Not all antisemitism is equal
Frankly, I could not care less whether Winston Churchill wrote, “The central fact which dominates the relations of Jew and non-Jew is that the Jew is ‘different.’ He looks different. He thinks differently. He has a different tradition and background. He refuses to be absorbed.” Certainly, nothing in those words detracts one iota from Churchill’s status as the greatest world leader of the 20th century, and the one to whom, more than any other, we owe our existence today.
I’m inclined to believe Sir Martin Gilbert that Churchill did not write the words quoted above, and that they were those of a ghostwriter. Ghostwriters — at least if they are any good — are paid to reflect the sentiments of their principal. And the sentiments expressed by Churchill, in my opinion, far from being contemptible, reflect a certain spiritual sensitivity – the recognition that the Jew is different. I only wish more Jews today were equally confident of that difference, and that more gentiles shared Churchill’s awareness of Jewish distinctiveness, and were as little inclined to marry us as they once were.
There is a great chasm between the genteel discomfort around Jews expressed by Churchill (and which by the way is by no means limited to the gentile half of the relationship) and the antisemitism of the Nazis or many lesser imitators today. If one studies the rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust, one finds that many of them harbored sentiments about Jews considerably less friendly than those expressed by Churchill. But those sentiments neither led them to harm Jews nor prevented them from close friendships with individual Jews. And ultimately they did not prevent the rescuers from risking their lives to save those of Jews.
Churchill has hitherto been known as something of a philo-Semite, and was certainly sympathetic to Jewish national aspirations in Palestine. Even in the article in question he (or his ghostwriter) expresses his admiration of Jews in various places.
Virulent antisemitism is an entirely different kettle of fish. The true Jew haters do not merely feel a discomfort with Jews; they are obsessed with them. For them Jews are truly diabolical and are at the root of all that is wrong with the world. Not that all those so obsessed, of course, are potential Nazis in waiting. Geoffrey Wheatcroft, for instance, recently advanced the theory in the Guardian that British foreign policy has been subverted to the interests of a foreign country – Israel. Walt/Mearsheimer warmed over for England.
Whatever the superficial plausibility of the Walt/Mearsheimer “thesis” for America, where Jews contribute a wildly disproportionate share to presidential campaigns and Israel enjoys the fervent support of tens of millions of evangelical Christianity, it is laughable when advanced in England, where Jews wield no political power, Israel is widely reviled, and there are scarcely any Christians left. All this marks Wheatcroft as someone obsessed with Jews. It does not mean that he will soon be looking around for new Oswald Mosely to follow.
WITH THE VIRULENT OBSESSIVE ANTISEMITISM, we cannot make peace and must be constantly on alert. And we do not have far to look for it today. It is all about us — in the Moslem world, on the Left or far-Right in Europe, and at the U.N. The latter is a virtual debating society for the passage of anti-Israel resolutions, and maintains several large bureaucracies whose sole purpose is to perpetuate the image of the Palestinians as the world’s most victimized people. In that, they have been successful. When asked to identify the greatest threat to world peace, Western Europeans overwhelming name Israel. Not Iran, not North Korea, but Israel.
The U.N. Commission on the Status of Women concluded its annual session in March. Only one country came in for specific condemnation: Israel. Not Iran where 33 women were recently beaten and arrested for protesting against polygamy and laws which deny women custody rights over their children; not Islamic countries where mutilation of female infants is widespread and “honor” killings go unprosecuted; not China where millions of pregnancies are forcibly terminated a year. Only Israel.
After the Holocaust, virulent antisemitism was assumed to be a thing of the past. But it has returned with a vengeance.
At least in Christian Europe, antisemitism seemed explicable, if not altogether rational. Jews, after all, denied the central “truths” of their host societies. But that cannot explain the fixation on Jews today when Christianity exercises no hold over the overwhelming majority of Europeans. And if we go back in history to the writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans we find similar attacks on Jews and Judaism long before the advent of Christianity.
A number of commentaries explain Chazal’s statement, “It is a known halacha that Esav hates Yaakov,” to mean that that hatred defies any explanation, just like a “halacha l’Moshe M’Sinai.” The enduring, irrational and protean nature of the hatred directed at us in all generations and in all places is beyond any naturalistic explanation.
The irrational, and therefore irrefutable, charges thrown at us throughout the centuries deplete our spirits, and beyond that they have too often threatened our very physical existence. But they do something else as well: They confirm that we are truly a unique nation that has been chosen for its own singular mission in history.
As Chazal say, Sinai derives its name from sinah, hatred in lashon hakodesh. The giving of Torah, and our being thereby singled out from the other nations, is the key to understanding antisemitism. At a subconscious level, the nations of the world are acknowledging our centrality in the Divine plan by their fixation on the Jews, despite our negligible numbers…
The rapid metamorphosis of Israel-bashing into old canards about Jewish conspiracies and manipulation of all the world’s resources should at one level fill us with hope. It is but one more manifestation of what the late Rav Shlomo Wolbe, zt”l, used to describe as the way that Hashgachah is forcing us to acknowledge our own unique mission. The miracle of enduring antisemitism is one that even a non-religious Jew can acknowledge.
Our uniqueness is not something we can escape. Attempts to do so only worsen the hatred. At a recent lecture in New York, Harvard professor Niall Ferguson speculated that the spark that ignited traditional German Jew hatred into something truly murderous was rapidly increasing intermarriage, and the fears of racial contamination to which it gave rise. As Rabbi Chaim Volozhin said, “If the Jew does not make Kiddush – i.e., sanctify himself – the gentiles will make Havdalah. . .
Originally appeared in the London Jewish Tribune.