In the aftermath of Hamas’s pogrom of October 7, it’s become mind-bogglingly obvious that no other political cause is as widespread worldwide as Israel hatred—an intersectional common denominator of otherwise unrelated and even opposing forces in the public arena. Their shared disdain of Israel has allowed the extreme Left to stand together with the extreme Right, governments of developed countries to follow the call of underdeveloped ones, humanitarian NGOs and the liberal press to give credence to terrorist cabals. And, in the streets, it has allowed staunch secularists to hold hands with religious fundamentalists, globalists with nativists, feminist and LGTBQ activists with reactionary bigots. What on Earth is going on?
Responses abound already, and elucidations in book-length format are forthcoming. But for those who remain perplexed, a brief genealogy of Israel hatred, a panoramic sketch of it, might provide a measure of clarity. I’ll render such a picture by bringing into plain view the lasting influences that have contributed to the widespread opprobrium of Israel, drawing them proportionally in order to convey a cogent perspective.
The recent wave of Israel hatred is the overt expression of the present-day anti-Zionist stance. A century ago, however, anti-Zionism—originally the denial of the Jewish claim to sovereignty over the Holy Land—comprised a variety of senses. Back then, a large share of Jews remained unconvinced by Zionist aspirations. Some of them feared dual-loyalty entanglements (a common antisemitic slander), others were devout Communists intent on doing away with all nationalities equally, and others objected to Zionism on contentious religious grounds (as still do the Satmar Jews that feature at pro-Palestinian rallies). During their Mandate, the British deferred to their national interest for their anti-Zionism, while among Arabs it became the logical corollary of their territorial dispute with the Jews. However, the Anti-Zionism propagated after the establishment of Israel acquired a more uniform sense as a distinct disaffection for the Jewish State. Through a variety of interests, the label “Zionist” became recast as a slur among the bien-pensant, while its opposite eventually evolved into a term of endearment. Today’s anti-Zionists may or may not resort to retroactively denying Jews their claim to Statehood. When they do, it’s in response to Israel’s alleged oppression of Palestinians. For the medley of demonstrators scolding Israel on the streets, anti-Zionism is advanced as a moral creed whereby Israel is singled-out and portrayed as exceptionally criminal and uniquely evil among all nations. What distinguishes their anti-Zionism is its underlying Double Standard, as described in the IHRA working definition of antisemitism.
Hatred of Israel has long been par-for-the-course, if only because, from the outset, the only Jewish State could not remain a stranger to the oldest hatred: antisemites would turn against Israel as soon as it came into view. Still, after WWII, the belated outrage and shame provoked by the Holocaust committed antisemitism to the closet for a time—long enough to secure the adoption of the UN’s partition plan of 1947 by its General Assembly, with both American and Soviet support. Resolution 181 was something of a fluke, though. Arab armies took to reverse it by force. On the ground, however, they were repelled time and again, and their fight over territory ended up being carried out in alternate arenas. At the UNGA, Israel soon became a top concern at the behest of its belligerent foes. The Arab League’s diplomatic pressure would be religiously seconded by all Muslim-majority countries, self-servingly exploited by the Soviet bloc, and extended with the increasing membership of Third-World nations that joined the Arab-led chorus. Denunciations against the young “Zionist Entity” skyrocketed after the 1967 Six Day war, reached a memorable nadir with the 1975 Zionism=Racism resolution, and settled for good as the organization’s foremost obsession. Israel is presently one of the 193 member nations at the UN, it represents not even 0.014% of the world’s landmass, 0.12% of its total population, and 0.5% of global GDP. And yet, in the past decade, 73% of all the resolutions adopted by the General Assembly were specifically directed against Israel (that’s 185 out of 253 since 2013). These numbers speak for themselves.
