Islam Versus Europe
November 20, 2013
Having looking into a few historical episodes in which people were accused of being motivated by antisemitism, it’s clear to me that the people were so accused were in fact responding in an understandable, if not always excusable, way to Jewish actions, rather than being driven by some ancient, irrational hatred. So I intend to review the whole history of so-called antisemitism to see if other episodes, too, were not quite as advertised, and if something other than motiveless evil could have been at work.
Reading the book “A Convenient Hatred: the History of Antisemitism”, I was struck by a quote from the Roman emperor Claudius. It relates to a dispute in the city of Alexandria that had broken out between the Jews there, the Greek community, and the Egyptians. The Jews were accused of disloyalty to Rome. They refused to let statues of the emperor be placed in their temples. As a result, their religious privileges were withdrawn. This culminated in fighting which reached almost the scale of all-out war.
The emperor Claudius tried to settle the matter by rendering a personal judgement on it. After returning their privileges to the Jews and giving a judgement that was favourable to them on the whole, he entered this interesting caveat:
The Jews, on the other hand, I order not to aim at more than they previously had, …and not to intrude themselves into the games presided over by the [Greeks], since they enjoy what is their own, and in a city which is not their own they possess an abundance of all good things. Nor are they to bring in or invite Jews coming from Syria or [other parts of] Egypt, or I shall be forced to conceive graver suspicions. If they disobey, I shall proceed against them in every way as seeking to spread a sort of public sickness throughout the world.
Source: A Convenient Hatred: the History of Antisemitism by Phyllis Goldstein, Harold Evans
So the emperor warned the Jews not to use immigration to try and change the composition of the population in a specific area, thus altering the balance of political power there. That has very interesting parallels with our own times. And the final phrase the emperor uses is fascinating: “as seeking to spread a sort of public sickness throughout the world“. To draw such an almost mystical generalisation from what, after all, was a local dispute, seems very odd. It was as if some curious insight had been achieved.