Many Jews are as anti-racist and fair-minded as could be on every issue except one: Israel's ethnic cleansing (i.e. forcible transfer out of their homes and villages inside of Israel, as documented by Israeli historian Ilan Pappe in his book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine) of Palestinians, carried out to ensure that Israel's population remains at least 80% Jewish. On this one issue they put their otherwise egalitarian values aside and make a huge exception. They justify this on the grounds that Jews need a place in the world that is virtually all Jewish, so they will be safe from the inevitable outbreaks of antisemitism. These Jews believe that, for some mysterious reason, all gentiles (non Jews) are, and always will be, prone to an irrational and inexplicable hatred of Jews. They believe that gentiles are always antisemitic, if not overtly then latently. On the basis of this anti-gentile stereotype, they insist that Jews need a "nation of their own" because they can never be secure living among gentiles, not even in the most democratic, egalitarian and enlightened society.
Theodor Herzl founded the modern Zionist movement in 1896 by writing his famous book, The Jewish State, which argued that Jews needed a state of their own because,
"The nations in whose midst Jews live are all either covertly or openly Anti-Semitic...the longer Anti-Semitism lies in abeyance the more fiercely will it break out...Anti-Semitism increases day by day and hour by hour among the nations; indeed, it is bound to increase, because the causes of its growth continue to exist and cannot be removed."
The essence of this negative anti-gentile stereotype is the supposed permanence of gentile hostility to Jews. Its permanence, in turn, stems in large part from its supposed irrationality. If there were a rational basis for the hostility then one could imagine that under changed circumstances the hostility would disappear. If, say, the problem were that gentiles believed a lie about Jews, then education could end antisemitism. Or if the problem were that gentiles had a legitimate grievance against Jews, then a just resolution of the matter would solve the problem. But the closest that elite Jewish discourse comes to acknowledging a rational basis for hostility to Jews is the idea that Jews are superior to gentiles in some way and gentiles are just jealous; and since this Jewish superiority is timeless, so is the antisemitism.
What does the actual history of Jewish persecution tell us about whether gentiles are innately antisemitic?
Let's start out by looking at a sample of what Jews are taught by their religious leaders, about the history of Jews being persecuted by gentiles.
The Chmielnicki Pogroms
Here is an example of how Jews learn a version of history that serves to make them believe an anti-gentile stereotype--that gentiles have an irrational hatred of Jews. The Chmielnicki pogroms of 1648, in what was then Poland and now the Ukraine, are considered to have been the most atrocious attacks on Jews by the gentile masses (as opposed to the state acting on its own as during the Nazi era) in European history. There is no doubt that it was a vicious attack and that tens of thousands--some say 100,000 or more--Jews died terrible deaths because of it.
This is how Rabbi Ken Spiro, a licensed tour guide from the Israel Ministry of Tourism who has appeared on radio and television programs such as B.B.C., the National Geographic Channel and the History Channel, describes the event in his "The Jews of Poland: Crash Course in Jewish History #49"
When the Ukrainians decided to throw the Poles out of their land, a full-scale massacres of Jews began.
The year 1635 saw the first big explosion of violence in Ukraine against Poles and Jews. But this attempt at the revolution was crushed. It returned with new vigor thirteen years later.
This second rebellion, in 1648, which succeeded in freeing Ukraine from Polish rule, was led by a Ukrainian Cossack named Bogdan Chmielnicki. In large measure it was directed at the Jews.
Chmielnicki was one of the biggest anti-Semites in human history, on par with Hitler. His aim was genocide and his forces murdered an estimated 100,000 Jews in the most horrendous ways:
Here is one description (from Yeven Mezulah, pp. 31-32):
"Some of them [the Jews] had their skins flayed off them and their flesh was flung to the dogs. The hands and feet of others were cut off and they [their bodies] were flung onto the roadway where carts ran over them and they were trodden underfoot by horse ... And many were buried alive. Children were slaughtered at their mother's bosoms and many children were torn apart like fish. They ripped up the bellies of pregnant women, took out the unborn children, and flung them in their faces. They tore open the bellies of some of them and placed a living cat within the belly and they left them alive thus, first cutting off their hands so that they should not be able to take the living cat out of the belly ... and there was never an unnatural death in the world that they did not inflict upon them."
