In pondering the cause of the heavy recent anti-Semitic activity toward the Jewish community of late, especially in light of President Trump’s dedication to erasing such anti-Semitism wherever it rear its ugly head, I figured such a well-intended dedication would be much more likely to become a reality if we could understand the cause.
Bigotry and prejudice, in general, are subjects too big for this particular column, so I have chosen to “narrow it down” to just the anti-Semitic feelings that cause all the ill will and even hatred to be directed toward Jews in general.
In searching for answers, I came upon an article online written by Mark Weber entitled, “Anti-Semitism: Why Does It Exist? And Why Does it Persist?” All the information, “facts” and quotes that I will share, are taken from his article.
Jews generally stick together by virtue of being more than those who just share a religion: they share the commonality of being part of the Jewish nation. No matter where Jews may wander, they are all, so to speak, of one nation. Why they seem to attract rage and violence toward themselves from non-Jews — how they are perceived and treated by non-jews wherever they go — has been referred to as “the Jewish question.”
In today’s world, thanks to so-called political correctness and fear of backlash, it’s not an easy thing to discuss the “Jewish question,” yet the subject of how Jews are perceived by non-Jews deserves — and needs — honest consideration.
Many if not most of the well-known Jewish leaders today claim that the persistence of anti-Jewish sentiment and behavior is just as much a mystery to be solved as that of any disease lacking a cure. They further state that such sentiment (anti-Semitism) is unreasonable and baseless.
Elie Wiesel, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and one of the best-known Jewish authors of our age, is considered an authority on anti-Semitism, but he, too, is still puzzled by it, stating anti-Semitism is an “irrational disease.”
The Anti-Defamation League considers itself the foremost center for monitoring and combating anti-Semitism, as well as educating the public about it. Its national director, Abraham Foxman, said, “I am convinced we currently face as great a threat to the safety and security of the Jewish people as the one we faced in the 1930s — if not a greater one,” and yet he too was puzzled about the reasons for the ongoing discord between Jews and non-Jews. “I think of anti-Semitism as a disease,” Foxman writes. “Anti-Semitism also resembles a disease in being fundamentally irrational … It’s a spiritual and psychological illness.”
Wiesel, Foxman and even Charles Krauthammer, an influential Jewish-American writer who is a fervent defender of Israel, along with other prominent Jewish-Zionist leaders, are unable — or unwilling — to provide an explanation for the persistence of anti-Semitism. They believe, or say they believe, that because it’s an entirely irrational and baseless “disease” (the prevailing mindset of great Jewish thinkers) there’s no relation between what Jews do, and what non-Jews think of Jews.
Yet one of the most prominent and influential Jewish figures of modern history, Theodor Herzl, founder of the modern Zionist movement, was unafraid to present his views in a book, written in German and published in 1896; his The Jewish State (Der Judenstaat) is the basic manifesto of the Zionist movement, and in it he explained that regardless of where Jews live, or what their citizenship, Jews constitute not merely a religious community, but a nationality, a people. Wherever large numbers of Jews live among non-Jews, he said, conflict is not only likely, it’s inevitable. “The Jewish question exists wherever Jews live in noticeable numbers,” he wrote. “Where it does not exist, it is brought in by arriving Jews… I believe I understand anti-Semitism, which is a very complex phenomenon. I consider this development as a Jew, without hate or fear.”
In his writings, Herzl explained that anti-Semitism is not an aberration; rather, he stated, it’s a natural response by non-Jews to alien Jewish behavior and attitudes. Anti-Jewish sentiment, he explained, is not due to ignorance or bigotry, as so many claim. Instead, he concluded, the ancient and seemingly intractable conflict between Jews and non-Jews is entirely understandable, because Jews are a distinct and separate people, with interests that are different from, and which often conflict with, the interests of the people among whom they live.
