Why did Yair Lapid’s speech on antisemitism shock right-wingers? The speech, after all, did not equate the Holocaust with any other national catastrophe. He just correctly described antisemitism as the hatred of others. Hatred of Jews is no different than hatred of black people or others, whomever they are. Lapid asked his right-wing detractors to look in the mirror and tell themselves: “We fight antisemitism but aside from that we’re total racists.” They will never forgive him for that.
Years ago, I met a group of young people in Germany. Some had parents who were active in the Nazi movement. The group participants praised Israel, the Jewish people and the Jewish religion, and denounced the Palestinian people.
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A day later I met Holocaust historian Shlomo Aronson in Frankfurt. He said that as part of his research, he met with a number of former Nazis, most of whom did not deny their dark past. I asked him about the philosemitism I’d encountered. He was not surprised and said the difference between antisemitism and philosemitism appears significant, but both regard the Jew as a foreigner justifying special treatment, and not as an equal. “The transition from philosemitism to antisemitism is easier than you think,” he said.
Years have passed. The war against antisemitism has led some right-wing Israelis to develop a sense of “herd immunity”: Denounce antisemitism and no one will denounce you, because after all, you are a victim. When I heard a right-wing commentator speak on a television panel about “Yair Lapid’s shocking speech," which equated antisemitism and the hatred of others, his hatred radiated from the screen - this time toward the messenger, that he dare minimize antisemitism.
Lapid’s speech was measured and accurate, but the Israeli right raises antisemitism as its banner and fights it with fury, in order to be purified and be cleansed of its actions. In this context, Aronson was right: The transition from antisemitism to philosemitism, and back, is not hard, as is the transition from denouncing antisemitism to nurturing “goy hatred,” “hatred of the other” and “hatred of Arabs, wherever they are.” These shifts occur smoothly within the right-wing mind.
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This is how the denunciation of antisemitism purifies all: From the Hilltop Youth looting and harassing Palestinians, to the attacks on Arabs and the threats on couples planning mixed marriages and thus “harming” Jewish family purity.
It is convenient for most political groups in Israel to grasp antisemitism and to inflate its scope. This is why Ben & Jerry’s has been branded “a company infected with antisemitism.” It is enough to mutter a bit about the BDS connection, and Ben & Jerry’s is considered antisemitic even if the company’s criticism of Israel is focused.
The racism towards black people by Donald Trump's base is not antisemitism by definition, and rightly so, even though it’s still a cold and dangerous racist hatred. The “people that shall dwell alone” mindset has been around for generations, but today the people who dwell alone need to face the double standard that holds that we are the victims of antisemitism, and therefore, we’re permitted everything, while our critics are by definition anti-Semites. This view – the stance of the Israeli right – has harmed our ability to truly fight antisemitism.