Two years ago, the novelist Dara Horn came out with a book titled, “People Love Dead Jews.”
At a time of a dramatic surge of antisemitism in America and around the globe, Horn’s book was a major contribution to our understanding of what the focus on the Holocaust and the other stories of historic antisemitism ultimately means.
Without dismissing the importance of teaching the history of antisemitism and learning about it, Horn suggested that the obsession with the past tragedies was a way for people to show that they cared about Jews and Jewish suffering while absolving them from caring about or fighting against antisemitism in the present. Jews as victims are commemorated, Jews standing up for themselves today are to be condemned.
And then came October 7 and its ongoing aftermath. Horn’s insight, which we should still keep in mind as we move forward, was radically upended. In a word, the reaction to the atrocities in Israel revealed in many circles that in fact, not only did many people hate live Jews, as indicated by the surge in antisemitic incidents, but they hated dead Jews as well.
It started even before Israel had a chance to defend itself against the terrorists. Within a day of the massacre, signs at protests gleefully stated, “Resistance By Any Means Possible.” In other words, killing Jews is a completely legitimate activity, and we are delighted by what happened – the killing of women, children and the elderly – because resistance against the devil, the Jew, is a legitimate and positive activity.
This was most blatantly expressed by a Cornell professor on video who screamed over and over that the Hamas massacre was “exhilarating,” suggesting that the murder of innocents was a blessing to shift the balance of power away from Israel.
In sum, Jews got their comeuppance. The message of those early demonstrators was explicit if not as explosive in rhetoric as the Cornell professor.
Soon, the open gleefulness about the dead Israelis took another form: stop the Israelis from defending themselves and finding some measure of justice for the barbaric murder of 1400 people. A ceasefire now was the call. While this is framed in more subtle terms, talking about civilian deaths as if Hamas ever gave a damn about either Israeli or Palestinian civilian deaths, the real point of this call was to resist any effort to legitimize Israeli retaliation because the Hamas murders were legitimate or acceptable. This is a more subtle version of “hating dead Jews,” but one can’t be sure whether the earlier or later version is worse.
Here, Horn’s illuminating insight took a direct beating. There was no effort even to hint that there was any human caring about murdered innocent Jews, rather the dead brought on their own demise and what happened on October 7 is a good thing.
In this sense, the reaction by some is very similar to the Nazi justification for the Holocaust. Jews got what they deserved because they poison everything they touch and think how much better off we are with these dead Jews.
And then to top it off, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, in speaking before the Security Council, looking at what was happening in Israel and Gaza, essentially blamed Israel for the murder of its 1,400 civilians.
Repeating the long-held lies that have characterized the UN’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades — simply blaming Israel for the situation, ignoring Palestinian rejectionism, terrorism and education of their youth to hate Israel and Jews – Guterres appeared to justify the murders on the grounds that Israelis have occupied the Palestinians for fifty-six years. The blood of 1,400 Israelis was hardly dry and the UN chief is glorifying in the massacre.
Guterres could only have reached that despicable level because the UN’s Human Rights Council has been demonizing Israel for decades. Under the guise of protecting rights, the Council has condemned Israel so many times over the years as compared to any other state that it seemed like a very bad joke being repeated over and over. The Secretary General’s shameful statement reminds us that the UN is no joke.
Dara Horn was right in saying that people love dead Jews. Until now.