Here is another account from a Luthuanian Rabbi Shabbetai ben Meir HaCohen (1621-1662) also known as the Shach, who survived this time:
"On the same day 1,500 people were killed in the city of Human in Russia on the Sabbath. The nobles [Cossacks] with whom the wicked mob had again made an alliance chased all the Jews from the city into the fields and vineyards where the villains surrounded them in a circle, stripped them to their skin and ordered them to lie on the ground. The villains spoke to the Jews with friendly and consoling words: 'Why do you want to be killed, strangled and slaughtered like an offering to your God Who poured out His anger upon you without mercy? Would it not be safer for you to worship our gods, our images and crosses and we would form one people which would unite together.' "But the holy and faithful people who so often allowed themselves to be murdered for the sake of the Lord, raised their voices together in almighty in Heaven and cried: 'Hear of Israel the Lord our God, the Holy One and the King of the Universe, we have been murdered for Thy sake so often already. O Lord God of Israel let us remain faithful to Thee.' Afterward they recited the confession of sins and said: 'We are guilty and thus recognize the Divine judgement.' Now the villains turned upon them and there was not one of them who did not fall victim."
It's no wonder when Jews hear the word Cossack they break out in a sweat. These people killed 100,000 Jews and destroyed 300 Jewish communities in the most brutal way one could imagine.
Yet to this day Chmielnicki is considered a nationalist hero in the Ukraine, where they regard him as a kind of "George Washington." In Kiev there is a big statue in the square erected in his honor.
Irrational hatred of Jews (at least of Jews who did not convert to Christianity) surely seems to be the explanation for the pogrom based on this account. But there are some parts of the story left out by Rabbi Spiro. These parts are discussed in Yiddish Civilisation: The Rise and Fall of a Forgotton Nation
by Paul Kriwaczek, who was born in Vienna in 1937 and, with his parents, narrowly escaped the Nazis in 1939.
Kriwaczek writes,"Peasant life on the Ukrainian estates has been compared with African-Americans' experience of ante bellum
plantation society in the southern Confederate states of North America....The distinguished historian of Poland Professor Norman Davies's judgement is severe but probably fair:
"the Jewish arendator [a person who leased land from a noble] became the master of life and death over the population of entire districts, and, having nothing but a short-term and purely financial interest in the relationship, was faced with the irresistible temptation to pare his temporary subjects to the bone...In 1616 well over half the Crown Estates in the Ukraine were in the hands of Jewish arendators. In the same era, Prince Konstanty Ostrorog was reputed to employ over 4,000 Jewish agents. The result was axiomatic. The Jewish community as a whole attracted the opprobrium directed originally at its most enterprising members, and became the symbol of social and economic exploitation."
Had Rabbi Spiro included this part of the story his readers would not have been so quick to conclude that the motive for the violence against innocent Jews was inexplicable and irrational. Wrong, yes; inexplicable and irrational, no.
It was the tiny minority of wealthy Jewish agents and arendators against whom the peasants had a legitimate grievance, and against whom violence was quite understandable. But why did the peasants hate the innocent Jews? Part of the answer, no doubt, stems from the fact that even the poorest Jews were seen by peasants to be living off the wealth that the rich Jews stole from the peasants; they were not perceived as people who shared anything in common with peasants. The position of Jews in feudal society explains why this would be so. As Kriwaczek writes:
"Jewish inequality was, in any case, always rather different in kind from that prevailing among the gentiles. Instead, it resembled a kind of inverted version of the surrounding feudal system. Among Christian Slavs the movement of wealth was upwards, from the worse-off to the better-off, from the base of the social pyramid towrds its summit. Riches were sweated from the soil by the multitude of peasants and passed upwards to swell the coffers of the noble few. Among the Jews, the movement of money was in the opposite direction, flowing from the prosperous, middle-class, Yiddish-speaking merchant minority, growing wealthy from the export trade--the entrpreneurs of Cracow, Lemberg and Lublin...down to the mass of the Jewish Slavic working class who serviced their social superiors' religious and existential needs: the kosher butcher, the matzo baker, the Sabbath candlestick maker, the vintner, the dyer, the weaver, the tailor, the musician and the man who drove the mule cart."
