The oldest hatred never ceases to astonish us with its ability to rejuvenate itself. Anti-Semitism—nowadays invariably focused on Israel and repackaged as “anti-Zionism”—is once again ubiquitous in western countries. In some quarters, it is even considered respectable. Just as this salon anti-Semitism served the Nazis in the 1930’s by denying the threat to the very existence of the Jewish people in Europe, so today the re-emergence of anti-Semitism in the West serves the Islamists by denying the existential threat to the Jews of Israel.
To see how history is repeating itself, it is useful to compare the tactics used by the new anti-Semites with those of one of the most notorious anti-Semites in the history of the English-speaking world: the pre-war leader of the British Union of Fascists, Sir Oswald Mosley.
One of the commonest arguments used by the new anti-Semites is that nobody is allowed to criticize or even mention the “Israel lobby”—which amounts to claiming that Jews are above criticism. In their scurrilous polemic “The Israel Lobby,” John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, professors at the University of Chicago and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government respectively, claim that “the Lobby’s campaign to quash debate about Israel is unhealthy for democracy.” (Gabriel Schoenfeld wrote about Walt and Mearsheimer in the November 2006 issue of COMMENTARY.)
Besides being wholly untrue—there are few subjects on which debate is livelier than Israel—this argument has a thoroughly disreputable pedigree. Here is Sir Oswald Mosley, even after the Holocaust, making exactly the same complaint: “If you wanted to stop some Jews profiteering, you were accused of wanting to destroy all Jews. If you objected to the way some of them treated their labor, you were accused of seeking to deny all of then the right to live. If you dared to criticise anything that any Jew did, you were accused of seeking to crucify the whole race.”
The new anti-Semites allege that the “Israel lobby” controls American foreign policy. Having dragged President George W. Bush into Iraq, they claim, it is now trying to manipulate him into attacking Iran. This argument, too, was a staple of Mosley and his blackshirts. In November 1938, immediately after the Kristallnacht progrom in Nazi Germany, Mosley wrote: “Why is it only when Jews are affected that we have any demand for war with the country concerned?” The anti-Semites and the appeasers were then and are now natural allies.
Mearsheimer and Walt claim that the new anti-Semitism is an invention of the Israel lobby. They also deny that anti-Semitism is rising in Europe, suggesting that this too is a myth created by the Israel lobby. (For a concise history of European anti-Semitism, see Paul Johnson’s article in the June 2005 issue.) Yet according to the Community Security Trust, which monitors anti-Semitic incidents in Britain, in 2006 there was a 37 percent increase in violent assaults on Jews and a 46 percent increase in attacks on synagogues, Jewish cemeteries, and other communal property. This is an alarming rate of increase in a single year, and the trend is long-term: the numbers have doubled over a decade and are now at their highest level since records began. In its impact on the daily lives of British Jews, anti-Semitism is now much worse than it was in Mosley’s time. The situation in much of continental Europe is even worse.
This is not yet the case in the United States, but that is no reason to be complacent. Some university campuses have become places where thinly-disguised anti-Semitism is openly propagated. One such is Columbia, which invited Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak last September. The invitation was withdrawn, but the fact that it was issued at all is bizarre. Another is Stanford, where groups calling themselves the “Coalition for Justice in the Middle East” and “Students Confronting Apartheid in Israel” invited Norman Finkelstein to address them last month. Mr. Finkelstein is not in the same league of infamy as the Iranian president, but his book The Holocaust Industry defames those who keep alive the memory of the Holocaust’s six million Jewish victims and has handed a potent slogan to anti-Semites everywhere. Like other self-hating Jews of his ilk, he has embraced the Islamist cause. He is associated with more overt anti-Semites such as David Duke and David Irving. Academic freedom does not have to extend to offering platforms to a Finkelstein or an Ahmadinejad. Europe has let the genie of anti-Semitism out of the bottle; America must not follow suit.