The atrocities committed by Hamas against Israeli civilians compel us to revisit the long history of antisemitism. That history is comprised of fantasies about the Jewish people which led to and justified hatred, discrimination, isolation and murder. Simply put, a broad array of negative motives and actions were attributed to Jews that had nothing to do with reality.
This anti-Jewish fiction reached its modern apex with the emergence of the fraudulent document The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. This purported revelation claimed to expose the secret plans of Jewish leaders to take over the world. Given the long history of antisemitic tropes, millions of people who were exposed to the Protocols believed it to be real because for centuries these ideas in various forms had been taught and believed. The Protocols were seen to confirm long-held views about Jews.
And so it is that the idea of a Jewish state came into existence. With the creation of the movement for a Jewish return to Israel it was hoped that maybe some of these fantasies would disappear. More significantly, there was a belief that finally the Jewish people would have power to protect themselves in the face of Jew hatred. Of course, the Jewish state came into existence too late to save the Jews of Europe but it did finally emerge.
Having this new power to defend Jews, however, added a layer of complexity to the assessment of antisemitism. Possessing real power generated a significant element of responsibility for the Jewish state and with it the recognition that criticism of Jews, in this case the Jewish state, was no longer automatically based on fantasies but could indeed be based on legitimate criticism of misuse of power.
And so came the discussions about when criticisms of Israel were legitimate and when they were antisemitism. Clearly, when old conspiracy theories such as false accusations of Israelis using the blood of dead Palestinian children for religious purposes fell into the antisemitism category.
Similarly other forms of demonizing the Jewish state and concluding from that that there should be no Israel fell into that category.
And then there was the massacre on Simchat Torah. It is safe to say that this was by far the most egregious manifestation of antisemitism ever directed at the Jewish state. Let’s be clear: what took place had nothing to do with one’s views on the wisdom or morality Israeli policies or behavior.
It had only to do with antisemitic fantasies that have historically plagued the Jewish people and ultimately led to the Holocaust. Jews are evil. Jews are conspiratorial. Jews are subhuman. All of which we have seen in Hamas literature and rhetoric for decades.
The result of such attitudes is, of course, that one doesn’t merely attack communities, but one feels justified in murdering innocent civilians, beheading babies, raping women and taking hostages.
This is a clear manifestation not of the complexity of the era of Zionist power and distinctions between criticism and hate, but old-fashioned Jew hatred now linked to the Jewish state.
In that context, the demonstrations that have now surfaced in the US and elsewhere in support of the Palestinians are shameless and inherently antisemitic as well in justifying and defending the mass murder of Jewish civilians. Signs such as “By Any Means Necessary of F—- the Jews” are not about the complexity of Israeli-Palestinian issues, but about the reversal to old-fashioned, classical antisemitism. Terrorism against Jewish men, women and children is acceptable and necessary because Jews are subhuman and poisonous. Sound familiar?
Going forward, we need to clearly call out those who justify this egregious Jew hatred and not allow it to be obscured by claims that all they are doing is standing up for the Palestinians who are being oppressed by the Israelis.
At the same time, we also should make clear that we support the need for a positive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian issue in which both peoples can live in peace and security. That understandably seems far off now but it is the right thing to do and one that will reinforce the message that what has happened these past few days is the moral opposite of that which we aspire to achieve.