Israel and the Anti-Semites
Has a new and potent form of anti-Semitism come to life in the world? If so, what does it portend?
Let us for the moment bracket off the Muslim world. The evidence of anti-Jewish hatred in that immense pocket of humanity has been copiously documented and is simply too overwhelming to warrant extended discussion. The more interesting question concerns Europe—a continent, it was widely assumed, effectively inoculated against a toxin that a mere half-century ago had reduced it to ruin and that, in the decades since World War II, had been confined to obscure recesses of political life.
Events over the past months suggest otherwise. It was only this past February that Hillel Halkin, writing in COMMENTARY about an “accumulating record of actual anti-Semitic incidents” around the world, cautioned that evidence of a substantial resurgence in Europe was so far only “circumstantial.” Since then, the continental landscape has begun to shift with astonishing speed.
The immediate occasion for the shift was, of course, Israel’s incursion into the West Bank in late March and April. That military operation was precipitated by the daily terror within Israel itself that had been going on for many months and that culminated in the bombing of a hotel ballroom in Netanya in which 29 Israelis perished and more than 140 were injured while sitting at their seder tables on the first night of Passover. To put an end to this relentless campaign of terror, Israel’s national-unity government dispatched the army into Palestinian cities and camps to uncover and destroy bomb factories and to apprehend those responsible for the mass killings of Israeli civilians. “In the month of March, we lost the lives of more than 126 persons,” explained Israel’s dovish foreign minister, Shimon Peres; “we did not have any other alternative.”
Though the incursion did not achieve all of its objectives, one visible result, at least as long as Israel’s forces remained in place, was the near-total cessation of terrorist attacks inside the country. Another was the seizure of a trove of intelligence information, including documents confirming (to anyone who still doubted it) that Yasir Arafat, Israel’s ostensible partner in the Oslo peace process and a man richly subsidized by the European Union, was in possession of arms forbidden to him by the Oslo accords and was personally funding and directing the civilian bombing missions of at least one armed unit, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.
That sectors of Europe would be critical of any Israeli military action against Arafat’s Palestinian Authority, even one so self-evidently defensive in character, was hardly a surprise; the cause of Palestinian statehood is, after all, a cherished item on the European diplomatic and political agenda. But the scale and the venom of the reaction, on both the elite and the popular level, were something else again. At least we can now see things as they are.
Let us begin at the popular level, where there has been, first of all, a rash of physical attacks on Jewish symbols, Jewish institutions, and Jews themselves. The list of such violent incidents from the first two weeks of April alone is too long to summarize adequately.
In the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, for example, some 50 youths chanting “Kill the Jews” descended on a synagogue on a Saturday evening, broke twenty windows, and beat the rector of the religious school with stones. In Greece, Jewish cemeteries were vandalized in what the press termed “anti-Jewish acts of revenge,” and the Holocaust memorial in Salonika, a city whose 50,000 Jews were rounded up and deported to Nazi death camps in 1943, was defaced with Palestinian slogans. In Slovakia, Jewish cemeteries were desecrated in what an official described as the “biggest attack on the Jewish community since the Holocaust.”
In peaceful, democratic, law-abiding Western Europe—a part of the world that for the past half-century has prided itself on the degree of personal safety it affords its inhabitants—the story was similar. One scene of violent anti-Israel demonstrations was Holland, where protestors hurled rocks and bottles and small roving bands used stones and bicycles to shatter store windows in the heart of Amsterdam. In neighboring Belgium, five firebombs were tossed into a synagogue in a working-class district of Brussels, and a Jewish bookstore was severely damaged by arsonists; a synagogue in Antwerp was firebombed with Molotov cocktails, and in the same city a travel agency specializing in trips to Israel was also set alight.
In Germany, two Orthodox Jews were beaten while strolling on Berlin’s chic Kurfuerstendamm, the heart of the city’s shopping district. A woman wearing a star-of-David necklace was attacked in the subway. Jewish memorials in Berlin were defaced with swastikas; a synagogue was spray-painted with the words, “Six Million Is Not Enough. PLO.” Anti-Israel demonstrators hurled bricks through windows as they marched.