The Arab League’s relentless pressure and successful influence over the UN was not confined to the passion plays and crocodile tears at the General Assembly. It’s been corroborated with the fate of the estimated 400,000 to 700,000 Palestinian Arabs displaced in the 1948 war, who should have immediately resettled in the Arab State delineated by the UN’s partition plan. Instead, Jordan and Egypt figured they’d rather keep the bulk of those lands for themselves when they failed taking over the nascent Jewish State. Restoration for the subsequently homeless Palestinians became a guileful crusade deployed by the Arab regimes as a diplomatic lever and a demagogic distraction from their own domestic troubles. At the Arab League’s insistence, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) was created to care exclusively for the Palestinian Arab refugees. And through its sui-generis accounting, their number over time has swollen to a reported 5,900,000—because refugee status under UNRWA, and only under UNRWA, remains inherited over successive generations with no effective resettlement policy. By design, the Palestinian “refugee” problem multiplied over decades. And not by coincidence, the main obstacle to a final agreement with the Israelis has been the Palestinian leadership’s insistence that all descendants of the displaced “return” to their pre-1948 “homes” within Israel proper.
To be sure, the misfortune of hundreds of thousands Palestinian Arabs displaced by war in 1948 deserved commensurate aid and support from international bodies. But the gravity of their calamity should be considered within the overall picture of displaced peoples at the time. One must keep in mind that nearly one hundred million people were displaced by war throughout the 20th century:
- 40,000,000 by World War II in 1939-1945
- 14,000,000 Muslims and Hindus by the creation of Pakistan in 1947
- 12,000,000 ethnic Germans by Soviet bloc countries after 1945
- 10,000,000 to India after Bangladeshi independence in 1971
- 6,300,000 Afghans by the Soviet takeover in 1979
- 5,700,000 in Mozambique’s civil-war 1976-92
- 3,500,000 in the Rwandan civil war in 1994
- 2,500,000 through the breakdown of Yugoslavia in 1994-95
- 2,000,000 by the Biafran war of 1967 in Nigeria
- 2,000,000 in Central American civil wars in the 1980s
- 1,500,000 Greeks expelled by Turkey between 1914 and 1922
- 1,000,000 Catholics at the formation of Communist North Vietnam in 1955-57
- 900,000 Jews expelled from Arab countries after the creation of Israel
- 750,000 Armenians expelled by Russia in 1915
The refugee crises occasioned by such events were overcome or dissolved in time as such crises did throughout history. Not so with the Palestinian’s, which has remained a constant focus of global attention for three quarters of a century. Remarkably, the recent ethnic cleansing and mass detention of Muslim peoples in Myanmar and China have failed to retain the world’s sympathy for long, perhaps because neither the Rohingya nor the Uyghur implicate Arab interests.
Likewise, the particularity of the Palestinian national liberation struggle should be considered within a wider horizon. In the past century or so there were over a hundred national liberation movements that successfully brought about the establishment of new Nation-States, Israel but one among them. Many more such movements were not successful, thus far the Palestinian among them. There are at present dozens of active but ill-fated national liberation movements most of us never heard of—i.e. Ambazonians, Western Togolandans, Casamance, Karen. There are many we know about but understand little—as are the Chechen, the Tamil, the Kashmiri. And there are a few that did capture the West’s public imagination for a while but receded from the limelight—the Biafran, the Tibetan, and the Kurdish for instance.
The Arabs have proved themselves inventive and resourceful for shaping the Palestinian predicament into a permanent, headline-grabbing topic; disingenuously simplified to make it readily graspable, while also transformed into an intractable conundrum. Nevertheless, such stratagems only partly explain the outlandish phenomenon of Palestine having turned into the political pet project of unrelated multitudes who hold one grudge or another against reality.
