Antisemitism didn't start with Christianity, but with idol worshipers - historian

Prof. Yehuda Bauer: While antisemitism endangers Jews, it also endangers society as a whole, he asserted. World War II was the result of antisemitic ideology. It broke out because of hatred of Jews.

(photo credit: SHAHAR AZRAN)

Antisemitism is one of the oldest ongoing hatreds in the world and it didn’t start with Christianity, according to noted historian Professor Yehuda Bauer. It started long before that. They hated Jews because they were different, worshipping a single God that no-one could see, when most people still worshipped idols.

Bauer was speaking at the Vert Hotel in Jerusalem on Tuesday night at a dinner hosted by the World Jewish Congress and the Israel Council on Foreign Relations on the eve of the SECCA (Special Envoys and Coordinators Combating Antisemitism) forum, hosted by the WJC, in cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the European Commission. The forum was timed to coincide with Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Still feisty at age 96, Bauer, speaking with passion, said there had been no antisemitism in China or India where Jews were regarded as just another group, but there was a lot of antisemitism in Europe and America despite the fact that Jews, who currently number around 15 million people, are just a tiny part of the world’s population.

While antisemitism endangers Jews, it also endangers society as a whole, he asserted. World War II was the result of antisemitic ideology. It broke out because of hatred of Jews. Altogether, 29 million people were killed in that war, declared Bauer.

“Is that not a good reason to oppose antisemitism?” he asked, as he reiterated that antisemitism is dangerous not just to a small, Jewish minority but to the world. It is no longer limited to Europe, he said. “Antisemitism is a global issue.” Because so much antisemitism is expressed through electronic media, Bauer proposed that electronic media be used to identify antisemites, and not just for the sake of protecting Jews.

 Social media: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, TikTok (credit: Courtesy) Social media: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, TikTok (credit: Courtesy)

“An attack on Jews is an attack on society,” he stated. “Don’t look at an attack on a synagogue or on some Jew (as dangerous). Look on it as an attack on humanity,” he urged. “We are fighting against the illiberal trend that controls the world more and more.”

Prior to Bauer’s address, for which he received a standing ovation, guests were welcomed by ICFR President, Dan Meridor, a former cabinet secretary, MK and minister, said that antisemitism is not just the fight of Jews. It is often a fight by national and internal parties who are in a competition of interests versus values. Too often, it’s interests rather than values, as can be seen in the war in Ukraine, said Meridor. “Antisemitism is part of that huge fight.”

Following Meridor was Minister for Social Equality Meirav Cohen, who speaks excellent, almost unaccented English. While the Knesset is in the throes of an upheaval with people rebelling against their parties or being expelled from them, Cohen publicly asked Meridor to return to the government, which he left in 2013.

Speaking of her meetings with Holocaust survivors, Cohen said that the stories they tell her, remind her of the shortcomings of individuals and nations. “If we forget what happened 80 years ago, we share the moral responsibility for all atrocities in the world,” she said.

Among the people attending the dinner, were Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews; Katharina von Schnurbein, European Commission coordinator on combating antisemitism; Miguel Moratinos, high representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), a former foreign minister of Spain and a former ambassador of Spain to Israel; Ambassador Colette Avital, who is a member of the Boards of WJC -Israel/ICFR and chair of the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel; Nazi hunter and historian Efraim Zuroff, who is the director of the Simon Wiesenthal office in Jerusalem, and international human rights activist and former Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler who later tweeted: “Pleased to participate in the International Meeting of Special Envoys and Coordinators Combating Antisemitism, which begins in Jerusalem today.”

Meeting on the eve of Yom HaShoah – an important moment of remembrance, reminder and learning from and acting upon the universal lessons of the Holocaust - I look forward to engaging with my colleagues about how best to preserve and protect Holocaust Remembrance, and to combat global antisemitism.

Forum participants came from diverse nations on six continents, as well as from key international bodies, such as the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, UNESCO, the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the Organization of American States (OAS).

Among the subjects they discussed over the next two days was Holocaust distortion, which has become a matter of increasing concern.

SECCA first met in Bucharest in June 2019, under the patronage and with the participation of the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, in cooperation with the WJC. In October 2019, the WJC Executive Committee adopted a resolution confirming that the WJC would regularly convene international meetings of SECCA.

Also attending the dinner was Ines Demiri, the Charge d’Affaires at the embassy of Kosovo, which is the only European Embassy in Jerusalem. Kosovo and Israel established diplomatic relations just over two years ago, in the immediate aftermath of Kosovo’s independence, and the embassy in Jerusalem was opened soon after.

Demiri, who had been working on Israel-related issues for more than a decade, was chosen to head the embassy, albeit not as ambassador, though in Israel she has been unofficially given the title, if not the rank. She loves Jerusalem and she loves Israel. “It’s not just my profession, it’s my passion,” she says.