Anti-Semitism exists today
The term, the "Jewish question," has been in existence for centuries. Does it sound familiar? It should. The Nazis sought to solve it by gassing millions. Former Egyptian dictator Gamal Nasser tried to answer his own Jewish question by pushing the nascent state of Israel into the Mediterranean Sea, rendering the land "Judenrein" or clean of Jews. This phenomenon is not new to the 20th century. Throughout its entire history, the Jewish people had enemies who sought its destruction. The Bible gives innumerable accounts of Jew haters, like Esau, Pharaoh, Balak, the Babylonians, the Amalekites and the Romans. Anti-Semites have accused Jews of being bank-controlling, Hollywood-manipulating capitalists, socialists, communists and Christ-killers.
What is it about the Jews that cause such disdain? Inter-tribal conflict is nothing new, but in most cases, conflict is predicated on contact. The ancient Greeks warred with the Persians because the Persian monarchs looked westward for expansion. Separated by the English Channel, the English and the French fought for centuries. Jews, on the other hand, have enemies who never met them and do not know them. Shakespeare probably never saw a Jew (as King Edward I expelled all the Jews from England in 1290), yet he chose Shylock the Jew as a villain. Historically, anti-Semitism has been ubiquitous; the mere idea of Jews — let alone actual Jews — caused hatred.
As with any debate, there are competing explanations as to why Jew-hatred has been so unique throughout the history of the world. Christopher Hitchens this past summer wrote in the pages of The Atlantic magazine that Jew-hatred is unique because Jews rejected both Christ and Muhammad. He writes, "Unlike other nations or peoples, Jews were among the witnesses to the alleged lives and preachings of Jesus and Muhammad and turned away from men they deemed false Messiahs. It is inconceivable that they will ever be quite forgiven for doing so." Hitchens is right that the Jewish refusal to accept these two men has led to persecution. But Hitchens is only half right, because anti-Semitism did not first appear with the inception of Islam and Christianity. This explanation does not account for atheist anti-Semites like Karl Marx. Jews have been the object of hatred in monotheistic, pagan and secular societies. Hitchens' explanation does not suffice.
Authors Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin offer a different perspective on anti-Semitism. In their book, "Why the Jews: The Reason for Anti-Semitism," they argue that the unique Jewish belief in God, the Torah and peoplehood are the real reasons for the "most enduring and universal hatred in history." They write, "The Jews' affirmation of any one of Judaism's components, God, law or nationhood, would have provoked anti-Semitism; their affirmation of all three has rendered Jew hatred even more intense." Seeking out the true cause of the hatred, they argue that, for example, while hyperinflation may have led to Nazi political dominance, it does not explain why the Nazis tried to kill every Jew in the world. That, they believe, is because of the uniqueness of Judaism. Again, they are partly right. While it is certainly true that Jews professed to be a people bound by scripture and by God, Nazis gassed non-believing Jews and "Jews" whom even the most liberal rabbi would not consider Jewish. The Nazis did not only hate the Jewish belief system, but they hated the very blood that ran through Jewish veins.
These explanations only begin to scratch the surface of the many theories of the roots of anti-Semitism. Some say it is a form of bigotry, while others claim it is jealousy of Jews' economic successes or due to Jews' historical role as moneylenders. All these explanations have truth in them, and they are helpful in understanding different episodes of anti-Semitism. But they are unsatisfactory in determining a supposed root cause. Anti-Semitism is too prevalent in history — and in the world today — to be ascribed to one factor. Adolph Hitler and Antiochus IV Epiphanes both wanted to destroy Judaism, but Hitler aimed to wipe out all the Jews, while Antiochus only wished them to abandon their religion and adopt Hellenism. Clearly, Hitler and Antiochus hated Judaism for different reasons. It is too simplistic to argue that there is one guiding principle that spurs anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semitism is not an ancient philosophy to be exhumed and deciphered by future scholars. It is alive and well. Modern anti-Semites castigate Jews and Zionists as imperialists and cloak their hatred under the false pretenses of anti-Zionism, when their hatred is really as old as the Jewish people itself. I will leave it for someone far more knowledgeable than I to set the parameters of what constitutes anti-Semitism as opposed to justified criticism, but that does not render us unable to point out what is truly anti-Semitic. We must rightfully declare a group of Muslim students who disrupted Israeli ambassador's speech at University of California-Irvine to call him an "accomplice to genocide" anti-Semites. Likewise, it is correct to call a University of California-San Diego female Muslim student an anti-Semite when she agrees with the statement made by Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, that Jews should move to Israel so it will be easier to wipe them out. Moreover, we must call retired journalist Helen Thomas an anti-Semite when she tells Jews to leave Israel to "go home" to Germany and Poland. These three examples have a common theme: a group calling an Israeli an "accomplice to genocide," a woman wishing genocide upon the Jewish people and an American propagandist telling Jews to return to the land where they were the victims of genocide.
Jews were, we must remember, the victims of a mechanized genocide. While the Holocaust was the worst example of anti-Semitism, it was not the first, nor the last. Jews are not likely to be the victims of another Holocaust, but they are still victims of insipid declarations from international bodies that have no sense of right and wrong. Jews and Israelis are still victims of terrorism, and of delusional fantasies of tyrants like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Anti-Semitism is not new, yet it continues to astound us when people call for the destruction of the state of Israel and for the mass murder of the Jewish people. Instead of asking, "Why the Jews?" I ask a different Jewish question: "Why are we surprised?"
Noah Glyn is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in economics and history.