A Truly Diverse and Free Society Is Our Only Hope
I thought that after 2,000 years of discrimination, pogroms, and expulsions ending in the Holocaust, antisemitism would finally be consigned to the dustbin of history.
I was wrong.
I thought that universal education and an enlightened citizenry would make antisemitism appear primitive and outdated. I thought that the Papal Encyclical in the 1960s, which declared Jews to be brothers and sisters in faith and the Abrahamic covenant still valid, would have a universal and profound impact.
I thought the establishment of Israel would allow Jews to finally take their place among the family of nations, but it eventually became the “Jew of the Nations”: As the Jew used to be singled out and found guilty of everyone else’s woes, now Israel is the one nation that other nations revile and accuse of every sin.
I thought that North American multiculturalism would mean that most people were from somewhere else, or at least their parents or grandparents were, so nationalism and xenophobia would die. Instead, people who considered themselves more “pure” than others focused on the Jew as the reason their culture is threatened. When white supremacists marched in Charlottesville opposing the removal of statues of Confederate heroes, the rallying cry was, “The Jews will not replace us!”
I thought it would be impossible to have antisemitism in a democracy. A democracy gives a voice to every group and enfranchises every individual. It provides opportunity. Still, there is always discontent — and it is now, again, focused on the Jew.
But democracy is still where hope lies. The pillars of democracy — human rights, dignity of the individual, a free press, justice, the rule of law — exist and have not crumbled. There is the possibility, perhaps for the first time in history, that the fate of the Jew is not sealed by a raging few that become a hysterical and frenzied mob of murderers — meaning that Jews need to be saved by some merciful king or ruler of another nation who will harbor the Jew… temporarily.
I was wrong to think that antisemitism would disappear from the face of the Earth. It’s a virus you can tame but never entirely cure. Eventually, it comes back.
Whenever there is dissatisfaction, there is a need to blame. Whenever there is pain, there is a need to lash out. The source of antisemitism is within us.
The last great hope of the world is democracy, because any sane person knows that hate against Jews never stops with the Jew, but ends up in a conflagration that consumes the whole of society.
Either everyone identifies as a Jew now or no one does, and society loses its soul. Then we become the automatons we fear are taking over the world.
If Jews cannot live in free societies, those societies are not free.
Dr. Paul Socken is Distinguished Professor Emeritus and founder of the Jewish Studies program at the University of Waterloo.