Commenting on the reactions to a CNN report on the Anti-Defamation League’s newly published study on antisemitism [pdf], David Sigeti posted the following observations on his Facebook page, which I share here with his permission – because I felt that just clicking “Like” didn’t do his excellent post justice.
This article and the study that it describes are pointing to an appalling reality. The comments, almost 4000 of them, confirm the results of the study — almost all of the highly-rated top-level comments are hostile to the article and the study and often in clearly antisemitic ways. Ugh.
The sheer number of comments (in just five hours) is itself a symptom of what some call “Jew-centricity”, an excessive concern with the Jews. Although a fascination with Jews is not necessarily antisemitic, as it can be a positive attitude, the overall tendency to obsession with the Jews is certainly an important factor in the remarkable longevity, breadth, and depth of antisemitism.
Ever since the Enlightenment, Jews have hoped that modernity would break with the traditional antisemitism of Christian (and Muslim) society. Some put their faith in liberalism with its advocacy of equal rights, religious tolerance, and democracy. Others put their faith in various forms of socialism and communism. Many of the founders of Zionism thought that “regularizing” the status of the Jews with the foundation of a Jewish state would reduce antisemitism, which they took as a reaction to the anomalous situation of the Jews as a dispersed nation. This idea was often expressed in the slogan that the Jews should be “a nation like any other”.
Although all of these movements (with the exception of communism) have made contributions to opposing antisemitism, the sad fact is that it is still with us in spades. Indeed, the situation globally might be as bad as it has ever been, except for the existence of Israel as a refuge for persecuted Jews and for the fact that the ethnic cleansing of Jews from the Arab world (and also, less completely, from the larger Muslim world) has left almost no Jews in the regions where antisemitism is strongest. And the situation is getting worse, as Holocaust denial, the blood libel, and the most extreme antisemitic conspiracy theories spread rapidly in the Muslim world, and as hostility to Israel in the Western countries becomes more and more extreme, irrational, and infused with the themes of traditional antisemitism.
The sages warned us long ago that, “Esau hates Jacob.” Rabban Shim’on bar Yochai even said that this is a “fixed principle” of Halacha. He had a point.
Note: I just saw that CNN closed the comments and apparently deleted several hundred, because when I first looked at the site about an hour ago, I remember a comment count of over 3800, while there are now “only” 3476 (or, by another count on the site, 35 14) left.