Hebrew_Arabic_English_road_signsBy Richard Mather…

There is an old and rare book calledPalestina ex monumentis veteribus illustrata, written by Hadriani Relandi (a mapmaker and scholar from Utrecht) and published in 1714. It documents Relandi’s trip to Palestine in 1695-96. On his travels he surveyed around 2,500 places that were mentioned in the Tanakh and/or Mishnah, and he carried out a census of the people who resided in such places. He made some very interesting discoveries. For a start, he discovered that not a single settlement in Palestine had a name that was of Arabic origin. Instead the names derived from Hebrew, Roman and Greek languages.

Another interesting discovery was the conspicuous absence of a sizeable Muslim population. Instead, he found that most of the inhabitants of Palestine were Jews, along with some Christians and a few Bedouins. Nazareth was home to less than a thousand Christians, while Jerusalem held 5,000 people, mostly Jews. Gaza was home to around 250 Jews and about the same number of Christians.  The only exception was Nablus where around 120 Muslims lived, along with a handful of Samaritans, whose ancestors belonged to the northern tribes of Israel.

Intrigued by the findings in Relandi’s book, I looked at other first-hand sources, such as travelogues, governmental reports and censuses. I wasn’t sure I would find anything. But there is a surprising quantity of data and anecdotal evidence. And all the evidence suggests that the majority of non-Jewish (i.e. Arab Muslim and Christian) immigration to Palestine began in the mid or late 1800s.

Drawing on work by statistician and demographer Roberto Bachi, it is estimated that there were 151,000 non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine in 1540. (Some sources indicate that many of these were descendants of Jews who had remained in Palestine following the failed Bar Kokhba revolt in 136 CE but had been forced to convert to Islam). By 1800, the non-Jewish population had grown to around 268,000, rising to 489,000 by 1890, 589,000 in 1922 and just over 1.3 million in 1948. The vast majority of these non-Jewish migrants were Muslims. All of which suggests that most of the Muslim (and Christian) inhabitants of Palestine were recent immigrants and had not been living there for generations as is sometimes suggested. Moreover, the figures show that Arab immigration was a fast-growing trend, propelled by external circumstances. But what?

Firstly, several thousand peasant farmers had come to Palestine in the first half of the 19th century to escape Egypt’s military draft, forced labour and taxes. Secondly, the Ottoman authorities transferred a great many people from Morocco, Algeria and Egypt to Palestine in the early part of the 20th century, partly in an effort to outflank Jewish immigration. Thirdly, the Zionist project was very attractive to Arabs who were drawn to Palestine by the good wages, healthcare and sanitation offered by the Jews.  Indeed, the Muslim infant mortality rate in Palestine fell from 201 per 1,000 in 1925 to 94 per 1,000 in 1945. Meanwhile, life expectancy rose from 37 to 49 years.

Furthermore, the Arab population of Palestine increased the most in cities where there were large numbers of Jews, which is a strong indication that Arabs were drawn to Palestine because of the Zionists. Between 1922 and 1947, the Arab population grew by 290 per cent in Haifa, 158 per cent in Jaffa and 131 per cent in Jerusalem. Tellingly, the growth in Arab-majority towns was far less dramatic: 37 per cent in Bethlehem, 42 per cent in Nablus and 78 per cent in Jenin.

During the British civil administration in Palestine (1920 to 1948), restrictions were placed on Jewish immigration in order to appease Arab troublemakers. However, the situation regarding Arab settlement was much more lax. Historian and author Freddy Liebreich claims there was significant Arab immigration from the Hauran region of Syria during the Mandate era – and that the British authorities turned a blind eye.

However, some people were taking notice. The Hope Simpson Enquiry (1930) observed  there was significant illegal Arab immigration from Egypt, Transjordan and Syria, which was negatively affecting prospective Jewish immigrants and contributing to Arab violence against Jews. The British Governor of the Sinai between 1922 and 1936 substantiated the view that unchecked Arab immigration was taking place, with most of the immigrants coming from the Sinai, Transjordan and Syria. And the Peel Commission reported in 1937 that a “shortfall of land” was “due less to the amount of land acquired by Jews than to the increase in the Arab population.”

