Why Does Antisemitism Matter?

The recent Gaza/Israel conflict has exposed the misinformation about Israel originating in Russian/Soviet antisemitic prpoganda that has infected many media outlets and a large part of academia over the past fifty years.

 

A World War II-era Slovak propaganda poster

A World War II-era Slovak propaganda poster exhorts readers not to “be a servant to the Jew”.

Bradley Martin has reviewed this sad history in his recent article, The Soviet Roots of Far-Left Antisemitism. He writes  “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.

Ever since, the antisemitic calumnies, promoted by the Soviet Union and adopted by the Arab League, and many UN members, has been disseminated by professors and students promoting this pro-Palestinian Soviet ideology at top universities, Oxford, Columbia, Yale and sadly many many others all over the world in the name of free speech. It has gotten so bad that lists of these professors have now been compiled by AMCHA initiative *3, along with databases of antisemitic incidents on many campuses.

These notions, “Zionism is racism,” “Israel is an apartheid state,” and a “colonial power“, have become so familiar that it almost proves the saying sometimes attributed to Goebbels that, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, often enough, people will eventually come to believe it.” These lies have invited and condoned ugly incidents of antisemitic terrorism towards Israel and Jews worldwide. They are lies and they are antisemitic tropes geared to arouse hatred towards Israel and towards Jews. 

Zionism is racism, Durban

Durban, Zionism is racism (Photo credit: REUTERS)

In his book, Not In God’s Name, Confronting Religious Violence *1, Rabbi Jonathon Sacks examines the psychological roots of violence that appear in many disparate ideologies, not just between individuals but also between groups. He calls these ideologies altruistic evil. Unfortunately, most people are so appalled by the violence of the Shoah, Jim Crow laws, and Jihadism that they prefer to avoid looking at and analyzing these phenomena.

Rabbi Sacks starts with the premise that as humans, we are all vulnerable to psychological issues that lead to ideologies that demonize the other, such as Islamic jihad and antisemitism. They are insidious and powerful because we all want to be on the right side of aiding our countrymen. These ideologies of altruistic evil powerfully manipulate our very human characteristics:

Sibling rivalry” is natural in childhood. Every child is angry with the seeming loss of attention from parents at the birth of a sibling. Murderous impulses towards siblings are well documented and often undergird these ideologies of hatred.

Hostility towards the out-group: Cooperation is the basic survival mechanism for any group, but an equally potent survival mechanism is banding together against the outsider – “Us against them”.

Victimhood: When one’s problems are blamed on the other/outsider and not addressed, this imprisons the “victim” in the “victimhood of helplessness”. As one Holocaust survivor expressed it, “I may have been victimized, but, never was I a victim!”

The scapegoat: focusing blame on a third party. When a group is attacked, the first impulse is to counterattack, and this may continue in an ongoing feud unless two groups can unite against a third, the scapegoat. Attacking the scapegoat will obscure all internal problems by focusing blame on a third party but imprisons those who choose this route to unity since scapegoating simply unites in hostility towards the third, never addressing any real problems between any of them.

The ideology of dualism, dividing the world into forces of good vs evil, creates a universe in which the Satanic forces wage war against the Godly forces, creating an all good vs all bad dichotomy. This avoids any nuance for negotiation and can only lead to an “us against them, war of the worlds”.

Monotheism renounces dualism. For Jews, our One God is the source of all, even that which is evil. In Jewish thought, Satan is not an opposing God but a rebellious angel also created by God. By acknowledging that all people are created “in the image of God” and all share equally in the human condition, endowed by their Creator, with the capacity to understand and choose their behaviour, only then can peace and reconciliation be achieved.

Rabbi Sacks derives these ideas by interpreting the text of the Bible and the stories of Cain and Abel, Issac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers. He demonstrates via careful analysis of the text, that God never favours one over the other but loves and provides for each of us equally and wants us all to care for each other as brothers.

Rabbi Sacks explains succinctly the role antisemitism plays in legitimizing evil behaviour towards Israel and towards Jews.

“Antisemitism is only contingently related to Jews. The real targets of Christians in the age of the Crusades were the Muslims, not the Jews. The targets of Nazi Germany were the European nations that had defeated it in the First World War. The real targets of the Islamists are secular Islamic regimes and those who defeated the Ottoman Empire in 1922 and divided up its spoils.

Pointing a finder

Jews, however, play an essential function in the group psychology of these movements. By fulfilling the role of the scapegoat, Jews can be blamed for everything bad that happens to the group. As the mysterious, omnipotent, all-embracing evil enemy, hatred towards Jews unites the group, silences dissent, distracts from painful truths and enables otherwise utterly incompatible groups to become allies.

The significance of antisemitism, however, is its effect not on Jews but on antisemites. It allows them to see themselves as victims. It enables them to abdicate moral responsibility. Whatever is wrong in the world ‘it isn’t our fault; it’s theirs. They did it to us. After all, they control the world.’

Antisemitism did not help Christians win the Crusades or the Nazis to win the Second World War, and will not help Muslims build just societies.

He writes eloquently:

“Hate may harm the hated, but it destroys the hater. There is no exception.”

Antisemitism matters not just because it assaults Jews but because it assaults our common humanity. It is the paradigm case of fear of the outsider, the stranger, the one who is not like us. It resolves conflict within the group by projecting all evil onto the hated group.

Is there a solution to this problem?

Rabbi Sacks says emphatically, “Yes, there is!”. He brings as an example the reconciliation between the Jewish community and the Vatican since 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 warns that issues like antisemitism can never be resolved through war/power/dominance alone but only through education. As humans, we are all vulnerable to the virus of demonization of the other such as antisemitism and racism. Yet, for the same reason, we also all share the potential for insight and healing of these tendencies.

Jews call this healing “the process of teshuva”, “repentance” or, more precisely, “a reconsideration of one’s path” through vigorous discussion and study of our holy texts. To achieve a world where all diverse individuals and groups can begin to see themselves as brothers is the ultimate redemption that Torah education envisions.

Think before you speak, Read before you think

The Israel/Gaza conflict is not simply political: It bases itself on Hamas’ ideological claim of the supremacy of Islam over all other religious ideologies, and its precise aim, stated in its charter, is to annihilate the state of Israel simply for being Jewish. In this way, Hamas legitimate war against the Stae of Israel and antisemitic acts against Jews in New York, Montreal, Toronto, London, Paris, and anywhere globally. Thus, Hamas’ Islamic Jihad is a clear example of altruistic evil couched in political terms.

All people of goodwill must oppose it.

 

Footnotes:

  1. DURBAN & 9/11 – TEN YEARS LATER, BY IRWIN COTLER, Crif, 2016

  2. The Soviet Roots of Far-Left Antisemitism. Bradley Martin, Epoch Times, June 2, 2021
  3. AMCHA Initiative, has been documenting antisemitic activity on hundreds of U.S. campuses, free for the public for many years
  4. Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence by Rabbi Jonathon Sacks, Schocken Books, 2015

 

1 thought on “Why Does Antisemitism Matter?

  1. Yes, all good people must understand and oppose anti-Semitism.
    I love the image you include, with the words: Think before you speak. Read before you think.
    I’d say, it’s more than read before you think. It’s LEARN, EXPLORE, EVALUATE. So many people think based on false “facts.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *