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I believe that most Jews are instinctively aware of the world’s undying hatred and misprision, but few are willing or capable of consciously acknowledging the scope of so unpalatable a truth. As Sarah Honig astutely writes, it is “disagreeable to realize that de rigueur Israel-bashing has unleashed latent predilections which, despite their transitory abeyance, festered beneath the floorboards of human decency.” The allusion to the great but antisemitic Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky is apt. In Notes from Under the Floorboards, Dostoevsky depicted in the novel’s protagonist an insectal longing for abasement and a contempt for all that is good, decent and noble in life, an embodiment of moral catastrophe. “I am angry,” the character says, “my irritability keeps me alive and kicking.” This tendency is, to use Dostoevsky’s term, “representative.” It appears to be inherent in the human psyche, and the Jew has ever been its most reliable outlet.
Norman Cohn refines the diagnosis for the modern age. “The drive to exterminate the Jews,” he writes, springs from “a quasi-demonological superstition,” namely, “the myth of the Jewish world-conspiracy…set on ruining and then dominating the rest of mankind.” The myth, whose chief repository is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a forgery dating back to the early 20th century, is “designed to appeal to all the paranoid and destructive potentialities in human beings.” And myths, as we know, guarantee longevity of belief, precisely because of human credulity and innate aggression.
But we can go further and posit that Jews have ever been the casualties of one or another myth, which are constantly pupating from one form into another, whether of plotting world conquest, or of poisoning wells, or of baking the blood of Christian children into Passover matzot, or of being the carriers of diseases—or of robbing the Palestinians of their land irrespective of the fact that, as Joan Peters, among other respectable scholars, has convincingly shown in her seminal study, From Time Immemorial, a substantial influx of Arab migrants, late arrivals to the region from the surrounding Arab countries, appropriated the identity of “Palestinians.” One myth will replace another to ensure that the engine of hatred keeps running and that a destination for bigotry and delirium remains always attainable.
The current myth, as we have noted, is that Jews are usurpers—in the very land in which they have maintained a continuous presence for 3,500 years and which, despite the vicissitudes of history, bears archeological, textual and demographic witness to their tenure from antiquity to the present moment. As the Reverend James Parkes spells out for us in his scrupulously researched Whose Land? A History of the Peoples of Palestine, the Jewish connection with the land “has been continuous from the 2nd millennium B.C.E. up to modern times.” Recent genetic findings have reinforced the evidence for geographical origins. But myths are insidiously potent. “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine,” as notorious Press Corps reporter Helen Thomas recently demanded. Not to be undone, deputy leader of Canada’s National Democratic Party Libby Davies parroted Thomas’ ultimatum a few days later, asserting that Israel’s “occupation of Palestinian lands” began in 1948 with its formal recognition as a legitimate state—a tirelessly reiterated jihadist theme. We cannot predict what the next such myth will be. We can only be sure that anti-Jewish myths, bordering on caricature, multiply like rabbits on aphrodisiacs.
This is what makes Jews, wherever they may find themselves, different from history’s other genocidal victims: they must always prepare for yet another round of social resentment, another irruption of ostracism and rejection, another flotilla (really an armada) of bogus “peace activists” aimed at dislodging them from their toehold on the Mediterranean, another barrage of denunciations from the so-called “international community,” and another calamity waiting in the offing. For what sets Jews apart from other victims of human malignancy is that the hatred and violence, the demonising, never go away.
Such is the nature of antisemitism: it is not a singular event but a perpetual sentence of condemnation. It is what we might call an ontological compulsion, an antipathy that has been reified. Regardless of the effort of Jews to assimilate, to forget the past, to deny their heritage or even to work against the very existence of the Jewish state and to trivialize the Holocaust, and despite the protestations of Western intellectuals and scions of the Enlightenment, who disingenuously claim they are not anti-Jewish but only anti-Zionist, the return of the same, or the will to re-enact it, is preordained.
And this is what makes numbers, methods, reasons and intentions as a medium of comparative judgment—albeit factors by no means insignificant in themselves—in the deepest sense irrelevant in determining the relative weights of the ordeals of peoples. For others who have suffered the saturnalia of blood, what happened once is always remembered; for Jews, what is remembered has occurred not once but many times before, in greater or lesser measure, and always threatens to recur. The essential difference resides in the unbroken cycle, the periodicity of the world’s “longest hatred,” the irresistible urge toward the replication of the unthinkable. What happened in the Treblinka of God’s eye was prepared in the crucible of time by hideous increments and may conceivably happen again.
Saramago, like so many others, lashes out at the Jews as “contaminated by the monstrous and rooted ‘certitude’…that there exists a people chosen by God.” Deeply religious Jews certainly believe they have a special relationship with God, which is exactly why the Holocaust continues to defeat their understanding, no matter how they struggle to explain it. Secular, Reform, Reconstructionist and Sabra Jews, by far the majority (I am not speaking of the apostates), do not place particular emphasis on this biblical tenet. They do not regard themselves as better or worse than anyone else but as a coherent people upholding a cultural tradition and a ritual sense of patrimony. They are not so much baffled by the Holocaust—human evil, after all, is pandemic—but horrified by both its occurrence and its possible imminence. This is what makes the Jew different and constitutes the real meaning of “chosenness.”
In other words, unlike other peoples, Jews have been selected for vilification, injury and even destruction from time immemorial. Or to put succinctly, the Jewish people bleeds history.
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