The Ministry of Diaspora Affairs 2020 Anti-Semitism Report argues that last year was good in the sense that in the previous year, no Jews were murdered for being Jews. At the same time, the report laments the rise of what it considers the most decisive power driving anti-Semitism in the previous year: the COVID-19 pandemic.
We should know better. Jews have always been blamed for the world’s woes. Were Jews not blamed for the Black Death in the Middle Ages? Were Jews not blamed for Germany’s woes before World War II broke out? And when Jews aren’t blamed for something as tragic as the Black Death, they’re still blamed for every little pain. In fact, Jews are hated even when there is nothing at all to blame them for.
These days, the trend is to blame Israel for the intensification of anti-Semitism, as though this or that policy of the Israeli government will change how the world feels about Jews. I was born in Eastern Europe right after the war; almost my entire family perished in the Holocaust. There was no State of Israel to blame, and my family certainly didn’t cause the downfall of Germany in World War I, but they were murdered nonetheless. Their only “fault” was that they were Jews. Once it is legitimate to assail Jews, no pretext is needed, and no brutality is off limits.
According to the Internet Archive, since the Bar Kokhba Revolt, which ended in 135 CE, Jews have been expelled from their host countries, or altogether exterminated, more than 800 times! These pogroms predate the State of Israel, racism, and even Christianity. In fact, anti-Semitism is as old as Judaism itself. Therefore, if we want to find the solution to Jew-hatred, we have to look deeper than attributing it to some passing crisis that is here today and gone tomorrow.
But perhaps the most intriguing fact about Jew-hatred is the apparent dichotomy between the development of a country and the intensity and ferociousness of its anti-Semitism. Of all the countless atrocities that non-Jews have inflicted on Jews, none did so more potently and painfully than the most powerful nations of their time. Egypt under Pharaoh was the first, followed by Babylon, which ruined the First Temple. Then came Greece with the temporary destruction of the Second Temple, followed by Rome, which destroyed the Second Temple beyond repair and let the Jews destroy each other in a gruesome civil war. In the 15th century, Spain, a mighty and enlightened empire, expelled all the Jews from its midst in the second most traumatic event since the ruin of the Second Temple, and finally, the Holocaust that Nazi Germany had wrought on European Jewry was the worst trauma since the ruin of the Second Temple. In all those episodes, the decimators were the most advanced, cultured, and civilized nations of their time. But at some point, something made them turn against the Jews and let the monster loose.
Since this pattern has persisted throughout history, and only the pretexts changed to suit the circumstances, there is no reason to expect it to change going forward. The future of the Jews, it seems, is bleak, and another blow is nearing. Whether it will strike the State of Israel, American Jewry, or both is anyone’s guess, but there is no question that the two most developed and advanced Jewish communities are the targets of the next great blow to the Jewish people.
Unless, of course, we put a stop to it. We, Jews, are the unexpected holders of the key to ending anti-Semitism. And once again, it is not a circumstantial solution. Nor is it a matter of policy, ideology, or stifling of anti-Semitic outbursts. We can and should apply sticking plaster solutions when possible, but we must not think that they will solve the problem. If we believe they will, reality will explode in our faces.
The real solution lies not with the world, but with the Jews themselves. This is why this hatred persists through any circumstance. We must look for the solution not in how the world treats us, but in how we treat ourselves. Our relationships with one another generate the hatred of the nations toward us. It may sound outlandish, but our sages have known this throughout the ages, yet the people were reluctant to heed their advice.
Note that our sages do not attribute the ruin of the First Temple to the Babylonian conquest, but to the bloodshed and corruption within Israel. Likewise, they do not attribute the ruin of the Second Temple to the Romans, but to baseless hatred of the Jews for one another. Time and time again, they tell us that if we unite, no harm will come to us; time and time again we pay them no attention, conveniently adopt the victim narrative, and blame our woes on others.
When I look at the global political climate, I do not think it bodes well for the Jews. I don’t know how much time we have, but I do not believe it will be very long before the dark clouds on the horizon amass into a storm front that will unleash its wrath on the Jews. Worse yet, from what I can see, it will not be a single country that will give a free rein to hatred, but the entire world; there will be no escape. This is why I think it is so urgent that we apply the one cure we haven’t tried since before the ruin of the Temple: unity.
The incentive for anti-Semitism, our sages tell us, is our hatred of each other, and the cure for it is our unity, “as one man with one heart.”
For more on this topic, you may refer to the books Like a Bundle of Reeds: Why unity and mutual guarantee are today’s call of the hour and The Jewish Choice: Unity or Anti-Semitism, Historical facts on anti-Semitism as a reflection of Jewish social discord.