Antisemitism, anti-Israelism, anti-Americanism.
In effect, these formulations do not recognize the existence of prejudice against Israel except as a function of prejudice against all Jews as such. This perception is largely shared by American Jews, according to Stephen Cohen's recent survey. (2) Of course, it is tempting just to merge the two pathologies. One prejudice is directed against the presupposed negative characteristics of an entire ethnic/religious group; the other is directed against the presupposed negative policies and proclivities of a nation-state, which, in this case, is largely peopled by that ethnic/religious group. One can easily be suspicious.
But a systematic prejudice against Israel is identifiable as a discrete phenomenon, dangerous in its own terms, whether it is or is not caused by antisemitism. It can be identified in its own sphere and with its own particulars, by the universal symptoms, the Four Horsemen of all prejudice: prejudgment, stereotype, double standard, scapegoat. These symptoms are also the tools of all prejudice, and have some similar consequences. At the minimum, they wipe out rational debate about problems or conflicts, and--with immoral and inhuman effect--they strive to demonize and delegitimate the target, whether ethnic group or nation-state.
There is a new surge of antisemitism in the world, and much prejudice against Israel is driven by such antisemitism. But the conventional formulations exclude the existence of a powerful factor other than antisemitism--namely, a particular set of ideological worldviews that create prejudice against Israel as a nation-state and must be dealt with independently.
Paul Berman, a liberal journalist and sometimes critic of Israel, recently expressed his alarm at such symptoms taking hold among a sector of activists and public intellectuals within his own circles. He quoted Jose Saramago, the Portuguese Nobel Prize winner in literature, who said that a relatively restrained Israeli siege of Yasir Arafat's compound was "a crime comparable to Auschwitz." Berman commented that it "is fairly amazing how many otherwise serious writers have ended up choosing the same set of images to apply to the Jewish state." (3) He cited the sloganeering against Israeli policy makers as "murderers" by the same activist crowds that referred to Palestinian suicide bombers as "martyrs." He was especially alarmed because he personally knew that many of these intellectuals abhorred antisemitism.
In America and Europe, the telltale evidence of prejudice against Israel abounds in the media, on university campuses, and in general among significant sectors of public intellectuals and political activists. But in otherwise astute Jewish circles, there is a puzzling resistance to the idea that such prejudice often stems from something other than antisemitism. This resistance may begin with the failure to distinguish sharply enough between anti-Israelism (or antisemitism, for that matter) in the Arab/Muslim world and in the Western world.
The vilification of the Jews in the Koran was a product of the seventh-century conflict between Mohammed and the Jews, but as one scholar of that relationship, Meier Litwak, has pointed out, "for long periods, the Jews fared better in the Islamic world than in the Christian countries." (4) In his latest book, Bernard Lewis made the case that the traditional Muslim world had not notably participated in the classic Christian culture of antisemitism. (5) Muslim leaders tended to side with the Jews in the Dreyfus Affair, and in the Damascus massacre of 1860, more than 10,000 Christians were murdered, but Jews were not harmed. However, the Arab world's gradual identification of the Jews with Western colonialism intensified with the growing immigration of European Jews to Palestine, and climaxed with the humiliating military defeats of 1948 and 1967. A strong case can now be made that the mantle of antisemitic leadership has been passing from Christian culture to Islamic culture, especially in the Arab world.
That bigotry has been brought to its crest by the emergence of radical Islamism. That perspective, centrally defined by anger against the ex-colonialist West--especially its perceived vanguard, America--uses the Israeli-Palestinian war as dramatic focus and antisemitism as mobilizing theme. The genocidal intent in the literature of such extremist Islamist agencies as Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad is at least as naked as it was in Mein Kampf. But the accompanying antisemitic calumny now floods much of the Arab/Muslim world in general. The most prejudiced inventions of Christian culture at its antisemitic peak are freely borrowed. The Russian--spawned Protocols of the Elders of Zion, first translated into Arabic in 1920, is now widely distributed and cited throughout the Arab world, and reprinted by Arab media in this country.
The simpler equations of antisemitism and anti-Israel prejudice can be unquestionably applied today to the Arab/Muslim world, and bodes ill for the prospects of near-term peace in the Middle East. But Jews in the Diaspora are also worried that this bigotry can actively re-infect the western world in which they live--and which must stand as a barrier between Israel and its destruction. They find such troubling evidence in the heightened antisemitic activity within Western Europe.