But was the violence even mainly driven by hatred of Jews? Kriwaczek adds the following additional part of the story:
"It is not to diminish the Yiddish people's afflictions to note, as reported in these same grisly accounts, that the worst cruelties were practised on Polish noblemen and Catholic priests: 'The Jews were led to the cemetary...They entered the cemetery chapel and were killed there. Afterwards the buildng was set on fire...The Catholic priests...were skinned alive while the dukes who had been buried for a long time were dug up from their graves and tossed aside'; that it was Polish nobles and priests who provided the greater number of victims: 'In the city of Mogila they slaughtered 800 nobles together with their wives and children as well as 700 Jews, also with wives and children,'"
Far from supporting the stereotype of irrational hatred of Jews, the actual events of the Chmielnicki pogroms suggest that the peasants were driven by class anger at the entire upper class of Polish society. They attacked Jews because they perceived them to be an integral part of the upper class. The anger clearly did not stem from anything mysterious, timeless and irrational. The behavior towards Jews of modern gentiles today simply cannot be predicted by, or understood as a continuation of, the supposedly "timeless and irrational" behavior of peasants in 1648 Poland.
Jewish leaders have long wanted Jews to fear peasants and have contempt for them. One illustration of this is that Israel's national poet, Chaim Nachman Bialik (1873-1934), born in the Ukraine, wrote his famous poem, "My Father," in 1932 during the great Ukrainian famine that killed millions. As Nicholas Lysson writes, "The poem depicts Bialik’s 'righteous and upright' father dispensing vodka in a 'den of pigs like men,' to Slavic peasants 'rolling in vomit' with 'faces of monstrous corruption.' Bialik calls them 'scorpions' for good measure. The father’s 'whispered syllables,' mean-while, audible only to his adoring son, are 'pure prayer and law, the words of the living God.' The poem nowhere acknowledges the common complaint that the Jews encouraged Slavic alcoholism, which brought in revenue, exposed peasants’ remaining assets to foreclosure, and made them easier to control." [from "HOLOCAUST AND HOLODOMOR"
Orthodox Judaism's Contempt for Gentiles
Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits is the former Chief Rabbi of Ireland and later became the spiritual leader of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue in New York City. He is the author of the book Jewish Law Faces Modern Problems
. He has a most interesting article, titled "A Modern Blood Libel--L'Affaire Shahak" in the summer, 1966 issue of TRADITION (Volume 8, Number 2) that is also online
. The article is a defense of the Israeli rabinnate against an accusation made against them by Dr. Israel Shahak the previous December in a letter to Haaretz
newspaper in Israel. Israel Shahak (1945- 2001) was a resident of the Warsaw Ghetto, a survivor of the Nazi Bergen-Belsen camp, and an outspoken critic of Zionism and champion of human rights in Israel, as well as having been a Chemistry professor. Shahak has written in great detail how Orthodox Judaism is fundamentally contemptuous of gentiles, basing his views on quotations from the original Hebrew Talmudic writings (which, as he notes, are often incorrectly translated into English in order to obscure how anti-gentile they actually are.) The interested reader can read Shahak's own words in his book Jewish History, Jewish Religion
, in which Chapter 5
("The Laws Against Non-Jews") is most relevant to the topic at hand.
Rabbi Jacobovits writes that, in his letter, Shahak
"charged that according to 'Orthodox' Jewish law it was forbidden to violate the Sabbath to save the life of a non-Jew. To 'prove' his inflammatory charge, he subsequently 'revealed' that he had himself witnessed an incident in which an Orthodox Jew had refused to allow his telephone to be used to call for help for a non-Jew who had collapsed nearby. Shocked, he asked the rabbinate for a ruling, and they had, so he claimed, confirmed that the Sabbath could indeed be violated only to save a Jewish life."
