July 2, 2024

The War Against Antisemitism – Part Two

Rabbi Haber

This is the second of a two-part series.  Read Part One here.

Originally published on the Times of Israel: https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-war-against-antisemitism-part-two/

Early in the war, the Israeli political satire show “Eretz Nehederet” (sometimes called the “Israeli SNL”) published a few videos in English (see here, here, and here) making fun of the absurd antisemitic accusations being leveled against Israel.  They were quite funny. The problem though, is that by now, reality is even more absurd than those parodies were a few months ago. 

As has always been the case throughout history, the world seems to have a fairly universal set of standards for judging all peoples except one – the Jews, of course, to whom an entirely different set of standards applies.  And one of those standards, we now see once again, is that when it comes to accusations motivating steps taken against Jews, the truth of the accusations is completely irrelevant.

To take one example, the New York Times has “raised doubts” about reports of sexual violence committed during the Hamas massacre – even though the terrorists documented this themselves and broadcast them live – because three specific bodies of young women found in Kibbutz Be’eri were found without signs of such violence [although, of course, they were still murdered]. But at the same time, United Nations “experts” claim they have seen “credible allegations” of Israeli soldiers raping Palestinian women.  Of course, no evidence has been presented to explain what exactly led to this “credibility”. 

Or another example: how about the allegations that Israel “harvests organs” from Palestinian bodies, raised 15 years ago in an article by an obscure Swedish journalist who later admitted that he had “no idea” whether what he wrote was true, but are still being circulated?  (If this surprises you, realize that this is nothing other than a modern update of the equally absurd blood libel accusations, which has endured for around 1000 years with no basis in fact whatsoever.)

Another thing that continues to defy logic is the complete ubiquity of antisemitism. Hatred of Jews exists fairly equally on both the far left and the far right, among people who disagree with each other on pretty much everything else.  It exists among Muslim fundamentalists (who hate Christians and Jews) and it exists among Christian fundamentalists (who hate Muslims…and Jews). There are White racists who hate Blacks and Jews, and there are Black racists who hate Whites…and Jews.  There is antisemitism among socialists and communists (who blame the Jews for capitalism) and among free-market capitalists (who blame the Jews for socialism). In countries around the world, we are accused of “dual loyalty,” opposed and treated as foreigners (even in places where we have lived for centuries), but when we go back to our own country in our historic homeland, we are called imperialist colonizers. 

None of this makes any sense. And it’s always been this way.  But at some point, one has to assume that if things are so completely illogical and nonsensical, this paradoxically suggests that there must be a reason for all of this. It must mean something.  Or, to put it differently, if it seems to make no sense but it keeps on happening, we can conclude that it actually must make sense after all.  We just have to try to understand it.

And that returns us to where we left off in the first part of this post.  To me, the only way to make sense of these bizarre phenomena is to view opposition to and hatred of the Jews as a reaction to the unique messages that the Jewish people bring to the world.  In other words, as I wrote there, I suggest that the reason we Jews are subjected to such exclusive forms of antagonism and enmity, completely unlike the experience of any other nation, is because, by our very nature, we are completely unlike any other nation.

I have a term I use to describe this fundamental insight: “Am Levadad” – two words lifted from a Biblical verse (Numbers 23:9) that can be translated as “a singular nation”.

To me, this term defines our unique status and identity.  What I mean by this is that just as the Bible predicted, the historical experience of the Jewish people has been completely unlike any other nation’s experience, because our purpose – to bring the blessings of ethical monotheism to the world – is also unique.  (To help people understand what I mean by this, I’ve created a series of short videos explaining the idea and the philosophy I've developed around it – you can see that video series here.)

Recently, one of my students contacted me to discuss this idea, that our mission as Jews (particularly here in Israel where we’re not only responsible for ourselves and our communities but for the functioning of an entire country) is to represent ethical monotheism to the world. She asked for my opinion: Are we doing a good job carrying out this mission? 

I thought for a minute and told her that in some ways, in recent months I think we’ve been exemplary models of how a nation should act.  The incredible acts of heroism, selfishness, solidarity, and generosity that Israelis – and Jews around the world – have shown during this war are shining examples of the best that humanity can achieve.  We’ve even shown great sensitivity towards our enemies, employing Israel’s immense technological and intelligence capabilities not only to help us win but also to minimize civilian casualties on the enemy side (even though it’s absolutely clear that a very high percentage of the “civilians” in Gaza are active supporters and collaborators with the Hamas terrorists. If you are troubled by this assertion, ask any soldier whose spent some time in Gaza over the past 8 months. There is simply no doubt about it.)

