One of the conundrums associated with the enduring nature of global
anti-Semitism which has soared exponentially in recent years is why, having made
such disproportionate contributions towards all levels of civilization and left
major imprints on science, ethics, medicine, culture and the arts, we Jews
continue to act as a magnet for such virulent hatred.
Equally bizarre is
the failure of formerly oppressed groups and nations to reciprocate or even
acknowledge the extraordinary Jewish contributions in support of their struggles
towards overcoming persecution, discrimination, abuse of human rights and
This is typified by the fact that whereas there
is no American group comparable to the Jews who sacrificed so much to help
African-Americans to overcome racial discrimination and their struggle for civil
rights, ironically, today they are amongst the foremost US racial or ethnic
groups promoting anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism.
The recent loathsome
outburst by the African-American writer Alice Walker, who sought to prohibit her
novel – relating to racism – from being translated into Hebrew, typifies
Walker’s demonization of Israel even extended to accusing Israel of
practicing “racism” in a more extreme manner than was the case in apartheid
South Africa. This is all the more perverse because aside from being the only
free and democratic society in the region, the Jewish state probably also
comprises the greatest mélange of racial groups in the world committed to
The same criticism would apply to the current South African
government, which is today bitterly anti-Israeli despite the fact that
individual South African Jews were at the vanguard of the struggle against
apartheid, many having been forced to leave the country during the apartheid
Even Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whose anti-Israeli outbursts have
now morphed into vulgar populist anti-Jewish diatribes, conceded that “in our
struggle against apartheid, the greatest supporters were the Jewish
people....They almost instinctively had to be on the side of the
disenfranchised, of the voiceless ones.”
But in the same breath he paved
the way for his government’s recent anti- Israeli initiatives by calling for
divestment from Israel which “has oppressed more than the apartheid ideologues
could ever dream about in South Africa” and descends into primitive
anti-Semitism referring to Jews as “a peculiar people” who “once oppressed and
killed” are now “empowered”, and “refuse to listen and disobey
Similar attitudes prevail amongst a number of Third World leaders.
I will never forget a meeting in New Delhi in 1981 with the late Indian
president, Indira Gandhi, in which she erupted in a frenzied anti-Israeli
outburst laced with rage against “international Jewish power”– which she claimed
was responsible for having turned the US against India.
In response to my
rejoinder, she conceded that when her family were in England, the majority of
their closest friends were British Jews who passionately supported their
struggle against colonialism and efforts to achieve independence. Yet, this in
no way mitigated her hatred against Israel or her conspiratorial fantasies about
international Jewish power.
History records the numerous misguided Jewish
idealists in Europe and the United States who, in the 1930s, abandoned Judaism
and Zionism and devoted their lives towards promoting and even worshipping the
false messianic cause of communism. Even distant members of my own family in
prewar Belgium, in their passionate desire to combat Nazism, relinquished their
Jewish heritage and in 1936, needlessly sacrificed their lives for Stalin on the
battlefields of Spain.
Yet these same Jewish communists who, out of a
misplaced exclusive commitment to universalism, devoted their lives to
fanatically serving an evil totalitarian system, subsequently themselves became
victims of the anti- Semitic purges and bogus trials initiated by Stalin in the
late 1930s, the murder of the Jewish writers in 1948, which culminated with the
infamous 1952 Moscow Doctors’ plot.
These initiatives, unquestionably
motivated by feral anti-Semitism, would probably have resulted in massive
deportations of Jews to the Gulag were it not for Stalin’s timely demise in
There are Jews today who still maintain that the universalist
tradition in Judaism obliges us to set aside our own “parochial” Jewish
interests and in order to concentrate exclusively on making the world a better
place by combating injustice.
Yet in reality, the alleged tension between
the Jewish role in maintaining itself as a particularistic nation and promoting
universalistic ethical values is often exaggerated and not mutually exclusive.
Abraham did not smash the idols and Moses did not struggle for his people’s
freedom in order to create a cult. They served the Jewish people but were also
providing messages of universal significance to humanity.
An example of
the fusion between both concepts is reflected in the oft quoted sentence from
Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers), “If I am not for myself who will be for
me?” But it is balanced by the following sentence, “And if I am only for myself,
what am I? And if not now, when?” There is thus every justification for us to
take pride in the actions of Jews who contributed towards tikkun olam –
repairing a fractured world – and making it a better place for
That many oppressed groups struggling for freedom, on whose
behalf we fought frequently at considerable personal cost, subsequently turned
against us, must not deter us from our universalistic obligations towards
humanity and ongoing commitment to promote justice and human rights.
viewing the world in today’s troubled times, we, the Jewish people who have
overcome powerlessness and miraculously regained nationhood, are obliged to
recognize that our overriding priority must be to safeguard ourselves against
those seeking to destroy us. In times of peril, it is both rational and
incumbent to focus on our families and our own people before attempting to
reform the world. By prioritizing the particularistic goals of defending and
securing the well-being of the Jewish State and the Jewish people against those
still seeking to fulfill Hitler’s objectives, we are ensuring that Jews will
survive. One of the by-products of this will enable us to continue as in the
past to contribute towards tikkun olam.
The writer’s website can be
viewed at www.wordfromjerusalem.com.
He may be contacted at