Immigration continued at a pace until the Jews declared independence in 1948. The fact that Arab (largely Muslim) immigration continued right up until Israeli independence is borne out by the United Nations stipulation that any Arab refugee who had lived in Palestine for a mere two years prior to Jewish independence was entitled to refugee status. According to the UN Relief and Works Agency, Palestine refugees are defined as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.”


If there were very few non-Jewish inhabitants in Palestine in the 16th and 17th centuries, what happened to the Arab invaders who arrived in 629 CE? Well, for a start, very few of the invaders actually stayed in Palestine. Many became absentee landlords who used native tenants to cultivate their estates and to pay the dhimmi tax. This is why Palestine, along with Egypt and Syria, remained overwhelmingly Christian for several more centuries. It is possible, however, that following the Muslim reconquest in 1187, many Jewish and Christian inhabitants of Palestine were forced to convert to Islam, thereby pushing up the number of Muslim inhabitants. However, Palestine’s population went into decline from the mid-14th century – in large part due to the Black Death, which swept in from eastern Europe and north Africa, travelling to Gaza, and making its way to Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. With no one to care for the land, many areas became malarial, especially in northern Palestine, which became largely uninhabitable. Depopulation continued as a consequence of the invasion of Palestine in 1831 by Muhammad Ali of Egypt and the ensuing Peasants’ Revolt of 1834, which reduced the male population of Palestine by about twenty per cent, with large numbers of peasants either deported to Egypt or drafted into Egypt’s military. Many others abandoned their farms and villages to join the Bedouin.

Clearly it would be futile to argue that there were few Arabs living in Palestine in the late 19th and the early 20th centuries, but the figures do show that the Arab population of Palestine had been in state of flux for centuries and that the overwhelming majority were migrants from the rest of the Arab world and/or the Ottoman empire. This is important because it tells us that the postmodern notion of a deep-rooted Palestinian Arab history/culture is bogus. All the evidence points to the conspicuousabsence of Arab culture in late 17th century Palestine; and even in the 18th and 19th centuries the Arab inhabitants of Palestine were not indigenous but were latecomers. This explains why, historically, Arabs never talked about Palestinian identity – because there wasn’t one. They were Egyptian, Syrian, Moroccan, Iraqi and Ottoman Arabs, and many of them expressed allegiance to the concept of a Greater Syria. In fact, until the 1960s the Arabs refused to call themselves Palestinians because it was a name reserved for the Jews! It seems hilarious now, but Immanuel Kant, the 18th-century German philosopher, referred to Jews in Europe as “Palestinians living among us.”

It wasn’t until the mid-1960s – nearly two decades after Israel declared independence – that a semi-coherent (and very violent) Palestinian Arab identity came into being. But even as late as the 1970s, the notion of a Palestinian people was still nothing more than a terrorist construct designed to undermine Jewish claims to the land of Israel. In an interview with a Dutch newspaper in 1977, PLO executive committee member Zahir Muhsein admitted that “the Palestinian people does not exist,” before adding: “The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the State of Israel.”

Whether Arab-Palestinian identity grows into something more constructive in the 21st century remains to be seen.



Above: The New York Times reveals danger facing Jews in Muslim landsBy Richard Mather…

One of the untold stories of the upheaval in the Middle East is the Jewish Nakba (Arabic for catastrophe) – the massacres and expulsion and/or flight of between 850,000 and 1,000,000 Jews from Arab and Muslim countries in the months and years following the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine in November 1947. Many of the expelled Jewish communities in North Africa and the Middle East dated back 2,500 years. That’s around two millennia before the rise of Islam.

The violence against “the Jews of Islam” (Simon Schama) was deliberate and vicious. Massacres, mutilations, rape, property confiscation and deportations were commonplace. Millions of Jews had no choice but to seek shelter in Israel or elsewhere. The Jewish Nakba has been largely forgotten, partly because most refugees were absorbed by Israel and partly because Arab states have chosen to ignore it. Today, about 50% of Jews in Israel have Arabic ancestry because of the exodus. Not surprisingly, Jews who have experienced Arab violence and Muslim anti-Semitism are hostile to the idea of a Palestinian state. As such, they tend to vote for Likud, the major right-wing party in Israel.

