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Many of the bitter controversies in every corner of the globe inevitably raise the same ancient question: why does the world hate the Jews
Whether it’s the angry international reaction to Israel’s efforts to defend itself in Lebanon, or Mel Gibson’s drunken rant in Malibu, the age-old specter of anti-Semitism refuses to disappear. With only 13 million Jews in the world – less than one fourth of one percent of the earth’s population – why does this tiny group inspire such bitter, widespread and often violent animosity?
The answer is obvious to anyone who monitors anti-Semitic propaganda from all its multifarious sources. People who express hatred, resentment or fear regarding the Jews almost always focus on charges of Jewish arrogance, elitism, aggressiveness and lust for power. According to the classic logic of anti-Semites everywhere, Jews deserve harsher treatment than anyone else because they work harder than anyone else to enshrine their own superior status. This argument suggests that the only way to answer constant Jewish demands for special treatment and privilege is to impose special limitations and restrictions on their instinctive will to dominate. According to such logic, the rest of the world must work together to cut Jews down to size; only then will they function on the same plane as everyone else. As Hutton Gibson (Holocaust-denying father of the scandal-tarnished star, Mel) revealingly declared to interviewer Steve Feuerstein: “I don’t know what the Jewish agenda is except that it’s all about control. They’re after one world religion and one world government.”
This central, primeval charge that arrogant Jews seek global dominance originates from three distinct historical factors:
1- The emphasis on the “Chosen People” concept in the Bible
2- The prominence and prosperity of Jews in most nations in which they’ve established significant communities, and
3- The startling successes of the State of Israel in the mere 60 years of its existence.
These circumstances sometimes perplex even people of good will and therefore deserve deeper consideration and explanation.
I. CHOSEN PEOPLE CONCEPT
While it’s true that the Bible speaks repeatedly of a special relationship between God and the Jews, anti-Semitic agitators have always misunderstood or distorted the essential nature of that connection. According to Scripture, the Jews have been chosen for distinct responsibilities, not for unique privileges: we accept special obligations, rather than claiming special power. In Jewish tradition, non-Jews are expected to follow just seven commandments—the Noahide laws of basic morality. According to mainstream Torah teaching, gentiles who follow these rules (don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t commit gross sexual immorality, and so forth) should be judged as righteous and assumed to earn their share in the World to Come (the afterlife). God, however, expects his covenantal people to apply far more numerous and stringent commandments to their behavior – 613 commandments, to be exact – regarding everything from food, to business ethics, marital relations, and Sabbath observance.
The concept of chosen-ness, in other words, involves a significant burden rather than privileged status —a burden reflected in the common phrase, “Ohl Malchus Shamayim” or “The Yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven,” to describe the commitment of every Jew who accepts the covenant of Abraham. Moreover, Jews remain more a “choosing people” than a “chosen people” because so many non-Jews over the centuries (and particularly in recent years) have selected Jewish identity and converted to our faith. In the US, nearly 10% of today’s Jewish population of 5.2 million counts as converts to Judaism. Though we don’t emphasize proselytizing efforts in the style of Evangelical Christians, many of the leaders of the Jewish people (including hugely significant rabbis in nearly every era for the last 2000 years) have been “Jews by Choice” --- those who weren’t born Jewish, but chose to join our people through an ancient, well-established process of conversion.
Finally, the whole idea of the “Chosen People” has never brought the assumption that God selected us for unusual political, military or even economic authority. The Bible suggests that the Jews will be “a nation of priests and a holy nation” --- not some sort of all-conquering superpower within the Middle East or the world at large. Our tradition has always defined Jewish power as spiritual, rather than practical and worldly. No Jewish leader, going all the way back to Moses and Abraham, has ever suggested that our people should dominate the world and control other nations. The Bible specifies relatively modest borders for the Holy Land, and repeatedly mentions the much larger, far more formidable empires to the south (Egypt) and to the East (Babylonia, Assyria, Persia). Even during the glory days of ancient Israel under David and Solomon the Jewish state never achieved full control of that promised territory—let alone a world-girdling empire. At that time, as with Israel today, the Jewish people sought only to live unmolested within the confines of their own cherished land, each man “beneath his own vine and own fig tree.”
