It’s All Just a Little Bit of History Repeating

Hundreds of protesters gather to demonise Israel on May 12, 2021, in Chicago.

Since last week, the world has watched with horror as Hamas once again waged war against Israel. The Gaza based terrorist organisation successfully exploited the legal conflict in Sheikh Jarrah and Mahmoud Abbas’ cancellation of the highly anticipated Palestinian Authority Presidential election to begin the most recent iteration of the Israel Palestinian conflict. The first war since 2005. They then chose to escalate the situation and began attacking Israel, indiscriminately raining thousands of rockets down on Israeli and Palestinian citizens.

Like clockwork, the international community began its assault on Israel, by raining down condemnation. The world’s only Jewish state has been demonised as genocidal, an apartheid state, a settler-colonial entity and the most evil country in the world. All the while, Hamas’ crimes and their anti-Jewish and genocidal intent are ignored, excused or even justified.

Unsurprisingly, instances of anti-Jewish racism against Jews in the Diaspora have increased at a horrifying rate. In the UK alone, according to CST, anti-Jewish hate crimes rose by 438% in the last 10 days. Politicians like Jeremy Corbyn, organisations like Black Lives Matter and media outlets like the Guardian and celebrities like John Oliver and many others quickly aligned themselves with the Palestinian leadership, as if this was a football match — and not a complicated war — where one must choose sides. Nuance, complexity and historical truth have been disregarded while many fall over themselves to demonise Israel. They have justified Hamas and excused their crimes against Israelis, Jews and Palestinians alike. Many unqualified people have offered their ignorant takes on why Hamas came to be or why the conflict has lasted for so long, but one thing each and every one of these so-called commentators have failed to address is anti-Jewish hate. Both in the West and in the Middle East.

Anti-Jewish racism is a foundational part of the non-Jewish world. It is one of the building blocks of many non-Jewish societies. Its roots are so deep, many of us can’t even imagine it. This is why we are — once again — seeing yet another cycle of Jew-hate. Let’s be clear, Jew-hatred is never caused by Jewish people, nor is it caused by the Jewish state. It occurs because people only need permission or an excuse to target Jews.

As a Holocaust scholar and educator who is currently in the middle of teaching a three-month course on the Shoah, the following two examples of this historical trend sprang immediately to mind. In 1933, immediately following Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor, there was a German grassroots explosion in Jew-hate. This did not initially come from the Nazi party, rather it was expressed by the Church, social groups and academia. It was expressed by German society. This was a moment where German’s felt empowered by the new Nazi government to strike out at what they referred to as Judischer Geist, Jewish spirit. There is a notion that through propaganda, the Nazis brainwashed their population to reject and harm their Jews. I do not believe this is true. While they certainly encouraged, facilitated and amplified Jew-hatred, the fact of the matter is, it existed long before the Nazis were even conceived of as a political party. And their election only empowered non-Jewish Germans to target their Jewish neighbours.

In 1941, following Operation Barbarossa — the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union — non-Jewish populations in the Baltic States and Ukraine, began committing their own massacres against Jews. The Lviv Pogrom in 1941 was initially perpetrated by Ukrainians. The Kaunas Garage Massacre was perpetrated by Lithuanians just three days after the Nazi invasion of Eastern Europe. These crimes were not committed by the Einsatzgruppen (the mobile execution squads that followed the Wehrmacht into Eastern Europe and who murdered around 1.5 million Jews in just two years) who at this stage took on more of an observer and documenter role in these crimes. But how do we explain this explosion of violence? These individuals were living in Eastern Europe, a sub-continent where Jews were violently and viciously attacked for centuries. Anti-Jewish racism was part of the Eastern European culture and all that was needed was a sanctioning of anti-Jewish violence for the crimes to commence once again.

These are just two examples of this phenomenon from throughout history, but the pattern is clear. We also saw it in 2014, the last major war between Israel and Hamas. Marches took place around the world where they chanted “Hamas Hamas Jews to the gas!”. At their core, these were not protests at perceived Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people. These were uprisings against Jews. And while the current context may differ from that in the 1930s or 1940s, the same core remains. Jew-hatred that is just bubbling under the surface is waiting for a reason to be expressed.

The current eruption of anti-Jewish hate in the US, Canada, the UK, Austria, Belgium and countless other countries must not be understood as some response to Israel’s actions. No. Once again, we see Jews being targeted because they are Jews. This is not because people are conflating Israel with Diasporic Jews. This is because people once again feel empowered to rise up against Jewish people.

This pattern is also evident on Social Media, the frontline of the current war against Jew-hatred. The death threats and abuses that I — and many other Jewish advocates — receive on a daily basis is because I am a Jew. It may be framed as a response to my Zionism, but this is just a way to deflect from overt racism. Although it has to be said, overt-Jew hatred has also risen in the last five years at a terrifying rate. While we experience this eruption in Jew-hate, we are being gaslit by the world who tell us, ‘No, we don’t hate you because you are Jews, we hate what Israel is doing to the Palestinians’. That is just not true.

Israel is also only hated because it is the Jewish state. Each and every anti-Jewish trope from history is imposed on Israel and it is treated as the Collective Jew or the Jew among Nations. Hamas hates Israel because it is Jewish. Let’s not forget the millennia-long oppression of Jews in the Middle East and North Africa by Arab and Muslim rulers. Hamas is not fighting Israel, they are waging— by their own admission — a Holy War against all Jews, which follows in the long tradition of Jew-hatred in the MENA region.

To truly understand our experiences, we have to zoom out and understand our present in its proper context. Our proper context. What Israel is experiencing today, what Diasporic Jews are experiencing today, what we experienced in 2014 and during countless moments in our history, is a continuation of thousands of years of Jew-hatred. It is part of a continuous pattern where the non-Jewish world rises up to punish and harm Jewish people. All they need is permission. All they need is an excuse.

Ben M. Freeman is a Jewish educator and author of Jewish Pride: Rebuilding a People.

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