In England, reported the London Express, “race-hate attacks on the Jewish community have soared.” In the first ten days of April there were fifteen anti-Semitic incidents, including eight physical assaults. Most of the attacks in England were on Jews walking alone, set upon and beaten by small roving bands. At least two of the victims required hospitalization.
France was the epicenter of aggression. Gangs of hooded men descended on Jewish victims and struck them with iron clubs. Buses carrying Jewish schoolchildren were stoned. Cemeteries were desecrated. Synagogues, Jewish schools, student facilities, and kosher stores were defaced, battered, and firebombed. On April 1, the Or Aviv synagogue in Marseille was burned to the ground, its prayer-books and Torah scrolls consumed by flames; it was one of five synagogues in France attacked. The first half of the month saw “nearly 360 crimes against Jews and Jewish institutions,” according to the French interior ministry—amounting, in the words of the New York Times, to “the worst spate of anti-Jewish violence” in France since World War II.
Some observers have drawn comparisons between this violent crime wave and Kristallnacht—the pogrom unleashed by the Nazis against German Jews on November 9 and 10, 1938. Unlike in the 1930’s, however, there was no organized power behind the assaults, let alone a government, and in every European country the police, so far as one knows, did their duty (though the political authorities often stood aside until matters threatened to get out of control). Still, physical violence against Jews has undeniably become a pan-European phenomenon, visible in every country north and south, east and west. Everywhere one turns, moreover, this physical violence has been accompanied, and abetted, by an explosion of verbal violence.
The themes are also the same everywhere. Israel, a country victimized by terrorism, stands accused of perpetrating terrorism; the Jews, having suffered the most determined and thoroughgoing genocide in history, stand accused of perpetrating genocide. The language in which these accusations are leveled is extravagantly hateful, drawn from the vocabulary of World War II and the Holocaust but entirely and grotesquely inverted, with the Jews as Nazis and their Arab tormentors in the role of helpless Jews.
Still sticking to the popular level, events in early April were once again particularly instructive. In the course of two weeks, anti-Israel street demonstrations took place not only in every major European capital but in hundreds of minor cities and towns. In Tuzla, a town in Bosnia, some 1,500 demonstrators carried placards reading “Sharon and Hitler, Two Eyes in the Same Head” and “Israel—the Real Face of Terrorism.” In Dublin, Ireland, the banners, several featuring Nazi swastikas superimposed over stars of David, read “Stop the Palestinian Holocaust” and “Jerusalem: Forever Beloved, Forever Palestinian.” In Barcelona, Spain, demonstrators carried placards inscribed “Israel Murderer; USA Accomplice,” and “No to Genocide.” In Paris, the posters read “Hitler Has a Son: Sharon”; in Belgium, “Hitler Had Two Sons: Bush and Sharon.” In Salonika, a solidarity concert was staged under the slogan: “Stop the Genocide Now—We Are All Palestinians.” In Bilbao, Spain, thousands marched through the streets chanting “No to Zionist terrorism.” In Berlin, the placards read “Stop the Genocide in Palestine” and “Sharon is a Child Murderer.” In cities and towns across France, “Death to Jews” and “Jews—murderers” were refrains heard at a multitude of rallies.
The catalog is infinitely expandable, for not only is it incomplete in itself but the passage of each day has brought new acts of violence, new demonstrations, and new and more vicious slogans. Who is behind all this street-level activity?
Actual physical violence against Jews has been, for the most part, the work of Muslims. According to the French ministry of the interior, the perpetrators have generally been “Arab youths from North African countries.” Arriving from societies where hatred of Jews is fostered by government, government-controlled media, and radical clerics, these immigrants are fed a rich and stimulating diet from the Arab and European Arab-language press, whose brand of anti-Semitism is as hallucinatory as anything ever peddled by Julius Streicher in the Nazi organ Der Stürmer.