Rabbi Jacobovits claims that Dr. Shahak later admitted that he had fabricated the whole incident. I don't know the truth of this matter. In either case, it isn't relevant to our discussion. What is, however, very relevant is the rabbi's explanation, based on citations from the Talmud, for why
, as he asserts, "the rabbinate, far from having confirmed Dr. Shahak's allegation, had in fact ruled that the Sabbath must be violated to save a non-Jewish no less than Jewish lives."
Rabbi Jacobovits explains why
a Jew should break the Sabbath to save the life of a non-Jew
with these exact words:
"Nevertheless, even Biblical violations of the Sabbath are warranted for non-Jews 'on account of enmity,' i.e., if the refusal to render such aid may imperil Jews. This stipulation is explicitly made by R. Moses Schreiber (Chatam Sopher, Yoreh De'ah, no. 131; cited in Pitchel Teshuvah, Yoreh De'ah, 154)."
In contrast, the reason why it is permitted ("sanctioned" as Rabbi Jacobovits says) to break the Sabbath to save the life of a Jew
is explained by the rabbi this way:
"The principal verse cited by several sages in the Talmud to provide this sanction is: 'And the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath to observe the Sabbath" (Ex. 31:16), which they construed to mean: "Desecrate one Sabbath for him (i.e., a dangerously sick person), so that he may [survive to] keep many Sabbaths [later.]" (Yoma 85b; Sabbath 151b; Mekhilta, Tissa). Accordingly, the whole sanction to violate the Sabbath for the preservation of life is founded on the superior value not of life itself but of the prospect to observe "many Sabbaths" afterwards, so that the Sabbath can be suspended only for the sake of a person who himself observes the Sabbath."
What is remarkable about Rabbi Jacobovits's explanation of the Talmud on this question is that his own words confirm Shahak's main point--that the Talmud views gentiles as inferior to Jews and less deserving of even having their life saved. For, according to the rabbi, if the circumstances were such that a gentile's life depended on a Jew breaking the Sabbath, but no gentile would ever find out about it if the Jew refused to break the Sabbath, then there would be no risk of it "imperiling Jews" and hence the 'on account of enmity' reasoning would not apply and the poor gentile ought to be left to die. Nowhere in Rabbi Jacobovits's article is there an affirmation that a gentile's life is inherently as valuable as a Jew's life. Orthodox Judaism doesn't believe it is.
The Significance of This for Jews Today
Of course most Jews today do not decide how to behave based on Talmudic law. The point is that whenever a Jew breaks the Sabbath to save the life of a gentile (or in general treats a gentile as an equal, regardless of whether failure to do so imperils Jews) he or she is acting contrary to Orthodox Judaism. For centuries the rabbis and wealthy Jews, who controlled Jewish communities in Europe, used the Talmud to inculcate in ordinary Jews a profoundly disrespectful attitude towards gentiles. This played the same role then (and now, in the case of Palestinians) as racism played in the American South. The white upper class feared poor whites uniting with blacks (as indeed happened in the 1930s on a large scale in the Southern Tenant Farmers Union) and pushed the racist idea that blacks were inferior in order to turn the whites against the blacks. Similarly, the Orthodox Jewish religion helps to prevent ordinary Jews from forming relations of solidarity with gentiles against the upper class that oppresses them both.
As long as Jews accept that gentile antisemitism is unchangeable, they will be swayed by their leaders who preach the need for ethnic cleansing to keep Israel as purely Jewish as possible. They will be forced by the logic of this anti-gentile stereotype to side with Israeli leaders who carry out ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, even though these same leaders--an elite class of billionaires and generals--oppress and exploit ordinary Jews and have no concern for their welfare. The anti-gentile stereotype makes the very idea of solidarity between working class Jews and Palestinians unthinkable, and in this way functions to strengthen the Israeli elite's control over ordinary Jews.
