“ואהבת לרעך כמוך,” Love your neighbour as yourself.
I have been researching the current controversies over a specific form of hate, namely antisemitism. (The research will emerge in future blogs.) The opposite to hate is love. Can we learn more about love by a better understanding of hatred? In turn, can we understand and grasp the full meaning of love by studying hatred?
At first glance the answer would appear to be a resounding “No!” After all, the two emotions are as far apart as any polarity can be. But it may be that because they are paired and are viewed as extreme opposites that each can throw light on the other. Begin with hatred.
This morning in the news releases, there were the usual complement of stories on antisemitism, reputedly the “oldest hatred.” One story from The Times of Israel was headlined, “Concordia Student Union Atones for Antisemitism.” Evidently, the Concordia Student Union (CSU) apologized and recognized that their past actions and inactions enabled antisemitism and led to the victimization of Jews on campus. In addition, the CSU annulled its previous support for BDS which was now branded as antisemitic. Instead, the CSU committed itself to charting a new course by initializing antisemitism training and implementing various protocols to safeguard Jewish students on campus. In other words, formally discriminatory treatment of Jewish students was to be reversed and positive steps were to be taken to prevent Jewish students from being assaulted by antisemitism.
But what if BDS is not, as many scholars on antisemitism concur, an antisemitic organization, but an organization dedicated to punishing Israel through boycotts, divestment programs and sanctions because of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. One may argue that this is not a fair way to characterize that treatment or that the response is not proportionate to the alleged offence, or that such a response is totally unjustified, but in itself the BDS actions are not expressions of hatred. They do not constitute antisemitism. At worst, BDS may have been genetically antisemitic in that key founders believed that Jews did not have a right to self-determination, did not have the right to a sovereign state of their own, and that this constituted the new form of antisemitism.
However one characterizes BDS, what we witness in the CSU behaviour is not a program of converting hatred of Jews to love for the neighbours of Jews in Israel, but, at best, a defensive and preventive posture of self-protection and an aggressive stance against the alleged former perpetrators of the hatred against Jews in the form of a specific form of antisemitism. Clearly, rejecting hatred in this case did not lead to an increased fostering of love of other, though it might be correlated with increased love and respect for oneself. But then the biblical homily would have instructed us to “Love oneself and hate one’s enemy.”
In another case in the news this morning, the headline read, “Ontario Government Pulls Ads from Antisemitic Newspaper.” E Nazih Khatatba’s editorial in the 16 April 2021 edition of al-Meshwar accused B’nai Brith of “economic terrorism” and “creating sedition and civil wars.” The Government of Ontario cancelled its advertisements in the newspaper which B’nai Brith documented had a long history of anti-Jewish incitement. In response, the Government ceased placing COVID-19 safety ads in al-Meshwar.
Editorials equated the Holocaust with “the continuous Palestinian Nakba Holocaust.” At the same time, B’nai Brith was blamed for “creating sedition and civil wars, not just in Palestine, but throughout the Middle East.” In the current disputes over defining antisemitism, all parties in the dispute would characterize this as antisemitism. Comparing the Nakba to the Holocaust is defined as antisemitic since the two events have no valid comparison. Deliberately murdering six million just because they are Jews is not comparable to encouraging and even forcing some of the 720,000 Palestinian Israelis to flee in 1948 when Israel was attacked by five Arab armies. Israel has been called “the Auschwitz State,” a clear example of an antisemitic utterance in all three definitions of antisemitism in contention.
What comes out of the identification of this antisemitic form of hatred? Certainly not love of these our Canadian neighbours. Instead, there is a campaign underway to deprive the newspaper of advertising support. There is an implicit commitment to make an effort to offer protection in future to Jewish Canadians from such libellous assaults. This is similar to the Concordia case but without shifting the hatred to another target by a type of misrepresentation.
These cases are far from definitive proof. However, they do suggest that we do not learn love by negating hatred. And understanding of the homily in Leviticus suggests that we learn love only from love. We learn to love another by loving ourself. And we also learn to love ourself by loving another.
But don’t narcissists love themselves? Surely by the very nature of narcissism we do not learn to love another by loving ourselves. This suggests that narcissism is a sick form of love because it does not teach us to love our neighbour. Healthy love of self entails enhanced love of the other. At the same time, it is only through directing love towards another that we can truly love ourselves in a healthy way.
How many times have we heard stories of those who, in learning to take care of another – an elderly person, a handicapped individual or a child – that individual learned to respect and love his or herself? If the homily in Leviticus, love your neighbour as yourself, and you hate yourself, you cannot love another. You learn to love by finding that within you to love and nurture. You learn to love and nurture that within you that is good by practicing nurturing and loving others. That in turn enhances the love one has of oneself. There is a reciprocity between the two. That is the message of Leviticus. That is the wisdom of Jewish sages. It may be necessary to adopt defensive measures to counteract hatred directed at oneself or one’s community. But defensive measures do not entail projecting hatred on the other. Quite the reverse. If the other atones, if the other genuinely recants, then the proper response is not to bear a grudge but to forgive the debt. By releasing the other, as many victims have noted, they release themselves from the constrictions of harbouring a burning hatred. They make room for love. As Hillel once taught, “What is hateful to you, do not do to others. The rest is commentary— [now] go study.”