The Roots of Anti-Semitism

04/01/2015 - 8:45am
Trying to understand why every Jewish generation faces an evil Pharaoh.

Thousands gathered in London in February for a rally in response to the uptick of anti-Semitic incidents in Europe. Getty Images

“I really wanna drive around Lakewood and run over every Jew with my car.” Imagine logging onto Twitter and seeing this post. Or imagine seeing another picture on Twitter of a teenage girl dressed as Hitler, complete with a mustache and swastika, giving the “heil Hitler” salute. These anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi posts are real. They were written by New Jersey teens and “featured images of swastikas, Nazi salutes and included references to bombing and running over Jews in Lakewood [New Jersey],” according to a USA Today article.

The photographs accompanying the tweets, taken by teenagers in a nearby town, are quite startling because of the imagery and the fact that they were posted by teens who live driving distance from me. “The Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office did not file charges against the teens, finding that their actions did not pose a credible threat…But [Senator Robert] Menendez wants the Justice Department to ensure that the tweets do not pose a threat to public safety or homeland security,” according to the article.

A tweet may seem harmless in the sense that there was no violence or actual attack, but with the power of the media’s influence on impressionable teenagers and other Twitter users, the post may not be harmless for long. This incidence of anti-Semitism, specifically neo-Nazism, is a warning sign — sharp  wind before a storm. No one should wait until the thunder hits and the rain falls to take cover and protect themselves.

So what exactly is anti-Semitism and what can we do to combat it? Anti-semitism is defined in the Merriam Webster Dictionary as a “hatred of Jewish people.” Semite means, “a member of a group of people originally of southwestern Asia that includes Jews [Hebrews] and Arabs [and Canaanites, Phoenicians, and Akkadians].” However, to be anti-Semitic means to harbor hatred against Jews, not Arabs. Wilhelm Marr, a German political activist who led anti-Jewish campaigns in Europe, popularized the term and intended it to mean hatred against Jews, not other Semites. Though the term was created in 1879, acts of hatred again Jews have been evident since Biblical times and unfortunately, the hatred exists today including in the United States.

Jews have endured a long history of injustice. For example, Pharaoh kept B’nai Yisrael as slaves for 400 years in Egypt. When we sit at our seder we retell the story of how Hashem, or God, took us out of Egypt and freed us from slavery and persecution. Yet despite our grand exodus and the security of being Hashem’s chosen people, Jews remained persecuted. We were tortured in Spain and terrorized by pogroms in Eastern Europe; we were even blamed for the plague (the Black Death), which broke out in Europe in 1348.

The Holocaust is brutal evidence of hatred and fear taken to the extreme through the organized mass murder of six million Jews. When Hitler crept his way into power he saw a race, not a religion, as a cause of his nation’s problems. He blamed Jews for Germany’s weak economy and enacted the Final Solution: eradicating the Jews would solve the country’s problems.

Jewish hatred and anti-Semitism have significantly increased in the past years, especially in France. Researchers at Tel Aviv University “monitoring anti-Semitism, have reported a chilling increase in attacks in Europe over the past decade,” in a January article in the New York Times. The January attack at Hyper Cacher, a kosher supermarket in France, left four Jews murdered by a terrorist linked to ISIS. Philippe Braham, Yohan Cohen, Yoav Hattab and Francois-Michel Saada were all targets of anti-Semitism. They were four people with families and lives; they are now four victims of blind hatred.

One question persists: Why Jews? Pharaoh felt threatened by their multitude and sought a way to control a growing nation that he felt would grow to control him. Hitler needed a target for Germanys’ problems and his personal vendettas. Dr. Arie W. Kruglanski, a Maryland professor who studies the psychology of terrorism, writes that although ISIS’s goal is to instill fear in Israel and other countries, the group is a gathering of men who themselves are “confused youths in transitional stages of their lives … torn by conflicting cultural demands.” In the unstable Middle East region, ISIS membership satisfies individual’s cravings for political stability and order among the chaos, according to an article published in E-International Relations. Fear may underlie the hatred of Jews. Pharaoh, Hitler and ISIS struggle with the fear of a nation and religion that they do not understand and cannot control.

Hatred and persecution of Hashem’s chosen people is a never-ending battle. We must not, however, consider ourselves victims. This Passover we must remember how our strength kept us from Egypt’s influence and how our faith in Hashem brought us to our freedom. As we lean against our pillows and sip our wine, a symbol of our freedom from slavery, while telling the story of our ancestors’ exodus from Egypt, we must recall what our freedom grants us. We are a nation in possession of Hashem’s strength. We are capable of overcoming hatred and social injustice and retaining our Jewish identities just as our ancestors did throughout history. Enjoy a happy, healthy and meaningful holiday.

author's bio: 
Lizzie Zakaim is a senior at Paramus High School in Paramus, N.J.