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The New Anti-Semitism

[clock] 21-MINUTE READ ISSUE:  Summer 2005

The Case for Israel, by Alan M. Dershowitz. Wiley, August 2003. $19.95

The New Anti-Semitism: The Current Crisis and What We Must Do about It, by Phyllis Chesler. Jossey-Bass, July 2003. $24.95

Rising from the Muck: The New Anti-Semitism in Europe, by Pierre-André Taguieff. Ivan R. Dee, July 2004. $26

Never Again? by Abraham H. Foxman. HarperCollins, October 2003. $24.95

The Return of Anti-Semitism, by Gabriel Schoenfeld. Encounter, January 2004. $25.95

In the years preceding the establishment of Israel in 1948, Jews opposed to the creation of a Jewish state clashed with Zionists on how best to protect Jewish life in the wake of the Holocaust. Zionists contended that the Nazi extermination of the Jews conclusively proved the failure of assimilation in Europe, because anti-Semitism, in the words of Leon Pinsker, was a hereditary disease that could never be cured. Anti-Semitism, the argument went, would only disappear when Jews were secure in their own homeland. Contesting this conviction were not only assimilated Jews, frightened by the prospect of being accused of dual loyalty, but also those who identified with the universalism of the Left, whose ideological orientation viewed the nation-state as the source of a multitude of evils, and who regarded Zionism as yet another form of chauvinistic nationalism. They predicted that the creation of a Jewish state would lead to conflict with the more numerous Arab population, thus further exacerbating the already volatile situation that faced the Jewish settlements in Palestine. The Left, which included both Communists and Socialists (but not Labor Zionists), argued that the solution to centuries of anti-Semitism was not the creation of a future Israel, but for humankind to confront bigotry and eliminate the evils of prejudice, which included not only anti-Semitism in particular, but racism in general.

The divide between Zionists and “universalists” did not vanish with the formation of Israel. Subsequently, many on the left continued their opposition to Israel, calling instead for the creation of a democratic Palestinian state consisting of Arabs and Jews but shorn of its Jewish identity. At the same time, a coterie of hostile opponents, which included the Arab world, right-wing extremists, such as neo-Nazis, and Holocaust deniers, as well as traditional anti-Semites, rejected the very legitimacy of Israel and, as remains the case with Palestinian extremist groups, such as Hamas and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, called for the destruction of the Jewish state. As Alan Dershowitz points out in his The Case for Israel, ever since its founding, Israel has had to defend its legitimacy in ways not required by the immigrants who settled Australia, or those who came to the United States and displaced the native American population. Dershowitz labels this double standard anti-Semitism in the guise of anti-Zionism.

What is new about the “new” anti-Semitism, according to a spate of recent books, including Dershowitz’s, is that the hatred of Jews has been cloaked behind a virulent anti-Zionism which holds the Jewish people everywhere responsible for the policies of the Israeli government in its conflict with the Palestinians. Phyllis Chesler, in her book The New Anti-Semitism, finds this especially prominent on the left, especially among her comrades in the feminist movement, where the new anti-Semitism masquerades as antiracism and anticolonialism. She concludes that inasmuch as anti-Jewish violence is justified by opposition to Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, it has become politically and psychologically acceptable to be anti-Semitic, despite increasing reports of the burning of synagogues and the vandalizing of cemeteries in Europe. Added to this situation is the silence of leftist intellectuals in response to suicide bombings in Israel, which reached endemic proportions during the past decade.