Some of this fare stems ultimately from Saudi Arabia, a great and unceasing fount of wild anti-Jewish vitriol. Al-Riyadh, a government-controlled newspaper in that country, has, for example, parlayed a twist on an ancient libel to excite and terrify its readers—the Jewish use of the blood of Gentile adolescents not for Passover matzah but for Purim pastry:
Let us now examine how the victims’ blood is spilled. For this, a needle-studded barrel is used; this is a kind of barrel, about the size of the human body, with extremely sharp needles set in it on all sides. [These needles] pierce the victim’s body, from the moment he is placed in the barrel.
These needles do the job, and the victim’s blood drips from him very slowly. Thus, the victim suffers dreadful torment—torment that affords the Jewish vampires great delight as they carefully monitor every detail of the blood-shedding with pleasure and love that are difficult to comprehend.1
And so forth. The lesson that readers are supposed to draw from this ghastly fantasy is likewise inflammatory: a Saudi cleric enjoined his Muslim brothers in a recent government-sponsored sermon “not to have any mercy or compassion on the Jews, their blood, their money, their flesh. Their women are yours to take, legitimately. God made them yours. Why don’t you enslave their women? Why don’t you wage jihad? Why don’t you pillage them?”
The fact that Islamic immigrants are behind most of the physical attacks on European Jews hardly suggests that the problem is easily containable. Thanks to Europe’s welcoming immigration policies, and to their own high fertility, Muslims are now a significant demographic factor on the continent. If in 1945 they numbered fewer than a million, today they are more than fifteen million, with some two million in England, more than four-and-a-half million in France, three million in Germany, nearly a million apiece in Italy, Spain, and Holland, and the remainder scattered across more than a dozen other countries. They are, of course, a heterogeneous population, and most of them are no doubt neither in the grip of radical Islam nor susceptible to appeals to violence. But some significant number of them are, and the challenge they pose can only grow.
In any case, if Muslims have taken the lead in perpetrating physical violence, others have enthusiastically joined in or blazed the way when it comes to incitement and verbal abuse. The various demonstrations illustrate this well. Thus, at the event in Dublin, organized by a group known as the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign, half the demonstrators were reportedly Irishmen. Similarly, in Brussels, not only Arab students but representatives of Belgian social and political organizations took part, including the Catholic movement Pax Christi, the Belgian Socialist party, and the Belgian Green party. The solidarity concert in Salonika was organized by, among others, two Greek trade-union bodies; the dean of Athens University also lent his support, issuing a statement condemning Israel for its “continuing cruel violation in Palestine of human rights.” In Barcelona, where some 10,000 people turned out, unions, political parties, and nongovernmental organizations campaigned against Israeli “genocide” and set fire to a star of David. In France, at the rallies where chants of “death to the Jews” were heard, one could find, according to Agence France Presse, not only the Muslim Students of France and the Committee of Moroccan Workers but also officials of various trade unions and members of the Revolutionary Communist League, the Greens, and the French Communist party, along with officials of the Human Rights League. In the front ranks was José Bové, the French Luddite formerly known for vandalizing McDonald’s hamburger outlets.
But these events at street level are only the beginning; it is in the world of politics and elite opinion that the nature of the burgeoning movement of European anti-Semitism becomes fully clear. And anti-Semitism is, incidentally, the right and the only word for an anti-Zionism so onesided, so eager to indict Israel while exculpating Israel’s adversaries, so shamefully adroit in the use of moral double standards, so quick to issue false and baseless accusations, and so disposed to invert the language of the Holocaust and to paint Israelis and Jews as evil incarnate.
A mild (in relative terms) expression of this current could be found in a petition being circulated among European academics. Passing over in silence the suicide bombings that were devastating Israeli civilian life, not to mention the eighteen months of unremitting violence that were Arafat’s answer to Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s offer of 97 percent of the territory of the West Bank and the division of Jerusalem, the statement denounced Israel’s government as “impervious to moral appeals” and then called for a moratorium on grants by European educational institutions to Israeli scholars and researchers. (The reason, one assumes, was their tacit complicity in genocide.) Among the hundreds of signers of this meretricious document were scholars from institutions of higher learning in virtually every country of the continent, including the famed British Darwinist, Richard Dawkins.
