December 10, 2019

Anti-Westernism and the Jews

There is no better way to understand the ideological currents of the times than to see who hates the Jewish people and the reasons why.

In biblical times, Egyptians viewed themselves as surrounded and threatened by potentially hostile forces. Jews had not blended into Egyptian life, but were a nation apart. According to the Torah, they were enslaved because the Egyptians feared “they would join our enemies, or fight against us themselves, and move up from their land.”

In the Purim story, Jews are maligned as enemies of an autocratic state because, according to Haman, “the king’s law, the Jews do not keep.” Centuries later, Jews become enemies to Crusaders and Inquisitors because Jews emphatically rejected Christianity. To Nazis, they are a racial cancer that threatens the superior race.

Each of these is an ideology — a way of viewing the world, or at least some aspect of it. In today’s terminology, we might define the ancient Egyptians as nationalists concerned with internal disloyalty; Persian society in the Purim story as legalists, who having just experienced an assassination attempt on the life of King Ahashverosh, feared any deviation from strict adherence to law; the Crusaders as liberators of the rightfully Christian world; the Inquisitors as misguided fanatics seeking to save souls; and the Nazis as racist. In each of these examples, the Jews are profoundly the “other” − the easily identified opposite of the ideology condemning them.

“It is the State of the Jewish people that routinely is condemned as an apartheid, genocidal and annexationist outlaw.”

Every ideology has an “other” that stands in opposition. Capitalism has socialism; theism has atheism; democrats have autocrats. The “other” not always is the enemy, but identifying it as such — making it concrete, real, threatening — serves to define, justify and promote the ideology. In turn, this unites and gains power for its adherents.

The current ideological grotesque with which many are enthralled — most visibly on our campuses and occasionally in Congress — is anti-Westernism, which includes a savage critique of the West’s history, economy, standards and forms of government. Many of those who embrace this critique follow the historical pattern that focuses on the Jews — or now the State of the Jews — as the enemy, the embodiment of evils opposed. Israel, it is said, is deeply flawed and is the classic colonial enterprise, imposed by Europe on the Arab world; nationalistic; white and racist; a practitioner of apartheid; capitalistic while impoverishing the Arabs under its domination; quickly and unfairly using its overwhelming military superiority to impose its will; religiously obscurantist.

To critics, it is the example, par excellence, of the asserted costs incurred — all that is said to be wrong with the West — in becoming a successful Western nation. It is the “other”; the enemy against which anti-Westernism can define itself.

Russia can invade the Ukraine and annex Crimea; China can hold one million Uyghur Muslims in “reeducation camps”; the Madura dictatorship in Venezuela can enrich the favored few and reduce the populace to poverty; ethnic genocide can take place on a massive scale in Africa — but it is the State of the Jewish people that routinely is condemned as an apartheid, genocidal and annexationist outlaw.

Those who today find only fault in the West’s political innovations — its democracy, institutions, priorities, historic self-confidence and assertiveness — focus on Israel not because it is an evil outlier, and not simply because it is the Jewish State. It’s also because it perhaps is the best representative in its successes of all its critics deplore in the West: military power, capitalist economy, commitment to democracy, religious complexity and vitality.

It is this anti-Western ideology that is at the root of the current anti-Israel critique. Israel is the “other,” the opposite of the ideology that detests the West. It epitomizes the West.

Gregory R. Smith is a retired appellate attorney living in Los Angeles.