The late and great Rabbi Lord Sacks gave a powerful keynote address entitled ‘The Mutating Virus’ to the European Parliament in 2016. He said antisemitism’s main variant of concern in our times results in hatred not primarily of the Jewish religion or of the Jewish race, but of the Jewish nation. He also points out that in our times, as in every other, antisemites always appeal to the highest authority of the age.
Rabbi Sacks reminds us that in medieval Europe, the highest authority was the Church, which condemned Jews for their religion. From the late 19th century in Europe the highest authority was science: Social Darwinism and other racialist theories that condemned Jews for their race. In our times, the highest authority is ‘human rights’, and has been since about the 1950s. Ergo the new antisemitism is anti-Israelism, and Israel must be condemned on the grounds of human rights, to the extent that she is condemned more times by the United Nations Human Rights Council than the combined total of human rights condemnations issued to all the other nations of the world.
What Rabbi Sacks did not mention in his speech on the new antisemitism is that the attacks on the Jewish nation are often led by Jewish groups and individuals, ostensibly appealing to principles of human rights. This somewhat complicates things. But the problem needs to be addressed, and I have written this essay in the hope that it can contribute to a better of understanding, for Jews and my fellow non-Jews alike. I will need to delve into some Jewish theology because, as we will see, Jewish human rights groups such as B’Tselem claim to be basing their relentless Israel-bashing on Jewish theology. As I have written before on Blogs TOI, I do have some good Jewish teachers, including Rabbi Yishai Fleisher and Rav Mike Feuer, to whom I tune in every week for their parasha-based discussions.
In view of the fact that ‘human rights’ carries such weighty authority today, we must be very discerning about every organisation that chooses to have ‘human rights’ in its title or its stated aims.
‘Israel’ is a complicated subject. And I suspect that one of the reasons so many of the world’s secular journalists and secular intellectuals write about Israel is the attraction of being seen to be clever and insightfully analytical in supplying the popular and lucrative market for Israel bashing.
For the billions of us in the world raised and educated as Christian, our Bible has thousands of instances of the words ‘Israel’, ‘Zion’, and ‘Jerusalem’. And the Bible in the English language (such as my King James Version) often refers to God as ‘God of Israel’. It is impossible, then, for thinking Christians to ignore Israel, and her meaning. (By thinking Christians I am talking about the minority. In my experience, the majority of my co-religionists in England, including the clergy, do not think very deeply about anything religious or philosophical.)
Obviously, God of Israel, and the Jewish tribe of the People Israel, are inextricably bound up with the Land.
Eretz Yisrael on the world map is a very tiny patch of land, amounting to a mere quarter of 1% of the landmass of the Middle East, but in terms of Biblical representation, no nation is bigger. No nation’s name is uttered in the world more than ‘Israel’, which more or less means, ‘God rules’. The notion of ‘progress’ to a goal of history – providentially running through the cycles of good times and bad times – was uniquely given to the world by the Jews, and this too is bound up with the Land.
Somehow, every nation of the world is to realise its destiny on Mount Zion (Isaiah 2:3-4).
At the beginning of the Common Era, the Middle East was imperialised by Persians, Greeks and Romans, then Muslim Arabs, then the Mongols, then Arabs again, then the Turks, then the British and the French, and then predominantly the Arabs once again. Today the Middle East is under Arab dominion, apart from Iran, Turkey, Cyprus and Israel. And every nation of the Middle East is, it seems, inescapably involved in the region’s murderous internecine conflicts, which have resulted in the ethnic cleansing of the region’s Jews (cf. Uprooted, Lyn Julius) and ‘near genocide’ of the region’s Christians. (‘Near genocide’ are the words used by former UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt MP, who ordered to the Church of England to report on the problem rather than continue to turn a blind eye.) And throughout the Middle East, all ethnic groups and minority religions are now under Islamist threat, such as Kurds, Yazidis, Druze, Baháʼí, and the Sufi tradition in Islam. A few months ago, I wrote a 10,000 word joint essay with Dr Richard Landes on the ‘ticking time bomb’ of this Islamist threat, whose central cause is, explicitly, genocidal anti-Israelism.
