Recent articles by Gideon Levy (“Gevalt, anti-Semitism!”) and Avraham Burg (“It’s not anti-Semitism when you’re lying down with lepers”) attribute the eruption of global anti-Semitism to the misguided nature of Israeli policy in the Gaza War, and the Jewish Diaspora’s affiliation to Israel. There is no doubt that Israel’s actions in Gaza triggered this wave of anti-Semitism, but the nature of this hate reflects characteristics that are distinct from any specific Israeli policy, while targeting the Diaspora for its ties to the homeland is the effect of anti-Semitism rather than its cause.
Let’s be clear from the outset. Criticism of Israeli diplomatic and military policy is legitimate. We must also recognize that Diaspora Jewish organizations have at times been too rash tainting critics of Israel with the tag of anti-Semitism. However, there is a distinct difference between legitimate criticism of policy, and vilification, which draws on and reinforces pernicious ancient stereotypes to delegitimize Israel and the Diaspora.
Rather than Gaza policy being the issue, Gaza is a pretext to make Israel and Jews legitimate targets, literally. The Holocaust made anti-Semitism illegitimate for a while, but now it is back with a vengeance gathering boldness and momentum, as events in the streets of Paris and British supermarket aisles testify.
What is occurring is not a critique of Israeli policy that leads to anti-Semitism, but rather anti-Semitism is the prism through which that policy is viewed. This is seen with the conspiratorial and fictitious features of classical anti-Semitism manifest today with Israel being accused of genocide. Critics of Israel can take Israel to task over proportionality, but to conceive of its actions as genocide (while ignoring actual genocide in Iraq) is a contemporary blood libel.
It becomes evident that what is occurring is an irrational hatred of Israel rather than an informed critique of Israeli policy, when the images and language invoked to convey putative opposition to Israeli policy depicts Israelis as big-nosed puppeteers who control global politics and are an inherently evil people who take a perverse pleasure in killing children. What was once said about Jews before Israel existed is now said about Israel because it exists.
We know this anti-Semitism is action against Jews wherever they are, rather than protest at Israeli policy in Gaza, when aspects and symbols of day to day Jewish life become legitimate targets, like kosher food in the UK and synagogues in Switzerland. It is not Israeli policy this being denied, but the nature of Jewish life.
If anti-Semitism were just about Israeli policy it would not attack Jews, including Jewish children, without knowing anything of their politics. If the anti-Semitism were just about Israeli policy, doctors would not deny Jewish patients’ treatment and signs would not appear on European cafes saying ‘dogs allowed but Jews not’. The response to Israel’s actions in Gaza is not a reasoned critique of policy, but an extreme form of xenophobia, such as the "Israel-free zone" the UK MP George Galloway declared in Northern England.
If the current attacks on Jews were predicated on opposition to specific Israeli policy it would not intentionally offend Jews by denigrating something sacred them: The memory of the Holocaust, with anti-Israel protestors depicting Israel as Nazis and invoking the swastika. In the process it is knowingly rewriting and robbing Jews of their history, for however awful Gaza is, it not the Warsaw Ghetto.
In the current anti-Jewish zeitgeist Jews can be Jewish, as long as they’re the type of Jew anti-Semites are prepared to tolerate, free of an identification or ties to their ancestral homeland and modern state. The Tricycle Theatre saga in London shamefully told us that. For a Jew to do otherwise makes them morally unacceptable and illegitimate. Selectivity is one clear indicator of anti-Semitism, and it is telling that no other religious or ethnic Diaspora has this condition made upon them. No one is suggesting Muslims should stop identifying with Mecca because of all the human rights abuses in the Arab/Islamic world.
If the criticism of Israel engulfing world Jewry were about Gaza then the solution would lie in Israeli policy towards Gaza and lead towards a two state outcome. However, what we see from many of the critics of Israel’s Gaza is a denial of any Jewish national rights, as Israel is morphed into an illegitimate rogue state. For those critics, Israel the state must simply disappear, while for Jews in the Diaspora: Reject Israel or face opprobrium – or worse. The cry of “Gas the Jews” heard in Europe is not a solution to the problem in Gaza, it is one of the 'solutions' to the anti-Semites' Jewish problem.
If the current differences with world Jewry were based on policy then according to the norms of democracy, Jews would be granted a legitimate difference of opinion, but in the current context any Jewish support for Israel, including a basic right of self-defense, is completely illegitimate. This is why so many left-leaning two state supporting Jews in the Diaspora, including this author, feel victimized and excluded through the denial of basic and legitimate collective rights.
Ultimately, we know this anti-Semitism is based on a value of opposition to Jewish existence rather than the value of human rights, since Israel’s critics over Gaza remain uncritical of Hamas whose charter minces no words about the genocidal fate it envisages for Jews.
It is important to understand that one dimension of anti-Semitism is double standards, and we can see that anti-Semitism when Jews are the only Diaspora vilified for the actions of its homeland government. Russia claims a national responsibility for its Diaspora, starkly demonstrated in its land grab of Crimea, but where I live, in Melbourne, Jews have been accosted coming out of a kosher bakery because of Israeli policy in Gaza, whilst on the opposite side of the road customers are unhindered as they come and go from the Russian deli.
It is curious that while the Turkish Diaspora in Germany and Austria has been at the forefront of anti-Israel/Semitic protests, no one is suggesting they disassociate from their homeland where democracy and human rights are being rolled back. There is one rule for the Jews and one for everyone else – that’s classical pre-Gaza anti-Semitism.
To blame Israel for the anti-Semitism being experienced globally is to rationalize it. However, there is no excuse for racism: Not anti-Semitism because of Gaza, not Islamophobia because of Jihadists, not anti-Chinese hate because of China's denial of human rights, not hate of the Indian Diaspora after the country recently elected a PM with a dubious human rights record. To attribute global anti-Semitism to Israeli policy and Jewish diasporic identification with the Jewish State is like attributing rape to a female victim because she wore a short skirt. Under no circumstance is it acceptable to blame the victim.
Associate Prof. Danny Ben-Moshe specializes in anti-Semitism and diasporas at Deakin University in Australia. Follow him on Twitter: @dannyb_m
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now