The Minister of Interior in France, the most actively antisemitic country in Western Europe, was correct when he said that most of the outbreaks of violence against Jews in that country have been committed by "Arab youths." And antisemitism seemed to be significantly on the wane among post-Hitler generations of Europeans. But non-Muslim Europeans are clearly still vulnerable to the classic, "old" antisemitism, much more than today's Americans. The European nations are still fundamentally nativist, despite their aspirant Union, while America is fundamentally integrationist, despite its checkered history and its multiculturalist faddism. In a June, 2002 report on French Jews, Shmuel Trigano, Professor of Sociology at the University of Paris-Nanterre, noted "a growing instability in the status of Jews as French citizens. As their safety appears to be in greater jeopardy, there is no protest from the society at large and the government appears indifferent. The authorities behave merely as spectators, distancing themselves from the tension stemming from what they perceive as an external conflict between 'two immigrant communities' that are perceived as foreign to France." (6) It is no surprise that a recent ADL survey shows the level of popular antisemitic attitudes in Europe as much higher than in America. (7)
Europe's traditions of antisemitism are now further nourished by anti-Israel attitudes. While Americans have repeatedly expressed more "sympathy" for Israel than for the Palestinian authority by ratios of 3 or 4 to 1, the ADL survey found that Western Europeans "sympathize" with Palestinians over Israelis by a 2 to 1 margin. (8) Western Europe is politically aware of its own burgeoning Muslim population, and anxious that its EU well being not be disturbed by complications in the oil-soaked Middle East. In the background is the pervasive European resentment of America's dominant military and cultural position in the world. America's stubborn support of Israel feeds European antagonism towards both countries.
Europe's public intellectuals have a significant role in fanning this antagonism. In a December 2001 Pew Research Center survey, seven of ten European "opinion makers" in the media, political or cultural elite--twice as many as their American counterparts--thought the U.S. gave Israel too much support. Robert Cukierman, President of CRIF, the council of French Jewish organizations, has stressed that these public intellectuals have had an influential role in shaping Europe's negative attitudes towards Israel. (9) A substantial group of those public intellectuals is prone, in one degree or another, to a standard leftist mantra that, as a handmaiden of arrogant American imperialism, Israel is an imperialist oppressor of the indigenous Palestinians. It also tends to be a part of the expressed belief system of these public intellectuals that ethnic and racial prejudice, including antisemitism, is evil. But as a result of their worldview, many of them slip easily into adopting the accoutrements of a prejudiced anti-Israelism. This worldview can explain how so many who do not qualify as antisemites can rail at Israel for a given action while condoning, at best by silence, actions much more vile committed daily by various third-world countries.
Partly because of the anti-American slant inherent in this mindset, its purveyors are not as influential with the general public in this country. But their ideological presence is visible daily among America's public intellectuals and activists. I choose one illustration from a piece written by a Jewish professor, Joel Kovel of Bard College, in a recent issue of the Jewish periodical, Tikkun: "The Zionists took from the West the values of liberal democracy, but also the goals, tactics and mentality of imperialism that often accompanied these.... How have the Jews, immemorially associated with suffering and high moral purpose, become identified with a nation-state loathed around the world for its oppressiveness toward a subjugated indigenous people?" (10)
On its own strength, this kind of doctrine can beget the complementary prejudicial tools of stereotype, double standard, and scapegoating. "[T]here should be no doubt," writes Kovel, "that those who have dispossessed others and illegally occupy their national lands have to bear primary responsibility." (11) Little room is left for the subtler complications of history--in this case, the need for two peoples who both have legitimate and urgent claims to the same land, to negotiate this existential problem and territorial conflict as peacefully as possible. Israel must be held accountable for any of its own failures of negotiation, as must the Palestinians, but the imperatives of this abstract, procrustean doctrine automatically place the blame on Israel. And Kovel's basic worldview is constantly expressed in some form by an influential minority of American public intellectuals. It is an ideological bent shaped by their experiences on campus in earlier generations.
