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Gefen Bar-On Santor

Will the social cues of ‘polite’ Israel hate survive Passover 2024?

Image source: Moses parting the Red Sea. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hans_Jordaens_(III)_-_Moses_parting_the_Red_Sea.jpg

This year, the Passover seder was on April 22.  The importance of Passover for Jewish life is difficult to overestimate.  Even the most secular of Jews likely has memories associated with the Passover seder going back to their childhood.  For some members of the generation of my grandparents, many of whom had family that perished in the Holocaust or were themselves compelled by Jew hate to leave their birth countries, the seder helped to provide a bridge of life between the vanished past and the future.  Creating a heartwarming, joyous, delicious seder for the family has been core to Jewish life.  For many religious and non-religious Jews alike, the seder on the eve of Passover is practically a sacred tradition.

The Preface to Philip Goodman’s Passover Anthology notes that

“For Jews, Passover marks their birth as a free people, and its religious significance has therefore been profound. Its exalted theme—freedom—has been woven into the very texture of Jewish life’s intricate pattern. . . . Passover has become endeared to the Jewish people because of the high principles embodied in the festival and its fascinating customs. Around the festive Seder table, Jews recall their long, stormy history. They gain healing warmth and sustaining happiness from the intimacy of the family circle. Their participation in ancient rites inspires them to look to the dawn of new days and brighter tomorrows for themselves and mankind. The chanting of the Haggadah reaffirms their confidence in God’s concern for Israel and humanity.”

In The Telling, his book about the Haggadah, the text read at the seder, Mark Gerson describes the power of the seder to endure through the generations:

“We . . . realize how (literally) unbelievable it is that we have been able to retell/relive a story for so long. A child’s game of telephone loses a simple message before it gets to the end of a small line in a few moments. Yet if Jesus or even Moses were to walk into a Seder in Miami Beach and open the Haggadah, he would know exactly what was going on. A Jew from third-century Jerusalem, tenth-century Yemen, seventh-century Poland, nineteenth-century Cincinnati, twentieth-century Warsaw, or twenty-first-century Tel Aviv could sit down at any of the other Seders, comfortably participate, and fully contribute. Equally stunning is that a Jew today from anywhere will find himself as comfortable at any Seder in the world as if he were a long-lost cousin surprising everyone with his presence. There may be language, cultural, or doctrinal differences—but they are immediately diminished by the welcome and the familiarity that such a traveler will experience” (p. 16).

Many Jewish people do not literally believe in the Passover miracle that God parted the Sea of Reeds to allow the Israelite slaves to escape from Egypt—and then closed the sea on the Egyptian chariots that Pharaoh sent to pursue the liberated slaves and drowned Pharaoh’s army.  But the story serves as a symbolic reminder that oppressive leaders will not forever reign supreme—their hubris and tendency to exploit and to cause unnecessary suffering will eventually be challenged.

Gerson notes that the Midrash says that “every day, miracles befall a person as great as the miracles of the Exodus” (p. 287).  On April 22, 2024, I was likely not the only person who fantasized that the IDF, guided by providence, would perform some out-of-this-world Hollywood-like operation to release the hostages on the eve of Passover—Operation Exodus 2024.

Instead, what we got on Passover and in the period leading up to it was more hate, for example:

In downtown Ottawa: “Long live October 7!” [thus glorifying the murder, rape torturing and kidnapping of Israeli civilians]

A sign held in Columbia University in front of people singing the Israeli anthem: “Al Qassam’s next targets.” [Al Qassam is the military wing of Hamas.  The sign is thus an implied invitation to kill Israelis.]

https://www.instagram.com/itsmezina__/reel/C6Bz-aetNbl/

At Columbia, warnings to “never forget the 7th of October.  That will happen not 1 more time, not 5, not 10, not 100, not 1000 but 10,000 more times.” [At such an exponential rate, will they eventually run out of Israelis to murder, rape, torture or kidnap? 10,000 times the victims of October 7 is significantly more residents than Israel actually has.  Does this mean that we in North America are next in their fantasy?]

“We are all Hamas, pig.  Long Live Hamas!”

https://nypost.com/2024/04/18/us-news/columbia-university-protester-yells-were-all-hamas-video/

More overall pride and glory—with the implied threat to murder Jews (for what else does it mean that Israel will fall?):

Some commentators have noted that the current climate of Israel hate essentially comes down to the segregation of Jewish people who love Israel—and who cannot comfortably and safely be their authentic self in the public square and in their professional and academic milieus.  Reflecting on the crossing of the Sea of Reeds in the context of segregation in America, Gerson observes:

“Dr. King used the Exodus as the guide for his freedom journey. He relied on the Exodus to get through challenges: ‘You don’t get to the Promised Land without going through the wilderness.’ He referenced it to motivate his people: ‘We’ve got to keep going.… The Red Sea has opened for us, we have crossed the banks, we are moving now, and as we look back we see the Egyptian system of segregation drowned upon the seashore’” (p. 109).

Will Jew hate ever drown in the ocean of tears that it has created over the centuries?

Jew hate has always been about exerting power and control over Jewish people, who are assumed to be vulnerable to bullying and manipulation and eager to please and to prove themselves worthy.  It is about implicitly telling the Jew: I am the master, and I will watch you suffer and scramble in vain to defend yourself, to improve your condition or to “prove” your innocence and moral quality.  Historically, in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, the Jews were often at the mercy of their neighbours—and when those around them turned violent or emotionally abusive, there was often little the Jews could do except be resilient—if they survived.

