New 'anti-Semitism' seeks to stamp out criticism of Israel

New 'anti-Semitism' seeks to stamp out criticism of Israel
5 min read
03 Mar, 2015
Comment: Conflating the anti-Semitic with the anti-Israeli leaves anti-Zionists open to accusations of racism and Jews open to attack. Israel has deliberately muddied those waters.
Muslims form a circle around a synagogue in Oslo after the recent Copenhagen shootings (AFP)
The killings these past weeks of four Jewish shoppers at a supermarket in Paris, followed by another murder of a guard outside a synagogue in Copenhagen were tragic and to be condemned utterly.

These incidents were also seized upon almost immediately by the anti-Semitism lobby that exists to defend Israel in Europe and the US - what Norman Finkelstein has described as an off-shoot of "the Holocaust industry", in his phrase, to deflect attention away from Israeli misconduct.
     The conflation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism has been widely accepted... as a result, Israel is uniquely immune to censure.

Indeed, no sooner had the attacks in Paris taken place than Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, was urging French Jews to emigrate to Israel, confirming his message by arranging for the four French victims of the supermarket attack to be buried in Jerusalem - reportedly after applying intense pressure on their families to agree.

The further killing at the synagogue in Copenhagen gave another boost to Netanyahu's campaign.

As a result of the labelling of these events as evidence of a resurgent European anti-Semitism, Jewish communities in European countries have been pushed into states of near-hysteria, and European leaders, faithful to Netanyahu's line, vowed to pull out all the stops to guard and protect their Jewish citizens.

But Netanyahu's call for a mass Jewish emigration to Israel was a deliberate distortion of the reality. While some emigration of Jews to Israel has taken place ever since the founding of the Jewish state, and especially Jews from France - whose numbers escalated particularly during 2014 - the truth is that the Jews of Europe have never been as secure or as free from serious bigotry in all their history.

Today, they are regarded as an indivisible part of the countries they live in, no truly organised public anti-Semitic movement or group exists in Europe, and the murders in Paris and Copenhagen were the work of individuals not organisations.


The real issue here is not the traditional Jew-hatred of previous centuries - although that still exists to a certain extent - but rather the "new" anti-Semitism, defined as anti-Zionism or hostility to Israel, and invented to shield it from censure.

Thus, the classic anti-Semitism of old has been updated today to mean Israel-hatred, that is, criticism of Israel's policies or conduct towards the Palestinians.

It is this Israel-hatred that chiefly motivates the attacks on Jewish targets in Europe and elsewhere, and indeed an examination of the pattern of these attacks shows them to closely parallel events in Israel-Palestine.

There was an explosion of anti-Jewish incidents just after the start of the second intifada in 2000, and again during the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2008-9, and even more so after the war on Gaza in the summer of 2014. The majority of these acts were perpetrated by angry Muslims, decrying Israel's multiple aggressions against the Palestinians.

This response has stoked the fire of those alleging the existence of a new anti-Semitism that deliberately conflates anti-Jewishness with anti-Israelness.

During last summer's war on Gaza, a new group calling itself the Campaign Against anti-Semitism (CAA) was set up in Britain in order to whitewash Israeli crimes in Gaza by accusing Israel's critics of anti-Semitism. Robert Wistrich, who heads the Anti-Semitism Centre at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, categorises as anti-Semitic any call to dismantle the Israeli state, any reference to the power of Jewish lobbies anywhere, and any designation of Israeli behaviour as racist.

The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns against Israel would also fall under the same heading.

This conflation of two different concepts was affirmed in 2005 in the EU Agency for Fundamental Right's categorisation of anti-Semitism as including any allegation that Jews could be more loyal to Israel than to their home countries, or denying Jews the right to self-determination in a state of their own, or calling Israel a racist endeavour.

Long before that, Martin Luther King is reported to have once told an anti-Zionist critic: "When people criticise Zionists, they mean Jews. You're talking anti-Semitism." Tel Aviv University's Centre for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry is in no doubt that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism, claiming that many anti-Semites who call themselves anti-Zionists use traditional anti-Semitic tropes.

Conflation widely accepted

What all this amounts to is that in today's world the conflation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism has been widely accepted, especially in the US, and, as a result, Israel is uniquely immune to censure over its appalling human rights record against the Palestinians.

As this idea takes hold, it will become ever harder to criticise Israeli policies and conduct without provoking accusations of anti-Semitism.

But do the adherents of the "new anti-Semitism" have a point? After all, Israel sees itself as the state of the Jews wherever they are and purports to speak on their behalf. Its nationality laws categorise its Jewish citizens as Jews, not Israelis. It is a fact that a majority of Jews believe in Zionism, indeed, for many, it is a part of their very identity, one reason why they defend Israel so strenuously and work so enthusiastically on its behalf.

Is it any wonder then that for most non-Jews, the distinction between a Jew and a Zionist is also blurred, and asking non-Jews to respect such a distinction when Israel itself conflates the two is unrealistic and unreasonable?

It is not for the non-Jewish world to sort out these ambiguities. Jews themselves have to tell us who they are, how they relate to Israel, and the limits of their tolerance to Israel's illegal policies.

Without that, the confusion and the potential for discord between Jews and non-Jews will continue to exist.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.