Why Jew Hatred is Different

In the history of most group hatred, there is a limit – geographical, economic or cultural. Some people may express hatred of Asians, but they do not wish to wipe China and Japan off the map. Some people may hate African Americans, but they don’t wish the world to be rid of all people of color, even if they wish their corner of the world to be so purged. Generally, hatred has the limit of one’s personal experience – if the hater need not be in contact with or have his life changed by a certain group, that is sufficient. The knowledge that they exist somewhere else does not disturb his sleep.

Yet Jews have repeatedly discovered the totalizing nature of Jew hatred. For centuries Jews were for Christian’s evidence of a fundamental rebellion against their faith who had to be converted or destroyed. For Muslims, Jews represented a rejection of Muhammad’s message, and so the conversion of the Jews, and the affirmation of Islam, was a constant goal. For the Nazis, Jews were a threat to the fascist hegemony and had to be wiped out.

When Jews hear strains of hatred, they do not hear a skirmish, they hear a massacre. In 1979 Habib Elghanian, who had served as president of the Tehran Jewish society, was executed for friendship with “enemies of God.” The Iranian Jewish community did not assume that organizing protests would be the most effective response. Instead, they left Iran en masse, losing billions of dollars in assets, homes and businesses, because Jewish history had taught them that the execution of leader for anti-Semitic reasons leads to one end. Even for a community that was relatively untouched by the holocaust, its lessons were not lost: the hostility of a government expressed against Jews is a harbinger of genocide.

Today when Jews hear about the spike in attacks, here, in Latin America and in Europe, they cannot ignore the potential for catastrophe. When the ADL reports an increase in anti-Semitic rhetoric and action, it is more than a blip on the radar. Although it is true that America is a patchwork of many groups, and there is broad sympathy for Jews in this country, once one has had a heart attack every chest pain is a warning. Hatred of Jews, a virus that has infected humanity for millennia, is a different sort of hatred. Jews are seen as superhuman, controlling the world, and subhuman, vermin who are less than people. As the Jews of Germany learned, no amount of patriotism or influence can dissuade the haters. The only vaccine is the strength of people of goodwill and conscience. Do not be silent.

About the Author
Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post, David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.
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