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Are you an accidental antisemite? I’m not talking about dyed-in- the-wool Nazis here. This article addresses only the clueless and those who insist on being clueless.  The motivation for this article was a recent incident with someone I thought a friend, someone who ignored my upset at his use of incendiary words against Jews. And, yes, it was over Israel and, yes, you can criticize Israel and not be anti-Semitic. And, you know what? Jews can immediately recognize the difference, even if you don’t.

There are two ways (and probably more) to talk about Israel today. The best way is to discuss the policy of the present right wing Israeli government with people who actually know the history of the present situation (that is the facts, not the revisionist history presented by both sides of this extreme coin). These knowledgeable people speak in measured words and open doors to a better understanding of the problems faced, as well as the possibility of exploring real solutions.

Then there is you, dear accidental antisemite.  You build your arguments on slanders used for centuries against the Jewish people. I know you, like my once friend, may not get it or won’t acknowledge that your “logic” rests on centuries of hate. If that is your position and wonder why Jews should be upset, you can give yourself a genuine antisemite medal and move on.

And, no, I am not saying Jews are the only Semites. That word is used because Jew haters themselves coined it and used it. It was introduced in the 19th century by Wilhelm Marr, in a book he later denounced but only after it contributed to the kind of hatred that inspired Hitler. The implication that Jews have taken the word antisemite in order to deny other’s reality is an old antisemitic trope.

Throughout this article you will be treated to some questions. This quiz will test your understanding of your own possible and unrecognized  antisemitism. The answers will be at the end of the article.

Here is a sample question:  Why are Jews hated? (Pick one)

1.  They killed Christ.                                                                                        

2.  They kill Christian children to take their blood.                                              

3.  They own the world and make us suffer.                                                     

4.  They are too rich and have too much power                                              

5.  God loves them more.                                                                                  

6.  Because of the human failings of hatred of difference and xenophobia

And now for the story:

After losing their home over two thousand years ago, Jews have been endlessly oppressed. . (Are you thinking, they brought it on themselves? Or they’re not oppressed anymore?). Most of the 16-18 million of us have stories of family members murdered centuries before we were born  Being strangers and often unwelcome ones at that, we tried to deal with our oppression as not to encourage worse. In most places we lived there were laws that limited how we could earn a living, whether we could own property (usually not) and limiting where we could live. Even then we were often exiled and forced to leave all we had built in a place our families had lived, sometimes, for centuries.  Often, we were tortured for our beliefs and forced to sign oaths against our beliefs rather than die. The worse, of course, was seeing family members murdered. Long before the Holocaust (which some of you think is talked about far too much and others believe never happened) my aunt watched her elderly uncle killed by Cossacks who placed boards over him then rode their horses over him. Jesus was not the first or the last Jew crucified.

Overall Jewish survival policy meant to be good citizens and contribute to society. Jews have done that in many societies around the world, contributing inventions, medicines, literature, painting, music, poetry. Those who could built schools, health centers and hospitals and so on. Jews were also benefactors to many community organizations and institutions. The result was that periodically Jews were murdered and exiled or forced to convert. Branded as too rich, the criminal element, cheap, sneaky, or thieves and so on.

America seemed golden. There were only a few specific legal penalties for being a Jew. For a while we couldn’t join the army, though some Jews helped finance the revolution. Here there was only one or two Jews lynched (that we know of), and most of the boundaries we faced were social and economic, not life or death. I grew up in the 1950’s and during that time Jews could not go to certain hotels, could not buy property in some places, could not attend certain colleges and law and medical schools, would not be hired by certain firms but no one looked like they were going to kill us. Oh, yes, there was Father Coughlin and the Bund, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” hyped by none other than Henry Ford, but after WWII America was still safe. Of course, during that war, immigration laws barred an easy Jewish immigration to the U.S. This was true before, during, and after WW II, thus condemning to horrible deaths many of the men, women, children and infants who were trying to escape the European slaughter.

Notice I haven’t touched on a million microaggressions Jews suffer and you don’t notice.

So how did Jews handle this constant oppression? Humor and tears, often at the same time. That reflects our “Fiddle On The Roof” lives. You play, you bring beauty, but you may fall at any moment. You can see this mixture in Baron Sasha Cohen’s film “Borat” where in his apocryphal town there is a yearly “running of the Jews.” At that time, the townspeople assault Jews. Funny and horrible all at the same time.