Frankly, if you want to see ‘apartheid’ according to any sensible definition of the word, look at every nation in the Middle East except Israel, which is the only nation where, away from the Jihadists perpetually attacking Israel’s borders, Jew, Christian (of many denominations), Muslim, Druze, Baháʼí and – importantly, agnostics and atheists – live together with equal rights and opportunities. All peoples living under Jewish sovereignty have freedom of assembly, and all have the freedom to reveal their worldview, their religious symbolism, and their sexuality. All have the freedom to drink wine, without fear of persecution such as imprisonment, or corporal or capital punishment. No other nation in the Middle East enjoys such human rights. In Israel, women and girls have rights not enjoyed in any other nation of the Middle East. FGM is still endemic in neighbouring Egypt for instance. And see Jeremy Hunt’s report on the persecution and near genocide of Christians, introduced here on the UK Gov website.
We see the absurdity of it all. Israel is habitually accused of genocide and apartheid, whereas Israel is the only nation in the Middle East free of genocidal ideologies and the kind of human rights abuses that can be reasonably described as ‘apartheid’. And yet, as I wrote in Blogs TOI in January – ‘Vaccine Apartheid’, blatant blood libel, but too good to resist – the most fashionable antisemitic libel in our times is ‘Israel is apartheid’.
It seems that in 2021, all the world’s leading human rights organisations, and the World Council of Churches, and International Criminal Court, and many Islamic groups, have combined forces to focus the world on Israel, which we are now expected to accept is ‘Apartheid’. This is a tragedy of course, not so much for Israel I suggest, but for the many, many people in the world who do need much more attention focussed on the abuses of their human rights: people in nations from Argentina to Afghanistan, from Brazil to Brunei, from Chile to China… and, indeed, the people of South Africa. Many nations of the world still use child labour or child slavery/debt bondage. This report by the World Health Organisation says that the majority of the world’s children suffer abuse. And of course, if children suffer abuse, they are likely to become poorly educated and abusing adults with a poor understanding of good morality and human rights. Even in nations that are considered highly advanced, children and women quietly suffer abuse, including, notoriously, Sweden, the ‘rape capital of the West’. Here in the UK, there is widespread sexual abuse of children, including even in the Church of England, and we have a high level of modern slavery.
Of course, you will find human rights abused in Israel, as you will in every nation. But no nation is scrutinised, ostensibly in the interests of human rights and the welfare of human beings, even a fraction as much as Israel. The whole world seems to be obsessed with seeking out human rights failures in Israel. The reason for this is obvious. I’ll repeat what I wrote in January:
Appeals to ‘human rights’ are generally difficult to deconstruct, because, in the largely-secularised West, it is an appeal to the highest authority of our times. Year-in-year-out, the UN Human Right Council (UNHRC) condemns Israel for racism and other human rights abuses more times than it condemns all the other nations of the world combined.
As Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, reports frequently from Geneva, UNHCR is actually a parody and perversity of Human Rights in which some of the world’s worst human-rights abusing regimes (including Pakistan, China, Russia, Venezuela, Indonesia, Cuba… all incumbent members of the Human Rights Council) gang up against Israel, the Jewish nation. Jews, as always, are the most convenient scapegoat through whom every nation can deflect attention away from itself. This is true today even for nations that do not historically have a tradition of antisemitism. I cannot imagine there is an antisemite anywhere who does not appeal to the UN Human Rights Council, and uses it in Israel-bashing arguments from authority.
If Israel did not exist, the other nations would need to invent her.
I also gave examples of how diverse anti-Israelist factions quote each other on authority: such as governments appealing to the authority of the UN, the UN appealing to the authority of human rights NGOs, human rights NGOs appealing to the authority of the World Council of Churches and the International Criminal Court… and all such bodies finding their ultimate authority in anti-Israelist Jews, such people being the perfect shield against charges of antisemitism.
