My dad’s politics is emotional.
My sister and I used to take advantage of this trait by toying with him over Shabbat dinner with political arguments, just to see him turn redder and redder as he ranted. Somehow, most things eventually led to antisemitism and then to the Holocaust.
My dad grew up in the Orthodox community of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. Most of his friends were children of Holocaust survivors. He and the other kids would whisper to each secrets about the parents who made it through Auschwitz, fled to the Soviet Union or dug a hole in the ground in the forest and powered through snowstorms and fires. My grandfather wasn’t a survivor, but he was beaten up by Nazis many times, before his family managed a last-minute escape in 1938.
Today, my dad thinks that his kids do not consider the threats of antisemitism seriously enough. We were born and raised in Jerusalem, and although my friend Uri’s grandmother was a Holocaust survivor, it was a rarity. We were not raised among survivors. We were taught Jewish European history in school, and the Holocaust was integral in our education, but during the nineties, buses were more of a potential threat than showers. In other words, as my father says, there is a generational thing going on about the attitude toward antisemitism.
Two weeks ago, on Friday, my dad took me out for lunch at the famous downtown Pinati restaurant. After we had eaten and the plates were removed, the conversation that started with politics turned to antisemitism, and my dad confessed, “When I was a kid, I thought that after the Holocaust antisemitism would be wiped out, that the lesson would be learned.”
His sadness was overwhelming, striking, even. It lingered with me for several more days.
UNLIKE MY dad, I never thought antisemitism is a thing of the past. The particular political rhetoric of antisemitism describes a group of people who pretend to be part of society but are, in fact, conspiring to advance their own community at the expense of the well-being of the nation or even to take over the world. In some places, it’s coupled with the idea that the Jews are “poisoning” society. This rhetoric is political because it is used politically: the hatred toward the Jews is a way to satisfy public rage instead of dealing with real problems.
This hateful rhetoric runs through European history. The Jews were supposedly responsible for the Black Death; they supposedly baked matza with Christian blood, and stabbed Germany in the back in World War I by covertly cooperating with its enemies.
Middle Eastern antisemitism, which is very much informed by mainstream Western antisemitism, tells a similar story. A 2004 article written by Henan Akhmis, an official at the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, cites the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as the original protocols from the First Zionist Congress held in Basel in 1897. I personally saw the book in many bookshops in Jordan, Morocco and northern Iraq.
Middle Eastern antisemitism puts more weight on Israel and the culmination of the attempt for Jewish control, while in other parts of the globe, especially the US, the Jews are said to aim at realizing world domination through the banking system. But this is a matter of nuance; in Turkey, too, you could find books on how the Rothschilds are the world’s most successful manipulators, who behind the scenes run the world.
A contemporary antisemitic wave in the United States is thriving. As a Jerusalem Post editorial last month mentioned, quoting the ADL, “These aggressors are disproportionately likely to self-identify as Donald Trump supporters, conservatives or part of the alt-right, a loosely connected group of extremists, some of whom are white supremacists.”
This trend is also fueled by wild conspiracy theories. Many of those theories focus on presenting Jews as descendants of the Khazars, who supposedly converted to Judaism in the eighth or ninth century.
According to one conspiracy theory, the so-called Khazar Jews practice the Talmudic “Babylonian” law and were able to penetrate European and American societies and assume almost ultimate power through the banking system, the media, academia and the entertainment business. Another leitmotif of these theories is that Ashkenazi Jews are not authentic Jews, and that only Sephardim are of “real Jewish stock.”
The antisemitic conspiracy films floating about YouTube have names like “The House of Rothschild: Khazarian Mafia Pretending to Be Jews” or “Zionist Conspiracy a.k.a. Fake Jews (Synagogue of Satan).”
Today, my father’s hope that antisemitism is a thing of the past seems naive.
The world still has an antisemitism problem. But Jews as well are haunted by an antisemitism problem. The Jewish national movement, Zionism, aimed to fulfill a Jewish prophecy, a desire to return to Zion. Yet Zionism was also an answer to antisemitic threats by securing a country that would be safe for Jews. European culture during the birth of Zionism was awash with antisemitism, and as it often turns out, the victim inherited a grain of the aggressors’ mind-set, and the reverberations of antisemitism in Israeli society are deep.
