Antisemitism and Antizionism: Why Israel is the Jew among the states

“It happened, therefore it can happen again”. This sentence by Auschwitz survivor and author Primo Levi sums up why we should be attentive to every form of antisemitism. After the Holocaust hating Jews became discredited, but antisemitism did not disappear. The world changes and so does antisemitism. Jews have reached national independence, so the Jewish state has become a major target for antisemites around the world. When antisemitism is the “rumour about the Jews” (Theodor Adorno), antizionism is the rumour about Israel. When antisemitism is the special treatment of Jews, so antizionism is the special treatment of Israel. Thus, in order to understand contemporary antisemitism and antizionism, we must understand what antisemitism is in its core.

The first misunderstanding of antisemitism is that it is just a form of racism and xenophobia. Let’s clear that. Whilst racism is viewing other “races” as inferior, as animals not able to civilise, antisemitism views Jews as superior and all-powerful. That is why the Nazis believed themselves to self-defend against the Jews, they imagined themselves to be oppressed. Antisemitism is not only a prejudice about Jews, but it is a form of thinking, an approach to explain how the world works. There is no notion about a Turkish world conspiracy but believing in a Jewish world conspiracy has a long tradition, beginning with the Christian accusation that Jews killed Jesus, God. This age-old religious anti-Judaism has transformed into modern antisemitism.

In the modern world power is not visible and personal anymore, the concept of kings and serfs is over. The social order is based on the production and trade of commodities, value is expressed in money. The capitalist system is powerful and abstract and therefore difficult to address. Freedom and equality are promised but many people are denied it and they do not know who to blame for all their deprived wishes and desires. So, it became the Jews, those who were viewed as rootless and abstract, powerful and cosmopolitan who were identified with the power of capitalism and the implications of the modern world.

In fact, Jews were never allowed to root so they were seen rootless. Many Jews in Europe worked in the financial sector and the free professions because the traditional professions were prohibited to them. As they were seen to benefit from the system, they were accused of bringing it about. However, antisemitism was never related to the actual behaviour of the Jews but always to the anxieties and imagination of the antisemites. Jews were made responsible for everything, even opposites. The Nazis blamed them for capitalism and communism (today the Hamas charter says the same). Nowadays, “Zionists” are accused of controlling the government of the United States and also of planning 9/11.

Similar to antisemitism, antizionism is never related to the actual behaviour of the state of Israel. When Jews could not defend themselves, it was said they “went like lambs to the slaughterhouse”. Now they can defend themselves but when they do, it is said they are acting aggressively and ruthlessly, and being responsible for all conflicts in the Middle East.

Whilst many countries are subject to criticism, no country other than Israel is seriously questioned of its right to exist. For sure there are people who wish a world without Jews, but most antizionists would say they don’t want to harm Jews, they just don’t want them to have a state (implying they have no problem with Jews being harmed by others). So why then can Jews not have their own state, even though Israel fulfils all the requirements of a modern national state? In Europe in the 19th century, when nation states became defined by the freedom, equality and commitment of their citizens, Jews obtained citizenship. But this concept was never fully realised, the nation was still defined ethnically to a large extent and there was still discrimination of Jews. So, Jews could not become part of other peoples and they did not have their own country either. This reality is what Theodor Herzl recognised when he emphasised in Der Judenstaat: “We are a people, a people”. For the Nazis though, Jews were seen as the “anti-race”, as the enemy of humanity. Part of their antisemitism was that Jews would not form a proper people, that they could only survive as parasites exploiting other peoples. Spreading antisemitism into the Arab world and cooperating with Arab leaders such as the Mufti of Jerusalem, the Nazis actively tried to hinder Jews from establishing their own state.

And today? BDS supporters still argue that Jews are not a people and therefore they have no right of self-determination. Moreover, Jews are still identified with the complexity of modernity. Thus, antisemites hate Israel because it is a Jewish state and because it is a modern, liberal and secular state where Jews and non-Jews from all origins have the same rights. It is the opposite of ethnic-based conceptions where the individual is nothing but the collective everything, applied by the far-right, islamists amongst others. But it is also leftists criticising capitalism, individualism, injustice etc., who share the hatred against the Jewish state. They all share a dangerous antisemitic ideology because they are not able to address the problems and complexity of the modern world and their own powerlessness in it, blaming Jews or “Zionists” for it instead.

From the open calls for Israel’s annihilation across the world, to the disproportionality of how Israel is treated in the UN General Assembly [1]; Israel is today, to say it with Jean Amery, the “Jew among the states”.

[1] The General Assembly of the United Nations in 1975 defined Zionism as a form of racism. In the past five years, Israel, the only democracy in the middle east, was condemned by 100 resolutions, whereas the 192 other member states where condemned only 66 times all together, including dictatorships like Syria, Iran, China, North-Korea.

About the Author
Jannik Schiller is currently volunteering at the Israel education charity StandWithUs UK. Studying politics in Berlin and Canterbury, his interest lies in examining antisemitism and anti-zionism then and now.
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