Similarly in Norway, where in 1994 the Nobel committee had awarded its peace prize to Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Yasir Arafat. At that time, one honest member of the committee, Kaare Kristiansen, had resigned in protest, rightly calling Arafat a terrorist unworthy of this award. Now, however, other members, one of them a Lutheran bishop, said they wanted to strip not Arafat but Shimon Peres of the prize; his crime—participating in a government that was violating the “intention and spirit” of the award. Not to be outdone, the leader of the Socialist Left party demanded reparations from Israel for destroying Palestinian infrastructure paid for by Norwegian aid money—never mind that this sort of subsidized “infrastructure” regularly shelters armed Palestinian terrorists and their activities.
In Denmark, a Lutheran bishop delivered a sermon in Copenhagen Cathedral likening Ariel Sharon to the biblical King Herod, who ordered the death of all male children in Bethlehem under the age of two; Denmark’s foreign minister, Per Stig Moller, branded Israel’s anti-terror incursion a “war against a civilian population.” The Portuguese writer Jose Saramago, a Nobel laureate in literature, delivered himself of this delicacy: “We can compare what is happening on the Palestinian territories with Auschwitz.”
In Germany, Norbert Bluem, a minister under former chancellor Helmut Kohl, called Israel’s offensive in the West Bank a “limitless war of annihilation,” while Juergen Moellemann, an official of the Free Democrats, openly defended Palestinian violence against Jews: “I would resist too, and use force to do so . . . not just in my country but in the aggressor’s country as well.” Wrote one commentator in the Suddeutsche Zeitung: “It’s been a long time since the hatred of Jews—once disguised as anti-Zionism—has been as socially acceptable in Germany as it is today.”
In Italy, La Stampa, the liberal daily, resurrected the oldest Christian anti-Semitic canard of all: deicide. A cartoon depicted the infant Jesus looking up from his manger at an Israeli tank and pleading, “Don’t tell me they want to kill me again.” From voices in the Vatican, utter indifference to the murder of Jews was coupled with the charge that the Jews themselves were committing genocide. “Indescribable barbarity” was the phrase of Franciscan officials in Rome describing Israel’s attempt to arrest Palestinian terrorists who had taken shelter in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. In the hallowed “land of Jesus,” complained the Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano, Israel was exhibiting an “irritating haughtiness” and engaging in “aggression that turns into extermination.”
If France has led Europe in anti-Semitic violence, Great Britain may be where the elite expression of anti-Semitic ideas has been most uninhibited. (In his February COMMENTARY article, Hillel Halkin memorably quoted the columnist Petronella Wyatt: “Since September 11, anti-Semitism and its open expression has become respectable at London dinner tables.”) Thus, Claire Rayner, the president of the British Humanist Association, asserted in April that the notion of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people was “a load of crap”; by contrast, the suicide bombings of Israeli restaurants and buses were both understandable and justifiable: “If you treat a group of people the way Palestinians have been treated they will use the only weapon they have, which is their individual lives.”
More established figures voiced sentiments fully as bizarre as Claire Rayner’s and, if anything, nastier. Last autumn, the highly-regarded British novelist and biographer A.N. Wilson had “reluctantly” announced in the (London) Evening Standard that the state of Israel no longer had a right to exist. More recently, he used his talents to accuse the Israeli army of the “poisoning of water supplies” on the West Bank, thereby availing himself of another time-honored canard, traceable back to the 14th century and repeated on countless occasions since then to justify the mass murder of Jews.
