Hebrew Voices #76 – Jewish, Finnish, and Zionist

In this brand-new episode of Hebrew Voices, Jewish, Finnish, and Zionist, Nehemia Gordon speaks with Michel Grünstein, a Jewish journalist in Helsinki who explains about the new European antisemitism, the Left's war on ancient Jewish practices, and how Trump's wall has become a symbol of hope for freedom-loving people all over the world.

I look forward to reading your comments!

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Hebrew Voices #76 - Jewish, Finnish, and Zionist

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Michel: This means that there’s a certain dualism within Christianity, one part which is philosemitic, because it inherits from the Torah, from us. And the other part, which is antisemitic, because it’s Greek. It comes from antiquity. So, when the Jewish part of Christianity becomes weaker, the Greek part, which is antisemitic, gets strong.

Benjamin Netanyahu: Le ma’an Zion lo ekhesheh, u’l’ma’an Yerushalayim lo eshkot. (For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest. Isaiah 62:1)

Nehemia: Shalom, this is Nehemia Gordon, and welcome to Hebrew Voices. I was recently at the International Society of Biblical Literature conference in Helsinki, Finland. During the Bible conference, they had a lecture about what it was like to be Jewish in Finland. The local Rabbi explained how shechita, Jewish ritual slaughter, had been officially made illegal. Circumcision was still legal in Finland, but just barely, and in danger of being outlawed.

This anti-Torah legislation sounded to me like something reminiscent of the Seleucid Greek or ancient Roman persecutions. But the Rabbi apologetically explained that the Finnish people are so tolerant that they are intolerant.

During the Q&A, a local Jewish man got up and said what the Rabbi, who was trying to be politically correct, was not willing to say; that modern Finnish society is rife with a new form of Jew hatred that draws an anti-Israel sentiment to whitewash anti-Semitism. I walked up to this man afterwards and asked if he would share with Hebrew Voices what he shared with the audience in Helsinki. Here's my conversation with Michel Grünstein; Jewish, Finnish and Zionist.

Nehemia: I am in Helsinki, Finland. Oh, it's pronounced Hel-sinki, right?

Michel: Yes.

Nehemia: And tell us what your name is and who you are.

Michel: My name is Michel Grünstein, I'm a fifth generation Jew in Helsinki, and I belong to the Jewish community of Helsinki.

Nehemia: Okay, so I was just at this meeting here at the Society of Biblical Literature, and they were talking about the Jewish community of Helsinki. And they talked about some of the challenges of the Jews here, and you got up at the end, and you made a really important comment that I want you to share with the audience. And I think it's important because it's very authentic, right? You know, you're a member of the community, and you're sharing your experience. So, please tell us what you had to say.

Michel: The subject today, in this meeting, was Jewish identity. And one part which was not taken up enough, was the solidarity that we Jews in Finland feel towards Israel. This I wanted to highlight. And what I said was that a big part of modern Jewish identity is this solidarity towards Israel that we feel. And I added that conversely, this means that a big part of modern anti-Semite’s identity is his or her anti-Israelism, anti-Zionist. There's a mirror picture between the modern Jew and the modern anti-Semite, and Israel is the focal point in this equation.

Nehemia: Wow. You know, I think that's something that we're seeing worldwide. I mean, this is one of the things I hear in the US, especially they say that anti-Zionism or anti-Israelism is the new acceptable form of anti-Semitism. It's no longer in polite society around the world - maybe outside of certain countries - but around in the western world, it's no longer in polite society to say, "I hate Jews.” But you can say, "I hate Israel.” And then, most Jews, I think, have an affinity towards Israel. It's our country, whether you live there or not. Whether you've ever been there or not, it's the homeland of the Jewish people, Judea, hence the name “Jews”.

So, tell us a little bit about you being a Zionist. Have you always been a Zionist? Have you always felt this connection to Israel and this support for Israel? "Solidarity," you called it, I think that was one of the things that really moved me and made me want to speak with you is that you used that term "solidarity with Israel,” which I think is a really good way of describing it.

Michel: My father belonged to the Jewish community in Helsinki too, and he was an active defender of Israel in the Finnish media.

Nehemia: Oh, really?

