Feeling guilty? You must be Jewish!

“What’s Jewish Alzheimer’s disease? It’s when you forget everything but the guilt.”

 All of us have met the person who will say, `Yeah, but why provoke an antisemite by wearing your kippah or your Magen David? Hide it and keep your Jewishness schtum.`

Yes, we all know it – this embarrassment complex. Antisemitism is destructive, but it also leads many Jews to internalise the hatred against them. This can be understood by this quote from Zionist leader, Max Nordau, in his address to the Zionist Congress of 1897:

“Stunned by the hailstorm of antisemitic accusations, the Jews forget who they are and often imagine they are really the physical and spiritual horrors which their deadly enemies represent them to be. The Jew is often heard to murmur that he must learn from the enemy and try to remedy the faults ascribed to him. He forgets, however, that the antisemitic accusations are meaningless.”

In other words, some Jews, as a result of antisemitic assaults, have perceived themselves to be responsible for their own suffering, and thus they believe if Jews change their ways and modify their religion, they will be accepted by their gentile neighbours. I term this as `Do what will make the gentiles happy` Judaism.

And this is commonly done by Jews deprioritising Jewish interests, in favour of a wider cause, with the hope that the gentile world will see Judaism in a more positive light. Take those Jews who campaigned against the Conservative Party during the 2019 election, and campaigned for Labour. The Labour Party was the second party in British political history after the racist British National Party to be put under investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission for its cases of antisemitism (a 10,000 page dossier was handed in to this commission by Labour Against Antisemitism). The Labour Party was (and I think still is) institutionally antisemitic. However, this did not stop some Jews from campaigning for Labour. The claim by Jews Against Boris, in their one page spread in the Jewish Chronicle stated, “Our community’s security is best guaranteed when we build solidarity with other communities to challenge antisemitism, Islamophobia and all racial prejudice as a broad front. We are all targeted by the same people and must unite to defeat them. We must stand up for ourselves to do so in ways that lets down others who are affected by racism is both morally wrong and destined to fail.”

So even if there is institutionalised anti-Jewish racism in the party, they will still support this party because they believe, through fighting for everyone else’s rights, this will somehow be more of an effective way of fighting antisemitism. I wonder if this were against any other minority, would these Jews have campaigned for this party? Indeed, many of those Jews who believed that it was wrong to campaign against Labour, said that if Jews campaign against Labour, and Corbyn loses (which BH he did), this defeat could be placed down to a Jewish conspiracy against Labour. Professor Norman Finkelstein, a renown Jewish anti-Zionist, said, “If Corbyn loses, a lot of people in the Labour Party are going to blame it on those Jews, who fabricated this whole witch hunt hysteria. And that will be a problem, which you know what the bigger problem there is? It’s true! Jews were the spearhead of this campaign to stop Corbyn.”

These organisations and individuals fear that by standing up to an antisemite, and a party that is institutionally antisemitic, we Jews would appear to only be concerned with Jewish issues, and not with the national interest. This would make us appear separate and different. These Jews therefore feel guilty for putting what is in the interest of the Jewish people first. And if this is the case, these people ask how can we Jews be accepted as equals?

This is not a new question. Such a dilemma is not a new occurrence. This is well documented throughout Jewish history. Perhaps this can best be exemplified in the attitudes of Westernised Jews towards Eastern European Jews in the 19th and 20th centuries. Western Jews, many of them acculturated and anxious to not be seen as Jews with a parochial religion, believed the Jews of Eastern Europe were the antithesis of what Jews should be in the enlightened world. Many of these Eastern European Jews embodied poverty and a strict adherence to religious law. Westernised Jews believed these values were anathema to an enlightened society. These Eastern European Jews wanted to escape the degradations of Eastern European life, and find refuge in westernised nations. However, the Hebrew Standard in the US, when speaking about Eastern European Jews said, “The thoroughly acclaimed American Jew… has no religious, social or intellectual sympathies with them. He is closer to the Christian sentiment around him than to the Judaism of these miserable darkened Hebrews.” The Jews of the West felt embarrassed by these Jews. They believed if Jews help other Jews, particularly those of Eastern Europe, this will do a disservice to their acceptance in the West because these Jews will be seen as people only concerned with the preservation of their own, and not their fellow countrymen.

