At Passover the Jews commemorate the defining historical event in their collective identity as a people: The Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt under the leadership of Moses and their Divinely-abetted freedom from slavery. “Why is this night different from all others?” asks the youngest child at the table, to be answered by a retelling of the well-known narrative from the Book of Exodus: How, at the climax of the Ten Plagues visited by the Hebrew God upon Egypt, the Israelites were instructed to mark their doors with lamb’s blood so that the Angel of Death would pass over their homes and slay only the first-born of the oppressors. Biblical chronologists date the events of the Exodus, give or take a few centuries either way, to c.1300 BC. But in the here and now, in AD 2015- in an unwelcoming climate of fear and suspicion- many Jews might be forgiven for thinking that their ancestors followed Dathan (the Reubenite who counselled surrender to Pharaoh), and not Moses, and returned to Egypt in chains.

Across Europe, antisemitism in its most predatory incarnation is once again in season, with Jews enduring full-spectrum hostility from a rattle bag coalition of the far right, the far left, and radical Islam, the more enthusiastic members of the latter openly targeting Jews for execution on the streets of European capitals. Jewish community leaders- like their predecessors in the medieval ghettos- advise the faithful to hide their Judaism when venturing out in public, and the default hostility- indifferently garlanded as anti-Zionism- at large in university campuses, on social media, and in popular discourse, is toxic. Many of the old racial-religious hatreds have been sublimated into a politicized hatred of Israel, a pariah polity uniquely culpable in the tribunal of global opinion, despised- and despised viscerally- simply because it exists. In a curious reboot of the New Testament doctrine of the Blood Guilt (all Jews are corporately responsible for the death of Christ), so all Jews now assume vicarious liability for the transgressions of the Jewish State.

The global preoccupation with Israel and its every action is informed always by a peculiar interest in the idea of the Jews as a nation of dedicated child-killers, a slander with an ignoble pedigree inextricably linked to the Passover ceremony itself. At Passover, the door is opened so that the Prophet Elijah may enter and take his place at table: But it’s worth noting that during the Middle Ages the door was also left open for more practical reasons, so that Gentiles could peer in and see for themselves that the celebrations didn’t involve the ritual sacrifice of Christian children. The western media’s gruesome fixation on Palestinian child casualties of the recent Gaza War- quite out of proportion to the reportage concerning the child casualties of other conflicts- may legitimately be interpreted as an attempt to tripwire this age-old obsession, a canard still widely accepted throughout the Arab world and always especially popular at Passover, when, according to the ancient rumours, the Jews mix the blood of Gentile children with their matzos (as recently as 2014, this calumny was stated as a matter of fact by Osama Hamdan, a member of the Hamas Politburo and a regular interviewee for the BBC).
Marx, it seems, needs revision. History repeats itself: First as tragedy, then, once again, as tragedy. It turns out this night is not so very different from all others after all. Antisemitism is still a powerful motive force throughout Europe and the Muslim world, Jewish blood is still being spilled into the gutters, Jews are still burdened by an inflexible prejudice simply because they are Jews, still fleeing persecution (Aliyah among European Jews is on the rise, and the fact that many Jews feel safer in Israel- a nation circumferenced by forces dedicated to its obliteration- than they do in London or Paris tells its own sorry story), still fretful at the sound of the approach of the enemy, a sound which has rung out from so many different instruments of death these past three thousand years: Whether the wheels of Egyptian chariots, the hooves of the Black Hundreds, the rumble of German tanks, gunfire on the streets of Paris and Copenhagen, or the whir of atomic centrifuges in Tehran. Not for nothing is the atmosphere of thanksgiving which underwrites the Passover ceremony tempered by a prophetic line recited from the Haggadah: “In every generation men will arise intent on our destruction.” If Passover is about anything it’s about that peculiarly Jewish combination of pessimism and perseverance: Profound gratitude for deliverance from one disaster, soured by the equally profound foreknowledge of those disasters yet to be endured. 

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