What is anti-Semitism today and how did it start?

What is anti-Semitism today and how did it start?

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A recent editorial in The New York Times decried a blatant act of anti-Semitism in Europe. Fans in a major soccer stadium in Holland chanted “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas,” and “Jews burn the best.” The home team, FC Utrecht, subsequently apologized for the outrage that occurred in a game against Ajax Amsterdam on April 5, but just imagine how someone Jewish in the stands might feel in the midst of those shocking outcries.

Worse, it was not an isolated incident. Kick It Out, a British watchdog organization, has reported that there were 59 instances of anti-Semitic slurs in the first half of the English Premier League soccer season, with chants of “Yids” and “Kill the Jews” at games.

According to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a human rights organization, there seems to be a new alliance between neo-Nazis and jihadists. After the terrible consequences of anti-Semitism in Europe in the previous century, it is hard to believe such bigotry still exists, much less is alive and flourishing for the rest of the world to witness.

What is anti-Semitism today and how did it start?

According to columnist David Brooks, there are three strains of anti-Semitism circulating now. The first is in the Middle East, where it feels like “a deranged theoretical system for making sense of a world gone astray,” according to Brooks. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, calls Israel the “sinister, unclean rabid dog of the region,” whose leaders “look like beasts and cannot be called human.” Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani “reinstated a conference of Holocaust deniers and anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists,” who propagate the usual conspiracist idiocy about Jews drinking the blood of non-Jews and spraying pesticides across arable lands.

“This sort of anti-Semitism thrives where there aren’t that many Jews,” according to Brooks. “The Jew is not a person but an idea, a unique carrier of transcendent evil: a pollution, a stain, a dark force responsible for the failures of others, the unconscious shame and primeval urges they feel in themselves, and everything that needs explaining. This is a … flight from reality even in otherwise sophisticated people.”

Incredibly it can be a part of the architecture of society and taught repeatedly in some madrassas or schools to children. “It cannot be reasoned away,” said Brooks, “because it doesn’t exist on the level of reason.”

“In Europe,” Brooks continued, “anti-Semitism looks like a response to alienation. It’s particularly high where unemployment is rampant. … The plague of violence is fueled by young Islamic men with no respect and no place to go.” Brooks goes on to say that thousands of Jews a year are fleeing Europe. The echoes of terrors throughout past centuries are nipping at their heels.

In the United States, which Brooks pronounced “an astonishingly non-anti-Semitic place,” nonetheless there is rising tide of anti-Semitism, especially on college campuses, with its basis seemingly in Israel’s policies toward Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. But why the policies of Israel should reflect on Jews in America any more than policies in Ireland reflected on the Irish in Boston, or the discriminatory and shameful treatment of Japanese Americans interned during World War II should have ensued, is simply bigotry. And anti-Semitism is a particularly virulent form of bigotry whose dark underside is hatred leading to violence and even extinction.

History is filled with brutal examples including the pogroms, which preceded the First Crusade in 1096; the expulsion from England in 1290; the persecutions of the Spanish Inquisition and expulsion from Spain in 1492; the Cossack massacres in Ukraine, 1648-57; the pogroms in Imperial Russia between 1821-1906; the Dreyfus affair in France, 1894-1906; and the more recent horrors of the 20th century, just for a historical overview. It’s an evil virus that sometimes hides but does not die.

Brooks suggested that the best response is confrontation, arousing the “brave and decent people” to take “a page from Gandhi” and stage demonstrations, as laws and governments reign in even the smallest assaults.

“Disturb the consciences of the good people. … Confrontational nonviolence is the historically proven method to isolate and delegitimize social evil.” Is that enough?

We seem to have conquered or, at least, mitigated the virus causing AIDS. Perhaps against this form of racism, we can together do the same?