President Trump recently declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel. Ever since, protests have rallied against this declaration, in Israel/Palestine, and all over the world. Protesters in Germany and Europe are threatening synagogues and burning Israeli flags and marching against the Jews.
In the United States and during the events in Charlottesville – Virginia, I watched in disbelief the Neo-Nazis marched chanting, “Jews will not replace us.” President Trump said there were “good people” among those protesters. Seriously?
This is hardly a new phenomenon. Antisemitism has prevailed since the dawn of Judaism. Regardless of the political and socio-economic reasons for such hatred against the Jews, where and when did it all start? Perhaps the question to ask is, why?
Antisemitism dates back to the first Crusade in 1096 and the Rhineland massacres. Later in 1290, the expulsion from England took place, followed by the massacres of Spanish Jews and the famous Spanish Inquisition in 1492. Anti-Jewish programs in Russia, Ukraine, France followed culminating with the Holocaust in the German-occupied Europe in 1933. After the British Mandate and the declaration of Israel as a country in 1948, Arabs and Muslims pushed for Jewish Exodus from their countries.
Why has hatred against the Jews persisted till today?
I spoke with Retired Rabbi Jonathan Miller who served at Temple Emanu-El in Birmingham for decades.
Allow me to digress with a personal story about Rabbi Miller. Five years ago, I wrote a story about different faiths coming together during Christmas and Hanukah. When the service began at Temple, I got up in the balcony to take some pictures.
Rabbi Miller began, “I want to welcome Karim Shamsi-Basha, up in the balcony. Karim is from Syria, where a civil war is happening. I want us to stop everything and pray for his family and the people of Syria right now.”
To say my mind was blown would be an understatement. A Jewish Rabbi interrupting the service to pray for Syria, and for me?
I grew up in Damascus listening to hateful sentiments against the Jews. I came to America at the age of 18, and I have made numerous Jewish friends. I realize now peace will come if we all shared Rabbi Miller’s sense of humanity. That day at Temple, I wished all Arabs and Muslims were watching.
I asked Rabbi Miller about Antisemitism.
“The term anti-Semitism was coined in 1879 by Wilhelm Marr, a German journalist,” Rabbi Miller said, “This new term reflected the changing iteration of anti-Jew hatred. Marr said that he did not particularly care about religion and religious differences, ‘We are not opposed to Jews because they practice Judaism. We are opposed to Jews because they are Semites, emanating from the lineage of Shem, the eldest of Noah's three sons.’”
Marr and future generations of Germans, including Adolph Hitler, were opposed to Jewish racial qualities, which 50 years later culminated with the horrific Holocaust.
Islam had to deal with both Christianity and Judaism. Jews and Christians had to pay a special tax under Islamic law, Jizya, and were considered second class citizens.
The “Why” pertaining to antisemitism is a puzzle. Jews were different, more strict than other religions. And they were given a land inhabited by different tribes and sects over the millennia, leading to the current troubles.
Rabbi Miller again, “The Islamic world is convulsing. While tragic for the Jew, it should not be surprising to witness the precipitous rise in anti-Jewish and anti-Israel violence in the Islamic world. When societies catch a cold, the Jewish coal mine canaries catch pneumonia.”
I spoke with several Jewish friends regarding this topic. What follows are their sentiments. They range from right wing Israelis to liberal Jews. They all suggested the same solution mentioned below.
My Jewish Friends
“I am not silly to think we will never face antisemitism, I know it’s there. People in some parts of the world are murdering each other. I chose to believe more people care about healing and common values which speak up when incidents of hatred take place. At the same time, I know what’s out there from things like Charlottesville, there is a segment that has hatred against Jews, against Muslims. I was disturbed to see it. What’s more rewarding is how people spoke up and elected Doug Jones for the Senate in Alabama. look at what happened in Virginia, Alabama, New Jersey, the country is rallying around common decency,” Jeffrey Bayer.
“Antisemitism is deep-rooted and always been there. The Jerusalem announcement is only an excuse, but it’s also 70 years too late. The capital of the Jews has been Jerusalem for 3000 years, even in the Quran. It’s unfortunate that the rest of the world does not acknowledge that fact,” Michael Duvdevani
“Antisemitism has been around since the first Jew, because they are different. Arabs and Jews lived in Palestine when one did not threaten the other. When you displace a bunch of people, they will be mad. I don’t understand why they can’t solve the problem peacefully. My dad, Robert May, is a holocaust survivor. My son had a Muslim on his soccer team who fasted in Ramadan. My son had a lot of respect to his friend. A two-state solution is the only way for peace,” Ann Mollengarden.
“We see an increase in hatred towards the Jews. This is nothing new, only history repeating itself. I think the Jerusalem announcement was made by a person who is self-seeking, rather than for the people in Israel. People can rationalize acting out against the Jews. It’s not acceptable. I would like to see world leaders exercise sanity and standing up for mankind. They have to embrace kindness, consideration, understanding, putting away the weapons, and bringing people together. We don’t have to agree or think the same, but we must treat each other with respect,” Sallie Downs
Most suggested Education as a solution to antisemitism. It hit me when I remembered swimming with the Manta-rays in the Caribbean a few years ago. I was terrified not knowing they were peaceful creatures. After the guide showed me I could touch them, I became at ease.
When we learn about each other, our differences, our similarities, our hopes and dreams, we will not be afraid of each other. We will learn to like, and eventually love, each other.
Here’s an idea: West Jerusalem, a capital for the Jewish state; East Jerusalem, a capital for the Palestinian state.
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