Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the November issue of Townhall Magazine.
When it was his turn to speak, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stalked right up to the microphone at the 2012 United Nations General Assembly in New York City and proudly declared that the state of Israel should be “eliminated.” It was a sentiment common in the Arab world, common enough that Ahmadinejad knew there would be no retaliation for openly questioning and attacking Israel’s legitimacy.
Anti-Semitism, the hatred and prejudice of Jewish people, is a centuries-old evil, but it appears to be on the rise in recent years. “Death to the Jews” is being chanted in France, teenagers are threatening to slit the throats of Jewish children in Australia, rabbis are being attacked in Great Britain, and Jewish students are being ostracized and attacked even here in the United States. These are just a few incidents of anti-Jewish hatred that escalated in conjunction with the Israel and Hamas conflict this past summer, and it seems to be spreading like an infection around the globe.
A Recent Chapter in an Ancient History
Anti-Semitism has been around for 2,000 years, making it the world’s longest running hatred. Wilhelm Marr, a German political agitator, popularized the term “antisemitism” in 1873 in his work, “The Way to Victory of Judaism over Germanism.” In the pamphlet, Marr accused the Jews of taking over the German banks and blamed their recent emancipation for their rise to power. Unless they were forcibly removed from the country, Marr warned, it would mean the end of the German people. Marr would go on to found the League of Antisemites, an organization dedicated to expelling Jews from Germany.
Next door in Russia, the fictional, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” was later published in 1903. The document purports to be a plan for Jewish world domination, but is actually a hoax based largely off the fiction of German antisemitic author Hermann Ottomar Friedrich Goedsche. Diane Saltzman, the Director of the Initiative on Holocaust Denial of anti- Semitism at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, told Townhall how this latter piece of forgery is still being distributed as fact in some parts of the world.
“When we were creating the exhibition a number of years ago, [“The Protocols”] was available on Amazon and it was easily accessible,” Saltzman said. “In other parts of the world, in parts of the Middle East, some places in Eastern Europe and other places, it’s very easily accessible and it’s often taught as, and in some cases presented as, one of the holy books of the Jewish people.”
A Hatred With Many Forms
Experts say there is more than one form of anti-Semitism. Professor Larry Lowenthal teaches a course called “Anti- Semitism in 20th Century American Literature and Film” at Northeastern University in Massachusetts, which focuses on Judeophobia in pop culture. He has an understanding of anti- Semitism that was defined by personal experience.
Born in 1938, he lived through the horrors of the Holocaust. He was ostracized for his heritage throughout his childhood and even into his adult years. Classmates told jokes at his expense and he saw fraternities close the door on him one too many times. Lowenthal terms this kind of prejudice as “social anti-Semitism,” which reared its ugly head up until the 1960s. It culminated in the belief that Jews are arrogant, obnoxious, and obsessively materialistic. Social anti-Semitism was not the cause of the Holocaust, however. Lowenthal said a harsher branch of the hatred can explain how Hitler and his Nazi army were driven to commit genocide.
“Millions of Jews were not slaughtered because they were vulgar or shady in their business dealings,” Lowenthal explained. “Millions of Jews were murdered because their murderers thought they were evil and a dangerous menace to world civilization. Such a belief about Jews has been branded “mystical anti-Semitism,” or the “Satanizing of the Jews,” and one must understand “mystical anti-Semitism” if one wants to understand the Holocaust or the continued virulence of anti- Semitism in the world today.”
The Politics of Grievance
What can account for the baseless attacks and false propaganda targeted at Jews?
Dr. Ruth Wisse, a former Harvard University professor who is an expert on anti-Semitism, points the unique hatred to one word: politics.
“Anti-Semitism I define as a politics of grievance and blame,” she told Townhall. “Anti-Semitism provided an exceptionally simple explanation. You pointed the finger at the Jews and said, ‘they are responsible for everything that is going wrong.’”
In summary, she said, “There is no political cost to anti-Semitism.”
Anti-Semitism is so powerful, Wisse claims, that it is the one unifying force in the Arab world.
“The organization against the Jews became the strongest unifying, I would say the only unifying feature of the Arab world,” Wisse explained. “Anti-Semitism was no sooner defeated in Hitler’s bunker that in the same moment it reorganized itself through the Arab League against the Jews.”
What other kind of ethnic hatred is so evident in countries from A to Z? Certainly, anti-Semitism is unique in its cruel staying power.
Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti- Defamation League, suggests why prejudiced people have used the Middle East conflict to fan the flames of anti-Semitism.
“The short answer is, it provided a convenient opportunity for those with anti-Semitic beliefs to express them about something they believe is political,” he said. “It gives anti- Semites the illusion they are engaging in legitimate discourse.”
When the Arab League was created in 1945, it immediately set up a boycott of Jewish goods and services. Its anti-Israel agenda persists today. This past year, the group supported Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ rejection of Israel as a “Jewish state.”
Kenneth Marcus, president and general counsel of the Louis D. Brandeis Center, a nonpartisan institution for public interest advocacy. “In many European cities, this has been reflected in attacks on Jews or vandalism and destruction of Jewish property.”
And the violence is not isolated to the Middle East. The World Zionist Orga- nization tracked incidents in Sydney, Australia, where teenagers stormed a school bus. In France, protesters threw rocks at police officers. In Toulouse, France and Germany, protesters hurled firebomb attacks on Jewish properties. In Budapest, they threw smoke grenades.
While it’s necessary to consider how anti-Semitism has gone global, we don’t have to look beyond our own borders to find the same kind of prejudice. In Miami Beach, Florida, this past July, cars were vandalized with anti-Jewish messages. A couple of days later, in Miami Dade, a neighborhood watch group found a swastika with the word, “Hamas” spray painted on the pillars out- side of a synagogue. The scene left Jewish residents confused and unnerved. When interviewed by the local CBS Miami TV station, one man said his wife was “shak- ing” when she heard the news and she “felt like it was the 1940s all over again.”
