Commentary Magazine


Israel Doesn’t Cause Anti-Semitism

Is the rising tide of hatred that is being directed at Jews in Europe and elsewhere the fault of Israel? That’s what many anti-Zionists have been claiming, and now their argument is echoed by the Forward’s J.J. Goldberg who writes in his column that the assumption that only Israelis face the consequences of their government’s policies is now being again proved false. He has a point in that, obviously, Jews everywhere are at risk of attack from those who hate Israel. But the fallacy here is that these anti-Semitic attacks are in any way Israel’s fault.

Goldberg’s main objective in this column is not so much to blame the Jewish state for what is happening to Jews elsewhere—though clearly he intends to wrongly lay some of the responsibility for these outbreaks on the Netanyahu government—as is it is to make a broader point that Israel needs to listen to the Diaspora rather than reject out of hand criticisms of its policies. He believes that Israelis must understand that as the nation state of the Jewish people, what Jerusalem does—whether in terms of war and peace issues or domestic ones that concern the rights of non-Orthodox denominations—has an impact on Jews elsewhere. I think he’s right about that and also right to advocate that Israel must think of its security in global terms that extends to the wellbeing of Jews everywhere.

The problem with this argument does not lie with the effort to wake up Israelis to the need to think more about the ties to Diaspora Jews. Rather, the flaw here is more fundamental. Goldberg’s attempt to draw a clear distinction between what he calls “old anti-Semitism” that was driven by “myths and fantasies disconnected from reality like drinking Christians’ blood or killing God” and what he calls the “new anti-Semitism” is misleading. So, too, is the assumption that anti-Semitism, whether we are talking about the hate directed at Jews during the medieval era, the Nazi-era assault, or today’s “new” variant, is the natural byproduct of Jewish actions rather than the psyches and the dark intentions of the anti-Semites. Goldberg writes about the current wave of hate:

The new anti-Semitism includes some of that, but it starts with something else: an anger at Jews over something that actually happened. Israel was created on land that Muslims, like it or not, considered part of their sacred waqf, the indivisible House of Islam. Many Muslims haven’t gotten over it. Hey, Osama bin Laden wanted Spain back.

While Goldberg acknowledges that it can be asserted that Israel’s existence or anger about its actions are a mere pretext that are used to legitimize expressions of hate that stem from the same beliefs that motivate “old anti-Semitism,” he thinks Hamas and others those who stoke hatred of Jews with traditional calumnies “would have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames of the conflict.”

Let’s draw some distinctions here. There is nothing anti-Semitic about criticizing Israel’s policies. It is a vibrant democracy and people there, like Americans and any other free people, criticize their government all the time. But those who believe that the Jews, unlike every other people on the planet, have no right to their own country and no right to defend themselves are subjecting them to discriminatory treatment. Anti-Zionism is, by definition, an act of prejudice against Jews. Moreover, those who campaign against Israel’s existence are drawing on the same anti-Semitic playbook that “traditional” Jew-haters have always used, including the same irrational myths that Goldberg cites.

Anyone taking a good look at the rhetoric and the signs that are present at anti-Israel demonstrations understands that what is on display is not the function of a political debate but a visceral hatred against Jews that is very much in tune with classic anti-Semitism. That is made abundantly clear by the manner with which these haters target not only Israelis but also everything connected with the Jews for boycott, including kosher food or Jewish ritual practices like circumcision.

Anti-Israel terrorists like Hezbollah and Hamas have, as Goldberg correctly notes, attacked Diaspora targets in the past and may well do so again. But to focus on such crimes as the 1994 bombing of the AMIA as purely the function of a tit-for-tat conflict between Israeli security forces and the terrorists and to see the recent outbreaks as being primarily a reaction to the fighting in Gaza is fundamentally mistaken.

Old style anti-Semitism wasn’t really pushback against the bad behavior of the Jews, though there were always some who thought it could be eradicated by every Jew being on their best behavior. Jews weren’t hated because they were capitalists or because they were socialists any more than because they were too rich or too poor. Their refusal to assimilate wasn’t the problem any more than fears about the willingness of many Jews to assimilate in the post-enlightenment era. Similarly, anti-Semitism, like anti-Zionism, is a function of the psychoses of the anti-Semites, not an understandable or rational response to Jewish or Israeli actions.

That’s still true today as anti-Semitic behavior is rationalized, if not excused, by false arguments about Israeli actions. The Israel-haters aren’t merely hypocrites since their outrage about the fighting in Gaza isn’t matched by a similar concern about far greater problems and casualties elsewhere. They are also dishonest because the “free Gaza” they support is actually an Islamist tyranny and those who claim to be resisting the “occupation” are not seeking to end the Jewish presence on the West Bank but rather trying to eradicate it inside the 1967 lines.

Jews have long labored under the delusion that they can reduce anti-Semitism by behaving differently and those who think Israel can lower the level of hatred by making concessions to the Palestinians or refraining from acts of self-defense are just as wrong as those who believed it could be accomplished by different types of behavior in the past.

Anti-Semitism is, as Ruth Wisse has wisely termed it, the most successful ideology of the 20th century in that it has outlived its various host organisms—including traditional religious believers, fascism, Nazism, and Communism. Its new partners—Islamism and anti-Zionism—are no different than the old ones.

