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Something Old,
Nothing New

by Berel Wein

As far as the Jews of the world are concerned, the 21st century is beginning in an eerily and frighteningly reminiscent manner. It was exactly a century ago, at the dawn of the bloodiest century in human history, that the "Jewish problem" was at the forefront of Christian civilization's concerns.

The Czar of Russia embarked on an official program to terrorize and impoverish the millions of Jews living under his despotic rule. His policy towards the Jews was symbolized by his slogan of "one-third extermination, one-third emigration, one-third assimilation by conversion."

France was reeling under the burden of the anti-Semitism in its midst spawned by the Dreyfus trial and its debilitating aftermath. England's parliament was debating legislation to restrict any further immigration of Jews to its shores. The German Kaiser mouthed openly anti-Semitic statements about his Jewish subjects, even though at that time 90% of German Jewry had already either converted, assimilated or "Reformed" itself.

The Jewish immigrants to North America also encountered entrenched anti-Jewish bias at every level of society, with Jews being lynched and physically abused in scattered but not uncommon instances in the United States. The open anti-Semitism of the Catholic Church had not yet abated and Christiandom was still obviously frustrated at the "unnatural" survival of Jewry in its midst, in spite of centuries of attempted conversion and continuing persecution.

Then there arose attempts to solve the "Jewish problem." One of those attempts was Zionism, founded on the erroneous notion that anti-Semitism was a Jewish-caused problem, created by the "abnormality" of the Jewish people. A state, a national presence, would "normalize" the Jewish people and anti-Semitism would disappear.

Socialism/Communism also attempted to solve the Jewish problem by declaring anti-Semitism to be a byproduct of the behavior of the capitalist, exploitative class and that the creation of the "worker's paradise," whether in Russia or Palestine, would automatically eliminate anti-Semitism.

In the time-honored fashion of the victim blaming himself for being persecuted, the secularist Jews, in their various political and ideological forms, blamed anti-Semitism on the failure of the "old" Jews to "modernize" - read to "Reform," assimilate, etc. Zionism thus came to create a "new" Jew as did all of the leftist groupings within the Jewish people.

Then Hitler intervened and proposed the ultimate "final solution" to the "Jewish problem." That "solution" shocked the Christian world to its core and caused it to come to grips, at least partially, with its continuing role in fostering anti-Semitism.

Though there is still a long way to go in their effort to eradicate anti-Semitism from their midst, credit must be given to the Church and to the democratic governments of the Western world for their efforts and progress on this difficult issue over the last decades of the previous century.

Stalin's overt anti-Semitism and the cruel persecution of Jews in the Soviet Union began to open the eyes of the Left generally and the Jewish Left in particular, to the pernicious nature of anti-Semitism even in the modern, progressive world. Russia and eastern Europe - all of the former satellite states of the Soviet Union in the Cold War era - have made significant progress, as well, in recognizing the dangers of unopposed anti-Semitism within society, all since the fall of the "evil empire."

But, as the scourge of anti-Semitism seemed to be checked in the Christian world, it has taken on new vigor and life in the Muslim world. And that Muslim world, which originally imported much of its anti-Semitic theories, fantasies, lies and hatred from the Christian world of a century ago, is now exporting that disease back into the Christian world, albeit superficially disguised as anti-Israel propaganda.

In the media and minds of the Muslim world, though, it is no longer just Israel that is the enemy - it is the Jewish people wherever they are. And the so-far weak response of the Christian, Western world to this attack upon Judaism and Jewry bodes unfavorably for the success of the Western mission to uproot terrorism, especially Muslim terrorism.

Our "modern" Jews, who now look to settlements as "occupation," Jewish and Israeli "aggressiveness," the rise of so-called Orthodox "fundamentalism" and countless other "faults" within Jewish and Israeli society, as the justification for the rise of this new/old anti-Semitism would do well to remember the bitter lessons of the past century.

We have faults, some of them listed above, that certainly should be addressed and corrected. But none of them are the cause of the current wave of anti-Semitism.

Thus, the non-Jewish world would also be wise to realize where this virulent Muslim anti-Semitism will lead to. The Christian world is also an infidel in the eyes of the Muslim fundamentalists, and anti-Semitism unchecked (such as the shameful behavior of the Christian European countries at Durban) leads to disaster, not only for Jews but for all of civilized mankind.

That lesson at least should be clear from the events of the past century.

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