II. JEWISH PROMINENCE AND SUCCESS IN THE LANDS OF THE DIASPORA
No one can deny that Jews in the United States and in many other nations recently have achieved surprising levels of prosperity and influence but any talk of Jewish “dominance” or “control” in those societies remains the province of neo-Nazi propagandists. There is no significant industry or arena of endeavor – no, not one--in any nation in the world (outside of Israel) in which Jews outnumber or rule over non-Jews. Even the famous Jewish command of Hollywood is an ignorant myth concerning an increasingly international industry in which the prominence of influential Jews has actually decreased in the last seventy years. Most of the pioneering movie studios founded and owned by immigrant Jewish families have either gone out of the movie production business altogether (M-G-M) or else sold out to strikingly non-Jewish corporations (Columbia to the Japanese Sony Corporation, and 20th Century Fox to an Australian descendant of Presbyterian clergy, Rupert Murdoch). The two largest entertainment conglomerates in the world boast board chairmen who are African-American (Richard Parsons at Time Warner) and Arab American (George Mitchell at Disney) neither of whom are remotely Jewish. The yearly lists of Hollywood’s most influential power players, as identified by Premiere Magazine and other sources, regularly show that close to one-fourth of the movers-and-shakers are Jews—a disproportionate showing, to be sure, but hardly an indication of Jewish dominance. Similarly, the Fortune 500 list of the nation’s largest corporations features a top ten ranking that includes three oil companies with strong Arab ties and no affection whatever for Israel, as well as a car company (Ford) founded by one of history’s most outspoken anti-Semites, and a retailer run by conservative Christians from Arkansas (Wal-Mart)—but not a single corporation that was founded, run, or owned by Jews. Among the top 100, at most six (including Home Depot, Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers) could classify in any way as “Jewish companies.” With these incontrovertible facts easy to verify for anyone with access to the internet or a library, it becomes even more difficult to explain the persistent, pernicious and utterly false belief that Jews “own” or “control” most of the world’s banks, newspapers, media companies and other important instiutions. Part of the confusion involves appalling lies and misinformation: many callers to my radio show somehow believe that the Rockefellers are Jewish (they were actually German Christians who arrived in Philadelphia in 1723) or that the Rothschild family—a favorite target of anti-Semites for more than 200 years-- still dominates world banking (the family’s power actually peaked in the Napoleonic era and their influence on the global economy today is either invisible or non-existent).
There is also a tendency on the part of paranoid anti-Semites to search out a few Jewish names even in areas in which Jews play minor roles in order to triumphantly affirm the myth of “Jewish control.” Consider the case of the Bush administration and the frequent, laughably absurd charge that it’s somehow dominated by Jewish “neo-conservatives” who forced the President to make war on Iraq for the sake of Israel. In truth, Jews remained conspicuously absent from positions of authority during the first Bush term: for the first time in more than 65 years (since the Presidency of FDR!) the President’s Cabinet (15 department heads in all) included not a single Jew. The true believers in a Neo-Con cabal invariably cite just two names who held sub-cabinet posts (Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense and Douglas Feith, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy) and a single civilian advisor to the Defense Department (Richard Perle, of the Defense Policy Board) who doesn’t even count as an administration employee. The anti-Semites focus on these names not because of their importance (anyone who believes that Wolfowitz and Feith secretly controlled their imperious, tough-as-nails boss, Don Rumsfeld, knows nothing about Rummy) but because they happen to be Jewish. Similarly, conspiracists like to blame Jews in the Senate for pushing us into war with Iraq, while ignoring the fact that a bare majority of the eleven Jewish Senators at the time (including such fierce anti-war advocates as Russ Feingold and Barbara Boxer) actually voted against the resolution authorizing war –at a time when nearly 80% of their gentile colleagues lined up on the other side to support the President in deposing Saddam Hussein.