What can be done about this? The Jews can defend themselves against anti-Semites and they can call attention to this ideology in an effort to rally decent people against the haters. But they can’t make it go away by being less aggressive in defending their rights any more than they can do so by other actions. Those who believe that Israel can reduce anti-Semitism by behaving differently are buying into the same myths that tormented previous generations. Both the Israeli government and Diaspora Jewry should ignore their suggestions.

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10 Responses to “Israel Doesn’t Cause Anti-Semitism”

  1. MARTIN HAAS says:

    As a Sho’ah victim the existence of ISRAEL in the twentieth century is THE greatest act of salvation for us Jews. Anyone who disagrees with the notion that anti-Zionism (Anti-Israelism) is not anti-Semitism should read James Carroll’s Constantine’s Sword. It is NOT sufficient to see the movie – the entire book needs to be digested. It helped this Sho’ah victim to answer the question “Why do they hate me?”. The disease was manufactured by the Popes and it will take 2000 years to undo the damage – if ever. The existence of Israel and its policies of self-defense – though the specific avenues followed are not necessarily always the best or only approach – is of secondary importance in THEIR anti-Semitism: it is THEIR disease that THEY need to cure, not ours.

    Martin Haas, San Diego California

  2. ETHEL C FENIG says:

    Israel doesn’t cause anti Semitism (more accurately, anti Jewishness/Judaism), it reveals it. And the current Gaza campaign reveals it clearly, even from those exquisitely sensitive types such as JJ Goldberg.
    So now we know and hopefully those of us who are so non exquisitively sensitive can honestly deal with them and call them out for being the racists and bigots that they are without apology.

  3. RICHMOND says:

    Professor David Nirenberg in his book Anti-Judaism traces hatred of Jews to Manetho in ancient Egypt, some 5000 years ago. The same elements of prejudice are constantly repeated. Jews are seen as xenophobic and misanthropic. The advent of Christianity reinforced these images with claims that Jews killed God and this is added to with claims in the Koran that Jews are liars and deceivers who deliberately twisted the revelations given to them on Mount Sinai.

    Thus, underneath all the anti-Semitism that has been given new life by those who claim Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians, whilst ignoring Hamas atrocities against both Palestinians, Israeli’s and Jews, is the same hatred because Jews are seen as different.

    • ELLIOTT GREEN says:

      Richmond, Manetho lived in Egypt in the Hellenistic period, sometime between 2300 and 2000 years ago.


    J.J Goldberg is a dangerous critic of Israel. Anti-semites quote his anti-Zionist articles as evidence that they are not anti-Semites, but just anti-Israel. For example, his Forward article “How Politics and Lies Triggered an Unintended War in Gaza,” in which Goldberg blaimed Israel for the Gaza war, was favorably quoted as follows by John (“The Isreal Lobby”) Mearsheimer in his Huffington Post Op-ed “AIPAC Is the Only Explanation for America’s Morally Bankrupt Israel Policy”:

    According to J.J. Goldberg’s reporting in the Jewish newspaper Forward, the Netanyahu government blamed Hamas for the kidnappings without evidence and pretended the kidnapped Israelis were still alive for several weeks, even though there was evidence indicating the victims were already dead. It perpetrated this deception in order to whip up anti-Arab sentiment and make it easier to justify punitive operations in the West Bank and Gaza.

    Of course, we now know by their own admission that Hamas was very much responsible for the kidnapping. Goldberg was wrong on this as he is wrong in just about everything he says.

    Goldberg, as a very senior editor of Forward, is most likely at least partly responsible for the viciously anti-Israel stance of Forward (see articles by Emily Hauser, Sigal Samuel, and many others) in recent years.

    • ELLIOTT GREEN says:

      one Saleh Aruri who lives in Turkey as an honored guest of the fanatical Erdogan, is the Hamas leader who admitted being responsible for the kidnapping and murder

      • JACK LEVEY says:

        And Goldberg will apologize for his fantasy-based accusations about the same time that Hamas apologizes for the murders.

  5. ELLIOTT GREEN says:

    I agree with just about everything in Jonathan article. I published a few years ago an article in which I elaborate at length on anti-Zionism being a continuation of the old antisemitism.

    It might be helpful to also discuss how some powerful and wealthy entities encourage the new-old Judeophobia/anti-Zionism. The Durban conferences have been well-funded efforts to arouse Judeophobia/Israelophobia and create a hate-based mass movement.

  6. JACK LEVEY says:

    A much smarter J Goldberg, Jonah, recently observed that the Ferguson riots made him wonder once again why a real or supposed crime by A against B justifies C committing a crime against D.

    So it is with Jew-haters, who believe that a real or imagined grievance against any one or more Jews anywhwere justifies crimes against all Jews everywhere. No act or abstention by Israel will change that pathologic mindset.

    And if Jeff Goldberg wants a say in Israel’s military, foreign or domestic policy, he has the same choice as any other Jew — move there vote, or stay in the Diaspora and kibbitz, while rightly being viewed as a kibbitzer by those who put their safety on the line by living there.

  7. DAVID MARKS says:

    Well, we can at least put to rest the notion that most Palestinian supporters are just criticizing Israel and are not antisemitic.

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