The accusation of Jewish arrogance and racism stemming from the "Chosen People" moniker, and the defense thereof, is hardly a new one. This annoyingly cyclical discussion has raced round its track for as long as Jews have been Jewish and sticks have been sticky. Whilst Jews have tried to find ways to explain their "choseness" as not being an issue of superiority or God’s favor, their detractors have painted the issue as a prime example of ethnocentrism and isolationism.
These detractors are, of course, right. "Choseness" is a trope that occurs through many cultures, races and religions, and it’s always nonsense. It is as hard to believe that a deity chose a small band of rag-tag former slaves in a desert to carry some special responsibility throughout the world, as it is to believe the Unification Church’s claim that Koreans are the chosen people, placed on earth to serve a divine mission, or the Rastafarian assertion that the Africans were chosen by God to be spiritually and physically supreme.
Clearly, all of these claims are attempts to create common empathy, to bind together a people and try to keep them free of outside influences. Yet, we see the Jewish concept of "choseness" routinely used as a (remarkably thin) veil for anti-Semitism. The huge number of Palestinians released in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange deal was lauded as an example of the greater value placed on Jewish life than all other forms (as if Israel was offered Gilad’s return for the release of one prisoner but said, “No thanks, we’d rather release 1,027 just to show you how little we care about you). The predominance of Jews in certain fields of employment leads to talk of, “Look how they favor each other; so insular” (because Jews couldn’t possibly have created a culture of education in their communities that led to a high number of professionals). All of these stereotypes attack the "otherness" of Jews, their separation which is, for so many, intrinsically linked to their "choseness".
The scariest thing about this type of anti-Semitism, as opposed to the classic "Jews have horns and are money grabbers" meme, is that it has such a strong basis in reality, which gives it an appearance of credence.
Jews, in general, do care more about Jewish life than that of non-Jews. Jews do favor each other in business and employment. Jews are far more interested in themselves than they are in others; this is undeniable. Social bindings, like the chosen people concept, have been highly effective in cementing Jewish isolationism and, dare I say, arrogance. Jews themselves are always talking about the disproportionate contributions that they make (Nobel prizes and the Israeli High-Tech sector are common outlets for this), and Jews never let you forget when a celebrity reveals some small trace of Jewish lineage.
The fallacy, and the real anti-Semitism, comes from those who believe that this is in some way unique to Jews when, in fact, everyone does it. The British care far more about British lives than they do Pakistani ones; the headline, "Flood in Pakistan, two Britons missing" is hardly unimaginable for a British newspaper’s front page. Many Americans have long resisted buying imported cars for fear of "trampling on American jobs." Even primates do it: chimpanzees protect companions that they know and that have helped them in the past. Even Soda and Gili, the two dogs that live my apartment, will share a water bowl with each other, but go nuts if another dog tries taking a sip.
We have a word for this attitude; reciprocity. It’s not arrogance, nor a question of superiority. It’s not a display of contempt for the other, nor hubris. It’s survival, and looking at history, it would be hard to begrudge Jews that one.
Josh Mintz is completing his degree in International Relations and Middle Eastern studies and is the communications director at Friend a Soldier, an NGO that encourages dialogue with IDF soldiers.
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