Anti-Semitism is a sign of illness in the culture that hosts it. It poisons the culture’s history and legacy.
The pre-Holocaust anti-Semitic reenact-ment we are witnessing today is spreading around the world. In addition to Europe and the West, the viral meme of anti-Semitism has affected parts of Asia with no prior Jewish population or history of anti-Semitism. Even some developing countries — many of which have benefited from Israeli technological support — have espoused, for geopolitical reasons, new anti-Semitic and/or anti-Israel positions couched as anti-Zionism and anti-Israelism. They are using the cause of Palestinian independence as an excuse.
From the trauma-field perspective, reenactment generally happens as an unavoidable repetition of trauma, but it also may be seen as an unconscious attempt to recreate the situation to correct the initial traumatic event.
Our challenge is whether we repair or repeat this reenactment.
This reenactment is an opportunity not only for Jews to do what they were unable to do before and during the Holocaust, but also for the nations of the world to repair what happened to their own cultures regarding the Holocaust. It is an opportunity to effect long overdue changes in worldviews and in the understandings of their own cultures and religions as they relate to Judaism.
Like all racism and bigotry, anti-Semitism is a sign that something is wrong with the culture and people of the nation exhibiting it. The population suffers, feeling ignored or oppressed, with too many of its basic universal needs unfulfilled. The people’s physical, economic or religious safety may be threatened, with their self-images, senses of identity and competence threatened or denied.
They use anti-Semitism as a stopgap to ignore their problems. When anti-Semitism flares up in a group of people, it means there is a huge reservoir of despair and anger, which is easier to alleviate by taking it out on those different in culture, nationality, religion or race.
Minorities usually are the scapegoats when bad times arise, but anti-Semitism goes viral more than other forms of bigotry. To distance themselves from their Jewish origins, replacement theologies in Christianity and Islam made Jews scapegoats. This often unconscious, 2,000-year-old meme of anti-Semitism has infected 3 billion people. The worldwide spread of the exiled Jewish people and their unique combined culture, nation, religion and race add to this tragedy.
However, people’s problems do not go away because they project them onto Jews and/or Israel. To the contrary, their problems worsen, camouflaged by hatred against the minority. To their frustration
and helplessness, they add hatred and meanness — which do not make people happy.
While the fight against anti-Semitism is vital for the Jewish people and Israel, it is even more so for the community of nations and the collective consciousness it holds.
Clearly, the Jewish people need to — and will — fight anti-Semitism wherever they are. Our well-being, the survival of our children and our existence as a people depend on it. Yet, it is important to make clear to the nations of the world that anti-Semitism is not just a Jewish problem, but the nations’ problem; more than the Jews, they need to fight.
The ability of Jews and gentiles to fight anti-Semitism is relatively new. Thankfully, people are acknowledging that need to fight. But anti-Semitism has become a favorite viral meme for any wrongdoing and any offense, anywhere. Thus, we need greater accuracy against and a stronger will to fight anti-Semitism. This only can arise from nations understanding it is in their own interests to fight anti-Semitism, as well as from the Jews’ new ability to confront the nations ignoring it.
“Canary in the coal mine” is a metaphor for warning of serious dangers to come. The cliché that the “Jews are the canary in the mine” is accurate. Anti-Semitism often is the first indicator of the erosion of a collective psyche’s well-being. It is the moral and ethical measure of how a culture has been compromised. Anti-Semitism is everyone’s problem.
A well-balanced culture welcomes Jews and other minorities, relishing in their creativity and capacities to collaborate and contribute to their host nations. A quickly ailing culture shows signs of anti-Semitism. It starts on the fringes of society, usually dismissed as atypical, and often includes demonizing the haters and dismissing the problems underlying their anti-Semitism. Little by little, anti-Semitism becomes mainstream, infecting the political structure while camouflaged via branding and demonizing the mostly powerless fringe groups, which carry the weight of the nation’s fall into bigotry.
Anti-Semitism is an indication of a culture’s incapacity to handle uncertain, difficult or changing times and understand its traumatic periods. Finding a scapegoat helps people focus on a common enemy responsible for the instability and all that is bad. They believe getting rid of this enemy will bring back safety, predictability and well-being.
