Looking at the title, you probably ask, “What’s the difference? You probably mean, ‘What’s the connection between Sarah Silverman in 2011, and Michael Douglas in 2015!’” Well, I am not talking about the connection between them personally, but about the difference in the public’s reaction to two similar statements that they both made, four years apart. In 2011, comedian Sarah Silverman replied to Piers Morgan in a CNN interview, “If there’s one thing we should realize is [that] in general, the world hates Jews, you know? But it’s nice to be an underdog.” Nothing much happened after she said it. The YouTube video still has fewer than 13,000 views. Four years later, actor Michael Douglas reported an anti-Semitic incident his son had had in Europe, and the story went viral.
It’s not only that in 2011, Sarah Silverman was not as famous as she is today. Morgan even asks about her popularity in that interview. The difference in the media response, in my view, has to do more with the exponential, worldwide growth of anti-Semitism during those four years than with the level of popularity of the two celebrities.
In general, I agree with Ms. Silverman. I also sympathize with Mr. Douglas, having experienced anti-Semitism first hand in my youth, as well. And it can be nice to be the underdog, as Ms. Silverman remarked, but I do not think that the world regards Jews as underdogs. People do not hate underdogs; they hate the bad guys, and that’s what we’re considered by the majority of the world.
Had the US not defended Israel in the UN numerous times over the years, the truth of the world’s view of Israel in particular, and Jews in general, would have been exposed years ago. Only now, with America’s waning support, are we beginning to feel the heat, with such absurdities as the UN’s Commission on Status of Women resolution that Israel is the worst violator of women’s rights in the world!
It’s understandable, but at the same time regrettable that some Jews and some of the Jewish press are still in denial about the rising anti-Semitism in the US, as well. Editorials such as “The Anti-Semitism Surge That Isn’t” are not helping us face the facts and start thinking about how to cope with anti-Semitism instead of burying our heads in the sand pretending it does not exist.
If we are waiting for governments to act against anti-Semitism, whether in Europe or in the US, we are bound to be very disappointed. And not only that, but we will pay a heavy price.
If there is one good thing about anti-Semitism, though, it is that it makes us put our heads together and think. Because when we put our heads together (emphasis on the word, “together”), good things happen. Over the years, many non-Jews have been intrigued by Jewish togetherness, by the solidarity among the members of our nation. The world rightly senses that there is something special about it, but we aren’t sharing it. And the fact that we are unaware of its uniqueness makes no difference, because as their sensation is irrational, so is their hatred. But when we are not aware of our power, we cannot tap into it. If we did, we could use it to our benefit, and to the benefit of the world, and there is no doubt we would.
The source of our power is not our brains. There are many great Jewish minds, but our genius and numerous achievements in science, technology, medicine, culture, and economics have not quelled the world’s anger. Humanity is in no haste to thank us.
There is just one thing that we must give to the world, but aren’t, and this is why there is anti-Semitism. The Jewish nation was established many centuries ago on the basis of a unique covenant: to be “as one man with one heart,” united under the tenet, “love your neighbor as yourself.” It is a special kind of unity, one that embraces each person as he or she is, without trying to change or oppress anyone, but rather encourages each member of society to contribute his or her unique skills for the common good. By doing so, society creates a network of ties that transcends our inherent self-interest, and allows us to build a sustainable society where we flourish individually, and in so doing contribute to the power of society.
Today, such a society seems almost unrealistic. But once we came out of Egypt and congregated around Mount Sinai, a wondrous thing happened. We stood around a mountain of sinaah (hatred), hence the name, Sinai, and united above it. In this way, we conquered our hatred not by suppressing it, but by finding a point of unity above it!
And when we achieved that unity, we were given a task to be a light for the nations. We often wonder what that task means, and if there is any relevance to it these days. But if we think about that unity, and contemplate the fractured fabric of human society, we will realize that the world needs precisely this type of unity.
Approximately two millennia ago, Rabbi Akiva tried to teach us to love our neighbors as ourselves. And as we failed, we also lost the land and were exiled. When we install unfounded hatred in our hearts instead of the brotherly love we’d had before, we are accused of being warmongers and spreading strife and ill will.
Jews and non-Jews alike know we have been given the task to be a light for the nations. But when we are not united, we give the opposite example, and we are blamed for all the troubles. The world is closely watching our every move. Almost every UN resolution concerning human rights concerns Israel’s violations of them. Have we ever wondered why? The accusations may be factually untrue, but this has never stopped the world from blaming us. Instead of feeling victimized, I think it has to make us wonder what it is they want from us.
And from all my studies, I have learned that what they want is that we reestablish that unique unity we’d had back then, and share it with them. As I have written in The New York Times, we owe it to the world.
The current rift between Israel and American Jews sets a terrible example to the world. Most people do not distinguish between Israel and the diaspora Jews, and for governments, it is just a diplomatic pretext for venting the same old anti-Semitism.
We cannot afford to waste time. The global crisis is deepening, and the worse it gets, the more violent and virulent anti-Semitism will become. We have to start working on our unity, with the aim of eventually being “as one man with one heart.” This will make us the example that the world awaits from us. It is the only thing that we can give to the world, and which world needs and welcomes.
Originally published in The Jewish Journal