27th October 2018, a day which was supposed to be an ordinary day in the 154-year-old synagogue in Pittsburgh; however, witnessed brutal killing of 11 Jews by a white supremacist gunman. His hatred for Jews exacerbated to the extent that he walked into a synagogue with an assault rifle and three handguns screaming, ‘All Jews must die’. This incident is recorded as the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American history.
Anti-Semitism is the ideological oppression of the Jews. The central idea lies in the belief that Jews are to be blamed for all the ills of society. Anti-Semitism contains elements of dehumanisation and degradation via lies and stereotypes about Jews, as well as mythology. The myth changes and adapts to different times and places, but fundamentally it says that Jews are to be blamed for society’s problem.
The ugly head of anti-Semitism has risen again. The Anti-defamation League logged a 57 per cent rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States in 2017. Anti-Semitism has been called history’s oldest hatred as its origins lie with the rise of Christianity in Europe. It reached its peak during the German holocaust which cost the lives of 6 million Jews. Anti-Semitic sentiments seem to be shrinking since its association is linked with the Nazi holocaust. However, given the marked escalation of anti-Semitic incidents recorded in 2017, it could be said with certainty that the old hatred for Jews has retained since the Holocaust, and this hatred has led to the persecution of Jews.
Without understanding the causes and impact of anti-Semitism of the past, it would be futile to study the effect of modern anti-Semitism. The past plays a central role in the rise of modern anti-Semitism. Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor of The Atlantic magazine, puts it correctly when he says that “what we are seeing is an ancient and deeply embedded hostility towards Jews that is re-emerging as the barbarous events of the Second World War recede from our collective memory”.
The earliest foundations of anti-Semitism were found with the rise of Christianity. In ancient times, the Jews were hated as they were condemned for the death of Jesus. Christianity emerged as the major religion of Europe and to establish its hegemony the minorities were targeted. The history of Spain during the 14th and 15th centuries is one of the clearest examples. At the end of the 14th century, Spanish Inquisition began to persecute Jews and Muslims as catholic monarchs intended to establish their stronghold on Spain. Massive conversions of Jews and Muslims began, and they were forced to flee to avoid the persecutions. Ironically, both Jews and Muslims share the same violent past but yet lack of clear understanding of history has pitted both religions against each other.
Modern-day anti-Semitism has two main facets. Today the Jews are targeted by both radical Islamist and white supremacist. Though based on a different ideological misconception, the belief that elimination of Jews is essential for their survival resonates among them.
Radical Islamist view of Judaism stems from their interpretation of early Islam. According to radical Islamist, Jews have tampered with and corrupted the text of the Torah which is the sacred text of Judaism. This charge is known as tahrif and is used to delegitimize Judaism as an authentic monotheistic religion. Taking this into consideration radical Islamist clerics often try to justify their violence against Jews (Barsky, 2016).
A Hadith is an Islamic source that records the actions of Muhammad and his followers. The Hadith of the Jew called ‘The Prophecy of the Rock and the Tree’, envision an end of day’s scenario wherein Muslims achieve a final victory over Jews on the Day of Resurrection, which it describes as a realisation of a divine promise. It is this Hadith that is promoted by radical Islamist clerics and radical Islamist terror organisations. The promotion of anti-Semitism in the Muslim world became an even more noxious mixture of radical Islamist theology and European-themed anti- Semitism in the years leading up to and following World War II (Barsky, 2016).
The Soviet Union exploited anti-semitic tendencies among Muslims during the Cold War years. They engaged in a disinformation campaign in Islamic countries to convince Muslims that the U.S. was a ‘Zionist country whose aim was to transform the Islamic world into a Jewish fiefdom.’ The goal of the campaign was to incite terrorism against Israel and the U.S. Similarly, in the current scenario Islamic State in Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) is using the same tactic to increase its influence and followers by pledging their support to Palestinian Muslims.
Muslims who sympathise with the Palestinian cause would feel obligated to help the Palestinians from wherever they may be situated. This has lead to persecution of Jews and killing of Jews throughout the world. In March 2016, the ISIS publicly encouraged its followers to attack Jews and their allies, ‘wherever they find them.’ Besides, the subsequent conflict of Israel-Palestine has further led to the realisation of Muslim hatred for Jews. Palestinians being majority Muslims, their conflict with Israel has led to a strong belief that the Jewish nation is suppressing Muslims. Therefore, Muslims all over the world have not only denounced Jews but also present Jews as the enemies of the Muslim since the time of Prophet Muhammad. Thus, radical Islamist contorted anti-Semitism into an obligation or a duty of every devout Muslim.
History is a testimony that whenever the majority developed a sense of victimhood, it led to the persecution of minorities. This is the case of White supremacist in the US. A wave of anti-Semitic attacks by a white supremacist is sweeping through the US. White supremacist cast Jews as a foreign intruder on their land who needs to be obliterated. The belief that white people are at risk of extinction from non-white races, manipulated by the Jews, is the core American white supremacist belief. According to them, America is dominated by Zionist minority and they are working to undermine the country. White Supremacists hold Jews responsible for what they perceive to be the significant ills the white race has suffered. Various white supremacist ideologies see whites as victims and accuse Jews of a conspiracy to control the world. William Pierce, of the neo-Nazi National Alliance, concluded that Jews are not one of the enemies of white people, but the main enemy of white people. In 2017, white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, with lines of men carrying torches and chanting, “Jews will not replace us.” The hatred towards Jews is now openly expressed with Swastikas, and other anti-Semitic graffiti has been cropping up on synagogues and Jewish homes around the country.
Anti-Semitism has been called history’s oldest hatred, and it has shown itself to be remarkably adaptable. It has sustained powerful discourse of history and inherited stereotypes. It not only reflects the contingent fears and anxieties of an ever-changing world but also diverts our attention from the real issues of any society. Anti Semitism instils a feeling of ‘us versus other’; it creates a scenario where the communities or races of the society are at odds or competition with each other. It also instils the system of development of one particular community at the cost of the others. Also, the rise of anti-Semitic incidents will break the peaceful social fabric of society. Throughout history, the effect of anti-Semitism has been to distract and divide powerful movements for justice and equity, preserving oppressive systems and benefitting ruling elites. As Rabbi Sacks argues, “anti-Semitism is the world’s most reliable early warning sign of major threat to freedom, humanity and the dignity of difference”. It is said that violence against the Jew does not stop with the Jew, it sets a precedent for other hate crimes.
Barsky, Y. (2016). Terrorist Incidents and Attacks Against Jews and Israelis in the United States. Community Security Service.
Philips, G. (2018). Antisemitism: How the origins of history's oldest hatred still hold sway. The Conversation.
Rosenberg, Y. (2018). Jews will not replace us’: Why white supremacists go after Jews. The Washington Post.
The mourning that never ends. (2018). The Economist, 52.
Goodstein, L. (2018). There Is Still So Much Evil’: Growing Anti-Semitism Stuns American Jews. The New York Times.
Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/29/us/anti-semitism-attacks.html
Image credit: Montreal Holocaust Museum
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