The sophisticated public affairs agencies of the Jewish community understand this doctrinal phenomenon very well, but they have typically strained to keep the dynamic of anti-Israelism contained within the rubric of antisemitism. A statement on "global antisemitism," adopted in October 2002 by the Board of the major coordinating council of America's local and national public affairs agencies, the Jewish Council on Public Affairs (JCAP), referred to the "efforts to delegitimize Israel and Zionism," saying that those efforts "[have] been described as the 'new' antisemitism," and have "emerged alongside the more traditional forms of antisemitism." This statement made a glancing reference to the role of political ideology: "There is growing anti-Israel animus among the political Left in Europe that encompasses certain political elites, media ... and human rights 'activists'. This criticism has, in many instances, crossed lines of legitimate discourse and become another form of antisemitism." (12) By omission as well as commission, this JCPA statement mirrored the formulations of Halkin and others, which ascribe anti-Israelism exclusively to antisemitism. Why has there been such resistance to directly confronting the role of political ideology as well?
In some cases, there seems to be a retrograde edge to such formulations, reminiscent of the famed nineteenth-century statement of Leo Pinsker that "Judeophobia is hereditary and incurable." (13) It may seem that way sometimes, but surely we have learned better. A more reasonable explanation for Jewish reticence in this matter may lie in the much-cited language of Lawrence Summers, President of Harvard, that unfair attacks on Israel could create antisemitism "if not by intent, then by effect." From that unexceptionable remark, an inference might be drawn that equating anti-Israelism and antisemitism is so close to the truth that distinctions between the two make no practical difference. But they do make a difference on several levels.
On a very practical level, charges of antisemitism based on anti-Israel remarks alone have proven to lack credibility in most circles. One observer found a Jewish student sitting on the grass outside an anti-Israel rally in June 2002 at the Berkeley campus of the University of California, tears in her eyes, muttering, "Why don't they understand?" The student had been at the rally, arguing with friends who she knew would be standing beside her in any battle against antisemitism, but who were agreeing with the prejudiced attacks on Israel flowing from the podium. Her confusion could not have been dispelled by an attempt to label her friends as antisemites.
At about the same time, a heated controversy at Connecticut University revolved around a Professor Norton Mezvinsky who was charged with antisemitism by the organized Jewish community because of his remarks at a school assembly. Among their complaints was his accusation that Israel had engaged in "terrorism," although, in double-standard style, neither he nor anyone else on the program mentioned the suicide bombers who had precipitated the Israeli actions. But the charge of antisemitism was found unbelievable in some university and media quarters, which saw his remarks as legitimate expressions of opinion on foreign affairs. The Hartford Courant headlined the statement by two local Jewish women, who were admonishing the Jewish community, "Don't mistake criticism of Israel for antisemitism." (14) Along with so many who have defended professor Mezvinskys in many similar episodes around the country, these Jews had absorbed neither the distinction between criticism of and prejudice against Israel, nor the understanding that such prejudice is in itself and in its own way as serious a breach of morality and good sense as antisemitism.
The equation of all anti-Israelism with antisemitism is the kind of tactical error that the street-wise Jewish public affairs spokesmen do not usually make. They are well aware of the laws of diminishing credibility and diminishing returns. Perhaps some of them are thrown off their game by the fact that today the ideology so often leading to anti-Israelism is coming largely from the left, the political neighborhood in which they have felt most comfortable--rather than from right-wingers, although some of those, like Pat Buchanan, have been trying to hitch a ride on the same wagon.
There seems to be a reluctance to directly oppose some of the stances that have traditionally been on the leftist agenda and that now so often serve as natural bridges to doctrinal anti-Israelism. In point are the prevalent "anti-globalism" and "anti-war" rallies in Europe and America. These have not been primarily mounted as "anti-Israel" rallies. Their main target has been America. As one speaker said at a major Washington D.C. anti-war rally in January 2003: "The real terrorists have always been the United Snakes of America." (15) And global capitalism or imperialism, rather than Zionism, has usually been the featured target. But anti-Israel speakers, signs, slogans, and chants are also in evidence as an integrated part of the ideological tapestry.
Tactical miscalculations aside, a grave educational misdirection is imbedded in formulations suggesting that if we somehow get rid of antisemitism, we will get rid of anti-Israelism. This reduces the problems of prejudice against Israel to cartoon proportions. Certainly, antisemitism can be and often is a direct bridge to prejudice against Israel; and there should be no mincing of condemnatory words whenever prejudice against Jews as such is expressed. But, conversely, anti-Israelism can be and often is a bridge to antisemitism.
