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.