So why are Jews hated so much?

Updated: Jul 28, 2020, 07:33 IST | C Y Gopinath | Mumbai

Sometimes just a simple question can wake you up. Of course, India has few Jews but that doesn't mean we haven't someone to hate.

An Indian Jew attends a morning prayer service at the Magen David Synagogue in Mumbai. Pic/AFP
An Indian Jew attends a morning prayer service at the Magen David Synagogue in Mumbai. Pic/AFP

C Y GopinathThe question was a simple one. It was asked casually by a friend of mine at a Sunday lunch in my apartment. Someone may have mentioned Jesus or perhaps Germany or Hitler, and he asked, almost rhetorically, "But why are Jews hated so much?"

Like the best questions, this one was so basic that no one had thought of it. I certainly hadn't, though like most baby boomers, I had the factoids at my fingertips — Over six million Jews had been brutally exterminated in Hitler's concentration camps. I had seen Schindler's List and knew about the Star of David and the Warsaw Ghetto.

I had been to Mumbai's synagogue in Colaba and knew that it had been the site of carnage during the 2008 attack on Mumbai by the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Nine people had died, including the rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg and his wife Rivka.

I knew anti-semitism was on the rise again. I'd read about swastikas at Walmarts.

But back to the question — what had Jews done to deserve such brutal, eternal hate?

I wrote last night to three Jewish friends, two American ex-colleagues and one Indian Jew, or Hin-Jew, as she describes herself. By morning, my Inbox was full of food for thought. Several things jumped out as I began to read.

For one, Jews are not reviled all over the planet. In India, for example, Jews are a minority among minorities, with just over 5,000. Indeed, being Jewish is not a thing anywhere in Asia, China or the Far East.

So who, then, hates Jews? The surprising answer is that in the western world, Christians have historically loathed and persecuted Jews for centuries, holding them (wrongly) responsible for the death of Jesus Christ.

But wait — wasn't Jesus himself a Jew? Christianity emerged from Judaism and the first Christians were Jews who prayed in Hebrew and observed the rituals of Judaism. Why on earth would Jews kill one of their own?

The truth is subtler. Some Jews, especially the political sect called the Pharisees, just considered Jesus to be bad news, while he mocked them as power-hungry hypocrites. They gladly handed the troublemaker over to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who obliged them by condemning him to crucifixion.

So the exact truth is that Romans killed Jesus while certain Jews looked the other way. But in the following centuries, some of the gospels, especially John's, were misinterpreted to continue blaming all Jews forever for killing Jesus.

Once Christians believed that Jesus was God and that Jews had killed him, no crime seemed too bizarre or horrific to attribute to them. Vicious stories spread: that Jews ritually killed Christian children and drank their blood. That it was they who had poisoned the water, causing the plague which killed millions. That they worshipped Satan.

The Catholic Church under Pope Paul VI officially repudiated the Jews. The declaration, called Nostra Aetate ("In Our Time"), stated that blame for the crucifixion could not be placed on all Jews living at that time, nor could Jews in our time be held guilty.

But it was too late. Anti-semitism had already become a cultural normal. Hating Jews is pre-sanctioned in today's world. No authorisation required.

Psychological studies reveal that hate is fuelled by a belief that a certain group causes harm knowingly and deliberately and that because it is in their very nature, they will never change. Hating a community also requires you to believe that they are identical and that each person in that community has the same dreadful traits.

In India, we've found the group we love to hate. Ominous hate clouds have been gathering over a community that is routinely described as un-Indian, malevolent and deadly dangerous. A steady diet of falsities is slowly painting Muslims in the same dark colours that the west paints its Jews: vile, evil, vicious and inherently incapable of changing. Hate and pre-emptive action against Muslims are seen as pre-approved at the highest levels of the land.

Are you past hate and blind rage yourself, sir or ma'am? Or have you just learned to hide it well? Under your urbane civility, sipping your sundowner, do you truly believe that you can live and let live all others around you, no matter how sharp the differences between you and them? Or do you secretly believe this country would be better off without any one particular community?

Do this simple thought experiment. Five hungry people who have not eaten for a month are at your door, begging for food. They are a Jew, an Indian Muslim, a Rohingya, a Chinese (Buddhist), a black African Christian and a white-skinned Harvard-educated atheist.

You have a simple vegetarian meal, but barely enough for one person. Which one would you feed?

And now the trick question: why did you decide not to feed each of the rest?

Here, viewed from there. C Y Gopinath, in Bangkok, throws unique light and shadows on Mumbai, the city that raised him. You can reach him at cygopi@gmail.com
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