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Israel and Jew-haters have powerful weapons at their disposal. An ancient text mirrors contemporary reality.

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When the Board of Regents at the University of California tried to enact a resolution in 2016 condemning anti-Zionism as antisemitic, a debate about free speech exploded and the resolution was softened to “anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism.” (Photo: insidehighered.com)

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Anti-Zionism should really be spoken of as “Israel-hatred;” antisemitism as “Jew-hatred.” Both “anti” words are far too obtuse. They lack the visceral impact that real people are being targeted, not just some obscure concept from the realm of ideas. The phrase “Israel-hatred” makes the focus self-evident: it is the desire to eliminate a specific country. The popular pro-Hamas slogan confirms this.

The sentiment expressed in “from the River to the Sea” is to eradicate Jews from the landmass of Israel. Where they are supposed to go isn’t clear. But that’s another story.

Rebranding

The rebranding of anti-Zionism as “Israel-hatred” and antisemitism as “Jew-hatred” represents an important step in combating these hateful desires.

Israel-hatred is not new. Surprisingly, the oldest written record of Israel-hatred sounds surprisingly contemporary with Israel-hatred spilling over into global Jew-hatred. Moreover this ancient writing outlines the weapons that Israel-haters use, an important first step in combating this vile outlook on life.

This oldest document portrays the nations of the world getting together to target Israel. Larger, more powerful nations are obsessed with how best to demolish this small political entity. In spite of its size, Israel seems to be the focus of world attention as world leaders collaborate on its destruction.

This writing sounds very much like the United Nations passing resolution after resolution against this country, and only this country.

But it’s not.

That oldest record of Israel-hatred also depicts people all over the world raging and roaring with empty rhetoric. Like world leaders, ordinary people, too, are obsessed with Israel.

Forget the Taliban treatment of civilians; bypass the Chinese persecution of Uighurs and Tibetans; ignore Canadian genocidal policies towards First Nations’ cultures. The intent is focused: to eradicate the Jewish state.

It’s an obsession that preoccupies the minds of many Israel-haters – alone of all the nations of the world Israel is singled out for condemnation. That, too, sounds like today’s news, the Durban IV Conference along with protesters in the streets of many North American and European cities marching and chanting violent slogans.

But it’s not.

Psalm 2

The oldest record of Israel-hatred is not contemporary. It’s at least 2,500 years old, probably older. It’s a document that was penned well before the damaging racist stereotypes in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. Well before the late 1st century CE Christian Gospel of Matthew with its infamous and chilling blood libel passage that reverberated across the centuries resulting in hundreds of thousands of Jewish deaths. And well before the biblical Book of Esther which addressed lethal antisemitism at the highest echelons of the Persian Empire.

The oldest testimony to Israel-hatred is one of the psalms, Psalm 2 specifically.

Like the other psalms, it is attributed to King David (roughly 1000 BCE). It’s not known if he himself personally wrote it or whether it was penned by one of the choir masters in the First Temple period (11th – 6th centuries BCE). That psalm is a song that would have been chanted on the accession to the throne of King David or, more likely, one of his successors. Scholars call it “an enthronement psalm.”  It’s a liturgical piece that raises the spectre of Israel-hatred and the destruction of the country. Surprisingly it places the formation of a new government squarely in the context of worldwide hostility and condemnation.

Psalm 2 begins with an astounding question: Why are the nations of the world enraged? Why are they coming together, plotting how to destroy the regime of the new Davidic king?

It’s a bold question, particularly for its time some 25-30 centuries ago. Were the nations of the time – Assyria, Babylonia, Egypt in particular – the same configuration of nations that exist today — upset that one person of David’s lineage had been installed as the new head of state in Jerusalem?  According to the psalmist, the Israelite king is God’s “anointed” agent, that is, his messiah.

What was the world press of that time saying? How was the ruler of this puny kingdom a threat? What was it that the world leaders feared?

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The ancient Israelite nation was a thorn in the side of the powerful Middle Eastern nations of the time. It stood geographically right between Mesopotamia and Egypt, right in the centre of the Fertile Crescent, along the highway connecting north and south. It was in the way of their expansion, either Egypt on the march northwards or Mesopotamian kingdoms sending armies southwards. All had to go through Israel and Judah. The psalmist knew the geopolitical situation and sensed that the new king would be caught in a complex power squeeze between expansionist nations.

People in other countries are upset. As the writer of Psalm 2 indicates, they are entertaining “vain” or “empty” things. The charge sounds surprisingly current as ignorant people rise up in arms, chanting meaningless hateful slogans concerning an Israel they know nothing about. They rant that it’s a colonialist occupying entity that suppresses people, sheer delusional fantasy but nonetheless harmful.

Psalm 2 is remarkable: it pictures Israel and Jew bashing on a worldwide scale. It’s not a reference to Jesus as some Christian commentators would have it (immortalized in Handel’s oratorio Messiah for instance). Nor is it a prophecy about today’s events – that would be a huge interpretive stretch. Rather Psalm 2 represents a profound insight in the composer’s own time as to the place of the Israelite nation on the world’s stage. Hostility to Israel is nothing new.

For the song-writer, Psalm 2 focuses on Israel in the context of Jew-hatred having surfaced on a worldwide scale. We are told what the nations and peoples are attempting to do, and why. Again, the diagnosis is surprisingly modern.

Psalm 2 indicates that the nations and peoples are angry with God and with his anointed king, that is, with the government in Jerusalem. That government differed from the regimes in surrounding countries. In modern terms, Israel is a democracy surrounded by dictators and fiefdoms of various sorts. In ancient times, some 3000 years ago, the country was a constitutional monarchy, the powers of the king being curbed by the precepts of Torah with God as the ultimate King. It was not an absolute dictatorship, unlike the political arrangements in neighboring countries. There were constraints placed upon the king to act justly and to view his power as delegated from God. This was not always perfectly realized, but that was the constitutional framework.

