A common misconception relating to anti-Semitism has become the conventional wisdom in the Trump-Brexit era, oft repeated on social media, in the news and by politicians, and goes as follows: Populist governments, the nationalist Right and neo-Nazis are on the rise and apparently threaten to revive the specter of Jew-hatred. Their anti-immigration agendas are a disturbing replication of the same loathsome anti-Semitism of the 1930’s.
I was confronted by this recently during a European vacation, where I participated in several tours by local guides. At some point, while discussing Jewish European history and the Holocaust, the tour invariably takes an unexpected turn and the guide strikes a somber tone. “History must not repeat itself”, he or she warns. We learn that while once unthinkable, anti-Semitism and racism are now rearing their ugly heads. In these troubling times, says the guide, one cannot be neutral.
These casual claims are ignorant and misguided, and they reflect a fundamental confusion regarding the nature and reality of anti-Semitism. Put simply, by all accounts the disquieting surge in anti-Semitism today is not rooted in the alt-Right, but rather elsewhere. Ignoring the actual sources of contemporary Jew-hatred is of course counterproductive. It is therefore worthwhile to set the record straight.
Ask the Jews
It might be wise just to ask the Jews what they actually fear, in lieu of dictating to them what they ought to. European Jews today are not concerned with some swastika graffiti, but rather are intimidated by the Jew-hatred of the comfortable elites – the casual, smug anti-Semitism of Jeremy Corbyn, Margot Wallström or Ken Livingstone.
The prevailing, overarching manifestation of Jew-hatred in Western society today is the relentless demonization of Israel, emanating from the radical and increasingly mainstream Left. Whatever a handful of fringe neo-Nazis chant at a Charleston rally, the actual threat they pose to Jewish communities and individuals is so small as to be non-existent. Instead, Jews feel alienated, derided and selected for special treatment in those bastions of progressive liberalism – academic institutions, the media and the political Left.
Throughout history anti-Semitism has always been a deeply rational pathology. The crude, vicious and distilled form of Jew-hatred cultivated by the Nazis was the exception, not the rule. On the contrary, anti-Semitism is an intellectual pursuit – sophisticated and insidious; a distaste for Jews and Jewishness aided by the pogrom mobs, but led by the mild-mannered bourgeois class (or sometimes, the State Department). The Jew-hatred of the Czars, doctors, bishops, correspondents, aristocrats, cabinet ministers, bankers, judges, scientists and priests (no, not all of them). Those who openly and consciously declared their anti-Semitism have always been few-and-far-between. Far more common is some logical, religious, scientific, economic or strategic reason justifying the humiliation and oppression of Jews.
In this era, the obsession with Israel and her grossly inflated transgressions is the rational basis for intellectual anti-Semitism. “Criticism of Israeli government policies” serves as a laughable excuse, about as fair and sincere as the prosecutors and judges of the Dreyfus trial or the Inquisition. If Israel-hatred is treated as some separate and legitimate phenomenon, Jew-hatred in the anti-Israel guise can be excused. Thus, a bomb attack against a synagogue in Germany is considered “non-anti-Semitic”.
There is no shortage of easy examples of the special treatment unique to Israel. Consistently skewed and twisted media coverage with widely documented lack of context and background. The apartheid slander and Israel Apartheid Week. The BDS movement. Apologetics or support for violent, fundamentalist outright terrorists. The assumption of a wicked, sadistic Israeli mindset and attribution to Israel of worst intentions. Massively disproportionate global attention compared with other conflicts. Bizarre preoccupation of the United Nations. Trivialization of Israeli and Jewish suffering while amplifying and exaggerating Palestinian woes. The blood libel – fantastical, unfounded media reports enabled by careless negligence, deliberate misrepresentation or blatant falsehoods (the Gaza baby that died of a blood condition, then falsely attributed to Israel, comes to mind). One-sided attribution of blame and responsibility, while unable to hold Palestinians accountable for any intransience. Ignoring the severe plight of Palestinians in neighboring Arab countries. Ceaseless questioning of Israel’s right to exist, Jewish nationhood and Judaic connection to the region. Various unions cravenly banding together to single out the only democracy in the Middle East for censure. The list goes on.
The tragic fact is that hatred of Israel and facilitation of anti-Semitism has become exceedingly fashionable on the mainstream Left. Ask the Jews on any major university campus in America or Europe. Ask the Black Lives Matter manifesto alleging “genocide” against the Palestinians. Ask Laurel Grauer, who was banned from the Chicago Dyke March for having a Star of David on her gay pride flag. Ask Prof. Cheney-Lippold from the University of Michigan who refused to write a letter of recommendation for a student going to Israel. Ask Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democratic congressional candidate in New York, who slandered Israel for a fictional “massacre” while simultaneously admitting complete ignorance on the subject matter. The last example is perhaps the most instructive: astute progressive politicians understand that they must badmouth Israel to obtain support, however lacking their knowledge and however unfounded such claims are. In light of this old-new trend, the media’s focus on the alt-Right fringe is understandable – they must absolve the sins of their own political camp by shifting the focus elsewhere.