Today, there are fewer than 9,000 Jews in the Arab and Muslim world. In Libya, for example, the Jewish community no longer exists.

There is clear evidence that shows the Jewish Nakba was a deliberate and planned act of ethnic cleansing. According to the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries, the Jewish exodus was a policy decision taken by the Arab League. This view has been endorsed by the Jewish advocacy group Justice for Jews from Arab Countries.

Even before the UN vote in 1947, the Arab League had endorsed the persecution of Jews. The fact that riots and massacres broke out across the Arab world on the same day (November 30, 1947) also suggests a degree of planning.

Indeed, the Arab League met in Syria in 1946 and Lebanon in 1947, and agreed a draft plan to rob their Jews of their property, threaten them with imprisonment and expel the impoverished Jews.

In May 1948, the Arab League drafted a series of recommendations for all Arab and Muslim countries on how to take action against their Jewish populations. The New York Times of May 16, 1948, contained details of an Arab plan based on Nuremberg laws to ethnically cleanse their Jews.

Above: Arab League's version of Hitler's Nuremberg Laws

Individual countries 


Iraqi and Kurdish Jews were encouraged to leave in 1950 by the Iraqi Government. A year later, Iraq ordered “the expulsion of Jews who refused to sign a statement of anti-Zionism.” By 1949 Jews were escaping Iraq at a rate of 1,000 a month. Between 1950 and 1952, 130,000 were airlifted from Iraq. In 1969, the remaining 50 Iraqi Jews were executed.


In July 1948, Jewish shops and the Cairo Synagogue were attacked, killing 19 Jews. Hundreds of Jews were arrested and had their property confiscated.  By 1950, 40% of the Jewish population of Egypt had fled the country.  In October 1956, 1,000 Jews were arrested, 500 Jewish businesses were seized by the government, Jewish bank accounts were confiscated, Jews were barred from their professions, and thousands were ordered to leave the country. They were allowed to take only one suitcase and a small sum of cash, and forced to sign declarations “donating” their property to the Egyptian government. In 1967, Jews were detained and tortured, and Jewish homes were confiscated.


In November 1947, Arab mobs in the capital of Manama attacked Jews, looted homes and shops, and destroyed the synagogue. Over the next few decades, most Jews left for other countries, especially England.


In the early 1960s, Algerian Jews were declared non-citizens. Many left the country in 1962-63.


After the pogroms of 1948, 18,000 Moroccan Jews left for Israel. This continued until the 1960s.

Above: Moroccan Jewish refugees


In 1947, rioters killed more than 80 Jews in Aden. The Israeli government evacuated 44,000 Yemeni Jews in 1949 and 1950. Emigration continued until 1962, when the civil war in Yemen broke out.

Judea and Samaria 

In May 1948, the residents of Kfar Etzion, a kibbutz located outside the borders of Israel, were massacred. Despite surrendering to the Arab army, 129 Palestinian Jews were murdered and the kibbutz destroyed.

Following Jordan’s annexation of Judea and Samaria in 1948, all but one of the thirty-five synagogues in east Jerusalem were destroyed. Israelis were forbidden to pray at the Western Wall. The ancient Jewish cemetery on Mount of Olives was desecrated and tombstones used for construction, paving roads and lining latrines. Palestinian Jews were exiled. This was the only time in over 1,000 years that Palestinian Jews were forbidden to live in Judea and Samaria.


From 1956, Tunisian Jews emigrated because of anti-Jewish policies. Half fled to Israel and the rest went to France. More attacks in 1967 accelerated Jewish emigration.


