The demonization of Israel and Anti-Semitism

Paper presented to Global Conference on Anti-Semitism – Jerusalem, January 28, 2004.

In a letter to an anti-Zionist, published in the Saturday Review, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate wrote:

… You declare, my friend, that you do not hate the Jews; you are merely ‘anti-Zionist.’ And I say: When people criticize Zionism, they mean Jews — this is God’s own truth. . So know also this: anti-Zionist is inherently antisemitic, and ever will be so.”

“The times have made it unpopular, in the West, to proclaim openly a hatred of the Jews. This being the case, the antisemite must constantly seek new forms and forums for his poison. How he must revel in the new masquerade! He does not hate the Jews; he is just ‘anti-Zionist’! Let my words echo in the depths of your soul: When people criticize Zionism, they mean Jews–make no mistake about it.

That was 1967 and the writer was the great African-American champion of civil rights Martin Luther King. Now, nearly four decades later, King’s remarks sound prophetic and the Jewish people again find themselves facing a massive orchestrated global campaign in which anti-Semitism is cloaked as anti-Zionism, or disguised as defense of human rights, but no longer confined to the fringes of the political spectrum as it was then.

On the contrary, six decades after the furnaces at Auschwitz went cold, and when some Jews had even begun to believe that anti-Semites had become an extinct species, Jews have once again become objects of disdain and contempt — and their right to live in their own country is being challenged. Today, the anti Jewish campaign is no longer concentrated among the fringes of the radical right or left, but in the pages of the London Times and the New York Review of Books and the campuses in Oxford, Brussels and Berkley. Who would have believed even four years ago that we would witness a revival of the era of charred synagogues and Jewish schools and that the calls of the 1930s of “Jews to Palestine” would be transformed to “Jews out of Palestine“?

In a sense this new Judeophobia without avowed anti-Semites, is even more pernicious than the blatant variants in which those who hated Jews made little secret of it.

Of course let us be clear that a critique of Israel does not necessarily amount to anti-Semitism and that we must be judicious in our use of the term. But ultimately the persistent and perverse application of double-standards – holding Israel to a code of morality to which no other civilized or uncivilized country is bound — suggests the presence of prejudice and an anti-Jewish agenda.

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman was more explicit:

Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction out of proportion to any other party in the Middle East is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest.”

What is one to make of the moral relativism of the critics of Israel who do not raise their voices to object to Syria’s occupation of Lebanon, to China’s control of Tibet, to Russia’s suzerainty over Chechnya? How is it that none of the self-righteous moralists who excoriate Israel relate to the two million Sudanese black Christians murdered by northern Muslim ruling groups who continue to sanction chattel slavery?

Of course examples such as the wild charges of the international media that determined that Israel had perpetrated a massacre in Jenin despite the absence of any evidence, go far beyond that.

Janine di Giovanni, the London Times reporter, wrote on April 16 2002: “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.” Ms. di Giovanni was an eyewitness to strife to some 100,000 deaths in Chechnya when an entire city was razed to the ground… but Jenin was worse. Although as many as 250,000 people were killed in the Bosnian war, that didn’t hold a candle to what the Zionists did in Jenin. Thousands died in the civil wars of Sierra Leone, but there was more disrespect for human life in Jenin.

Yet Kofi Annan’s documented record of the death toll in Jenin was fewer than 23 Israelis and 52 Palestinians, nearly all combatants. Would it be an exaggeration to speak of such scurrilous bias which even typified the enlightened world media, as reminiscent of a blood libel, even though “only” Israelis were demonized and not Jews?

The bias of the UN is indisputable. The General Assembly constantly condemns Israel for every act of self-defense, and fails to expressly condemn the states and organizations hosting the terrorists. For example in 1994 the UN peacekeeping forces were recalled from Rwanda which resulted in the massacre of over a million Tutsis. A year later in Yugoslavia the Dutch UN battalion handed over 8000 Moslem civilians to the Serbs who promptly murdered them all. However other than sanctimonious statements expressing regret, it was only this week on January 26th 2004, a decade later, at the Stockholm International Forum on Genocide, that Kofi Annan condemned what had taken place. But he also conceded that “a new Rwanda or a new Srebranica” could easily happen again. Yet this man, heading a body which even today refuses to condemn anti-Semitism by name and still spends more time condemning Israel than any other issue on the global agenda, frequently heads the pack in castigating Israel for its defensive responses to terror. What is that if not double standards?

