The recent upsurge in anti-Semitism across Western Europe and around the globe, complete with swastikas and “Death to the Jews” chants, is depressing and alarming. It should also, however, be inspiring.
For, once again, we have witnessed how outrage ostensibly over the actions of a sovereign nation, Israel, so quickly and effortlessly festered into full-blown Jew-hatred — not Israel-hatred, not even Israeli-hatred, but Jew-hatred. That curious phenomenon might be discomfiting, but should also make us think.
Can anyone imagine the all-too-real repressive policies of China being laid at the feet of Europeans of Chinese ethnicity, with protesters wildly advocating their extermination?
Can we picture anger over the actual crimes committed by Iran’s leaders being taken out on Iranians living in Europe or the United States, with attacks on their homes and institutions?
Yes, to be sure, there are mindless individuals who, seeing terrorism being committed in the name of Islam, target innocent Muslims as complicit in the inhumanities perpetrated in their religion’s name. But such misguided avengers are generally lone wolves; and, in the end, it is a belief system, not a government, that they wish to attack. They think that being a Muslim automatically makes one a radical Islamist. But Israel is a country, and Jews are a people. Leave aside that Israel makes unparalleled efforts to protect civilians. Assume, against all evidence, that she is a monster. Can anyone, no matter how mentally limited, assume that every Jew is an Israeli?
But that’s how Jew-hatred works: it needs no logic. In fact, rational thinking just gets in its way. And so, when Israel is perceived as having done wrong, it isn’t only that nation’s government that is targeted, but rather Jews, no matter where they live, no matter what they may think of Israel’s government or policies.
It’s astounding, really. What other racial, ethnic, social, or religious group can claim the distinction of having been chosen as the target of one or another form of persecution during practically every period of mankind’s progression from ancient times to the present? What other group, removed from its ancestral land and scattered around the globe, can claim to have ever been subsequently singled out for extermination, as happened in the memory of people alive today?
The aims of the persecutions have varied. Some of the hatred has been racial in nature; some, of a religious sort; some political. What all the expressions of animus have in common, though, are their focus on an unthreatening enemy: the Jews. The particular excuse may have been cultural (ancient Greece), religious (early Christian, radical Islamist), racial (Nazi Germany), or political (Palestinian). But the mark has been the same.
The ancient Greek loved knowledge and beauty; he hated the Jew. The Crusader championed the “New Testament” message (peace and love of mankind, no less); he hated the Jew. The Nazi strove for genealogical purity; he hated the Jew. The Palestinian opposes “Zionist imperialism”; in the end it is the Jew whom he and all his hangers-on despise.
Things might be more understandable were there in fact some nefarious World Council of International Jewry plotting the next stage of the manipulation of world governments.
Or if, as parts of the world still believe, Jews in fact required Christian blood for matzos, a fantasy for which countless Jews were killed.
But we members of the tribe know well that, while Jewish organizational meetings can be infernal in their own way, they are rather more mundane than the fabled assembly of the “Elders of Zion” — and that matzah containing blood would never receive a hechsher. Yet the myths persevered for centuries — and, sadly, still do.
As do equally bizarre contemporary equivalents of ancient blood libels — like much of the Arab world’s “knowledge” that Jews were behind the terrorist attacks of September 11; or media moral equations of Israeli attempts to fight a mortal enemy and “militants” who exult in the killing and maiming of innocents.
One can invoke ad hoc “rational” explanations: psychological concepts, social theories or geopolitical realities. But the solution to the riddle is less complicated.
As long as Klal Yisrael remains in galus, the Torah’s prediction, which we will be reading in shul mere weeks hence (Parashas Ki Savo), remains tragically in effect.
“And Hashem will scatter you among all the nations … and you will worship other gods … and in those nations you will not rest … you will be fearful night and day” (Devarim 28:64-66).
And so we pine for the day referenced in that very parashah’s haftarah, when:
“No longer will violence [“hamas,” interestingly] be heard in your land… but you will call [Hashem’s] salvation your protective walls…” the time when “never again will your sun set, nor your moon be withdrawn” and “the days of your mourning will end” (Yeshayahu 60:18-20).