Ye­huda Bauer on the rise of pop­ulism

Com­mu­nites across the globe have rea­son to fear the rise of pop­ulism 1 2 4 5 3

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - BY YE­HUDA BAUER

THERE IS no an­ti­semitism in poly­the­is­tic cul­tures.

There was a rather large Jewish pop­u­la­tion in China dur­ing the Song Dy­nasty (10th-13th cen­turies), and Jews were not per­se­cuted be­cause they were Jews.

In In­dia there were three Jewish pop­u­la­tion cen­ters — one in the Cochin area, an­other near Mum­bai (the Bene Is­rael), and a third, in more mod­ern times, in north-east In­dia, of mainly Iraqi Jews; In­dian Jews were never per­se­cuted.

For poly­the­is­tic so­ci­eties, the Jewish God was just an­other de­ity, and that was fine.

Jews were crafts­men and traders, just like many of their In­dian neigh­bours, and they were one of many In­dian sub­groups with their own so­cial, reli­gious, and cul­tural traits.

An­ti­semitism grows in monothe­is­tic so­ci­eties only, and is the re­sult of the fact that Jews de­vel­oped a cul­ture, re­li­gion and cus­toms that were dif­fer­ent from those of their sur­round­ings.

Peace­ful co-ex­is­tence of Jews with their non-Jewish neigh­bours was and is, there­fore, con­tin­gent on a re­jec­tion, even if rel­a­tive, of the view that sees in the Jew the stereo­typ­i­cal Other, the stranger, the com­peti­tor, and there­fore, po­ten­tially, the en­emy. Jews can live peace­fully only in rel­a­tively lib­eral so­ci­eties. By that I mean so­ci­eties striv­ing to­wards democ­racy, rule of law and in­de­pen­dence of the le­gal sys­tem, free­dom of re­li­gion; so­ci­eties that strive to­wards gen­der equal­ity, that guar­an­tee free­dom of speech and ex­pres­sion, that de­fend mi­nori­ties, and so on.

In the last few years the global trend has been away from this kind of lib­er­al­ism. In China, a one-party dic­ta­tor­ship built on an ide­ol­ogy that has lost all rel­e­vance to the so­ci­ety which is sup­pos­edly ruled by it, is moving away from the rel­a­tive lib­er­al­iza­tion un­der Mao’s suc­ces­sor, Deng Hsiao-ping.

Thai­land is ruled by a mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship. Burma is strug­gling be­tween mil­i­tary rule based on an al­liance with China and a move­ment for democ­racy that fails to deal with Mus­lims and non-Burmese eth­nic­i­ties.

In­dia is ruled by a na­tion­al­ist-reli­gious party that tries to per­pet­u­ate its con­trol over a vast coun­try with a huge num­ber of eth­nic and lin­guis­tic groups.

The Mid­dle (or rather, Mud­dle) East boasts au­thor­i­tar­ian or rad­i­cally reli­gious dic­ta­tor­ships locked in an­tag­o­nisms and wars, from Turkey to Iran to Egypt, not to men­tion the butcher of Da­m­as­cus, sup­ported by a Le­banese Shi­ite geno­ci­dal and an­ti­semitic move­ment, the party of God (Hizbol­lah).

And then of course there is Daesh, the Sunni ver­sion of a de­sire to con­trol the world for mur­der­ous, geno­ci­dal, an­ti­semitic fa­nati­cism.

There is a vir­tual dic­ta­tor­ship in Ethiopia, a bru­tal au­toc­racy in Eritrea, and sim­i­lar sys­tems con­trol some other African coun­tries. There are geno­ci­dal sit­u­a­tions in Dar­fur and the Nuba Moun­tains in north Su­dan, and a frat­ri­ci­dal war of mu­tual an­ni­hi­la­tion in South Su­dan.

In Latin Amer­ica, the Venezue­lan dic­ta­tor­ship is an­other out­growth of sim­i­lar trends, as are some­what less ex­treme sit­u­a­tions in some Cen­tral Amer­i­can States.

Rus­sia is a trans­formed Tsarist au­toc­racy. And then there is the new ad­min­is­tra­tion in Wash­ing­ton.

One can eas­ily be­come an ex­treme pes­simist and re­peat the mantra that hu­mans are not very nice people.

Jews can live peace­fully only in lib­eral so­ci­eties’ One can eas­ily be­come an ex­treme pes­simist’

Pe­ri­ods of ad­vance to­wards lib­er­al­ism seem to be fol­lowed by op­po­site trends. We are, clearly, in a down trend at the mo­ment. Our view of all this has to be global, not lo­cal or re­gional, be­cause all these devel­op­ments in­flu­ence each other. Jews cer­tainly can­not re­main in­dif­fer­ent in a sit­u­a­tion like that.

