On Friday, February 2, a few hundred expatriate South African nationals rallied at Habima Square in Central Raanana. It has been weeks since South Africa’s Ramaphosa government took Israel before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague on charges of genocide and local citizens came to decry what many called a new “blood libel”.
Speakers were adamant about expressing their shame regarding the government of their birthplace. Ruth Lasserman Landy, a former immigrant from South Africa, MK, and Israeli diplomat in Cairo, explained how sheer hatred has risen in her homeland. She recounted spending 45 minutes trying to educate a well-meaning news reporter about the realities of Israel, only for the interview never to be aired. Efraim Zuroff, former Nazi hunter for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, was clear when comparing the American response to the genocide in Rwanda (not officially termed genocide despite fitting the stereotype) to the Balkans (declared a genocide even though women and children were spared). “It is all politics! It is all bullshit!” he explained, declaring genocide as political spin when reflecting on American policy regarding the term.
Genocide charges are political, as is the entire discourse of civil society and some state actors towards Israel after October 7th. While some state elites have sided with Israel, the current atmosphere has been very hostile, especially in the realm of world public opinion.
Both have sparked a new debate over the meaning of anti-Semitism.
Over the last two weeks, two major figures of South African Jewish thought have spoken about a new anti-Semitism. One is Rabbi Doron Perez, the executive chairman of the World Mizrahi Movement, whose thoughts are revealed in a new book: “The Jewish State: From Opposition to Opportunity.” The other is the Chief Rabbi of South Africa, Rabbi Warren Goldstein, who gave a speech reflecting on current anti-Semitism while visiting the KLR congregation in Raanana.
On Philistinian Anti-Semitism
Rabbi Doron Perez’s premise reflects on the teachings of the Vilna Gaon when he discovered that, in addition to spiritual and physically destructive forces, there is also a force that attacks Jewish institutional statehood: a force he calls “Philistinian anti-Semitism.” The Philistines, whose purpose, in addition to being the namesakes of the Palestinians (the Hebrew root of Palestine, or Philistine, is the same as the one that conquers), is one whose purpose is to harass a Jewish sovereign entity. The Palestinians, like the Philistines before them, do not mind occasional Jews inhabiting their land, on the condition that they do not unite into a single political entity. In the case of the Philistines, as soon as a monarchy was declared by Saul, they attacked. King David fought the Philistines during most of his rule until they were finally subjugated. It was only after the rule was a fait accompli that their purpose ended.
His insights also reveal that when one threat to the Jewish people seems to end or when Jews are about to achieve a breakthrough, another rises in its place. This is alluded to in the very root of the Hebrew word for the burning bush “shneh,” which has the same root as “sinah,” which is hatred. When the physical conventional threat to Israel’s destruction ended in 1979 when Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel, the rise of radical Shiite ideology arose in Iran the same year to challenge Israel in other ways. As such, Israel is in the spiritual vortex, and the constant challenges to it in every generation showcase its spiritual purpose to humanity.
The insights, alongside the solutions, are found in his newly published book, which is strongly recommended. We see a new phenomenon now, roaring in the October 7th war and in the international opposition to Israel in world bodies. The hatred toward Jews has shifted form to be focused on Israel, and the October 7th world has shaken the Jewish world to its foundations.
On Fukuyama’s and Maslow’s Fallacy
Chief Rabbi of South Africa Warren Goldstein similarly shared insights into modern anti-Semitism that has reared its head, especially after October 7th.
The following are themes of speeches he gave during his visit to the KLR congregation.
The State of Israel and the War in Gaza are a peculiarity. Three and a half months into the war, it dominates headlines worldwide. It arouses mass rallies and passions way beyond the numbers of the Jewish people. The Jewish people are 14 million and shouldn’t be more than a blip compared to the population of the world. However, the Jewish people are movers and shakers beyond their weight. Their impact as movers of humanity, including emotionally, is beyond their proportion, as is also the suffering of the Jewish people historically. This is seen in anti-Semitism around the world. Just as Israel has become a place of major progress, it also experiences attacks at a disproportionate scale to its size.
When Zionism was created as a Jewish state, founding visionary Theodore Herzl believed that it would solve the problem of Jews being an unwanted minority in countries not their own. However, by taking Jews out of their countries of habitat and moving them to Israel did not end the problem of anti-Semitism. What the founders of Zionism got wrong was that anti-Semitism did not end with the creation of the State of Israel. Rather, the creation of the State of Israel has changed the focus of anti-Semitism. Now, as mentioned also by Rabbi Doron Perez, ordinary Jews are left alone while Israel has become the epicenter and focus of anti-Semitism.
Francis Fukuyama wrote a book after the end of the Cold War called “The End of History,” which predicted that power events as we have known them have ended when the United States defeated the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War, ending the ideological divide, ushering in an “end of history.” However, the creation of an ultimate utopia did not materialize. While others, such as Samuel Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations” thesis have critiqued it for failing to allude to non-ideological dynamics (aka civilizations), Rabbi Goldstein takes a different take. Fukuyama failed to take into account spiritual and emotional manifestations of history, and indeed history did not end when he said it did. Fukuyama’s own conclusion seemed sad that history had indeed “ended.” October 7th is a prime example that history did not indeed end. Both spiritual and emotions remain and are drawbacks of his theory as history does indeed continue.
More importantly, current anti-Semitism can be seen as an inverted pyramid of Maslow’s Pyramid of Human Needs. In the “normal” pyramid, it begins with physiological needs and ends with aims of esteem, purpose, and self-actualization at the apex of the pyramid. However, as applied to human politics, the pyramid is, in fact, flawed and in the case of the Jewish experience, is, in fact, the pyramid inverted. When used for good, human purpose can lead us to excel, but when turned to evil, it can lead to great destruction and outdoes any human desire for physiological needs.
When one looked at Hitler’s Final Solution, the end goal of the Jews had more to do with a sense of purpose and ideology than land and a greater economy. This is comparable to what we see with today’s Hamas as well. Hamas had no real desire in terms of land and economy; otherwise, they would have focused on governing Gaza. Their purpose, rather, is bent on denying Israel’s right to exist. This was the driving motivation behind why October 7th happened rather than the need for more houses and economy as would normally be at the bottom of the pyramid.
A “Misguided” Palestinian State
Both Rabbi Doron Perez and Rabbi Warren Goldstein shared the need for a united purpose to strengthen the Jewish people around the world.
Rabbi Goldstein mentioned a need for more attention to be brought to policymakers. With calls and demands by Israel’s allies for a Palestinian State, as a direct response to the October 7th attacks, it appeared that policymakers do not understand the very nature of the new “anti-Semitism.” Israel’s friends believe that the Palestinians are acting out of a normal “Maslow pyramid” because they lack land or economy, and the giving of such would solve the problem. However, the problem is at the very apex of the Maslow pyramid inverted rather and focuses on purpose. The Palestinian leadership’s sense of purpose is to deny the Jewish people their state. To provide them a state would move forward their goals as set out on October 07th.
As such, the allies of Israel are pushing it into an uncomfortable corner trying to force upon it a state that its sole purpose is its annihalation. The solution will not lead to peace, while Jews, being a unique group that need armed guards worldwide, will continue to fight for their existence.
In the meantime, the October 7th war continues, with Israel constantly in the limelight. As the war continues, and anti-Israel world movements continue to gather steam, a new wave of global anti-Semitism centered on Israel may be upon us. It is important for us to be informed regarding the hatred.