Yet in the years following World War II we could talk about the waning of anti-Semitism in the wake of our unfolding knowledge of the Nazi genocide against the Jews. Sympathy for Jews became widespread, as did support for Israel, which was viewed as a modern David fighting the millions of Arab Goliaths bent on its destruction. Empathy for Jews and support for Israel, however, slowly began to erode in the aftermath of the 1967 war, when the Jewish state defeated the combined attack of six Arab nations, conquered the West Bank and Gaza, and unified Jerusalem . Subsequently, however, when Israel commenced the building of settlements in the conquered territories, it was condemned not only by the Arab world, but also by segments of the Left, both in Europe and in the United States, as a colonial army, whose maltreatment of the Palestinians was viewed as no better than the Nazi brutalization of the Jews. This condemnation of Israel as a “settler” nation, not unlike the Afrikaners in apartheid-era South Africa, had little appeal among the mainstream on both sides of the Atlantic, but on the left and the radical right, the castigation of Israel was steady and unyielding and began to find fertile ground among cultural elites, among faculty and students on university campuses, and among a core of politicians, especially in Europe, whose sympathy for the cause of the Palestinians became ever more public. Increasingly, negative attitudes toward Israel and Jews in general found their way into public discourse. (The French ambassador to Great Britain, Daniel Bernard, for example, was reported to have referred to Israel as “this shitty little country” in a conversation with the wife of media baron Conrad Black.) It is in response to this assault that Dershowitz argues that criticism of Israel may at times be justified, but the absence of comparable denunciations of equal or greater violations by other countries creates the impression “currently prevalent on university campuses and in the press that Israel is among the worst human rights violators in the world. . . . It is not true, but if it is repeated enough, it takes on its own reality.” Thomas Friedman of the New York Times adds that “criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international censure—out of all proportion to any other party in the Middle East—is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest.”

In Europe during the past decade an unlikely alliance of leftists, vociferously opposed to the policies of Israel, and right-wing anti-Semites, committed to the destruction of Israel, were joined by millions of Muslims, including Arabs, who immigrated to Europe from North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, and who brought with them their hatred of Israel in particular and of Jews in general. It is the forging of this unprecedented coalition of enemies that makes the “new” anti-Semitism unique, an unprecedented configuration of forces whose militant, uncompromising support for the Palestinians makes little distinction between Israelis and Jews. Ironically, as the French philosopher and political scientist Pierre-André Taguieff notes in Rising from the Muck, in the last three decades, Judeophobia based on racism and nationalism has given way to an anti-Semitism based on antiracism and antinationalism, wherein, among the Left, Israel has come to personify the preeminent apartheid state. How is it, however, that opposition to Israel’s existence has linked all Jews as targets of the enemies of the Zionist state? Taguieff explains that repulsive anti-Jewish traditions have merged with anti-Zionist rhetoric in the following syllogism: “Jews are all more or less crypto-Zionists. Zionism is a form of colonialism, imperialism and racism. Therefore Jews are colonialists, imperialists and racists, whether overt or covert.” This view that all Jews are in some fashion Zionists is not merely Taguieff’s hypothetical construct. He cites the words of Emile Algohri, the Jordanian minister of social affairs, who stated, “It is our firm belief that there is no difference at all between Jews and Zionists. All Jews are Zionists and all Zionists are Jews, and anyone who thinks otherwise is not thinking logically. We consider world Jewry our adversary and enemy, as we do imperialism and all the pro-Jewish powers.” By presenting “Zionism” as the incarnation of evil, an anti-Jewish vision of the world reconstituted itself in the second half of the 20th century that replicates the vicious stereotypes about Jews which laid the propagandistic groundwork for the Holocaust. The widespread dissemination of these anti-Zionist beliefs has resonated especially among many intellectuals in France and Germany, countries with large Muslim populations. The result, states Taguieff, has been an unconditional support for the Palestinians among many of the European cultural elite:

To denounce Israel and glorify the Palestinians in general has become the proper and most comfortable thing to do. This new political-intellectual conformism has been to establish itself through the routinization of what is conveniently known as “the struggle against racism.” . . . The so-called anti-racist organizations . . . have become, in many respects, temples of “political correctness” one of whose new faces—Islamic correctness is encouraged in Islamic studies that is almost openly apologetic about radical Islamism.”

In the aftermath of September 11, the spread of anti-Semitism reached threatening levels. Jewish spokesmen, such as Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), warned that Jews everywhere “currently face as great a threat to the safety and security of the Jewish people as the one we faced in the 1930s—if not a greater one.” The situation in Israel was no less critical as the insecurity of Israeli civilians intensified in the wake of suicide bombings that threatened the very fabric of the Jewish state. Subsequently, delegates from 55 member states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe met in Berlin in April 2004 to express their determination to combat anti-Semitism, which had been widely reported in the form of large increases in violence against Jews in some European countries, many of these cases being attributed to the growing Arab population in their midst.