For Arab/Muslims that bridging process is of a different nature than for non-Muslim Europeans and Americans. For the latter, the road from anti-Israelism to antisemitism is paved with refrains of "dual loyalty." This charge has been the lynch-pin of modern Western antisemitism. More than a century before Professor Tregano reported on the current status of Jews in nativist France, the trumped-up charge of dual loyalty against French Captain Alfred Dreyfus strengthened Theodore Herzl's conviction that the Jews could not escape antisemitism in Europe. In its bigoted heydays, the American arena also rang with charges of dual loyalty against Jews.
We are now living in a country where a highly disproportionate number of Jews are elected to Congress and other public office, in most cases by constituencies that are 95% or more non-Jewish--without the raising of eyebrows. But America is not yet impregnable. Compare the Gallup Poll of October 2001 with that of June 2002. In the first one, on the heels of "9/11," the Gallup Poll found that twice as many Americans as not said Israel was getting the "right amount" of rather than "too much" support for Israel. Ten months later, the American public split evenly on that question, the percentage of those thinking that Israel was getting too much support having risen a substantial 14 points. (16) In that last poll, Americans concomitantly revealed a sharply rising concern with the economy, and a growing lack of confidence in the long-range war on terrorism. And in April 2002, a slight majority of Americans told the Washington Post/ABC survey they thought the U.S. support of Israel was hurting the U.S. war on terrorism.
Americans are still much more highly sympathetic to Israel than to the Arabs, but expressions of "sympathy" for Israel do not indicate how much Americans are willing to sacrifice on behalf of that sympathy. Since the 1960s, about one third of the American public, mostly sympathetic to Israel, has consistently told poll-takers that American Jews are "more loyal to Israel than to America." Most of them, however, did not find fault with that loyalty, believing that support of Israel was in America's best interest. For many Americans, a widespread belief that support of Israel is contrary to the best interest of this country could conceivably metamorphose into prejudice against Israel, without the prior intervention of antisemitism. And such an anti-Israelism, can serve as a bridge to a heightened antisemitism based on intimations of dual loyalty.
The possibility of such a cycle is made credible by increasing hints from ideological circles that America's "wars" are being promulgated by those mainly interested in Israel. One of the signs at January's Washington anti-war rally mock-quoted President George W. Bush as saying to the American people: "I want you to die for Israel. Israel sings Onward Christian Soldiers." (17)
Of course, some Palestinian advocacy groups attach themselves to these demonstrations, and often influence them. But the anti-Israel expressions and influences of such advocacy groups fit snugly into the global ideologies that dominate these activities. There is a temptation to narrowly define these global ideologies in terms of the most orthodox and doctrinaire Marxist ideologies. The Washington Post columnist Michael Kelly, identified an organization called A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) as the chief organizer of widely reported anti-war rallies in both Washington and San Francisco. (18) A.N.S.W.E.R. is a well-known radical organization that has managed to endorse almost every major tyrant of our time. And one local Jewish agency also documented that among the organizers of many "anti-war" rallies was one titled Not In Our Name (NION), a front organization ultimately deriving from the Revolutionary Communist Party USA (RCP). Steve Berley, the researcher, quoted from a recent draft of the RCP platform: "People's war in [the U.S.] would begin with mass insurrections centered in the urban area ... and then the waging of a civil war to finally and completely defeat the old ruling class ... and to consolidate the rule of the proletariat." (19)
But while few American activists and public intellectuals would subscribe to such a radical and anachronistic agenda, many of them suffer from a paler but somewhat compatible mindset-anchored in the belief that the chief cause of war and injustice in the world is capitalist imperialism, exercised though military aggression and/or economic, globalist, oppression, America being the prime culprit. This mantra easily degenerates into an "anti-Americanism," defined as a systematic prejudice against this nation-state, as distinguished from the ad hoc and frequently needed criticism of American policies. Anti-Americanism is, of course, not as directly threatening to this nation-state as the parallel prejudice is to Israel, but its effect can corrode the beneficial influence of America, and it does provide a rich soil for anti-Israelism.
