Rick Schindelheim

Jew-hatred doesn’t happen in a vacuum: An Open Letter to UN Secretary Guterres

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a Security Council meeting regarding the Middle East war at the UN headquarters in New York on January 23, 2024. (Charly Triballeau/AFP)

Dear Secretary General Guterres,

You recently expressed your “horror” over the accusations against UNRWA workers regarding their participation in the October 7th attacks. Somehow, though, you do not view such egregious violations of the basic humanitarian principles upon which the UN was founded as an indictment of UNRWA itself. Instead you are advocating for its continued funding, rather than finding ways to support Palestinians that don’t involve supporting an organization that educates towards–and now actively engages in!–the murder of Jews.

I wonder if your defense of UNRWA is because you still maintain, like you did in October, that the “attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum.” Shockingly, you made this statement without providing any context yourself, as if Israel wantonly harms Palestinians and seeks to make their lives miserable out of some sick hatred or prejudice. As if, in the 56 years you referenced, the Palestinians have waited patiently and peacefully until their frustration finally bubbled to the surface on October 7th. As if Israel has not made numerous offers to end the conflict and made profound sacrifices towards this end–including a complete civilian and military evacuation from Gaza in 2005.

I hope you’ll understand our shock at such a one-sided presentation. Do you not see the irony in your statement? Isn’t it absurd to claim that the attacks against Israel didn’t happen in a vacuum while implying that Israel’s actions regarding the Palestinians do happen in a vacuum? The blockade did not cause terror, terror caused the blockade. How can you not see this simple relationship of cause and effect? If not for Palestinian violence, Israel would never have been in Gaza. Why would Israel want them to suffer? Our holy books and clergy do not call them pigs and monkeys. Our textbooks do not teach our children to hate them. Our sons do not bring pride and glory to their mothers by dying as murderous “martyrs.” You seem to lack an elementary understanding of the basic facts of this conflict.

However, in one sense, you are correct. These acts of horrific violence did not happen in a vacuum. They did come from somewhere. Hamas’s charter has called for jihad and the killing of all Jews since its inception. Their death squads did not spring up out of nowhere. The incomprehensible hatred of Jews, so profound that it prepares one to enter homes, torture, murder and mutilate Jewish babies–this does not happen in a vacuum. This viciousness is an outgrowth of Jew-hatred that dates back, not 56 years but thousands.

Mr. Secretary, what would you say to the following?

In 1096, Christian crusaders from Europe made a detour on their way to the holy land in order to massacre the Jewish communities of Spires, Worms and Mainz. In 1171 dozens of Jews were burned to death in Blois, France on the basis of a patently false accusation. It was a blood libel–a nightmare that would be revisited upon Jewish communities time and again. Mr. Secretary, did attacks such as these happen in a vacuum, or had the Jews also brought this wrath upon themselves?

The Jewish community of Granada was slaughtered by a Muslim mob in 1066. The Almohad Caliphate brutalized Jews (and Christians) in the 12th and 13th Centuries. (Muslims were generally more accommodating, however, granting Jews some protection under the second class Dhimmi status–we’re very grateful.) Jewish life in Spain came to an end with a crushing inquisition, massacres and then complete expulsion in 1492. Would you, Mr. Secretary, have condemned these persecutions of Jews without suggesting that they got what they deserved? Or would you have explained that these too did not happen in a vacuum?

Did the brutal murder of 100,000 Jews in Poland and Ukraine by Cossacks in 1648-9 happen in a vacuum? Did the gruesome pogroms that stormed through Jewish communities in Russia in the 19th and early 20th centuries happen in a vacuum? What about the massacres of Jews by Arabs in Hebron and Jerusalem in 1929 and 1936? Are we to understand these as a reaction to the occupation that would begin decades later? What about the Holocaust? Would you have said that you, “unequivocally condemn the Nazis…but it’s important to note that their murderous campaign to turn Europe ‘Judenrein’ did not happen in a vacuum?”

Mr. Secretary, does your statement not strike you as odd? Jews have endured an endless trail of horrendous persecutions–the list is, sadly, much longer than what I’ve provided–spanning thousands of years and stretching across the globe. Of course, none of these can be explained by Zionism or Israel’s policies. Yet you suggest that suddenly, after all these years, there is now an entirely different–and apparently valid–explanation? I agree with you. The attacks against Israel and its citizens cannot be understood in a vacuum. They must be seen in the context of the painfully long history of Jew-hatred.

Indeed, Mr. Secretary, nothing happens in a vacuum — certainly not the Jewish people’s need to defend itself.

About the Author
Rick Schindelheim teaches Judaic studies at the Fuchs Mizrachi Upper School (Cleveland, OH). He holds degrees in Psychology and Education from Yeshiva University and John Carroll University.
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