Falling into anti-Semitism, or any kind of racism, bigotry or reverse racism, is a sign ghosts of the past and old traumas have been triggered. The dark shadows of the culture emerge, leading to religious or anti-religious exclusivism; cultural, racial or ethnic tribalism and hatred for the foreign or the different — all of which are preludes to the disintegration of a culture into violence and war.
That is why anti-Semitism is the nations’ problem, a world problem, and not just an Israeli or Jewish one.
Anti-Semitism hides behind anti-Zionism. Unmasking the anti-Semitic face of anti-Zionism is a crucial and easy task.
Anti-Semitism or geopolitical considerations drive activists around the world who only espouse the Palestinian cause; only decry Palestinian deaths that happen at the hands of Jews; refuse to address the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; ignore any and all causes of oppression or lack of freedom; and ignore the needs of Israelis.
By falsely defining Zionism as Jewish racism against Palestinians, anti-Semitic people feel justified and moral in attacking Israel. Anti-Zionism is a good cover for those who, for geopolitical reasons, must stand against Israel. It makes people feel good about themselves, believing they are contributing to an ethical world — yet they have no awareness of their actions’ consequences on both Palestinians and Jews.
As further self-justification that they are not anti-Semitic, these activists are committed in principle to memorializing the Holocaust and defining it as something historically unprecedented and other-worldly. They ignore that for centuries, history had been leading up to it; they act as if no one but Hitler has ever contributed to the isolation, denunciation and dehumanization of the Jews. They blissfully ignore the current viral anti-Semitic deeds taking place around the world under the cover of anti-Zionism. With self-righteous indignation, they accuse Zionists of being Nazis and attack Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. They demonize Jews and Israelis, justifying their hatred (these otherwise good, loving people) because the Zionists are contemptible and the essence of evil, which is so Hitler-like.
The approach to peace around the world must change. People looking to contribute to sustainable peace must consider the suffering of all sides of an issue. Every caring citizen, peace activist or elected leader must incorporate the fight against anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism into their dialogues. There no longer can be unwitting anti-Semitism. We all must be aware of rhetoric that contributes to racism, bigotry, hatred, murder and violence.
The international community can learn to assess the danger of violence by analyzing its anti-Semitic excesses, manifested in attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions.
There are several levels of action countries (and we) may take:
Heal the religious wars
We must maximize interfaith efforts between the Abrahamic religions to heal wars of religion.
We should never talk about the Holocaust without including the anti-Semitic atmosphere and traditional religious patterns that caused it. Much work has been done but more is needed. The Vatican’s Nostra Aetate Council in 1964 exonerated the Jewish people from deicide. Christian Zionist and evangelical backing of Israel is an important effort that should be better known. Think about Eastern European countries supporting the State of Israel, and Jewish communities being safer from anti-Semitic attacks there than in Western European nations.
Other efforts include the apology of the king of Spain for the Inquisition; Spain and Portugal’s invitation to give honorary citizenships; the king of Morocco and the president of Egypt’s invitations for expelled Jews to come back; and Islamic voices who recognize the Jewish people and the Jewish state. The media needs to give more attention to all these efforts. We must help religions with significant extremist elements revert to their times of magnanimity, when their cultures were not in the throes of the trauma of loss and paralysis.
We need a program allowing cultures to move beyond the horrors they committed and be fully rehabilitated. Without this, the weight of shame and humiliation can jeopardize the connection of youth to older generations and their own cultural past, and manifest in demonizing the victim. We see this danger in the resurgence of anti-Semitism, even in countries very vigilant about it. We need to find more successful reparation and rehabilitation processes.
I detail this process in “New Paradigm for Holocaust Education,” which can be found online (blogs.timesofisrael.com/more-than-a-meme-against-genocide). The guidelines that allow a perpetrator culture to redeem itself and rejoin the community of righteous nations include taking responsibility, emotionally processing difficult feelings and making reparations. Most importantly, reparation and rehabilitation mean preventing repetition; committing to finding the roots of bigotry; changing cultural values, worldviews and conditions that fed it, including unhealed collective trauma; and preventing it in other countries.