Herzl believed that Anti-Jewish sentiment in the modern era arose from the “emancipation” of Jews in the 18th and 19th centuries, which freed them from the confined life of the ghetto and brought them into modern urban society and direct economic dealings with middle class non-Jews. Anti-Semitism, he wrote, is “an understandable reaction to Jewish defects.” And in his diary he wrote: “I find the anti-Semites are fully within their rights.” (I personally feel that the diversity of ordinary life often brings us into close proximity with those who have different views, customs, and backgrounds from ourselves, and that it behooves us to not only want to see them as our brothers or sisters, but to make an effort — if indeed that’s what it takes for us to love them and be in harmony with them — to get past those outdated feelings that contribute to keeping us in those separate categories of Jew and non-Jew.
When I was a teenager I had applied for a part-time job with a Jewish man who needed an assistant. His office was within walking distance of my home. When he was satisfied that I would do, he then told me that I would have to meet his mother — who lived upstairs from the office — and gain her approval. The first question she asked me was: Are you Jew or gentile? I had a Jewish-sounding last name.)
It was Herzl’s view that Jews must stop pretending (both to themselves and to non-Jews) that they are like everyone else, and instead must frankly acknowledge that they are a distinct and separate people, with distinct and separate goals and interests. (The Bible refers to the Jews as the “chosen people,” and they may hang onto that for justification for their “specialness.”) In a memo to the Tsar of Russia, Herzl wrote that Zionism (supporting — and possibly even moving back to — the Jewish national state of Israel) is the “final solution of the Jewish question.”
It is rare for Jewish leaders today to explain anti-Semitism as a reaction to the behavior of Jews. George Soros, when asked about anti-Semitism in Europe, responded by saying that it is the result of the policies of Israel and the United States. “There is a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe. The policies of the Bush administration and the Sharon administration contribute to that,” he said. “If we change that direction, then anti-Semitism also will diminish,” he went on.
Jewish community leaders reacted angrily to Soros’ remarks. Elan Steinberg, senior adviser at the World Jewish Congress, said: “Let’s understand things clearly: Anti-Semitism is not caused by Jews; it’s caused by anti-Semites.” Abraham Foxman called Soros’ comments “absolutely obscene.” The ADL director went on to say: “He buys into the stereotype. It’s a simplistic, counterproductive, biased and bigoted perception of what’s out there. It’s blaming the victim for all of Israel’s and the Jewish people’s ills.”
What Jews think is important. In May 2013, Vice President Joe Biden said that the “immense” and “outsized” Jewish role in the US mass media and cultural life has been the single most important factor in shaping American attitudes over the past century, and in driving major cultural-political changes. “I bet you 85 percent of those changes, whether it’s in Hollywood or social media, are a consequence of Jewish leaders in the industry. The influence is immense,” he said. “Jewish heritage has shaped who we are — all of us, us, me — as much or more than any other factor in the last 223 years. And that’s a fact,” he added.
“It makes no sense at all to try to deny the reality of Jewish power and prominence in popular culture,” wrote Michael Medved, a well-known Jewish author and film critic in 1996. Joel Stein, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, wrote in 2008: “As a proud Jew, I want America to know about our accomplishment. Yes, we control Hollywood … I don’t care if Americans think we’re running the news media, Hollywood, Wall Street or the government. I just care that we get to keep running them.”
Even though Jews have more influence and power in US political and cultural life than any other ethnic or religious group, Jewish groups are uncomfortable when non-Jews point this out. In fact, says Foxman and the ADL, one sure sign that someone is an anti-Semite is if he agrees with the statement that “Jews have too much power in our country today.” For Foxman, apparently, there can never be “too much” Jewish influence and power.
Anti-Semitism is not a mysterious “disease.” As Herzl and Weizmann suggested, and as history shows, what is often called anti-Semitism is the natural and understandable attitude of people toward a minority with particularist loyalties that wields greatly disproportionate power for its own interests, rather than for the common good.
Modern Jews, however, just like modern Muslims or modern Christians, can leave the undesirable aspects of their group behavior behind, and all the rest of us can refuse to get caught up in any kind of undesirable groupthink that physically or verbally in any way perpetuates what we would not want anyone to do to us. The golden rule is still the answer.
Disclaimer: I was married to a Jew for 13 years, and visited Israel several years ago and spoke with many Jews who were planning to move back to their “homeland.”
Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.