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Causes vs. Excuses

Causes vs. Excuses

Can we determine whether a possible reason is a valid cause or is it just an excuse?

The Chosen People Theory

Knowledge of Jewish "choseness" is undeniably widespread. Several years ago, the University of California conducted a study of anti-Semitism. Non-Jewish Americans were presented with 18 unfavorable statements about Jews, and asked whether they believed any of them. By far the most widely-held belief among those surveyed (59%) was that "Jews consider themselves to be G-d's chosen people."

Let's test whether this belief is indeed a legitimate cause of anti-Semitism - or whether it is merely another excuse. If Jewish "choseness" is in fact the cause of anti-Semitism, then hatred against the Jews should disappear when Jews drop the claim that they are chosen.

Late in the 19th century, the Jews living in Germany and Austria collectively rejected their "choseness" and were assimilated by their host nation. In fact, they believed that the non-Jews among whom they lived were the true chosen people. "Berlin is our Jerusalem!" they loudly proclaimed. Gentile society was their social environment of choice, and Germany their beloved motherland.

Did anti-Semitism disappear? We all know the tragic answer to that question. The Jews in Germany and Austria experienced the most vicious outpouring of anti-Semitic hatred in history. Precisely when Jews rejected their claim to "chosenness," they suffered the most virulent forms of anti-Semitism.

Clearly, the Chosen People Theory does not pass this litmus test.

Other "Chosen" Peoples

Another test of the Chosen People Theory is to see how humanity responds to other peoples who claim to be "chosen." If the claim that Jews are chosen gives rise to anti-Semitism, then all groups who make similar claims of having been "chosen" should also become targets of persecution and hatred.

Christianity and Islam represent two other major religious groups that claim to have been chosen. Christian theology accepts that G-d gave the Bible to the Jews and made the Jews His special messengers. However, it is the Christian belief that once the Jews rejected Jesus, the Christians became G-d's new chosen people.

Muslims likewise believe that the Jewish Bible is the word of G-d. However, Muslim theology claims that when Mohammad appeared on the scene, G-d made the Muslims His chosen people.

If Christians and Muslims both claim that they are chosen, then why hasn't this historically generated hatred against them?

Indeed, nearly every nation on earth has at one time or another claimed to be chosen. Americans claimed Manifest Destiny - that their actions were divinely willed - when they annexed Texas and Alaska, against the wishes of the inhabitants of those areas. The Chinese chose to name their country China because the word means "center of the universe." The name Japan means "source of the sun." For Native Americans, the same word means both "human being" and "Indian" - implying that every non-Indian belongs to some subspecies.

These nations are not hated for having claimed superiority. A claim that one is chosen does not in and of itself cause hatred. If it did, then so many other nations would be the targets of the intense, universal hatred that is in fact unique to the Jews.

The Scapegoat Theory

The Scapegoat Theory is cited frequently as a cause of anti-Semitism. Some historians use it to account for the emergence of German anti-Semitism in the late 1930s.

Their reasoning is as follows:

Hitler, like many totalitarian dictators before him, needed to divert blame for his nation's problems by ascribing them to an innocent victim. He randomly selected the Jews as his scapegoat and launched a massive defamatory campaign to alienate them from mainstream German society. He succeeded in his efforts, and as a result, the overwhelming majority of Germans came to hate Jews.

The Scapegoat Theory gives rise to a time-worn question: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? In other words, does a group become hated as a consequence of being singled out as a scapegoat, or is it selected as a scapegoat because it is hated?

The first prerequisite for a prospective scapegoat is someone that the citizens of the country are willing to hate from the start. If we would attempt to divert attention from our own shortcomings by blaming a group that is not already hated by society, the people would not accept it. A fair portion of the population will demand to see evidence of the group's guilt and refuse to let us off the hook.

Imagine what would have happened if Adolf Hitler would have stood before one of those huge crowds in Nuremberg National Coliseum and declared:

My fellow Germans, there is a group among us that is the scourge of humanity! They are dominating the German people and destroying our motherland! If Germany is to regain its esteemed status, these people must be persecuted and ultimately eliminated. Who are these people? They are the midgets among us!

Because there is no preexisting hatred against midgets, people with freckles, or bicycle-riders, governments don't try to scapegoat them.

The Jews are chosen consistently as scapegoats because it is so easy to rile hatred against them. Jews are a people that everyone is more than happy to persecute.

Therefore, the Scapegoat Theory is not the cause of anti-Semitism. Rather, anti-Semitism is what makes the Jews a convenient scapegoat target. If anything, the Scapegoat Theory is simply a barometer indicating the level of hatred that already exists against Jews in any given society. It reveals how much anti-Semitism is already present, waiting to be stirred up.

The Scapegoat is obviously an excuse, not a reason.

Deicide: The Killers-of-Jesus Theory

Christians have long claimed that the Jews killed Jesus, and that is why they hate Jews.

Is this the real cause for hatred? If it is, why were Christians not angry at Jews 2,000 years ago, at the time the Jews supposedly killed Jesus?

Christian anti-Semitism did not begin until long after the death of Jesus. It was not until several centuries later that the Church fathers decided that Jews as a group should be persecuted because they "killed Jesus." Bernard Blumenkranz, author of Jews and Christians in the Western World, documents that the intense and ongoing Christian persecution of the Jews did not truly begin until the advent of the Crusades - over 1,000 years after Jesus' death!

