Antony Lerman writes (“Jews attacking Jews“),
When I first started professionally monitoring and studying anti-Semitism almost 30 years ago, there was, broadly speaking, a shared understanding of what it was…
We Jews knew who the enemy was. Since Jews do not cause anti-Semitism, we fought those who peddled theories of the world Jewish conspiracy, Holocaust denial, blood libels. Except at the very margins, we didn’t fight Jews.
How things have changed. Today, bitter arguments rage about what constitutes anti-Semitism. When Jew-hatred is identified, it’s mostly in the form of what many call the “new anti-Semitism” — essentially, anti-Zionism. Others (this writer included) fundamentally dispute that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are synonymous.
But whatever position you take, it’s clear that a revolutionary change in the discourse about anti-Semitism has occurred: Practically no discussion about current anti-Semitism now takes place without Israel and Zionism being at its center.
Lerman goes on to decry the phenomenon of Jews bitterly attacking other Jews as ‘anti-Semitic’ simply because they may be anti-Israel:
The attacks are often vitriolic, ad hominem and indiscriminate. Aspersions are cast on the Jewishness of individuals whom the attacker cannot possibly know. The charge of Jewish “self-hatred” — another way of calling someone a Jewish anti-Semite — is used ever more frequently, despite mounting evidence that it’s an entirely bogus concept.
Of course he’s right that “Jew vs. Jew” is not helpful to the cause of preserving the Jewish people. But there really is a sense in which anti-Semitism has changed, especially since 1967.
Let’s go back to Germany in 1938. There was no problem in defining anti-Semitism — it was when Brownshirts wrecked your store and beat you up. In the US after the war it took a more subtle form, that of ‘restrictions’ on where Jews could live, ‘quotas’ on where they could study, etc.
As time went by American society became less suffused with manifestations of various forms of racial and ethnic prejudice, and anti-Semitism was primarily the province of the extreme and marginal Right — neo-Nazis like George Lincoln Rockwell (1918-67), and racists like David Duke. It goes without saying that neither Hitler’s SA, Rockwell’s American Nazi Party or Duke’s KKK attracted many Jewish recruits.
In the mid-1960’s Yasser Arafat — with Soviet guidance — turned the Palestinian public relations strategy around. David Meir-Levy wrote (History Upside Down, pp. 28-29),
Arafat was particularly struck by Ho Chi Minh’s success in mobilizing left-wing sympathizers in Europe and the United States, where activists on American campuses, enthusiastically following the line of North Vietnamese operatives, had succeeded in reframing the Vietnam war from a Communist assault on the south to a struggle for national liberation.
Ho’s chief strategist, General Giap, made it clear to Arafat and his lieutenants that in order to succeed, they too needed to redefine the terms of their struggle. Giap’s counsel was simple but profound: the PLO needed to work in a way that concealed its real goals, permitted strategic deception, and gave the appearance of moderation:
Stop talking about annihilating Israel and instead turn your terror war into a struggle for human rights. Then you will have the American people eating out of your hand.
At the same time that he was getting advice from General Giap, Arafat was also being tutored by Muhammad Yazid, who had been minister of information in two Algerian wartime governments (1958-1962):
Wipe out the argument that Israel is a small state whose existence is threatened by the Arab states, or the reduction of the Palestinian problem to a question of refugees; instead, present the Palestinian struggle as a struggle for liberation like the others. Wipe out the impression …that in the struggle between the Palestinians and the Zionists, the Zionist is the underdog. Now it is the Arab who is oppressed and victimized in his existence because he is not only facing the Zionists but also world imperialism.
The new approach was wildly successful, especially with the moderate Left, which had generally supported the somewhat socialist state of Israel. At the 2001 UN Durban Conference on Racism, this approach was refined, focused and amplified. Now Israel was presented as not only denying Palestinians their rights, but as doing so out of an essential racism. The false analogy with South African apartheid was pushed and similar remedies were proposed: delegitimization, boycotts, divestment, etc.
Thus in addition to the power of the anticolonialist theme, the potent element of racism was added. Especially in the US, where in recent decades the full horror of our own racist history had been coming to the surface in white society — along with powerful feelings of guilt — it was not difficult for Israel’s enemies to make anti-Zionism almost a religion on the Left, especially on college campuses.
Israel’s Arab opponents — especially Egypt and Syria, which absorbed numerous former Nazis who busied themselves with such projects as developing chemical weapons — had started adopting traditional European anti-Semitic themes almost immediately after the founding of the state. And the Palestinian Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who had been an admirer of Hitler since the 1930’s, injected the same ideas into the Palestinian movement.
It wouldn’t be unfair to say that many Palestinians and other Arabs took to it like ducks to water. For one thing, the massive power of international Zionism serves as an explanation for the otherwise ‘inexplicable’ humbling of the Arabs at the hands of the numerically inferior Jews in 1948 and 1967. In addition, hatred of Jews is easier to develop and sustain than liking for Palestinians, something that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has found effective to exploit.
As a result we find that Jew-hatred is inextricably bound up with the anti-Zionism of the Palestinians, the Arab nations, and the Iranians. And as anti-Semitism has been compared to a virus, is it surprising that it has also affected many of the Western supporters of the Middle Eastern anti-Zionist cause?
So while Lerman is correct that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism don’t mean the same thing, many anti-Zionists are as a matter of fact also anti-Semites — and this includes some Jews.
In addition, there is a form of extreme anti-Zionism that can only be understood as a form of anti-Semitism itself (see my discussion of “Anti-Zionism and antisemitism“). And it is this extreme manifestation that characterizes many of the Jews that Lerman admits are “at the forefront of the growing number of anti-Israel or anti-Zionist groups”.
These anti-Zionists are fond of saying that “any criticism of Israel is branded as anti-Semitism”, and that therefore they are being ‘muzzled’, prevented from expressing their legitimate political views. But in some cases the shoe may fit quite well.