Michel: And I probably, along with my brother, inherited this attitude from him. Of course, it was felt in our community otherwise, too. We have, from the beginning of Israel's independence, defended Israel strongly, the Finnish Jews. And many of us partook in your War of Independence in ‘48.

Nehemia: And you mean Israel's War of Independence. I would call it "our War of Independence,” but okay. I think that’s interesting. So, from your perspective as a Finnish Jew... In other words, you're a Finnish person, right? That's part of your identity, but part of your identity is being a Jew, and hence having a solidarity with Israel. I think it's interesting. So, in your comment in this session you also mentioned about the media, meaning your experience as a Jew is constantly being bombarded with this anti-Israel sentiment in the media?

Michel: Yes. The Freudian slip which I made was probably logical in that maybe it was the War of Independence of Jews, not only Israel.

Nehemia: Certainly, of the Jewish state in the Jewish homeland.

Michel: Yeah, certainly that. But yes, you mentioned the attitudes of the media. They are really anti-Zionist in Europe, at least in Western Europe. I think Eastern Europe is a bit better.

Nehemia: Really?

Michel: Yes, Czechoslovakia maybe. Czechoslovakia is a supporter of Israel. And you probably know this, that they have had a big discussion of moving their embassy to Jerusalem after Trump's decision, Czechoslovakia. But anyway, Scandinavian countries are extremely critical towards Israel. And I feel that this is very wrong and very, very partial. There's a double standard which comes into effect.

Nehemia: So, tell us about that from your perspective, what's the double standard?

Michel: Well, at least when you compare what Israel is doing to what Palestinians are doing, they are measured in completely different scales, but other countries, too. The way Israel fights its wars is very moral. And even compared to the United States, or Britain, or so called “civilized Western countries,” Israel has nothing to be ashamed of, completely opposite. But, of course, the media here shows that Israel is this monster who kills innocent Arabs. And this is not the case, of course. Israel has never started a war with Arabs. Israel has always responded to the aggressions of the other part.

Nehemia: And done things that any country would do. And, in fact, most countries would be far more aggressive. You know, one of the things I remember from the last Gaza War is there was a CNN reporter on a balcony, and behind him is an explosion. It's an Israeli artillery or rocket hitting a Hamas position. And then, there's a second one a second later that just completely destroys the position.

And what they didn't show is that they edited out of the video a 10-minute space between the two explosions. The first one Israel calls a tap, and that was warning, everybody, get out of the building, we're going to destroy this building. And the second one is okay, they destroyed it, it's a terrorist position. No other country in the world would do the tap. They'd just blow up the building, and if they kill civilians, they kill civilians. Whereas Israel is saying, “Look, we know that you guys like to hide behind civilians, so this first one's a warning. You’ve got 10 minutes or so.” And so, CNN literally edited out the 10-minute gap between the two explosions. And this is just typical.

Michel: It is really typical, and this they're doing in Finland, too. It's not only CNN.

Nehemia: Oh, yeah. I know that’s true.

Michel: Finland and the whole Scandinavia copies everything from the big TV corporations. You know, I followed the campaign of President Trump, or the candidate Trump. I followed it first from CNN and ABC and MSNBC, these left-wing companies. But then I changed to Fox, and I have not left it since.

Nehemia: All right, and this is way off-topic, but do you support President Trump?

Michel: Absolutely, strongly.

Nehemia: Okay, and I want to point out, people can't see who you are. You don't wear a kippah. You're wearing a necklace with the Star of David. Okay, so you identify as a Jew, but I think in American terms, and probably in Israeli terms, we would say you're not Orthodox.

Michel: I'm not, no.

Nehemia: You're not Orthodox, okay. But you have solidarity for your country, for the homeland of your people. And you support Donald Trump. Tell us a little bit about that.

Michel: You're surprised, are you?

Nehemia: I'm a little bit surprised because you're Scandinavian, but go ahead, yeah.

Michel: Yes, I really followed the whole campaign in 2016. And slowly but surely, I became certain that he will be elected.

Nehemia: Really?

Michel: It was clear. When you saw how the crowds loved him, there was no question of the American people not electing him. But the media, you know how they had this propaganda from the New York Times and Washington Post and CNN, 95% sure Hillary's going to win. That was not the case. And since then, I have never been disappointed in his election. I think he is sticking to his program, his promises to the American people. And we will see the wall built sooner or later.

