Oldish or newish, antisemitism attacks anything Jewish.
A couple of years ago a court ruled that three men of Middle-Eastern origin who had lobbed petrol bombs into a synagogue were guilty of criminal arson but not of committing an antisemitic act. The bombers, who received no jail time, had claimed that that their act was directed not at the local Jews who worshipped at the synagogue, but rather at Israel. In buying that excuse, the judges accepted that it is perfectly reasonable to commit an act of terrorism if you blame Israel. And that it’s not really so bad, and not at all antisemitic, to attack people of the Jewish faith – even their own neighbours – for no reason other than that they practise the religion of Israel. It’s perhaps worth mentioning that these events took place in Germany.
That attack came a generation after hundreds were killed and injured half a world away, when a suicide bomber drove a van full of explosives into the AMIA Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires. Behind the attack was Hezbullah, the Islamist terrorist group based in Lebanon that is an arm of the Iranian government. (Some European governments try to defend Hezbullah by insisting that it is their military wing that handles bombings, not their political wing, who are a fine bunch of diplomats like us. But that’s a bit of a stretch when Hezbullah itself insists that it doesn’t operate separate wings.)
Hezbollah’s charter calls for the “obliteration” of “the Zionist entity”. It doesn’t speak well of the United States, capitalism (or indeed communism) either. But it doesn’t have a bad word to say about Jews, so how can you call the group antisemitic? Still, when it comes to organizing a terrorist attack, a dead Jew in Argentina is just as satisfactory a result as one in Israel.
The BBC, in 2015, interviewed a group of schoolchildren in Gaza. When, speaking in Arabic, they blamed the Jews (yahud) for massacring Gaza’s children, the BBC’s English translation covered up for them by substituting “Israelis” for “Jews.” The BBC reporter claimed that the translation was really more accurate, because when the kids said Jews they really meant Israelis. After all, if the BBC were to falsely accuse Jews of mass murder, they might be accused of antisemitism, while blaming Israelis is just business as usual. Anyway, how can innocent children be Jew-haters? Quite easily, it turns out, when they’ve had antisemitism drilled into them every day by their parents and teachers. And the older generation, apparently, hadn’t gotten the memo about the politically correct use of the words Israeli or Zionist when you mean Jew.
It’s just that, these days, you still risk being called a racist when you come across as a Jew-hater, while it’s increasingly acceptable to proclaim an animus against the one country where the majority of people happen to be Jewish. You don’t even have to be against Israel for what it does; it’s just fine to hate the country for just being. That’s especially true in Europe; and on the left and right extremes of politics; and on university campuses.
For an antisemite, it’s quite easy to make the switch between traditional Jew-hatred and anti-Israelism, what has been called the new antisemitism. You can gain immediate respectability just by taking all the hateful things that you used to say about Jews and attributing them to Zionists or Israelis: Such as how those people are arrogant, manipulative fiends who are constantly plotting against everyone else, or how they steal human organs and use the blood of children for their rituals. You could even, just by writing “Netanyahu” on the image of the hook-nosed baby-eating Jew, turn a cartoon from Der Stürmer into something that the New York Times might print. (If you prefer the originals, translations of Mein Kampf and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are, quite popular in the Arab world, as is the hatred of Jews generally, according to polling data.)
If you’re a dictator, wishing violence against the Jews is so 20th Century. These days you are better off threatening “the Zionist entity.” Thus Khamenei, the grand poohbah of Iran, could recently say with a straight face – which might be his only face because “there is no humour in Islam,” as his predecessor used to say – that when he calls for the annihilation of Israel, he’s not threatening the country’s population. No, he’d “rather kill them off by peaceful means,” as Tom Lehrer once wrote in a different context.
Maybe Khamenei’s preference is to drive Israel’s population into the sea, which used to be a popular slogan in the Middle East. It would be so much easier if those inconvenient people would just move “back” to Europe or New York. But, in fact, half of the Jews in Israel live there precisely because of the antisemitism from which they or their families fled in Iran and elsewhere in the Islamic world. But nothing personal, Khamenei was suggesting. No antisemitism here. For myself, I prefer the honesty of the Gazan schoolkids.
The defenders of the British Labour Party maintain that neither the party nor its soon-to-be-former leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has an antisemitism problem. Who’s the better judge of that, those Labourites or Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, who has taken the unusual step of denouncing the party publicly? Corbyn sees no inherent contradiction in denying being antisemitic while at the same time calling himself a friend of Hamas and Hezbullah.
Corbyn once even gave an interview to Iran’s state broadcaster in which accused the BBC – an organization that may never have had a good word to say about Israel – of having a bias in favour of the Jewish state. (The BBC once commissioned an internal report because of its reputation for an anti-Israel bias. It then spent an estimated £333,000 in court costs to keep the results of the report from being made public.)
Embed from Getty Images
The reason for Corbyn’s accusation? Because the BBC assumes that Israel has a right to exist! That was in 2011, when most Western political leaders and public broadcasters were content just to level unfair criticisms of Israel’s defence forces and its leadership – as they continue to do. But condemning Israel’s very existence, while now a popular theme for the left, is still pretty shocking coming from the man who would become leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.