Scroll of the Psalms - Tehillim (Photo: Pete unseth)

Break the Bonds

The psalmist doesn’t dwell on the constitutional point of difference between the Israelite kingdom and its neighbours. Instead the composer of this song focuses on the strategy the rebellious heads of state and their populations use against the Israelite nation state. These world leaders collaborate and decide on the following course of collective action: “Let us break in pieces their bonds and cast away from us their cords” (Psalm 2:3).

“Bonds” is open to interpretation. Is it the bond that the Israelite king enjoys with God through the Covenant? The successor of David, about to be enthroned as king in Jerusalem, is said, metaphorically, to be “God’s son.” From time to time the nation as a whole and not just the king is said to be “God’s son” as in the following passage: “[ Moses] say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord: Israel is my firstborn son’” (Exodus 4:22). That, too, is metaphorical. The king operates within the parameters of the Covenant with God just as is the case with the people of Israel. Torah is the context for royal sovereignty, government and ordinary life.  So one of the bonds is religious, trying to detach the nation state of Israel from its religious foundation, Judaism.

“Bonds” may also refer to bonds within the Jewish community. At the time of the psalmist, that would mean the bonds between the tribes. In modern terms it would be the internal bonds between Israelis of various political and religious persuasions and externally between Israelis and Jews in the Diaspora.

Israel-Haters’ Weapon #1: Create Division

Breaking the bonds between Jews is very much a contemporary strategy. Many Israel-haters are attempting to detach Jews in the Diaspora from Israel as the Jewish homeland. It becomes a wedge issue.

Witness the current ideology of intersectionalism: progressives can either be progressives and anti-Israel or pro-Israel but not a progressive. Socially-minded Jews thus face a conundrum. According to the ideology of intersectionality, it’s an either-or situation: either support Israel or else support the cause, but not both. That divides Jews from each other. It also separates Jews from those who support such causes as BLM, LGBTQ, Green Party Environmentalism or Feminism.

Sowing the seeds of division is the first component of Jew-hatred. Setting one group of Jews against others. Setting Jews in the Diaspora against Jews in Israel.

This has several important consequences.

Progressives can either be progressives and anti-Israel, like IfNotNow, or be pro-Israel but not a progressive. This pits Jews in the Diaspora against Jews in Israel and sews division in Jewish communities such as Toronto. (Photo: File)

For one thing, division makes Israel the issue, not the challenges faced by the specific movement to which the progressive is primarily committed. Thus a progressive would have to become familiar not only with BLM or LGBTQ or Environmental or Feminist issues but also with the complexities of Middle East policies and politics.

This would entail an immense commitment if taken seriously – months if not years of investigation. It involves detailed study of the Middle East since the breakup of the Ottoman Empire. It requires recognizing that the Jews are the indigenous people of the land and that Arabs are the colonizers. It includes pouring over shifting maps as Britain and France tried to reshape the Middle East after World War I. Add to this the need to study conferences, declarations and the United Nations resolution creating two states in the Middle East.

Solving the political landscape of the Middle East seems a long way from making the world a better place for Blacks, Gays, Lesbians, Transgendered individuals or Women. So members of these movements are not experts to be taken seriously. The alignment of various victim causes around the world is just ignorance of real issues. The intersectionalist position is just absurd and deserving of ridicule.

It also ignores the fact that Jews have always been there in that region and that they are the Indigenous people of the area.

Division results in a new ghetto. According to the divisive ideology of intersectionality, Jews are not – and cannot be — part of the major social causes of our time. Jews are separate, outside the gates of these movements, confined to quarters. It’s an old manoeuvre and terribly familiar to anyone with a sense of history.

It’s an attempt to forge a new Jewish ghetto. Divide. Isolate. Jews not welcome. It’s no different than the actions of Pope Paul IV in 1555 who walled up the Jews of Rome. That ghetto lasted for over 300 years.

The Jewish Ghetto in Rome (1555-1888) was the last remaining ghetto in Western Europe until ghettos were reinstated by Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Painting by Ettore Roesler Franz circa 1880. (Image: walksinsiderome.com)

There’s a theological dimension to Psalm 2. According to its author, hostility towards the government of Israel is fundamentally rebellion against God and is therefore ultimately doomed to failure. This theological conviction underlies the beliefs of many religious Jews and Christian Zionists today. However one construes the unfolding of history, creating division presents a very powerful weapon in the hands of antisemites.

Division has played an important — and devastating –role in Jewish history. The ancient Jewish historian Josephus, for instance, credited the downfall of Jerusalem in 70 CE to the many internal divisions within the city-state of the time.

Division is destructive and highly toxic. Lessening the bonds between Jews and Israel, between Jews and Torah, between Jews and other peoples and between Jews of differing persuasions is very dangerous. Uncoupling the Jewish triad — peoplehood, nation, religion — tremendously weakens Jewish presence and involvement. Jewish kids deserve a sound grounding in the history of modern Israel so they can withstand the barrage of misinformation on social media … and keep the bonds intact.

There are other weapons in the Israel-hater’s arsenal as well. More to come.

An award-winning educator, Barrie Wilson, PhD, is Professor Emeritus & Senior Scholar, Humanities/Religious Studies, York University, Toronto. A Jewish investigative historian, he specializes in movements in early Christianity. Books include: How Jesus Became Christian (2008); The Lost Gospel (2014) co-authored with Emmy-award winning Canadian-Israeli film director and producer Simcha Jacobovici; Paul vs James (2018); and Searching for the Messiah (2020).

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

cOMING SOON…….

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