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Anti-Semitism, Anti-Zionism, Criticism of Israel: A perplexing guide


Today (Tuesday) has been set aside in Europe for comemorating the Holocaust and discussing anti-Semitism. It is a fitting opportunity to consider the phenomenon of anti-Semitism and the recent controversy it has generated.

Thre have been numerous discussions of the "new anti-Semitism" and its relation to anti-Zionism. The discussions are usually self-serving. They attempt to define anti-Semitism so as to serve whatever point of view the authors may have, and arrive at their predetermined conclusions.

Political ends have colored rational discussion to the point that they obfuscate even the most obvious facts. One side insists that virtually any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, while the other side tries to label blatant racism as legitimate criticism. Critics of Israeli policy insist likewise that the increase in anti-Semitic incidents is due to Israeli policy, and that if Israel changes its policy, all will be well.

For example, Akiva Eldar wrote in Ha'aretz,

It is much easier to claim the entire world is against us than to admit that the State of Israel, which rose as a refuge and source of pride for Jews, has not only turned into a place less Jewish and less safe for its citizens, but has become a genuine source of danger and a source of shameful embarrassment to Jews who choose to live outside its borders. Arguing it takes an anti-Semite to call the Israeli government's policies of 2003 a danger to world peace is a contemptible cheapening of the term anti-Semitism.

The above was quoted and excerpted widely by Arab world newspapers and anti-Zionist analysts. Less quoted, from the same article, is the following:

European anti-Semitism was born long before the State of Israel, let alone before neoconservative Jews rose to power in Washington. Many Israel haters don't need pictures of Jewish pilots bombing Muslim homes to nurture their hatred of Jews.

Anti-Semitism was born before there was a State of Israel or Zionism. It is hatred of Jews, which has taken various forms in history. More than one author has claimed that the current wave of anti-Semitism is "new" - different from the old anti-Semitism because it is centered around criticism of Israel.

Several apologists such as Brian Klug in the Nation, insist that anti-Semitism is not anti-Zionism and that criticism of Israeli policy, including anti-Zionism are OK. Klug also insists that there is nothing "new" in the recent wave of anti-Semitism.

People who insist that any criticism of Israeli policy is anti-Semitism have trivialized the meaning of anti-Semitism, as Klug and others point out. They risk being ignored for crying "wolf" when there is no wolf, and making the world ignore a real danger. On the other hand, people who defend just about any criticism that uses the word "Zionist" or "Israel" rather than "Jews" as "legitimate," make it difficult to criticize Israel without being labeled an anti-Semite or a self-hating Jew.

Anti-Zionism is opposition to the idea that the Jews have a right to a national movement. That is clearly distinct from the idea that current policies of a particular government are objectionable. It is also not the same as condemning all Jews because they are Jews, in theory. In practice, it may be difficult to disentangle the three.

What is Anti-Semitism?

Though the word "anti-Semtism" has existed only since 1879, prejudice against Jews and persecution of Jews have existed since before the advent of Christianity, and are evident in the satires of Juvenal and the writings of Tacitus. Frequent themes are alleged Jewish control of the world, Jewish affinity for money and blood libels against Jews, often believed by the most "respectable" people. The historian Edward Gibbon reported as true a long-lived tale claiming that the Jews of Cyprus had rioted about 117 AD, and as part of their revolt, had cannibalized their gentile neighbors.

The word "anti-Semitism" was invented by Wilhelm Marr a German journalist, who founded the anti-Semiten Liga (League of anti-Semites). Marr's platform was based on the idea that the Jews are an alien race with special powers, conspiring in secret against their host countries to subvert them in favor of the Jews. Marr was not a "reactionary," but rather a sometime sodeletedt and anarchist. The roots of Marr's movement were deep in European culture, and not limited to right-wing or religious circles. Marr was an atheist, but his platform echoed the classical European Christian demonization of the Jews.
Marr's philosophy helped to crystallize the rising tide of 19th century German anti-Semitism, evident also in the writings of Richard Wagner and others. By the early twentieth century, anti-Semitic stereotypes permeated European and American culture. They can be found in the novels of Scott Fitzgerald, Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. The stereotype of Jews who are uncouth, pushy, loud, interested in money and immoral was accepted as commonplaces of received wisdom by many.

A forged document, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, codified the notion that "the Jews" are controlled by a small group of "Elders" and that they are plotting to take over the world. The American industrialist Henry Ford published the protocols in the USA and asserted they were true. Later, he recanted, but the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are still accepted by many as genuine documents. They are published on the Web, along with Hitler's Mein Kampf. The protocols and Mein Kampf have been translated into many languages, and are quite popular in many countries, including all Arab countries.

