It's Israel's Behavior That Produces the "New Anti-Semitism"

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netanyahu wolf blitzer

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu sits down for an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer. Credit: Creative Commons/IsraelinUSA

It has now become a full fledged campaign: stifling criticism of Israel by warning of a new wave of anti-Semitism that is seizing the planet. The latest entry comes from French philosopher, and life-long Israel defender, Bernard-Henry Levy in (naturally) the New Republic who screams that anti-semitism in 2014 is a “ticking time bomb” that, if not countered, will inevitably lead to Binyamin Netanyahu’s vision: the return of 1942.
Like all opinion pieces of this genre, Levy’s case is built on the idea that there is no causal relation between Israel’s actions and the outbursts against Jews that he describes.
In its essence, the argument goes like this: Anti-Semitism is not caused by anything. It is innate, a poison that lives in the hearts and minds of evil people, needing only a pretext for it to explode. Israel’s actions can’t cause anti-Semitism. They can only be a pretext for it.
A subset of that same argument is that extreme animosity to the State of Israel is itself sometimes a manifestation of anti-Semitism which is, no doubt, sometimes true.
But so what?
Let’s assume that a certain percentage of the population is always going to be anti-Semitic. In good times and bad, a small percentage of people will hate Jews and will use Israel’s actions as a pretext for their hate.
But what about the rest, who start thinking ill of Jews because of actions taken by Israel? Like its war against Gaza.
This manner of thinking is not right and it is threatening. But at the same time it is not surprising when it is diaspora Jewish communities themselves who are always expressing their “solidarity” with Israel and its actions.
Think about it. During the recent war, even J Street sponsored solidarity rallies with Israel, eager to demonstrate that, as much as AIPAC, it stood as one with Israel (while Israel was leveling Gaza).
In my own community of Greater Washington, D.C., almost every synagogue is adorned with a big permanent sign that features an Israeli flag and the words: “We Stand With Israel In Its Struggle For Peace and Security.” No mosques in this area proclaim their one-ness with Palestine, understanding as the synagogues choose not to that houses of worship are for prayer not politics and also understanding, and as the synagogues do not, that such proclamations could endanger their own congregants. If a mosque in this area did announce its solidarity with Palestine on a sign out front, the Jewish organizations here would go ballistic and the sign would not last a week.
Over and over again Jewish organizations insist that those of Jewish faith “stand as one” with the State of Israel. In fact, those who question that bond are themselves criticized as “anti-Israel,” “self-hating Jews,” or worse.
Is it then any wonder that those who don’t quite grasp the nuances of Jewish identity react negatively when Israel behaves terribly. This does not excuse repulsive and violent instances of anti-Semitism which, like hate crimes against any group, must be condemned and, where possible, prosecuted.
But it’s a lie to say that Israel’s behavior does not affect attitudes toward both Israelis and Jews.
Today Binyamin Netanyahu is perhaps the most reviled leader of any country in the world and Israel, as a country, isn’t doing much better. Jews in diaspora are themselves feeling the ugliness growing.
If, however, none of this had anything to do with Israel’s behavior, the level of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel feelings would be constant, unaffected by the horrors in Gaza. To accept the logic of the various Jewish organizations (like the ADL) requires believing that the hate is always out there, unattached to anything except the anti-Semite’s psychosis.
If that was true, then why was it that apparently both anti-Semitism and anti-Israel fervor dropped dramatically during the period that Yitzhak Rabin was prime minister of Israel and was pursuing peace with the Palestinians.
Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin meeting with PLO chairman Yasser Arafat. Credit: Creative Commons/Government Press Office

The “world” may hate Netanyahu but it revered Rabin. Poll after poll showed that he was admired throughout the world, approaching levels achieved by Nelson Mandela. When he was murdered more foreign leaders (including Muslim and Arab leaders) gathered in Israel for his funeral than had gathered for any such event since President Kennedy’s funeral in 1963. And Jews benefited from the high regard in which Rabin was held.
Perhaps Rabin’s pursuit of peace should not have affected attitudes toward Jews at large, but they did. By the same logic (the imperfect logic of human beings), Netanyahu’s war on Gaza affects attitudes toward Jews at large. You can’t keep saying “we are one” and expect anything else.
It also must be noted that the “new anti-Semitism” that Levy and the rest harp on emanates largely from Muslim youth, primarily Middle Eastern immigrants living in Europe. It would be one thing if it emanated from the traditional sources of Jew-hatred on that continent (and especially France) which was the church and the right. But it doesn’t. It comes from among those who care nothing about who crucified Jesus or who practices usury but from those who are outraged and heartbroken by seeing their fellow Arabs slaughtered in Gaza. This does not excuse their behavior or make it less threatening but it does point to its source: Israel’s war against the Palestinians.
It is not surprising that Israel’s defenders pretend not to understand this. After all, if they admitted it, they would be conceding that Zionism has failed in its primary goal. Rather than deterring anti-Semitism, it is producing it.
In fact, it is not Zionism that is the anti-Semitism factory. It is its rightist aberration represented by Netanyahu, the settler movement, and the religious nationalists. If, by some miracle, another Rabin comes on the scene who dismantles the occupation, the “new anti-Semitism” will be relegated to the dustbin of history along with the old.
Sadly, that is unlikely. And that means that the new anti-Semitism” may be here to stay, a product not only of bigoted minds but, even more, of the “new Israel” of Netanyahu and his “We are One” defenders in the diaspora.