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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 25-05-2024 06:04

Anti-Semitism comes back with a vengeance

Though there has never been any shortage of reasons to persecute Jews, the chief one which underlies most others is envy.

Well before the Jews gave birth to Christianity, they were heartily disliked by many who came into contact with them. The Greeks and Romans felt mortally offended by their determination to cling to their own traditions. These included a devotion to reading sacred texts that ensured that, for millennia, almost all were literate and respected learning when most other people had little interest in such pursuits.

This meant that in the 19th century, when Jews were finally allowed to participate fully in public life in Western European countries, many quickly made their mark in universities, political organisations, commercial undertakings and government bureaucracies. They also made noteworthy contributions to their nation’s culture, especially in science; Jews amount to a mere 0.2 percent of the world’s population, but they have won about 20 percent of the Nobel Prizes awarded for chemistry and a quarter of those for physics and medicine.

Though there has never been any shortage of reasons to persecute Jews, the chief one which underlies most others is envy. Had Jews remained a nondescript minority that rarely produced high-flyers, few would have taken much notice of them, but unfortunately for many millions who were done to death simply because they were considered Jews, even if they or their forefathers had become Christians, an unfair proportion has always been exceptionally talented.

Naturally enough, their remarkable achievements in so many fields soon greatly annoyed those who found themselves outclassed. In their view, there had to be something sinister about it. Academics, who have always been much given to infighting, fought back by putting quotas, informal or not, on the number of Jews admitted to top universities, a practice which was long followed by Harvard and was recently extended to East Asians. However, it was in 20th-century Germany that envy of Jews reached fever-pitch, with university professors and students eagerly supporting Adolf Hitler’s attempt to rid the world of them all.

For many years, Jews were the favourite target of Christian potentates and mobs who accused them of killing Jesus, a charge that was hardly ever levelled against the descendants of the Romans. When theological pretexts for mass murder went out of fashion in Europe, they were replaced by allegedly scientific ones involving race. In some places, their desire to integrate raised hackles, as did their refusal to do so completely by abandoning all their beliefs.

Not having a national homeland and therefore being “rootless cosmopolitans” was often held against them; since 1948, possessing one in a region otherwise dominated by Muslims has been used against them by many who never lose a night’s sleep worrying about the terrible fate of the huge numbers of believers being killed every day by their coreligionists in Syria, Yemen, Sudan and many other countries.

As a result of the barbarous onslaught by the Jihadists of Hamas – who on October 7 butchered over a thousand Israelis, raping the women and then mutilating their corpses, put babies in ovens and kidnapped hundreds of people as hostages – Western countries have been swept by a tidal wave of anti-Semitism. This may seem contradictory, but even before the Israelis retaliated, some university professors in the United States, accompanied by gangs of student activists, gleefully celebrated the murderous pogrom which they described as the logical reaction of an oppressed people that had been “colonised” by white settlers who, according to them, had established a pitiless “apartheid” regime.

For such individuals, the pogrom – the worst since the holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis – was just another episode in the ongoing struggle between “people of colour” and a hateful racist tyranny; they overlook the fact that half the population of Israel has its origin in Jews expelled from Muslim countries and are racially indistinguishable from their former neighbours. As for “apartheid,” it is nonsensical to attach this epithet to a nation state in which members of the Arab minority, who enjoy more freedom than those living in any other Middle Eastern country, sit not just in the parliament – the Knesset – but also on the Supreme Court.    

In the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union, Jews now fear far more for their future than they did at any time in the recent past. In some countries, this can be attributed to the sharp increase of the Mulsim population whose often self-appointed leaders have led huge public demonstrations calling for an end to “genocide” in Gaza.

Politicians throughout the West have wavered between trying to appease them by saying they too are worried by the alleged excesses of the Israeli Armed Forces – which are waging war on an enemy which uses civilians as “human shields” and is more than happy to let them die because they know it will help their cause – and their recognition of Israel’s right to defend herself against a savage genocidal foe that openly declares itself determined to slaughter every Jew it can get its hands on. In countries under the sway of anti-Zionist and, in some cases, anti-Semitic politicians such as Spain, Ireland and Norway, governments openly back those who share the Iranian theocrats’ desire to hasten the destruction of the world’s one Jewish State by confronting it now with yet another specifically Muslim one that would make the elimination of the “Zionist entity” its top priority. Needless to say, Hamas leaders can take it for granted that it was thanks to them that those European governments decided to strike a blow against Israel.  

Even more disturbing than Muslim rage against Jews, is the spread of anti-Semitism among the college population in the United States and, to a lesser extent, in other parts of the world. Many take this to be yet another symptom of a deep malaise that is afflicting most Western countries, a feeling that almost any alternative, even one as uninviting as that represented by Jihadists, would be better than the current status quo. They point out that, in the years that followed World War I, a similar mood among the young made it possible for murderous cults such as Fascism, Nazism and Communism to thrive and prepare the way for the horrendous bloodbath that soon followed. For those who fear something like this could happen again, the Jews are “the canary in the mine” and countries which let them come under attack risk facing a terrifying future.

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James Neilson

James Neilson

Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1979-1986).

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