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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Europe's new anti-semitism (Rabbi Jonathan Sacks)

From HuffPo:

In May 2007 a small group of religious leaders met in the E.U. headquarters in Brussels with the three most significant leaders of Europe: Angela Merkel, German Chancellor and at the time president of the European Council; Jose-Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission; and Hans-Gert Pöttering, President of the European Parliament.

...Sitting directly opposite the three leaders, I said this: "Jews and Europe go back a long way. The experience of Jews in Europe has added several words to the human vocabulary -- words like expulsion, public disputation, forced conversion, inquisition, auto-da-fe, blood libel, ghetto and pogrom, without even mentioning the word Holocaust. That is the past. My concern is with the future. Today the Jews of Europe are asking whether there is a future for Jews in Europe, and that should concern you, the leaders of Europe."

It took less than a minute, and after it there was a shocked silence. We adjourned for lunch, and over it Angela Merkel asked, "What would you like me to do, Chief Rabbi?" I did not have an easy answer for her then. I do now. It is: reverse immediately the decision of the Cologne court that renders Jewish parents who give their son a brit milah [circumcision], even if performed in hospital by a qualified doctor, liable to prosecution.
He then makes a brilliant observation about the nature of European anti-semitism through the centuries:
I have argued for some years that an assault on Jewish life always needs justification by the highest source of authority in the culture at any given age. Throughout the Middle Ages the highest authority in Europe was the Church. Hence anti-Semitism took the form of Christian anti-Judaism.

In the post-enlightenment Europe of the 19th century the highest authority was no longer the Church. Instead it was science. Thus was born racial anti-Semitism, based on two disciplines regarded as science in their day: the "scientific study of race" and the Social Darwinism of Herbert Spencer and Ernst Haeckel. Today we know that both of these were pseudo-sciences, but in their day they were endorsed by some of the leading figures of the age.

Since Hiroshima and the Holocaust, science no longer holds its pristine place as the highest moral authority. Instead, that role is taken by human rights. It follows that any assault on Jewish life -- on Jews or Judaism or the Jewish state -- must be cast in the language of human rights. Hence the by-now routine accusation that Israel has committed the five cardinal sins against human rights: racism, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, attempted genocide and crimes against humanity. This is not because the people making these accusations seriously believe them -- some do, some don't. It is because this is the only form in which an assault on Jews can be stated today.

That is what the court in Cologne has done. It has declared that circumcision is an assault on the rights of the child since it is performed without his consent. It ignored the fact that if this is true, teaching children to speak German, sending them to school and vaccinating them against illness are all assaults against the rights of the child since they are done without consent. The court's judgment was tendentious, foolish and has set a dangerous precedent.

In historical context, however, it is far worse. By ruling that religious Jews performing their most ancient sacred ritual are abusing the rights of the child, a German court has just invented a new form of Blood Libel perfectly designed for the 21st century. Chancellor Merkel, the answer to your question, "What would you like me to do?" is simple. Ensure that this ruling is overturned, for the sake of religious freedom and the moral reputation of Germany.
This article is worth bookmarking.

(h/t Yerushalimey)