Nehemia: So, help me understand, why do you, as a Finnish person care about the wall in the southern part of the United States? Because I really don't understand what that would be. I mean, I have my own perspectives, right?

Michel: I think it is a very deeply symbolic decision which will be made when the wall will be built. It is a decision concerning the national states in the whole world.

Nehemia: Wow.

Michel: The fate of nationalities and patriotism, compared to globalistic, utopian ideas that Obama and Hillary came with and tried to propagate to the world. It’s left- wing thinking, utopian thinking, socialistic thinking, multiculturalism, which was taken up today as a subject. Our Rabbi, Simon Livson, mentioned it and how it affects even our community.

Nehemia: Right, and I'll just share with the audience, because obviously they didn't hear the lecture. It was explained to us… And look, I'm not Scandinavian. I'm sure you live with this, I didn't know that much about this, that the Jewish community, two of the major issues essentially are... I mean, it reminded me of the persecution of Antiochus IV, for which we have the Hanukkah, that the Jews were forbidden to practice circumcision.

And here we are in the 21st century, and Jews are just barely allowed to practice circumcision in Finland. It's not a given that they're going to be continued to be allowed to do it. And they're not allowed to practice shekhita, that is traditional Jewish slaughtering. Now, look, you're not Orthodox, I'm not Orthodox. I don't see myself limited as eating only something slaughtered according to traditional shekhita, that is slaughtering of the animal.

However, I think a Jew should have that right. I think this is a basic human right that Jews should have. And it breaks my heart to see this society, Scandinavia, which brags about how it's so multicultural and so tolerant, and it's so tolerant that it's intolerant. And what I love about it is…So, he had mentioned two issues, the Rabbi. He mentioned circumcision and slaughtering, and he didn't talk about the elephant in the room, which is the constant bombardment of anti-Israel, anti-Zionism, which really is anti-Jewish.

Michel: I enjoyed, by the way, the paradox which you mentioned from the audience, I think you're right.

Nehemia: And I got up during the Q&A and I said, “So basically, you Finnish secular people side with the Nazis in that you forbid Jews from practicing slaughtering.” And that actually was something the Nazis put into law. And it was an anti-Jewish thing, no question about it.

Michel: This shows how intolerant the tolerant are.

Nehemia: It's incredible. I mean, it boggles my mind. They're so tolerant, but not of somebody who's different, right? We've been doing this for thousands of years, you could agree with it or not agree with it, right? Like I said, I don't see myself as necessarily bound by all the strictures in Rabbinical law when it comes to that. But Jews have been doing this for at least 2000 years. How can you come along and say it's forbidden?

Michel: First, I'd like to say that they are tolerant concerning Muslims. They are not tolerant concerning Jews. We are not a big enough minority, we Jews.

Nehemia: Well, and they're afraid of the Muslims, let's be honest.

Michel: Absolutely, and they should be.

Nehemia: So, in this lecture you got up and you mentioned what it's like that essentially, as a Jew, you're constantly bombarded with this anti-Israel… which essentially, is a covert anti-Semitic message. And as a Jew, it's got to feel really uncomfortable, right? And so, how do you, as a secular Jew, see the issue of slaughtering, of shekhita, and of circumcision?

Michel: Well, I think that the society should allow halakhic behavior from its Jewish minority. This is, for me, a clear thing. And even though I'm not an Orthodox, I feel that our people, the people who are Orthodox, should be able to do that. It's not a more inhuman way of taking the life of an animal than the other so-called “modern” ways.

Concerning the question of anti-Zionism in the media, I think it has even become worse, if possible, after the election of Donald Trump…

Nehemia: Really? Okay.

Michel: …because the media is noticing that Israel is becoming stronger, and that there is a deep alliance, again, after Obama's terrible period, building now between Trump's America and Netanyahu's Israel. And as you hear, I'm a right-wing Jew, and I feel that slowly I have come to the position that the two-state solution is not possible anymore. It has taken me now 20 years to come to this, but I think that the Israeli people are moving to the same conclusion…

Nehemia: Oh, absolutely.

