The Ancient Roman Writers Who Laid the Foundations of Anti-Semitism

While many, if not most, histories of anti-Semitism begin with early Christian attacks on Judaism, the pseudonymous Dr. Dark Age argues that key tropes of modern anti-Jewish prejudice can be found in the works of such Roman intellectuals as Cicero and Tacitus:

[In his Pro Flacco], Cicero uses an important phrase to describe the Jewish religion: barbara superstitio. This phrase does not translate into “barbarian superstition” as easily as you might think. To understand the insult, you have to grasp its opposite: the ancient Roman concept of pietas. Pietas is a more complex concept than our modern religious idea of “piety”; it required duty and loyalty to the gods, to family, and perhaps most of all, to Rome itself.

Rome’s commitment to its deities . . . was inextricable from Roman patriotic duty. Thus, superstitio was considered not just sacrilegious, but specifically anti-Roman; it made a person an enemy of the state. Meanwhile, barbarus, taken from the Greek barbaros, meant “foreign,” though it could carry connotations of the primitive. Thus the phrase barbara superstitio, when attached to the Jewish religion, renders both the faith and its followers unpatriotic, sacrilegious, backward, and alien.

Cicero’s anti-Jewish views . . . were unusual for Romans at first. . . . A century later, when Rome besieged Judea, the seeds Cicero planted flourished into a full, and poisonous, propaganda campaign. . . .

Tacitus [writing at the time of the Jewish Revolt in 70 CE], doesn’t just demonize the Jews for rejecting Roman religion; . . . his screed against the Jewish people resounds with some painfully familiar anti-Semitic stereotypes: Jews are wealthy; . . . Jews are cliquish and perverse; . .  . Jews are out-breeding “real” Romans; . . . Jews practice sacrilegious rituals. . . . The mythology he creates around the Jewish people paints them as perpetual corrupters, luring people away from their religions, their families, and their patriotic duties on purpose, as though Jews had a singular devotion to destroying all civilizations but their own.

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Read more at Public Medievalist

More about: ancient Judaism, Ancient Rome, Anti-Semitism, History & Ideas

The Struggle for Iraq, and What It Means for Israel

Oct. 17 2018

Almost immediately after the 2003 invasion, Iraq became a battleground between the U.S. and Iran, as the latter sent troops, money, and arms to foment and support an insurgency. The war on Islamic State, along with the Obama administration’s effort to align itself with the Islamic Republic, led to a temporary truce, but also gave Tehran-backed militias a great deal of power. Iran has also established a major conduit of supplies through Iraq to support its efforts in Syria. Meanwhile, it is hard to say if the recent elections have brought a government to Baghdad that will be pro-American or pro-Iranian. Eldad Shavit and Raz Zimmt comment how these developments might affect Israel:

Although statements by the U.S. administration have addressed Iran’s overall activity in the region, they appear to emphasize the potential for confrontation in Iraq. First and foremost, this [emphasis] stems from the U.S. perception of this arena as posing the greatest danger, in light of the extensive presence of U.S. military and civilian personnel operating throughout the country, and in light of past experience, which saw many American soldiers attacked by Shiite militias under Iranian supervision. The American media have reported that U.S. intelligence possesses information indicating that the Shiite militias and other elements under Iranian auspices intend to carry out attacks against American targets and interests. . . .

In light of Iran’s intensifying confrontation with the United States and its mounting economic crisis, Tehran finds it essential to maintain its influence in Iraq, particularly in the event of a future clash with the United States. The Iranian leadership has striven to send a message of deterrence to the United States regarding the implications of a military clash. . . .

A recently published report also indicates that Iran transferred ballistic missiles to the Shiite militias it supports in Iraq. Although Iran has denied this report, it might indeed attempt to transfer advanced military equipment to the Shiite militias in order to improve their capabilities in the event of a military confrontation between Iran and the United States and/or Israel, or a confrontation between [the militias] and the central government in Baghdad.

From Israel’s perspective, after years when the Iraqi arena received little attention from Israeli decision makers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have mentioned the possibility of Israel’s taking action against Iranian targets in Iraq. In this context, and particularly in light of the possibility that Iraq could become an arena of greater conflict between the United States and Iran, it is critical that there be full coordination between Israel and the United States. This is of particular importance due to [the American estimation of] stability in Iraq as a major element of the the campaign against Islamic State, which, though declared a success, is not yet complete.

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More about: Barack Obama, Iran, Iraq, ISIS, Israel & Zionism, U.S. Foreign policy