Give us this day our daily bread, Google*

‘Anti-Judaism’ thus becomes a righteous fight to promote justice. This forces Jews to adopt a defensive mode of constantly proving that they are not evil, or not so evil, or not all so evil, or even simply that they have a right to exist.

Give us this day our daily bread, Google*
The United Nations sacked Mukesh Kapila for warning about the Darfur genocide. That was in 2006.

By Andrzej Koraszewski, 20 February 2024

A short conversation with a social worker in my town. When she visits the homes of families in need of help, does she meet malnourished children? She answers firmly that she does not, she adds that even children from pathological families are not malnourished; they have meals at school, and there is always something to eat at home. Children are taken away from their parents because of maltreatment and neglect, the problem of maternal alcoholism is even more dangerous for children than the alcoholism of fathers, but child malnutrition itself is no longer a problem.

Children from pathological families are exposed to poor food and cultural diets. In fact, they all have mobile phones and are most often seen with their noses in the phone screen during visits.

In the store, my attention is drawn to a young, nice-looking couple. He's pushing a big shopping cart looking at the phone screen, she's rifling through the shelves. What this young woman is collecting I can see with the naked eye, the cart is already half full. Food, chemicals, a few toiletries, a four-pack of beer, dog food. What is the man hunting for on the phone? I can't see that, and it would be just as interesting.

The Internet is a provider of information that shapes our opinions, and these opinions, although always subject to greater or lesser error, are invariably based not only on incomplete information, but on information which often grossly distorts reality. These opinions, no matter how wrong, are the basis of our behaviour.

The world at your fingertips. Even while the wife is engaged in gathering, we may learn about something that has just happened on the other side of the world. How much has this wonderful technology changed our world? Is it true that social media have significantly reduced the quality of information reaching the public? Have social media reduced their quality, or have they just changed their composition and intensity?

The market and the pulpit have been effective since time immemorial, the quality of information has always been shabby, gossip has always been stronger than painstaking investigations, and manipulation is a technique well known to our monkey cousins as well. (It is true that in democratic countries some newspapers experienced periods of splendour.)

So how do new communication technologies change the quality of our information about the world around us, how do they affect our opinions, social bonds and behaviour?

It's very difficult to judge. The level of education has increased dramatically. I remember a sentence from the diary of a peasant activist who was the first in his family to complete seven grades. Today, it is increasingly rare to meet people who are the first in their family to graduate from college.

We live in a time and place where the question of when we will have a chance to have our next meal is actually an abstraction, and the words of the Lord's Prayer are not associated with the horror of hunger that has been present for thousands of years, bringing despair and death.

The term daily bread has become a convenient metaphor for various other things that are as common as bread. Information from the other side of the globe has become our "daily bread", but the piece of cake is what has excited us for hundreds of generations, i.e., not so much love of neighbour as dislike of selected neighbours whom we like to dislike.

Why are hundreds of thousands killed in one place of less interest than just hundreds in another? The excitement is more important than death and suffering itself. The information market is organised by emotions. In recent days, there have been disruptions to internet connections in Sudan, where five million people are at risk of starvation and the daily death toll is unknown. (Gaza doesn't have problems with the Internet, so the information about what interests us the most gets through quickly). The authorities in Khartoum have reportedly made sure that the Internet does not work where too many people are dying, because although hardly anyone cares, it is necessary to preserve one’s good name.

What does the term "threatened by famine" mean in Sudan? As a result of the ten-month-long civil war, nine million people have lost their homes, some trying to reach neighbouring countries, others wandering in the wilderness. In the reports we read about the "forgotten" war. However, this war is not forgotten, it is ignored, it does not move politicians, it does not mobilise crowds, there are no lines of trucks with humanitarian aid waiting to cross the border.

There is not much material from Sudan on the web, they do not have a dizzying number of items. Yemen, too, where there has been a civil war for many years, is of interest to us only when the Houthis are firing at or hijacking ships at sea, because the mere fact that Yemenis are killing each other does not move us. Yes, we may have heard that Yemen is the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world, but that must have been some time ago, because although the situation has only worsened, the amount of reports from Yemen itself is more than scarce.

A Yemeni living in Sweden writes that 10 million children in Yemen are starving. I wonder what that means. About 33 million people live in Yemen. About a third are children and adolescents under the age of 15. Does this mean that all the children in Yemen are starving? It's unlikely. Either way, we are faced with an unimaginable drama for millions of people who do not know if or when they will have their next meal. At the very beginning of his term in office, President Biden removed the Houthis from the list of terrorist organisations, justifying it with the need to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid (which reportedly greatly strengthened this organisation, which currently controls the receipt and distribution of aid).