Wilson is a self-described “unbelieving Anglican” who is certainly well aware of the shameful history of Christian religious anti-Semitism to which he was now making his own signal contribution. Tom Paulin is a professor at Oxford, an arts commentator for the British Broadcasting Corporation, and a poet whose recent verse includes a lament for a small Palestinian boy “gunned down by the Zionist SS.” “I never believed that Israel had the right to exist at all,” Paulin told the Egyptian al-Ahram Weekly in April, and Jews from Brooklyn who have settled in the West Bank “are Nazis, racists. . . . They should be shot dead.”
To al-Ahram, Paulin is that “rare thing in contemporary British culture, ‘the writer as conscience.’ ” Some Europeans apparently agree with this judgment. The Irish Times found him “a rigorous respecter of language” who “does not dilute his words” while remaining free of any trace of personal prejudice. Chiming in, AN. Wilson called him a “brilliant scholar and literary critic” and noted that “many in this country and throughout the world would echo his views on the tragic events in the Middle East.”
On this last point, at least, Wilson may be right. One could devote many more pages to, for example, the malevolent mythmaking of the British and European press in reporting on the “massacre” of Palestinians in Jenin, where the Israelis aimed for “the near-total destruction of the lives and livelihoods of the camp’s 15,000 inhabitants,” according to the livening Standard. A “crime of especial notoriety,” blared the Guardian about an operation that cost the lives of over two dozen Israeli reservists in an effort, successful but hideously costly, to eliminate terrorists while avoiding civilian Palestinian casualties. Or one could dwell on the reflexive hatred of the Jewish state that now appears to be rife within the Anglican Church: “Whenever I print anything sympathetic to Israel,” admits the editor of the church’s official newspaper, “I get deluged with complaints that I am Zionist and racist.” Or one could quote again from the many examples adduced by Halkin and freely available in the public prints and on the web. But we must once again move on.
The Palestinians who insisted that there was an Israeli massacre in Jenin surely had their reasons for fabricating such a claim. Those reasons are no doubt related to hatred of Jews per se—for such hatred exists, abundantly. But they are also closely related to the tactics of the Palestinian struggle, which has successfully relied on the readiness of many in Europe (and elsewhere) to accept such fabrications at face value, to spread and amplify them while ignoring all contrary evidence, and to pillory Israel on the basis of lies that they themselves have tended and fed.
Where this eager readiness comes from is another question. A considerable literature has been devoted to plumbing the nature of Europe’s enduring “Jewish problem,” and the current flare-up has already given rise to a fresh round of theorizing about its root causes, old and new. Among the factors regularly adduced, at least by those willing to acknowledge that it is a problem, are the seemingly indelible brand that has been left on European consciousness by centuries of ubiquitous anti-Semitic myths; hatreds rooted in Christian theological concepts; a deep-seated psychological need to lighten the burden of European guilt for the Holocaust by defaming its victims posthumously; a no less pressing need to atone for European colonialism and imperialism by casting Israel as the world’s worst colonial power; and on and on. One can spin more theories with ease and find evidence to support each of them, for anti-Semitism is a disease with no single cause.
But one salient fact about the picture I have been painting is this: there is a clear fit between anti-Israel or anti-Jewish hatred and the general ideological predispositions of the contemporary European Left. As historical trends go, this is relatively new. For most of the last century, what predominated in Europe was the racialist and nationalist anti-Semitism of the Right, fused with and colored by Christian theological teachings. Today, though the neo-Nazis and the Holocaust deniers occupy their accustomed place, and though anti-Semites figure among the constituents of Jorg Haider in Austria and Jean-Marie Le Pen in France, the anti-Semitism in swiftest motion is the left-wing strain, the strain that loathes the Jews not on explicitly racialist or religious grounds but on “universalist” ones.
This tradition, too, has a long and ignoble history, from the Enlightenment’s Voltaire (who regarded the Jews as “the most abominable people in the world”) through socialism’s Karl Marx (to whom Polish Jews were the “filthiest of all races”), through seven decades of Soviet Communism with its pro-Arab foreign policy and its harshly oppressive attitude toward Soviet Jewish citizens, through the New Left, through the German and Italian terrorism of recent decades and the post-60’s alignment of the Left with the cause of Palestinian “liberation.” Today, a new chapter is being written. There are, to be sure, neo-Nazis to be found among those burning the star of David and chanting obscene slogans against the Jewish state in the streets of Europe; but the ranks are more heavily composed of environmentalists, pacifists, anarchists, anti-globalists, and socialists. “I have difficulties with the swastika,” said a member of Belgium’s Flemish-Palestine Committee at an April demonstration, registering by his perturbance the anomaly of that Nazi symbol amid the placards of his ideological comrades.
