Jewish Lives Matter
In theory, anti-Zionism is different from antisemitism – one can have a principled stand against the state of Israel without hating Jews.
In practice, however, it is almost impossible to separate the two, given much of humanity’s unrelenting persecution of the Jews. Echoing thousands of years of history, Hamas’ butchery on Oct. 7 has ignited a new wave of antisemitic attacks at home and abroad. The Anti-Defamation League reported 312 such incidents in the U.S. – a 388% rise over last year – during the period Oct. 7-Oct. 23. These do not include the protestors carrying signs calling for the destruction of the Jews, the now common practice of tearing down posters of Hamas kidnap victims, or the letters and statements by many Americans – especially on elite campuses – celebrating the violence against Jews while stridently condemning Israel’s response.
The hate spike is global. Citing government sources, the ADL reported 588 antisemitic incidents in France through mid-October; and 218 antisemitic hate crimes reported in Britain Oct. 1-18, “over 13 times greater than the same period last year.” In Germany, an “antisemitism monitoring organization RIAS reported a 240-percent increase in antisemitic incidents since Oct 7, compared to the same time period last year.” These included Molotov cocktails thrown at a synagogue and Stars of David painted on Jewish homes. The ADL says there “have also been antisemitic incidents in other countries in Europe, as well as in Latin America, North Africa, Australia and elsewhere.”
There was also, of course, the riot at a Russian airport, where a violent mob stormed the terminal to attack people on a plane from Israel.
It would be unfair to blame all opponents of Israel for this hatred – but the double standard at work here is instructive. Since Oct. 7, Israel’s critics have insisted that the people of Gaza should not be blamed for the actions of their government, that Israel’s military response is a vicious form of “collective punishment” against innocents. On a human level, the deaths of German civilians during World War II were tragic. But who would argue they were innocents whose lives had to be spared, if that made defeating Hitler impossible? If every civilian death is a crime, then there can be no war – which would be a fine ideal if the world were free of evildoers such as Hamas.
In the current conflict, the concern for civilians only goes one way. Hamas apologists quickly moved past the unprovoked slaughter of at least 1,400 innocents on Oct. 7, if they paused to note it at all. They ignore the fact that Israel, by contrast, has given advance warning to those in harm’s way – many of whom have been placed in danger by their own government’s decision to use them as human shields. As they cynically invoke the concepts of war crimes and human rights, they stay mum about the rockets aimed at Israeli neighborhoods, rededicating themselves to an armed struggle that has always made civilians the primary target.
By contrast, the surge in antisemitic attacks and other incidents is clearly a form of collective punishment. Although these incidents have been denounced in some quarters, they have not sparked a vocal support for the Jews as we have seen by the large pro-Palestinian marches in New York, San Francisco, London, Istanbul, and other major cities. It is hard not to conclude that, for many, Jewish lives don’t matter. Some of the demonstrators say this aloud or carry placards demanding the world be made “clean” of Jews.
Much of the world seems to save its moral outrage for Israel. Brutal conflicts involving legitimate claims of ethnic cleansing and gross human violations in Sudan, Myanmar, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (among many other places) continue with little outcry in the West. Likewise, the world largely pays lip service to two of the most repressive ongoing campaigns against Muslims: the Taliban’s medieval rule in Afghanistan and the Chinese government’s persecution of the Uyghurs.
Meanwhile, thousands gather to condemn Israel’s military response to the massacre of its people.
Racism helps explain this glaring double standard: Many well-heeled Westerners do not believe that poorer nations in the developing world are capable of respecting human rights. Israel gets called out because we expect more of them. So, too, does leftist ideology that divides people into two groups, the oppressors and the oppressed, and then dehumanizes the former group by giving the latter free rein to take any action, no matter how barbaric, against them.
Even within this dynamic, the Jews hold a special place. As Urban Reform Institute scholar Joel Kotkin observed, the recent surge of antisemitic attacks in Europe is part of a larger, ongoing pattern that has occurred since most of the continent’s Jewry was murdered during World War II. “After the war’s end,” he wrote, “3.8 million European Jews remained; today, there are barely 1.5 million. … Eastern Europe, once the centre of the Jewish world with its 8 million Jews, is home to fewer than 400,000 today. … Nearly 50,000 Jews have left France since 2000, mostly for Israel, the United States and Canada.”
Pulling the historical lens back, the Holocaust, of course, was just one of innumerable examples of pogroms and genocidal actions against the Jews that have occurred for millennia. Indeed, Jews lost control of the now-disputed Holy Land during the second century A.D. when they rose up against Roman efforts to restrict their religious freedom. The Bar Kokhba Revolt led to an early holocaust in which hundreds of thousands of Jews were slaughtered. To underscore its complete victory and sever the land from the Jews, Rome imposed a new name on the land: Judea became Syria Palestina, and, eventually, just Palestina.
History shows that antisemitism is one of humanity’s original sins. It appears to be in our DNA – the reasons, all ugly, are manifold but the faithful might argue that humanity’s treatment of His chosen people is a test of our relationship to God. We are failing. This does not mean Israel and the Jews are beyond reproach. It is important to note and to lament the loss of life in Gaza. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was correct to note, “How Israel does this matters.” But questions and concerns must not dismiss the ineradicable context: the ancient and ongoing impulse to scapegoat and dehumanize the Jews. It is impossible to separate any discussion of the Jewish people from this hatred, which shows no sign of receding.
This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.