Michel: …and have moved already.

Nehemia: And I heard a lecture recently from a leftist in Israel, who was talking about how in the ‘90s everyone on the left in Israel, they had this utopian idea. We'll have, they called it the “new Middle East," and we'll finally end 100 years of conflict.

Michel: Peres.

Nehemia: Shimon Peres used that phrase, the “new Middle East.” But people believed it, they truly bought into it. And this gentleman in Jerusalem who's, like I said, a left-wing reporter, he was saying that nobody's under that delusion anymore. I mean, sure, people still want peace. But, you know, I also want to lose 100 pounds, but I live in the real world. You know, and I'd like to have a full head of hair, but you don't always get what you want. And so, in a practical solution right now, there is no one to have a second state with who would live in peace with us. That doesn't exist, right? That's a fantasy, that's a pipe dream right now. Who knows what will be in 20 years? I mean, you know, anything's possible.

Michel: The Palestinians, I feel, have shown very clearly that they are not willing and not able to build a state of their own. It's quite clear in my eyes.

Nehemia: Certainly, not a state that's willing to live harmoniously with Israel. I mean, Abbas just recently, it was a headline that said, “We're never gonna stop giving money to the suicide bombers.” He openly said that. And where does that money come from? It comes from the European Union and from the United States. They don't have billions of dollars to be giving to terrorists. They're getting that from Western countries, and to some extent, probably, from the Arab world, but I think primarily from the Western countries. And that money is going to kill Jewish children and civilians.

Michel: Especially from Europe, the EU is giving lots of financial support to Palestinians. But you asked me about my life as a Jew in Helsinki, in Finland. And because we are now talking mainly of our relationship to Israel, I would like to stress the point that we have it, as Jews, easy in Finland. There is no classical type of anti-Semitism in this country, very, very little. If people see my Magen David on me, they are usually very positive or curious about it, what it means.

Nehemia: That's the Star of David.

Michel: The Star of David, what it symbolizes, what and how I feel about my Jewishness. But concerning the State of Israel, then the problems begin. As you stated earlier, it is not any more acceptable to be openly anti-Semitic, but it is completely acceptable to be anti-Zionistic. And especially the left-wing people, and the so-called intellectuals feel anti-Zionistic. And if you go to them and say, “Oh boy, the emotions which you have when you speak about Israel so negatively, they don't sound normal anymore. They don't sound the way you speak about other nations. Where do these feelings come from?” They are flabbergasted. “What do you mean, that I would be anti-Semitic?”

And I would even say that they are not aware of the depth of the feeling and where it comes from. They think it is only political, but I think it comes from the unconsciousness of the Western civilization. It is hidden there, and we carry it as a virus in us. It's not an individual feeling that the person has towards Jews. It's the cultural inheritance of the non-Jews.

Nehemia: It's definitely, I would say, deeply embedded within Western civilization and Western culture.

Michel: Exactly.

Nehemia: Although, when I say "Western civilization,” that doesn't exclude, let's say, the Islamic world, which has its own anti-Semitism.

Michel: Well said.

Nehemia: It was interesting, I was in China, I lived there for a year. And in China, they don't have a history of anti-Semitism. You'd say to someone in China that you're Jewish, and they have little stereotypes about people of every different ethnicity. And they had their stereotype about Jews, but it wasn't a negative one. And they have a stereotype about, I don't know, other people of different groups. But there wasn't a special attitude towards Jews versus other people. It was just really a strange experience to me to encounter that. It's really interesting what you said.

Michel: There's one important difference between China, Asian countries, the attitudes and the European or Muslim, and that is the monotheistic tradition. We are the originators of this tradition, this religion. And Christianity and Islam build on us. There's a certain rivalry. There's a certain rebellion towards the mother religion. And this is, of course, because the Asian religions are completely separate from us. There is not this rivalry.

Nehemia: Here's the irony. You're talking now about people - and this was said during the lecture that we just sat through, that the new religion in Europe is essentially secularism. And so, even within the secular society, there's this, I don't know, this undercurrent, or this foundation of this anti-Semitism, which is a bit surprising, in a sense.