The pattern continues in the upper reaches of European politics. True, anti-Semitic impulses cannot always be readily disentangled from the many other considerations that govern political behavior—like raw electoral calculations in a continent with many Muslims and (except for France) very few Jews. But surely it is significant that among Europe’s governing bodies, it is the political Left that has been leading the charge against Israel. It was Germany’s Social Democratic-Green coalition government that this past April, in the midst of Israel’s battle for survival, and despite its much vaunted “special relationship” with the Jewish state, opted to halt further exports of spare parts for the Merkava tank. It was France’s socialist foreign minister, Hubert Vedrine, who in April publicly castigated American Jews for being so “intransigent” as to fail to make “the switch toward peace.” When the European Parliament passed a resolution on April 10 calling for trade sanctions against Israel, it was propelled forward by Europe’s Liberal Democrat and Green parties, with the Socialists denouncing Israel in the most perfervid tones of all.
If one moves even higher up the rungs of political life, into the multilateral institutions that shape the world polity and in which the Europeans have invested so much of their diplomatic capital, the die is cast from the same mold. (The degree to which the United Nations has turned itself into an anti-Semitic mob warrants an extended essay of its own.) Thus, when the UN Human Rights Commission passed a resolution in April condemning Israel for “war crimes,” “acts of mass killing,” and an “offense against humanity,” while simultaneously backing without reservation the “right of the Palestininas to resist,” the European countries voting in favor included the socialist or Left-coalition governments of France, Belgium, Sweden, and Portugal, with centrist Spain and right-wing Austria joining in. Outside of Europe, needless to say, every left-wing dictatorship in the world voted in support of the resolution, including that shining protector of human rights, the People’s Republic of China.
It would be unfair to leave the subject of Europe without noting the courageous efforts of those in England, France, Italy, and Germany who have stood up to or spoken back to the anti-Semites. Perhaps foremost among them lately has been the Italian writer Oriana Fallaci, who in a lengthy and impassioned indictment published in the weekly Panorama declared, in part:
I find it shameful . . . that state-run television stations [in Italy] contribute to the resurgent anti-Semitism, crying only over Palestinian deaths while playing down Israeli deaths, glossing over them in unwilling tones. I find it shameful that in their debates they host with much deference the scoundrels with turbans or kaffiyehs who yesterday sang hymns to the slaughter in New York and today sing hymns to the slaughters in Jerusalem, in Haifa, in Netanya, in Tel Aviv. I find it shameful that the press does the same, that it is indignant because Israeli tanks surround the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, that it is not indignant because inside that same church 200 Palestinian terrorists well armed with machine guns and munitions and explosives (among them are various leaders of Hamas and al-Aqsa) are not unwelcome guests of the monks (who then accept bottles of mineral water and jars of honey from the soldiers of those tanks).
But these exceptions are notorious because they are exceptions. Elsewhere, and especially on the cultural and political Left, Europeans have tended to speak in a very different voice.
What about here, in the United States? Mercifully, anti-Semitism on these shores lacks Europe’s rich traditionalism. Violent attacks on Jews have been exceedingly rare in our history, and although genuine social movements have at times been built—most famously by Father Charles E. Coughlin in the 1930’s—on anti-Jewish hostility, the few attempts to harness this hostility to electoral purposes have all come to naught. The question is, under what circumstances might this change?
