The Universality of Anti-Semitism

Anti-Semitism makes no sense. The terrorists who attacked hotels and expensive restaurants in Mumbai, India, on November 26, 2008, wanted India to cede control of Kashmir to its Muslim majority. And so, among other targets, they attacked the Chabad House in Mumbai, torturing and killing the people they found there. The one surviving gunman captured by the Indian authorities, Azam Amir Kasab, said his group was specifically ordered to kill Israelis.

Chabad is not an Israeli organization. It is centered in Brooklyn. But its members, the Lubavitcher Hasidim, are visibly and actively Jewish, as so we might expect terrorists to consider them de facto Israelis. But Israel is in no way connected to the question of Kashmir. Still, we are not surprised that Muslims fighting for Pakistani control of Kashmir would target Jews and Israelis. We have come to take it for granted that Islamists consider Israel their essential enemy—the epitome of evil. Their hatred of Israel is so familiar that it is no longer questioned.

Both Pakistan and the terrorists are in conflict with India. Nowadays, India and Israel have diplomatic relations with each other, but this has only been true since 1992. When India and Israel gained their independence from Great Britain in 1947 and 1948 respectively, India would not accept the existence of Israel as one of the world’s nations. One reason was that India has a large Muslim minority, and the Indian leaders wanted all the citizens of the country to live in peace with each other. But there was another reason. India’s Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was a disciple of Gandhi and had adopted Gandhi’s views on Israel.

Mahatma Gandhi was an anti-Semite. We think of him as peaceful and benevolent because he advocated satyagraha, which is passive, non-violent resistance. It worked against the British in India. Does that mean it is always appropriate? In an article in the November 26, 1938 issue of a magazine called Harijan, Gandhi suggested that Germany’s Jews could successfully confront their Nazi oppressors with non-violence. Well, this was 1938. World War II had not yet begun. If we wish to excuse Gandhi on the grounds that he didn’t know what he was talking about, since he was writing before Hitler’s plans were known, we should also consider that he told Louis Fischer, one of his biographers, after the war was over, that “collective suicide” might have been a better strategy: “The Jews died anyway, didn’t they? They might as well have died significantly” (see “The Gandhi Nobody Knows” by Richard Grenier, Commentary, March 1983). Collective suicide is not satyagraha, since it is in no way passive. And how passive can one be about one’s children when committing collective suicide? Gandhi never advocated collective suicide in any other situation.

In other words, instead of rejoicing that a few human beings had lived through an attempt to exterminate them, Gandhi expressed the view that they all should have quietly agreed to be killed. What could Gandhi have meant when he said “they could have died significantly”? The Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the other uprisings in Bialystok and other ghettoes, were significant. They showed that starving Jews locked in ghettoes, who started out with no weapons and no organization, were able to fight in the war against Hitler. Non-violence makes no sense when you are facing people whose primary goal is to exterminate you.

In that same article in the magazine Harijan, he also wrote about the Jews, “They can offer satyagraha in front of the Arabs and offer themselves to be shot or thrown into the Dead Sea without raising a little finger against them.” In 1938, Gandhi probably knew about the Hebron Massacre of 1929, in which 67 Jews were killed. He must have known that if the Jews had offered themselves to be shot or thrown into the Dead Sea it would not have taken as a conciliatory gesture. In fact, Gandhi opposed the existence of Israel after the Holocaust just as he had before. His suggestion of satyagraha goes beyond non-violent resistance. It is an implicit statement of support for those who commit violence.

Why am I so concerned with Gandhi? Because he was a good man, who helped India achieve independence with a minimum of bloodshed. The world admires him as it should. Yet even such a benevolent figure as Gandhi could not sympathize with the Jews. Hinduism has no tradition of hating Jews; Gandhi must have picked it up from the Christian, European world of South Africa, where he had lived and worked with Jews.