Michel: One possibility of analyzing this is that the basis of European culture, the secular culture, is Christianity. And if you think about Christianity as a synthesis between Jewish thinking, and on the other hand Greek thinking, so this means that there's a certain dualism within Christianity. One part which is philosemitic, because it inherits from the Torah, from us. And the other part, which is anti-Semitic, because it's Greek. It comes from antiquity.

So, when the Jewish part of Christianity becomes weaker, the Greek part, which is anti-Semitic, gets strong. And this means that Christianity, when it moves to the Greek side, and at the same time, on the political level to the left, it becomes more and more anti-Semitic. But on the other hand, there are so-called Jewish Christians, which emphasize the importance of the Jewish inheritance in their religion. They are one of the strongest supporters in Finland, for example, towards Israel.

Nehemia: Wow.

Michel: They are our biggest friends, and I cooperate with them. We've just written together, these conservative Christians, as it were, the same kind of Christians which Trump got elected by in the United States. Our Christian field is divided in two, the left-wing Liberals and the Conservatives. The Conservatives are on the Jewish side, Israel's side, and the other one is extremely vocally against Israel.

Nehemia: That was so profound, what you just said, I don't even want to say anything.

Michel: Thank you.

Nehemia: That was actually really profound. I just do want to give a little bit of context for some of the listeners who may not be aware. When you say the Greek, I think you're probably saying this on the background of the annual Jewish experience of commemorating Hanukkah and the persecutions of Antiochus. In other words, that's the Greek, I think, context that you're talking about, and the Greek culture which was anti-Semitic.

You know, 2000 years ago Josephus wrote a book called “Against Apion.” And Apion was this Jewish anti-Semite who openly said, “The Jews are a nation of lepers,” and basically describing the Jews as barbarians. That didn't come from Christianity, that came from deeply embedded in the Greek culture. Anybody who wouldn't worship all the Greek gods was just hated and suspected. And today, I think the Greek gods are now multiculturalism and secularism. And I think there's the same attitude of hatred and suspicion of someone who doesn't worship at the altar of multiculturalism and anti-religious secularism.

Michel: Correct me if I'm wrong, but I remember that in the Talmud, the Rabbis often debate with the epicureans.

Nehemia: The epicureans, right, which was a Greek philosophical school that didn't believe in miracles and didn't believe in anything. That was a specific type of Greek.

Michel: And didn't believe in one God, either.

Nehemia: I'm not an expert in this, but I think when we're talking about the Jewish epicureans that they were debating with, these were people who didn't believe that there was a deity who had a part in the world. In other words, there had been maybe some creator God who, you know, set the top spinning and then walked away. I think that's the epicureans in the Talmud. That's maybe a topic for a different discussion, but yeah.

Michel: I've understood that the word "Christ" comes from Greek.

Nehemia: That's right.

Michel: And "Christianity,” the word comes from Greek. And this means Christ is the Greek word for anointed, for messiah.

Nehemia: That's right.

Michel: So, even in their name they have a Greek name.

Nehemia: Wow. It's just so profound what you said, so I'll just reiterate. I think I'll paraphrase what you said. So basically, Christianity has this Jewish aspect to it and this Greek aspect to it, that are struggling against one another.

You know what it reminds me of? When Moses is up on the mountain and they're fighting the Amalekites. And when Moses can keep his arms up in the air, they're winning, because he's up in prayer to the Hebrew God. And when his arms fall, because he's weakened, then the Israelites are being defeated by the Amalekites. So, Christianity has this internal struggle, that when they can keep the Jewish side strong, they are pro-Israel and love the Jewish people. And when their arms fall and they weaken and they give in to that Greek side, the anti-Semitism comes out. That's profound. Would you do me a favor? And I know you're a secular Jew. Would you end this discussion with some sort of a prayer?

Michel: Okay. Well, thank you for the opportunity. This is the first time I do it in public.

Nehemia: Okay, if you feel comfortable.

Michel: I feel I would like to make one prayer for the State of Israel.

Nehemia: Please.

Michel: For the people who are fighting not only for their own independence and security, but all the Jewish nations’ safety. And one short prayer for President Trump. I think this will be the first in Finland.

Nehemia: And hopefully not the last.

