An ancient virus unleashes a new pandemic of hate

An ancient virus unleashes a new pandemic of hate
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The world’s economies edge toward chaos and populations stand on the brink of panic as scientists scurry to contain a pandemic identified as the coronavirus. Particularly worrisome is that carriers of this virus do not always show symptoms and it may return after a period of dormancy. Even as the human, social and economic tolls continue to spike, it remains unclear if this threat emerged from nature or whether a state or individuals are the source. 

But another pandemic — wholly man-made — also is upon us. It is the disease of Jew-hatred, once thought to have disappeared after running its genocidal course during the Nazi Holocaust 75 years ago. Anti-Semitism continues to morph, like a carcinogenic tumor on humankind’s DNA. 

Odious conspiracy theories about Jews are alive and well in the 21st century. Consider as evidence a newly released study of attitudes towards Jews, in which 20 percent of European respondents believe that a secret Jewish cabal runs the world. This monstrous lie dates back 1,000 years to an English monk, Thomas of Monmouth, who falsely accused Jews of ritually murdering a Christian child, William of Norwich, on Easter. Every year, the monk charged that a council of Jews decided which country to target for the murder of another innocent child.

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The devastating big lie, and 150 more like it over the next 900 years-plus, kept alive hate for generations of Christians and led to the murder of innocent Jews from England to Russia to Syria. Along the way came the publication of the Czarist Protocols of the Elders of Zion, with the conspiratorial spin that Jews are the source of all modern evil, plotting at secret meetings to control the world through economic manipulation and war.

In our time, Iranian websites and TV programs in the Muslim and Arab worlds have updated the big lie with catchy titles such as “Who are human history’s most bloodthirsty people?” to justify  hatred for the Jewish people.

In 1945, as the Allies liberated the Nazi death camps and the full barbarity of Nazi Germany was exposed to the world, no one would have predicted that Hitler’s legacy of hate would so quickly rise again from the ashes of the Holocaust. But it has — and with a vengeance, from Berlin to New York. 

Collective memory fades, but two recent incidents should sound the alarm.

In the small town of Campo de Criptana, 90 miles southeast of Madrid, carnival participants watched as the memory of 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust were mocked by gun-toting Nazi soldiers, followed by a singer on a float standing between two smokestacks of a death camp.

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Over in Aalst, Belgium, city fathers defended in the name of free speech and “fun” the depiction of Chassidim as insects, replete with exaggerated stereotypical long noses. Organizers, in the country home to European Union headquarters, apparently couldn’t understand what was wrong with poking a little fun at Jews. They were oblivious to Jewish protests and defiant about losing their UNESCO cultural designation. Conductors from the Belgian railroad who played anti-Semitic songs to passengers en route to a football match forgot, or never knew, that 25,000 Belgian Jews were sent to transit camps on special railway cars, and then deported to death camps.

In our time, public displays of anti-Semitism, depiction of Jews as vermin — just as the Nazis and their collaborators did in the 1930s. And, in case you couldn’t be there to cheer or jeer, fear not: There is always Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to capture and share the moment.

So how to deal with a man-made virus of hate that won’t die?

Jews alone can’t defeat it, or even contain it. It would be like asking victims in Wuhan, China, or other cities with coronavirus outbreaks to find the cure to their ailment. 

Our only hope is that our neighbors, immune from the direct threat of anti-Semitism, will rise to our defense. It not only is the right and decent thing to do, it would serve as the first line of defense against this “virus.” For as Simon Wiesenthal, a Holocaust survivor who lost 89 family members and became a Nazi hunter, warned: “Jews are often the first victims; they are never the last victims of hate.”

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the associate dean and director of Global Social Action for the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.