Purim in Contemporary Guise
“Since 1945, I was not as afraid as I am now. I am afraid because anti-Semitism, which I had thought belonged to the past, has somehow survived,” Eli Wiesel intones at the beginning of a new documentary Unmasked Judeophobia. What follows is a 81-minute tour led by highly erudite guides of a veritable horror house of contemporary anti-Semitism.
The tour starts with the Moslem world. Though classical Muslim sources provide a rich lode of anti-Jewish material, contemporary Islamic anti-Semitism fuses Islam with traditional European anti-Semitism, including Nazi race theory. The Muslim Brotherhood, which spawned Hamas and is poised to dominate Egypt, discovered early on that Jew hatred served as an excellent recruiting tool for the death cult promoted by Hassan al-Banna in his 1938 tract “The Art of Death.” From 1936 to 1938, its membership grew from 800 to 200,000, due to the Brotherhood’s mobilization against Zionism.
Pograms swept through ancient Jewish communities in Arab lands in 1941 and again in 1945-6. But the Arab defeats of 1948 and 1967 introduced a much more virulent element into Muslim anti-Semitism. Prior to 1948, the primary image of the Jew in Muslim culture was as a physical coward, according to Bernard Lewis. Traditional European anti-Semitic tropes provided the salve for the humiliation of defeat by the Jews: The Arabs were not defeated by the 600,000 Jews of Palestine, or later Israel, but by a world-wide conspiracy, with its tentacles around every Western government. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion became and remains a best-seller in the Arab world. From the illiterate masses to societal elites conspiracy theories involving Jews hold thrall the Arab mind – e.g., claims by an Egyptian minister that Israel somehow orchestrated shark attacks on bathers in the Gulf of Aqaba.
Exterminationist rhetoric is commonplace in contemporary Islam. Prominent Sunni theologian Yusuf al-Qaradawi, hailed as a returning hero in Tahrir Square, calls upon his followers to “kill the Jews wherever you find them.” The Hamas Charter is equally explicit that not a single Jew should be left alive in Palestine. And most ominous, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei describes Israel just like the Nazis described the Jewish people – as a “cancer.” Cancers must be eradicated.
Next stop Europe. European elites fret hysterically about Islamophobia, but attacks on Jews dwarfs those against Muslims. The Holocaust is no longer an anti-body protecting Europe from the anti-Semitic virus. Shmuel Samuels of the Simon Wiesenthal Center views the 1982 bombing of the Copernic Synagogue in Paris as the turning point. The blast triggered 73 shootings and bombings of Jewish targets in Western Europe, 29 in France. That spate of violence ended with the machine gunning in the Jewish quarter of Paris, which left 6 dead and 22 injured.
With the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000-2001, there were 500 attacks against Jews in France. And after Operation Cast Lead, there were 900 anti-Semitic attacks in Britain in a single year. The need to protect Jewish institutions so far outstripped British police resources that a Community Trust had to be created to guard Jewish synagogues and institutions.
Physical violence is the smallest part of the problem. London is the hub of hubs of the delegitimization of Israel. Cartoons of Israel soldiers as Nazis or Israeli prime ministers eating Palestinian babies have gone mainstream and garnered prizes. An “expose” in the mass-circulation Swedish tabloid Aftonblandet claiming that Israel harvests body parts of murdered Palestinians went viral.
Israel Apartheid Week is a regular feature of campus life on many university campuses, even in the U.S., and institutions as prestigious as Harvard put their imprimatur on conferences devoted to one-sided Israel bashing. Even Jewish professors feel intimidated. Kenneth Marcus relates that as Director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, he found that college professors are even more afraid to step forward than students. Professors told him of meeting in secret to discuss campus anti-Semitism, lest they be labeled “Zionists” and subject to retaliation.
Jewish students face professors who view their classroom as a soapbox for ideological indoctrination. At an age, when they are deciding whether to disconnect themselves from the Jewish people, they are given the choice between renouncing any identification with Israel or being ostracized for subscribing to intolerant, reactionary, exclusivist doctrines antithetical to human rights.
The double standard applied to Israel is most evident in international bodies. The United Nations debated and passed its notorious “Zionism is racism” resolution, which, in Daniel Moynihan’s words, gave international legal sanction to anti-Semitism, while 2-4 million Cambodians were dying at the hands of their own government. Today 80% of the country specific resolutions of the U.N. Human Rights Council refer to Israel. Syria, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Somalia (remember Darfur) escape all censure.