An attempt to organise a demonstration demanding an immediate ceasefire in Sudan or Yemen would probably be met with astonishment and a meaningful tap on the forehead.

British columnist Brendan O'Neill writes that the war is now being broadcast live, to the gadgets in our pockets. Not every war in the same way. The supply of information about various wars is conditioned by both the mentality of the broadcasters and the correct assumptions about the expectations of the recipients. "We see a constant spectacle of violence," O'Neill writes. That's true, but it's an extremely selective performance. Brendan O'Neill's article deals with the commodification of Palestinian pain.

…the fetishisation of Palestinian suffering, the exploitation of Palestinian pain for clout and likes, tells us something about our culture. And about the very specific nature of what is referred to as ‘Palestine solidarity’ but which some of us prefer to call ‘Israelophobia’.

The demand for images of death in Gaza is as strong as the irresistible need to tear down posters of people kidnapped by bestial terrorists. New technologies respond to age-old demands. Are they more effective than the market and the pulpit, than the radio that was a novelty a hundred years ago, or television a quarter of a century later?

An expert in a magazine for teens says that some people "feel like they have to… to keep looking" – that is, to look at images of horror – to make sure that their "feelings make sense." However, as we can clearly see, the recipients of these messages do not want to be distracted by all suffering, they are not interested in every war, every death of a child, every famine. They fish out of the net what they think is the most nutritious for them.

Dara Horn, author of the fascinating and beautifully written book People Love Dead Jews, in an article in The Atlantic, wonders why the most educated people in America fall for anti-Semitic lies.

The author cites another writer, David Nirenberg, a historian and author of Anti-Judaism, in which he analyses the attitudes and opinions of intellectual leaders in various countries over the course of twenty-three centuries, how they articulated the ideals of their societies, and how often they felt the need to reject all that was "Jewish."

If piety was a given society’s ideal, Jews were impious blasphemers; if secularism was the ideal, Jews were backward pietists. If capitalism was evil, Jews were capitalists; if communism was evil, Jews were communists. If nationalism was glorified, Jews were rootless cosmopolitans; if nationalism was vilified, Jews were chauvinistic nationalists. ‘Anti-Judaism’ thus becomes a righteous fight to promote justice.

Dara Horn writes that this dynamic forces Jews to adopt a defensive mode of constantly proving that they are not evil, or not so evil, or not all so evil, or even simply that they have a right to exist. She cites the historian's description of events from two millennia ago:

Around 38 C.E., after rioters in Alexandria destroyed hundreds of Jewish homes and burned Jews alive, the Jewish Alexandrian intellectual Philo and the non-Jewish Alexandrian intellectual Apion both sailed to Rome for a ‘debate’ before Emperor Caligula about whether Jews deserved citizenship. Apion believed that Jews held an annual ritual in which they kidnapped a non-Jew, fattened him up, and ate him. Caligula delayed Philo’s rebuttal for five months, and then listened to him only while consulting with designers on palace decor.

Then the Jews of Alexandria lost their civil rights by imperial decree. Which, of course, does not tell us whether a different decision by Caligula would have prevented the murder of another 50,000 Alexandrian Jews in 66 AD. The call of blood was stronger than the satisfaction of an efficient retail chain, even in the times when there was no Tik-Tok.

Can we understand how the market of ideas works? Jake Wallis Simons, editor-in-chief of Jewish Chronicle, in the pages of the British Telegraph, recalls Saul Bellow's words written half a century ago about two Israels – one being a tiny dot on a map and the other in the human imagination. The latter:

It also functioned as catnip for anti-Semites, who have always both fetishized Jews as the string-pulling chosen people and despised them as lowly killers of Christ, a dynamic that persists to this day with smears like 'Zionist lobby' and 'genocide'.

As Bellow inimitably put it, 'The mental Israel is immense, a country inestimably important, playing a major role in the world, as broad as all history, and perhaps as deep as sleep.'

This age-old hatred is once again the daily bread, or rather the piece of cake that satiates the call of the blood.

In my small, poor Polish town that once had a Jewish majority, I look at news from around the world. The BBC is concerned that the ceasefire in Gaza does not look promising. It does not mention those who will be left without a meal today, it informs us that Ukraine will get help after all, although this help may be a little late.

From Brussels, they report on an incident in the Belgian parliament to which the vice-president of the Socialist Party, Hasan Koyuncu, invited an Islamic cleric who (quoting a relevant verse of the Qur'an) called for the killing and enslavement of Jews. Nothing special, just a sign of the times, you could say "daily bread".

Translation: Małgorzata Koraszewska and Sarah Lawson

Picture credits:

Al-Jazeera, video screenshot

Text credit: