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Taking a dislike, mild or intense, to people who are different in one way or another, by ethnicity, race, color, creed, eating habits—no matter what—is part of the normal human condition.We find it throughout recorded history, and we find it all over the world.Demonization, as distinct from common or garden-variety prejudice or hostility, began with the advent of Christianity and the special role assigned to the Jews in the crucifixion of Christ as related in the Gospels.
The other special feature of anti-Semitism, which is much more important than differing standards of judgment, is the accusation against Jews of cosmic evil.
Complaints against people of other groups rarely include it.
A Danish saying current at the time was: What is a Swede? Another double-barreled insult, this one from the British army in the late 1930s, when it was concerned about two different groups of terrorists: What is an Arab? I quote these not in any sense with approval or commendation, but as examples of the kind of really nasty prejudice that is widespread in our world. We see plenty of examples of this at the present time. There can be different standards of judgment on other issues too, sometimes even involving Jews, without anti-Semitism or without necessarily being motivated by anti-Semitism.
For instance, in mid-September 1975 in Spain, five terrorists convicted of murdering policemen were sentenced to death.
It can sometimes be extraordinarily vicious and sometimes even amusing.
Not long after World War II, the Danes were seething with resentment against two of their neighbors: the Germans, for having occupied them, and the Swedes, for having stood by with unhelpful neutrality. One of them is that Jews are judged by a standard different from that applied to others.This gave rise to problems with their neighbors and their various imperial masters, notably the Romans.It sometimes provoked hostile comments and even persecution, but not the kind of demonization that has come to be known as anti-Semitism.There is no great difference between the anti-Jewish remarks and the ethnic and religious prejudices expressed against other peoples, and on the whole the ones against Jews are not the most vicious.The Syrian-born Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus, for example, speaking of the Saracens, remarks that they are not to be desired either as friends or as enemies.In both cases the perpetrators were Arab, but in the case of Sabra and Shatila, because of the dominant Israeli military presence in the region, there was a possibility of blaming the Jews. We see other instances of differing standards and methods of judgment nearer home and in a perhaps less alarming form.In Hama, this possibility did not exist; therefore the mass slaughter of Arabs by Arabs went unremarked, unnoticed, and unprotested. We hear a great deal, for example, about the Jewish lobby and the various accusations that are from time to time brought against it, that those engaged in it are somehow disloyal to the United States and are in the service of a foreign power.Some people have written and spoken about anti-Semitism in antiquity, but the term in that context is misleading.We do indeed find texts in the ancient world attacking and denouncing Jews, sometimes quite viciously, but we also find nasty remarks about Syrians, Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, and the rest.The Christian message was presented as the fulfillment of God’s promises to the Jews, written in what Christians called the Old Testament.The rejection of that message by the Jewish custodians of the Old Testament was especially wounding.