Yes, Jewish people are having to relive the painful memories of the Holocaust even here in America.
And one place the ideology has particularly festered is on college campuses.
Meaning, Jewish students sometimes have more to worry about than just earning good grades. Marcus pointed to just a few instances of anti-Jewish aggression at today’s schools.
“At Temple University, a Jewish student was hit in the face and called a ‘Zionist pig,’ and perhaps also ‘pike.’ At the University of Michigan, various Jewish students were harassed and threatened and called very ugly epithets. At the University of California Santa Barbara, one Jewish student was spit on for wearing a Star of David necklace.”
Marcus explained how the campus crisis is in some ways a direct result of the violent protests occurring overseas.
“Frequently, these incidents in Europe are followed by or echoed by incidents on college campuses. The U.S. college campus incidents are generally not as intense as we’re seeing in Europe, but they reflect the same kind of sentiment.”
Despite the rampant anti-Semitism among millennials, Marcus believes young people still have the opportunity to change hearts and minds.
“I started the Brandeis Center in large part because I think that our generation has the power to turn things around and to return to the progress that we were making against hatred prior to the year 2001 or 2002.”
Some of the progress pro-Israel advocates have made, however, has been hampered by misleading headlines and faulty reporting. Meet another obstacle to anti-Semitism: the media.
Anti-Semitism Fits the Agenda?
Israel remains the one true democracy in the Middle East and has long been an important ally of the United States. Too often, however, the media chooses to ignore this cherished partnership.
Throughout the recent conflict in Gaza, numerous liberal media outlets focused on the fact that far more Palestinians were dying than Israelis. “Why 70% of the people killed in Israel-Gaza violence are innocent Palestinian civilians,” one headline at the progressive Vox.com website blared, completely ignoring the fact that Hamas both started the conflict and purposefully uses civilians as human shields when they fight.
Why does the media often seem intent on ensuring that Israel loses the public relations battle? Some cite the media’s liberal bias. A Pew Research Center study in 2007 found that liberals in the media outnumbered conservatives 4 to 1.
Joshua Muravchik, a fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and author of “Making David Into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel, 2014,” suggested why the leftist ideology is one that paints Israel as the enemy.
“Leftists/liberals/progressives believe that the great moral drama of our era is ‘the rest against the West’ or the ‘people of color’ against the ‘white man,’” Muravchik explained in the Christian Post. “Seen through that lens, Israel (the ‘Western’ ‘white’ guys) is automatically wrong and the Palestinians (the ‘anti-colonialist’ ‘people of color’) are automatically right.”
When the media subscribes to this ideology, Israel’s side of the story is likely to get little airtime.
Despite the media’s leftist agenda, however, a majority of Americans support Israel. A Rasmussen Reports poll conducted in August showed 57 percent of respondents sided with Israel over Palestine in the Gaza conflict. Unfortunately, as we’ve witnessed anti-Semitism spread like wildfire around the globe, Israel can’t count on finding many friends in the rest of the world.
Confronting the Cruelty
Anti-Semitism has arguably declined since World War II. The Jewish people have a state and are not being systematically slaughtered in any country. Yet, anti-Semitism’s perpetual presence and global reach are alarming.
So, is anti-Semitism here to stay?
“Ten years from now when we look back, we’ll say one of two things,” Marcus said. “We might say that the first 15 years or so of the new millennium was an anomaly and that the long steady progress against anti-Semitism that began with the Second World War, was continued after a fairly short interruption. Alternatively, we might look back 10 years from now and say that the long steady progress against anti-Semitism from the 1940s came to a fairly sudden halt at the turn of the new millennium and that the old and ugly prejudice returned.”
Professor Lowenthal said in order to wipe out the hatred we must give it proper attention.
“The only way is to expose it and objectify and historicize it,” he said. “A lot of people won’t acknowledge it. ... “It’s got to be constantly brought to the surface.”
Once we understand the hatred, then can we confront it.
We see the gas chambers, the emaciated bodies, and the piles of shoes that will never again be worn in the halls of the Holocaust museum. But, what we don’t often consider is how resilient the Jewish people were after the horrors of the genocide had ended. This is the story that needs to be told, Wisse insisted.
“In the same decade, the Jews reclaimed their sovereignty and their homeland after it had been under foreign occupation for more than two millennia. This is unbelievable. As unbelievable as anti-Semitism is on the negative side, that’s how unbelievable the achievement of the resurrection of Israel has been on the positive side. And I think that’s the story one ought to go with.”
In other words, focus on how they overcame, not on what they endured. This is perhaps the message pro-Israel activists must espouse to fight the hateful prejudice against Jews.
Every year, 1.6 million people visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Saltzman said people can’t finish their tour of the museum’s three-floor exhibit without a better understanding of what the Jewish people endured during those unimaginable years.
“People talk about being transformed by their experience having gone through that exhibition and really looking through that history,” Saltzman said.
Of course, an even more powerful experience than visiting the Holocaust museum would be journeying to where the torture actually occurred. How better could one understand the Holocaust than by touring the chilling remnants of Auschwitz? What better place to reflect on how a prejudice turned deadly?
Regardless of how many people visit the Holocaust museum to view the photographic evidence or walk through the haunting remnants of the concentration camps, anti-Semitic attitudes have continued to run rampant, especially as the Gaza Strip fills with smoke.
Hopefully, one day we’ll have no need for buckets of soap and water to wash away Nazi graffiti and Jewish students will be able to walk to class free from fear of their fellow classmates. For now, as the Middle East crisis has revealed, the threat of anti-Semitism is still as real as the memories the Holocaust left behind. •