In June 1948, rioters in Libya killed 12 Jews and destroyed 280 Jewish homes. Between 1949 and 1951, almost  31,000 Jews fled Libya and headed for Israel.  During the 1950s and 1960s, the remaining Jews were put under numerous restrictions, including laws which curtailed freedom of movement. A further 18 Jews were killed in 1967. Following this, 7,000 Jews were evacuated to Italy. In 1970 the Libyan government confiscated all the assets of Libya’s Jews and refused to compensate them. In 2003, the last remaining Jew in Libya was finally allowed to leave to Italy. Israel is now home to about 40,000 Jews of Libyan descent


In November 1947, the Jews of Aleppo were attacked, leaving 75 dead. Some 300 houses, 50 shops and many synagogues were destroyed. The violence prompted half of the Aleppo Jewish community to flee. However, the Syrian government imposed severe restrictions on Jewish emigration. In the early 1990s, the USA pressured the Syrian government to ease the restrictions. In 1992, the Syrians began granting exit visas to Jews but prohibited them from emigrating to Israel.

In August 1948, rioters in Damascus killed 13 Jews, including eight children.

Non-Arab Muslim countries


In September 1955, Greeks, Jews and Armenians were attacked, resulting in the exodus of 10,000 Jews.


Between 1948 and 1953, over 30% of Persian Jews emigrated from Iran to Israel. Another 15% of the Persian Jewish community fled to Israel between 1975 and 1991 because of religious persecution. The exodus of Iranian Jews peaked following the Islamic Revolution in 1979.


The proto-Nakba

Another little-told story of Jewish expulsion from Arab and Muslim countries is the dreadful situation prior to the UN Partition Plan. I call this the proto-Nakba because it eerily foreshadows what happened from 1947 onwards.

In the years and the decades before the UN partition vote in November 1947, Arab violence against Jews was widespread in British-ruled Palestine and across the Middle East and North Africa. A lot of the violence was the direct consequence of an informal alliance between pro-fascist Arabs and the Nazis. Both parties were motivated by extreme anti-Semitism and a desire to terminate British influence in the Middle East.


In 1942, the Tunisian Arabs Army assisted the Nazis in the genocide of 2,500 Jews in North Africa.

British Palestine

On 24th August 1929, 67 Palestinian Jews were massacred in Hebron. Dozens were wounded. Some of the victims were raped, tortured or mutilated. Jewish homes and synagogues, as well as a hospital, were ransacked. Sir John Chancellor, the British High Commissioner, wrote: “The horror of it is beyond words. In one house I visited not less than twenty-five Jews men and women were murdered in cold blood.” The survivors were evacuated by the British authorities. Many returned in 1931, but almost all left again between 1936 and 1939.

Above: a survivor of the Hebron massacre

Despite having been the home to a Jewish community since 1000 BCE, Safed was the scene of a pogrom that took place on August 29, 1929. The main Jewish street was looted and burned. Some 20 Palestinian Jews were killed and 80 wounded. Some of the victims were hacked and stabbed to death. Witnesses say that children in a local orphanage had their heads smashed in and their hands cut off.

In April 1936, riots broke out in Jaffa, the start of a three-year period of violence known as the Arab Revolt. The leader of the Palestinian Arabs and notorious Nazi collaborator, Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, led a campaign of terror against Jewish and British targets. The Tiberias pogrom took place in October 1938 during the 1936–1939 Arab revolt. Dozens of armed Arabs set fire to home and killed 19 Jews in Tiberias, 11 of whom were children. More than 415 Palestinian Jews were killed by Arabs over the three-year period.

During the 1920 Jerusalem riots, an Arab mob ransacked the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem, attacking pedestrians and looting shops and homes. About 160 Jews were wounded and five killed. Hundreds of Jews were evacuated.


The exodus of Egyptian Jews began after the 1945 Cairo pogrom.


At the behest of Husseini, the leader of the Palestinian Arabs, pro-Nazi Arabs slaughtered 180 Jews in Baghdad in 1941. 240 were wounded. Hundreds of Jewish businesses and homes were destroyed. The Farhud or “violent dispossession” was the beginning of the end of the Jewish community in Iraq, a community that had existed for 2,600 years.


In November 1945, an outbreak of what has been described as “bestial violence” took place in Tripoli, the capital of Libya. During a 50-hour rampage, Jews were tortured and dismembered. More than 140 Jews (including 36 children) were killed and hundreds injured. Synagogues, homes and businesses were looted and/or destroyed. In the aftermath, 4,000 Jews were homeless. The pogrom, which was the culmination of anti-Semitic legislation, resulted in an exodus of Libyan Jews.