One relatively new factor in the American equation, as in the European, is a sizable Muslim influx. Reliable numbers remain hard to come by: a U.S. Department of State fact sheet offers a figure of six million, which is almost certainly much too high, while other estimates range from two to four million. But there is no disagreement that the Muslim population has grown dramatically in recent decades, or that this growth has already affected Jewish security. If physical attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions once came mostly from right-wing or nativist groups, now they come increasingly from Arab militants. One of the most well-known such attacks was the murder of Ari Halberstam, a hasidic schoolboy, shot in 1994 by Arab gunmen while traversing the Brooklyn Bridge.
The years since 1995—years in which, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s annual survey, anti-Semitism as a whole declined in America—also witnessed an upsurge of violent incidents connected to the Middle East and in most cases perpetrated by Arabs. This was especially pronounced after the beginning of the latest intifada in September 2000. Within months, at least 34 incidents—primarily vandalism and arson but including physical attacks on individuals—were reported in New York State alone.
Heightened security after September 11 seems to have brought about a decrease in violence of this kind, but lately the pace has picked up again. In Berkeley, California, for example, “Jewish residents have been attacked on the streets,” the Daily Californian reported in late April. The university’s Hillel society building was defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti, and the city’s largest synagogue has received a stream of threats, including one in which a telephone caller said that all Jews should be “annihilated” and “holocausted.” The mayor has proposed creating a special police unit to deal with the rash of death threats against Jews and bomb scares at synagogues.
But mention of Berkeley, one of the most advanced academic locales in the country, should remind us that no more than in Europe are anti-Semitic attitudes here limited to Arabs or Muslims, or to the uneducated. Rather, they have found a home in what are presumably the most enlightened precincts of society. “Die Jew. Die, die, die, die, die, die. Stop living, die, die, DIE! Do us all a favor and build yourself [an] . . . oven,” were the words in a student newspaper at Rutgers. “How have Judaism, the Jews, and the international forces all permitted Zionism to become a wild, destructive beast capable of perpetrating atrocities?” are the words of a tenured professor of sociology at Georgetown, a leading American university. In many elite universities, radical professors have joined with Arab students to compel their institutions to divest from the “apartheid” state of Israel. One need only scan the dozens of names of distinguished faculty sponsors of such initiatives to grasp that a significant movement is gathering force.2
The political address of this movement is once again on the Left. True, the nefarious reach of “world Zionism” has long been a favorite theme of American white supremacists like David Duke, just as it has been of the British Holocaust-denier David Irving. But even in its more genteel incarnations, as in the now-marginalized Patrick J. Buchanan, this brand of anti-Semitism is in relative eclipse, whereas on the Left it has become the glue of a new coalition. The environmentalists and anarchists who in past years satisfied themselves by hurling rocks through the windows of Starbucks coffee shops have now joined forces with Arab radicals to calumniate the Jewish state. “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! IMF has got to go!” was one slogan at an April rally in Washington, D.C. The other was “Sharon and Hitler are the same. Only difference is the name.”
Among the most active elements of the Left-Arab alliance are, sad to say, a number of Jews. For years, figures like Noam Chomsky and his acolyte Norman Finkelstein have traded in extreme denunciations of Israel, to relatively little effect.3 Of late, they are finding greater traction. The principal activity of a new organization called Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel is organizing rallies in support of the PLO. “There are many American Jews who are flat-out embarrassed by the fact the prime minister of Israel is guilty of war crimes,” says its executive director, Josh Ruebner. Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine, and dozens of his associates, including Chomsky and such non-Jewish luminaries as the black activist professor Cornel West, recently placed a full-page ad in the New York Times in which, in classical anti-Semitic form, either Ariel Sharon or one of his “supporters” was presented in a cartoon caricature as a hook-nosed, evil-looking Jew, the state of Israel was characterized as a “Pharaoh,” and Israeli soldiers were likened to Nazis blindly “following orders” in “a brutal occupation” that “violates international law, human rights, and the basic ethical standards of humanity.”
