For Much of the World, Israel Has Become the Devil
Israel was condemned at least 20 times in the UN General Assembly for human rights abuses, illegal settlements, and continued occupation of East Jerusalem in 2018 — more than any other country. According to former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, since the 1940s, the UN has condemned Israel at least 500 times.
So why the demonization of Israel by both the UN General Assembly and UN Human Rights Council, and by others, including accusing Israel of poisoning Palestinian water or harvesting Palestinian body parts?
The usual explanation is the dynamics of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But this doesn’t explain the disproportionate censure of Israel rather than any of the countries — Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, for example — that are the real offenders against human rights.
I suggest an alternative explanation: the increasingly secular modern world no longer believes in the “Devil” as the source of all evil. It has substituted Israel.
Consider the charge a few years ago by newly-elected Congresswoman Ilhan Omar that “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”
Congresswoman Omar is a Muslim immigrant from Somalia who dressed up her charge against Israel in the language of Islam. Yet why do her charges resonate so widely among people, including many who are secular?
Criticizing Congresswoman Omar, columnist Bari Weiss suggests that modern-day disbelievers in the Devil need a substitute to explain all the world’s woes.
The world’s need for an all-purpose explanation of evil has not changed much since medieval times; the big change is that the Devil has become passé, and Israel has taken his place in conspiracy theories. I am not suggesting we go “back to the middle ages,” but in some ways, things have actually gotten more challenging for the Jews since the transition to modern “enlightened” times:
- Medieval theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas did not like Jews, but he did not think they were as evil as Christian heretics, and he warned against equating them with the Devil. Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire probably hated Jews more.
- Medieval persecutions of Jews were horrible. In 1349 in Germany alone, more Jews were slaughtered than early Christians were killed in all Roman persecutions. Yet by far, the most popular victims of medieval “witch burners” — some 80 percent — were women who were rarely Jewish.
- Medieval Jews were expelled from one Western European country after another. But today, as the Jewish population has been “globalized,” antisemitic conspiracy mongers have a much easier time portraying Jews through modern media as a “world menace.”
- The existence of Israel is double-edged. Israel, since the Shoah, has been a potential haven for Jews seeking to escape persecution. But on the other hand, there is a real “Jewish state” that antisemites can depict as an all-powerful evildoer on the world scene.
The Devil (or “Satan”) in the Hebrew Bible was a mischievous demon only. Christian thinkers upgraded him to a deeply sinister force with godlike powers.
Welcome to our times: the Devil is out-of-fashion, and antisemites prefer to be called “anti-Zionists,” wanting only to save the world by exorcising Israel!
Historian Harold Brackman is coauthor with Ephraim Isaac of From Abraham to Obama: A History of Africans, African Americans, and Jews (Africa World Press, 2015).