In the book of Esther, the threat to Jews comes from Haman, a malicious Gentile who convinces others to hate Jews because they are different; by contrast, the books of Maccabees point to Hellenized Jews stoking the anger of the regime against those Jews who resist Hellenization. Dara Horn compares these Jewish anti-Semites with those Soviet Jews who joined the yevsektsii—the Jewish sections of the Communist party tasked with destroying traditional forms of Jewish life:
Yevsektsiya-style anti-Semitism . . . always promises Jews a kind of nobility, offering them the opportunity to cleanse themselves of whatever the people around them happen to find revolting. The Jewish traits designated as repulsive vary by country and time period, but they invariably contradict the specific values that the surrounding culture has embraced as “universal.”
The reason for this is clear: there is actually nothing “universal” about those particular values, except the insecurity of the societies hoping to enforce them. Not everyone feels it is critical to a well-lived life to play sports in the nude [as the Greeks did in Maccabean times]; not everyone believes that Jesus is the son of God; not everyone agrees that authoritarian central planning is the solution to the world’s ills; not everyone thinks that denouncing one’s ties to an ancestral homeland is a sign of virtue. Jewish particularity exposes the arrogance of a society’s self-righteous leaders along with their profound insecurity, their deep fear of any suggestion that there are other ways to be. Those insecure leaders then enlist the help of Jews by promising them a merit badge of universal righteousness. Thanks to Judaism’s inherent uncoolness, there will never be a shortage of Jews willing to comply.
The yevsektsii first eliminated the k’hillot, or traditional Jewish community organizations in Russia’s towns and cities, by legally abolishing them. When that didn’t work, they burned k’hillah offices down. Russian Jews at the time could be forgiven for thinking that this zeal was simply part of the new order’s intolerance for religion; after all, churches and mosques were often targeted, too.
But by 1919, the yevsektsii resolved at their annual conference that shutting down traditional Jewish institutions was insufficient. Their mission now was to destroy all Zionist activity—a category that extended from political organizations to sports clubs. Nor did the yevsektsii drag their feet. Within a few weeks of the conference, they had successfully raided the offices of every Zionist association in Ukraine and arrested all of their leaders. Elsewhere in the USSR, they arrested thousands more.
When Stalin’s purges began in the late 1930s, most of the members of the yevsektsii were themselves sent to the Gulag or murdered; many of those who survived were murdered in the anti-Semitic persecutions that followed World War II.