The violence is not limited, however, to physical attacks alone. The vehemence of the new anti-Semitism also manifests itself by an insidious effort to deny not only the legitimacy of Israel but Jewish history as well. This verbal assault rejects the Jewish claim to the territory of Israel as having no basis in history, tradition, or law, and demands that the Jewish state either abandon its legal and political status as a nation or cease to exist altogether, a position not relegated to the beliefs of Arabs alone, but also shared by many on both the left and the radical right. Indeed, Jewish identity itself is called into question, whereby the descent of contemporary Jews from the Hebrews of ancient Israel is denied.

The rise of the “new” anti-Semitism has again raised the question of whether the creation of Israel has made Jewish life in the diaspora any more secure than during the Nazi years, let alone in the Jewish state, where its citizens face an even greater threat in the form of suicide bombers. Are Jews any safer today because of Israel? For its enemies the answer is a resounding no; indeed, its presence given anti-Semites the pretext, as well as the opportunity, to again threaten the existence of world Jewry. For most Jews, however, the very existence of Israel guarantees that the conditions that led to the Holocaust will not be replicated. Israel has come to represent an “insurance policy” insofar as the Jewish state constitutes a safe haven should the ugly specter of genocide once again threaten the existence of the Jewish people.

In the wake of September 11, American Jews braced themselves for a resurgence of anti-Semitism. Unfounded rumors circulated that Israel’s Mossad was behind the attacks on the World Trade Center, warning Jews who worked in the building to stay at home on the day of the assaults. This canard was promoted by anti-Semites and continues to have wide currency on the Internet. More insidious, however, was the facile contention that al Qaeda’s attack on September 11 was driven by America’s support for Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians, a policy which was unduly influenced by the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC). Even among those not necessarily antagonistic toward Israel, this uninformed understanding of the causes for the terrorist assault continues to resonate among segments of the population, despite evidence to the contrary (see Holy War, Inc., by Peter Bergen, Free Press, 2001). More surprising is that even those who should know better have accepted this false argument. Phyllis Chesler, for example, writes, in regard to September 11, “Osama Bin Laden . . . explained that the twin towers had fallen because of American support for Israel.” Peter Bergen argues that the assault on the Pentagon and the twin towers was bin Laden’s response to America’s support for the Saudi royal family and the Mubarak government in Egypt. It was only after the September 11 attacks that bin Laden added the cause of the Palestinians to his list of grievances against the United States.

The effort to associate the events of September 11 with Jewish influence on United States support for Israel caught the American Jewish community by surprise, inasmuch as only several years before, many Jews had celebrated the nomination of Joseph Lieberman, the first Jewish candidate to be selected by a major political party for vice president. A historic moment in American Jewish history, Jews hailed Lieberman’s appointment as conclusive evidence that anti-Semitism in the United States was no longer a serious problem, although they recognized its existence in many other parts of the world. After September 11 many Jews were relieved that Lieberman had not been elected, fearing that had he been in office at the time of the terrorist assault, political pundits would have linked the terrorist attack to Arab frustration over a Jew being selected for the vice presidency.

Although much of the renewed outbreak of hatred and suspicion toward Jews is unprecedented in its nature and composition, a great deal of the new anti-Semitism is also old. This is particularly true in regard to the application of conspiratorial design as a means of explaining American policy in the Middle East. Following America’s invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration was accused of leading the country to war due to the influence of a cabal of neoconservatives who conspired to oust Saddam Hussein, not simply to advance democracy in the Middle East, but to primarily eliminate a major threat to Israel’s security. That many neoconservatives, such as Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Elliott Abrams, and Douglas Feith, were Jewish only added credence to the belief of political personalities such as Patrick Buchanan and Congressman Jim Moran of Virginia that Jewish influence was behind the decision to invade Iraq. Absent from this libel was the defensible argument that a by-product of overthrowing Saddam’s dictatorship was not only the opportunity to establish a democratic Iraq in the Middle East, but also the conviction that the “road map” to peace in the Middle East ran through Baghdad and required the removal of Saddam Hussein. Saddam was an obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians, inasmuch as he not only rejected the very existence of Israel, but provided funds for the families of the suicide bombers who attacked Israeli civilians.

Gabriel Schoenfeld, senior editor of the neoconservative publication Commentary, finds the biased belief in undue Jewish influence on American foreign policy widely held among important segments of the media and in academia. In his book The Return of Anti-Semitism, Schoenfeld cites, for example, the comments of Fred M. Donner, a professor at the University of Chicago, who complained in a column in the Chicago Tribune that the “rosy scenario for the upcoming war against Iraq was a vision deriving from Likud-oriented members of the President’s team—particularly Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, and Douglas Feith.” The trio also figure prominently in the thinking of noted political scientist Stanley Hoffmann of Harvard, who referred to them as “a loose collection of individuals who look on foreign policy through the lens of one dominant concern: is it good or bad for Israel?”

