Ending the Humiliation

When the muhtasib or his agent comes to collect the jizya, he should stand the dhimmi in front of him, slap him on the side of the neck and say: “Pay the jizya, unbeliever.” The  dhimmi will take his hand out of his pocket holding the jizya and present it to him with humility and submission. – al-Shayzari, The Book of the Islamic Market Inspector, quoted in Lindsey, Daily Life in the Medieval Islamic World, p. 121

The Jews Race typically had eight contestants, or sometimes 12, according to Cassiano. They would be required to run naked through the streets, covered only by a loincloth. On their forehead would be painted the letters SPQR, the abbreviation for the Latin Senatus Populusque Romanus, the official name of the city government, both ancient and modern.  Since Carnival is in February, it was cold, often wet, and frequently muddy. To make the race more arduous for the runners – and more entertaining for the public – the contestants would also often be required to gorge themselves before taking off, with the result being that sometimes they would vomit, or even collapse, during the race. The spectators were also permitted to throw rotten oranges and mud at the runners. – David B. Green, “1668: Pope puts a stop to Rome’s sadistic ‘Jews Race’.”

Examples of Jewish humiliation in the diaspora abound. In the Middle Ages in some parts of Europe, Jews were required to wear special pointed hats or badges, supposedly in order to “reduce the likelihood of sexual intercourse between Jews and non-Jews.” Later, in the 18th and 19th century, many countries limited where Jews could live, what professions they could practice, whether they could study at universities, own land, serve in the military, and so on. There were supposed justifications for some of these restrictions, such as protecting the opportunities available to “native” Europeans, but the effect was to always send the message that the Jews were morally inferior beings that deserved punishment. The Nazis publically humiliated Jews even before they began to systematically murder them. Photographs of Jews being paraded through the streets in a state of undress, being forced to clean gutters on their knees, and so on are common.

The antisemitism of the Christian world can perhaps be traced to the refusal of the Jew to accept the “good news” that the Mashiach had arrived. Among Muslims, it was their stubborn refusal to accept  Mohammed’s prophecy. Jews in 19th century  Morocco were forced to live in ghettos, and were required to go barefoot or wear shoes made of straw when walking outside of them. Muslim children threw stones at Jews as a matter of course. Like Europe, the treatment of Jews in the Muslim world was dependent on the whim of the ruler, sometimes being quite harsh and sometimes less so. But the inferior position of the Jews, based on Koranic principles, was no less evident than in the Christian world. And that often expressed itself in acts of humiliation.

I grew up in the US, where the kind of murderous Jew-hatred my grandparents experienced in the Russian Empire was mostly just a story. But when I did encounter antisemitism, it was always in essence the expression of the non-Jew’s need to demonstrate to the Jew, to bystanders, and to himself, the inferior social status of the Jew. In my grandparents’ day, Jews had no choice but to accept humiliation, because it was the price of avoiding far worse punishment – murder or rape could follow if the Jew resisted being put in his or her place.

Centuries of diaspora life habituated the Jewish people to humiliation. The founders of the state of Israel realized this, and the “New Jew” that they wished to create in Eretz Yisrael was a person who would no longer accept it. And in a Jewish state, a Jew wouldn’t have to choose between shame or death.

Of course there were times that it seemed that way, like when Ben Gurion decided to accept German reparations in order to finance the resettlement of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Holocaust, and in fact, refugees from the Arab world as well. Menachem Begin chose honor over practicality, and vehemently opposed the deal (to be fair, perhaps in addition to honor he preferred not to see all that money flowing into government and Histadrut-owned enterprises).

Unfortunately, it hasn’t been so easy to breed the tolerance for humiliation out of the Jewish people, even in a Jewish state. When someone treats us unjustly, we often prefer to just take it rather than to stand up for ourselves. This attitude continues to surface in relations between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, as well as our old nemeses in Europe.

The most important issue toward the Palestinians is the question of sovereignty in Jerusalem and over the Temple Mount and other sites. They understand very well that Jerusalem is the spiritual center of the country, and they keep pushing to make the Mount a no-go zone for Jews. “Who needs that Vatican?” said Moshe Dayan, but he failed to see that it is important not just as a religious symbol, but as proof that the roots of the Jewish people are here in the land of Israel, in our capital. Over time, we’ve allowed fear of “disturbances” and foreign pressure to force us to give up, little by little, the practical control of the Mount and eastern Jerusalem that we won at great cost in 1967. Our collapse over the installation of metal detectors may have been the low point.

But lately there have been some bright spots, like the demolition of illegally-built structures in the southeastern part of the city, and the excavation of the City of David despite Palestinian objections. I hope that these are demonstrations of a new seriousness and not just pre-election posturing.

Things are as bad or worse in our relationship with the European Union. It and its members, particularly Germany (!) have been trampling on our sovereignty by funding illegal Palestinian construction in Area C, the part of Judea/Samaria that is supposed to be under full Israeli control – including matters of zoning and construction. They support left-wing “Israeli” NGOs which intervene in our politics, try to embarrass the IDF in the territories, and harass the government and IDF with frivolous “lawfare.” We have taken only the mildest steps to rein them in.

Until President Trump came along, the US Department of State maintained the absurd fiction that no part of Jerusalem belonged to Israel, despite the fact that it had been the seat of our government since the founding of the state. No other country has been denied the right to determine its own capital, and if Trump had done nothing else for Israel (and he’s done a great deal), he would be remembered for ending the long humiliation that was foisted on us from the very beginning of the state.

The Arabs and Europeans are not forcing us to clean streets on our knees like the Nazis, but by ignoring our sovereignty over the land, especially in our capital, they are reaffirming their belief – both the Muslim and Christian versions – that Jews do not have the same rights as others. Like the demeaning jizya  payment and associated slap, their actions both punish us in a practical sense and humiliate us. But we are out of the diaspora and back in our home, where we do not have to accept humiliation. Both Ben Gurion and Begin understood that. I wonder about today’s leaders.

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