Reframing the concept of the Chosen People
The Jewish nation is called to be in service of humanity, the creation of God. Being a Chosen People and a light unto the nations is not arrogance. Our chosen status does not imply a genetic superiority. We have received a blueprint for working toward higher levels of consciousness and of being in service, which has inspired other religions. The Seven Laws of Noah included all humanity in this design, and anyone may choose to be of service and be a light unto others.
Correctly using intersectionality
Meant to strengthen the hands of minorities fighting for equality and recognition, the concept of intersectionality at times has been co-opted because of the viral anti-Semitic meme. An intersectionality that targets Jews because of their resilience, or defines oppression by color and not by power structure, only creates more divisiveness. It risks being co-opted by traumatic energies, becoming just another forum for reverse racism and a new elitism of victimhood, which wrestles control from people over their own destinies.
Healing the Jewish trauma
Despite our remarkable resilience and productivity, many Jews struggle with a huge burden of trauma. Some have left their tribe; a small number have turned against the safety of their own people; and most struggle to find religious unity. It behooves the community of nations to help the Jewish people feel secure and honored so they can continue serving in the role they were meant to play: Denouncing anti-Semitic threats whenever and wherever they appear.
We need to heal the Jewish trauma, which manifests in several ways:
Differences between Jewish movements
Reconciliation is a difficult but crucial task to accomplish. All voices have to be acknowledged and helped to clean up their core messages from traumatic aspects, whether it’s a far-right party that believes it has to match the enemy’s aggression with Jewish aggression, or the J Street movement that, in its search for peace, puts the blame on Israel and wants it to take all of the risks.
Assimilation versus isolation
For some, there is the need for the religious nature of Israel to have more influence. It is a real fight between them and those who want a secular Israel with a liberal lifestyle, following the model of Western nations and being subject to the international community’s values and judgment. In the Diaspora, the battle is between those who need to isolate and insulate — for fear their religion will be diluted and secular contamination will take over — and those who want a Diaspora community that fully integrates in its host country.
It is a struggle between those who have deep desires to be accepted and appreciated by others (and have a fear of alienating others) and those who want Israel to maintain its principles and promote its interests even if it must stand alone. These proponents want alliances with others and want to be part of the community of nations, but not at the expense of Jewish interests.
Wanting to be a light unto the nations and belong
The Jewish people need to resolve the conundrum of wanting to be a light unto the nations and an exemplar Chosen People with the reality of surviving in a country surrounded by declared enemies. The battle continues between those who believe Israel has betrayed the ideal of peaceful Jewishness and ethical Judaism (some even prefer the dissolution of the Jewish state for the sake of this purity) and those who feel their fight for physical survival justifies the use of force and must deal with the painful choices that come with it.
Solutions only will come from the unification and balance between those who hold the flag of Jewish physical survival and religious geographical mandate, and those who hold the flag of the ethical pursuit of Judaism, including compassion for strangers and the downtrodden. It is incumbent on us to develop awareness of polarization within the Jewish community, practicing self-regulation processes that center us enough to communicate with people with differing views, and achieving the necessary flexibility to reach compromises.
There must be realistic assessments of geopolitical realities. We must measure the unfulfilled needs of people involved in conflict with the Jewish people and with Israel, and determine how many of their actions trauma distorted. There must be patience to wait for the right times, the right leaders in key places and the right alliances. This may be where it is helpful to have faith and not think of ourselves as so powerful that we have all the answers.
The Torah blueprint may contain the righteousness of claims on both sides, once their traumatic layers are cleaned from them. It is mostly, but not only, a lack of balance that creates polarization, making people unable to talk to one another and unable to find the solutions they need.
The Jewish people want the world to take responsibility for its part, and we need to fulfill our part. The best way is to free ourselves from our trauma.
Gina Ross is founder and president of the International Trauma-Healing Institute in the U.S. (ITI-US) and its Israeli branch (ITI-Israel). She is the author of “Beyond the Trauma Vortex Into the Healing Vortex,” a series of books on healing trauma, and the creator of the Ross Model: Protocol for Conflict Resolution and Successful Communication.