In the decades before World War II, a mass of anti-Semitic rhetoric, from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion through Mein Kampf and beyond, helped prepare the intellectual and cultural groundwork for the catastrophe that followed. Today, the ceaseless denunciations of Israel on the part of the international Left, including some of its most respected and respectable spokesmen, cannot help striking one as possessing the seeds of a macabre replay. What George F. Will has called the “centrality of anti-Semitism” to the current Middle East crisis may yet develop the potential of transforming that crisis into (to quote Will again) “the second—and final?—phase of the struggle for a ‘final solution’ to the Jewish question.”
European leaders would heatedly abjure any such objective; yet in their hands, the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish campaign has generated real momentum. The European states are militarily weak, but they have other levers of power to exercise. They have already played a major role in Israel’s political and diplomatic isolation, and they could conceivably attempt to strangle it economically by means of the boycotts and sanctions they have threatened to impose. By virtue of their influence in international organizations, and through the moral cachet they continue, however unaccountably, to deploy in centers of elite opinion elsewhere around the world, they have been instrumental in chipping away at Israel’s very legitimacy.
One does not wish to exaggerate. Today’s virulent anti-Semitism is, in part, an epiphenomenon of the Israel-Arab conflict—or, more accurately, of Israel’s effort to withstand the Arab determination to destroy it. To the degree that Israel succeeds in thwarting or turning aside that determination, the rhetoric may abate, and explicit anti-Semitism may diminish. (By contrast, the perception of Jewish weakness has historically always fed the appetite of anti-Jewish aggression.) But there is also no denying that the new anti-Semitism has taken on a life of its own, gathering strength from long-repressed theological hatreds suddenly given license to emerge, from all sorts of misplaced social resentments that have nothing to do with the Jews, and (to judge from the Left-Arab coalition) from broader ideological agendas in which Israel is a mere stand-in, a conveniently vulnerable target for those not yet willing or able to take on the mighty United States.
One small but very disturbing sign of the headway being made by the new anti-Semitism is the speculation that has suddenly sprung up in the most disparate places about the possibility of a world without Israel—as if it were a perfectly ordinary prospect for a thriving democracy of nearly five million Jews simply to disappear. That a leader of Hamas like Ismail Abu Shanab should contemplate the extinction of Israel is understandable; that he should feel comfortable in talking about it publicly—“There are,” he has amiably explained, “a lot of open areas in the United States that could absorb the Jews”—tells us a good deal about what has come to be considered permissible discourse in the presence of reporters. But then, Tom Paulin and A.N. Wilson have followed close behind—and similar sorts of thoughts, suitably qualified, have even appeared under the bylines of avowed friends of the Jewish state here at home. As one of them, Richard John Neuhaus, has lately written, while personally disclaiming any such sentiment, even to “wish that Israel ‘would cease to exist’ is . . . not necessarily a wish to destroy the Jews, since one might at the same time hope that the minority of the world’s Jews living in Israel would find a secure home elsewhere, notably in the U.S.” Such are the tortuous rationalizations to which the swell of worldwide anti-Semitism has led.
Great shocks, as we know from the last century, can produce political flux beyond all foresight. In the last years the world has been subjected to a series of such shocks, September 11 being the greatest, and more may well be on the way. Where their repercussions will end no one can yet say, but the concomitant and hardly accidental revival of the ancient fear and hatred known as anti-Semitism must make one tremble. The story of 20th-century Europe, wrote the historian Norman Cohn in the concluding words of Warrant for Genocide, his 1966 study of European anti-Semitism in the years before World War II, is a story of how
a grossly delusional view of the world, based on infantile fears and hatreds, was able to find expression in murder and torture beyond all imagining. It is a case-history in collective psychopathology, and its deepest implications reach far beyond anti-Semitism and the fate of the Jews.
Those words remain frighteningly relevant today.
1 Translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute, available at www.memri.org.
2 Typical is the initiative at Princeton; see www.princetondivestorg/faculty.htm.
3 In a December 2001 lecture delivered in Beirut, Lebanon, Finkelstein likened Israeli actions to “Nazi practices” during World War II, albeit with some added “novelties to the Nazi experiments.”