“Historically it has been antisemites, not Jews, who have read ‘chosen’ as code for Jewish supremacism,” wrote the readers’ editor of the Guardian in response to a writer’s 2011 charge that Israelis regard their lives as more valuable than others’.
But it’s not only card-carrying antisemites like David Duke who have invoked the notion of “chosen” as code for Jewish supremacism. Gideon Levy, a Jewish veteran journalist at the Israeli daily Haaretz, invoked the centuries-old antisemitic trope in his Aug. 2 Op-Ed (“All Israelis Are Guilty of Setting a Palestinian Family on Fire“):
At the end of a terrible day, it is this that leads to the burning of families whom God did not choose. No principle in Israeli society is more destructive, or more dangerous, than this principle. Nor, unfortunately, more common. If you were to examine closely what is concealed beneath the skin of most Israelis, you would find: the chosen people. When that is a fundamental principle, the next torching is only a matter of time.
In her 2011 column, the Guardian’s Deborah Orr criticized the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange:
It’s quite something, the prisoner swap between Hamas and the Israeli government that returns Gilad Shalit to his family, and more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners to theirs…[which is] an indication of how inured the world has become to the obscene idea that Israeli lives are more important than Palestinian lives.
After explaining why the Palestinians nevertheless agreed to the deal, she revisited her main theme:
At the same time, however, there is something abject in their eagerness to accept a transfer that tacitly acknowledges what so many Zionists believe – that the lives of the chosen are of hugely greater consequence than those of their unfortunate neighbours.
Two weeks ago a columnist used the term “the chosen” in an item on the release of Gilad Shalit, which brought more than 40 complaints to the Guardian, and an apology from the columnist the following week. “Chosenness”, in Jewish theology, tends to refer to the sense in which Jews are “burdened” by religious responsibilities; it has never meant that the Jews are better than anyone else. Historically it has been antisemites, not Jews, who have read “chosen” as code for Jewish supremacism.
While the Guardian‘s editors were sensitive to the antisemitic underpinning of the canard and admirably distanced themselves from it, Haaretz’s Levy displayed no such sensitivity.
Presspectiva, CAMERA’s Hebrew-language department, asked Levy why he would publish an article echoing an antisemetic canard.
Presspectiva: Did you think about the antisemitic history of the term “The Chosen People” before using it to accuse Israeli society of racism?
Levy: I write what I believe. I think the term is deeply imbued in the Israeli public, secular and religious. I don’t worry about what others may do with what I write.
Presspectiva: You don’t worry your writings may be quoted by antisemites?
Levy: It does worry me, but that isn’t a reason not to write what I believe. Many things I write are then used by antisemites. Is that a reason not to continue writing?
Presspectiva: Maybe just to be a little more sensitive? It’s an ancient antisemitic trope…
Levy: These things never end. I think it is a central part of the Israeli psyche, and I have no other way of expressing it. By the way, this isn’t the first time I’ve expressed this thought.
For the Hebrew version of this article, please see Presspectiva.