This can also be evidenced during the Holocaust and the ineffective response of senior figures within American Jewry. Take the Washington Post, a major US newspaper, owned by a Jew, it ran a four part front page series – much higher than any other Holocaust story – condemning the Bergson group (a grassroots Jewish organisation that campaigned for the rights those Jews under Nazi rule). This series on the Bergson group was retracted, however the point is that rather than address the horrors of the Holocaust, this paper sought to criticise those Jews that stood up for the rights of Jews under Nazi rule. Or take the attitude of the American Jewish establishment at the time, which can be understood from the words of Judge Joseph Proskauer, who was then the president of the American Jewish Committee, he said “For Jews in America, [as] Jews to demand any kind of political action is a negation of the fundamentals of American liberty and equality.” In other words, we cannot invest our time in fighting for our persecuted co religionists because others will think we have a dual loyalty. If we focus exclusively on our country and the success of our country, as a result of this success, we will be saved. But we cannot address the Jewish issue on its own right. And again, these Jews thought society will think negatively of them if they were specifically voicing their concerns for their fellow Jews, rather than everyone involved. Their guilt and silence cost countless lives.

David Wyman, a highly regarded Holocaust historian, said in relation to the Jewish establishment aborting plans for large demonstrations in large cities and a mass gathering in Washington, “The mere threat of a march in Washington by 50,000 to 100,000 blacks in 1941 had extracted an executive order from President Roosevelt that helped increase employment opportunities for black Americans… A massive demonstration of concern in late 1942 or 1943 might have influenced [Roosevelt] to take action many months sooner than he did.”

And therefore, had these important figures and bodies used their power, and put Jewish interests first, it is likely many more Jewish lives would have been saved.

Putting Jewish interests first certainly does lead to positive results. For example, during the 20th century, 3 million Jews in the Soviet Union were subjected to a life of fear and oppression. In the second half of the 20th century, Jewish groups like the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry or the Jewish Defence League and their unceasing public action, was instrumental in putting the suffering of Soviet Jews on the front pages in the US. And this in turn led to the saving of an innumerable number of Jews. Those brave Jews put Jewish issues first, often at great personal expense. The Soviet Jewish struggle gave those Jews around the world a Jewish cause to fight for. And today, the suffering of Israeli Jews and the threats they face daily give us Jews in the diaspora a cause to fight for.

However, what do we see from Jewish leaders and the Jewish establishment? We see individuals like Rabbi Jeffrey Newman, who was arrested for blocking a road in London in the name of Extinction Rebellion (an environmental action group). How many times has he blocked the road when Hezbollah flags have been paraded through London’s streets at the Al Quds rally? Not once. We see the senior `voice` of British Jews, the Board of Deputies, hound those that have made many personal sacrifices for Zionist activism. So what do they do for Israel? They run events such as `Invest in Peace`, which only hurts Israel and Jews in this country, and does nothing to counter the malicious lies about our homeland.

How much more blood must be spilt before the Jewish world learns that unless we Jews stand up for Jewish interests, no one else will?

Indeed, it seems a great moral injustice that only the people in the world that cannot put their own interests first are the Jews. The only people in the world that must apologise and feel guilty for standing up for themselves are Jews. Every minority, no matter where they are residing, naturally prioritises its own interests. Yet Jews have sought to apply a different standard to themselves.

And as Jacques Givet astutely recognises, “In a world divided into nations, torn between nations, to demand of the Jews alone that they be citizens of the world is to condemn them to extinction.”

Jewish guilt costs Jewish lives. No more guilt!

About the Author
National Director of an educational Zionist movement, Herut UK. Writing a book on Jewish responses to antisemitism. Spoken at Limmud, overseas and regularly speaking at university Jewish Societies.
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