As with any conflict, especially a major one, it is only a matter of time before a blaming finger is turned toward the Jews. The war in Ukraine is no exception. As the war continues, more and more posts and videos are popping up online blaming Israel, or Jews, or both, for the tragedy unfolding in Ukraine. In our defense, we may argue that the truth is to the contrary: Israel’s prime minister tried his best to broker a truce, we set up a field hospital in Ukraine at our own expense, Israel took in tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees although we are a very small country, and Ukraine’s prime minister is himself Jewish. But no one listens to us since the hatred of Israel and Jews is as old as Judaism itself, and its roots are buried deep in the heart of every person on the planet.
In his comprehensive composition A History of the Jews, acclaimed historian Paul Johnson eloquently articulated how the world feels about Jews: “At a very early stage in their collective existence they [Jews] believed they had detected a divine scheme for the human race, of which their own society was to be a pilot.”
Indeed, the Jewish people did not evolve naturally, out of a core clan or tribe. It evolved by gradually gathering individuals from many different tribes and nations over generations. These individuals eventually amalgamated into a nation by following a single tenet that determined everything they did: the aspiration to love each other as themselves.
If you examine the legacy of Judaism, you will find that it consists primarily of social rules that determine how to build a just and cohesive society where people care for one another. This is why Rabbi Akiva, possibly the greatest sage since Moses, said that the encompassing law of Judaism is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This is also why Hillel, another one of our greatest sages, said to a man who asked him to explain the whole Torah (Jewish law) in a nutshell (allegorically, while he is standing on one leg): “That which you hate, do not do unto another; the rest is commentary.”
When we were tasked with being “a light unto nations,” at the foot of Mt. Sinai, this love of others was the “light” that we were ordered to shine, our unity above all differences. King Solomon immortalized the tenet of love above all divisions with his words (Prov. 10:12), “Hate stirs up strife, and love will cover all crimes.”
Throughout our ancient history, we struggled to maintain our unity and love for one another. We fought to overcome internal hatred and struggles that arose within us, and be the light to the nations that we were ordered to be.
However, toward the beginning of the Common Era, we succumbed to self-hatred and our social structure collapsed. That failure had made us the world’s pariahs, as we had failed to be a light unto nations. Until we restore our unity and fulfill our vocation, the nations will not forgive us and will not want us among them.
For the most part, they will not be able to articulate exactly why they hate us, so they will rationalize their anger by blaming us for contemporary plights such as diseases, wars, economic crises, religious conflicts, and all the other problems for which Jews have been blamed. However, underneath them all, there is, was, and will be only one grievance that the world has against us: our lack of unity, and in consequence, our failure to shine the light of unity to the nations.
Only when we rise above the division that has been tearing us apart from within for more than two millennia, the world will accept and welcome us. If we unite, we will not need to explain our position; we will not need to justify ourselves; and we will not need to fight against antisemitism. If we defeat the antisemite within us, who hates his own brethren, the external antisemitism will vanish on its own.