Jewish influence on Bush foreign policy can also be found in the columns of Maureen Dowd in the New York Times, who often refers to (Jewish) hawks such as Perle, Feith, and William Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard, “as the clique of neo-conservative intellectuals pushing for war.” Syndicated columnist Georgie Anne Geyer has written that “the ‘Get Iraq’ campaign . . . emerged first and particularly from pro-Israeli hard-liners in the Pentagon such as . . . Paul Wolfowitz and . . . Richard Perle.” Finally, there is the bile associated with the rhetoric of political personalities such as Patrick Buchanan, who accused Wolfowitz, Perle, Feith, and Elliott Abrams of wielding disproportionate power and of being, according to Buchanan, “fundamentally disloyal to the country.” According to Schoenfeld, the accusation that the real agenda of American Jews in the Bush administration is to serve the interests of Israel is vigorously promoted by the politically active Muslim population in the United States, which relentlessly circulates the notion of a Jewish cabal determined to push the United States in the same direction as Israel’s right-wing policy.

Schoenfeld’s tome also notes how the European press is selectively biased in its reporting on Israel. As the unpopularity of America’s war against Iraq fanned outrage against the Bush administration in much of Europe, it was also coupled with worldwide denunciation of the Sharon government’s policy of protecting its citizens from terrorist attacks by launching military strikes at perceived terrorist strongholds in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as targeting leaders of Hamas for assassination. Israeli incursions into Palestinian cities such as Jenin brought about public condemnation throughout much of Europe, as Israel was constantly compared to the Nazis and the Sharon government accused of genocide. The British press, in particular, showed its animus toward Israel in its reporting on Israel’s incursion into Jenin in the spring of 2002. Schoenfeld describes how the British press publicized Israel’s “slaughter” of the Palestinians in Jenin and cites the historian A. N. Wilson, who wrote in the London Evening Standard that “we are talking here of a massacre, and a cover-up, of genocide.” The Guardian compared the battle of Jenin to the attack on New York on September 11, and a reporter for the London Times wrote that “Rarely, in more than a decade of war reporting from Bosnia, Chechnya, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, have I seen such deliberate destruction, such disrespect for human life.” Although the British press stated that thousands of Palestinians had been killed in Jenin, subsequent investigations revealed a total of 52 Palestinian deaths, most of whom were guerilla fighters, while the Israeli army lost 23 soldiers. Absent from this type of reporting were Israel’s efforts to minimize civilian casualties, at great risk to its own men, by sending in reservists on foot as well as prohibiting the deployment of attack helicopters.

Schoenfeld also notes the prevalent role that Jews on the left have played in the dissemination of anti-Semitism. He finds that the “anti-Semitic Left in the United States is largely a Jewish contingent.” Jewish radicals, such as Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein, but also Jewish progressives, such as Rabbi Michael Lerner, Susannah Heschel, and Marc Ellis, are described as “preening left-wing Jews” who by their one-sided support of the Palestinians have tacitly promoted anti-Semitism in their criticism of Israeli social and political policy. Schoenfeld locates this Jewish self-hatred in “the murky waters of the psycho-social, as individual Jews try to deflect the poisonous arrows coming at their fellow Jews from larger hostile forces.” (This criticism was directed at Jewish intellectual Tony Judt following the publication of an article in the New York Review of Books, where he called for the end of Israel as the Jewish homeland and the creation of a democratic binational state of Jews and Palestinians.)

