Opinion |

A Dishonest Fallacy: Israel’s Occupation Isn't Why anti-Semitism’s Spiking

Anti-Jewish agitators in every era claim they're only responding to the 'actual' misdeeds of Jews. For violent Islamists and the left, Israel's occupation is just the latest iteration

Dave Rich
Dave Rich
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Iranian students set an Israeli flag afire during a protest to defend their country's nuclear program. Qom, November 19, 2013
A dishonest fallacy: Israel’s occupation isn't why anti-Semitism’s spiking. Iranian students set an Israeli flag afire during a pro-nuclear program protest. Qom, November 19, 2013Credit: AFP
Dave Rich
Dave Rich

Identifying anti-Semitism and working out how to challenge and overcome it is no easy task, but in more than two decades of work and study in this field I’ve come up with one simple rule: Don’t mimic the anti-Semites you're fighting.

At least, you’d think this is a simple rule; but British writer and activist Tony Klug fell straight into this trap when he wrote recently in Haaretz (If Israel's Occupation Doesn't End, Anti-Semitism Worldwide Will Rise to Sinister Heights) of an acquaintance who, he claimed, said to him: "I thought an anti-Semite was someone who hated Jews, not someone whom Jews hated.”

I first heard Klug use this line two months ago, at a conference on Zionism and anti-Semitism held in London by the Pears Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism. You can hear Klug make the comment here, followed by some laughter and applause. (Full disclosure: I am an Associate Research Fellow of the Pears Institute, on its Advisory Group and spoke at the same conference as Klug, but I had no role in the planning or organization of that conference).

However, this wasn’t the first time I’d heard the line itself, because for many years it was one of David Irving’s favorite jokes. He would tell it in his speeches to audiences of anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers, and he usually got a much bigger laugh than Klug did.

When the left and the far right share tropes about anti-Semitism: David Irving, the UK Holocaust-denier, during an interview in Warsaw during a 'tour' of Holocaust sites. September 21, 2010Credit: REUTERS

I pointed this out to Klug, publicly, at the conference in May. I suggested that as he had used the same joke as David Irving – a man described by a British court, on losing his 2000 libel action against Professor Deborah Lipstadt, as "an active Holocaust denier [] anti-Semitic and racist and [..] associates with right wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism" – he might want to rethink.

At the time, Klug seemed unperturbed by the revelation that he was parroting David Irving. He was much more animated by the suggestion that he had intended to make a joke. He was deadly serious, he assured the gathered academics, in implying that Jews have inverted the meaning of anti-Semitism to create a weapon of Jewish hatred against others. Apparently he still thinks it is a line worth using, despite knowing what company it puts him in.

In fact, Irving was not the first to come up with this quip. That dubious honor probably belongs to the late Joseph Sobran, who came up with it in the early 1990s. Sobran was fired by National Review in 1993 for writing a series of anti-Semitic columns, and became a fixture on the international Holocaust denial conference circuit where he, like Irving, would tell people that "an anti-Semite used to mean a man who hated Jews. Now it means a man who is hated by Jews."

Thanks to Klug, this line has now made its way from the proceedings of the Institute for Historical Review to a conference of the Pears Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism. Perhaps Klug was unaware of the joke’s origins when he used it in May, but he has no such excuse when deciding to repeat it in Haaretz this week.

Why does this joke work? I think it is because it plays to a stereotype of the complaining Jew; the paranoid Jew who sees anti-Semitism everywhere; the dishonest, cunning Jew who uses his cleverness to confound his unsuspecting foe. It’s a joke that gives permission to laugh dismissively at Jewish fears of anti-Semitism.

Violent jihadist terrorism against Jews won't be ‘pacified' by the end of the occupation: 9 yr-old Anette Rubinstein Talu was among 24 killed when al Qaida bombed two Istanbul synagogues. Nov.17, 2003Credit: AP

Yet those fears are real and justified. Klug acknowledges that anti-Semitism is rising, but the best he can do to explain why this is the case is to blame it on the occupation; and the only solution he offers is for Israel to make peace with the Palestinians and, with a wave of its magic wand, end anti-Semitism at a stroke.

History tells us that life is not so simple. Anti-Jewish agitators in every era have claimed that they are only responding to the actual misdeeds of Jews.

Anti-Semitism, being a conspiracy theory, a prejudice and a closed worldview all rolled into one, does not behave rationally. If Israel does make peace, social media will probably fill with theories about how it is a Rothschild plot to subjugate the region under the yoke of Jewish capital, or some similar nonsense that will be believed by millions.

Tell the Jews of Argentina that they were safer in the Oslo 'peace era': Commemorating 85 people killed in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center. Buenos Aires, Argentina. July 18 2017Credit: MARCOS BRINDICCI/REUTERS

Klug cites the Oslo period as one when anti-Semitism declined due, he claims, to hopes of peace in Israel and Palestine. But those years also saw a surge in Islamist terrorism in Israel and overseas designed specifically to derail that peace process. Tell the Jews of Argentina that they were safer in the 1990s, when Iran and Hezbollah destroyed the AMIA Jewish community center killing 85 people, than they are now.

This violent jihadist terrorism, combined with the conspiracy theories that circulate unchallenged in parts of Muslim communities and on the hard left as well as the far right, are what alarm European Jews today.

Too much of the left has too little to say about this and even less to offer Jews in terms of solidarity. Instead we are told to distance ourselves from Israel or face the consequences.

Israel needs to make peace for its own reasons, but it is nave to imagine that the likes of David Irving will end their anti-Jewish propaganda if such a day comes to pass; and it is foolish for people who claim to oppose anti-Semitism to mimic that propaganda now.

Dave Rich is Deputy Director of Communications for the Community Security Trust and author of The Left’s Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-Semitism (Biteback, 2016)

Click the alert icon to follow topics:

Comments

SUBSCRIBERS JOIN THE CONVERSATION FASTER

Automatic approval of subscriber comments.

Subscribe today and save 40%

Already signed up? LOG IN

ICYMI

Palestinians search through the rubble of a building in which Khaled Mansour, a top Islamic Jihad militant was killed following an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, southern Gaza strip, on Sunday.

Gazans Are Tired of Pointless Wars and Destruction, and Hamas Listens to Them

Trump and Netanyahu at the White House in Washington, in 2020.

Three Years Later, Israelis Find Out What Trump Really Thought of Netanyahu

German soldier.

The Rival Jewish Spies Who Almost Changed the Course of WWII

Rio. Not all Jewish men wear black hats.

What Does a Jew Look Like? The Brits Don't Seem to Know

Galon. “I’m coming to accomplish a specific mission: to increase Meretz’s strength and ensure that the party will not tread water around the electoral threshold. If Meretz will be large enough, it will be the basis for a Jewish-Arab partnership.” Daniel Tchetchik

'I Have No Illusions About Ending the Occupation, but the Government Needs the Left'

Soldiers using warfare devices made by the Israeli defense electronics company Elbit Systems.

Russia-Ukraine War Catapults Israeli Arms Industry to Global Stage