The Palestinians, the Philistines and Anti-Semitism Today
A three Part Series by World Mizrachi Director-General, Rabbi Doron Perez
Part 1 – Anti-Semitism of the Third Kind
There are often fortunate times in one’s life where one learns a text or has an experience which is totally transformative. The way one views the world thereafter can never be the same. One feels enlightened, a paradigm is shifted, and the world and our place in it is understood in a deeper more meaningful way.
I had such an experience a number of years ago, when I came across a phenomenal commentary of the great Gaon of Vilna, found at the end of his commentary in Aderet Eliyahu at the end of the book of Habakkuk (3:14). I found this to be a most profound and piercing categorization of the three distinct types of anti-Semitism. More specifically, it elucidated for me in a penetrating way the biblical roots, meaning, context and purpose of modern-day anti-Zionism, the Palestinian people and the grand systematic delegitimization campaign against Israel. It totally shifted my world view.
The Three Categories of Anti-Semitism
The Gaon sees in the three biblical nations who bordered the Land of Israel – the Moabites, Edomites and Philistines – three archetypes of anti-Semitism and opposition to what the Jewish People stand for. He comments as follows:
“אלה השלושה הם שלושה מצרנים של ארץ ישראל. מואב ממזרח, אדום מדרום, פלישתים ממערב. מואב הוא אבות הטומאה שנטמאו בו ישראל, ואדום הוא אבות הנזיקין שהזיקו לישראל ביותר, ופלישתים הצרו לישראל במאוד ולא הניחו להם שום ממשלה ושלטון כמ”ש ,’וחרש לא ימצא וגו’ (שמואל א’ י”ג, י”ט)’… והם כנגד ג’ אבות שבקדושה שהן כלל הכל.”
“These three are the three enemies of the Land of Israel. Moav from the east, Edom from the south, and the Philistines from the west. Moav is the root of spiritual contamination which Israel was contaminated by, and Edom is the root of destruction who damaged Israel the most, and the Philistines harassed Israel very much and did not allow them any government or sovereignty, as it says ‘Not a smith was to be found [in all the land of Israel] (Shmuel I, 13:19)’… And they all parallel the three principles of holiness which encompass everything.”
Each one of these three nations – Moav, Edom and Plishtim represent a distinct category of opposition to everything Israel stands for. Indeed, as he mentions at the end of the quote, their opposition parallels the three principles of holiness which encompass everything the Jewish People and Judaism are about. He defines sharply the unique focus of each category and what the essence of their attack on the Jewish People is. Let us examine each one.
The first one, exemplified by Moav, is termed by the Gaon as טומאה – spiritual contamination. This means that the Moabites’ main and consistent aim was to corrupt and contaminate the spiritual and moral foundations of the Jewish People. This refers to our Torah, our Jewish way of life. Let us cite a number of examples of this category.
First and foremost amongst these is biblical Moav as it appears in the Chumash; an incident which covers an entire Parasha of the Torah – Parshat Balak (Numbers, Chapters 22-25). It was Balak, King of Moav, who partnered with the prophet Bilaam of Midyan and who together aimed to place spiritual curses on the Jewish People. It is important to note that their attack was not of a physical nature, but rather a spiritual one. When the multiple cursing attempts failed, Bilaam eventually advised Balak to entice the men of Israel through the promiscuous and idolatrous women of Moav in a crude attempt to cause the men of Israel to both worship the Moabite gods and commit acts of sexual immorality. It is crystal clear that the Moabites were attacking our value system – our spiritual essence – and not our physical existence.
This continued in the time of the Greeks who attempted to acculturize and assimilate the Jewish People through the enticing values of Hellenism. Antiochus, who issued the harsh decrees against so many values of the Torah (such as Brit Milah, observing Rosh Chodesh, the festivals, etc.) was not opposed at all to having Judah as a distinct province within the Seleucid Greek empire. It’s just that he wished for them to follow the culture and value system of the Hellenist Greeks. Rebelling against this value system was akin to a decree of death and destruction. It is for this reason that the festival of Chanukah focuses less on the military and political victories, as great as they were, but rather on the miracle of the פח השמן – the pure and untainted oil which was found in the temple and used to light the menorah. The eternal lights of Chanukah symbolize the spiritual nature of the battle –the Light of Torah – and this particular victory over the Greek empire.
Over the last thousand years, a similar expression of Moabite anti-Semitism can be seen in the forced Christian conversions in the time of the Crusades and Inquisition. Once again, the Christians did not have a problem with the physical existence of the Jewish People, but rather with their value system – embracing a belief in Christ as the savior, and other foundations of the Christian creed. The root of all of these examples is one – an acceptance of the Jews’ right to exist as a People but not to function as a distinct culture with their own Torah lifestyle and moral value system. To put it in another way, one could say that the Moabite prototype of anti-Semitism accepts the right of the Jewish People to exist and may even respect and love the Jews, provided that they live according to the Moabite/Hellenized/Christian culture and value system of the time.