By and large, secular Ashkenazi Zionists wanted to disengage from their Jewishness and become “new Jews” – Jews who are not as stereotypically Jewish as their parents. The negative stereotype of Jews has found its way to some secular Zionists, mostly in the struggle to shape Jews who aren’t “galuti,” who do not behave like Diaspora Jews. In some cases, immigrants to Palestine, and later to the State of Israel, who demonstrated visible Jewish features were forced or encouraged to abandon them. For instance, in 1950 a mission of Yemenite leaders complained to the Chief Rabbinate, saying that people from their community were subject to forcible shaving of their peyot (sidecurls) and beards by secular Zionists.
While antisemitic tendencies aren’t a sweeping trend of secular society, and while the younger generation of Israelis do not inherit these antisemitic tendencies, it is something to be seriously considered.
Some Israelis find symbols of Jewishness to be repulsive and threatening.
The first time I encountered this was when I was about five years old. My mom took me to a playground on a visit to Tel Aviv. When I had enough of playing, I saw that she was engaged in a conversation with a stranger. I came closer.
A woman was complaining, in a derogatory manner that is lodged in my mind to this day, that “the religious people are ruining the country.” My mom was uncharacteristically quiet.
After the woman left, I said, “Mom, couldn’t she see that I’m wearing a kippa?” “Ignore her,” my mom retorted, “she is a nutcase.”
The nuts never cease to surprise you.
When I was 17, I lunched at my first girlfriend’s house. They are good people, nice, open, friendly, and I still love them to pieces. At that age I didn’t wear my kippa anymore, which is perhaps why one of their guests felt comfortable to say the city is going from bad to worse.
I agreed, not having a clue what she was talking about. Then she explained: “I went to the movies the other day, and when the lights turned on you saw kippot everywhere. It’s horrible.”
It is horrible, and it is going from bad to worse.
ON FEBRUARY 8, Breaking the Silence was invited to speak at Barbur Gallery in Jerusalem’s Nahlaot neighborhood. The event provoked resistance from a long list of politicians, and Mayor Nir Barkat decided to shut down the gallery.
At the time of the event, two large groups showed up, one supporting the gallery’s right to invite Breaking the Silence, and the other demonstrating against the event and led by Lehava, a Jewish racist group that denounces marriages between Jewish women and non-Jewish, particularly Arab, men.
The group often occupies Jerusalem’s city center main square and intimidates Arabs through violence.
This time, however, Lehava supporters were protesting against other Jews.
Separated only by a human wall of cops, the tension between the groups was severe.
The people on Lehava’s side were calling the other group “traitors.” I asked some of the demonstrators what the punishment for treason is, and was answered, “death.” One person accused the organization of “giving IDF secrets to Hamas and the enemy.”
Breaking the Silence is an organization composed of former IDF soldiers who speak up about what they saw and did in the army. Up until now, they have proved to be rather reliable in their testimonies.
Implying that Breaking the Silence sells Israeli secrets to the enemy is a vicious lie. Breaking the Silence is as guilty of cooperating with Hamas as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is the authentic transcript from Basel, and as the Khazar Mafia is ruling the US. As Jews, we should think carefully before making false accusations of other people betraying the country and poisoning the public.
Antisemitic rhetoric often has to do with ethnic tensions. In the demonstration it was clear that many of the participants supporting Breaking the Silence’s right to speak were secular Ashkenazim, while the ones on Lehava’s side were mostly Mizrahim, with the exception of Ben-Zion (“Benzi”) Gopstein, American- born Baruch Marzel and a few other.
Gopstein and Marzel are students of American-born Rabbi Meir Kahane and are today leading this campaign of framing leftists as traitors.
WHEN THE demonstration was winding up, two older men standing next to me were speaking. One told his friend, “Ashkenazim, I’m telling you, aren’t real Jews.”
His friend quickly answered, “If that is so, what should I tell my children who are half Ashkenazi?” “Yes,” replied the first, “my grandkids are half Ashkenazi as well.”
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