My guess is that, for all the perceived injustices befallen upon the Palestinian Arabs, their strife would not have found such a variety of receptive ears had it not been for their presumptive tormentors being—ahem…—the Jews. It should not come as a surprise the extent to which the Palestinian leadership has steadily co-opted and weaponized every type of antisemitism that could advance its political interests:
— Muslim antisemitism has been deeply rooted in the Middle-East for centuries, as reflected by well-known anti-Jewish passages from the Quran and the Hadiths. Those passages feature in political manifestos such as the Hamas founding Charter. The Houthi official slogan calls equally for “Death to Israel, a Curse upon the Jews” despite their war being waged against the Yemenite Saudi backed regime and the absence of Jews in Yemen. Violence instigated by religious intolerance in Muslim domains was never reserved just for the Jews, as demonstrated by the fate of Christian Yazidis in Syria and the precariousness of Copts in Egypt, and even by the internecine Shiite-Sunni divide within Islam. In the aftermath of WWI, as the Levant was being allotted to warlords allied with England and France, Haj Amin Al Husseini rose to become Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, and the crafty leader of Palestinian Arab interests. As Mufti, he exploited the local Muslims’ disposition to react combatively to perceived religious slights, channeling it against the pre-State Zionists. Thus, the 1920 Nebi Musa riots were triggered by a supposed Zionist plot to replace the Al-Aqsa Mosque with a rebuilt Temple. This canard has endured, reiterated to spark Muslim violence at will, as it did again for the 1929 Hebron Massacre and beyond, all the way through the 2001 2nd Intifada and the ongoing Hamas’s rocket launches. Such religiously-based anti-Jewish incitement reverberates throughout Muslim-majority countries from Morocco to Malaysia and Indonesia.
— Nazi antisemitism was wholeheartedly embraced by the Grand Mufti. Muslim and Nazi antisemitisms were a natural fit: both take Jews to be an inferior and degrading kind. Having ignited the Arab Revolt of 1936-39 and expelled by the British, Al Husseini found refuge with the Germans and prepared support for the elimination of Jewish presence in Palestine at the Reich’s discretion. After the German defeat, antisemitic stereotypes and literature were proactively purged from the European mainstream by the Allies. But the Levant was not subjected to de-Nazification, so the Nazi propaganda found fertile ground and flourished as anti-Israel slander. Both “Mein Kampf” and “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” remain in print in Arabic, are widely circulated, and are recognized as legitimate sources. To wit, the current Palestinian PM, Mahmoud Abbas, received a PhD in History supported by a Holocaust-denying dissertation from which he still quotes in his public speeches.
— Soviet antisemitism was a nefarious concoction that combined lingering Tsarist antisemitism in Russia, the aging Stalin’s paranoid fears, and Communist propaganda designed to spread the URSS’s hegemonic agenda. As the Cold War got under way, the Soviets strategized to intimidate the West by proxy. Israel was itself Socialist at the time, and encompassed a Communist contingent in its government—it was not an American ally. But the oil-rich monarchies in Middle East were, as vital suppliers to American and European markets. The URSS deployed its own anti-Jewish animus to contrive a common cause with up-and-coming Arab Nationalists—in Egypt, Syria and Iraq—who, with Soviet backing, established military dictatorships. Naturally, anti-Israel demagoguery would prove instrumental for maintaining those regimes’ graces in the hearts and minds of their peoples. Soviet propagandists came up with a hugely effective campaign, including a figure that was as pernicious as it was readily adopted: Israel’s treatment of Palestinian Arabs would be portrayed as analogous to the Nazis’ treatment of Jews. This calumny, known today as Holocaust Inversion, remains one of the most widely pursued against the Jewish State. The PLO was founded in 1964 to substitute for the diminishing leadership of the Grand Mufti. Through its Communist inflected factions, the PLO duly adopted the Soviet antisemitic motifs, while aligning itself with the collection of Soviet-sponsored, revolutionary national liberation movements in the then remaining European colonies, and in Western friendly post-Colonial countries. Along with those, the Palestinian struggle was reframed as anti-Colonial. After the Six Day War, triumphant Israel became effectively an American ally, and began to be painted by the Soviet palette in the same colors as the USA—imperialist, exploitative, treacherous. Soviet antisemitism further spread as a by-product of Soviet influence throughout the third-world, and less directly but just as effectively filtered through Socialist and Left-leaning sympathizers in the European and American intelligentsia, including its liberal press. The Soviet enterprise collapsed in due time, not so its antisemitic legacy, which thrives in the slogans of pro-Palestinian protestors at universities and on the streets of Western capitals.