Why do so many Jews believe the anti-gentile stereotype? To put the question more sharply, why do many American Jews believe this stereotype when they can see with their own eyes that virtually anytime antisemitic graffiti appears in any American town huge numbers of gentiles denounce it and march with Jews to condemn it?
The answer is that Jewish elites have been teaching Jews this anti-gentile stereotype for centuries. Wealthy Jews and rabbis were powerful people in feudal Europe, and their elevated position in society required preventing solidarity from developing between ordinary Jews and ordinary gentiles. The anti-gentile stereotype made this possible. This is a part of history that is not well known because the version of history that the rulers of society teach the masses deemphasizes or even excludes altogether the stories about how ordinary people challenged elite rule and how elites contrived to stay in power by telling people lies. For this reason most Jews as well as gentiles have only a vague idea about the context in which gentiles attacked Jews in the distant past. Even the more recent Nazi Holocaust is more lied about
than accurately presented to the public when it comes to the role of ordinary Germans during the Nazi period.
Most Jews, when they hear about the famous pogroms against Jews, imagine the Jews in those times as having been no different from the contemporary gentiles, with the sole exception of having a different religion and being discriminated against because of that. Jews are not taught important facts of European history that contextualize violence against Jews. For example, they aren't taught that Jews occupied a very different position in feudal society from gentiles, that, for example, there were never Jewish peasants in Europe, that even the poorest Jews lived in small towns or cities and were far better off than the rural peasants in feudal society who were virtual slaves, or that peasants were often directly oppressed by wealthy Jews who acted as agents of the nobility. It is understandable that, not knowing these things, Jews conclude from what they are taught by their religious leaders that the attacks on Jews can only be explained by the notion that gentiles harbor an irrational hatred of Jews, and that gentile antisemitism is mysterious, inherent and timeless.
Believing a negative stereotype about people because one doesn't know the full story happens all the time. For example, most Americans know that Palestinians don't like Israel, but they don't know why; they don't know that Israel carries out ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. So it is natural that Americans believe it when they are told that the reason Palestinians don't like Israel is because "Arabs have an irrational hatred of Jews, always have and always will."
Jews today are very well informed about the centuries of persecution of Jews by gentiles in Europe. Jewish leaders make sure of this. But what Jews today seldom know are the historical facts that indicate the actual motives of the gentiles who attacked Jews. Jewish leaders want Jews to believe that the motives of the gentile masses were always the same: irrational hatred of Jews, period. It's just "in their nature," like the killing instinct of the scorpion in the famous story of the scorpion who convinces the frog to carry him across the river by telling the worried frog that he would never kill the frog because then they would both drown, but who nonetheless does sting the frog in midstream and, when asked by the frog, "How come?" replies, "It's my nature."
Jews who want a more equal and democratic world need to understand that many of the beliefs they have been taught by the rabbis and wealthy Jews who lead organized Jewry are factually wrong when it comes to historical events, and morally wrong when it comes to placing more value on the life of a Jew than a gentile. Jews need to understand that these beliefs prevent them from standing with the great majority of people in the world in opposition to racism and ethnic cleansing and other forms of inequality that elites enforce in order to strengthen their power over people. Until they do, they will continue to suffer from a kind of collective paranoia. This is dangerous to both themselves and to the gentiles their Jewish leaders turn them against.
Israel's leaders are the modern-day version of the wealthy Jews of the past who aligned themselves with the nobles against the peasants and who tried to keep "their people" separated from and contemptuous of the peasants. This led to disasters like the Chmielnicki pogroms. Jews who think that they are making the world safer for ordinary Jews by siding with Israel's Zionist leaders and supporting their ethnic cleansing of Palestinians are making a monumental mistake. Jews, no less than gentiles, should oppose Israel's ethnic cleansing and demand it stop. They should join with the rest of us in supporting the right of return for the Palestinian refugees so they can return to their homes inside the green line (Israel) and receive fair compensation for the land and other property that the Zionists stole from them. It is the decent thing to do, no matter what one's religion.