A Quick Reminder on Anti-Semitism
Updated: Apr 20, 2020
The basic purpose to create the state of Israel was as a safe location for a demographic majority of Jews could live among love, not hate that was and is demonstrated in every corner of the world. And while there are thousands of recent examples, the reason I write to you today is to illustrated how long-standing anti-semitism is as a general issue and how ingrained it is in numerous societies. As my class learned in world history this past week, the emergence of the Black Death bubonic plague in Europe in the 15th century is a prime example of such institutionalized hatred. While the plague was spread through infected fleas on rats, the knowledge of the cause of the outbreak was completely unknown to Europeans. 40-60% of the entire continent's population was wiped out, and those watching the outbreak spread around them were left without a reason.
While many looked toward the devil or towards the punishment of God for excessive sins, countless towns and cities looked toward Jews. Said to have poisoned each town's well in an overarching scheme, Jews were defenseless against the downpour of accusations from friends and neighbors. The hatred of Jews, seen as heretics and nonbelievers, that already existed caused this to be a reasonable concept. With no state or region with a demographic majority of Jews (but rather spread out with a lower density), Christian (Europe), Muslim (Middle East), and other religious groups allowed themselves hatred of Jews, for there was no one that would oppose it. Such a world, in which ingrained anti-semitism is not out of the ordinary or condemned in any way, is the world that the creation of Israel was meant to avoid.
Back in the 15th century, accusers completely disregarded the fact that Jews were being killed at the exact same rate, and with the same intensity as all others in Europe (almost entirely Christians at the time). In Spain, Jews were persecuted and forced into hiding, but the most striking example comes from Germany (at that time, the Holy Roman Empire). 60 Jewish communities were wiped out by 1351, forcing many Jews to flee east in a fashion similar to the beginning of the Holocaust. In one town, Strasbourg, the depth of hatred is clearly displayed in the actions taken. About 2,000 Jews were burned on a wooden platform in the town's cemetery, with the Christian townspeople looking on, and another 1,000 were forcibly baptized.
While harsh violence in the name of religion is not uncommon throughout history, what sticks with me is the latter- that refusal to allow people to follow their beliefs caused a forced conversion (literally) or death. Not only were Jews used as scapegoats, therefore, but the plague itself was used as a scapegoat to advance to goal of extermination of the Jews. Another reason for this efficient and convenient concept was that Jews were, en masse, bankers and loaners to Christian townspeople and lords that needed money to afford their lifestyle. By killing most Jews, all debt to them was forgiven and their money divided equally among Christians who believed they were following the moral path. By remembering such horrible instances of hatred, we are reminded of why the state of Israel is so important in the first place, and why a Jewish homeland is necessary. And if outlandish scapegoating of Jews, like what has occurred in the past, is halted, and Palestinian terrorists and those who support them can introduce more compassion into their hearts, we can move closer towards peace.