Whereas Schoenfeld and Chesler find much of the new anti-Semitism emanating primarily from the Left, Foxman views the peril equally from both the Left and the radical Right. All of the authors, however, agree that the menace of Islamic fundamentalism poses the greatest long-term danger to Jewish survival in general and to Israel in particular. The evidence of a “new” anti-Semitism in these books, however, is at times misleading. Anti-Semitism in its modern form is a case of old wine in new bottles. Although the political conditions which have led to a rebirth of anti-Semitism are different from the past, nevertheless, much of the negative rhetoric that is written and believed about Jews is familiar. In the Islamic countries, where historically Jews were considered as dhimmis or inferior to Muslims, there was never the intense hatred that existed in Christian Europe. Foxman’s description of the evolution of anti-Semitism in the Muslim world reveals that many of the contemporary stereotypes about Jews and Israel are imports from the West, ranging from the medieval canard of child ritual murder to, most significantly, the widely held acceptance of the fabrications in the forgery known as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

A staple belief of anti-Semites, the Protocols purports to reveal the existenceof a Jewish conspiracy to rule the world. The Protocols first appeared in czarist Russia during the reign of Nicholas II to divert attention away from reform by blaming Jews for the revolutionary ferment that ultimately led to the collapse of the monarchy. The collection of essays that make up the Protocols were inspired by a novel written about Napoleon II in the mid-19th century but subsequently rewritten by a Russian monk, who claimed that the work was an eyewitness account of a meeting of Jewish elders plotting strategies that would lead to the Jewish conquest of Christian Europe. The Protocols later found its way to the United States, where Henry Ford published it in his Dearborn Independent. Hitler believed the Protocols explained the “Jewish-Bolshevik” revolution in Russia, and it became mandatory reading among Nazi officials in the Third Reich.Despite having been proved in a court of law to be a forgery, the Protocols continues to be distributed by anti-Semites, who continue to assert that Jews influence all aspects of American life. Our own native-born terrorists, such as Timothy McVeigh’s Aryan Nations and Matthew Hale’s World Church of the Creator, promote the belief that the power of the Jews emanates from their control of the entertainment industry, the news media, and the international banking system, a strategy that is discussed in the Protocols. Native-born American anti-Semites, in fact, refer to the United States government as ZOG, an acronym for Zionist Occupation Government.

The Protocols have also become ubiquitous throughout the Middle East as anti-Semitism has become a weapon among Arabs in their conflict with Israel. The work is used to encourage Palestinians and other Muslims to engage in murderous attacks against Israelis and Jews. Foxman notes that some suicide bombers have been found with copies of the Protocols and “were obviously convinced they were conducting a struggle against a Jewish-world-embracing conspiracy that poses a direct threat to the Muslim nations.” Recently, Egyptian television produced a “documentary” on the Protocols. The 41-part series, Horseman Without a Horse, fostered the theme that Jews were engaged in secret machinations to take over the world, or that Jews already control the world, a view that is increasingly believed in the Arab world. The program was shown across the Middle East during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The Muslim world is filled with divisions, but regardless of its rivalries (Osama bin Laden versus the House of Saud, for example), the hatred of Israel is the single issue on which the most determined Islamic fundamentalist and the most dedicated secularist can find common ground. This explains why governments in the Muslim world continue to use anti-Semitism as a convenient and useful tool to deflect attention from their populations’ profound poverty and economic problems. The Protocols, note Taguieff, Foxman, and Schoenfeld, is one of the many weapons in the Muslim arsenal of propaganda used against Israelis and Jews.

A staple of Nazi propaganda, the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion has been resurrected in Europe as well as in the Muslim world. As Taguieff notes, Jews in Europe are charged by their enemies with a will to dominate global economies (George Soros as an elder of Zion) or a plot to control the world. Thus the world of Nazi fantasy in regard to Jews is reborn more than fifty years after the death camps but, as Taguieff notes, with the difference that the “new anti-Semitism” now translates into “the Zionists are guilty, or Israel is guilty.” The result is a resurgence of worldwide anti-Semitism, bent on the elimination of the Jewish state and the perpetration of violence against world Jewry. A resultant casualty of the new anti-Semitism is that it has blurred the distinction between those with a legitimate criticism of Israeli policy and those who seek its destruction.

Because of modern communication systems such as the Internet, the Protocols is widely disseminated throughout the Muslim world and has reached audiences larger than at any time in its sordid history. Through the distribution of the Protocols, Muslim leaders encourage a delusional conspiratorial view of the world which fosters hatred of Jews and Israel. Accordingly, the new “Elders of Zion”—Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and Elliott Abrams—are identified as the actual formulators of Bush foreign policy, which serves not only Israel’s interests but also those of the worldwide Jewish conspiracy. The renewed prominence of the Protocols exemplifies the increasing threat of the “new” anti-Semitism, which will remain a threat in the foreseeable future, regardless of the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.


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