COVID-19 Gives Way to Another Outbreak of the anti-Semitism Virus. We Need a Cure

Yehuda Bauer
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"The Triumph of Death" by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, c. 1562.Credit: Museo del Prado / Wikimedia Commons
Yehuda Bauer

Of course, the history of Jew hatred began before Christianity, in the Hellenistic period if not earlier. I believe its origins lie in the difference between the developing Jewish culture and the “global” Hellenistic civilization that aspired to cultural, social and political unification within its territory. As the Book Esther (written by Jews, not by anti-Semites) says: For they do not follow the religion (i.e., the customs) of the king.

Haredi leaders learn harsh corona lesson as Israel sends in the troopsCredit: Haaretz

The deification of the ruler-monarch and the worship of gods could not be accepted by the Jews. Christianity, and later Islam, deepened this polarization.

Nazi anti-Semitism was also a continuation and mutation of Jew hatred that made it the central political motif at a time when nationalism was evolving into racism in the latter half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th. Nazism and its legacy, including the anti-Semitism of radical Islam, continue to this day. Anti-Semitism has become a basic phenomenon of modern society.

However, it seems that another important catalyst has been added in recent years. It’s happening against the backdrop of a catastrophic decline in the birthrate in developed societies – in places like China, Japan, Russia, Europe and North America. The average birthrate in these countries stands at 1.6 to 1.7 per woman. (The minimum necessary to guarantee demographic stability is 2.1.) In China it’s 1.6, in Germany and the United States it’s between 1.6 and 1.7, in Russia it’s even lower and in Italy it’s 1.4. The exception is Israel, where the rate is 3.1.

Consider Poland. According to the EU, by 2040 its population will shrink to 28 or 29 million from the current 38 million. The result is an aging population, and a contraction of the workforce for sustaining the current standard of living. To maintain it, immigration will be necessary; the use of robotics in manufacturing isn’t enough.

The high birthrate in Africa and the political-military-social crises in the Middle East, Latin America and to a certain extent in Ukraine could continue to provide the missing workforce, at least in part. Here is where the refugee problem comes in. Refugees come from different, sometimes opposing cultures. There is no avoiding this immigration; it’s vital to many countries.

Nationalism and maximizing profits

Yet the response has been Pavlovian: Many people in all developed countries strongly object to this invasion that threatens to alter the traditional nature of the local cultures. The fact that these “traditional” cultures were also created by immigration centuries earlier, because the human race has historically been a migrating race, makes no difference.

This has led to the rise of nationalist right-wing (and radical leftist) forces. The result is a nationalist insularity and attempts at autarky, combined with the tremendous increase in the power of multinational corporations (including media companies) that to one degree or another use the local nationalism for their needs. And their need is to maximize profits.

In other words, with the rise of nationalism there is also a rise in racism, and in the West the spearhead is anti-Semitism, of which the Nazi case (which still persists) is a continuation of the earlier forms of anti-Semitism. It’s also a mutation caused at least in part by the factors listed above. And remember, this is happening against a rich historical backdrop of Jew hatred.

In recent weeks, the Jews have increasingly been accused of inventing and spreading the coronavirus. The United States is often accused of being involved in the same crime.

Of many such assertions in Middle Eastern media, here’s one example. As’ad al-Azouni, a Jordanian journalist, wrote on the Donia al-Watan website on March 16 that “this virus is unquestionably a result of the secret Jewish hatred for the whole world.” He writes that “when the Jews caused the outbreak of World War I, they got the Balfour Declaration” and when they “caused” the outbreak of World War II, they got their “colony” in Palestine and “now they want to cause the outbreak of World War III so they can declare the establishment of the Kingdom of Greater Israel.”

We’ve gone right back to the Black Death of 1348, which the Jews were accused of causing and spreading. The arguments are the same.

Social media to the rescue

What can be done? First, there is no way the Jews can wage an effective battle against anti-Semitism on their own. There are about 13 million Jews in the world (depending on who’s counting and how they’re counting) out of billions of people.

Granted, polytheistic societies are virtually free of this illness because the essence of what is mistakenly called monotheism is that if you don’t believe what I believe you will burn in hell for eternity. Polytheism doesn’t have this element. Most of humanity is not monotheistic, but in civilizations where anti-Semitism flourishes, whose ideological origin is “monotheistic” – i.e., in Christianity and Islam – Jews need allies. Who are the potential allies?

First, it is of note that in the cultures based on the Christian heritage, no governments publicly support anti-Semitism, and this is, rightly, being exploited by organizations and governments, both Jewish and non-Jewish. The latter are working on legislation and educational initiatives that, while important, are clearly insufficient. The Catholic Church – or more precisely, its leaders – have been another ally since Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council of 1965. The liberal forces in these countries – which stand between members of the right and far-left (such as Jeremy Corbyn) – are also on this list.

Another way could be built on the legacy and memory of World War II. Of course, the Holocaust was a German operation, but it couldn’t have “succeeded” without other European countries’ extensive collaboration with the Nazis. Still, the war was waged by the Nazis – in large part, perhaps primarily, due to an ideology centered around the belief that global Jewry was taking over the world. This ideology, when translated into political action, also cost the lives of millions of non-Jewish victims during World War II.

Efforts to combat anti-Semitism that emphasize anti-Semitism’s danger to non-Jews are crucial. In this way, (anti-)social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram should be used for a campaign against anti-Semitism. A stable of websites should be created to call out anti-Semites as enemies of mankind, traitors to their homeland, and de facto murderers. The current policy of defending the Jewish people’s reputation – nonsense like “look how nice we are and how many Jewish Nobel laureates there are” (who cares?) – is ineffective.

Thus we need intelligent planning for an aggressive “anti-anti-Semitism” response on the internet, based on defining anti-Semites as a threat to the very survival of non-Jewish societies. Ultimately, a majority of the victims of Nazism, which was built on an ideology centered around anti-Semitism, were non-Jews – about 29 million by my estimate, including millions of Germans who died in World War II. The rest is commentary.

Yehuda Bauer is a professor emeritus of Holocaust studies at Hebrew University.