In the words of Irving Howe, “In the warmest of hearts, there is a cold spot for the Jews.” Where does this cold spot come from? James Carroll, in his book Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews: A History, writes that it comes from supersessionism.  There are three systems of belief—two religions and one atheistic philosophy—descended at least in part from Judaism: Christianity, Islam, and Marxism. All three are or have been supersessionist, that is, they claim or claimed to have superseded Judaism. In other words, they claim to be the true faith, the replacement of their predecessors. In the case of Christianity, the predecessor is unambiguously Judaism; in the cases of Islam and Marxism, the predecessors are Christianity and Judaism. It is logical for a philosophical or religious system to reject and perhaps even to condemn those it broke away from, and indeed, we find evidence of this in the texts of Christianity, Islam, and Marxism. The New Testament has the Jews telling us that they are the ones guilty of the death of Jesus: "His blood be on us, and on our children." (Matthew 27:25) The Qur'an says: "O followers of the Book [Jews]! Why do you disbelieve the communications of Allah while you witness them? O followers of the Book! Why do you confound the truth with falsehood when you know?" (Surah III: 70-71) And Marx says, "What is the worldly cult of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly god? Money." ("On the Jewish Question"). Gandhi, as it happens, did not belong to any of these supersessionist groups, although he might have been influenced, directly or indirectly, by their teachings.

Let’s go back to the Gospel of Matthew. The line “His blood be on us and on our children” is a response to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, who pardons one person a year and who is upset that the Jews want to pardon Barabbas. He suggests that the Jews pardon Jesus instead of Barabbas. Assuming the event really happened, it could well be true that the Jews of the time, given a choice between saving Barabbas, a violent revolutionary who had fought against Rome, and Jesus, a preacher, would have saved the rebel. Barabbas, according to Mark, "lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection." (15:7) Luke agrees with Mark about Barabbas, "who for a certain sedition made in the city, and for murder, was cast into prison." (23:19) Matthew speaks of his notoriety: "And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas." (27:16) Only in John is Barabbas a simple crook: "Now Barabbas was a robber" (18:40).

Whatever the nature of Barabbas, crucifying him would have been as horrible as crucifying anyone else. It is illogical—mysterious—that there is no understanding that saving his life was an act of mercy. Crucifixion had been a Roman method of execution for centuries. When Emperor Constantine became a Christian, in the year 312 C.E., he ended crucifixion as a method of execution. A cross, to the Romans of Constantine's day, must have had the same symbolism as a noose or an electric chair. If it was to become a symbol of Christianity, it would have to lose its association with the way criminals were executed every day. Ever since Constantine, it has been associated only with Jesus—and perhaps with the two criminals who perished at the same time. Crucifixion, a viciously cruel form of execution, is a blot on the history of the Roman Empire. The fate of every person who died this way was as horrifying as the death of Jesus.

If the cross is revered because it is the instrument of suffering that led to redemption, shouldn't all the actors in this story, including Judas himself, be equally revered? It makes no sense that Judas is not viewed as part of the process of salvation. James Carroll insists that there is a "logical flaw adhering in a scheme that emphasizes both that Jesus' death was freely chosen by Jesus himself and that Jesus' death was caused by the Jews" (p. 289).  Furthermore, Carroll rejects the idea that God needed a sacrifice in order forgive people from sin. This idea both reinforces antisemitism and suggests that God is not capable of forgiveness without diverting the punishment to someone else—even if the someone else is simultaneously his son and himself in human form.

Constantine died in 337 C.E. Christianity became the state religion of Rome. When the Langobards, or “long beards,” later known as the Lombards, conquered parts of northern Italy, they gave their name to the province of Lombardy. The first Christian Langobard emperor was named Perctarit. Nowadays, nobody has heard of him. But in the year 661, he forced the Jews of Lombardy to convert to Christianity. Those who refused were killed (see Salo W. Baron’s A Social and Political History of the Jews, volume 3, p. 33). Perhaps some of them escaped, but we know little about the history of Europe in 661. There apparently were no Jews in Lombardy for several centuries after the reign of Perctarit.

 Things really got awful during the Crusades, wars fought under sign of the cross and named for the cross. A crusade is a Christian holy war; the Islamic analog is a jihad. The First Crusade "set out from northwestern Europe in the spring of 1096, bound for the Holy Land. But the cross-marked army's first act of belligerence took place in the Rhineland, not Jerusalem, and its target was not the Muslim infidel but the Jewish one" (Carroll, p. 237). In terms of numbers, most of the Jewish victims of the Crusades lived in Europe. But the Crusaders also destroyed the continuity of Jewish life in Jerusalem. In 1099, “they drove all the Jews into one synagogue and burned them alive" (p. 250). It was the Crusaders, not the Romans, who ended Jewish life in Jerusalem for a few hundred years.

