Monday, January 30th | 9 Shevat 5783

May 22, 2016 1:44 am

BDS Is Part of the Long Line of Antisemitic Hate

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avatar by Paul Socken

A BDS protest in London. Photo: Wiki Commons.

A BDS protest in London. Photo: Wiki Commons.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) that has isolated and vilified the state of Israel, above all other nations of the world, is disturbing in the extreme. Witnessing the vehemence of the activists and their irrational rage brings back memories of times when the Jew, not Israel, was the target of endless hatred.

The Jew, and now Israel, can do no right. There is no rational discussion possible because any attempt to present the Israeli point of view is shouted down.

In these trying times, it is instructive to review Paul Johnson’s magisterial History of the Jews, an absolutely essential work. The French Enlightenment, he reminds us, was a seminal period in the development of modern Western civilization but, tragically, contained within it a virulently antisemitic seed: “It insured that hatred of the Jews, so long kept alive by Christian fanaticism, would now survive the decline of the religious spirit.”

The secular antisemitism of the Left, under Voltaire, saw the Jews as an obstacle to the new secular order. The Right resented the collapse of the old order and blamed the Jews, whom they believed were its beneficiaries. In addition, Napoleon, whose intention was to include Jews in the new society, established a Sanhedrin — a modern council of Jewish leadership — which served as a lightning rod for conspiracy theorists. From such suspicions there eventually arose documents like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a fabrication about supposed Jewish power, which plagues us still.

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Then there was the rise of secular movements and doctrines founded by self-hating Jews such as Karl Marx in the early and late 1800s. Marx’s breathtaking ignorance of Judaism did not prevent him from loathing it. Marx saw the Jew as the embodiment of bourgeois commerce and an obstacle to his new atheistic and egalitarian order.

In more recent times, successive popes have bravely and increasingly renounced antisemitism and all the beliefs and doctrines it was founded upon. But this has occurred during the transition to an increasingly secular Europe and North America, and the ascendency of a radical segment of the Muslim world.  The result is an antisemitic secular West, and an antisemitic East, led by jihadist forces, often with the two converging in their agenda.

An eloquent and realistic historian, and a practicing Catholic, Johnson asserts that “no people has been more fertile in enriching poverty or humanizing wealth, or in turning misfortune to creative account” than the Jews. “The Jews gave the world ethical monotheism, which might be described as the application of reason to divinity. In a more secular age, they applied the principles of rationality to the whole range of human activities, often in advance of the rest of mankind.” Johnson’s scholarship represents an important voice in the non-Jewish world that co-exists with the hate, but does not eliminate it.

We understandably thought that six million dead Jews would satisfy the blood lust, and would buy us more than 70 years of relative peace and acceptance. Modern events have proven that hope to have been naive. Antisemitism has, indeed, reared its ugly, bestial head in spite of many appreciative friends like Johnson.

It is frustrating to contemplate all the bad that has been attributed to the Jews, despite all the good that Jews have contributed to the world. The child in us says, “That isn’t fair” while the adult in us says, “Who says life is fair?”

Johnson ends his book with a caution: “Excessive skepticism can produce as serious a distortion as credulity.” We cannot afford to be naive, nor can we allow ourselves to be cynical. These are extraordinary times. Virtually all Jews live in  democratic societies with a strong history of civil liberties. We must exercise those liberties to defend ourselves, or we will lose them.

Dr. Paul Socken is Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the University of Waterloo.

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