In attempting to delegitimise the existence of Israel, Corbyn has assumed the mantle of the most anti-Israel politician ever to reach to reach the top rungs of his party – or of any mainstream UK party for that matter. You have to go back to Ernest Bevin in the post-War Labour government to find someone comparable. Bevin tried hard to subvert Britain’s obligations to the Jews of Palestine under its UN Mandate, but he was also foreign minister when Britain recognized the newly declared State of Israel.
Harold Wilson, who served as Labour Prime Minister in the ‘60s and ‘70s, was such an admirer of the Jewish state (which then had its own Labour government) that, in retirement, he wrote a book on the history of the country and its armed forces. It would be nice to think that Wilson better represents what Labour stands for than does Corbyn, but for years there has been a rabidly anti-Israel cadre in left-of-centre political parties, and it appears that element now has come to dominate Labour. We can only hope that it’s only a temporary situation, and that it won’t be repeated by Canada’s New Democratic Party. Or by the Democratic Party in the U.S.A., if it continues its leftward shift .
We may not have grounds for that hope, however, given the influence on politics of our institutions of higher learning. Thanks to two of its universities, Toronto has lately achieved a reputation as something of a hotspot for antisemitism. For those of us who grew up in this city during the post-War years and rarely encountered any kind of Jew-hatred, it’s a bit of a shock. But, after all, Toronto is the birthplace of the event called “Israel anti-apartheid week.” And, for a long time, we’ve heard from students – and even from faculty members – about their fears of being attacked (sometimes even physically) should they identify themselves in public as Jews or supporters of Israel. They, like most Canadians, would rather our universities were becoming known for the excellence of their teaching or research rather than – alas – for their antisemitism.
(Now, it’s customary at this point to indicate that not all Jews support all of Israel’s policies. Why would they? Not even all Israelis do that. And, for many Jews, the personal connection with the country might be limited to a stint as a volunteer on a kibbutz, or perhaps a ten-day bus tour. That said, the land of Israel is, for most in the Diaspora, an integral part of Judaism. The phrase “next year in Jerusalem” is a wish that has been repeated every year for centuries as part of the Passover Seder, even when, for most of that time, it could only be a dream.)
At the University of Toronto the issue had to do with the student organization Hillel and its request to provide kosher food on campus. Hillel’s support for Israel was enough for the Graduate Student Union to refuse to permit the serving of kosher food: not necessarily Israeli cuisine, which would be insane enough, but kosher food. That student union has, since 2012, supported the BDS movement, which attempts to isolate and harm on the Jewish state by subjecting it to a worldwide boycott. And now it has made the leap from that to punishing the university’s own Jewish students.
At York University it was a violent demonstration over a group of veterans of the Israel Defence Forces who had been invited to speak on campus. The location was just around the corner from the student centre, where a painting celebrating violent Palestinian “resistance” has hung since 2013. The protesters, who tried to force a cancellation of the event, waved PLO flags and shouted slogans wishing death to Israel (“Viva Intifada,” a celebration of the terror campaigns that featured suicide bombings) and to Jews generally (“Go back to the ovens,” which needs no explanation.)
Among the protesters were those claiming to represent Antifa, a group that styles itself as anti-fascist but whose members have more than a physical resemblance to Nazi street thugs. If there were any doubt about Antifa’s place on the political spectrum, the crowd’s shameful screams calling for a revival of the death camps demonstrated where its sympathies lie.
As for York’s Federation of Students, it showed what it considers to be the lesson of those events – and the worldwide attention they drew – when, the following week, it passed a motion calling for “mass mobilizations of students, workers, marginalized communities” against “representatives of the Israeli state or any other imperialist power.”
Not to be outdone by Toronto, a few days later McGill University in Montreal made the headlines when it emerged that its Students’ Society tried to force a Jewish student from her position on its Legislative Council for participating in a sponsored educational trip to Israel. A couple of years ago the student government received media coverage when it attempted to remove three students who were active in Jewish causes from its board. The university is where the campus newspaper, the McGill Daily, has a policy of never publishing anything that could be considered favourable towards Zionism, which it recently described as “a racist attitude and violent practice against Palestinians.”
It’s hard to know where to stop when you’re trying to keep up with these events. Every day seems to bring some new outrage. Let’s give the last word to Linda Sarsour. She might be considered the Zsa Zsa Gabor of celebrity antisemites in the US, in that she receives a lot of attention without having accomplished very much of anything. Sarsour managed to employ tropes from the old and new antisemitism, along with some token words of hatred for her own country, in her recent address to the American Muslims for Palestine. (One wonders, the audience may be for Palestine, but does that mean they inevitably share her attitude towards Jews? And towards America?)
What Sarsour said was, in effect, that just as the United States was founded on white supremacism, Israel must be opposed because it too is based on a kind of supremacism, specifically “the idea that Jews are supreme to everyone else.” But don’t call her antisemitic, she says. After all, one of her best friends is Bernie Sanders.