Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, Religion and Conflict

Strike the Jew

Published on: November 16, 2023
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Image: Marc Chagall, White Crucifixion, 1938

Once again, following violence against Jews, Jewish schools, synagogues, cultural centers around the world have gone on high alert, because any local violence against Jews is perceived as a rallying cry elsewhere.

The context is an astonishing global surge in antisemitism. Following the attack on Israel of October 7, the Western world erupted in massive pro-Palestinian rallies, often replete with calls for the eradication of Israel – not Hamas. Even the Secretary-General of the UN repeated Hamas propaganda and made excuses for the unspeakable massacre by “contextualizing” it. The mainstream media responded with a feeble chorus of “it’s complicated” and refused to call terrorists terrorists, claiming “objectivity.”

The victim-blaming is suffocating. It is as if some people and publications find it impossible to condemn the October 7th massacre without equivocating. In what other context would people refuse to condemn the savagery without adding “yes, but” and straining the gnat (“Do not confuse militants with innocent citizens”) against available video evidence that shows many of these “innocent citizens” aiding uniformed terrorists in plunder and murder, beating up prisoners, and taunting a frightened hostage child?

In the world after Bucha and Irpen, Israelis are suddenly finding themselves obliged to explain that tying children and teenagers together and burning them alive, beheading babies, gang-raping women, kidnapping and beating 85-year-old Holocaust survivors in their nightgowns, taking babies hostage, and calling them “Zionists” is wrong, full stop. No, the world is telling them, in your case it’s not full stop, it’s your own fault. On US campuses, leftist students are tearing down posters with photos of hostages. An Israeli student filmed a fellow student tearing down posters on the Boston University campus. “Why are you doing this?” he asks. “Because apartheid,” she responds. “Because apartheid,” she does not think the world should be concerned with the fate of two hundred and forty people, many of them frail and infirm, thirty of them children under sixteen. Following the October 7th massacre, anti-Jewish incidents, including violent incidents, increased 400% in the US and even more in some of the European countries. And on October 29th in Makhachkala, a capital of the Russian region of Dagestan, a mob stormed the local airport in search of the Israelis on a flight from Tel Aviv, intent on killing.

The old ghost of “Zionism=Nazism,” followed by “Being anti-Zionist is not antisemitic,” has also come back in full force. Michel Eltchaninoff deals with it decisively in his excellent essay in “La lettre de philosophie” magazine, but this old bogeyman, originally cooked up in the KGB offices, has taken too great a hold in the Western progressive heads to yield to reason.

All this makes me think there will never be a world where Jews feel safe. All the talk of “never again” after the Holocaust was just wishful thinking. The Jews are always outsiders, no matter how assimilated, no matter how integrated. The moment things flare up a bit, the illusion of safety is shattered. Our very own Orthodox Church has never faced its violent anti-Jewish heritage and, after the Holocaust, proceeded to canonize open antisemites. Every time I hear the name of St. Nicholas of Zicha in church, I shudder. I can’t get over his “Letters from Dachau,” in which he blames the Jews for their own suffering. And he is only the most famous one. “St Gabriel of Bialystok,” a poster child for blood libel, is venerated in the OCA (albeit with a heavily redacted biography), and his “relics” are on display in at least one parish in the Midwest. Never mind that this seventeenth-century saint most likely never existed, the local legend of a ritual child-killing by a Jewish tenant was too useful to die, in spite of none other than St. Philaret of Moscow making an effort to eradicate it.

Do you know what it’s like to know that you are never safe? In a recent OTSA panel on the anti-Jewish liturgical texts, one of the presenters went to great lengths to place the anti-Jewish hymnography in its historical context, as if this by itself were a decisive argument to maintain things as they have always been. I was listening to him and thinking, can you try to imagine what it’s like to hear, every single year, “For by the Cross the Jewish race perished,” to listen to the hymnody of the “avaricious Judas,” an entire narrative skillfully painting a caricature of a proto-Shylock? Can you imagine what it’s like to avoid the services of Holy Friday for this reason? What “historical context” makes so many Orthodox Christians think that maintaining this status quo is OK?

The events of the past two weeks have reminded us all yet again that there is no such thing as “overcoming antisemitism.” While xenophobia in general is one of the fundamental human vices closely tied to tribalism, the “proto-xenophobia” of antisemitism brings together the least likely groups.  While many try to excuse the proliferation of the Hamas slogans, such as “From the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free” among the leftist youth by naivete and lack of education, it is hard to write off the posters such as the widely copied “Keep the world clean” as merely political. The righteous posturing—metaphorically—on the bodies that have not yet been all identified, let alone buried, is sweeping Western campuses. The legitimate concerns about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza are placing the blame solely on Israel in spite of the massive evidence of Hamas purposely creating the conditions to maximize civilian casualties and suffering that they skillfully and successfully exploit in the information war. There is also complete indifference to the fact that Hamas alone shot over 10,000 rockets at Israel since October 7th, not counting the attacks from Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen. Leaving aside the examination of the seventy-plus years of skillful anti-Israeli propaganda by the KGB, as well as the billions of dollars poured into US universities by state sponsors of terrorism—Saudi Arabia and Qatar—the question of what needs to happen for the world to face the reckoning with its antisemitism has a clear answer: nothing. Because it has already happened, and—some in secret, some openly—we are OK with it.

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Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

About author

  • Inga Leonova

    Editor-in-Chief at The Wheel Journal

    Inga Leonova is a practicing architect, writer, and educator. She is editor-in-chief of The Wheel, a quarterly journal of Orthodoxy and culture. She taught a course on Monotheism, Culture, and Sacred Space at the Boston Architectural College, and serves as a thesis advisor at the New England School ...

    Read author's full bio and see articles by this author

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Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in the articles on this website are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

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