72 years after Hitler’s suicide, the story of the Holocaust has lost its power to deter public expressions of Jew-hatred. In Europe and America, the extreme Right is not embarrassed to say, for example, that massive immigration from the Third World to Europe or from Mexico and Central America to the US is a Jewish plot, that Rothschild family interests still control the destiny of nations, or that all wars are fought to profit Jewish arms merchants. Meanwhile, the Left has pumped up its irrational anti-Zionism so high that one would have to be blind, deaf and stupid to fail to understand what is so “special” about Israel to prompt such hatred. And don’t forget the religious and culturally-based abomination of Jews that characterizes Muslims everywhere, which is more and more frequently finding violent expression.
Almost every day there is a new example in the news – a murder in France, an ugly celebrity tweet in the US, street harassment in the UK, and on and on. Students of Jewish history will not find this surprising. It is in part a list of times and places which were “good for the Jews” interspersed with persecutions, expulsions and genocide. Human civilization in general seems to be moving toward a dark period, and in particular the quality of life and social/political stability in America and Western Europe are rapidly declining. These places have been refuges for several generations of Jewish people – America has arguably been the site of a “golden age” for Jews since the end of WWII – but all historical situations come to an end, and the rapidity of change brought about by our advanced technology is bringing this one to an end sooner rather than later.
There has been a distinct Jewish people for as long as our historical memory. They have been expelled from their homeland and returned several times, but through the various times and places of exile, they have always maintained their self-consciousness as a nation. It’s not too abstract to talk about the collective consciousness of the Jewish people having a drive to survive, to find stability and peace, to be together with itself. The establishment of the Jewish state of Israel in 1948 is an expression of this “urge for being” that characterizes the Jewish people (and other peoples as well).
Jew-hatred is a force that is opposed to this. It wants to disperse the Jews, to weaken them, to kill them, to take away the stable ground from under their feet, to set the nations against them and to set them against one another. Its goal is to end, finally, the existence of a distinct Jewish people, to create a world in which no individual sees himself as a member of the Jewish nation.
It does this by persecuting Jews because of their Jewishness, so as to cause them to try to escape persecution by escaping their Jewishness. It creates fear and anxiety among Jews. It tries to associate Jewishness with undesirable characteristics, like weakness, immorality, and lack of social status. All forms of Jew-hatred, from the historical pogroms of Eastern Europe and Muslim countries, to today’s Islamic terrorism and street violence, and even the social pressure against pro-Israel students on American campuses, has the same objectives. If it can’t kill the Jews outright, it tries to kill their peoplehood.
We can look at the struggle with Jew-hatred as a struggle between the life force of the Jewish nation and its opposite.
Once we understand this, we understand how the various responses to Jew-hatred succeed or fail. In particular, assimilation is no less than surrender. Yes, you can stop suffering caused by Jew-hatred if you stop being Jewish. Change your name, practice another religion, intermarry. Maybe it will take a few generations – the Nazis and inquisitors of the world need proof that your Jewish identity is truly dead – but ultimately the thugs on the street will leave you alone. If that’s the solution that you want, if you want to save the Jew-hater the trouble of murdering you by killing the Jew inside of you, go ahead. You are already lost.
There is a form of partial assimilation that is popular today among American Jews. It goes like this:
- Proclaim that you are a proud Jew.
- At the same time, do not observe any of the commandments that historically distinguished Jews from the nations.
- Adopt a moral system whose fundamental premises are those of secular humanism. Let these premises override Torah commandments when they conflict.
- At the same time, insist that this is a Jewish moral system.
- Take the position that other things being equal, every human is equally valuable to you. Do not favor, for example, the rights of Jews over the rights of Palestinians.
- Assert that Israel is just another foreign country to you. Be ready to harshly criticize her for her relationship to the Palestinians, or for the Orthodox monopoly on Judaism, or for her actions in self-defense, or for the personality of her Prime Minister.
- Make common cause with Muslims because you are both victims of prejudice. You can ignore their hatred of Israel because it is just another foreign country.
Assimilation protects the individual against Jew-hatred (sometimes). But it works together with Jew-hatred against the survival of the Jewish people.
Traditional Diaspora Jewish communities which do not assimilate keep a low profile. They try to submit to non-Jewish authority with the minimum of compromises. They flourish in good times, and suffer in bad. Sometimes this policy is harmless, as in the US in recent times. Other times, as in Europe in the first half of the 20th century, it was disastrous. The Jewish leadership of the time and place opposed emigration until it was too late, trusting in Hashem to ultimately bring the Jewish people to the land of Israel. In fact, what happened to these communities decisively refuted this belief.
There is another historical response to Jew-hatred, and that is Zionism. Zionism (as understood by Jabotinsky, anyway) holds that the best way to protect the Jews against Jew-hatred is to establish a well-armed Jewish state which will guarantee its rights and the rights of the Jewish people by force if necessary.
Zionism tries to provide long-term stability and peace for the Jewish people in a place where they can express their Jewishness without fear of Jew-hatred. Naturally, this arouses the strongest possible reaction from Jew-haters of all kinds, in the Arab and Muslim world, in Europe and even in America. So it sometimes may seem that peace in Israel is in short supply, compared to currently quiet locations in the Diaspora. But this is deceptive. Peace in the Diaspora is always short-lived.
I am not expecting another Holocaust, not in America and probably not in Europe, although I am convinced that this particular golden age is coming to an end. Jewish life in the Diaspora will get worse before it gets better. But now is a special time, historically. The last time Jew-hatred peaked, the Jewish people had no options. Those who decided to stay put and those who wanted to escape but were unable to were both destroyed. Today there is a choice; there is a possibility to fight Jew-hatred and preserve the Jewish people in their homeland. There is a Jewish state with a Law of Return.
The option of aliyah could be uncomfortable or even dangerous. The forces arrayed against the Jewish nation are great. But as Emiliano Zapata (maybe) said, better to die on your feet than live on your knees.