by Dina Porat
On July 2005, the media reported the brutal assault on two Yeshiva students in Kiev, perpetrated by a dozen skinheads. On the same day the newly elected pope, Benedictus XVI, gave a sermon in Cologne where, addressing an exceptionally large audience, he denounced the recent increase in anti-Semitism. Together, the two sides of this coin demonstrate today’s dual and parallel processes — anti-Semitism and the response it evokes: the intensification of the various anti-Semitic expressions and the growing readiness of both Jewish and non-Jewish bodies to confront it.
Anti-Semitism has always been a product of problems and anxieties in given societies and periods of time. Yet with globalization, anti-Semitism has become increasingly connected not only to national or local societies but to the international arena as well.
Taking into consideration the claim that there is indeed a new anti-Semitism, starting as of late 2000, originating in circles and regions different from before, aiming at different targets, and using other verbal and visual tactics, the question to be asked is whether the image of the Jew has changed as well and, if it did, in what way? Second, are the current events in the Middle East the source of this new anti-Semitism, or are they the match that sets the fire but the woods lay elsewhere? Let us examine the relationship between Middle Eastern events and the anti-Semitism manifested in other regions of the world.
The New Anti-Semitism
The recent wave of anti-Semitic expressions that started in the late 1990s and intensified with the beginning of the second intifada was soon labeled the “New Anti-Semitism.” It indeed has a number of new features: the main target has shifted from the desecration of cemeteries to the use of arson against synagogues, and to physical attacks against persons. This last development is both insulting and worrying, because most individuals who perpetrate it act sporadically and on the spur of the moment. Such channels of activity make it more difficult for the victims and the policemen to identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice.
The origin of violence has changed as well: the 1970s and 1980s witnessed activities of European extreme left and right, while the late 1990s brought about violence carried out mostly by young Muslims, either immigrants or second generation of newcomers to Europe. The extreme right is still active, though in a different format, more loosely organized in “leaderless cells.” Thus like the young Muslims, they are harder to follow and catch. Another disturbing development is the growth in contacts between radical Muslim circles and the extreme right regarding anti-Semitism, though ideologically and ethnically they are in sharp dispute — the far right opposes open door immigration policies and dreams about a homogeneous white Christian society. Verbal, visual and digital expressions of anti-Semitism and stereotypes originate in local societies, academic circles, media, administration, and public opinion . Yet Muslim violence and local expressions cannot be dealt with separately. They feed on each other, since verbal expressions, especially those coming from or financed by Arab and Muslim countries, create a permissive atmosphere in which violence thrives and goes mostly unidentified and unpunished. Violence escalates the norms of hostility that the public accepts and grows accustomed to.
The geographic and political focus has shifted as well. The Soviet Union, that orchestrated, with the support of Arab and Third World countries, the UN attack on Zionism as if it equals racism, has collapsed. The initiative for anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist activities is no longer part of governments’ agenda. It comes from the field, or various fields, rather than from above. Black Africa and the Far East embrace mentalities, tribal and ethnic traditions and agendas in which anti-Semitism plays no role. In Latin America few cases of violence have occurred, the most notable ones being the two explosions in the Israeli Embassy and the Jewish community buildings in Buenos Aires. East European and former Soviet Union countries have their own reasons for a low level of anti-Semitic activity: their poor economy does not attract immigrants, either Muslims or others; their ticket for a much-desired entry into the EU or NATO and other international and, especially, European organizations, is the proper keeping of a high level of human rights. “We are part of Europe,” declared the young new Ukrainian president. Many in these Eastern European administrations are convinced — a deeply rooted anti-Semitic perception in itself — that the road to the wealthy pockets of Uncle Sam passes through alleged Jewish influence in the U.S.A. Unlike Western Europe, they are not undergoing a phase of post-colonialism or post-nationalism. Recently, after decades of Soviet indoctrination, they have discovered the Holocaust and their active part in it; and, finally, after decades of long and brutal deprivation of human rights they are not easily impressed with similar accusations against Israel and its Jewish supporters. Still there is now increasing violence and virulent propaganda against Jews in Russia and the Ukraine. And it remains to be seen if and when the level of anti-Semitism will change in the ten countries newly accepted into the EU.
