August 29, 2012

The New Antisemitism

Rabbi Haber

Last week in Germany, criminal charges were filed against a mohel for daring to perform a brit milah (circumcision) in defiance of a court ruling that decided a brit is a violation of the baby's rights. These charges come on the heels of a recent attempt in two California cities to pass a referendum banning circumcision there on similar grounds (the bill was removed from the ballot after a court ruled it illegal on a technicality).

Some people might look at these incidents as just another example of the clash between modern secular values and religion (comparable to the controversies over gay marriage and abortion, for example). But I don't agree. The way I see it, the anti-circumcision movement, just like the recent attempts in Holland to ban shechita as cruelty to animals, is nothing other than a new form of antisemitism [1].

This new antisemitism is fundamentally the same as the old one, but it is different in one primary aspect: the main target audience of the incitement propaganda is the Jews ourselves. More than trying to get others riled up against us, their goal is to attack us from within using psychological manipulation.  The idea is to get us to doubt, and ultimately to attack, ourselves. And it often works. For example, a recent article in Haaretz documented a small but supposedly growing movement of Israelis who are opposing brit milah (and refraining from circumcising their sons), based on the same ideas expressed by the German court.

It's a brilliant tactic.  Casting opposition to Jewish practices in the language of contemporary morality confuses us and puts us on the defensive.  After all, we Jews pride ourselves on our high moral standards of ethical behavior.  We also take pride in our heritage, which we rightly identify as the source of those morals.  So the best way to get us to betray our heritage is to challenge it on moral grounds.  When the ancient Greeks or modern Russians prohibited brit milah with the explicit goal of eradicating our religion, we reacted with angry indignation.  But when people today tell us it is immoral, we start to consider prohibiting it ourselves.

Another example of this tactic is the characterization of Israeli policies towards the Palestinians as "oppression" or "apartheid". These political campaigns are really no different than the anti-brit milah or anti-shechita campaigns. The approach is the same - they attack us by getting us to doubt ourselves. And the result is that self-described "Zionist Jews" like Richard Goldstone [2] are now accusing the Jewish State of war crimes.

How do we fight this new antisemitism? The same way we fight the old one – by recognizing it for what it is, reminding ourselves that we exist for a reason and have a purpose in this world, and committing ourselves, with renewed vigor, to what we stand for.


[1] Antisemitism (hatred of Jews) is as old as the Jewish People itself. Its roots can be seen already in the Bible, and it is a constant phenomenon throughout history: at every time and place where Jews lived in large numbers, there were always those who hated and opposed us. It's not really a rational phenomenon, and in fact it is deeply connected to the unique concept of Am Levadad Yishkon.  I hope to examine this further in a future post.

For now, I just want to point out that although antisemitism is a constant of history, it comes in different shapes and forms. For example, sometimes it is a state-sponsored policy. Some of our enemies – from Antiochus Epiphanes to the modern Soviets – have gone after our religion, using the power of government enforcement to outlaw the observance of Mitzvot. Others, from Haman to Hitler, have plotted genocide "to destroy, to kill and to eradicate all the Jews, from young to old, [even] children and women" (Esther 3:13). At other times, antisemitism takes the form of spontaneous violence on the part of individuals or mobs, as in the pogroms of 19th century Russia, or by organized hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan or contemporary Islamic terrorists. Our enemies have also used slander and defamation to incite hatred against us – like the blood libels of medieval Europe or the early 20th-century Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

[2] The Jewish author of the UN-commissioned Goldstone Report, which found Israel guilty of war crimes in the 2009 military operation in the Gaza strip. He later reconsidered his position and attempted to take back much of what he had said – but the damage was already done.

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