The Cloud of Antisemitism

I have lived in Hong Kong for three (non-consecutive) years. Initially, I was the Director of Education at the Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Centre and latterly I became a Humanities Teacher at an International School. Since moving to Hong Kong I have experienced antisemitism several times. Each and every time I have been a victim of antisemitism the perpetrator was Western. It was a westerner that told me that if Nazi war criminals were still being tried then Israelis should be tried too. It was a westerner that told me the Jews should have learned from the Holocaust and it was a westerner that told me that Israel was just like the Nazis. I have never experienced antisemitism from an Asian person.

The only explanation I can offer for this is that antisemitism is culturally ingrained in western cultures and is not — for the most part — in Asian cultures. In Asian countries — such as China or South Korea — you often find philosemitism (a fetishisation of Jews), which poses its own problems as well as antisemitism, but it does not appear to be as deep-rooted than antisemitism in the west.

The people that I experienced antisemitism from were not only educated (they were mostly teachers) but were people who sought to experience a foreign culture, to immerse themselves in it and to understand it. Ex-patriots who move to Hong Kong to seek greener pastures and to experience a new culture seem to bring their own cultural baggage with them. In the case I have experienced, that is antisemitism. Experiencing antisemitism in Hong Kong — thousands of miles away from its birthplace in Europe — made me consider just how deeply ingrained it must in western society.

When teaching classes on the Holocaust — time permitting — I will begin my classes in 380CE. Although Jew-hatred can be identified long before this date, this is when the Roman Empire converted to Christianity and this is a major turning point in the ingraining of antisemitism in western culture. To understand why British, Australian, Italian or American people expressed antisemitic feelings to me all the way in Hong Kong we also need to start in 380CE.

In 380CE Christianity — which historically had defined itself against Judaism to justify its existence — stopped being a fringe religious group fighting oppression and became a political arm of the powerful Roman Empire. This led to antisemitic tropes — such as the Jews being guilty of Deicide being disseminated by the church. These teachings — in churches and schools — led to antisemitism becoming ingrained in European society. Anthony Julius identifies that antisemitism can be split into libels. He proposes three different categories: Blood Libel, Conspiracy Libel and Economic Libel. I would propose we define antisemitism in two different categories: Blood Libel and Conspiracy Fantasy as nearly all economic libels are rooted in conspiracism. ‘Fantasy’ is being used in place of ‘libel’ because as David Hirsh suggests, antisemitic conspiracism is not based on truth. It is not a theory it is a fantasy based on a fantastical idea of The Jew. All instances of antisemitism from the last two thousand years can be split into either or both of these two categories. Blood Libel is rooted in the idea that the Jews are capable of terrible and monstrous acts because they are responsible for the deaths of Jesus. If they can kill the Lord Savior then they are capable of anything. They are supposedly capable of poisoning the wells during the Black Plague, of killing non-Jewish children for their blood for Pesach or for purposefully killing Palestinian children and harvesting their organs. Conspiracy Fantasy is rooted in the idea that Jews are the puppet masters, looking to exploit and control the non-Jewish world for financial gain. It is the thousand-year-old trope of Jews and money, it is the Protocols, it is Żydokomuna (the idea that Jews are responsible for Communism) and it is Israel perpetrating 9/11 to force America into wars in the Middle East. It is important to state that The Jew of Blood Libel and Conspiracy Fantasy does not exist, has never existed and will never exist. It only exists in the mind of the antisemite.

Many of these ideas culminated in the Holocaust which saw the annihilation of six million Jews; their culture, their history and their future. But antisemitism did not end with the Holocaust and two new forms emerged post-Holocaust; Holocaust Denial and Revision which argue the Holocaust did not happen as mainstream academia argues or attempts to remove Jews from the list of victims of Nazism (as just evidenced by the British University College Union who sent an email which jaw-droppingly failed to mention Jews as victims of the Nazis). The second form to emerge was antizionism which applied all historical antisemitic tropes to the newly formed State of Israel and compared it to the Nazis.

These are but a few examples of antisemitism from the last three two years but at the very least the prevalence and depth of antisemitism in the west should be clear. It is 2019 every day Jews are attacked from both the left and the right. 90% of them have been expelled from the ‘Community of The Good’ for their belief in the existence of the State of Israel.

Understanding any of these daily attacks — or my own experiences in Hong Kong — is only possible when considering the depth of antisemitism in western culture. The people who verbally attacked me grew up and achieved maturity in countries dominated by cultural antisemitism. They watched news programmes which — again due to cultural antisemitism — reported obsessively on the Israel / Palestinian conflict. My aggressors — and thousands of people I have encountered online saw their cultural perceptions of Jews confirmed by the constant barrage of dead Palestinians, murdered by the cold-hearted Israelis (a modern alternative to The Jew).

An analogy to help make this argument clearer is The Cloud. The cloud of antisemitism is always drizzling over different societies. It is getting the majority of people wet but it’s just a small amount of rain so most people don’t notice. Some people are protected against the rain due to inbuilt umbrellas — or they develop them through the pursuit of logic and critical thinking — but most are not. Sometimes the clouds unleash a deluge of rain and people don’t notice until it’s too late — they were already soaked through.

To understand why I — and my friends and family — were verbally attacked in schools, at work, in social gatherings and online we have to time travel back to 380CE. We have to understand how and why this cloud formed and began raining over the world. We have to understand that antisemitism is ingrained in western culture because there is a continuous and unbroken thread connecting each and every example of antisemitism, from the accusations that the Jews killed Jesus to the accusations that Jews are smearing Jeremy Corbyn.

Accepting, understanding and dealing with this culturally ingrained downpour is the only umbrella that could work, otherwise, western culture is doomed to stay soaked through for generations to come.

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

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Ben M. Freeman

Ben M. Freeman

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

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