Today, the more “polite” among the haters (including some Jewish people who hate Israel) have found innovative ways to taunt us and to exert power by claiming moral superiority.  The social cues that they employ to channel the pleasures of Jew hate are simple: as long as they assert that they are not antisemitic and preferably drop the names of some Jews who agree with them (or are Jewish themselves), moral superiority can be had.

Some might enjoy watching us suffer as we implicitly beg them in vain to open their hearts to the fact that about half of the world’s Jews live in Israel and that the so-called criticism of Israel is often distorting, deceitful and disproportional.  We plead with them to believe us that Israel is a self-critical place and that self-criticism was practically the air that some of us breathed as we were growing up.  We pray for a miracle that will open their eyes to believing that we hate war and would love to live in a world in which dialogue and listening to other people’s narratives actually did provide a real path to peace.  However, no amount of good will can change a basic fact: Palestinian leaderships so far have generally rejected peace with Israel.  Crucially, if Hamas are allowed to be the occupier, we are looking at another Holocaust.  Yes, war is always bad and yes, Israel, like all democratic countries, has flaws and corruption, but no—there is no moral equivalency between Israel and those who want to destroy it instead of choosing to live in peace side by side with it.

But because the pleasures of Jew hate are about power and superiority, those who demonize Israel have to remain in a position of dominance—instead of acknowledging that there is much that they do not know and do not understand.  To remain masters, they often deny the empirical realities not only of Israel’s tense existence in the Middle East—but perhaps also in my opinion of their own moral thinking and what motivates it.

I am not antisemitic, insists the polite but disproportionate critic—but can this claim survive Passover 2024?  If they are not antisemitic, why did the demonstrators not show consideration for the Passover seder but persisted full force?  Passover is not uniquely Israeli.  It is very, very Jewish—at the core of Jewish identity.  In today’s toxic climate, anyone who chooses to disrupt Passover—a holiday that lies at the core of the Jewish psyche—cannot in my opinion claim deep, compassionate respect for Judaism.

These might be delicate times for some polite but disproportionate critics of Israel who like feeling morally superior but who also want to think about themselves as fair minded. Their tried-and-true social cues of denying Jew hate and using Jewish people who agree with them as intellectual shields might have still worked when the demonstrators predominantly chanted “cease fire” (which actually means “seize fire” in this context but which could be mistaken as a call for peace).  But will polite but disproportionate critics be able to successfully distance themselves from demonstrators at some of the world’s most prestigious institutions who glorify October 7?  They already insist on the fundamental difference between “criticism of the state of Israel” and Jew hate—but into how many more pieces can people split themselves in order to enjoy moral superiority?

The Midrash says that as the Egyptian army was drowning in the Sea of Reeds, an angel was singing a song of praise for God.  But God scolded the angel and said that we should never rejoice at the suffering of other human beings, not even our enemies.  This is why we remove 10 drops of wine from our cups on Passover—to remember the 10 plagues inflicted upon the Egyptians during the struggle for liberation.

We should not rejoice at the exposed hypocrisy of those who hate Israel but insist that they are not antisemitic.  Rather, their inner struggle reflects the turmoil of our society.  My hope is that in the aftermath of the suffering that they have chosen to create, some Israel haters will also choose to look at themselves honestly in the mirror and ask: have I allowed myself to become a bully?

Having disrupted a seder on a year in which we only “marked,” not “celebrated,” Passover because of the pain over the hostages, some of them will, I hope, reflect on what they have done and recognize Passover for what it has historically been—a time for blood libels against the Jews.  Goodman’s Passover Anthology takes us into the heart of that terror:

“The Rabbi of Bacharach, Heinrich Heine’s unfinished novelette, opens with the preparations for a Seder. As the festivities are about to begin, two strangers enter the rabbi’s house and claim that they have no other place to observe the holiday. They take their place among the family and guests. Before long, the rabbi discovers that these men have hidden the body of a murdered child under the table. He realizes that a cry will soon be raised and that he and the other Jews will have to face the frightful accusation of ritual murder.  It is one of the saddest aspects of Jewish experience that on the very evening when the Jew is supposed to re-call the joys of freedom, he has frequently been made to feel the bitterest sorrows of exile. It is no less strange that a people so restricted in their choice of food should have been accused of eating human flesh and drinking human blood. Yet the charge has been made hundreds of times, in lands and periods which we consider fairly civil-ized. That this libel was cast upon the Jews at all, that it was so widely credited, and that it became connected with Passover, are facts which insistently call for explanation.”

Perhaps most crucially, some of those in the West who call themselves pro-Palestinian and enjoy the pleasures of perceived moral superiority might realize that in the context of the Passover 2024 Jew-hate fest, their claims for righteousness ring more hollow than ever.  Truly caring for the wellbeing of others is not the same as pursuing the pleasure of feeling moral superiority, power and control over Jews who love Israel.  The Palestinians seem to me this Passover to be the victims of the urge of some people to use the Jews as punching bags. People who care about the Palestinians would be wise to begin to work toward making a contribution to peace by liberating themselves from the ancient chains of the desire to implicitly tell the Jew: I am your master, and you are my slave.

References

Gerson, Mark. The Telling: How Judaism’s Essential Book Reveals the Meaning of Life. St. Martin’s Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Goodman, Philip. The Passover Anthology (The JPS Holiday Anthologies) . The Jewish Publication Society. Kindle Edition.

About the Author
Gefen Bar-On Santor teaches English at the University of Ottawa, as well as adult-education literature courses at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre in Ottawa, Canada. She is an enthusiastic believer in life-long learning and in the relevance of fiction to our lives. She also writes at https://oldwildhorses.substack.com/.
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