The paradox of the anti-semitism claim

By seemingly refusing to accept that it is possible to be a strong critic of Israel and Israel’s policies without fostering any hateful feelings towards Jews, Israel only succeeds in strengthening the views of those who actually are anti-semites.

A few weeks back, my 65-year old father bought a t-shirt with the word «Gaza» on it. He did it in frustration, in rage, in sorrow over the civilian loss of life on the densely populated Gaza strip. My father has supported the Palestinian cause for many years. For people to claim he is an anti-semitist, because he supports the Palestinian’s people right to their own land, is in my eyes absurd. My father has never had a racist bone is his body. He is an atheist himself and does not care whether someone is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu or any other religion. Neither does he care about skin colour or origin. For him,  the conflict has nothing to do with Israel being a Jewish state; all he sees in an occupied and an occupier.

It has not always been like this. He was young in the 60s and 70s, when the left-wingers of the world were supporting Israel and people from all over the world went to Israel to live and work in the kibbutz – including many people who, today, are called anti-semites by the Israeli government for voicing concerns about what they see as an unproportional warfare against Hamas.

The threat of anti-semitism

Anti-semitism is, even i 2014, as dangerous and alive as ever. This, in all honesty, has come as a shock for many non-Jewish people. Here in Norway, where I live, the anti-semitism claim coming from the Israeli embassy every time someone as much as shouted a slogan at a protest, was partly met by eye-rolling by many of Israel’s critics. The thought of anti-semitism, of hating Jews simply because they are Jewish, seems (and rightly so) absurd in most people’s eyes. It is not a lie when I say that in Norway, people have honestly believed that anti-semitism was a thing of the past.

We have a dark history when it comes to anti-semitism. Many Norwegians supported the Nasjonal Samling, National Gathering, the party who ruled during the German occupation 1940-45. Hundreds of Norwegian Jews were picked up by the Norwegian police late at night and sent by ship to the concentration camps of Europe. Only a couple of handfuls came back. During the war, the Norwegian Jewish population was virtually wiped out. The knowledge of this, and the national conscience afterwards, has in my opinion made anti-semitism virtually impossible in this country. The anti-semitic theory that Holocaust never happened, is so absurd that anyone voicing such an opinion would be automatically exempt from any public debate or job. In contrast, the Eurabia theory, the theory that all Muslims are part of a worldwide conspiracy to take over the West “one stroller at a time”, a theory fondly supported by mass-murderer and right-wing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik and used as justification for his mission to kill those who in his eyes aided the “Muslim invasion”, has become so mainstream that even politicians in our Progress Party, currently in government, are talking about a “hidden islamification”.

The Progress Party, along with the Christian Democrats and a lot of small fundamentalist cults, are the main supporters of Israel in this country. I will come back to what this does with Israel’s image, and how, in my opinion as a journalist and politically interested, Israel in many ways turn a blind eye to these generalizations about Muslims, even using them as an argument for Israel’s defense; in a later blog post.

An important aknowledgement

Either way, the claim that critics of Israel are anti-semites have not in any way been taken seriously because, in all honesty, most of the activists have thought anti-semitism no longer exists. For those of you who know so very well that it does, this might seem both hurtful and incredolous, but it is true. I am saying this to show how absurd the claim of anti-semitism is looked upon; to show that very few of the people who critizise Israel are anti-semites or actually even give much thought to the fact that Israel is a Jewish state. The last few years, with the global threat of fundamentalist islam on the rise, anti-semitism has suddenly become visible to everyone. Such as the time when a Norwegian islamist shot at the synagogue in Oslo. Or when a report was released which showed that “Jew” was one of the most common derogatory words used among youth, along with “faggot” used about boys and “whore” used about girls. And, let’s not forget the neo-nazi movement on the rise in Europe in countries such as Ukraine, Greece and Hungary. These incidents have been eye-opening to the Norwegian public, including the anti-racist Norwegian left wing, as it has shown that anti-semitism, absurd as it might seem, is still very much alive in society even today.