The arrowhead of this type of Anti-Semitism is a hatred of תורת ישראל – the Torah of Israel
The second and perhaps most diabolical and destructive type is that of Edom, of which Amalek himself is a descendant. The Edomites, as the Vilna Gaon explains, are the prototypes of those who cause נזק – physical damage and destruction – to the Jewish People. It was the Amalekites – whom we just remembered on Parashat Zachor and Purim – who attacked us when we came out of Egypt. They attacked innocent men, women and children, the weak and the infirm for no apparent reason but to cause death and destruction. The roots of this type of anti-Semitism can be found in the Midrashim about King Nimrod who wished to persecute and kill Avraham at the outset of his spiritual odyssey. Our sages also attribute this to Lavan, Yaakov’s father-in-law, as we will read soon in the Haggada of Pesach. As it says in the Haggada:
“צא ולמד מה בקש לבן הארמי לעשות ליעקב אבינו. שפרעה לא גזר אלא על הזכרים, ולבן בקש לעקור את הכל…”
“Go and learn what it was that Lavan the Aramite wished to do to Yaakov our forefather. Pharaoh only decreed death on the males, whereas Lavan wanted to uproot everything…”
It is clear that Lavan, and to a lesser extent Pharaoh (as he ‘only’ wished to kill the males) wished to annihilate Yaakov and his descendants, and hence the Jewish People. Of course, the clearest example in Tanachic literature of Edomite anti-Semitism is the story of Haman and Purim. As we all know, Haman convinced Achashverosh to decree that every single Jew, men, women and children in all 127 countries of the kingdom should be killed at the same time. It was to be an unparalleled massacre of epic proportions, G-d forbid. In more recent times there have been two such attempts. The Chmielnicki massacres in the 1600’s which left hundreds of thousands dead, and of course the most diabolic of all – Nazi Germany who’s final solution left 6 million dead in the most unthinkable fashion. The Nuremberg Laws basically defined the Jewish People as a race, and as such even the most tenuous connection to Jewish race and identity was a death warrant to all; young and old, religious and secular, pious and assimilated. What unites the above expressions of Edomite anti-Semitism is a sinister and single-mindedness to physically annihilate the Jewish People – to kill each and every Jew regardless of their background or value system. A Jew has no right to exist physically, and must G-d forbid be annihilated.
The arrowhead of this type of Anti-Semitism is a hatred of עם ישראל – the people of Israel.
Philistine Anti-Semitism and Its Particular Relevance Today
These two forms of anti-Semitism were not new to me. Indeed, the way the Gaon presented them with short and sharp definitions and attributed them to Moav and Edom respectively I found to be quite ingenious. But at the same time, these are well known forms with ancient historical and biblical roots. For me, the great חידוש – novel idea – lay in the third category of anti-Semitism, which also has ancient roots, and I have to admit I had never seen it in this light before. An amazing paradigm shift, a new category of Anti-Semitism – The Philistine kind. The Vilna Gaon explains that the biblical Philistines had a single minded dedication to deny the Jewish People any ממשלה ושלטון – any government and sovereign presence in the land of Israel. Remarkably, throughout biblical history, spanning over a thousand years, the Philistines’ main spiritual role was to oppose the Jewish People’s claim to ownership, and therefore sovereignty, in this land. It was the Philistines and their King Avimelech who caused great challenges to both Abraham and Isaac as they sought to fulfill G-d’s promise and establish a presence for their family in the land. Amazingly, it was the first two kings of Israel, Saul and David, as mentioned in both books of Samuel, who were consistently opposed by none other than the Philistines themselves. Both Saul and David attempted to create out of the disparate and disunited tribes of Israel one sovereign entity under a united kingship. It was this attempt at governance which evoked such harsh opposition from the Philistines. They refused to acknowledge any form of government and sovereign presence. Indeed, Saul and Jonathan his son were killed in this first War of Independence of the nascent kingdom, and David was miraculously saved from his confrontation with the Giant Philistine Goliath. He was to battle constantly during the entire time of establishing his Kingdom with the Philistine threat.
Incredibly, this is exactly the form that the modern-day Palestinian opposition to Zionism and Israel has taken. It bears the same name – Palestinian – from the ancient Philistines, as we will explore in next week’s article. In so many ways, as we shall examine, the modern-day Palestinians and the anti-Zionist delegitimization campaign are a direct spiritual continuation of the ancient biblical role of the Philistines that the Vilna Gaon so sharply defined. There are layers of depth to this connection that will form the basis of next week’s article.
