In general, people feel more comfortable with similarities than they do with differences. People who refuse to accept the norms and ways of their neighbors are often rejected by those neighbors. Throughout history the Jews adhered to their beliefs and way of life even in the face of persecution, and many felt resentful or threatened by the Jews’ refusal to conform to the practices of the larger society.
Jewish identity can be traced all the way back to Abraham, who rejected the idolatry of his fellow Mesopotamians in favor of monotheism, the belief in one God. The Hebrew slaves in Egypt maintained that monotheistic difference from their polytheistic (i.e., multiple-god worshipping) Egyptian masters up until Moses led the Hebrew exodus from slavery to freedom, as celebrated in the Jewish holiday of Passover. In Persia, a Jew named Mordechai rejected Prime Minister Haman’s order for all subjects to bow down to him, refusing to bow down to anyone but God, as celebrated in the Jewish holiday of Purim. When the land of Israel was ruled bythe empireofAlexander the Great, a band of Jews rebelled against the forced imposition of Greek religion and culture, as celebrated in the Jewish holiday of Chanukah. Later, when Jews refused to obey the anti-Jewish rules of the Roman Empire, the Roman army destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem, slaughtered thousands of Jews, and banished most of the survivors to live in exile, as commemorated by the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’av.
As this list demonstrates, not only haveJews been singled out for thousands of years, but Judaism actually celebrates and commemorates its historical challenges. For the last 2000 years, Jews have refused to accept Jesus as the messiah. Couple that refusal with the traditional accusation that Jews are responsible for the death of Jesus and the result has been centuries of Christian European anti-Semitism.
In the Muslim world, Jewish refusal to accept Mohammed as a prophet of God has resulted in Jews (along with Christians) being considered as dhimmis (second-class citizens), with fewer rights and privileges than their Muslim neighbors. This coupled with the existence of Israel has resulted in decades of rising and ever-more virulent anti-Semitism across the Arab and Muslim worlds.