The old di­vi­sions be­tween right, left and centre, while still mean­ing­ful in some coun­tries, are quickly los­ing their rel­e­vance. The cur­rent leader of Euro­pean lib­er­al­ism is Angela Merkel, head of a con­ser­va­tive party. The dif­fer­ence be­tween the CDU/CSU and the So­cial Democrats in Ger­many is no doubt im­por­tant, but in the end both ma­jor par­ties are com­mit­ted to a democratic so­ci­ety based on a rule of law that pro­tects mi­nori­ties and strives for a min­i­mum of so­cial jus­tice.

The same ap­plies to the UK (Scot­land, even if it leaves, will be com­mit­ted to sim­i­lar prin­ci­ples) despite clear dif­fer­ences be­tween Con­ser­va­tives and Labour.

In the Scan­di­na­vian coun­tries it hardly mat­ters whether Con­ser­va­tives, Cen­trists or So­cial Democrats are in power, be­cause no one in­tends to abol­ish the Scan­di­na­vian wel­fare state. The Cana­dian govern­ment is left-wing lib­eral. The Aus­tralian, con­ser­va­tive.

From the fringes, in lib­eral so­ci­eties, a pop­ulist, right-wing an­ar­chist el­e­ment is pen­e­trat­ing into the centre and is part of the anti-lib­eral trend.

Is­rael, like some other coun­tries, is un­for­tu­nately in the mid­dle. Democ­racy still rules. But there are govern­men­tal at­tempts to gain con­trol of the me­dia, to deepen the gap be­tween Jewish and Pales­tinian cit­i­zens, to di­min­ish the in­de­pen­dence of the jus­tice sys­tem, and there is great dis­agree­ment over Is­raeli rule over a people who ve­he­mently ob­ject to that rule.

In the back­ground there is the geno­ci­dal war in Syria-Iraq and the threat of rad­i­cal Is­lam.

Some po­lit­i­cal par­ties are lit­tle au­toc­ra­cies: the cen­trist party is ruled by Mr Yair Lapid, a right-wing party is ruled by Mr Avig­dor Lieber­man and the two strictly Ortho­dox par­ties are ruled by their lead­ers or rab­bis, not un­like the extremist Dutch Free­dom Party of Mr Geert Wilders.

The Jewish people’s civil­i­sa­tion is built on ar­gu­ment and con­tro­versy. There can­not be a united stand, and there never has been. We had two mu­tu­ally an­tag­o­nis­tic king­doms, we de­vel­oped two sep­a­rate Tal­muds, Jewish in­de­pen­dence was de­stroyed by quar­relling and ir­re­spon­si­ble mes­sianic extremists, Cha­sidim and Mis­nagdim (tra­di­tion­ally Ortho­dox Jews) fought each other, of­ten phys­i­cally, Or­tho­doxy will not ac­cord recog­ni­tion to non-Ortho­dox groups.

Is­raeli Jews are split ev­ery which way – and, para­dox­i­cally, it is that cul­ture based on con­tro­versy that pro­duced a multi-faceted Jewish civil­i­sa­tion which we have to main­tain. Unity would be ut­terly ar­ti­fi­cial. But the ten­dency of the ma­jor­ity is very im­por­tant.

Con­ser­va­tive or so­cial­ist, Ortho­dox, Re­form, lib­eral, or sec­u­lar – what­ever the par­tic­u­lar point of view of Jewish in­di­vid­u­als or groups may be, they all must de­fend lib­eral prin­ci­ples, be­cause their very ex­is­tence de­pends on them.

Ye­huda Bauer is the world’s lead­ing Shoah scholar. He is pro­fes­sor of Holo­caust Stud­ies at the He­brew Univer­sity of Jerusalem

The Jewish people’s civil­i­sa­tion is built on ar­gu­ment’

PHOTOS: AP

Signs of the times:

Hizbol­lah ter­ror­ists on pa­rade in south Le­banon;

Po­lice of­fi­cers stand­ing guard dur­ing a civil rights com­mem­o­ra­tion in Myan­mar;

A pro­tester is ar­rested by Rus­sian se­cu­rity forces dur­ing a demon­stra­tion in St Peters­burg against the Putin regime;

Riot po­lice drawn up 1. 2. 3. 4. out­side the Na­tional Assem­bly building in Cara­cas, Venezuela, dur­ing an op­po­si­tion-led de­bate on the re­moval of the coun­try’s pres­i­dent, Ni­co­las Maduro;

Chi­nese para­mil­i­tary po­lice­men march in for­ma­tion across Tianan­men Square in Bei­jing 5.

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