I believe it’s precisely for that reason that our enemies are working so hard to portray us as war criminals; that’s the only way they can think of to prevent the truth from being seen. History has shown, though, that eventually, our messages are heard. It’s happened in the past and it will ultimately happen this time as well.

But on the other hand, I told my student, there are also areas where we need a lot of improvement.  And that’s where we should be focusing our attention right now; not just patting ourselves on the back and proclaiming our righteousness. 

I alluded to some of these issues in an earlier post several months ago, but there is one particular matter that I think is the most pressing right now.  It’s also something I have written about in the past, and current events should make it the top priority – both internally and in terms of what we can accomplish by setting an example. 

I’m referring to the way we speak to each other and conduct our debates, especially about political issues. This is a big issue worldwide these days, and it’s a particularly timely one, as this is an election year in many places.  The United States is, of course, going to elections this coming November, and several important European countries are also doing so in the next few months (including France and the UK, both of whom will be going to the polls over the next two weeks).  Here in Israel, officially the next election is still scheduled for 2026, but it’s looking increasingly like it will happen much sooner – my bet is within the next 6 months.

Across the democratic world, norms have changed over the past few decades, and even more dramatically over the past 10 or so years.  When I was a child growing up in the US in the 1970s and 1980s, things were done differently than they are today.  People voted for the candidate they thought would do the best job, often deviating from their own party affiliation to vote for a specific candidate from “across the aisle” with whom they agreed.  Nobody even knew what the term “identity politics” meant.  In Congress itself, there was a strong concept of bipartisanship; politicians from both parties took pride in the fact that they would work together with their opponents to promote consensus policies. And even when politicians argued with each other in Congress, they would maintain polite tones, referring to their rivals by terms like “the gentleman from Georgia”.  Today, for whatever reason, all of that seems a distant memory.

Here in Israel, before Simchat Torah, things seemed just as bad as they are in the US and other countries.  Maybe even worse.  But at 6:29 am on October 7, everything changed.  Israelis came together – literally in an instant.  The slogan “ביחד ננצח” (Together we will Win) was plastered around the country within days, and Israelis from all sides really meant it.  The spirit of everything good that we displayed surprised our enemies, halted them in their tracks, and increasingly pushed the fighting and destruction back to their territory.  Sadly, as of now, they are still refusing to end the war and bring their people’s suffering to an end.  Even more sadly, we Israelis are still agonizing over the 120 or so hostages still in captivity and the hundreds of soldiers who have been killed, and we’re worried sick about what may still be to come.  But it’s absolutely clear to almost all Jews and Israelis, as well as to any honest and fair-minded observer who takes the time to find out the facts, which side in this conflict is unfathomably evil, and which side is a shining example of impressive goodness.  It’s really that simple.


And yet, in the prelude to our own looming elections, the contentious rhetoric – mainly from politicians and others with particular narrow interests they believe are served by maintaining divisiveness, magnified by the media for whatever reasons – is coming back. And that is very dangerous.

When Israelis do go to the polls, and in the period before that as the debates begin to heat up, we’re faced with a choice between two alternatives: we can fall back into old patterns, employing poisonous rhetoric and ultimately rewarding the politicians that use it, showing that we’ve learned nothing from our ordeal.  Or we can do something else. We can change the model, and instead reward those politicians who are willing to change the way things are done, and work to build real consensus.

I have my thoughts on which parties and politicians fit into which category, and perhaps I’ll write about that in the future, but for now I think what’s important is the principle, which I have also written about in the past. All Jews about to vote in any election should make a simple commitment: I will vote for the candidate or party that best represents my beliefs and positions, but I will only vote for candidates and parties that speak respectfully of their opponents and seek broad-based consensus as much as possible. 

Here in Israel, there’s room for optimism that such a change may be within reach.  Many prominent Israelis have been speaking out and calling for exactly this type of shift.  For example, philosopher Micha Goodman, whose recent book The Eighth Day makes this case, and the leaders of a great organization called “The Fourth Quarter” that’s pushing for this type of change, and has managed to gain the support of over 100,000 people in a short time. 

I’m an optimist by nature, and I believe positive change is possible.  We Jews, and particularly we Israelis, need to take the lead on this, as we have done on other substantive moral issues.  When we do, we will take another step towards carrying out the mission for which we exist, and ultimately defeat those who hate and oppose us for doing so.  There is no other way.

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