Final thoughts

There is a long history of Arab and Muslim violence against Jewish communities. Before the 20th century, the treatment of Jews was the consequence of anti-Semitic statements in the Quran and other Islamic literature. From the 1920s, Arab Muslims became increasingly enthralled by Hitler’s lust for power and his anti-Semitic ideology. Many Arab leaders and regimes actively collaborated with the Nazis and sought to enact his vision of a world without Jews.

In the 1940s, the Arab League conspired to rob and harass their Jewish populations. This soon turned into a wholesale act of ethnic cleansing, peaking between 1947 and 1949. The multi-pronged military attack on the nascent State of Israel should be seen in this context. Ironically, the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab lands actually strengthened Israel’s hand. Not only did the new arrivals boost Israel’s population, it gradually pushed Israeli politics towards the right, making it less likely that there will ever be a rapprochement between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs.


franz-kafkaBy Richard Mather…

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” This is the start of Kafka’s novella The Metamorphosis, which is a hundred years old this year. First published in 1915, The Metamorphosis is often cited as one of the seminal works of twentieth century fiction. The cause of Gregor’s transformation is never revealed by Kafka. Instead the novella deals with Gregor’s (and his family’s) attempts to adjust to his lowly condition.

Despite having burned much of his work during his lifetime, Kafka’s legacy is massive. Most of his writings were published after his death, thanks in large part to his friend Max Brod. Writers as diverse as Jorge Luis Borges, Thomas Mann, Albert Camus, J. M. Coetzee, William Burroughs and Samuel Beckett, were all influenced by Kafka’s remarkable fiction. Kafka’s writing has inspired the term Kafkaesque, which is used to describe instances in which people are overwhelmed by a labyrinth-like bureaucracy, evoking feelings of senselessness and disorientation.

Kafka was born into a German-speaking, middle-class, minimally-observant Jewish family in Prague, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (now the Czech Republic). His Jewish upbringing was limited mostly to his bar mitzvah and going to the synagogue four times a year. Although professing to be an atheist in his teenage years, his interest in Judaism grew as he got older. While fascinated by the piety of the Hasidic Jews in eastern Europe, he felt alienated from his own Jewish tradition, once declaring that he had nothing in common with his fellow Jews. One of the difficulties was Kafka’s relationship with his domineering father (parodied in The Metamorphosis). Kafka felt that his father – and his family more generally – clung to their Jewish heritage only in a superficial way. Kafka was dismissive of western Jews who tried to integrate into gentile society. Indeed, the sporadic outbreaks of anti-Semitic violence exposed the failure of assimilation and helps to explain why so many of Kafka’s friends were interested in Zionism.

We know from his diaries and letters that from the age of twenty-eight, Kafka became increasingly interested in Jewish history, folklore and culture. Evidence of Kafka’s passion for Judaism is his strong identification with Yiddish literature and theatre. He was so impressed by a travelling Yiddish theatre company from Poland, that he delved into the history of Yiddish literature and wrote extensively in his diary about Yiddish theatre productions. Kafka was ambivalent about the Zionist project, which was still in its infancy. Although Kafka considered moving to British Palestine (he even studied Hebrew while living in Berlin), there is no evidence that Kafka ever visited the land of Israel.

While it is true that Kafka did not make overt references to Judaism in his fiction, many critics detect strong Jewish themes, although there is disagreement about the extent to which Judaism influenced his novels and stories. But according to Lothar Kahn, “the presence of Jewishness in Kafka’s oeuvre is no longer subject to doubt.” And in the words of Harold Bloom, “despite all his denials and beautiful evasions, Kafka’s writing quite simply is Jewish writing.” Some scholars speculate that some of Kafka’s works are allegories for larger Jewish issues. Karl Erich Grözinger believes there is a connection between Kafka’s writing and the Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. “Whenever Kafka speaks in them of judgment, sin, atonement and justification,” says Grözinger, “he is working from the direct context of a Jewish theology.”

