Alan Meyer

The Siren call of Anti-Semitism

“Jewish people, it’s like basically they’re stingy, man, you know? It’s like they’re good person[s], but they’re stingy [ . . . ]. How shall I explain it? [ . . . ] They’re racist to Bengali [ . . . ] that’s why Bengali people hate them.” [Bangladeshi in London]

With the growing hostility to Israel in the decades that followed the 1967 war, researchers, authors and government reports have identified Arabs and Islam by far at the epicentre of anti-Semitism in the world.

In his 2015 book “European Muslim Antisemitism”, Gunther Jikeli begins by pointing out that

Antisemitism in Europe has increased dramatically since the beginning of the twenty-first century. Antisemitic parties, although still a minority, are now members of the European Parliament and some national parliaments. Antisemitic stereotypes meet with high approval rates in surveys, and in some countries the majority of the population shares these views.

For reasons of Muslim sensibilities, Jikeli limited his survey and research to young Muslim males in Berlin (Turks), Paris (North Africans) and London (Pakistanis/Bangladeshis). His research documented a detailed description of patterns of argumentation for negative views of Jews in four main categories of patterns:

  • “Classic” anti-Semitic attitudes (Jews are stingy or hook-nosed)
  • Anti-Semitism related to Israel (based on a conflation of Jews and Israelis and certain tropes such as “Jews kill children”)
  • Negative views of Jews with direct reference to Islam, Muslim identity, or the person’s ethnic identity.
  • Expressions of hostility against Jews in which the person does not bother to give any arguments for such enmity (“Jews are hated because they are Jews”)

Of course, such coarse ant-Semitism is not limited to young Muslim males in Europe. It applies to not-so-young Muslim males in America as well.

Despite both Al-Qaeda’s protestations and extensive evidence to the contrary, the notion that the Mossad and/or the American government was responsible for 9/11 continues to hold sway. In 2016, Joy Karega, at the time an assistant professor at Oberlin College, endorsed this assertion. On her blog, she quoted a speech by the avowed anti-semitic minister Louis Farrakhan, in which he declared that this was all a Jewish and Zionist plot.

They say that the World Trade Center building [sic] were brought down by carefully placed explosives, not by planes. They say that all three buildings had to have been wired with explosive charges long before September the 11th and this is something that took tremendous sophistication to do, and that sophistication was not with Osama bin Laden or his followers. Listen.

But if it was not Muslims then who?…It is now becoming apparent that  there were many Israeli and Zionist Jews in key roles in the 9/11 attack.

On the other side of the world, in European France, Stéphane Charbonnier, the editorial director of Charlie Hebdo, had completed, only two days before his murder, the manuscript for a book about what he termed the “disgusting white, left-wing bourgeois paternalism” that fanned not only the flames of Islamist terrorism but Europe’s largely studied indifference to and indulgence of contemporary anti-Semitism.

This laissez faire indulgence is echoed in Deborah Lipstadt’s 2019 book “Antisemitism Here and Now”. Lipstadt points out that “Various studies, including one conducted in 2017 by the University of Oslo, have shown that attacks on European Jews, particularly physical assaults, come in the main from radicalized Muslims… [but that] too many people in the West—including religious figures, intellectuals, politicians, and journalists—tend to come dangerously close to what can only be described as rationalizing this extremist Islamist terror”[emphasis mine].

What is Anti-Semitism?

So, what is anti-Semitism? In a paper published in 1905, and in answering his own question as to what the word “Semite’ means/implies, Gustav Gottheil said:

“Suppose we ask, “What does Semitism mean?” Only this, must be our answer,—that it is a summing up of the ruling dispositions, habits, mental endowments, and moral peculiarities of all the races comprised under the name of Semites, so named from their supposed descent from the eldest of the three sons of Noah. So ineradicable are these features supposed to be that, no matter where the races have lived or are now living, no matter what stage of civilization they have passed through or have reached now, no matter what influence non-Semitic races have exercised upon them, they remain essentially the same.”

Gotheill stated that the designation fastened upon Jews as a stigma was a fraud from the beginning, a conscious fraud and a malicious invention where “What was meant was not anti-Semitism, but anti-Judaism; but that name had to be avoided because it implies hostility to a religion and a creed…

In 2019, that admonishment has forced anti-Semites to develop a new and successful track where (Jewish) Zionism is now the ostensible enemy of mankind, but where the age-old demand to delegitimise and demean Jews is still core to the old hate.

