March 21, 2019

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“Hath Not a Jew Eyes?”: The Dehumanization of the Jews
Shylock and Jessica

All of us know, deep down, that hatred, for instance Jew-hatred, is bad. It’s part of our moral fiber. So when we want to indulge in a little xenophobia, we have to find an excuse that gives us permission to act in a way we know is wrong.

Hating Jews, for example, requires the antisemite to build a moral foundation for hate, a tautology that makes Jew-hatred not only acceptable, but a virtue. Antisemites build the moral foundation for their hate through the dehumanization of the Jews. Because if Jews aren’t human, it’s okay to hate them.
If Jews are not human, hating them becomes exactly like hating Brussels sprouts. A choice completely divorced from morality. It’s not immoral to hate Brussels sprouts, therefore it’s not immoral to hate the Jews, who, after all, are not human, much as Brussels sprouts are not human.

Of course, Jews are clearly living beings, even if not human. Killing them, therefore, would still be deemed as cruel and inhumane as killing animals, according to societal norms and the bylaws of PETA. For this reason, building a moral foundation or tautology for Jew-hatred necessitates a foundational belief that Jews are not just not human, but subhuman: untermenschen.

antisemitic cartoon, Viau 1900

Hating Jews, the haters tell themselves—tell you—is not like hating other creatures, because the Jews are an invasive and dangerous species that steals jobs from regular humans as part of their wider mission of taking over the world. And if Jews are subhuman, say the haters, killing them is therefore not only not murder, but a moral imperative, performed by decent, upright people for the good of society.

The proof of the subhuman nature of the Jews, the haters will tell you, is that they regularly attempt to pass as actual human beings in order to evade capture and death. Jews know, they say, that if you think they’re only human, you won’t kill them. It’s how they’ve managed to survive throughout the centuries: shape-shifters who multiply and spread, a metastasizing societal malignancy, goes the narrative of hate.

Antisemitic blogger targets me for filing a DMCA notice after he plagiarized my piece, Should We Carpet Bomb Gaza.

 Comment referring to “jew-dogs” and “jew-rule” on the content that was disabled as a result of my DMCA notice.

It is the dehumanization of Jewish people, and the conscience-driven necessity to spread the narrative of this dehumanization, that made the Holocaust possible. Der Untermensch, a 50-page brochure edited by Himmler and distributed by the Race and Settlement Head Office at the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, the 1942 German invasion of the Soviet Union, expanded at length on the subhuman nature of the Jews and other minorities; the Jews being the subhuman supreme. Here is a quote from the pamphlet of which 3,860,995 German language copies were printed (the pamphlet was also translated into 14 other languages):

Just as the night rises against the day, the light and dark are in eternal conflict. So too, is the subhuman the greatest enemy of the dominant species on earth, mankind. The subhuman is a biological creature, crafted by nature, which has hands, legs, eyes and mouth, even the semblance of a brain. Nevertheless, this terrible creature is only a partial human being.

Although it has features similar to a human, the subhuman is lower on the spiritual and psychological scale than any animal. Inside of this creature lies wild and unrestrained passions: an incessant need to destroy, filled with the most primitive desires, chaos and coldhearted villainy.

A subhuman and nothing more!

Not all of those who appear human are in fact so. Woe to him who forgets it!

Mulattoes and Finn-Asian barbarians, Gipsies and black skin savages all make up this modern underworld of subhumans that is always headed by the appearance of the eternal Jew. (emphasis added)

In the contemporary aftermath of the Holocaust, the dehumanization of the Jews as untermenschen continues, because some people will always look for a reason and an excuse to hate. “In each and every generation they rise up against us to destroy us. And the Holy One, blessed be He, rescues us from their hands.”*

Which tends to render the mantra of “Never Again,” completely meaningless.

And of course, the dehumanization of the Jews begins long before Hitler, may his name and memory be erased, was a glimmer in his mother’s eyes. Critics have, for example, long debated the meaning of the eloquent, but usurious Shylock’s famous speech in The Merchant of Venice:

Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?

Some say Shakespeare, with this speech, far from intending to make the Jews seem human, meant only to depict Shylock as running true to the species. That is to say that Shylock does what Jews do: poses as human to survive. The Nazis, in fact, took full advantage of Shylock as an oft-employed device in their anti-Jewish propaganda.  

We could certainly go much further back in time to find examples of the dehumanization of Jews as an excuse to hate them as a breed. The Jews as a nation were, in fact, born in the wake of Egyptian enmity. Way before Christ, Mohammed, or even the Romans.

And going forward, the dehumanization of the Jews continues.

The dehumanization of the Jews is today illustrated by the lack of space given to Israeli victims of Arab terror in the media, while Arab suffering is amplified. Turn on the television and you will not hear about the two Daniels, Daniel Tragerman and Daniel Viflic. Tragerman was a four-year-old boy who was killed by shrapnel when a mortar exploded next to his home along the Gaza border. With only three seconds between siren and explosion, the little boy couldn’t make it to the family safe room in time. But you wouldn’t have heard about that.

Nor would your television tell you about Daniel Viflic, a 16-year-old kid murdered in a school bus on the way to his grandma’s house. Arab terrorists deliberately targeted the school bus with an anti-tank missile, assuming the bus would be filled with Jewish children. The shrapnel peppered Daniel’s brain. He was declared dead ten days later.