If Ken Roth (Human Rights Watch) and Ariel Gold (Code Pink), and Gideon Levy, and Noam Chomsky, and Jews for Justice for Palestinians, and Jewish Voice for Peace, and Glyn Secker (of ‘Jewish Voice for [Corbyn’s] Labour’) and many other Jewish groups and halachically Jewish individuals are Israel bashers, how can Israel bashing be antisemitic?
The best shield against charges of antisemitism, is the Israel-based human rights organisation B’Tselem.
B’Tselem kicked off the 2021 ‘Israel is apartheid’ strategy with this report titled: A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid. The report was guaranteed to get the attention of the world’s media, and it is still reverberating. Here is the Irish Times yesterday (3 May) for instance explaining the ‘Irish Times view’ on Israel’s supposed apartheid. The Guardian gives Israel the same treatment, and like the Irish Times refers to both the B’Tselem report of January 2021, and the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report in April 2021.
The 223-page HRW report apparently has about 200 instances of the word ‘apartheid’. It is titled ‘A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution’.
Gerald Steinberg, of NGO Monitor, has done good work attempting to counter these reports, such as here and here. And I know he recently managed to get interviewed on BBC, to counter Ken Roth of HRW who, unsurprisingly, had been given the opportunity to push his ‘apartheid’ narrative on the BBC.
The NGO Monitor website catalogues a long history of the obsessive anti-Israelism of HRW and B’Tselem, and reveals the funding of B’Tselem, which although an Israeli group, is funded by notorious anti-Israelist groups from around the world, most notably Germany, which despite the living memory of the Holocaust is once again the antisemitic capital of Europe.
Since January, B’Tselem has been at the head of the pack of the apartheid-baying jackals. Perhaps they sense that the Lion of Judah, unable to elect a government, is weakened by its interminable political travails, and that now is time for the kill. Or perhaps they are concerned that the Abraham Accords will lead to a breakout of peace, as an increasing number of Arab nations disown the Muslim Brotherhood and other factions of Jihadist anti-Israelism. The fact that an increasing number of Arab nations now formally accept that the nation of Israel exists, and some now even allow the name Israel to appear on the maps of the Middle East, is evidently troubling to many lifelong Western anti-Israelists.
What motives Jews, and even Israeli Jews, to lead the world in the determined demonisation and organised animus of Israel? I cannot know. Only God can know what moves the heart of anyone. We can follow the money of course. And there is a lot of money in demonising Israel, especially if one is Jewish, and even more so if Israeli Jewish.
In Catch the Jew, Tuvia Tenembom records his candid interview with Gideon Levy, in which Levy says that “they [Israel] believe they are the Chosen People, which is a racist view [sic]… you could make a comparison to the Nazis in the thirties… I prefer comparing Israel with South Africa during Apartheid”. Levy is one of many prize-winning, highly-acclaimed, popular, and highly paid international Israel journalists. Charles Enderlin is another. Israeli journalists who do not demonise Israel could not possibly win such international acclaim and fortune as Gideon Levy and Charles Enderlin.
Like Gideon Levy, B’Tselem have an issue with notion of a Chosen People. The organisation describes itself thus:
‘B’Tselem (literally: in the image of), the name chosen for the organization by the late Member of Knesset Yossi Sarid is an allusion to Genesis 1:27: “And God created humankind in His image. In the image of God did He create them.” The name expresses the Jewish and universal moral edict to respect and uphold the human rights of all people’.