Indeed, it has been argued by some critics that The Metamorphosis is a modern (and ironic) midrashon the binding of Isaac from Genesis 22. The binding of Isaac is the Torah portion that most people relate with Rosh Hashanah and reference to this story appears throughout the Rosh Hashanah liturgy. Whereas Isaac is substituted by a ram caught in the thicket, Gregor (the anti-hero of The Metamorphosis) is turned into a gigantic insect or “monstrous vermin” – an unclean animal not suited for sacrifice. (Monstrous vermin is the literal translation of Kafka’s original German, ungeheueren Ungeziefer.) If Isaac is disqualified for sacrifice because he is more precious in G-d’s eyes than the ram, Gregor is unfit for sacrifice because as an insect he is lower down the chain of being. Whereas Isaac is saved (much to his father’s relief), Gregor the insect is left to die, and upon discovering he is dead, the family feels a great sense of release.

Darwinism, which in its fascist guise was to have catastrophic consequences for Europe’s Jews, plays a part in the thematic thread running through The Metamorphosis. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, human differences were described in racial or biological terms. Jews in particular were depicted as inferior, as other. And what could be more inferior or other than an insect? Gregor’s transformation into “monstrous vermin” mirrors the anti-Semitic tendency to reduce Jews to some kind of specimen that could be killed off. Gregor is the embodiment of this perceived racial inferiority, and his death is a pointless and meaningless event, not at all sacrificial.

Sometimes referred to as the prophet of Prague because of his uncanny sense of impending totalitarianism, Kafka predicts the anti-Semitic discourses that would dominate politics in early twentieth century Europe –  the Jew as vermin, the Jew as insect, the Jew as occupying a lower place in the chain of being. Likewise, in his dark novel The Trial (which was published ninety years ago), the protagonist Josef K is arrested and eventually murdered for a crime that is never specified. His guilt is apparently existential : the fact of his being is anathema to the authorities who, in real life, would impute the same existential guilt onto the Jews of Europe.

Kafka didn’t live long enough to see the murderous destruction wrought by the Nazis. Kafka died in 1924 (aged forty) of starvation brought on by laryngeal tuberculosis, which affected his ability to swallow. (His remains are buried alongside his parent’s under an obelisk in Prague’s New Jewish Cemetery.) But his fellow Jews in Prague were even more unlucky. They died in their thousands in the gas chambers and concentration camps of Europe, thereby bringing an end to ten centuries of Jewish life in Prague. The historical sources are confused, but it seems that Kafka’s three sisters were killed in the liquidation of the Lodz ghetto in 1944 or perished in the Nazi concentration camps, possibly Auschwitz.

Kafka’s works of fiction, while not explicitly Jewish, do seem to capture the existential questions facing Jews in Europe in the first half of the twentieth century. Questions of identity, guilt, authoritarianism and ideology all play significant roles in works such as The Metamorphosis and The Trial. The fact that Kafka managed to capture the spirit of the times – despite dying before the inception of Nazism and Stalinism – is a remarkable testament to a man who was able to prophesy what it is like to be trapped inside a system that ultimately kills you.


bild_anne_frank_02By Richard Mather….

Who has made us Jews different from all other people?  Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly up until now?  It is G-d who has made us as we are, but it will be G-d, too, who will raise us up again.  Who knows it might even be our religion from which the world and all peoples learn good, and for that reason and only that reason do we suffer.

– From the diary of Anne Frank, April 11, 1944

This is an absurd world. It is less than a century since Eurocentric anti-Semitism reached its nadir in the Final Solution: the industrialised slaughter of six million Jewish men, women and children. But even in 2015, anti-Semitism is an outstanding and pressing problem in European countries such as France, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Sweden and the UK, as well as Turkey, South Africa, Australia, the USA, and vast swathes of the Middle East.

Take a recent example in which two Jewish residents of Paris were assaulted by a gang of forty anti-Zionist thugs belonging to the BDS movement. The incident happened in broad daylight, which shows that even after the terror attack on a Jewish delicatessen in January, the French authorities are doing little to clamp down on the scourge of anti-Zionist Jew-hatred. And what about the daubing of anti-Semitic graffiti on election billboards in Britain or the new blood libel in a Turkish newspaper accusing “Israeli spies” of kidnapping Nepalese people to harvest their organs? Depressingly, I could go on.