From Europe, anti-Semitism was exported to much of the world, and may be found in the Americas, in Australia, and in the Middle East. By the early 1920s, Musa Khazem Al-Husseini, Mayor of Jerusalem, was explaining to Winston Churchill that Jews are trouble makers who are despised by their host countries, and that they were responsible for the Russian Revolution. The accusation that Jews slaughter Christian children in order to bake ritual holiday foods such as Matzoth (the classic "blood libel") has been a recurrent theme of Jewish persecution in Europe and in the Middle East, and has been recently repeated in Saudi newspapers. It is also the subject of a book by Mustafa Tlass, the former Syrian minister of defense.

European anti-Semitism reached its peak during the rule of the Nazis, and found its ultimate expression in the Holocaust, the systematic massacre of 6 million Jews, in many cases with the assistance of the inhabitants of conquered countries, and with the silent complicity of almost every government in the world, including that of the United States.

Following World War II there was a reaction of revulsion at the crimes of the Nazis. However, memories fade and times change. A new generation has arisen that can deny, trivialize or "forget" the Holocaust, and the racism that had remained in the cultural background reasserted itself to some extent. This has no doubt been confounded with the high-feelings generated by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and is sometimes difficult to separate. However, it is clear that there are aspects of "criticism" of "Israel" and Zionists that are anti-Semitic.

There is no doubt at all that a significant undercurrent of anti-Semitism pervades European culture, and very likely American and Middle Eastern culture as well. Certain commentators such as Brian Klug try to hide behind the fanciful notion that this racism has something to do with Israeli policy or Israeli actions, or as Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique said, "Please don't confuse anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of policies of the current Israeli government." I am not confused. What there is, in Spain perhaps more than in other European countries, is unadorned racism. Anyone who believes otherwise has not looked at the data.

To illustrate that there is an element of modern anti-Semitism that has nothing to do with Israel or Israeli policy, we should first examine samples of classical anti-Semitic views, still held today in modern Europe, 60 years after Auschwitz.

A poll in Italy found:

- 35% said Jews should stop "playing the victim" for the Holocaust

- 46% believe Jews are different

- 40.5% believe Jews have "a particular relationship with money"

The findings are not limited to Italy. In Great Britain, a poll found that 18% believe that the Holocaust is exaggerated. In Spain, a study in 2002 found that 57% believe that Jews dwell too much on the Holocaust, compared to a European average of 49%.

Similarly, an ADL study in several European countries found a substantial percentage of people who agreed with statements such as "Jews don¬īt care what happens to anyone but their own kind," "Jews are more willing to use shady practices to get what they want," "Jews have too much power in the business world" and "Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country." (see table appended to this article).

It is not easy to judge the true prevalence of beliefs, There is no evidence that these beliefs have become stronger in recent years. In fact, they seem to have decreased in the last decade. However, the expression of these beliefs, the willingness to voice them openly, not just in opinion polls but in the public marketplace of ideas, and the willingness to act on them, has increased.

Following are some examples of anti-Semitic expression recorded in the survey of anti-Ssemitism published by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia(copies available on request) . I have not included instances of real violence, which include beatings of rabbis, burning of Jewish centers and synagogues, because we are interested primarily in the ideological content of anti-Semitism.

Spanish Internet

.... Particular attention is to be given to the website of the "Nuevo Order" group that is networked per links with the entire far-right scene and whose label shows a similarity with the American militant far-right group "Stormfront." "Nuevo Order" combines anti-Semitism with anti-Americanism and mixes old with modern anti-Semitic stereotypes. The "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" can be downloaded here as well as at the linked site belonging to the "Fuerza Aria". The "Fuerza Aria", a group that spreads extreme rightist and National Sodeletedt thought, conducts campaigns via the Internet "Against the Jewish Power" and propagates a pro-Palestinian and pro-Iraqi stance.

Incidents in Greece

On 15 and 16 April 2002 the Holocaust Memorial in Thessaloniki was vandalised by person(s) unknown who sprayed red paint on the wreaths...On 18 April the Holocaust Memorial of Drama in northern Greece and the Jewish cemetery of Zavlani in Patras (southern Greece) were vandalised with Nazi and anti-Semitic graffiti slogans.

Threats in Italy

Renowned Jewish journalists have received threatening letters full of insults as well. Some of them received up to fifty such e-mails during the period monitored. Attacks against Jewish students by fellow pupils in schools, at playgrounds and during sports competitions, such as calling them names, including the use of the words "Jew", "dirty Jew" or "Rabbi" as insults, still persist, as does the hanging of anti-Semitic slogans and banners in stadiums.