Of course, this B’Tselem statement amounts to theological illiteracy that should be obvious to everyone with even a smattering of Jewish and Christian education. To put all emphasis on the universal and to deny the particular (the holy) is to undo the whole of Judaism and, by extension, the philosophical-theological basis of the whole of Christian civilisation. The historical person whom Christians call ‘the Christ’ could not have been so had he not been a member of the tribe of Judah, and not only that, he had to be a direct royal descendant of David, King of Israel. Furthermore, the Twelve Apostles themselves lived apart, and within the Twelve, Jesus chose Peter, James and John as his ‘inner circle’. Jesus insisted that the most important of all commandments is the Shema Yisrael. He also pointed out that at the end of history all things necessarily come to a head in Jerusalem, about which, in his vows following the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: swear not by Jerusalem ‘for it is the city of the great King’ (Matthew 5:35), echoing many similar injunctions in the Tanakh, such as Isaiah 66:1, and Ezekiel 5:5.
The holiness of things in the Jewish and Christian faiths, including the Holy City of Jerusalem, depends on some things being apart from others, in time and geography. There are holy objects, apart from all other objects, and there is holy human behaviour and ritual, apart from all other human behaviour. The holy day of the week, the holy week of weeks (Shavuot/Pentecost), the holy language, the holy book, the holy land, the holiest day of the year… are all necessarily set apart from things that are not holy.
The universalist who insists that ‘everything is holy’ is of course really saying that nothing is holy, because the very word ‘holy’ loses its holiness and its meaning. There are other universalists who simply say that ‘nothing is holy’, which at least is a more honest form of expression.
Christians often forget that Jesus opened his prayer for the world, “hallowed be thy Name”. When we cease to hallow the Name – the holiest word of the holiest language, housed in the Holy of Holies of the holiest city of the Holy Land – language itself falls apart. If no word is holy (including the very word holy) every word means what you want it to mean. Every word becomes contingent on every other word. Everything is deconstructed, subjective, and relativist. Truth becomes impossible.
If humans were to plan how the march of history should bring the world into its whole completeness, there would and could be no legitimate concept of holy. But we are not working to man’s plan (or at least I am not); we are accepting God’s plan (or at least I am). We can perhaps reason with God (Isaiah 1:18) why there is a need to keep certain things holy and apart.
Yes, b’tselem Elohim, or imago dei, implies the sanctity of all human being, but this holy image requires good religion in order for us to acknowledge, know, remember, worship, fear, and love the omnipotent and invisible Holy, and no lesser god. We are commanded to keep some things holy and apart from other things. This is a great paradox for Israel, of course, because she is at once trying to be a modern democracy while fulfilling her obligations to preserve that which is holy and apart. This includes Jewish sovereignty of the Land, of divine inheritance, including of course Judea, which, frankly, the Jews have no right to give away on the grounds political expediency. Furthermore, it is politically naïve to think that giving away the Land will placate Jihadists and the hostile so-called ‘international community’, which as in Psalm 2, has leaders of all nations conspiring together and raging against God and His anointed.
It is only when the world’s acknowledges the holiness of the Holy Land, and the Chosen People (and their holy tasks and responsibilities), that all people can be protected from the unholy universal that is merely the political product of man, such as Communism, or perverted religion such as Islamic State. Indeed, this is why the Chinese Communist Party is cracking down so harshly on China’s 97 million Christians, whose church memberships are growing where membership of the Communist Party is in decline.
My friend the Jewish historian and philosopher Dr David Patterson writes in his excellent book Anti-Semitism and its Metaphysical Origins that the Chosen People were chosen (the particular) to teach and remind the world that we are all chosen (the universal). As David sees it – and I agree with him – antisemitism in all its diverse forms is really the radical rejection of God (of Israel) and our sanctity in God, which of course can sometimes affect and motivate Jews even more than us goyim. Jews introduced God of Israel to the whole world, and therefore some Jews seem eager to prove their antipathy to the Jewish state, whose very name ‘Israel’ is the banner of God: the ensign for all nations (Isaiah 11:12): the nation set apart from all others: the Holy Land.
Contrary to what the universalist human rights group B’Tselem claims, there is no universal sanctity of man – there is no b’tselem Elohim – without The Torah, the Land of the Torah, and without Shema Yisrael, kept holy and apart.
And ye shall be holy unto Me; for I the LORD am holy, and have set you apart from the peoples, that ye should be Mine. Leviticus 20:26