Though the Howard Gutman incident is still something the New York Times hasn’t bothered to report, the effort by the left to push back against complaints about the egregious nature of the remarks made by the U.S. ambassador to Belgium last week have continued. In the latest one, Justin Elliot in Salon singles out my comments about Gutman’s attempt to distinguish between “classical” anti-Semitism and Jew-hatred by Muslims that is rooted in resentment of Israeli actions.
Elliot does not even bother to defend Gutman’s attempt to draw a moral equivalence between Palestinian terrorism and Israeli home building and measures of self-defense. But he does try to claim, as did a writer at Think Progress yesterday, that Gutman was misquoted about anti-Semitism. This is a risible assertion and is easily dismissed. More interesting is his attempt to claim there is nothing controversial about linking the Middle East conflict with anti-Semitism. He agrees with Adam Serwer who wrote in Mother Jones, “Gutman’s suggestion that anti-Semitism would subside if a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be reached isn’t the same as saying Israelis or Jews are ‘responsible’ for anti-Semitism.” But to say this as if it were self-evident misses the point. Far from being morally neutral, the whole focus on Israeli actions that he claims fuel anti-Semitic incidents, does just that.
To back up Gutman, Elliot points to research by Britain’s Community Service Trust that documents incidents of anti-Semitism. It concluded “much contemporary anti-Semitism takes place in the context of, or is motivated by, extreme feelings over the Israel/Palestine issue” and spoke of the spike in incidents after the Gaza flotilla incident in 2010 or Israel’s counter-offensive against Gaza-based terrorists in 2008.
But the conclusions reached here are misleading. It is true that those who express hatred for Jews and give vent to these feelings are more likely to do so when Israel is in the news. Then they claim it is the conflict or specific actions undertaken by the Jewish state that is the cause of what they say and do. But, as with the “classic anti-Semitism” that Gutman saw as different from contemporary Arab hate, Israeli actions merely provide an excuse for this prejudice. Israeli actions are not its cause.
The anti-Semitism growing in Britain and throughout Europe did not arise in an ideological or cultural vacuum. Nor did it come to life only after 1948 or 1967. It sprung from Arab propaganda about Israel and Jews virtually identical to the old anti-Semitism and even has used texts such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as its sourcebook. The calumnies thrown at Israel and its supporters abroad are not the stuff of diplomatic complaints about specific incidents in which Israelis are wrongly alleged to have misbehaved, such as the Gaza offensive or the flotilla. Rather, they are rooted and often expressed in the language and spirit of “traditional” anti-Semitism in which the Jew is a foreign body who is falsely thought to be oppressing innocent gentiles, in this case the Palestinians. European anti-Semites, a growing group comprised of both Muslim immigrants from the Middle East and homegrown leftist intellectuals, aren’t merely upset with Israeli policies. They believe the Jewish state has no right to either exist or defend itself.
Such views give the lie to Elliot and Serwer’s beliefs that Middle East peace would diminish Euro Jew-hatred because such an event — in which Israel and its foes would agree to coexist and recognize each other’s legitimacy — is antithetical to the haters’ notion of justice. While their hate is exacerbated when the conflict rages, it is not the absence of peace that drives them to hate. It is the existence of Israel, no matter where its borders might be drawn. It is the refusal of the Jews to give up Israel and their insistence on defending themselves against terror that is fueling European anti-Semitism. But instead of focusing in on the bigoted motivations of the Jew-haters, what Gutman did was to treat their wish to eradicate Israel as morally equivalent to the desire of the Jews not to lose their state or their lives.
Treating this expression of anti-Semitism as a function of a political disagreement is fundamentally mistaken. Those who promote the canard that Israel is a racist entity that must be expunged from the map will not be appeased by a peace agreement the Palestinians have shown time and again they have no interest in signing. Solving the Middle East conflict will no more calm contemporary anti-Semites than any pacific gestures towards Germany by Jews would have satisfied the Nazis. The haters hate Israel because it is the Jewish state, not because of lies about conditions in Gaza.
Far from being “smeared,” as Elliot alleges, Gutman has given Europe’s Jew-haters a rationale and a sort of legitimacy they do not deserve. Turning the discussion about hatred for Jews in today’s Europe into one about what Israel can do to give the anti-Semites less ammunition as Gutman did misreads the problem. It is also an expression of irritation with Israel that has become commonplace in the Obama administration. Both Gutman and the president he serves need to be held to account.