FPJ Analysis: In Criticising Israel, Let’s Not Turn Anti-Semitic

FPJ Analysis: In Criticising Israel, Let’s Not Turn Anti-Semitic

Woke is meant to be enhance awareness of injustice and prejudice, and should not be weaponised against any group.

Bhavdeep KangUpdated: Thursday, December 21, 2023, 12:33 AM IST
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The Jewish nation is no stranger to ‘trolling’ and ‘fake posts’, having endured a thousand years of anti-Judaic tropes and pernicious stereotyping. The current wave of anti-Semitism on social media, in the wake of the Israel-Hamas conflict, pales in comparison. What’s curious is that the woke folk castigating Israel seem blithely unaware that they are resurrecting old prejudices.

The anti-Semitic posts on social media seem to reflect deep-rooted, historical biases. From Chaucer to Marlowe to Shakespeare — staples of English courses in schools and colleges — Jews are depicted as heartless usurers and satanists. From the Dreyfus affair to Nazi propaganda, the mass media has been deployed to propagate such sentiments.

The expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290 CE was preceded by a sustained campaign of slander — fake news, as it were. The three main elements were the ‘blood libel’, the ‘wandering Jew’ and ‘host desecration’ myths, in addition to the usury stereotype. Hazy outlines of these pseudo- narratives can be discerned in current social media posts.

The ‘wandering Jew’ myth has it that, for their part in the crucifixion, Jews were condemned to wander the earth without a homeland. In John Gower’s Confessio Amantis, (1390 CE) we find Jews fated to wander “without property or place, dispersed all over”. This trope is reflected in the argument that Israel does not have the ‘right to exist’, which is a necessary attribute for any nation. To this day, some 28 countries do not recognise Israel (although the Palestine Liberation Organisation did so in 1993), and its delegitimisation continues to be a hot topic of debate.

The ‘blood libel’ refers to canards of Jews abducting Christian boys and subjecting them to torture/crucifixion, or using their blood in Judaic rituals. These child-martyrs, such as William of Norwich, Hugh of Lincoln and Robert of Bury, were celebrated and posthumous miracles attributed to them. Chaucer’s Prioress’s Tale was clearly inspired by ‘little St Hugh’, given that his child protagonist is ritually murdered for singing a Marian hymn as he passes through a Jewish ghetto. Medieval age writers like Mathew Paris and Thomas of Monmouth dwelt on the sheer brutality of the alleged murders.

The idea, clearly, was to present Jews as lacking in human feeling. Shakespeare’s Shylock (Merchant of Venice) and Christopher Marlowe’s Barabas (The Jew of Malta) are avarice personified, prioritising wealth over their children. Chaucer writes: “For foule usure and lucre of vileynye/Hateful to Crist and to his compaignye.” In other words, the Jews offended Christ through the practice of usury and villainous profiteering. Centuries later, this characterisation of Jews as unfeeling finds expression in the claim that Israel is indifferent to the plight of children in Gaza, who are short of food and have no access to medical care.

Long before the Holocaust, France witnessed a massive surge of anti-Semitism when a Jewish army officer was framed for treason in the late 19th century. L’Affair Dreyfus was marked by the pro-active role of the media in whipping up and spreading anti-Semitism, prompting Emile Zola to pen his famous ‘J’Accuse!’ protest. A few decades later, the Vichy regime famously looked the other way as Jews were imprisoned and deported.

Today, France and 16 other countries have banned ‘denialism’, the anti-Semitic refusal to acknowledge that six million Jews died at the hands of Nazis during World War II. As recently as 2019, French activist Alain Soral was convicted under the Gayssot Act of 1990 for denying the Shoah (Holocaust). Yet, that is precisely what we are seeing today: a denial of Israel’s history, and its legitimacy.

In this resurgence of anti-Semitism, India has not been left untouched. Historically a safe haven for Jews, ever since the Bene Israel set foot on its shores 2,000 years ago, India was among the first to take a pro-Israel stance. But public opinion has since become polarised, with Indian woke folk joining those deriding Israel’s response to the killing of 1,200 civilians in the surprise attack by Hamas in October.

The great Jewish-Indian poet, Nissim Ezekiel, wrote of his Hindu compatriots: “I lack the means to change/their amiable ways/although I love their gods”. The live-and-let-live attitude to which Ezekiel refers allowed the Jews who settled in India over the centuries to prosper, in contrast to the persecution they faced elsewhere. They lived in harmony and even intermarried with local communities. If most of them chose to emigrate after the creation of Israel, it was from the desire to live in the Holy Land rather than a disenchantment with India. In fact, several thousand Kuki-Mizo-Chin tribals have emigrated from northeast India to Israel, claiming to be part of the ‘Lost Tribes’.

In the globalised world, events echo across the globe. In the USA, the Ivy League dream stands forever tainted by antisemitism. Jewish parents, according to media reports, are withdrawing their children from these rarified sanctums of learning following threats of violence. Woke is meant to be enhance awareness of injustice and prejudice, and should not be weaponised against any group.

Bhavdeep Kang is a senior journalist with 35 years of experience in working with major newspapers and magazines. She is now an independent writer and author

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