— Sublimated antisemitism is a misleadingly polite rendition of the otherwise crude Holocaust Inversion. French premier Emmanuel Macron came up with one such instance before the BBC, on November 9, when he censured the Israeli response to the Hamas pogrom: “These [Gazan] babies, these ladies, these old people are bombed and killed. So, there is no reason for that and no legitimacy. So, we do urge Israel to stop.” Thus put, the collateral civilian casualties in Gaza are mendaciously decontextualized, and the perpetrator of Gazan deaths is underhandedly rendered a depraved agent, committing crimes tantamount to the murder of elderly Jews, infants and women in WWII, for which France collaborated. Hereby, the inherited stigma for the French collaboration to the Holocaust may be eased. If Macron reflects a personal or societal anxiety for the healing of acknowledged past guilt, he does it at the expense of Jews, who, in this case, happen to be Israeli. Sublimated antisemitism underpins the troublingly popular anti-Israel sentiment among Europeans, and surely influenced the International Court of Justice’s acquiescence to considering the preposterous claim that the IDF is committing a genocide in Gaza, thus lending the accusation a measure credence.
— Self-hating antisemitism has been a perennially small but not insignificant annoyance among Jews. Vocal self-hating Jews embrace the form of antisemitism prevalent in their milieu. It was religious for Pablo Cristiani back in the XIII C., socio-cultural for Karl Marx in the XIX, and it’s political for our contemporaries Norman Finkelstein and Peter Beinart. By publicly “exposing” and deploring the supposed schemes of their “fellow” Jews, they believe themselves disassociated from the prevailing antisemitic reproach—which is thus, in turn, further “legitimized”. Jewish self-hatred may be explained as a condition akin to Stockholm syndrome augmented with an elaborate form of gaslighting. Its prevalent articulation is the embracement of political anti-Zionism. In the USA, witness the steadfast alliance of the group so-called Jewish Voice for Peace with the Israel-hating SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine). The odd Jewish propensity to self-flagellate for the sake of gentile sympathy is found within Israel as well, such is the case of several humanitarian NGOs—B’Tselem first among them—that obdurately join the most insidious international campaigns against Israel (like BDS and the denunciations of apartheid).
As is often pointed out, criticism of specific policies of the government of Israel must not be taken as ipso-facto antisemitic. Indeed, in Israel, disparagement of its government is a national infatuation. An open and polarized society, freedom of speech and press, a democratic and raucous parliament, and—to boot—a permanent state of war imposed by regional foes; these conditions facilitate the ample flow of reproving pronouncements from the opposition within Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu’s dominance over Israel’s political landscape —consistent but far from absolute—has turned into a rich source of such materials, some legitimate and others less so. Alas, these end up being freely exploited and refitted by Israel-haters abroad as further alleged evidence of Israel’s wickedness.
It is thus that the Israel haters of today misappropriate the self-critique of Israel’s open society, add it to the lingering anti-Zionist Soviet influence over Left-wing ideals, combine it with long-simmering Arab misinformation, and spice the mix with a generous swirl of antisemitic tropes—older and recent, overt and covert. This is the insidious brew that, despite its stench, has become an acquired taste for Muslims everywhere, multitudes throughout the Global South, progressive folk in both developed and underdeveloped economies, populaces subjected to tyrannical regimes, and run-of-the-mill antisemites still roaming around. Altogether, that’s pretty much a majority of the world’s population.
But what about the ludicrous, absurd spectacle put on by the Queers for Palestine? What could compel LGTBQ activists to lend their passionate support to a regime that would lynch them at the first opportunity? That may end up remaining a cosmic mystery, as profoundly bewildering as the imperishability of antisemitism.