This conflation of anti-Semitism with Zionism may in part be explained by explaining antisemitism as a special form of that group enmity which directs itself against ethnic minority groups of inferior strength. And once political Zionism succeeded in helping re-establish the nation and state of modern Israel as a strong and vibrant member of the international community, it is not difficult to understand how easy it is/was for anti-Semites to conflate the two. In the words of Jeffrey Goldberg, the American Middle East expert, “The line separating anti-Zionism — the belief that Jews have no right to an independent state in any part of their ancestral homeland — and anti-Judaism, already reed-thin, [had] pretty much vanished.”

In other words, although anti-Jewish sentiments among a disproportionately vocal minority of Muslims and their anti-Semitic European supporters go back centuries, today’s hostility results from two main developments: Jewish success in modern times and the establishment of Israel.

This is manifest currently in the work of European French anti-Semites like Herve Ryssen (“Understanding the Jews, Understanding Anti-Semitism”, 2014) where he unabashedly states that Jews are hypersensitive to the slightest hint of anti-Semitism, that “Jewish intellectuals exhibit a certain characteristic inclination towards enormous untruths” and that

It is moreover striking to observe that synagogues are the only places of public worship in which the faithful must barricade themselves behind bomb-proof doors. A foreign observer – a“Candide” – might legitimately ask here, “Hey, these people don’t seem to think that other people like them very much”. Perhaps they have something on their conscience?

The fevered and subjective work of Ryssen notwithstanding, Peretz Bernstein (“The Social Roots of Discrimination. The Case of the Jews”, 1951) asked the question whether it is not unreasonable to be the enemy of a person who may be a most respectable member of the community and to whom certainly no individual offence can be imputed save that of belonging to a disliked group.

But Ryssen is far from being a lone voice. The wave of modern anti-Semitism across Europe in July and August of 2014 revealed a dangerous amalgamation of left-wing, Islamic-animated, and right-wing extremist Jew-hatred.

Social-psychological explanations of Europe’s robust tolerance of Jew-hatred aside (The Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz….), the layer of European and American anti-Semitism in addition to historical Muslim antisemitism may have best been captured by Leon Poliakv’s comment: Israel is [still] the Jew among nations.

And it is this metamorphosis from the historical “It’s the Jew’s fault” to “It’s Israel’s fault” compounded by the conflation of Judaism and Zionism that is reinforced ad nauseam in European discourse on the Middle East. So entrenched is the new anti-Semitism in the 21st century, that an American Muslim male visiting Israel can publicly “pray” to eradicate Jews, but then remembers the password “Zionists”.

Writing in the Islamist Watch’s ME Forum on July 9, 2019, Sam Westrop recounts this incident:

“Only a couple of weeks ago, while waiting at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel, following a trip to the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, California imam Ahmed Billoo (also known as Ahmed Ibn Aslam), wrote on his private Facebook account that he was ‘feeling annoyed’ about his location. He offered a prayer to deal with the surfeit of Jews in the building:”

“Oh God, reduce their numbers, exterminate them, and don’t leave a single one alive.”

He added the hashtag “Zionists.”

As the passages above have hopefully illustrated, contemporary anti-Semitism is fragmented though widespread. Its sources do not all merge into a single, unique stream and is unlikely to result in a joint political and ideological project. And whilst one is to avoid “…both overestimation which leads to disproportionate images of anti-Semitism and underestimation which, on the contrary, would be to be blind to reality…” (Wieviorka, 2007), there is no small part to be played here by a more socially responsible media.

In this regard, choosing just one British newspaper as an example of all that is wrong in the British Left today, The Guardian’s advocacy of Palestinian nationalism (and its resultant anti-Semitism) to the British public has generally been as much accompanied by a lack of in-depth knowledge about Israel, Zionism and Jewish history as it has mirrored the ideological confusions of the British Left in the wake of its early Soviet Union inspired ideology and its current (errant) perception that Israel has moved away from its founding socialist ideals.

No matter the reason, the lure of anti-Semitism remains in excellent health in the 21st century. While it is true for most of Europe (and possibly for the Muslim world) that the inspiration for another holocaust of Jews will in all probability never again take hold, the target (now Israel) for Europe’s anti-Semites, inspired by virulent Islamist rhetoric has changed.

In these tendentious times, Gotheill’s 1905 exhortation remains as bright a beacon today as when it was first written: “It [anti-Semitism] will and must disappear in [countries], the civil order of which is based upon the principle of equal rights to all law-abiding citizens, to whatever race or religion they may belong. “A fair field and no favor.””

To that, in 2019, I can only add “Amen.”

About the Author
Alan Meyer is a retired educator with an interest in the Arab-Israeli conflict, photography and Australian road trips.
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