During the coronavirus outbreak, there have been a number of harsh, verbal stereotyping attacks on the ultra-Orthodox in Israel. These implicitly assume that all or most ultra-Orthodox neglect government orders to minimize the health risk and damage from the coronavirus. The statistics on illness in some ultra-Orthodox communities are substantially higher on a per thousand basis than in general Israeli society. Yet this only refers to a limited percentage of all ultra-Orthodox citizens.
In the US, sickness and casualties among ultra-Orthodox Jews are also higher than in society in general. One much publicized case of stereotyping took place when a Hasidic Jew was called to leave a Toyota service center in Goshen, New York, because he "was spreading the virus."
Avoiding stereotyping does not mean that one cannot or should not harshly condemn individual politicians and in particular rabbis who encourage their congregations to break government guidelines. Even those rabbis whose voices are not heard should be condemned where their followers usually consult their leaders about all major decisions. Nor is there anything wrong in applying stricter lockdown measures in areas with an above average number of infected.
Stereotyping is a primitive and often dangerous way of categorizing people’s actions based on the ethnicities and groups they belong to. This is based on major prejudice that has been going on for close to two millenia. Jews should be the last ones to use stereotypes. No other religion/people has suffered so much from stereotyping throughout history. By far, the longest-lasting attacks have come from the Christian world.
YET EVEN before Christian times, one already finds an extreme example of stereotyping in the Tanach. In the Book of Esther we read that Mordechai the Jew refused to kneel before Haman. Haman did not consider Mordechai a single, hostile individual to be punished. Instead, he stereotyped all Jews and asks the Persian King for permission to commit genocide against them.
In its anti-Jewish policies, Christianity developed what is perhaps the most evil, long-lasting stereotyping concept in history. Jews were held guilty throughout the centuries for the killing of Jesus, the alleged son of God. (Are people not born innocuous?) This was a radically false accusation. Even the few Jews who attended the process of Jesus could not condemn him to death. At that time only the Roman occupiers had that power, as well as that of execution.
There are still many tens of millions of Christians who believe this profound lie until today. A 2005 ADL poll in Europe asked whether the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. Some 19% of both the Swiss people and Belgians polled, as well as 21% of Danes, answered affirmatively.
A 2012 ADL poll in Europe asked the same question. It was found that among those polled, 18% of Austrians, 14% of Germans, 38% of Hungarians, 15% of Italians, 16% of Dutch, 19% of Norwegians, 46% of Poles, 21% of Spaniards and 18% in the United Kingdom believed this fallacy. In a 2011 ADL poll in Argentina, 22% also believed the Jews killed Jesus. An ADL study in 2013 found that 26% of Americans believe that Jews killed Jesus. Agreeing with this statement is a typical example of extreme antisemitism through stereotyping. It is a criminal belief.
The stereotyping of the Jews expanded through the ages. Iconic figures used by Jew-haters were Rothschild and the fictitious Shylock. Later, the Germans under Hitler stereotyped Jews as subhuman, insects and bacteria.
PLACING RESPONSIBILITY on one’s ethnicity throughout generations makes proper functioning of any civil society impossible. Rarely has this false, wide-ranging accusation been countered so sharply as it was by Israeli diplomat David Zohar. He was stationed in Norway a few decades ago and has long since retired.
Zohar tells the story of being invited to speak on Israel’s military strategy at the General Headquarters of the Norwegian army. During the question period, one of the generals asked why the Jews had “crucified our Lord.” Zohar asked the questioner what that had to do with the topic of his talk. The general replied that he had taken this opportunity to ask the question because the diplomat was the first Jew he had ever met and presumably could give an answer, since his ancestors were probably responsible. Zohar then suggested that the general call up the Italian ambassador, as he was likely to be a descendant of the Romans who had pronounced the verdict.
Not stereotyping the ultra-Orthodox is a guideline Jews should consistently follow. Or for that matter Israeli Arabs, or others. We know from an ADL study that 49% of Muslims in the world are antisemites, far more than Christians or secular people. Israel and its allies should not fall into the trap of generalization and stereotyping in the propaganda war against extreme incitement from large parts of the Muslim world.
Instead of blaming all Muslims, one should say that this extreme hatred occurs in widespread parts of the Muslim world. The generalized blaming of all Muslims can be observed in a number of racist political movements in Europe.
It is important that children in Israel be warned that stereotyping is a prejudice that can have disastrous consequences when left unhindered. Its historical use against Jews has had horrible consequences. Schools should therefore include this issue in their teaching curriculum.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is the emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He has received a Lifetime Achievement Award from The Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, an International Leadership Award from the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the International Lion of Judah Award from the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.