Anne Frank's Diary Read Today
I recently finished reading the Diary of Anne Frank.
Toward the end of book, Anne describes how the people of Holland (where she is hiding) have started to become more antisemitic, even as they are all hoping to be liberated from the Nazis. She writes:
To our great sorrow and dismay, we've heard that many people have changed their attitude toward us Jews. We've been told that anti-Semitism has cropped up in circles where once it would have been unthinkable. This fact has affected us all very, very deeply. The reason for the hatred is understandable, maybe even human, but that doesn't make it right. According to the Christians, the Jews are blabbing their secrets to the Germans, denouncing their helpers and causing them to suffer the dreadful fate and punishments that have already been meted out to so many. All of this is true.
But it was the next part that struck me as particularly prescient during these confusing times:
But as with everything, they should look at the matter from both sides: would Christians act any differently if they were in our place? Could anyone, regardless of whether they're Jews or Christians, remain silent in the face of German pressure? Everyone knows it's practically impossible, so why do they ask the impossible of the Jews?
Echoes of all that I have been hearing over the last few weeks, the exact lines I had heard from Jews defending Israel hit me like a hurricane. The lines that used to bother me, mostly because they sounded so typical.
"What would America do if Mexico started shooting rockets into Texas?!"
"How come we don't hear about all the civilians dying in Syria?!"
"Would you act any differently?"
20,000 civilians were killed in Afghanistan since terrorists flew planes into the Twin Towers. 100,000 civilians were killed over the course of the war in Iraq. America is considered to have been a huge contributor to these numbers.
Whatever we think of these wars, most of the world understands that the fight against terrorism has been an essential one, even if it has been flawed. One that is still not won; one that will inevitably cause massive civilian casualties.
And yet, Israel's war against Hamas is expected to last not years, not months, not weeks, but days. We are called on by the world to enact an "unconditional cease fire."
This goes for the Gaza blockade as well, which is used to justify Hamas's rockets into our nation.
But before the Gaza wall was built, before the blockade enforced, Hamas sent suicide bombers, into Israel's cafes, into bar mitzvahs, into buses... and killed us... children, women, elderly, Arabs; it made no difference.
Anne's words echo again: "...would Christians [or anyone else] act any differently if they were in our place?
The Nature Of Antisemitism
The most common complaint against Israel you hear these days is that it has made Jews infinitely more powerful than they were during World War II, or any other time. Not just Israel, but the "Israel lobby." AIPAC, the ADL, etc.
This is hard to argue with, I think. We are certainly more powerful than we used to be.
But Anne helped me understand this.
Why did the "Christians" Anne describes expects the impossible from the Jews of her time? Why, in fact, have most cultures had such an irrational fear of Jews?
It is because we are continually seen as having an outsized amount of power for the amount of people in our population. We are seen as more powerful than our numbers indicate.
From the time before we became slaves in Egypt (when the Pharaoh worried that we were becoming too powerful), to our time in Germany, to the creation and success of Israel as a nation, people have not seen us as weak or pitiful: they have seen us as incredibly powerful. Oppressive. A small nation dominating the masses.
Even in Anne's world, as Jews were being deported to concentration camps, killed in droves, and hiding in attics for years to avoid being killed, the people in her country expected the Jews to somehow do more than they would expect from themselves.
And part of this is based on objective truth: Jews, as a people, have truly been more successful than one would expect from such a small group. Israel has historically been much more powerful than you would expect from such a small country.
But we've only become more powerful for one specific reason: we never would have survived otherwise. Why did we succeed in our professions even in countries that oppressed us? Because we recognized that we needed money if we were ever going to "make it" in those places.
It is because of our size that we have made ourselves powerful. It is because the world is so much bigger than us that we have had to succeed, to accomplish so much as a people, a religion, a nation.
Israel's strength is simply an extension of that.
Why has Israel built an unparalleled army? Because without such an army, it would have been wiped out. Why do AIPAC and such organizations have such influence? Because there is a much bigger lobby, the lobby of historic antisemitism, that has existed for ages, and that needs to be fought with a small but powerful army of lobbyists. Because the US is the only filter in the UN that stops a gang of nations who want to see Israel destroyed.
But the problem is that the world has then taken that success and expected not just more from us, but the supernatural, the infinite, "the impossible."
And so the world doesn't compare us to Syria. They don't even compare us to America. They compare us to the vision they have of Jews: beyond nature, able to do the "impossible" (as Anne put it), able to be completely selfless and passive.
Just as in Anne's Holland (where every single Jew was expected to supernaturally keep their lips sealed) Jews in Israel are expected to somehow deal supernaturally with people who are determined to exterminate them.
We are expected to fight wars, urban wars, without killing civilians. Our wars are expected to last days. In order to have peace with our neighbors, we are expected to cut the capital of our country in half and hand it over. Expected to take down the wall that protects us from murderous assassins who want to kill us all.
And so I think what is happening today, though, is not strictly antisemitism, as many of these people are good, honest, folks that are riding the wave of historical thinking that has lasted for thousands of years. Rather, we are living in an age of unknowingly embracing the echoes of antisemitism past. People who do not necessarily see Jews as evil, but expect the impossible from us.
I do not want to see the world as evil. I want to believe that this is just echoes, not true hate. Like Anne, "I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart."
The world is good. But history is powerful.
Elad Nehorai is a writer living in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Five years ago, he became an orthodox Jew and has since written about his experience extensively, most recently in his blog Pop Chassid. You can find him on Twitter as @PopChassid and Facebook.