Friday, January 16, 2009

Judenfressers: The Oldest Hatred

I have written about the current Israeli war with Hamas twice on this blog. The entries are:

They Wanted War and Unknowing Propagandists for Iran. In both of these entries I discussed the moral justification for the war, and also who is really behind the terrorists groups Hamas and Hezbollah. Yesterday, I ran into several more discussions, including a talk given by John Lewis, that clearly lay out Israel's right to defend her citizens, and an Objectivist way to think about the moral issues of making war on terrorists. An excellent analysis on the topic of responding to terrorist is Dr. Lewis' No Substitute for Victory.

This week, as the war in Gaza continues, my attention has turned to another issue, the incidents of antisemitic speech and action that have begun to surface here in the United States and in Europe, during rallies in support of Hamas.

We have seen increasingly ugly incidents, including the firebombing of synagogues in Europe, the expulsion of Jewish children from schools in Finland, and calls for Jews to "go back to the ovens!" in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The hatred of Jews, which is perhaps the world's oldest ethnic and religious prejudice, has been the organizing principle of many of these ostensible protests of Israel's defense of her borders and her citizens. We are told over and over again, that anti-Zionism is not the same thing as antisemitism. This assertion is shown as a lie by the words on signs and banners equating Zionism with racism and with Naziism, the holocaust denial, the shouted words, and the destruction of Jewish property and lives worldwide, all excused as "protest". These protests are not in response to a particular action of the State of Israel. Rather, they are in opposition to very existence of Israel as a nation-state. Further, they are not attacks on policies, nor are they only attacks on Israel, they are attacks on all Jews.

Modern antisemitism has its origins in 19th century Europe, and Germany and Autria were the center of the spreading poison. The German version of the word antisemitism was coined by Wilhelm Marr, the man who founded the Antisemitic League. His writing later influenced Hitler and the National Socialist (Nazi) movement. Some historians suggest that modern antisemitism differs from European Christian Jew-hatred in that it is directed against Jews as a people or a race, rather than against the Jewish religion. However, the Spanish concept of Limpieza--pure-blood--that differentiated between Christians of Spanish descent and the Conversos, who were Christians of Jewish descent, indicates that this concept had been around well before the 19th century.

Christian antisemitism began in the Christian scriptures, many of which depict Jews as responsible for the murder of Jesus, and the martyrdom of his followers. It was institutionalized in Christianity after the council of Nicea, and the first anti-Jew laws in the Christian Roman Empire were codified by the Emperor Justinian. The early Christian church (east and west) was particularly concerned about Judaizing--the act of bringing Jewish practices into Christianity--and virulent Jew-hatred can be found in the writings of many of the desert fathers and early Christian theologians, such as Justin Martyr, John Chrysostom, and later, Augustine. The idea that Jews were collectively responsible, apparently across space and time, for the crucifixion of Jesus; and that they reject the deity-status of Jesus as the Christ, led to the concept of deicide, the idea that Jews killed a god.

Islamic hatred of Jews has its origins in the Koran and the Hadith (tales of Mohammed). When Mohammed lost tribal battles in Mecca and fled to Medina, the Jews were the first to give him hospitality, but later, when they refused to accept him as a prophet, they were accused of spying for his enemies, and whole tribes of Arabian Jews were murdered in the name of the prophet and Islam. Although the application of collective responsibility against Jews is clearly stated in some early Islamic texts, however, the hatred of Jews as purveyors of some cosmic evil (akin to the Christian charges of deicide) was institutionalized in the 19th century, at about the same time as modern European antisemitism. Nevertheless, the Koran itself clearly gives Islam justification for killing Jews only because they are Jews.

There are many reasons given, historical, social, and psychological, for why Jews are hated world-wide, and why antisemitism exists, even in places where there are no Jews. However, the basis for anti-semitism is always the concept of collective responsibility.
Antisemitic speech and behavior always assumes that all Jews are responsible for the ideas and actions of any other Jew, and individual differences among Jews are always discounted.

This idea of collective responsibility is profoundly anti-Western and anti-modern. This is why it is very troubling to observe it being applied in Western Europe and the United States, as antisemitic speech rears its ugly head yet again in response to this war. To fully understand why this is happening, it is important to remember that the concept of Jihad in Islam has its origins in the herem, the ancient Middle Eastern concept of Holy War. Jihad is fulfilled in the spread of Islam by force across the whole earth, until everyone either submits and accepts Islam, or becomes a dhimmi-- a second-class citizen with no rights in Islamic society. This is the goal of Islamic terrorist organizations such as Al Quaida, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad. This culture of Islamization by the sword is diametrically opposed to Western concepts such as the Rule of Law and Individual Rights. Driving the Jews into the sea, which is the stated goal of Hamas, or wiping Israel off the face of the map, as Achmadinijad threatens to do, is only the beginning of the radical Islamists agenda to destroy the West.

The response to the Israeli war against Hamas is telling, as protests against it become attacks on Israel, and finally, attacks on Jews.

The bottom line here is that the State of Israel is being singled out in a way that no other modern state has, as a state that must justify its right to exist. (See for example, Mark Steyn's essay A Spreading Sickness ; the essay compares responses to Pakistan's creation with that of Israel). Why is Israel singled out this way? Because it is the Jewish state.

Prior to Marr's coining of the term 'antisemitism', Jew-haters in 19th century Germany and Austria were called Judenfressers, which literally means Jew-eaters; the sense of the term is that these are people who get their spiritual sustenance, their sense of themselves, from their hatred of Jews. As I watched footage that showed the transition of some of these protest rallies into anti-Israel rallies and then into antisemitic rallies, I realized that we are seeing the return of the Judenfressers, in a still more modern guise. And it is particularly disturbing to see this happening once again in Europe, a place that many Holocaust survivors call barbaric, although it is the seat of Western Civilization. It is even more depressing to see Westerners, and particularly Americans, join in the feeding frenzy.

I wonder if Medinat Yisrael, the State of Israel, will ever be considered a nation-state like any other?

I fear for the State of Israel. Israel is a Western democracy that espouses, however imperfectly, the value each individual life, and recognizes Individual Rights and the Rule of Law. In a very short period Israel has established a modern society, high technology, and made the desert bloom, all due to adherence to these Western principles.

I fear for the people Israel, who are again coming under attack worldwide for no other reason than that they are Jews. A small people, granted status as a world religion, more for our influence on the West than for numbers, Jews have bequeathed much to world civilization; a historical perspective, the concept of personal responsibility, the idea that time has direction, are among many other ideas.

And I fear even more for the survival of the principles and values of Western Civilization. When I see American and European young people marching in support of Hamas, using their free speech to subvert free speech, I see the fruit of two generations who have not been educated to understand and respect the achievements of the civilization that gave them their liberty.

I fear that by dishonoring our Western heritage, we have sown the wind, and will reap the whirlwind.

Edited: 1/17/09 for spelling and clarity.

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