Ironically enough, expressions of the classic symptoms of prejudice as directed against America have multiplied since this country's reactions to the mass murders of "9/11," which so stimulated the major and minor ideologues and their followers. There has been an outpouring of such formulations as that of the Professor at the University of North Carolina who told his students that the "first" response to 9/11 should be an apology to "the widows and orphans, the tortured and the impoverished and all the millions of other victims of American imperialism"; (20) or that of playwright Harold Pinter, who, from the podium of an "anti-war" rally, attacked the U.S. as a "country run by a bunch of criminals," without commenting adversely on Saddam Hussein. One Canadian journalist commented: "Got that? It's not the million-man murderer of Baghdad who's the new Hitler, it's George Bush." (21) The internal logic of such prejudice against America illuminates and promulgates a similar prejudice against Israel, with or without an initial antisemitism.
In such an atmosphere, it is not enough to be engaged in countering each manifestation of anti-Israelism--or in urging anti-war and anti-globalization movements to reject expressions of anti-Israel prejudice. It is necessary to more explicitly oppose the nature and fallacies of that core ideology, including its demonization of Israel and America.
(1.) Hillel Halkin, "The Return of Anti-Semitism," Commentary, February 2002, p. 35.
(2.) Survey of American Jews, conducted and reported by Stephen Cohen in November/December 2002, Jewish Agency for Israel's Department for Jewish-Zionist Education, Jerusalem. The results, according to Cohen, "pointed to anew source of anxiety: 'anti-Israelism,' clearly perceived by Jews as a form of antisemitism." For example, about half of the respondents "believe that many or most journalists who criticize Israeli policies are antisemitic."
(3.) Paul Berman, "Bigotry in Print. Crowds Chant Murder. Something's Changed," The Forward, May 24, 2002
(4.) Meier Litwak, Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, in "The Development of Arab Anti-Semitism," Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Jerusalem, February 2, 2003.
(5.) Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong? (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).
(6.) Shmuel Trigano, "The Perverse Logic of French Politics," Jerusalem Viewpoints, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Jerusalem, June 2 2002, p. 1.
(7.) The Anti-Defamation League survey of Americans, April/May 2002 and of Europeans, My/ June 2002 reported that 17% of Americans, compared with 30% of Europeans, hold strongly antisemitic beliefs.
(8.) The Washington Post-ABC Poll of April 23, 2002 reported that 49% of Americans were more sympathetic to the Israelis, 15% to the Palestinians; the ADL survey of May/June 2002 reported that 29% of Europeans were more sympathetic to the Palestinians, 14% to the Israelis.
(9.) Quoted in Ha'Aretz, April 23 2002.
(10.) Joel Kovel, "Zionism's Bad Conscience," Tikkun Magazine, September/October 2002.
(11.) Joel Kovel, "Zionism's Bad Conscience," Tikkun Magazine, September/October 2002.
(12.) "Global Antisemitism: Response of the Jewish Community Relations Field," October 14, 2002, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, New York
(13.) Leo Pinsker, Autoemancipation, translated by D. D. Blondheim, edited by A. S. Super, London, 1932, p. 8.
(14.) Hartford Courant, August 12 2002
(15.) Quoted in a column by Michael Kelly in the Washington Post, January 22, 2003, p. A15.
(16.) The Gallup Poll of June 7, 2002 reported that in October 2001, 29% of Americans had thought the U.S. was giving Israel too much support, 58% the right amount; while in June 2002, 43% thought the U.S. was giving Israel too much support, 40% the right amount.
(17.) Michael Kelly, Washington Post, January 22, 2003, p. A 15.
(18.) Michael Kelly, Washington Post, January 22, 2003, p. A15.
(19.) Steve Berley, "Analysis of the Groups Behind Today's Anti-War Movement," Jewish Community Relations Council of the San Francisco Bay Area, 121 Steuart St., San Francisco, February 3, 2003.
(20.) See the October 2, 2001 Wall Street Journal editorial, "The Best and the Brightest."
(21.) Mark Steyn, "The Curtain Will Come Down on the Peaceniks," National Post, Toronto, Canada, February 17, 2003.
EARL RAAB was Executive Director of the San Francisco area Jewish Community Relations Council from 1950 to 1987 and Founding Director of the Perlmutter Institute for Jewish Advocacy at Brandeis University from 1989 to 1994. He is the author, with S. M. Lipset, of Jews and the New American Scene (1995). HIS article, "End of a Mission? The Jewish Community's Tangle with American Public Policy," was published in the Fall 2001 issue.
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|Publication:||Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2002|
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