for groups, creating a sense of unity against external threats, known as “Us against them.”
Scapegoating involves blaming external parties for internal problems, creating a false sense of unity but avoiding real issues within the group. This tactic can lead to a self-imposed “prison of victimhood.”
Victimhood, a consequence of scapegoating, hinders progress by avoiding self-reflection and necessary remedies. Some individuals, even after experiencing victimization, reject the label of victim.
The ideology of dualism versus monotheism is a more abstract concept. Dualism, dividing the world into good and evil forces, promotes demonization and hatred. In contrast, monotheism sees G-d as the source of both good and bad, highlighting human potential for positive and negative behaviour. This understanding provides a path toward peace and reconciliation to achieve harmony in the “messianic times.”
Rabbi Sacks explains succinctly the role antisemitism plays in legitimizing evil behaviour toward Israel and towards Jews.
By casting Jews as the convenient scapegoat, they become the target for any misfortunes within a group. Functioning as an enigmatic, omnipotent adversary, hatred towards Jews strengthens group unity, silences disagreement, distracts from inconvenient truths, and forms alliances among typically conflicting factions united against a common scapegoat.
It’s crucial to recognize that antisemitism is not intrinsically linked to Jews; instead, it is often a contingent tool manipulated for diverse agendas. In historical instances like the Crusades or Nazi Germany, the primary targets were Muslims and European nations, respectively. Similarly, in today’s United States, antisemitism is employed to criticize and undermine the government, appealing to emotions like ‘us-against-them,’ ‘good versus evil,’ and conspiracy theories to unite supporters from both the left and the right.
The true significance of antisemitism lies not in its impact on Jews but in its profound effect on antisemites. It provides them with a distorted self-perception as victims, allowing them to absolve themselves of moral responsibility. In their view, any global misfortune becomes the fault of the Jews, reinforcing a narrative that they control the world.
Antisemitism has never proven instrumental in the triumph of historical events, such as Christians winning the Crusades, Nazis winning World War II, or Muslims dismantling Israel or establishing just societies. Beyond its assault on Jews, antisemitism constitutes an assault on our shared humanity. It epitomizes the fear of the outsider, the unfamiliar, and the different. By projecting all evils onto the scapegoated group, antisemitism falsely resolves conflicts within the larger group, perpetuating a harmful cycle of division and prejudice.
Is there a resolution to this dilemma?
Rabbi Sacks asserts confidently, “Yes, there is!” He vividly illustrates the reconciliation between the Jewish community and the Vatican following the Shoah/Holocaust.
“Pope John XXIII and his successor Paul VI, reflecting on the Holocaust, read the work of the historian Jules Isaac, who showed how ‘the teachings of contempt of the Church towards the Jews had given rise to a history of libels, false accusations, forced conversions, inquisitions, burnings at the stake, expulsions, ghettoes and pogroms.
The result was a historic change in relations between the Catholic Church and the Jews, initiated by the Nostra Aetate declaration in 1965. Pope John Paul II deeply identified with that process and carried it forward. That took courage, honesty and humanity — the qualities that made him loved and admired within the Church and beyond.”
Rabbi Sacks emphasizes that addressing problems like antisemitism requires more than force; it demands a focus on education. Human vulnerability to demonizing others, as seen in antisemitism and racism, highlights our shared frailty. Yet, as part of the human race, we have the potential for insight and healing.
In the Jewish tradition, this healing is called “teshuvah,” meaning repentance or reconsidering one’s path. Torah education aims for a world where diverse groups see themselves as interconnected, like brothers. Achieving this vision involves dialogue, negotiation, and studying sacred texts, not aggression.
To combat Jew-hatred and racism, people must understand and recognize these issues. Only then can informed efforts be directed toward eliminating them.
- “Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence” by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was published by Schocken Books in 2015.