So, no – objectionable as they may be, Brexit, Trump, UKIP, AfD, Viktor Orban and all the other bogeymen do not foreshadow an anti-Semitic resurgence, and they do not intimidate real Jews in real life. Those who genuinely desire to combat persecution of Jews must look for the institutional and entrenched Israel-hating on the progressive Left. Some, like author JK Rowling, get the picture.
The irony is hopefully not lost on us. Towering above all Holocaust lessons is the necessity of the Jewish State, a national home and safe haven for Jews, to safeguard the global Jewish minority in the event the world elects to look the other way again. Yet those purportedly supporting Jews and resisting anti-Semitism are in fact diverting attention away from its primary manifestation, or ignoring it entirely.
The Other Anti-Semitism
European Jews may feel intimidated and subjected to unfair treatment by the mainstream Left, but when it comes to physical well-being, it is the Muslims they fear. Throughout Europe Muslim-majority areas have become no-go areas for anyone with Jewish appearances, while Jewish individuals and institutions are routinely attacked by Muslim thugs. The majority of actual physical anti-Semitic harm – including the separate murders in France of Sarah Halimi, of Ilan Halimi, of 3 schoolchildren in Toulouse and of 85-year-old Mireille Knoll – emanates predominantly from within the Muslim community.
While the raw and vulgar brand of anti-Semitism typified by Hitler is the exception and not the norm, it is by no means extinct – it lives on today, primarily and almost exclusively within the Arab-Muslim world. This inconvenient and unseemly fact is undeniable and irrefutable, evidenced daily throughout the Middle East and within insulated Muslim communities in the West. The good ole’ visceral anti-Semitism permeates Arab-Muslim public discourse, not only in the backwaters of Cairo and Tehran but also (and especially) in Birmingham madrassas and in Brussels suburban mosques. It exists in schoolbooks, rallies, newspapers, talkshows and Friday sermons. A special Islamist twist is added to the ordinary Goebbels playbook: Rocks and trees giving away the Jews hiding behind them; Jews as descendants of pigs and monkeys; And at times the obligation of violent Jihad against Jews. Such typical anti-Semitism is far more severe and rampant than any neo-Nazi enclave or fringe supremacist group.
This form of anti-Semitism and that of the intellectual Left converge in the casual tolerance of open Muslim Jew-hatred. The Left encourages toxic libel against Israel as “criticism” and shields plain anti-Semites on grounds of “Islamophobia”. Thus left-leaning public figures share a stage with hate-spewing blatant anti-Semites, the deliberate targeting of a Paris kosher deli is merely “random”, and UK Labor Party leaders cozy up to terrorists.
It goes without saying this is not to implicate all Arab- or Western Muslims, and it would be appropriate to consider such anti-Semitic views as “extremist”. However, let us recall two points: First, in the words of Lebanese Brigitte Gabriel – the peaceful majority are irrelevant. Second, many non-extreme or moderate Muslims still subscribe to religious ideology that would easily be considered anti-Semitic, even if not fundamentalist or Jihadist.
A final note. Comparing the anti-immigration movement to Nazi anti-Semitism infantilizes the debate and belittles the murder of millions of Jews in the Holocaust. Absurdly, it seems this must be spelled out.
The desire of a political or social group to control who may enter and reside in their country represents a legitimate position, well within the bounds of how States exercise their sovereignty. This (especially) includes whether to allow or encourage the massive influx of refugees from backgrounds and countries with radically different cultures and values. Unpleasant or misguided as some may consider such sentiments to be, they do not even to begin to approach the arbitrary and deep-seated religious-racial against the Jews throughout European history culminating in the Holocaust.
There are strong arguments on both sides of the immigration debate, each with valid (even if disagreeable) concerns and motivations. Opposing the entrance of refugees or advocating prevention of illegal immigration is nothing like rounding up millions of lawful citizens and placing them in suffocating ghettos or sending them in cattle-carts to extermination camps. Wanting tighter border control is nothing like wanting to annihilate an entire race due to their alleged genetic inferiority. Recognizing cultural and social differences between ethnic and national groups is nothing like attributing vicious and degenerate qualities to all Jews and their descendants.
As such, equating between the current European political climate and resurgent Nazism is ignorant, destructive and offensive. Avoiding such assertions entirely is advisable.