Furthermore, once Christian hatred for Jews got under way, it became worse with the passage of time. Logically, time should have eased the strong feelings, as all of us can attest to the fact that anger gradually decreases with time. Time has a way of healing all wounds.

For example, in 1866, following the Civil War in America, a Northerner would have felt much tension if he had visited the South. Today, a visit to the Southern United States arouses no such emotions. Have you ever heard of a resident of New York feeling apprehensive about vacationing in Florida?

The farther away one is from an event, the less rage one feels - provided the event is the actual cause of the rage!

Therefore, if Christians hate Jews because they killed Jesus, that rage should have climaxed following Jesus' death, and petered out during the two millennia since then. History indicates the very opposite pattern - there were no recorded incidents of anti-Semitism immediately after Jesus' death, yet there were thousands of such incidents many centuries later. From this we see that Jesus' death is not the cause of Christian anti-Semitism.

Who Killed Jesus?

According to the New Testament, it was only the Romans who killed Jesus. While Jews are mentioned as accomplices, the Gospels of Matthew, John and Mark all specifically state that the Romans killed Jesus.

If the killing of Jesus is the cause of Christian hatred, why have only the Jewish accomplices been categorically persecuted? Christians should hate Romans at least as much as they hate Jews!

Obviously, Jesus' death is an excuse, not the reason for anti-Semitism.

Read the next installment of “Why the Jews?” – an exploration of more theories of anti-Semitism.

January 28, 2010

Article 2 of 5 in the series Why The Jews?

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Visitor Comments: 13

(11) Anonymous, October 18, 2017 2:08 PM

chosen vs exclusive

In Other "Chosen" Peoples you point out the lack of hatred of these other groups, but they differ from the Jewish people in a critical way: anybody is welcome and encouraged to be in these groups and thereby be "chosen". This isn't to say one can't convert to Judaism, but it seems to me that the genetic line is an important aspect of being Jewish.

(10) Anonymous, February 23, 2015 5:17 PM

I think another option to look into that is more valid than psychological victimization, would be humanity's perception of immigration. If you think about it, anytime a noticeable population enters a new country, they are met with difficulty. Just to use the U.S. as an example, the major groups there who were received the worse were the Irish (due to potato famine), blacks (due to slavery), Italians (Italian Migration in the early 1900's), Mexicans, Canadian, Native Americans (who were technically there first). Think about it, the Jews were a people without a nation for the longest time, and if any significant number (family groups) settle in any number of countries, they would have face discrimination without any uniform reason. Of course, mistreating immigrants is just as bad and countries like to think they are open to others which is obvious that they aren't. Jew just happen to be the population that stuck to their Jewishness (if that's a word) instead of assimilating to each culture/religion. Immigrants that come to the U.S. try to Americanize themselves to avoid difficulties. An interesting study would be to look into Jewish movement patterns and large the groups are. Jews are unique because people groups that become displaced usually adapt and turn into another group when they move. Jews seem to keep their cultural/religious/political identity with them. Despite having been "nationless", they were a nation. So when looking at antisemitism, it is more likely because of immigration status and not any kind of religious/cultural factor...which tells a lot about humanity as a whole.

(9) SansPedes, December 9, 2014 7:00 PM

Great Article but there are a couple inaccuracies.

In the "Other Chosen People" paragraph in article 2, you mistakenly refer to Alaska and Texas being annexed against their wishes. Alaska was purchased fairly from the Russians, while the Republic of Texas was in deep debt after their victory against Mexico and requested to join the United States albeit with several caveats, such as that their borders shall not be changed, that the state not be broken up into smaller territories.
Otherwise, fantastic article!

(8) Zsolt, September 14, 2014 9:18 PM

chosen for a role

I think the notion of "being chosen" is usually looked at in a distorted way, automatically interpreting as "being above" others.
What is "being chosen" means chosen for a particular, unique role?
As the article also suggests each nation has some unique role to play in the common "mosaic" of humanity.
Perhaps if we figured out what the unique role Jews are supposed fulfill, and we actually started performing it, most things could fall into place?
This could make us much more proactive in this respect.

andrea, March 22, 2015 10:24 PM

This is an interesting angle. I think by being chosen the Jews usually mean God gave them the land (Israel) and will lead them back to that land. They don't usually elaborate on what else being chosen actually entails.

So yes, figuring out what it is and then performing it might help. At this stage it does give the impression that they are "above" other nations, and are better.

When a nation as a group arrives to a host country, they will always meet a certain level or resistance. Indeed, statistically, when the number of foreigners rises to about 30%, the locals start moving away.

This, coupled with the fact they could not own land so typically had other professions such as doctors, lawyers, photographers, shop keepers and bankers, could also mean, if there is an economic downturn, there is no need for say, bankers, or photographers.

That means they will have to willingly accept other jobs just like anyone else.

As to the argument about "let's say we are not the chosen ones" and see what happens. The Jews have been saying they are the chosen ones for almost 2000 years, so stopping that now will not have an immediate effect.

In any case I will have to say that nothing warrants anyone to exterminate a nation.

I would most certainly object to them (or anyone else, for that matter) being killed.

It is also worth remembering that statistically, the cause of death included over work, diseases, malnutrition or a combination of these. Additionally to being murdered (gassing, shooting).

It is also worth remembering that over a 100 000 Jewish soldiers fought in Hitler's Army. This is why I don't really buy into the "racial hatret" argument. There is no logic to it.

And while no one in the right mind will deny the fact 6M Jews perished, I am yet to read a cohesive argument about what has actually happened during ww2, and the real reasons behind it.

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