And yet, sometimes, to many of us,  it feels like that time is coming soon again, that time when we are made victims and here in America.  This time, however, we will be putting up one hell of a battle, because we are ready. The Holocaust taught us that too few give a damn about our lives.  And, more importantly, today we have a home, a place to go when the true haters and your passivity or collaboration, dear accidental anti-Semite, threaten our lives….again. We do have an exit plan.

The vast majority of Jews are Zionists. Zionism does not equal racism but survival. We did not make up our attachment to our homeland. Israel is in every prayer. Once a year for many more than two thousand plus years we have cried, “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Like many indigenous people we were tied to our homeland. We celebrated in 1948 because now we had a place where they would not leave us to die. And I wonder how many Jews are sad that Israel has nuclear weapons. The politics of the Mideast is complex, often brutal and very long. If you know what happened only this week you know nothing.

Zionism began after a mega-slaughter of Russian Jews- called pogroms from the 19th century. A Jew called Theodor Herzl believed, after the murder of hundreds of men, women, and children, that Europe was not a safe place for Jews. He was willing to relocate anywhere, however, most Jews wanted to go “home.”  As we observed our religious obligations, we were always reminded of the loss of our homeland. I once had a wonderful conversation with an Ethiopian Jew.  The Ethiopian Jews were lost in the first Diaspora before the rebuilding of the second Temple.  She told me about a song Ethiopian Jews sang about the love for their homeland- Israel. Whether Jews are from China, India, Uganda, Brazil, the UK, Australia, etc. we know where home is. We may choose to be citizens elsewhere and loyal to the nation of choice but like any tribal people tossed off our land many Jews want to return or at least know there is a place for them there. Thus we began to actively assert this in the mid-19th century. That was Zionism: Going Home if we chose or had to.

What was happening in Palestine then?  It was a time when European imperialism buoyed by racism and greed took the world by storm. World War I was the result of competing imperialists. During the war England (who held much of the Middle East, either directly or as a “protected” territory) promised that after that war Britain, in control of that area, would establish the State of Israel: “His Majesty’s Government views with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”  That promise was called the Balfour Declaration. Push back from the powerful in the region made it a problem so It didn’t happen and millions of Jews went to their deaths with no place to go to escape the great slaughter we call Shoah (the great tragedy).. Now here is your first question in am I an anti -Semite quiz.

The slaughter of Jews in Europe in the mid-twentieth century was_____________ (fill in the blank):

a.  A painful catastrophe, and a lesson for all humanity                                 

b.  Should have taught every Jew to be nicer to everybody                            

c.  Was caused by Jewish control of money                                                      

d.  Should have just wiped all of them out                                                       

e.  Breaks my heart                                                                                          

f.  Is a lie made up by rich Jews who control the world

After the WWII Europe was filled with thousands of Jews who had no place to go. No one wanted us except maybe under certain circumstances but not too many and not enough.

Next are you an anti-semite quiz question.Under these circumstances, Jews should have:

a.  Committed mass suicide                                                                                                                 

b.  Gone back to where they used to live before the war, after all they used to have  homes there                                                                                            

c.  Stay in Displaced Persons Camps until someone had an idea what to do with them                                                                                                     

d.  Begun to Force Britain to live up to their promise

What a cadre of Jews did was demand the promise in the Balfour Declaration be kept. They got on boats and went to Israel where the British kept them from entering. Now remember these were refugees without weapons or an army but they were also desperate traumatized people willing to do anything. By now the Middle East was the home to many totalitarian governments. None of them were friendly to the destabilizing influence of a Jewish migration.

Jews were not alien to Israel. Even after the second Diaspora there were many Jews who remained in their homeland. Along with some of the Sabras (those that always lived in Israel) these refugees used any means necessary to be allowed to return to Israel.

