The Korea Herald


[Ron Grossman] A long history of anti-Jewish hatred

By Korea Herald

Published : Nov. 24, 2023 - 05:30

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At the first reports of a massacre of Israeli civilians, I shuddered, fearing the worst was yet to come. Sadly, I was right. Before sundown on Oct. 7, Israel was being blamed for Hamas’ killings, mutilations and kidnappings of Israeli civilians.

As a historian, I know only too well the common denominator of thousands of years of my people’s experience: Jews are blamed for whatever calamity humanity suffers. That is true even when Jews are the victims.

Eighty-five years ago, Nazi mobs and ordinary citizens sacked Jewish stores in a frenzy that became known as Kristallnacht, the “night of broken glass.” It foretold the gas chambers of the Holocaust. The morning after Kristallnacht, Germany’s streets were swept clean of the glass and debris, and the Jews had to reimburse the government for the cost of the cleanup. The animus stretches back further. During the Black Death in the 14th century, Jews were said to have caused the plague by poisoning wells. Adolf Hitler stirred up long-standing prejudice by preaching that Germany lost World War I because Jews sold out their country.

Currently, pundits and talking heads are saying that Israel is out to destroy the Palestinians’ hope for a state of their own. But history is more complex than the story that comes out of a megaphone.

On the day of Israel’s birth in 1948, an Arab neighbor made absolutely clear its intention to destroy the Jewish state. An Egyptian army set out on a coastal road leading to Tel Aviv, Israel’s capital. Its commander radioed Cairo that he’d soon be there. He’d put an end to this Jewish trespasser on the domain of Islam. But just north of a city named Gaza, the Egyptians were stopped by residents of a kibbutz.

Their handful of small arms were left at the trench they defended -- so future generations would know where Israel won the right to life.

Some mornings, I read newspapers hoping to see the term “Gaza strip” explained. It is an unusual name for a battlefield. Yet its story isn’t forthcoming. What I do see is self-righteous posturing that triggers my memories of painful chapters in Jewish history.

When French President Emmanuel Macron insists that Israel stop killing women and children, my mind’s eye sees the Jews expelled from France in 1182. A contemporary chronicler explained that King Philip II heard: “The Jews who dwelled in Paris were wont every year on Easter Day, or during the sacred week of the Lord’s passion, to go secretly down to underground vaults and kill a Christian.”

When peaceful counterprotesters were arrested at an anti-Israel march in London, I recalled King Edward I’s 1290 banishment of England’s Jews.

Let’s be clear about today’s antisemitism. It imposes a heavier burden on my children than I experienced in my youth. My walk to grade school passed a two-flat. During Israel’s War of Independence, gentile boys would gather there to sing, in faux Jewish accents:

Sons of Hymn and Abbie

Join the Jewish Navy

Fight, fight, fight for Palestine.

But I could say to myself: “I’ll be leaving these louts behind. I’m going to college.”

Today, college can become a stage for antisemitism.

A granddaughter of mine is a student at the University of Maryland. Despite its significant Jewish enrollment -- or, perhaps, because of it -- an enormous image projected on a building there advertised: “HOLOCAUST 2.0.″ To her, the Holocaust is more than an abstract concept. She knows that she is alive because I’m alive, and I’m alive because my maternal great-grandmother sent my grandfather from Poland to Chicago. She somehow sensed the Holocaust was coming. She did the same with the rest of her children, all when they were scarcely teenagers. She was murdered in the Treblinka extermination camp. There wasn’t an Israel where she could find refuge.

My share of her descendants are social activists. One carried a picket sign while holding a baby. Another chose to teach in Oakland’s public schools because children born into poverty need a young, enthusiastic teacher, she felt.

Now my children are vilified as “colonialists” by some they marched with, for not becoming anti-Israel. My own mind is a virtual split screen. On one, I see the bloodshed in Gaza.

On the other, there’s a ghostly procession: I see myself heckled by Jew-hating teenagers, and I see a handful of kibbutzniks keeping Israel from being stillborn. I see my ancestors exiled from England, France and Spain. I see the king of France and others saying that it had to done because Jews thirst for Christian blood. I hear my grandfather sobbing at the news of his mother’s murder in Treblinka.

And I see her, my great-grandmother, Miriam Komenovich. Without her wisdom, I wouldn’t be here writing this story.

Ron Grossman

Ron Grossman is a Chicago Tribune reporter. -- Ed.

(Tribune Content Agency)