How is one to assess the behavior of Javier Solana, the European Representative to the Middle East? In his previous post as NATO secretary-general, during the 78-day aerial bombardment of Yugoslavia, he personally endorsed the use of cluster bombs on densely populated suburbs in which hundreds of innocent civilians were killed. He even approved a botched effort to assassinate Slobodan Milosevic by bombing the bunker in which he was located in a residential area. Yet now Solana, who would be appalled if he were accused of any form of racial or ethnic prejudice, has the gall to repeatedly condemn us for targeted assassinations of those who are directly engaged in attempts to blow up our children in busses and shopping malls.

There are those who suggest that we are too quick to draw the accusatory finger. Yet it is indisputable that the proliferation of Nazi Jew baiting imagery in Europe is anti-Semitic. In fact it is probably best seen as European society’s attempt to cope with an uneasy conscience over the Holocaust combined with an appalling record of un-redressed colonial misdeeds in what is today called the Third World.

Are we crying “wolf” when we insist that it is anti-Semitic when Israeli scholars are subjected to academic boycotts only because of their nationality – something unheard of for academics from any other country?

Whether by journalists, politicians, glitterati or UN officials, using the collective home of the Jews, “that shitty little country” in French diplomatic parlance, the anti Israeli outbursts clearly amount to exploiting Israel as a surrogate for defamation against individual Jews. When the Prime Minister of Israel is demonized in a prize-winning cartoon as an ogre devouring a Palestinian child it is hardly surprising that the popular view in Europe is that Israel represents the most dangerous threat to world peace. Surely the recurrent portrayal of Israel as a revived Nazi state, as evil incarnate, can only be described as a manifestation of classic anti-Semitism as distinct from mere criticism of Israeli policies.

We ourselves frequently failed to resist these trends when they initially surfaced because we were obsessed to sanitize the hatred and evil that permeated Palestinian Arab society during the post-Oslo era. Instead of confronting despicable realities many government spokespersons, were instructed to ignore the incitement against Jews in misguided efforts to promote Arafat as peace partner.
We were also loath to condemn the unremitting barrage of anti-Semitic propaganda from the government-controlled media in neighboring Arab countries, including those that signed peace agreements with us. Today we reap the bitter harvest of that misguided policy.

Of course our position is complicated further by the fact that Jews, including Israelis, are now frequently heading the anti Israeli pack, and provide an alibi to anti-Semites to operate under the cloak of criticism of Israel. They are highly reminiscent of the Jewish communists who enthusiastically cheered when Stalin was executing Jews on trumped up charges.

No serious person would challenge the indisputable right to promote dissent in Israel; but when a prominent Israeli, a former Speaker of the Knesset, writes in the foreign press that Zionism rests on “a scaffolding of corruption and on a foundation of oppression and injustice” or that Jerusalem’s Jewish children are being educated to aspire to kill old people, women and children or when he rationalizes the targeted suicide bombings of Jewish children as the result of “the infrastructure of injustice and moral corruption. They spill their blood in our restaurants because they have children and parents at home who are angry and humiliated,” it is hard not to call that Jewish self-hate.

Not surprisingly the enemies of Israel gleefully highlight “Jewish” sources defaming Israel in order to deflect accusations that they are promoting anti-Semitism.

Of course there are also Jews like George Soros who believe that Israel is to blame for the current anti-Jewish climate implying that if only Israel disappeared the Jews would no longer be blamed and anti-Semitism would simply disappear.

On a parallel level, some Diaspora Jews call for separating the battle against anti-Semitism from defense of Israel. They fail to recognize that much of the sophisticated campaign to delegitimize and demonize Israel, is simply utilizing Israel as a surrogate for the individual Jew, and if a rift were to be created between Israeli and Diaspora Jews that would represent a major victory for the enemies of the Jewish people.

The time has come for us to take the initiative and unmask the double- standards of those attacking us. Whilst assiduously avoiding characterizing legitimate criticism of Israeli policies as anti-Semitic, we must shame the nations who persistently defame us, whilst they tolerate bigotry and appease murderers and terrorists. It is incumbent on us to expose those who, in the words of Martin Luther King, promote anti Semitism under the cloak of anti-Zionism. That is why the campaign we are launching to reinstate the Irish UN resolution condemning anti-Semitism which was withdrawn because of Arab pressure, could become the first step in reversing the tide.