The centers of today’s anti-Semitic expressions are Western Europe and North America, most notably France, Belgium, the UK and Canada, followed to a lesser degree by Germany and the U.S. Here the shift is fully demonstrated — Western democracies rather than totalitarian or despotic regimes are producing anti-Semitism. This is a painful development, since democracies and their values have always been a beacon for Jews and for Zionism. The belief that these values are indeed equally applied to everyone was the basis for the hope Jews nourished to become a people accepted in the family of mankind, either as communities or as individuals, and a nation or a state equal to many other nations and states. Moreover, today it is mainly the European left, and not only the radical left, that fosters hostile attitudes towards Israel, often expressed in anti-Semitic and discriminatory terms. The Labor and leftist side of the Israeli and Jewish map find this development very hard to swallow, after a long history of Jewish initiative and innovation in leftist movements since the 19th century, and given the self-image of Israel as a socialist state in its first decades and a welfare state later.
This brings us to one more major characteristic of the “New Anti-Semitism.” For the first time in the long history of anti-Semitism which was born and fostered in Christian Europe, there is another major player in the arena — Middle Eastern Arab Islam. Radical Muslim propaganda deliberately blurs the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. The purpose behind this tactic is clear: the Arab world wages a war against the State of Israel. It uses old and even primitive motifs that European society is familiar with — Protocols of the Elders of Zion, blood libel, etc — not against the Jews as individuals or communities but against the state. The result is also clear: the state in its entirety is portrayed as a Jewish state in a negative meaning, as a group bearing the characteristics allegedly portraying the Jewish people: cruelty, lust for blood and murder, treachery and greed, exploitation of manpower and resources, all in the service of the vile intention to dominate the world. The true nature of the relations between Israel and the Jewish communities abroad is completely twisted, and every form of anti-Semitism can be thus disguised as anti-Zionism. The very existence of a Jewish people is denied, and Zionism is accused of having invented it, much as other national movements invented their national identity, especially in the 19th century. Thus the clear alleged conclusion: such a state has no right to exist; moreover it is a constant danger to peace and stability in the world. Israel among the nations has become the Jew among people.
Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism
In the wake of this blurring of the picture, how can one know that anti-Zionism has crossed the lines and become anti-Semitism? First, let us distinguish between genuine criticism that refers to a given policy at a certain time and place and anti-Zionism. Then, let us first bear in mind that anti-Zionism, to the extent that it is directed against the very existence of Zionism as a national movement or against the existence of a state based on the Zionist idea or a Jewish people most of which supports it, is in any case discrimination against the Jewish people and an attempt to deny it the elementary right granted to every tiny island in the Pacific Ocean. And then let us turn to the following categories: anti-Zionism becomes anti-Semitism when the known classic anti-Semitic stereotypes keep being repeated and used in the vocabulary and the portrayal of images; when the hideous unforgivable comparison to the Nazi regime is brought up; when the Holocaust is distorted and turned into a political weapon, claiming it is used to blackmail economic or financial support, or denied and declared an invention of the wild cruel Jewish imagination; when the very right of the Jews to have a state is being undermined, and sometimes, though to a lesser extent, even their very existence as individuals or as a group; when criticism of Israel, and what is called its Jewish supporters is out of proportion to reality or to criticism of other nations. This singling out reaches the absurd when Libya, Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, for instance, complain about the violation of human rights, though it should be remembered that Israel, as a democracy, is judged according to higher standards; when the alleged character traits of the people are being projected on the state; and, finally, when the Jewish people and state are depicted as a cosmic source of all evil, from the fall of the Twin Towers to the death of Princess Diana, from the spreading of HIV to even the Tsunami - evil incarnate.
Not only Jewish or Israeli researchers and intellectuals bring up these criteria. The Webster’s Third New International dictionary of 1966, defines anti-Semitism as hostility toward Jews and as “opposition to Zionism: sympathy with opponents of the state of Israel.” A year later, Martin Luther King Jr. declared: “when people criticize Zionism, they mean Jews — this is God’s own truth.” And more recently, the report on European anti-Semitism published by Prof. Wolfgang Benz of the Berliner Technische Universitat and his team in 2003 stated most of the aforementioned parameters; a year later Romano Prodi, president of the EU commission, denounced “criticism against Israel, inspired by what seems to be anti-Semitic feelings and prejudices. President Bush’s special envoy for anti-Semitism and Holocaust issues reached the same conclusions and published them on the last day of 2004; and during the 60-year commemorations, standing in the snow of Auschwitz, Prof. Wladislaw Bartoszewski, former inmate of the camp and former Polish minister of foreign affairs, spoke about the cynical hiding of anti-Semitism behind anti-Zionism.
