Throughout history, the Jewish people have seen fellow Jews turn against their own people.
We did not need Bernie Sanders’ pick of BDS backer and Israel basher, Cornel West, to partake in writing the Democratic platform, to know how he feels about Israel. Back in May of 1985, when Sanders was still mayor of Burlington, VT, he invited fellow (Jewish) Israel critic, Noam Chomsky, to give a town hall speech. Sanders did not protest when Chomsky nonchalantly stated that Israel “doesn’t want a political settlement” in the Middle-East, or when he asserted that Israel served as a “surrogate” murderer for the US and carried out mass killings “in Africa, Asia, and primarily Latin America,” where, according to Chomsky, Israel massacred “thousands, if not tens of thousands of people” in Nicaragua.
With such a record in mind, no one should be surprised that Sanders believes that Israel killed “over 10,000 innocent people” in the latest Gaza conflict, when even Hamas’ highest casualty assessments are a quarter of that number.
From Fringe to Mainstream
If in the 1980s, Sanders and Chomsky were somewhat of a rare breed among the creed, today they are all but mainstream. Sidney Blumenthal, for example, the Clintons’ aide and close associate, is no more an advocate of Israel than Sanders. And if you look at the top ranks of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement you will find many Jews and former Israelis among them. The Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) movement is another glaring example of Jewish organizations dedicated to debilitating and demonizing Israel.
Throughout history, the Jewish people have seen fellow Jews turn against their own people. Titus’ Chief of Staff, Tiberius Julius Alexander, who was Philo’s nephew and whose father donated the gilded gates to the Temple, commanded both the destruction of Jerusalem and the massacre of 50,000 of his native Jewish community in Alexandria. In the 15th century, Tomás de Torquemada, of Jewish descent, was Spain’s first Grand Inquisitor, and the architect behind the expulsion of the Jews from Spain.
During World War II there were Jews who fought and spied for Nazi Germany. Stalin’s personal assistant, Alexander Poskrebyshev, was a Jew and assisted him in everything, including his plan to exile all of Russia’s Jews to Siberia.
Jews are said to be unique, but this profound self-loathing is not only unique, it is also very dangerous.
Pariahs from Day One
From the very beginning, we Jews were different. Even in the days when we were called “Hebrews,” we lived by different moral and social codes. While the rest of the nations lived by the sword, the ancient Hebrews exercised brotherly love and attempted to love their neighbors as themselves. And while the world nurtured individualism, the Hebrews fostered selflessness.
Our ancestors were an eclectic “bunch.” They did not come from a specific tribe or locality, but were a collection of individuals who took to the idea that mercy and brotherly love were the tenets by which to live. Unlike their Babylonian and Canaanite contemporaries, they did not try to hurl ego against ego to see who was left standing. They had come from just such societies and no longer wanted to live this way. Instead, they acknowledged that the ego, which they termed “evil inclination,” is indeed evil, that it is an inherent trait (“evil crouches at the door”), and that the one way to overcome it is to cover it with love. To put it in the words of King Solomon (Proverbs, 10:12): “Hate stirs strife, and love covers all crimes.”
Granted, it is not easy to constantly aspire to correct your ego and love your neighbor as yourself. From the very beginning, some Jews could not live up to that ideal and left the creed. In fact, after the exile in Babylon, the majority of the Jews abandoned their faith and mingled with the nations. The few who did return to the land of Israel became the Jewish people we know today. They were the ones entrusted with passing on the ideology of their forefathers: the idea that “love covers all crimes” is the way to live, and that “love your neighbor as yourself” is the great klal (all-inclusive law) of the Torah, the Jewish law.
The Birth of Anti-Semitism
When Israel’s remaining Jews had declined into unfounded hatred, they could not keep their unity, the Temple was ruined, and the Jews disintegrated into exiled communities. It seemed only fitting that the one who ruined the Temple, Tiberius Julius Alexander, was himself a Jew.
Soon after the ruin of the Temple, anti-Semitism in its more contemporary form of blood-libels, conspiracy theories, and accusations of disloyalty, began to dominate the nations’ attitude toward the Jews. At best, the aristocracy tolerated them for their economic and financial acuity. At worst, they were murdered and driven away.
Devoid of the ability to live up to the tenet they themselves had engendered, the Jews became as selfish as their host nations, and a great many of them could not understand why they should maintain loyalty to their religion. These assimilated Jews became our nation’s fiercest enemies, holding profound rancor toward their kindred. They knew that they were born into a creed that was meant to be “a light unto nations,” but they did not want to be the chosen people and resented the fact that the world expected them to be different, more ethical than others, when in fact they weren’t.
Non-Jewish anti-Semites have it relatively easy; they simply hate Jews and they rarely need to rationalize it. Jewish anti-Semites have a much harder life: they feel constantly obligated to justify to themselves and to the world why they hate their own people.
In doing so, they perpetuate and deepen Jewish disunity, driving us further away from the brotherhood that had originally propelled us into nationhood. And when we cannot form brotherhood, we cannot be “a light unto nations” and we therefore intensify the nations’ hatred toward us. This is the reason why the worst catastrophes happen to Jews in countries where we are the most assimilated and least united, as it happened in Spain and later in Germany.
Bernie Sanders is only an example. In truth, we all have a part within us that resents its origin and objects to our task. Just like our forefathers, this is something we all have to overcome by uniting above our egos. If we let that Jew-hater within take over, we will increase the separation among us and the hatred toward us will grow even more.
The deeper the world falls into unbridled egotism, the more it needs a method to cope with it, and the more it will turn against the Jews. Being the only ones who once had a successful way of working with the ego—by uniting above it instead of making futile attempts to crush it—the world will blame us for its woes, not realizing that all it really wants is for us to connect and set an example of unity.
While we may not be able to change the Bernie Sanders without, or within us, we can use them as reminders of our task: to unite by covering our hatred with love, in order to share it by way of example with the world. We owe the world our unique method of connection. Until we implement it in order to share it, we will remain the world’s pariahs, whether we espouse socialism or capitalism. Our way to freedom lies not in hating one another and bonding with the world; it lies in loving one another first, and then bonding with the world.
Featured in The Jerusalem Post