Michel: Hopefully. And I so wish that he becomes elected again, which I presume he will be, and that cooperation between him and Bibi Netanyahu will be strong and fruitful, which I really, sincerely believe that it will be. My thanks and kind regards to you people in Israel.

Nehemia: Amen.

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  • I thought that the insight on the Jewish vs. the Greek elements in Christianity were spot on. However I do wish people of faith would put more trust in Y’hovah than they do in princes. He uses secular leaders, the good, the bad and the ugly, to fulfil His purposes so it is to Him alone that the credit should be given. I see so many things wrong on BOTH the left and right ends of the political spectrum. All manner of evil is encroaching on every party and there will sadly come a day when Israel doesn’t have a political friend in the world. Israel needs to recognise that and so does everyone else who claims to believe in Y’hovah.

    As a side note I’d like to know where shechitah comes from as I have not found it in the Tanach.

  • Robert Kennedy says:

    I must say, I found this podcast most engaging and many of Michel Grünstein’s points, specifically regarding antisemitism, to be most prescient. There is only one point in which I would digress from Michel’s perspective, again it really is a matter of perspective.

    From my viewpoint, as an American citizen with Mexican-American relatives and ancestry, I would beg to differ as to the potential effects that “The Wall” will have on those of us living in the southern part the the U.S. For many of us, it is not a symbol of hope and freedom, but rather one of divisiveness, fear and oppression.

    Though I do not agree with a form of multiculturalism that eliminates the nation-state in favor of a “global utopia”, I also cannot abide a form of patriotism that idolizes nationalism, and in the process, creates an “Us vs. Them” paradigm. Besides, don’t national walls have a tendency of keeping “Us” in, just as much as they keep “Them” out? I.e., Hadrian’s Wall and the Berlin Wall.

    Not to mention the potential ill effects this particular wall will have on the biodiversity of the region.

    With that said, I really do appreciate the opportunity to listen and comment on this post. Many Thanks, both to Nehemia and Michel for this very insightful podcast.

    • Reyes Nava says:

      As someone who lives just 10 miles from the border, it is not true that most people are against a wall, in fact most are in favor.

      The idea of no walls & fences is naïve and dangerous not just for the country but for the home. And of course any wall must have gates to allow security and order for the benefit of all.

      Nehemiah’s wall was built with the help of Yehovah for protection and a symbol of order not divisiveness. (Neh. 2:17-18). On the other hand the enemies of Israel became furious and very angry when they heard that the wall was being rebuilt around Jerusalem. (Neh. 4:1)

      The wall at Jericho came down by the hand of Yehovah due to its wickedness just like Berlin. The Babylonians trusted in their wall to no avail after it was prophesied to be conquered.

      We await the day when walls will no longer be needed. (Zech. 2:5)
      For I,’ says Yehovah, ‘will be a wall of fire all around her, and I will be the glory in her midst.’ (Zech. 2:5)

      • Walls were a sure bet in ancient times when there were no surveillance drones, surveillance cameras, heat seeking missiles, target programmable drones, surveillance satellites. etc., etc., etc, If the US gov’t. were smart, which clearly it’s not, many of these immigration issues could be dealt with using this technology, which the Pentagon, the military, et.al possess. In the presence of such technology, the wall is an idiotic waste of public money. Anyhoo I’m done with this topic; it’s not the reason I come to this website.

        • Surveillance lets you see who is getting in. Like the ring doorbell camera. You see the perp steal your package did it prevent your package from being stolen? A wall is a barrier

    • I agree Robert. You can see my comment below. We who believe need to start putting our trust in Y’hovah and not in princes, or walls. We don’t listen to the Word though. We put our trust in false political messiahs, human institutions, weapons and all manner of things except the One we should be looking to.

  • I too enjoyed the presentation but, like a previous commenter I think this wall is a crazy idea. As far as the world of commerce is concerned the internet and electronic money transfers have rendered national borders somewhat obsolete. This isn’t globalist utopianism; if you don’t believe me ask anybody in the financial industry. As so many people in U.S. go bankrupt or die for lack of medical treatment after having been robbed by insurance companies, 25 billion for a wall is an unholy waste of money. Most illegal immigrants fly in rather than walk in anyway and destroy their documents at the airport.