Anti-Semitism resurged with such virulence
Israel’s struggle against infamy
The terrible label slapped on the Jewish people is reversible. The fact that Israel, surrounded by enemies, is a society that’s stubbornly democratic, prosperous, creative, a generator of science and technology.
2014-08-10 by Carlos Alberto Montaner
“Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas!” was a slogan in several European cities. Everything has been seen and heard during the confrontation between the terrorist gang Hamas and Israel. From swastikas painted on synagogues and Jewish cemeteries in various parts of the world to groups that chanted that infamous slogan.
Most Jews (and truly responsible democrats) are appalled by the intensity of the anti-Israel attitude of most communications media in the West, by the reaction of some European and Latin American countries -- Brazil among them -- and by the numerous anti-Semitic street incidents.
The origin of the confrontation is summarized masterly by writer Amos Oz in a couple of questions he directed to the German radio-TV network Deutsche Welle: “What would you do if your neighbor, holding a child on his lap, fired a gun at the kindergarten you’re in charge of? What would you do if your neighbor dug a tunnel from his kindergarten to yours with the intention of attacking the children you were caring for?”
The Jews counterattacked, that’s obvious. Is the Israeli position so hard to understand? After the conflict began, it was learned that, through the almost 40 tunnels discovered (likely, there are others), Hamas’ suicidal commandos were going to unleash an atrocious massacre on Sept. 24, the date the Jews celebrate their new year, Rosh Hashanah.
Why has anti-Semitism resurged with such virulence? For several reasons.
We humans formulate our judgment on the basis on stereotypes and categories. It is our way of peering into a complex reality. We think that we have an idea of what Germans, English, Americans, Catalonians, blacks, whites and Chinese are like. Those schematic views are frequently loaded with negative connotations, as happens in the case of gypsies and blacks.
Lamentably, the idea of the Jew was coined by his Christian enemies. Dissension in the synagogue -- a few Jews were convinced that the Messiah had arrived and his name was Jesus -- turned into a cruel and interminable persecution as soon as Christianity, that heretical branch of Judaism, became the religion of the Roman Empire through the Edict of Thessalonica (A.D. 380), promulgated by Theodosius the Great, a resolute emperor who declared “mad and wicked” anyone who rejected the authority of the Patriarch of Antioch.
From that point on, and for the next 1,600 years, the Jews were characterized as demoniacal, perverse, miserly, traitorous, disloyal and dirty. They were persecuted, massacred, expelled, defamed and shoved into ghettoes. They were branded as odious and condemned to wear visible insignias; they were forced to renounce their beliefs, under penalty of death. The Catholic Church created repressive institutions, such as the Holy Inquisition, for the purpose of destroying them or “purifying” them on pyres.
This permanent harassment created a very negative stereotype, thus perpetrating a continuous “character assassination” of an entire people. Classical literature then picked up and disseminated that swill. Shakespeare, Lope de Vega, Quevedo, Voltaire, Dickens, T.S. Eliot, Pío Baroja, Dostoyevsky and a hundred other wonderful writers incurred in various manifestations of anti-Semitism that kept the flame of hatred alive.
It was Napoleon who initiated the liberation of the Jews, toppling the walls of the ghettoes in the early 19th Century. But the change in the laws did not prevent the tradition of anti-Semitism from persisting until the paroxysm of the Nazis -- characters who were convinced that the total eradication of those people would solve almost all the problems of humanity. Happiness, they maintained, would come by the hand of a monstrous genocide.
Today, the old anti-Semitism of the Inquisition, of the Cossacks, of the Nazis, is one of the identifying characteristics of the groups that call themselves “progressive.” If in these anxious days someone wants to immediately assume a revolutionary role, the most efficient way to do so is to show one’s rejection of the Jews and condemnation of Israel. It’s the equivalent of hanging a poster of Che or wearing a T-shirt with his image.
Fortunately, the terrible label slapped on the Jewish people is reversible. The fact that Israel, surrounded by enemies, is a society that’s stubbornly democratic, prosperous, creative, a generator of science and technology, the home of the only free Arabs in that tortured region, including Arab women, belies that malignant stereotype.
Little by little, the truth will break through: Israel is the most successful and worthy political experience of the second half of the 20th Century. But we have to say it loudly and fearlessly. [©FIRMAS PRESS]
*Journalist and writer. His latest book is the novel A Time for Scoundrels.