Third Question in this Quiz:    Under these circumstances Jews should:

a.  Stop being terrorists and talk nicely, eventually these nations might come around                                                   

b.  Commit mass suicide                                                                                

c.  Realize they lost their homeland hundreds of years ago and get over it    

d.  Leave the Arab people who now occupy the area alone                             

e.  Fight for their future and the future of their children

Are you beginning to see the outlines of a tragedy? For anyone with a humanitarian sense of history will be able to see how two powerless groups of people will soon be used to profit others.

The British found that holding on to their Palestine was too much of a problem. In 1948 the United Nations gave territory to these desperate refugees to settle as their homeland. Borders were drawn. Jews around the world celebrated. And every single Arab State declared war on the new nation that had no weapons, no army, navy, air force or stable populations. The Arab people in the areas the refugees were allowed to settle were told that they should leave their homes until the Jews were driven into the sea. This, to many Jews, made these particular Arab people the enemy and some of these Arab people were driven off their land by the now Israelis. The Jews were not driven into the sea, the Arab states refused to make peace or recognize the State of Israel (to this day) and the Arab refugees who left or were cast out could neither return to their homes nor did any other Arab State welcome them in.

Why was this done?  Choose From Answers Below

  1. Jews wanted it all for themselves
  2. The Jewish Conspiracy makes trouble in the world
  3. The totalitarian leaders in the Middle East wanted to hold their positions by taking focus off their misdeeds and onto the Jews                              
  4. Many Israelis feared these displaced Arab people would become an enemy force within their new land if allowed to return.

And so the horror begins. In Israel, while people worked for recognition and peace, they are attacked in a series of wars, all but one begun by the Arab States. Israel then won these wars; thus Israel gained land beyond the borders drawn in 1948 and which the Arab States never recognized..

What should Israelis do with the land?

  1. Give it back without conditions. After all it is Arab land.
  2. GIve it back and go back to Europe and let the Arab people alone.
  3. Give back the captured areas on the condition of recognition and peace.
  4. Keep it and add it to their territory like every conquering nation has always done.

Actually, I will give you Israel’s answer. They gave back the land for peace. The land was taken back and no peace arrived. Israel felt that they had made a mistake. Over the years, these Arabs we call the Palestinians became pawns when they left or were cast out of their land and now were like Jews once were –a Displaced People. The Arab nations used the quarrel for their leaders to grow rich. The Israeli government did not treat Palestinians who remained in Israel differently than any other Israeli citizens but the camps containing the Displaced Arabs now called Palestinians became a wound at the heart of Israeli democracy.

Okay, this is the barest of outlines. I avoid discussing the corruption and profiteers on both sides, the distortions on both sides. The fact that Israel like most of the world has turned to the right.  All I can say is the hate flows on. I am an American Jew. I support Israel but not the right wing Israeli government nor do I endorse the present right wing American, Spanish, English or Italian governments.

I have no idea if this story makes you understand me and my fellow Jews any better. We represent a small slice of humanity and being human means we can have Elie Wiesel and Stephen Miller among us. We, like any other oppressed groups, are not all the same. Do you see us as oppressed or the new Nazis? Do you see people fighting for their land or their lives or do you see interlopers, troublemakers?

Like I said, pretty old tropes. I recommend to all Spike Lee’s “Black Klansmen.” It is a wonderful film about the complexity of American racism but for me, one scene stood out. It was a real event.  It took place at night. There were torches and people marching and shouting “We will not let the Jews replace us.”

Dear accidental anti -Semite I know you would not be among those ugly ranters. But take a moment to think, you are a kid of say thirteen gone to learn about racism. You are in your seat and that scene comes up. How outraged would you be if you saw this? How careful will you be in the future in shouting unexamined slogans against the Israeli Right Wing Government?  Will you know Zionism is NOT racism? Will you know OCCUPATION is not Apartheid?  Will you understand divesting in Israel, a nation of people who spent two millenniums seeing the world against them, will only make the right wing stronger? To end the sad Israeli-Palestinian quagmire you don’t need sides but solutions and even now in Israel people on both sides are working for that. Let there be peace and like the song goes…let it begin with you. Perhaps if you are only an accidental antisemite because of lack of knowledge you can rant softer, more carefully and present your side logically and without distortions, stereotypes or hate.

ANSWERS TO THE QUIZ: Ask any Jewish friend or co-worker they will have the correct answers.

Carol Polcovar

Carol Polcovar

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