This acute and uncanny insight of the Gaon sheds tremendous light on the systematic delegitimization campaign of Israel, the ‘plight’ of the Palestinian people, as well as the global trend of anti-Zionism today. Simply put, it is a hatred of the Jew because of their claim to ownership of the land and to be a sovereign presence within it.
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Perhaps let me put it this way, as indeed Yasser Arafat once did. He articulated that he and the Palestinian people have nothing against the Jews. Indeed, he was admirable of the Jewish contribution to humanity and the similarity between Jewish and Muslim religious beliefs. He also pointed out how the Jews lived better under Muslim countries over the last thousand years than they did in Christian Europe. Indeed, it was difficult for the Jews in Arab countries to be the Dhimmi, a second-class citizen in Muslim countries. But in truth, compared to being banished from almost every single European country over the last thousand years, including pogroms, massacres, and culminating in the horrific Shoah, it is fair to say that Jews living in Muslim countries fared far better than those in Christian Europe. It was certainly the lesser of two evils.
Arafat continued that his problem with the Jews is not their existence as a people or their religion that he lauded, but rather their ‘false’ claim to the Arab lands of Palestine that they have stolen from the Palestinians. If the Jewish People would just leave their Zionist aspirations alone, relinquish sovereignty and any form of government between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, indeed they will be immediately accepted and embraced by the World Nations in general and the Palestinians in particular. It is clear that this type of anti-Semitism is unequivocally a hatred of the Jew as being a Zionist – claiming an ownership of and sovereign presence in the land of Israel.
The arrowhead of this type of Anti-Semitism is a hatred of the Jewish People’s claim to ארץ – ישראל the Land of Israel.
The Land , People and Torah of Israel
So here we have it. The unique 3 pronged attack against the 3 major tenets of Jewish fate and destiny – the Land, People and Torah of Israel. These were the same 3 tenets of Mizrachi’s Religious Zionist ideology – The land of Israel, the people of Israel and the Torah of Israel.
Remarkably as the Gaon said in his commentary above
“And they all (the 3 pronged attack of Moav, Edom and Plishtim) paralled the 3 principals of holiness which encompass everything (the Land, People and Torah of Israel).”
The Blue Star and the Yellow Star
This modern anti-Zionist form of anti-Semitism has expressed itself over the last hundred years, with increasing ferociousness and fury, in a most hateful, barbaric and destructive way. It is so trenchant and acerbic that I would like to make the following observation which I do not believe is an exaggeration. I believe that it is as dangerous today for a Jew, particularly one who supports Israel, to be in Islamic cities around the world as it was for the Jews in Berlin and Warsaw in 1940. Imagine a Jew walking down a main public street, carrying an Israeli flag in Damascus, Beirut, Riyadh, Tripoli, Tunisia or Baghdad, not to mention Tehran, Gaza or Ramallah. What would be the fate of this Jew? It would probably be no different than the fate of the Jews in Warsaw, Berlin, Vienna, Munich and Krakow of the 1940s. The blue star, the Magen David of the Israeli flag, evokes today in much of the Arab world and beyond as much diabolical hatred as the yellow star of Nazi Germany and her environs in the 1940s. Incredibly, we are barely 70 years since the end of the Shoah, and this new-old irrational discriminative and destructive face of anti-Semitism has reared its head. All it has done is change color. The yellow star and Magen David of shame that has become the symbol of Jewish victimhood in the face of terrible Nazi hatred is now the blue star of the flag of Israel and the symbol of modern-day Zionism and Anti-Zionist hatred.
The Zionists and supporters of Israel, by their very beliefs, have created their own license to be discriminated against, killed and destroyed. They are portrayed as vermin, lowly thieves who have stolen the land of others, barbaric human-rights violators and the murderers of innocent women and children and therefore legitimate targets for ongoing annihilation. The great insight of the Vilna Gaon is that this seemingly new form of hatred in its current anti-Zionist Palestinian Israel-hatred guise is but a reincarnation of an ancient Philistine form going back thousands of years.
As mentioned we will explore in the article next week this new/old phenomena of a Palestinian people, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the delegitimization of Israel in light of the role of the Philistines throughout biblical history. This will enable us to get a clearer understanding of who the Philistines were, their spiritual heirs today – the Palestinians and their supporters, and indeed what is needed in order to appropriately respond.
As this article is part of a series entitled “Leadership Nuggets”, I think it is critical to point out that one of the salient roles of a leader is to provide context to life’s experiences. So often things which happen to us confuse and perplex us. The role of a leader is to penetrate the depths of these experiences and to create clarity through identifying trends and creating a historic context and a spiritual framework within which to place them, understand them, and better deal with them.
To be continued…
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