What is anti-Semitism? The clearest, most obvious answer seems to be “hatred for all Jews,” but the truth is far more nuanced.
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Anti-Semitism is not only an act of hate. It is a myth that provides comfort and explanation in a confusing world. When the few control the many, there is a ready explanation. When it seems the world is in chaos, this narrative provides a warm, hateful blanket.
Most importantly, it is a myth that allows its believers to think they are the good guys. It is a myth in which the downtrodden are fighting against the mighty. Where a shadowy cult of evil is finally exposed for what it is and destroyed for the good of humanity.
When we think of anti-Semitism as just hate, as a personality trait as opposed to a story, we think it is something one has or does not have. They hate or they do not hate. They hate all Jews or they hate no Jews. That is not how hate works.
Hate is a parasite that makes its way into our minds and hearts slowly. One does not turn into a hateful person overnight. The narrative allows them to still consider themselves good people, better people. Since most people are not naturally hateful, the parasite needs such an opening to enter.
And so, anti-Semitism does not work all at once. It starts with hating some Jews, some of the time. And then it evolves. Anti-Semitism is a continuum. The problem is that we keep looking for people at the last stop instead of understanding the windy nature of narratives.
Myths change. And the new versions of anti-Semitism are different than the ones the Nazis told. They have evolved and found new ways to enter the minds of the people who are facing new fears, to help them make sense of a world that has also changed. Myths adapt to the world – that is how they survive.
Today, anti-Semites are often not even seen as anti-Semites. Not by themselves, and not by those who blindly ally themselves with them.
Such a narrative is commonly heard among virulent anti-Zionists. Israel has become the perfect nationalistic version of everything the anti-Semitic narrative warns of. The few dominating the many; the rich dominating the poor. No matter what truth exists in this narrative, we must understand that it is still its own story being imposed on reality. And it is why the narrative leads so many to one belief, spread by so many, somehow embraced by so many others: that Israel, as a Jewish state, must cease to exist.
People do not see this because they are so focused on a narrative that has infested their minds, they are blind to its power. It is why an organization of good people, Jewish Voice for Peace, would allow a possible terrorist, a potential murderer, into their midst and give her a standing ovation. They only see her version: that of a hero fighting incredible odds. They do not see the dangers of it.
When Jewish Community Centers were threatened (before we knew who was responsible), when graveyards were violated, when anti-Semitic attacks shot up in places like New York by 94 percent, how many of the pro-Israel world spoke up? Of the Orthodox, how many?
Not enough. Not even close to the amount that would stand up to anti-Israel activism on campus, rightly calling much of it anti-Semitism.
Why? Two reasons. First, their separation from the liberal Jewish people reduces their sympathy. Second, they do not see the new anti-Semitic myth that has emerged right next to them: the right-wing anti-Semite, the grandchild of the Nazis.
The right-wing anti-Semite does not attack all Jews. In a world inculcated against such hate, his myth has evolved to hate mainly liberal secular Jews. To him, Israel is not a danger so much as a validation of his hate: we must be separated for the good of humanity (of course, how they plan to deal with us after the separation is another discussion).
These anti-Semites see the rich liberal Jews of the world as proof for his hate. And as President Donald Trump has taken the helm with his beast Bannon, they have seen their time come – the messiah has arrived. Now they feel bold, able to recruit. And so they do.
Meanwhile, we squabble.
The anti-Hasidic anti-Semite is acknowledged by only a few, but has found its way into perhaps the most mainstream of circles. To such an anti-Semite, a group of Jews who dress alike, look alike, live together and have inward-facing societies evokes the strongest echoes of anti-Semitism. After all, the Hasidic world was very much shaped by anti-Semites. Its inward-facing nature is largely due to a world that persecuted it for its beliefs. And it was also the world’s justification for its pogroms.
So, they see this group of people and write articles like the one we saw a few weeks ago in Politico, which attacked the Chabad organization. A world that is confusing, where a reality show buffoon has become president? Where it seems likely Russia somehow miraculously affected our electoral process? Where nothing makes any sense anymore? For most of us, these are signs we live in a world that is confusing, a world with no easy answers. But for some, when they see a Hasidic community connected to both Russia and Trump, the anti-Semitic narrative kicks in: they must not only be tangentially connected; they may actually be the true source of the world’s insanity.
Was there an outcry? Some, of course. But not enough.
And, of course, Hasidic Jews do not fight the anti-Semitism enough. And the religious left does not fight the anti-Zionist anti-Semites enough. And we are a house divided as new ones get built all around us.
The one thing that is true of all hate narratives is that they are never satisfied. Hate only spreads, like all parasites do – until it is fought.
And so, when we only speak out about the anti-Semitism we see, we weaken our immunity to the disease. We allow anti-Semitism against the Jews we do not consider Jews to enter our world. We let the myth spread in our very communities.
In the end, the Nazis burned us all. They did not care who we were, what we looked like, whether other Jews considered us Jews or not. We were all targets.
That is how all anti-Semitism ends. It is the result of a myth that sees total annihilation of a people as its happy ending.
We must finally stand as one. We must finally see what the Nazis tried to tell us, the one truth in the anti-Semitic narrative: we are one. And it is only by speaking up together, the way we did about the Holocaust, that we will truly overcome this parasite.
Elad Nehorai is the founder and editor-in-chief of Hevria, a publication for creative Jews, and the blogger behind Pop Chassid. Follow him on Twitter: @PopChassid