New clothes but old demons. European antisemitism from Christianity to progressive left wing milieu
Is there one root, and one infrastructure under the hatred of Israel, since the late 19th century, called antisemitism? Can we dare and raise such a question with regard to a phenomenon so prolonged in time and so diversified in its appearances and explanations – a human phenomenon which started as early as the charge of deicide, and which is present during a couple of thousands of years, as steady hatred in a changing world, and in a changing Europe: hatred and opposition to Jews among the followers of Christianity, hatred towards Jews in secular anti-Christian societies, and also hostility and discrimination towards Jews in liberal and left-wing circles. And along all of this, during hundreds of years, the Jews are also undergoing changes in many aspects and sociologically alternating and expanding their lifestyle, their occupations, their places of residence etc. Can we imagine any correlation between the early Church father Chrysostom, of the fourth century, who called the Jews “inveterate murderers, destroyers, men possessed by the devil”, to the French philosopher Voltaire, or between Martin Luther of the sixteenth century who called the Jews “the children of evil” to the Portuguese author and Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramango? In spite of the many centuries time gap between them, in spite of the vast cultural, social and moral differences between them, in spite of the fact that the Jews they knew were very different from those whom their pair partner encountered, all these personages share the same notions about the Jews. When I wish to identify and understand the structure of the infrastructure of the hatred of Israel, called antisemitism, I am actually relying upon a traditional Jewish conviction, which intuitively accepted the assumption that there is indeed one, eternal and permanent root, although it could not explain it. A decisive statement by Rabbi Simeon Bar-Yachai: “The religious law is: the hatred of Jacob is known”, was accepted as a general and inclusive popular determination regarding the hatred of Jews by the non-Jew as a regular and unchangeable phenomenon. This also is true of the verse that the Jews sing enthusiastically on Passover night – “and in each and every generation, they try to annihilate us” (“try” in present tense, not “tried” in past tense), which derives the basic assumption that the active hatred of Israel aspiring for annihilation (and the meaning here is more annihilation as people, as nation than physical annihilation) is everlasting hatred, which is handed down from generation to generation, under various circumstances and in different places. And even the continuation of the verse – “and God Almighty save us from them” presumes that even the rescue can be merely partial and temporary. It is not possible to essentially fix this thing, if God is required to “save” time and time again. In other words, even as far as the devoted follower is concerned, God does not have the power to cancel the hatred of Jews, but merely to save them, and even such rescue is only partial and generational. In seeking after common root, a mutual infrastructure, it seems to me that I am expressing the basic Jewish conviction, which in itself could not explain the essence of the antisemitic origins, yet regarded it to be steady factor of the human behaviour. This conviction has also fatally assumed that it would be impossible to annihilate this permanent infrastructure, and that it would always exist. In a certain tragic sense, antisemitism had become a highly important and most natural factor in establishing the Jewish identity, to the extent that the absence of antisemitism appears to many Jews as suspicious and unnatural phenomena. The traditional Jew often identifies the proper order of the world, when he/she also detects an active antisemitic element within it.
PublisherUniversitetet i Tromsø
University of Tromsø
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Copyright 2005 The Author(s)
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