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One Hate to Unite Them All: The Idolatry of Anti-Semitism

November 28, 2023


Public intellectual Abigail Shrier recently made a compelling argument explaining the latest progressive fit of anti-Semitism. Her thesis is that the only reason leftist groups like Gays for Gaza, Queers for Palestine, and Black Lives Matter (Shrier notes there are over 100,000 Ethiopian Jews) are siding with Hamas, the terrorist organization that controls the Gaza Strip and recently massacred over a thousand Israeli civilians, is Marxist-fueled hatred. As she puts it, “They are all fed by the same polluted water source: hatred, envy, and resentment.”

That seems right. What else could explain the logical and strategic inconsistency in aligning with a political movement that openly detests, and violently represses, progressive values? There is more than a cognitive error at play. It’s emotional—and that emotion, as the global unrest in the streets has undeniably revealed, is hatred both of Israel and the Jewish people

That said, Shrier’s argument is incomplete. One under-observed phenomenon of anti-Semitism’s surge is that it’s originating from the political right as well. Several popular accounts on Twitter/X that have branded themselves as “anti-woke,” for example, started posting anti-Semitic content almost immediately after the October 7th massacre. This is an odd convergence. How could elements of both the progressive left and the alt-right be showing public support, directly or indirectly, for a political organization whose foundational charter calls for the extermination of Israel and, by definition, all its occupants? The problem is thus worse than Shrier recognizes: two ideological forces, erstwhile bitter enemies, have paused or, at least, deescalated mutual hostilities to lock arms against humanity’s oldest scapegoat.  

They are all fed by the same polluted water source: hatred, envy, and resentment.

There are numerous historical and sociopolitical reasons why anti-Semitism has the dark power to unite political, cultural, and religious rivals, but perhaps the deepest explanation is theological: it was the Jews who first shattered the world’s multifaceted idols, announcing the revelation that there is one living God who created and continues to sustain all existence, including human existence. This is the theological, metaphysical, and moral core of the shema, which comes from the Old Testament books of Deuteronomy and Numbers, though its core is in Deuteronomy 6:4-6: 

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your might. 

This is the great idol-smashing declaration of the Hebrew Scriptures. And it indelibly changed history. Inter-tribal enmity has been with us since the fall, but the terms of warfare, prior to the arrival of the Jews, were stable: you get to have your gods, and we get to have ours; we may, and likely will, do everything in our power to destroy you and your gods, but we will not deny that there are multiple gods. Despite lethal disagreement over whose gods were superior, in other words, a quiet polytheistic understanding held the whole melee together, forming the battlefield upon which all tribes advanced their respective deities.

But then came the Jews, announcing that there was—there is—one God, and that that God, while active in the world, is not to be found anywhere in the world. The Jews also affirmed that the whole purpose of human life was—is—to love the one God with all your being. There could be no substitutes. 

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This was the greatest buzzkill in history; and for that act, the act of demasking and de-divinizing every past and future idol, the twisted hearts of fallen men would never forgive the Jewish people. A devilish pact was thus made: Whatever wars we wage on each other, we will never lose sight of the common enemy: those who, by their very existence, disturb our labors to fashion and worship our own idols. We will hate each other, but we will always hate them more—and it is that hate that will unite us all. 

This is the idolatry of anti-Semitism. 

Modern and postmodern minds may scoff at this explanation. “We don’t believe in gods,” they may say, “and so don’t believe in idols.” But that’s just the deities’ toxic nectar talking. Of course you worship idols; you just call them “the climate,” and “social justice,” and “the nation,” and “equity,” and “autonomy,” and “getting high,” and “trans rights,” and “the market” and “safety,” and “diversity” and “inclusion,” and “war,” and “Republicans” and “Democrats,” and, above all, “ME, ME, ME.”   

The Jews were the first to put a pox on all these houses, generating the initial crack in the self-induced spell that dupes us into believing, like Adam and Eve, that we have the power to fabricate our own made-to-order divinities. Same as it always was, anti-Semites of both left and right are thus not seeking freedom, liberation, or justice for themselves or anyone else. They are seeking revenge on the original truth tellers, desperately and delusionally hoping that erasing the messengers will somehow erase the message.