Religious persecution continued. It was joined by racism as a result of the massacres of 1391 in Spain. For the first time, there were mass conversions. Converts were all over Spain. When the city of Toledo, in 1449, "passed an ordinance decreeing 'that no converso of Jewish descent may have or hold office in the said city of Toledo,' Pope Nicholas V (1447-1455) reacted with a fury suggesting he saw what was at stake in such a move. ... Nicholas V excommunicated the author of the Toledo statute. Yet two years later, the king of Castile formally approved the regulation. Jews would be legally defined now in Spain not by religion but by blood" (Carroll, p. 347). Pope Nicholas V knew that excluding converts denied the validity of the ritual of conversion, but his words did not stop the enactment of such laws. Racism thus antedates the Spanish Inquisition.

We think of early persecution of the Jews as simply religious; we associate racism with writers of the 19th century, and, of course, with the Holocaust, but it is much older than that.

Christianity today is not the problem. Instead, the other two dogmas that descend from Judaism and claim to have superseded it have joined with each other. Today, there is a Marxist-Islamic alliance. It began in Indonesia in 1955, at the Bandung Conference, when a Marxist-Islamic alliance was formed to oppose freedom and Zionism. This alliance made little sense. To begin with, Communists and Muslims persecuted each other in their own countries. Furthermore, Israel, with its kibbutzim and its socialist leaders (the ancestors of Likud had not yet formed a government), was ideologically relatively friendly toward Communism--certainly more so than the kings and dictators who ruled the Arab world at the time. Nevertheless, the alliance remains unshaken despite the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 and China’s embrace of capitalism today.

The Bandung Conference might never have done what it did had China and Israel exchanged ambassadors, which seemed likely earlier in 1955. In 1949, Israel was the sixth non-Communist nation to recognize the People's Republic of China. Anson Laytner, in "China's Israel Policy Reviewed" (Middle East Review, Summer 1989), writes: "In January 1955, an Israeli Trade and Goodwill Mission spent 20 days in China. A five-point protocol agreement was signed on February 28. . . . However, China's slowness in agreeing to send a reciprocal delegation to Israel and the Israeli Foreign Ministry's fear of antagonizing the Eisenhower Administration led Israel to delay its decision. . . . The next month, at the Bandung Conference, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai and the Chinese delegation first met with Egyptian President Nasser, Palestinian leader Shukeiry and other Arab leaders. Immediately afterward, on April 29, 1955, Israel advised China that it sought full diplomatic relations. But it was already too late" (p. 55).

An early example of the fanaticism of this alliance occurred in 1972, when the Japanese Red Army Faction sent a suicide squad to Lod Airport in Israel, now Ben Gurion Airport, to kill Jews. Half the people they killed turned out to be Puerto Rican Christian pilgrims, but since the Red Army Faction volunteers were willing to die in order to fulfill their goal, they probably would have been willing to kill non-Jews as well in order to complete their mission.

Perhaps the Japanese Red Army Faction was the first group of suicide killers. We associate suicide bombing with Muslim fanatics, but Marxists can be equally fanatic. Marxists may be atheists but they have faith, which is what unites them with Islamists.

To a certain extent, we live in a post-Marxist, post-Jewish, post-Christian world. It is true that there are many countries (Israel and the Republic of Ireland are examples) where the dominant religion is powerful; it is even true that in China, Cuba, and North Korea the official faith can never be challenged. Only Islam, however, has never faced widespread agnosticism and indifference. It is impossible to find a believer in Judaism so fervent as to advocate stoning for adultery or a Catholic so devout as to believe in a revival of burning at the stake. It is even hard to find a Marxist who believes that struggle sessions and purge trials should return to China and Russia. But there are Islamic countries where both adultery and heterodoxy are punishable, and on occasion capital, offenses.

The alliance makes no sense. Marxists and Muslims disagree on almost every subject. The only force strong enough to unite them is anti-Zionism, the child of anti-Semitism. Yet the alliance still survives. North Korea has sold weapons to Iran. “Egypt’s military relationship with North Korea goes back to the early 70s, when Pyongyang sent an air battalion to Egypt as a sign of solidarity in its war with Israel,” according to an article by Eli J. Lake and Richard Sale in the June 22, 2001, issue of the Middle East Times entitled “U.S. Worries over Egypt-North Korea Missile Program.” More recently, the London Review of Books, a leftist journal, ran a series of letters in its October 4, 2001, issue expressing varying degrees of hostility to the United States after the events of 9/11. Perhaps the most egregious was a letter by Eric Foner, an otherwise intelligent scholar of American history, who wrote, “I’m not sure which is more frightening: the horror that engulfed New York City or the apocalyptic rhetoric emanating daily from the White House.”

