So much is being written about anti-Semitism nowadays that you might end up more confused than ever. As a service to Times of Israel readers, here is a guide to some of the common concepts, or more appropriately, misconceptions, you might encounter (Note to semantic quibblers who say that Arabs are semites too: anti-Semitism is Jew-hatred):
There is no such thing as anti-Semitism: There is a school of thought that denies anti-Semitism. Although there were more than 800 anti-Jewish incidents in France in 2014, and attacks included six Jewish deaths in 2015, there are French politicians and commentators who maintain that there is no antisemitism in France. Denial can take the form of the de-Judaisation of attacks on ostensibly Jewish targets: (The ‘random bunch of folks in a deli’ syndrome.)
Those who promote anti-Semitism are not necessarily anti-Semites: For example, we are told that the British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is no anti-Semite ( he just consorts with anti-Semites and supports their views).
Ideological anti-Semitism does not exist: Attacks on Jews are perpetrated by criminals or gangsters/ lone wolves. Those who resort to violence are motivated by poverty, despair or frustration.
Anti-Semitism is a figment of the paranoid Jewish imagination: Anti-Semitism is a charge levelled by canny and manipulative Jews to divert attention or suppress debate (This is known as ‘The Livingstone formulation’).
Anti-Semitism cannot be caused by ‘people of colour.’ According to Franz Fanon’s dictum, ‘people of colour’ are victims of colonialism, so they cannot victimise others. Jews are ‘white’ and the Holocaust is ‘white on white’ racism. (In actual fact Jews driven out of the Middle East and North Africa, who now form half the Jews of Israel, are both people of colour and longstanding victims of Muslim and Arab colonialism, but good luck convincing the average Berkeley student.)
Anti-Semitism is caused exclusively by the neo-Nazi thugs of the far right. A common assumption, especially among liberals. Yet courageous voices such as Alex Chalmers of the Oxford University Labour Club and historian Simon Schama have alerted us to the fact that the left has a problem with anti-Semitism. In the words of the New York Times journalist Roger Cohen:
The zeitgeist on campuses these days, on both sides of the Atlantic, is one of identity and liberation politics. Jews, of course, are a minority, but through a fashionable cultural prism they are seen as the minority that isn’t — that is to say white, privileged and identified with an “imperialist-colonialist” state, Israel. They are the anti-victims in a prevalent culture of victimhood; Jews, it seems, are the sole historical victim whose claim is dubious.
Jews are to blame for anti-Semitism: Jews anywhere in the world hold collective responsibility for the perceived actions of the State of Israel. This might be referred to as the ‘Tim Willcox’ formulation, after the BBC reporter who suggested that Palestinian grievances against Israel were to blame for the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher supermarket attacks in Paris.
Anti-Semitism is supposedly an understandable reaction to the ‘crimes’ of Israel. But any definition of anti-Semitism that mentions Israel is suspect: The EUMC (European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, now the Agency For Fundamental Rights, FRA) Working Definition was dropped because it incorporates elements of the ‘new anti-Zionist anti-Semitism’ ( vilification of Israel or Israelis, claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour, and drawing comparisons between Israel and Nazis).
Anti-Semitism and anti- Zionism are two different things: the difference between anti-Semitism and anti- Zionism is a distinction without a difference. We hear about anti-Zionism morphing, or bleeding, or spilling over into anti-Semitism, but anti-Semites often use ‘Jews’ and ‘Zionists’ interchangeably. The political theorist Alan Johnson talks about anti-Semitic anti-Zionism.
The vast majority of Jews are Zionists, meaning they believe in the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. The vast majority of anti-Zionists would like to see the destruction of Israel — through politicide or genocide. An anti-Semitic objective, in anybody’s book.
This week, a 13-year-old boy on his way to a synagogue in Paris was beaten up. His Jewish kippa was provocation enough. The attack comes after one Jew was attacked with a machete in Marseille in January. Nobody asked these Jews what their views were about Israel or the Palestinians. Make no mistake, this is anti-Semitism tout court.