Israel is routinely accused of wantonly targeting Palestinian civilians. Yet when Syria actually does what is a fantasy with respect to Israel — i.e., mow down thousands of its own citizens — the campuses and streets of European capitals are quiet.
MORE ALARMING than the laundry list of world-wide anti-Semitism is the silence that greets it and the willful turning of the head. After hundreds of attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions in France, the government decried “inter-communal tensions,” implying that Jews were also attacking Muslims. Italian parliamentarian Fiamma Nierenstein asked the Swedish Foreign Minister (and then EU foreign minister), after the Aftonblandet affair, what he was doing to combat anti-Semitism. He denied there was any such problem in Sweden or Europe. Europeans cannot admit that anti-Semitism has returned or the extent of their hypocrisy towards Israel because doing so would give lie to their pretensions to moral superiority.
Even evidence with important policy implications gets scant attention. The theology of the Iranian mullahs and rabid Jew hatred are largely ignored. Yet they cannot be severed from any threat assessment, for it is within the context of that theology that Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and their possible use becomes entirely “rational.”
Similarly, the constant Palestinian incitement against and demonization of Israel and Jews, and the creation of a cult of martyrdom around killers of Jews, is no mere sideshow. Those who raise the issue are labeled “right-wingers” and opponents of peace. Yet no one has answered how generations raised on loathing of Jews and Israel and the hope of eliminating both will come to live in peace.
For many “liberals,” including many liberal Jews, anti-Semitism is too painful a subject to contemplate. The persistence of an irrational hatred of Jews over the millennia calls into question the basic assumptions of the modern progressive mind – i.e., the belief in man’s innate goodness and mankind’s development towards ever higher levels, under the widening influence of human reason. The ineradicable nature of Jew hatred refutes such sunny optimism. Man’s powers of reason, under the Nazis, only made them more efficient killers of Jewish “vermin.”
Many Israelis share the aversion to thinking about anti-Semitism. During a panel discussion after the screening of Unmasked, Professor Robert Wistrich, Director of the Vidal Sassoon Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Hebrew University, described how the Israeli media was totally uninterested in German filmmaker Esther Schapira’s documentary exposing the Mohammed al-Dura blood libel as a fraud. The Hebrew press almost completely ignored the recent dismissal by a French court of a libel suit against an Israeli doctor who revealed that the “wounds” of Mohammed’s father were the result of an earlier operation.
UNMASKED makes no attempt at answering Eli Wiesel’s opening question: How does this hatred persist? We learn something of the typologies of anti-Semitism – theological, racial (even more lethal because one cannot change one’s race), and today’s ideological anti-Semitism. Bernard Lewis notes that ideological, like theological, anti-Semitism, carries an opt-out option for Jews who are willing to delegitimize Israel – and that option is far more frequently exercised today than by apostates during Middle Ages. (During the panel discussion, Maariv’s Ben-Dror Yemini commented that if he only read the Hebrew press he too would hate Israel.)
And Wistrich points out how many of the tropes of religious anti-Semitism were seamlessly transferred from theological anti-Semitism to that of men of enlightenment and science. But as for explanations of the thing itself, none are provided.
Catholic theologian Jacques Maritain (and quoted in Wistrich’s magisterial The Lethal Obsession) fills the void. He links hatred of Jews to our unique mission: “Israel . . . is to be found at the very heart of the world’s structure, stimulating it, exasperating it, moving it. Like an alien body, like an activating ferment injected into the mass, it gives the world no peace . . . . [A]s long as the world has not G-d, it stimulates the movement of history. . . . It is the vocation of Israel that the world hates.” In other words, the protean, unceasing nature of anti-Semitism reflects, in a perverse way, the world’s sense of Jewish chosenness.
I COULD NOT HELP THINKING in the increasingly claustrophobic theater: If so many hate us so much, shouldn’t we Jews at least try to love one another a bit more. I have no idea how to make that happen. But recognizing that we are all bound together, that we all share a common “vocation” or mission would be a start.
This upcoming Purim, we will celebrate the Jewish people’s acceptance of the Torah anew, this time without Divine compulsion. Those who had been so far away as to partake of Achashverosh’s banquet, which celebrated the failure to rebuild the Temple, rediscovered their common mission and the unity of Sinai – “as one man, with one heart.” Only then were they delivered from enemies dedicated to “destroy, kill and exterminate” every Jew.
May we speedily experience the same.
This article first appeared in the Jerusalem Post and Yated Ne’eman.