 Marxism was strong--and Islam still is--for a variety of reasons. Each is a complex system of analysis, supported by a wealth of intellectual tradition, which can explain with every aspect of human life. To the educated, these philosophies offer a framework; to the simple, they offer the security of always knowing what is right and wrong. These positive strengths are supported by a great fear, the fear of a phenomenon perceived as evil: personal freedom--especially sexual freedom, and most particularly pornography and homosexuality. In addition to this great fear, there is a great obsession--an inordinate concern with an issue that really should not merit very much attention: Zionism.

 Ayatollah Khomeini thought of the United States as the Great Satan. President Ahamadinejad of Iran has called for the wiping of Israel off the map One would think that those on the left ought to oppose Iranian fundamentalism and support America and Israel. America is a land of personal freedom. Israel’s Prime Minister Golda Meir was the first woman head of government in the world who was neither the daughter (like Indira Gandhi) nor the wife (like Sirimavo Bandaranaike) of a previous head of government. Despite this fact, anti-American and anti-Zionist leftists, feminists, and gay rights activists remain blind to the persecution of women and homosexuals in Islamic countries. Phyllis Chesler, in her book The Death of Feminism, writes that progressives, including feminists, “will still regard you as a traitor if you are not sufficiently anti-American or do not strongly support the Palestinian cause” (pp. 24-25). Andrei S. Markovits, writing in the relatively progressive magazine Dissent, said in the Winter 2005 issue, “A new European (and American) commonality for all lefts—a new litmus test of progressive politics—seems to have developed: anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism (though not anti-Semitism, at least not yet).”

It is possible, as Markovits says, to be an anti-Zionist without being an anti-Semite. But the power of anti-Zionism is so strong and so contrary to the values of leftism and progressivism that nothing could explain its survival except anti-Semitism.

 Almost 60 years have passed since Israel declared its independence, yet Palestinian refugees remain in camps. In order to keep the area in a permanent state of war, the Arabs states, some of which are extraordinarily wealthy, have chosen to let the refugee situation continue to be a running sore. Their cynicism, their cruelty to their own people, is unprecedented. On many occasions, the Arab world has turned down the possibility of a Palestinian state, since such a state can exist only with Israel, not against it. The permanent tension in the Middle East is counterproductive as far as the Arabs are concerned, but it is more important for them to fight the Jews, not only in Israel, but all over. They have blown up buildings in Argentina and synagogues in Tunisia, kidnapped a Jewish teenager in France, and done any number of things to show that their enemy is the Jews, not Israel. The world sympathizes with their plight.

Even here in the least anti-Semitic country on earth, there are remnants of anti-Semitism. How did the whole complicated, ferociously competitive process of college admissions begin? Malcolm Gladwell, writing in the October 10, 2005, issue of “The New Yorker,” says that when he applied to college in Canada, “The whole process probably took ten minutes” (“Getting In”). In the United States, Gladwell informs us, “A. Lawrence Lowell, Harvard’s president in the nineteen-twenties, stated flatly that too many Jews would destroy the school. … Finally Lowell—and his counterparts at Yale and Princeton—realized that if a definition of merit based on academic prowess was leading to the wrong kind of student the solution was to change the definition of merit.” In other words, the whole process of college admissions arose in order to keep out Jews. Today its victims may be Asians or other over-represented groups, who are the accidental victims of anti-Semitism.

Think of Jonathan Pollard. He was a spy, but he did not spy for an enemy country. He agreed to plead guilty. Why did he get the maximum sentence? Probably because he was viewed as especially sinister by the prosecutors, who may not even have realized that they felt that way because Pollard is Jewish. Why hasn’t the ACLU, which has defended Nazis, chosen to defend him? It never occurred to them. In the warmest heart, there is a cold spot for the Jews.

 We live in a world where prejudice is the rule and not the exception. Persecution has afflicted countless groups; genocide has happened time and again. Genocide ordinarily reflects a conflict of interests, over territory, power, boundaries, etc. In the case of the Jews, it takes place for its own sake. Hitler needed the Jews, since they were Germany’s atomic scientists. Germany was a country that has always admired musicians and scholars; Jews were both. Being scientists and academicians in a country that wanted such people made no difference. The Holocaust was uniquely horrible but also uniquely pointless. It made no sense. Anti-Semitism makes no sense.

This article appeared in the Spring 2009 issue of Midstream.