Where the Jews Are
Several reports of increasing anti-Semitism have appeared recently. For example, a major story in the NY Times last month described renewed and virulent outbreaks of the deadly phenomenon in Hungary. Alas, this is not an isolated phenomenon. Europe is awash in Jew-baiting, BDS hysteria, Israel-bashing, and other overt instances of naked anti-Semitism. The focus of this aggression is normally Israel. But there is also no shortage of physical attacks on Jewish people in the cities of Europe. There are neighborhoods in Paris, Antwerp, and Malmö into which a Jew with a kippa enters only at the risk of bodily harm.
The phenomenon of renewed anti-Semitism is not restricted to Europe. It goes without saying that in the Muslim world, the Jew is most unwelcome. With the exception of Morocco, there are virtually no Jews left in any Arab nation -- although that has no effect on the constant anti-Jewish vitriol spewed in the media, universities and political institutions of the Islamic universe. The founding of Israel is viewed as a catastrophe (nakba) by Muslims, the ongoing existence of Israel an affront to humanity. And the presence and influence of Jews in Western societies is proof positive, in Muslim eyes, of the decadence and moral degeneracy of those societies.
Anti-Semitism appears with regularity in corners of the world (Africa, the Far East, e.g.) that are almost totally Judenrein. The absence of Jews didn't prevent the prime minister of Malaysia from issuing an exceedingly vicious anti-Semitic diatribe.
Finally, and perhaps most seriously, the non-European countries of the West -- including the United States -- are not immune from the disease. Recurring incidents of anti-Semitism -- albeit relatively few in number compared to the above -- do occur in Canada, Australia, etc.
The statute of limitations on the Holocaust-spurred ban of Jew-hatred has expired, and anti-Semitism has roared back. It is not far-fetched to be worried about the physical safety of the world's (estimated) 14 million Jews.
In confronting that worry, one must take into account two huge changes in the profile of the world's Jews from what existed three quarters of a century ago. The first is the existence of the State of Israel and its IDF. The second is embodied in the title of this essay.
Israel might not be a superpower, but in its 65-year existence, it has proven conclusively that it is a force to be reckoned with in several ways. First, it has built a powerful, modern military force (the IDF, or Israel Defense Forces), which has proven itself in numerous combat situations both imaginative and ruthless. Not since the time of the Maccabees has any substantial segment of world Jewry enjoyed the protection of such a powerful force. Next, Israel has shown a clear willingness to deploy the IDF if it feels seriously threatened. Third, the civilian leadership of the country harbor no illusions about the intent of the world's anti-Semites, and they are never reluctant to defend the country using force as well as guile. Finally, Israel has indicated repeatedly that it considers its forces (military and intelligence) at the service of world Jewry and will not hesitate to protect, to the best of its capability, Jewish communities around the globe. I have no doubt that had Mossad learned of bin Laden's nefarious plot to harm NY (and its Jews), Mohamed Atta would have been dead long before he arrived at Logan airport.
So in summary, while anti-Semites may be stepping up their attacks on the Jewish people, the latter have far better defenses than they had in the mid-twentieth century.
That is reassuring. But the second major change in the tapestry of world Jewry may be problematic. In short, the Jews of the world are far more concentrated today than they were in 1939. At that time, they were spread widely throughout Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and North America. They constituted approximately 18 million souls -- not a huge number, as ethnic groups go, but they were dispersed around the world. Not today! Eighty-five percent of the world's Jews in 2013 are found in two places -- the US and Israel, in roughly equal numbers. Moreover, the number of Jews in the U.S. (as in virtually every other country outside Israel in which they are found) is declining. The Jewish population of Israel, on the other hand continues to grow robustly. So it is likely that in another generation, two thirds or even three fourths of the Jews in the world will reside in Israel.
The anti-Semites of the world may have difficulty dealing with the world's Jews because of Israel, but at least they will know where to find their prey. Or to quote Charles Krauthammer, "[t]o destroy the Jewish people, Hitler needed to conquer the world. All that is needed today is to conquer a territory smaller than Vermont."
Anti-Semitism has been a common feature of the world scene for two millennia (some would say nearly three millennia). Its causes and manifestations have been studied ad nauseam. After it reached an apogee in the era of Nazi murder -- with devastating consequences for Jews and the world -- it appeared to subside for a period.
But matters have returned to their normal state. Is there, therefore, another Götterdämmerung in the offing?
Well, on the one hand, the Jews are in a vastly improved position to defend themselves. On the other hand, cultural and political trends (described trenchantly by Charles Krauthammer) have conspired to render that defense concentrated rather than diffuse.
One prays that world anti-Semitism remains in its current horrible but "manageable" state. If it doesn't, the twenty-first century may witness one of two earth-shattering eventualities: either an Israeli triumph of such magnitude that anti-Semitism is banished for generations, if not forever...or the disappearance of the Jews.
Ron Lipsman, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the University of Maryland, writes about politics, culture, education, science, and sports at http://ronlipsman.com.