Victor Salkowitz

The Ever Expanding and Shriveling Balloon of Antisemitism

I believe it might be useful to view antisemitism as an expanding and shriveling balloon.  It may be better to view it this way rather than as some kind of bacteria that can spread, live under the bed, then be wiped out with a good disinfectant.  As Rabbi Dr. Lopes Cardozo mentions in his Talmudic article “The Trouble with Chametz,” there will always be “yeast in the dough” (the potential for evil). As yeast can inflate dough into a big haughty loaf of bread (arrogance being a common cause of evil), so can it remain simple and unleavened.  Alternately Rabbi Cardozo refers to why unleavened bread is not eaten year round. I will not go into the details, but simply state that we are encouraged to have a balanced self esteem, neither inflating nor contracting beyond measure.

I will suggest that this image–either of a balloon or a loaf of bread, be kept in mind as I proceed with this article.

The gains Jews have made in modern history have been substantial. Accomplishments in sciences, arts, technology…we always seem to be disproportionately represented, winning the admiration, envy, or resentment of others–whatever disposition the judge may have. To a large extent these gains cannot be taken away. But the glow of our pride can be tarnished. In Eastern cultures, they call it loss of Face.

There are certain key elements that have established Face for Jews in the past century. I certainly can’t name all of them, but I will take a shot at naming a few things that stand out in my mind. I suppose we could start with the Balfour Declaration.  Even though it was sullied by a British Mandate run poorly and an ultimate stab in the back by the scandalous White Paper, the cat had been let out of the bag. An imperial power had allowed for Jews to be regarded as human beings whose value, politically, could be on par with any other group of people. This might not be what the Brits had intended, but the Jews in Palestine took it and ran with it. This is also not to say that Jews necessarily had less self worth previous to this.  It just meant, and Theodore Herzl saw the value of this through working to gain the cooperation of governments, that Jews as players on the world stage could have more Face.

In an apparent response to the Mandate failure, particularly as it could not manage the tensions and eventual bloodshed between Arabs and Jews, it became only a matter of time when the second key thing that would increase Face for Jews would occur: the creation of Israel. As Daniel Gordis has pointed out in his book “The Promise of Israel,” it is no small thing to build a great country, not only for the joy of what has been built, but for what it has done for the Jewish soul, at home and throughout the diaspora. Gordis also mentions the dangers of Nationalism when it gets out of hand, but equally stresses the importance of a healthy sense of national identity. In other words, it contributes to Face.

The third key Face builder has been Israel’s ability to defend itself to this day, to remain a “player” on the world stage, and the fourth has been its continued cutting edge innovations in technology and the sciences. Obviously there are more Face builders, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll move on.

Israel has lost Face on two key issues. It should be obvious as to what they are. The first is Israel’s lack of success in creating a satisfactory situation for the Palestinians. Never mind which group has been more at fault; the impasse exists, it’s been bad for everybody, and Israel can’t help but lose Face by it.

The second issue of losing Face is where Israel is now, a direct extension of the first issue: being at war with the Palestinians. Don’t get me wrong. Israel must not lay down and reinforce the legitimacy of lawless warfare, but the fact is, it’s happening and its terrible, and Israel is losing Face by it.

Fueling this second loss of Face has been the sustained military control and marshal interaction with Palestinians who number in the millions for so many years. It is not the point of this article to debate how this should change. One state, two state, three state, whatever.  I’m just saying, until Israel fishes or cuts bait, it will continue to lose Face.

Imagine if you will, people from all over the world in a big supermarket, taking notice of a parent trying to deal with an unruly child. Things start to go bad.  The child begins to whine and yell and hit. We cringe and hope we don’t hear that dreaded slap. True we might be quite annoyed with that yelling child too, but it is to the parent our attention is riveted. What will he or she do?

And herein lies the crux of the dynamic. No matter how lawless Hamas is in warfare, or how much the IDF takes pains not to take civilian lives, the world will always be cringing and hoping Israel (the parent) doesn’t slap the child (the Palestinians). And it doesn’t matter that this war is being prosecuted by adults; the difference in power creates the parent/child dynamic.

Be assured that Hamas and the rest of the Palestinians will continue to use this “truism” in pleading their case.  And it is a truism that Israel cannot defeat.

Let me finish this article with a few more points. Through an informal review of all the “comment” columns I’ve been reading about Israel in the various online newspapers over the past two years, the anti-Zionist or outright Jew haters seem to be averaging between 25 and 40 percent, depending on the publication. If we rule out the anti-Zionists (and I do believe they are a distinct group from the knuckle-dragging Jew haters), the comments are closer to 25%. Hardly scientific research, but I think it will serve my point.

Now that the war has started, the percentages don’t appear that much different.  The thinking people who were there before are still there, non-prejudicial with their opinions.  The knuckle-dragging and anti-Zionist responses are definitely more vociferous and inflated (alternately, it should be noted, there have been plenty of knuckle-dragging responses from pro-Israel posters as well). They are rife with lack of information, misinformation, no sense of history, and cartoons about what Jews are. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so sad.

The point is, there appears to be an expansion, an inflation, of antisemitic response.  It is louder, more obnoxious (and in some cases outright violent), but it is not clear that it is spreading, like some infectious bacteria, to more and more people. It may be that it comes from the same people who would have negative opinions about Jews whether Israel was at war or not.

The difference may or may not seem important, but I think it is. I don’t believe a Jew has the power to “convert” a once rational person into an antisemite. The situation we are in with the Palestinians is not new. Rather, we do have the power to contribute to a situation in which an already bigoted person might spew forth antisemitic invective, or be less inclined to do so.

The unfavorable attitudes might remain, but that should not be our primary concern.  Why try and keep dry in the rain with a sword? Our primary concern should be the umbrella.  A concern with international perception of parent and child in the supermarket.  Depending on how well Israel is able to change that dynamic (and after all, it is up to the parent), it could increase Face, and the dissolution of Israel’s Achilles Heel.



About the Author
Victor Salkowitz is a retired Clinical Social Worker with over 30 years experience in prisons, child welfare, and adult mental health agencies. He received his B.A. in Psychology from UC Davis and an MSW from UC Berkeley, becoming licensed in 1991.