This aknowledgement is important. Anti-semitism exists, and not just in extreme political environments, but also in the minds of regular people. The thought that it didn’t, although naive, shows how little the fact that Israel is a Jewish state is seen as relevant in the Israel/Palestine-conflict.

This brings me back to the point I was trying to illustrate, using my father, in the beginning of the post: People do not see a Jewish state and a Muslim state. They see an occupying state, and an occupied state.

Every time the Israeli government claim that all criticism towards them is based on anti-semitism, they in reality do two things:

1) Perpetuate the myth that Judaism=Zionism.

This myth is at the center of the anti-semitic delusion. By saying that any criticism of the politics or actions of the state of Israel is in reality critcism or even hatred of Judaism in itself, what one does is equalling an Israeli action with a Jewish action. This is a dangerous thing. One, because it is a democratic problem. It brands people anti-semitists whenever they disagree with the official policies. It might be an effective way to shut critics up, but it is not something that’s acceptable for a democratic country to do. It also means that any Jew disagreeing with the Israeli politics, would almost be considered a traitor his or her own people and religion. That kind of world view is neither constructive nor  progressive. Two, because by saying that an Israeli action is in essence a Jewish action, that Israeli policies are Jewish policies, all Jews have to answer for Israel’s actions. That puts Jews around the world in danger: Both literally, as they are seen as accomplices to anything Israel does and could be attacked for it, much like the attack of the synagogue here in Oslo, and more figuratively, as any angry feelings, disgust or even hatred towards Israel, especially in heated situations like the current Gaza war, can be skewed away from a hatred towards the actions of a state and a government, and instead directed towards Jews. This can lead to discrimination and hatred, and thus STRENGTHEN anti-semitism worldwide. For this reason, and this alone, the Israeli government, and Jews worldwide should be skeptical of using that type of rhetorics whenever Israel faces criticism.

2) Perpetuate the myth of a clash between civilizations.

This is something I will come back to in a later post, as I am worried about what I see as growing islamophobia amongst supporters of Israel. But, by claiming that the Israeli conflict is in reality a Jewish conflict, that Israeli actions are Jewish actions, that criticism towards Israel is criticism towards Judaism, by claiming that the surrounding (muslim) countries are enemies of Israel and Jews, and that Israel is the only democray of the bunch, one also strengthens the view that Islam is the enemy, and not compatible with democracy or a modern world. Not Hamas, not even Palestinians, but Islam in general. This way of looking at it is one that profits the islamic fundamentalists, and them alone. They can use that rhetoric to “prove” that Israel secretly want to wipe out Muslims, that their goal is an Israeli country, maybe even an entire Middle-East region (or a world), without Muslims. This thought might seem absurd to most of us, but it is effectively what a rhetoric like this says in their eyes.

In the rhetoric that the surrounding countries are enemies, in the increasingly harsh political environment where some even claim co-operation and co-habitance is impossible, one strengthens both the islamophobia amongst supporters of Israel and the anti-semitism amongst Muslims and in certain Muslim countries. A lot of supporters of Israel, particularly here in Norway, are honest about how they view this conflict: They see Israel as a beacon of hope, as the front line in what they see as a war against Islam and islamism. This is, if possible, an even more dangerous view than the view that Judaism and Zionism is the same. It feeds extremists on both sides; both the right-wing extremists who see Islam in itself as a threat towards world peace, and the Islamic extremists who see Judaism and Israel as the same, and consider them a threat to Islam and Muslims.

These two things are what the anti-semitism claim, sometimes in danger of actually undermining the seriousness of anti-semitism as the term is applied indiscriminately (the “crying wolf”-effect), does: It strengthens the world view of extremists. Extremism is the opposite of peace and understanding, and the more polarized the situation becomes, the less viable the chance of a peaceful solution becomes.