Anti-Semitism is a phenomenon that can be traced back to ancient Greece and Rome. It can be found almost anywhere in the world, even in places where there are no Jews. There is little agreement why anti-Semitism is such a persistent problem. Various theories relating to theology, race, identity, culture and ideology have been put forward, but the changing nature of Jew-hatred and its persistence across cultures and throughout generations defies simple explanation.

In all likelihood, anti-Semitism is a problem of psychology. In 1882, Judah Leib Pinsker, an early Zionist, wrote that anti-Semitism is an incurable “psychic aberration.” More recently, historian Paul Johnson has described anti-Semitism as “a disease of the mind, extremely infectious and massively destructive. It is a disease to which both human individuals and entire human societies are prone.”

Perhaps anti-Semites and Israel-haters are projecting their own negative features, characteristics and beliefs onto the Jewish people, who have acted as a lightning rod for the world’s neuroses for millennia. Indeed, anti-Semitism is not a coherent response to some perceived Jewish misdemeanour, but is a social pathology characterised by hysteria and paradox. No other group of people is hated for being lazy and power-hungry. No one else is held responsible for communismand capitalism. Only the Jews could be blamed for killing Jesus and inventing Christianity. And only the Jews could be told to “go back to Palestine” and then told to “get out of Palestine.”

So how do we reconcile ourselves with the endurance of Judeophobia, even after the Holocaust? Maybe anti-Semitism should be understood by Jews as an imperative – an imperative requiring Jewish self-reliance: to carry on Jewish existence, to ensure the survival of the State of Israel and to frustrate the anti-Semitic desire to eliminate Judaism/Israel from the planet.

All of which follows on from Rabbi Emil L Fackenheim’s 614th commandment – that we shall not hand Hitler posthumous victories. “We are, first, commanded to survive as Jews, lest the Jewish people perish,” stated Rabbi Fackenheim.

“We are commanded, secondly, to remember in our very guts and bones the martyrs of the Holocaust, lest their memory perish. We are forbidden, thirdly, to deny or despair of G-d, however much we may have to contend with him or with belief in him, lest Judaism perish. We are forbidden, finally, to despair of the world as the place which is to become the kingdom of G-d, lest we help make it a meaningless place in which G-d is dead or irrelevant and everything is permitted.”

In other words, Jews are compelled to learn from the past and to survive. The Holocaust, the miraculous rebirth of the Jewish nation-state and the resurgence of anti-Semitism in the twenty-first century all contrive to make Jewish existence an act of faith, even a sacred duty. Perhaps I am biased but it seems to me that the Jewish people embody the basic premise of the existential attitude: how to live a meaningful existence in an absurd and unfair world.

With meaning, it is possible to survive anything, including the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp. This was the view of neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl who, in his book Man’s Search For Meaning, stated: “There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life.” Wise words.

In a sense, simply being Jewish is meaningful, especially in a world that seeks to eradicate Judaism and Israel. Isn’t it simply amazing that in spite of all the exiles, purges, pogroms and tragedies, the Jewish people have not only survived, but prospered? The creation of the State of Israel and the revival of Hebrew as a common language are testament to the Jews’ uncanny ability to reinvent themselves while simultaneously staying loyal to their biblical roots.

But there is something more remarkable about the Jewish people. And it is this: the Jews have cultivated meaningfulness by affirming life. Unlike some Christians and Buddhists, Jews have not sought sanctuary in a Schopenhauerian negation of the will but have said Yes to life. This Yesstands in stark contrast to the anti-Semites who say No to Judaism, No to Israel, No to Jewish identity and even No to life (hence the death-obsessed terrorists who are so keen to blow themselves up along with everyone around them).

It is the Jewish affirmation of life – the wholehearted Yes that began when the Hebrews said Yes to the giving of the Torah at Sinai – that is the Jews’ greatest legacy. But it is also the reason why the Jewish people are so resented by a cynical and contemptuous world. In other words, the Jews have a remarkable talent for living. And after the horrors of the Holocaust and the resurgence of anti-Semitism in the twenty-first century, that is something to be proud of.