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Changing the narrative.

The antisemitism picture and the academic conversation have largely changed. The narrative of antisemitism has a new focus; in fact, it has moved into two new, complementary directions. Without minimizing the persistence in many parts of the world of the classic forms of antisemitism, there is a growing sense among friends and supporters of Israel that the new form may be as virulent as the earlier vicious Nazi propaganda and the ugly church-based attacks. Today's antisemitic conversation has been transformed and morphed into an anti-Israel diatribe, composed of the delegitimization of Israel on the one hand and Islamophobia on the other.

Both of these new forms of antisemitism emanate from the Muslim world, but have gathered support and steam across the world and the political spectrum. The voices in the Arab world and their Muslim as well as non-Muslim supporters now deem it appropriate to attack the legitimacy of the State of Israel. They continue to suggest that despite its ugliness and unashamed, transparent attacks on the Jewish state, these attacks do not constitute antisemitism. Hostility to Israel on ideological and political grounds is growing. The campaign for Israel delegitimization is rushing ahead and is now being led by the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The fact that so many public leaders and officials have given acceptance to the Israel delegitimizing initiative is frightening on two levels. First, it suggests that on its face many officials actually believe that the Palestinian narrative is correct and the Israel/Jewish one is false. Second, many of these same people see no connection between opposing the existence of the State of Israel as opposing the right of a Jewish State. In other words, they do not recognize that opposing the right for the existence of a state for Jews is being antisemitic.

In fact, the delegitimization of Israel has been an implicit part of the conversation since Israel's inception in 1948. Israel's detractors viewed the very creation of the State of Israel as implicitly illegitimate. Everything else, therefore, flowed from this.

The most dramatic move to carry this message forward on the international stage after the creation of State of Israel was a reality occurred with the 72-35-32 vote on the 1975 United Nations resolution equating Zionism with racism. It has overhung the Arab-Israel conflict ever since. If one considers the level of anti-Israel rhetoric rampant today, this resolution's repeal in 1991 means very little.

Regarding Islamophobia, a very curious set of events has occurred. In general, until the twentieth century and generally until World War II, Jews in Muslim lands were treated much better than they were in Europe. Prior to the Enlightenment, Jews and Muslims largely shared the same treatment from the Christian community. As Jewish resettlement continued even prior to World War II, efforts at accommodation with the local Arab population was largely thwarted by militant and hostile Muslim leaders, both religious and political. Since 1948, the growth of outright antisemitism has intensified within the Arab world. This has not been exclusively through the use of Islamic imagery, but now has incorporated much of the largely historical, Christian antisemitic imagery coupled with the most exaggerated, extreme Nazi pictorials. Within the Arab world cartoons, pictures, and television programs, including a series of the most classical of European mythical treatments of the Jews--The Protocols of the Elders of Zion--have appeared. The current growth of Islam-based attacks and rationalization for violence against Jews has converted the conversation to the level of an Islamic holy war.

At the same time, as support for the Palestinians has grown and the hostility toward Israeli politics has increased, direct attacks challenging the legitimacy of Zionism have grown. This has been especially prevalent among the European left, but has been emerging as well more recently on college campuses in America. The rhetoric from old, Western, antisemitic diatribes and imagery are now perverted and distorted into anti-Zionist, anti-Israel, antisemitic attacks. The delegitimization movement seeks to create a logical theme that ultimately challenges the very possibility of a two-state solution in the region.

The current strategy, beyond the rhetoric itself, is the BDS movement. Using the threat and then imposition of an economic boycott of Israeli goods, Israeli scholars, Israeli tourists, Israeli investment, and other Israeli products, anti-Israel forces are prepared to create and to galvanize hostility toward Israel through the use of the boycott technique. The next step in an effort to advance the Palestinian cause--without even suggesting a possible legitimacy of Israel's claims--is to institute a movement to force corporate and even government divestment in Israel corporate life. Finally, the BDS movement urges government sanctions for those who continue to commercially interact with Israel.

On the European stage, there already have been organized protests against stores that carry Israeli products; there have been Israeli scholars denied permission to participate in academic conferences; and there are even Israeli diplomats and military emissaries who are afraid to travel, lest they be arrested or refused entry. In Europe as well as in the United States, Israeli diplomats have been heckled so badly that they were unable to speak at universities. There have been efforts made recently on some campuses to force university food services not to serve food or products in university cafeterias that have been manufactured in Israel or are owned by Israelis. While some of these protests are strictly focused strictly on items grown or manufactured on the West Bank, the boycott initiative has the effective of highlighting an issue in the public eye even if the economic impact--at this stage--is trivial.

The divestment effort has also had much more effect to date with the media and the public than has any economic or political impact. Major mainline churches continue to review their investment polices and Jewish organizations have spent an inordinate amount of time fighting against implementation of such policies. Defending Israel against irrational and unreasonable attacks creates fodder for Israel's critics, tension for Israel's friends among these groups, and an outrageous amount of time lost; it wears down those in the public arena who defend Israel and feeds the frenzy of the Left.

Sanctions, which are this third leg of this anti-Israel delegitimization program, have not yet begun. It seems that while some countries and companies will ignore such an initiative, even more shameful to imagine is there might actually be countries and companies that will consider such an option, where many have failed to implement even or comply with similar initiative targeting Iran and the looming potential nuclear threat it poses.

The major problem for Israel's defenders is that they find that their arguments continue to fall on deaf ears. Comparisons do not work; rational presentations are brushed away; and public responses are ignored. The need to avoid polarization is clear, but there continues to be a lack of good will in the name of defending the perceived Palestinian underdog. The BDS campaign could become a serious challenge unless there is a genuine, marked effort to blow the whistle on this newest form of blatant antisemitism.
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Title Annotation:Selected Papers 2010 New York Conference
Author:Kahn, Gilbert N.
Publication:Journal for the Study of Antisemitism
Date:Dec 1, 2010
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