At This Rate, Every Tom, Dick and Harriet Will Soon Be an anti-Semite

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Demonstrators protesting against the Metropolitan Opera's "The Death of Klinghoffer," outside Lincoln Center in New York, October 20, 2014.
Demonstrators protest against the Metropolitan Opera's "The Death of Klinghoffer," outside Lincoln Center in New York, October 20, 2014. Credit: AFP

At the speed we’re going, it’s just a matter of time before anti-Semites take over the world. Just a few years ago they were relatively few and far between, hiding under a rock here or concealing their true colors there, but now, almost out of nowhere, anti-Semites are springing up everywhere, at least if you go by the right-wing’s constantly revised and perpetually expanding definitions.

Palestinians are anti-Semites, of course, as are most Arabs and Muslims, almost by default. Europeans have also re-turned against the Jews, as proven in their rapid rush to recognize Palestine and their rabid opposition to Jewish settlements. BDS’ers are clearly anti-Semitic, one-staters are undoubtedly Jew-haters and quite a lot of two-staters, in fact, are also leaning in the anti-Yid direction, otherwise they’d root for the Jews or at least mind their own business.

Chuck Hagel used to be an anti-Semite, until he was given a temporary reprieve, John Kerry is a recidivist anti-Semite, as most Israeli cabinet ministers will tell you, and President Obama, well, you know what your own people say about him round the dinner table on Friday night.

Boycotters Roger Waters, Elvis Costello and Annie Lennox certainly make the grade, as would Stephen Hawking if he wasn’t so respectable. The New York Metropolitan Opera joined the swelling ranks of anti-Semites this week, after staging “The Death of Klinghoffer," which most reviewers said wasn’t anti-Semitic at all. Nonetheless, it is a “Nazi Opera”, according to some of the placards held by those who protested at Lincoln Center, which only goes to show that the term “anti-Semitic” is in danger of dilution because of its mass proliferation. Perhaps we should start grading them? Anti-Semite Class II? A black belt in hating Jews?

When I was growing up, it wasn’t so simple to be labeled as anti-Semite: if you weren’t born with it, you had to dedicate yourself. You had to viscerally hate Jews, simply because they were Jews. You had to believe in some cockamamie Jewish conspiracy theory, you had to tell people that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion was genuine and the Holocaust wasn’t, you had to be physically repelled by Jews or to keep using the word “Jew” as a verb, at the very least. You had to feel that Jews were too rich or too powerful or too controlling or too clannish or too something.

But apparently that definition was constricting. The Rubicon was crossed after the Six Day War when being anti-Zionist morphed into becoming anti-Jewish, though ultra-Orthodox Jews and much of pre-1948 American Jewry were understandably exempt. These days, if you support a bi-national state you are also an anti-Semite because you’re trying to eradicate Israel’s Jewish identity (with historical exceptions being made, once again, for the likes of Judah Magnes, Martin Buber and Henrietta Szold). If you judge Israel by higher standards than, say, Syria or North Korea, then you’re a suspect, especially if you think The New York Times coverage of the Middle East is fair and balanced; if you say the words “apartheid," “oppression” or “ethnic” anything in any context; if you support the division of Jerusalem, to which Jews have prayed since forever; if you think Jews can’t live wherever they like – if you oppose their inherent “American-values property rights," as Prime Minister Netanyahu put it recently - then you are surely a hater, but if you insist that Palestinians should also have the same rights then you are immediately upgraded to the foam-in-the-mouth division.

If you think the Gaza war was wrong, if you believe far too many civilians were killed by excessive use of force, if you criticize the Israeli government’s or public’s lack of empathy for Palestinian suffering, and especially if you make any of the above assertions without swearing in advance that it’s all their own fault - you’re a potential anti-Semite. And even if you’re Jewish but you adhere to any one of the above – you’re still an anti-Semite. You might even be described as a self-hating Jewish anti-Semite, which is a mind-numbing oxymoron in and of itself.

But while many Jews are getting seriously worked up about the sudden spread of anti-Semitism, for right-wingers, you must admit, it is something of a mixed curse. Anti-Semitism, after all, is divorced from Jewish words or actions, because people who hate Jews believe that “their bad traits are incorrigible," as German scholar Dietz Bering has noted. Therefore, it matters not what Jews do or what Israel does – a settlement here, a forcible eviction there, a war or two in Gaza, a century or two in the West Bank – the reason that people are against us has more to do with them than it does with us, so we might as well ignore them and do whatever we want.

Israeli leaders have even stopped paying lip service to the differentiation between contemporary criticism of Israel and centuries’ old hatred of Jews, and for good reason: the conflation of the two has been one of the most dramatic and successful changes of perception that the right wing has effected since it first came to office 37 years ago, from Menachem Begin up to but certainly not ending with Netanyahu. The fusion of Israel-criticism and anti-Semitism has given the Israeli right a kind blank check, a no-fault guarantee for its policies on peace and settlements, especially among Jews in Israel and America. If the whole world is against you, the new logic dictates, you must be doing something right.

Don’t get me wrong: of course there are many millions of genuine anti-Semites out there, those who hate Jews no matter what and, yes, those who not only think that the creation of Israel was unjust, which I can tolerate, but who seek to dismantle it even today, which I can’t. But describing critics of Israel, eve the harsh ones, as anti-Semites debases the very term: is a placard-waving college campus BDS’er really in the same league as Richard Wagner, Henry Ford or Julius Streicher? And worse, is there no danger that it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy? The label might have a chilling effect on some critics, but you get called an anti-Semite once too often, you might really start hating the Jews.

When I was growing up, being a Zionist entailed a belief in the negation of the Diaspora, physically and psychologically. Zionism was supposed to rid the Jews of all the hang-ups, fears and paranoias of their persecuted past and to place them on an equal emotional footing with other “normal” nations. It certainly felt that way, at least for a while, and I remember how we used to make fun of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim quarter who seemed to be living in perpetual fear that the next pogrom was just around the corner. Increasingly it seems that Jews everywhere have joined their agitated ranks, muttering oy vey all day as they go about our business. You can take the Jew out of the shtetl, as someone once said, but you can’t take the shtetl out of the Jew.

The irony is that by capitalizing on Jewish fears, by exploiting their history-hardened tendency to see an anti-Semite lurking behind every corner, by instilling in them the sense that the creation of the strong and modern State of Israel has done nothing to change the existential state of the Jews, the right wing and its supporters are carrying out the most anti-Zionist campaign of them all. By their own definition, therefore, they too are anti-Semites, and big time at that. 

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