Daniel Viflic, HY”D
The media hides these stories from the public in order to dehumanize the Jewish population of Israel. To them, Jewish children aren’t children like other children. Photos of the dead Arab infant Leila, on the other hand, were splashed across your screen for days, her death blamed on the Israeli army. You probably never heard her uncle’s admission that Leila was already dead of a blood disease when he grabbed her still cold body to bring her to the border riots. Leila’s uncle was paid by Hamas to bring the dead baby’s body to the border and to claim the IDF killed her with tear gas.

But you only saw the photo of the “grieving” uncle holding the tiny, dead body. You only heard the lie. Because in humanizing Leila with a faked photo opp, Israeli soldiers are dehumanized. The photos of Leila in her uncle’s arms produce outrage against Jewish soldiers, making them seem like monsters. There is not a little irony in that Jewish IDF soldiers are dehumanized through the vehicle of an infant’s humanity when the humanity of Daniel Tragerman is hidden from your sight.

In its cherry-picking stories about Israel and Gaza, and through the process of selective omission, the media proves that it works hard to never, ever humanize the Jews. We can see what they choose to present us, and what they choose to hide from view. We can see that the media has learned its lesson well: that a narrative of dehumanization might be countered by humanizing the object of hate.

It’s elementary. And some of us learned about it in school, as seventh graders, when we were assigned the book Black Like Me, to learn about prejudice and racism. That book worked magic because it served to humanize black people. It was pedagogical theory in action: when you get to know and like someone, it’s hard to hate them. Which is exactly as the dehumanizers have always warned.

Take the case of Liel Levitan, the 7-year-old Jewish Israeli chess prodigy. There was talk of Tunisia banning the Israeli delegation from competing in the World Chess Championship to be hosted by that country. Only when the World Chess Federation hinted that Tunisia would be ousted from its ranks, did Tunisia relentand agree that Levitan could compete.

During the campaign to get Tunisia to allow for Israeli participation in this event, i24 News issued a most affecting video of the youngster. One couldn’t help but think: What on earth is the danger of this tiny little cherub with her masses of blonde curls? Of what are the Tunisians so frightened??

But that’s exactly the point. If you believe that Jews can masquerade as adorable humans, you have no compunction in treating them as undesirables, or perhaps more to the point, like rats or cockroaches. That is why Nazis had no trouble shooting Jewish infants in their mothers’ arms or bashing their heads against a wall until they were dead. To the Nazis, these infants were Jewish cockroaches in need of extermination. No need to show them any mercy.

Note the veiled irony in the voiceover accompanying the i24 clip of Levitan, which taken in the wrong light by the wrong people, might suggest the child prodigy’s angelic appearance is just cover for her subhuman nature:

“Don’t be fooled by her childish face and long, frizzy blond hair.”

Humanizing the little girl in the eyes of the public worked. The campaign brought pressure to bear on Tunisia. But it is doubtful that the effort made Liel any more human in the eyes of the Tunisians. More probably, they wished only to avoid being ousted from the World Chess Federation. They wanted to rid themselves of a public relations nightmare.
Efforts at humanizing an object of hate, if truth be told, are not always successful. Sometimes the efforts serve only to make the hate an abstract thing, one which allows the person to hate a group in general, but love a person, in particular, as an exception. This may be a meaningless distinction.

In Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon, author Leonard S. Marcus relates an anecdote about this most famous author of children’s books such as Good Night Moon, and one of her illustrators, Esphyr Slobodkina. Brown invited the illustrator to visit her at her summer cottage in Maine. The two were out rowing when Slobodkina “made some remark that caused Margaret to realize, apparently for the first time, that her companion was a Jew.

“To the artist’s shock and dismay, this realization seemed to irritate Margaret. ‘Why didn’t you tell me that before?’ she replied as though her guest had somehow failed her in an obligation that might have spared her some trouble. Margaret went on to insist that she disliked herself for harboring what she called a ‘Jewish prejudice,’ yet she had the prejudice all the same. Slobodkina soon left the island.”

photo of Esphyr Slobodkina seated in front of “Irish Elegy”, c.1948-50
Margaret Wise Brown wrestled with the unpleasant knowledge of her own prejudice, acknowledging it as such. And eventually, author and illustrator reconciled. Troubled by their fall-out, however, Brown wrote a never-published short story entitled, Oh Gentle Jew, in which a character presumably patterned after Slobodkina, says to another woman (presumably Brown), “Love the Jew and hate the Jews. I wonder if it is possible.”

Perhaps it was Brown’s milieu growing up that informed her views about the Jews in general. Once confronted with the Jewishness of someone she liked and admired, a colleague, Brown was forced to see that her prejudice had no logical basis in fact. That knowledge didn’t make her prejudice go away, but it made her mighty uncomfortable.

Uncomfortable enough to grapple with the subject, and to write about it, too.

Margaret Wise Brown (photo: Consuela Kanaga)
It is perhaps the knowledge of how the haters see the Jews, that, through the ages, has kept the Jews on their best behavior. It’s not so much fear of being killed, though this is certainly part of the equation, but the desire to be seen as human beings, kind and good, that has helped shape and refine the Jewish people. This is the desire that drives every Jewish mother’s instructions to not create a shanda fur die goyim: to not embarrass one’s own people in the eyes of the world.

Perhaps the effort to dehumanize the Jews is the secret fuel that powers Jewish excellence. If so, we must nonetheless continue to bear witness against antisemitism when we see it in God’s world. Because it will always be a mitzvah to fight against hate; a thing that has no sensible reason for being.

*V’hi She’amda prayer from the Passover Hagaddah.

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