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Centuries of Antisemitism

{Originally posted to the MIDA website}

Sometimes I ask myself: what is the origin of the old and new Antisemitism? The origins of this timeworn obsession, is a question in itself.  In order to start giving some answers – and although Passover is right behind us – we should return to the story of the Jewish People’s Exodus from Egypt.

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The story of the Exodus is one of mankind’s greatest stories, and certainly a revolutionary” story in Human culture. It is an unfolding process that resulted in the creation of a nation who has self-awareness and an unprecedented  Ethics and morals, different from anything previously known: Instead of a life whose only meaning depended on the whims of dozens of gods, most enshrined as idols, endlessly fighting each other (and certainly not caring at all about humans);  Moses carved his own rock. His, was not a rock to be worshipped as a deity. He brought to the world, the great and earth changing message that both the life of the nation and that of its individuals are sacred.

Moses’ message was not only revolutionary. It was profoundly disconcerting, throwing over, as it did, all the existing assumptions and attitudes about the importance of the individual. It is perhaps no wonder that in those days many attempts were made to disparage and denigrate the nation that brought these values into the world. Countless efforts were made to cast doubt and aspersions on Moses and the people of Israel. As early as 300 BCE, we find the first written effort at de-legitimization of the Jewish people: “The Leper’s Plot”. Written by a Greek philosopher named Hecataeus of Abdera, the manifest presents the Jews as a band of impious lepers who defiled Egypt until they were finally expelled from it.

Though, perhaps the greatest impetus to cast doubt upon and to denigrate the founding ethos of the Jewish people, arose after the Torah was translated into Greek, in the third century BCE (“The Septuagint.”) Suddenly, more and more sages and philosophers from very different horizons and cultures were exposed to the ideas of Moses and the Israelites – therefore, such exposure created among some of them the need for counter narratives, stories and worldviews.

The first to act upon it, was probably the Hellenistic priest, Manetho, who lived in Egypt at the time of the Torah’s translation. Manetho not only reiterated the story of the ancient lepers, but also pointed out that the Israelites invaded Egypt since they were not permitted to settle in Egypt. He also distorted the story, and claimed that they’ve stayed there until the Egyptians managed to defeat and expel them.

In the second century BCE, the Egyptian writer, Lichimus, wrote his own version of the leper’s plot: he explained that it was only when the Jewish people were in the desert, that Moses offered to invade and conquer the land [of Israel] and kick out its inhabitants.

The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus, also rewrote and paraphrased the leprosy’s story of Hecataeus of Abdera. Apion, an Hellenized Egyptian also wrote an expanded version of this story. He claimed that the lepers were not the only ones expelled from Egypt. He claimed that thousands of blind people, sick and infected people with other diseases were also expelled. Apion also claimed that Jews did human sacrifices and worshiped donkeys’ heads. Seneca, a Roman philosopher, called the Jews “a cursed people” and Tacitus, an historian and  senator of the Roman Empire, vehemently denounced the “cult” that Moses had created and claimed that “The Jewish cult contradicted everything known to mankind”.

At first glance, the intensity of their obsession to cast a doubt on the story of the Exodus from Egypt is incomprehensible. But, the more you consider the impact of the Exodus story, the more their motives become understandable. The ethos of the Bnei Yisroel is simply more attractive and the Ethics and Morals of the Torah of Israel threatened all the cultures around. Not with the sword, but with an ideology, a vision. Indeed, the Jewish Ethical monotheistic  ideology eventually defeated its competitors. Rome converted to Christianity, meaning that they adopted a more contemporary Judaism and made their own adaptations accordingly. The same happened to the Orient nations of the world: they have somehow “judaized” and based on the Torah, they added new texts that altogether created what is known today as Islam.

Of course, the nations’ respective adoptions and transformations of Judaism, did not end their need to try and delegitimize Judaism and to cast blame on the Jews –  quite the contrary. Jews had to be found “unworthy” of the Torah, in order to justify these new religions.

Thus, a new concept was born: “anti-Semitism.”

The Greek Lepers’ plot was replaced with the accusation  of the Jews being the responsibles for the murder of Jesus (in the 4th century), and later on, with the crazy plot that the Jews were preparing matzah from Christian children’s blood. (England 1149). After that, it was said that the Jews were poisoning wells (Switzerland 1348), then that the Jews were planning to take over the world (The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in Russia, early 20th century) etc… Some of these tales appear again are even in our modern days as if nothing had changed. After all, there is no fundamental difference between the “Matzah- blood” plot of the 12th century, and the claim made by the Swedish newspaper “Aftonbladet” in 2009, which claimed that IDF soldiers harvest  Palestinians’ organs for commercial purposes. We can almost not differ between the plot of poisoning the wells of Switzerland in the 14th century, and the allegedly “poisoning of Palestinian water” that activists of “Breaking the Silence” like to tell to European tourists. As I like to say: there is nothing new under the sun!

There is no question that it is of a great importance to  tell and represent Israel’s truth against the lies that the Europeans and their aides propagate. On the other hand, it is worth remembering that these murderous lies are thousands of years old. It started with Moses – and it’s not going to end any time soon.

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