Summing up the answers to our first question regarding “New Anti-Semitism,” today anti-Semitism is indeed expressed in new forms, arenas and tactics, but it is using the same old and primitive motifs; and despite the exacerbation of the image of the Jew, its intensified condemnation and denunciation and the political use made of it, the image has remained basically the same.
The Role of the Middle East
The second question concerns the role of the Middle East in the increase of anti-Semitism. There is little doubt that the waves of violence against Jews are closely connected to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the media bringing into every living room the picture of Israeli tanks confronting Palestinian youngsters further establishes the cruel image of an Israeli Jew. Taking a deeper look at the international political, social and economic scenes, one indeed realizes how they serve as a background for the anti-Semitic waves. They become fertile background when atmosphere correlates with Muslim interests, and administrations adopt policies that take into consideration oil resources and money, Muslim electoral capacity and UN voting.
The socioeconomic dimension is combined with the political one: European anti-Semitic motivation feeds on strong anti-American feelings, increased by the disintegration of the Eastern bloc which made the U.S. the strongest power in the world, allegedly disregarding Europe, “the Old World” as a factor in world politics. The U.S. is also the engine behind the globalization of world economy, a process that created privatization and unemployment that has impoverished so many in the poor southern hemisphere and enriched the northern industrial rich countries. Globalization, that brought about the waves of immigrants flooding these countries, has created the most acute of today’s problems, especially in Europe: the aging industrial countries need the cheap, unskilled working hands, but then they face multitudes that need healthcare, education, and civil rights that threaten the original cultures and traditions. The newcomers sharpen the inner disputes between the local parties regarding the duties of democracies, and strengthen the extremists on the right as well as on the left.
Anti-American feelings and anti-globalization movements serve as a meeting point with radical Islam that depicts the U.S. as the “Big Satan,” the embodiment of the modern, cosmopolitan, industrial West, which runs counter to Islamic views. Israel, as a modern democratic state, is the “Small Satan,” the Trojan horse that carries the West into the heart of the Muslim world. European leftists and radical Muslims connect the American domination with Jewish wealth, and the globalization with giant corporations, international money and Jewish magnates who ostensibly control the stock exchanges and the world markets. The Arab countries, mostly underdeveloped and destitute, looking for factors to blame for their situation, are the source of millions of immigrants — 20 million Muslim immigrants in Western and Central Europe by the end of 2004. The questions of the rights, status and wages of the immigrants serve as a focal point of activity for hundreds of organizations, mostly non-governmental organizations (NGOs), involved in human-rights activity.
Let us try to portray one such activist: he or she is a staunch liberal, a pacifist, loathes every use of power, even if used for self-defense, as at least fascist, automatically justifies the underdog, struggles against economic exploitation, definitely an anti-racist; s/he remembers with great pain and regrets the sins of European countries as colonialist powers; s/he dreams about a non-national world, about a united Europe devoid of the evils of nationalism. Thus, in today’s atmosphere, s/he turns against Israel, depicting it as a last colonial outpost and as an unnecessary fulfillment of national desires, and against Jews at the forefront of American power. He or she has more guilt feelings towards the millions of Muslims who have not integrated into the host societies than towards Jews in the wake of the Holocaust. He or she cannot express anxieties regarding growing Muslim influence or presence lest s/he be labeled a politically non-correct racist, and fosters a one-sided picture, in which s/he is bound to be only on the Arab-Palestinian side.
One more meeting point is the use of the memory of the Holocaust: the comparison of Israel to the Nazi regime is convenient to both Europeans and Palestinians. It minimizes the dimensions of the Holocaust, for it is clear even to those who make it that nothing of the kind is taking place, with gas chambers and mass annihilation. The comparison creates a kind of balance of account closing, between European countries which collaborated with the Nazis and the Jewish people. It can negate the right of the Jewish people to restore lost properties looted in the Holocaust, because Israel and its Jewish supporters have allegedly sinned as well. And, most importantly, it serves to reject Israel’s legitimacy, for the Nazi regime had no right to exist, and neither does Israel.
Some Cautious Optimism
This brings us back to our starting point: anti-Semitism is on the rise and there are new responses to it. Those who carry out anti-Semitic activities and those who respond are different groups within the same countries, and the impact of recent responses of governments and organizations to the level of anti-Semitism is not yet felt. Let us entertain just a small amount of cautious optimism. Just as anti-Semitism is nourished by an array of international developments and interests, so is the reaction against it.