The slander, "The Jews killed Christ," has been used as a slogan for anti-Jewish massacres and persecution for much of the history of Europe. Though it was denied by the Catholic church as early as the 16th century, it still lives in the relative obscurity of "passion plays" and vulgar anti-Semitism. The film "The Passion of Christ" revives the old slander in a mass-media passion play. Would this movie have been made twenty years ago, when the memory of the Holocaust was fresh? Does it have anything at all to do with Israel, or Israeli policy or Arabs or Muslims?

Anti-Semitism versus criticism of Israel

The above examples should be sufficient to show that the problem is not a matter of criticism of Israel only, and that there is a recrudescence of genuine anti-Semitism. Those who complain that every criticism of Israel is wrongly labelled anti-Semitism, need to understand that anti-Semitism, criticism of Israel and anti-Zionism have been confounded and comingled in a way that can best be described as "hypostatic." Hypostasis is the term the Catholic church uses to describe the inseparable comingling of the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ. Where does criticism of Israel end, and anti-Semitism begin?

The Iraq war, like World War II before it, has been blamed on the Jews, or "the Zionists" or the "neocons" not just by the Arabs, but by commentators of the radical right and the radical left. Polls showed that the proportion of Jews supporting the war was no different from the proportion of all Americans, and half of the ten Jewish senators opposed the war. Nonetheless, the idea that the war was instigated by the Jews became "respectable." It was so widespread that an otherwise enlightened politician, Jim Moran, said,

"if it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq we would not be doing this. ... The leaders of the Jewish community are influential enough that they could change the direction of where this is going and I think they should."

"Neo Conservative" (Neocon) was used by many analysts as a synonym for Jews, who were accused of instigating the war to aid Israel. At least one US analyst went so far as to accuse Jewish members of the Bush administration of being spies for the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence organization.

Perhaps, the ultimate "Neocon" article, which explained what it was really all about to those who did not understand, was written by Hussein Shobokshi in Arabic News, shortly after the conclusion of the Iraq war in April 2003. It was called, "Protocols of the Elders of Neocons." Like many such propaganda pieces, it relied on an entirely fictional demonization of Israel.

Protocols of the Elders of Neocons

Hussein Shobokshi
[Arab News, undated]

In this weekly telephone report Paul Wolfowitz expressed his anxiety to Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister about the situation in the Middle East.
"How are you doing?" asked Wolfowitz.

"OK, OK," answered Sharon, "but you must go to Syria."

Wolfowitz pondered, "this will be tougher to get the president's okay on."

Sharon could not help but scream, "He does not know Damascus from Des Moines, Iowa. Move it Paul. You can always tell him that this man of peace thinks it's kosher," concluded Sharon with a hysterical laugh.

The fictional conversation, once in print, becomes fact, and is quoted and believed widely.

When Muslims and right-wing Americans accuse "the Jews" or Israel of having perpetrated the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, it is not a criticism of Israeli policy, because Israel has no such policy. When Khalid Amayreh wrote in the Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram and elsewhere that the Jews control American Media, and are responsible for the spread of "Islamophobia" in the United States, it was not a criticism of Israeli policy, but an assertion combining several anti-Semitic axioms: the Jews are all-powerful, the Jews all support each other, the Jews are demonic. The ideas of people like Amayreh, a Hamas sympathizer, are designed to play on anti-Semitic prejudices and to gain supporters among those who have already been convinced of the demonic nature of the Jews.

When Mahathir Mohamed, President of Malaysia, asserted that the Jews control the world by proxy, he was expressing a classic anti-Semitic sentiment, which was accepted and applauded widely throughout the Muslim world, as well as by anti-Zionist pundits in the West.

When a rabbi or a religious Jew is beaten, for whatever reason, it is an act of anti-Semitism. It doesn't matter if it is accompanied by the accusation that the Jews killed Christ, or the equally false accusation that "the Jews" massacred 500 Palestinians in Jenin.

The USS Liberty was CIA spy ship that was attacked in obscure circumstances by Israel during the 1967 6-day war, apparently because of a case of mistaken identity. Israel paid compensation for the sinking, and investigations by the US government have cleared Israel of any guilt in the Liberty sinking. This is an event that happened 35 years ago. Survivors of the Liberty are understandably bitter and maintain a Web Site at which they claim that Israel deliberately sank the Liberty for any of a variety of reasons. A book was published offering numerous dubious reasons why Israel may have sunk the Liberty on purpose. Much of this material is valid speculation. However, the Liberty has become the cause celebre of every Nazi, antisemitic and racist Web site on the Web, as well as that of anti-Zionists.

