Liberals (and I am one) often comfort themselves by believing that they personally are far removed from the hatreds and discrimination of the past. We are aware of continued systemic racism and sexism, and, despite tremendous progress, know how much work there is left to do. On the other hand, they may not realize how they are responsible for the perpetuation of common prejudices, as we all are. I am currently most concerned that when it comes to Israel, the Jew of nations, liberals, including Jewish liberals are blind to their own anti-semitism and their role in endangering Jews everywhere.
This is not a new problem on the left. My mother and author of The New Anti-Semitism (2003), Phyllis Chesler, has told me many times about anti-semitism on the left and among feminists. When I asked her about this phenomenon recently, she said for those professing to fight racism “anti-semitism is the only acceptable form of racism.”
Therefore, I suggest that in the same way we talk about internalized sexism and racism and homophobia we must talk about internalized anti-semitism. The pervasiveness of prejudices ensures that we have internalized the messages we see about women and minorities. This may manifest in many ways, such as when women dislike gender non-conforming women, or when African-Americans uphold White-skin privilege.
It is the same with the Jews and the Jewish State of Israel. All people have internalized age old prejudices against Jewish people and it is revealed when the topic of Israel is raised, and especially when Israel dares to defend itself with physical and military force. This observation is not meant to shut down dialogue and debate about Israel. Rather, it is a call to be mindful of how internalized anti-semitism plays a significant role in how we react to Israel’s actions, how we judge the Jewish state, and how we analyze the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
Further problematic is that we have been fed a diet of myths about the creation of Israel, but also, to paraphrase French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, many liberals have no conscience of history, and hide behind an anti-Zionism that has intellectualized and rationalized anti-semitism by dressing up old hatreds in scholarship. Perhaps because we hoped anti-semitism would end after the Holocaust, some assumed it did end. As the chants on the streets of London, and Paris, San Francisco, Miami, and Boston, and the defamation on social media, as well as the hate from the mouths of world leaders are telling us loudly, this assumption is clearly wrong.
Internalized anti-semitism encourages ferocious rage against Israel and Israelis, a level of rage expressed against no other people. It permits the viewing of Israel as uniquely racist and oppressive and evil, instead of being seen as ordinary or all too human. Even what I would call “soft” or “positive” anti-semitism encourages double standards and unfairly heightened expectations for Israel which faces extraordinary challenges from an enemy lacking morality.
Internalized anti-semitism also makes it easy for people to believe numerous fantastic modern day Blood Libels about Israel, such as the charge I have seen repeatedly (against all evidence) that Israel is committing genocide. This is no different than when people actually believed that Jews murdered God in the form of Jesus, drank the blood of Christian children, and caused the bubonic plague. Anti-Zionist movements have made this further acceptable by attempting to intellectually separate Jews outside of Israel from those within Israel, in effect saying it’s okay to hate these Jews over here or Jews who support them, i.e. Zionists. At a minimum, to repeat such modern Blood Libels as gospel truth is to recklessly support those calling for the genocide of the Jews, for who is more worthy of killing than a people who is “guilty” of committing genocide.
Empathizing with civilians in Gaza, promoting the creation of a Palestinian State, criticizing Israel’s settlement policy, its mistakes in war and peace, and its flaws as a society is not anti-semitic. But, if you do the foregoing without learning about the history and context of Israel’s actions and those of its enemies, if you only question the right of the Jewish people to self-determination or endlessly seek to re-litigate the creation of the modern State of Israel, if you support an economic, academic, or other boycott of Israel but not of other countries you believe are violating human rights, if you seek moral equivalence between Israel and Hamas (a terrorist group whose stated purpose is the destruction of Israel and all Jews), if you presume Israel guilty of war crimes before investigations are made, if you believe Israel is uniquely evil or the root of all problems in the Middle East, if you believe in Israel’s self-defense theoretically but not in actuality, if you view this current war in Gaza as different from all other wars and the civilian casualties as different from other civilian casualties in war, you must ask yourself why. Martin Luther King Jr. would tell you this is anti-semitism.