To be Jewish is to be all too cognizant of human nature at its most appalling. The Jews are not, of course, the only people to have been subjected to a genocide. But the genocide directed at the Jews was particularly demented and chilling. It sought deliberately and systematically to annihilate the entire people, turning slaughter into an industry. Corpses were burned, but only after valuable loot—gold fillings, jewelry, spectacles, hair—was extracted for further use, often by Jews forced into service for that purpose.
The aftermath of the Shoah also has unique features. The Holocaust-denial endeavor has no parallel when it comes to other genocides. Neither does the frequent equation of Jews with the genocidists. The charge that Israel is a Nazi country, committing Nazi deeds, is widespread in the Arab and Muslim world, and not at all uncommon in the Western world. Jews are—uniquely—subjected to the psychological stresses both of genocide denial and of being likened to the genocidists.
Last week former London mayor Ken Livingstone offered a specimen of the genre, claiming that Hitler was a Zionist. Challenged on historical grounds, instead of backing down he doubled down, asserting that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed with him. Livingstone, a veteran Jew-baiter, obviously relishes saying things calculated to cause the worst possible offense to Jews. But he is hardly alone in his Labour Party, which, as highlighted in recent days, is rife with Jew-hatred.
When it comes to Western Jew-haters, I think to myself that, at some points, they’ve undoubtedly seen pictures and footage of the death camps, the piles of corpses, the starving prisoners in their striped costumes. To suppose, though, that this might have sufficed, showing once and for all where antisemitism leads and inducing a robust rejection of it, would be hopelessly naïve. Still, even if not exactly naïve, I confess to some bafflement that both things—death-camp images and ongoing, lively, determined antisemitism—coexist in numerous people.
To be a Jew—especially if Israeli, or a Diaspora Jew strongly sympathetic to Israel—also means being subjected to what I call the Muslim-Western crunch. (I don’t call it the Muslim-Christian crunch because many of the Western Jew-haters are secular leftists, seemingly distant from Christian mythological antisemitism.)
In one manifestation of the crunch, Arab and Muslim states in international bodies propose outrageous resolutions condemning Israel as a criminal country, denying any Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the Land of Israel, and the like. Such resolutions pass by large margins—repeatedly—without the Western states opposing them or using their clout to demand that such charades come to an end; or they may even abet them.
Case in point: on April 15 UNESCO adopted 33-6 (with 17 abstentions) a resolution portraying the Temple Mount as solely a Muslim shrine where Judaism has no status at all, and going so far as to accuse Israel of “planting Jewish fake graves in…Muslim cemeteries.” While six Western countries, including the United States, voted nay, the rest either abstained or—in the cases of France, Spain, and Sweden—voted in favor.
And another manifestation of the crunch is geopolitical. Muslim-Arab terrorist organizations attack Israel. Israel fights back—and the Western condemnations and warnings come pouring in. In the recent Gaza conflicts, Western media have lapped up Hamas claims as the gospel truth. All methods used by Israel in this millennium to fight or preempt Muslim-Arab terror —from checkpoints to curfews to targeted assassinations to bombing raids—have been regularly condemned by the West; while, at the same time, Western countries learn from and apply Israeli methods themselves.
From one side, then, aggression; from the other, harsh pressures and stern, hypocritical admonitions.
No, it doesn’t look good from here. That brief summary, of course, is hardly all of it. In Israel we have terrorist organizations on our borders that teach their children murderous Jew-hatred as soon as they can walk and talk. And not only explicitly defined terrorist organizations, but the Palestinian Authority as well. The dominant Western message, of course, is that it’s our fault and we have to make peace.
Jewish reactions to the psychological stress vary widely. Some join organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace that work hand in hand with the destroy-Israel Jew-haters. Some tune out. Some, including not a few Israeli leftists, earnestly conclude that the world is lambasting Israel out of righteous concern and try to live up to its demands, or vilify other Jews for not living up to them.
And some stand firm. Over time, the only forces strong enough to inure Jews to so much exposure to humankind at its worst are Jewish religiosity and Israeli nationalism.