Clearly there is a difference between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism, but in practice it sometimes hard to disentangle them. Yes, the anti-Semitism that is sweeping Europe today has a new element. The Palestine-Israel conflict and Israeli-Muslim issues have become inextricably mingled with anti-Semitism, so it is often hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. Anti-Semites use anti-Israel propaganda to bolster their demonization of Jews, and anti-Zionists often use anti-Semitic stereotypes as the basis for their anti-Israel theses. Anti-Zionism has become a vector for anti-Semitism, and anti-Semitism has become a medium for growing clearly invalid criticisms of Israel. These criticism are invalid because they accuse Israel of fictional and demonic actions and policies, such as carrying out attacks on the World Trade Center, spreading Hasish throughout the Middle East and injecting Palestinian children with AIDS.

It is wrong and dangerous to dismiss all criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism, as noted. It is bad for Israeli democracy, and it trivializes anti-Semitism. It is futile and dangerous to deny the working relationship between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. People who do so often find themselves validating racism as legitimate protest.

Ami Isseroff

European Attitudes Regarding Jews, 2002

StatementBelgiumDenmarkFranceGermanyUnited KingdomSpainItalyAustria
The Netherlands

Jews don't care what happens to anyone but their own kind
25%16%20%24%10% 34% 30%29%15%
Jews are more willing to use shady practices to get what they want18%13%16% 21%11% 33%27%28% 9%
Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country50%

45% 42%55%34% 72%58% 54%48%
Jews have too much power in the business world44% 13%42%32%21% 63%42%40%20%

Percent responding "probably true" to each statement / 500 respondents in each country

Taylor Nelson Sofres, margin of error +/-4.4% at 95% level of confidence

Source: ADL Study of European Anti-Semitism

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Replies: 4 comments

Are people blind? Indeed they are! Blinded by their own ignorance and envy.Watch the new true story-movie RELENTLESS to see the truth about the Palestinians.If they were in America or Italy and pulled that discusting violent act of mass murder, maiming and death of innocent civilians, they would all be beaten to death, by hand. Why don't the Jews drive all terrorists and families back into Jordan as enemies of the State? If they want to die so bad, blow your own family up! Arafat steals all the money we and others gave his people, and he used it to give them weapons and bombs to blow themselves up with, while their children have nothing but rocks to play with, how deplorable! what a cosmic joke. How ignorant can you get to listen to a moron like Arafat? He is a lying psychotic demon possessed freak. The Jews are angels to tolerate without hate. As an Italian American (writer)married to a Jew, I feel Israel's pain. Read the Bible and you will see what will happen to the enemies of Israel. I'm dying to see the 3 and a half years of peace promised Isreal under the contract with Beezelbubs representative. Remember too that here in America, Jews are the most charitable people we have and we can thank them for many of our hospitals and libraries, schools and charitable organizations.Shalom

Posted by Constance Romano Levy @ 02/07/2004 01:00 AM CST

We MUST protect our nation by any means !

Posted by Simon Murray @ 02/08/2004 12:52 PM CST

If Israeli Goverment stops killing Pallestinians(and peace activits). Anti-Semitism will go down 95%.

Posted by Walid Hadla @ 02/10/2004 04:25 PM CST

The problem with Israel is how it is founded, and how its citizens treat the Palestines. The Arab world has been forced to pay the price for the 6 million slaughtered Jews from WWII by having their land taken from them. The complaint of Arabs is simple, why should they pay for the western worlds crimes against humanity? No country would open its boarders to the number of displaced Jews following WWII, instead the western world decided to force Jews into Palestine and then renamed the state to Israel. Claiming that the over victimized Jewish population deserved a home, the western world tried to put all Jews in one place, at the Arabs expense. History tells us that once placed in a position of power the Jewish people of Israel began terrorizing the Palestinans to force them out of Israel, in order to create a purley Jewish country. Commically enough, most arab terrorists use the treatment of Palestinaians on the west bank as one of their main reasons for violence. In short, what the western world did was wrong. The western world is very anti seminite, and this is wrong but our decision to take aways the home of a group of people we liked even less than Jews in order to put all the Jews together is worse. Until we apologize for the crimes we have committed against both the Jewish population and the Arab population there will be no end to terrorism.

Posted by rebekah @ 02/11/2004 08:37 AM CST

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