The New Anti-Semitism
by Miriam Greenspan
Tikkun Magazine: December, 2003
What’s New About Anti-Semitism?
Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl is forced to say he is a Jew who comes from a Zionist family before he is decapitated on video by Pakistani Muslim terrorists, his head held aloft as a warning to Jews everywhere. Signs at peace rallies scream: “Death to Jews” and posters in college dorms read “Jews=Nazis.” The official newspaper of the Palestinian Authority declares that the Holocaust is a myth which the Jews have exploited to get sympathy. Jordanian children learn that the Torah is “perverted” and that Jews have only “their own evil practices” to blame for the Holocaust. Egyptian television viewers watch forty serialized installments of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Academics spearhead a campaign to shun Israeli professors simply on the basis of their nationality. An anti-Israel rally on an American campus shows a photo of an eviscerated baby with the tag: “slaughtered according to Jewish Rites.” A Jewish student wearing a yarmulke at Yale University is attacked by a Palestinian in his dormitory. Neo-Nazi violence against Jewish people and institutions escalates throughout Europe. Millions of Muslims, indoctrinated by state-sponsored propaganda, believe that Israel is responsible for September 11.
Anti-Semitism has been called “the longest hatred” and, judging from events like these, it has retained its extraordinary durability. In recent years, it has morphed and globalized into an ugly mix of neo-Nazi violence; Islamist religious and racial Jew-hating; Palestinian terrorism; ultra-Left anti-Zionism; and the demonization of Israel throughout the world, particularly in the Arab and Muslim nations and in Palestine. The New Anti-Semitism: The Current Crisis and What We Must Do About It, by Phyllis Chesler, is a vital contribution to understanding the resurgence of this virulent new strain of anti-Semitism in our time, which Chesler aptly describes as “more threatening and dangerous to Jews than anything that has occurred since World War II.”
Chesler thoroughly documents not only the potent rise of neo-Nazi hatred against Jews in Germany, Austria, Russia, Poland, France, and other European countries, but also the religious and racial anti-Semitism that is daily fare in Arab and Muslim nations. The most vicious propaganda in the media since Hitler described Jews as a race of vermin to be exterminated is now widely disseminated in the Middle East, including Palestine. Depictions of Jews as rats, lice, snakes, demons, parasites, hook-nosed liars who made up the Holocaust, evil Nazis, and treacherous conspirators who plot to take over the world, are injecting whole populations with anti-Semitic toxins on a scale that is historically unprecedented.
Chesler does not present a detailed socio-economic analysis of how anti-Semitism has functioned historically to displace the rage of oppressed populations onto an all-purpose Jewish scapegoat. For this kind of analysis (which certainly holds true for the oppressed masses in the Muslim world), Michael Lerner’s The Socialism of Fools: Anti-Semitism on the Left is indispensable. Published a decade ago, Lerner’s warning that anti-Semitic trends in the Third World, combined with economic and social conflict in America, could augur a period of renewed and heightened anti-Semitism, has proved all too prescient. The crucial contribution of Chesler’s book is her detailed presentation of the confluence of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism-the complex hybrid of bigotry that is emerging today. “The anti-racist anti-Zionist,” says Chesler, “has a lot in common with the old-fashioned racist anti-Semite.” Israel has become “the Jew of the world-scorned, scapegoated, demonized, and attacked.” The core of her argument is that Jew-hatred, Holocaust denial, and violence against Jews in the Arab and Muslim nations, as well as in Europe, Asia, and the United States, are “symbiotically” nourished by a dogmatic form of anti-Zionism promulgated by students, intellectuals, academics, and progressives. The Palestinian Intifada is suffused with this new anti-Semitism and its supporters around the world are infected with it. In short, the new anti-Semitism is “the last acceptable prejudice” on both the Left and the Right.
The confluence of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is present, according to Chesler, when Jews in the Diaspora are held responsible for Israeli policy and targeted for verbal and physical attack. When it is held that all groups are entitled to nationalist aspirations except for Jews; that Israel doesn’t deserve to exist while the racism or oppressiveness of any other nation doesn’t call for its wholesale elimination. When acts of violence against Israeli civilians and Jews throughout the Diaspora are justified as political strategy. And when Israel is held to a higher standard than any other country and demonized in the family of nations (for example, when the UN recurrently condemns the Occupation while out-and-out genocides escape criticism). Increasingly, Holocaust-denial or worse-blaming the Jews for the Holocaust-is a strong feature of the anti-Zionist onslaught in the Arab and Muslim world, as is the invidious equation of Zionism and Nazism. And most disheartening of all, the confluence of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is present in the Palestinian uprising, which is riddled with organized Jew-hatred pumped into the population on a daily basis in schools, mosques, and on the streets.
Those of us who have noticed how Leftist statements against Israeli policy easily spill over into a generalized, vitriolic anti-Jewish sentiment, or those who haven’t spoken up on listservs, at demonstrations, in academic or feminist forums for fear that raising the issue of anti-Semitism will mark them for attack or shunning, will be grateful to Chesler for this brave book. So will anyone who genuinely wants to understand how and why the new anti-Semitism is taking hold on North American campuses, European streets, Muslim schoolrooms, and in the West Bank and Gaza. While reading it, I experienced two incidents that vividly illustrate two prominent aspects of the new anti-Semitism: Holocaust hostility and anti-Semitism masquerading as anti-Zionism. The first occurred the day I learned that my elderly father had just had a massive heart attack and was lying in a hospital in Queens. Speaking to the I.C.U. nurse, I wanted to let her know that my father would need to be sedated, since being hospitalized caused him to relive his Holocaust trauma. I got as far as “You need to know that my father is a Holocaust survivor …” before she interrupted me, screaming: “So what? Don’t talk to me about being a victim and don’t expect that you people are going to get any special treatment here.” The next day, addressing a group of graduate students about grief, fear, and despair in an age of global threat, I cited Israel/Palestine as an area in which repeated cycles of traumatic grief turned to rageful acts of vengeance that undermined the prospects of peace. A woman approached me at the end of my talk, a palpable hatred radiating from her eyes, and launched into an anti-Israel rant. “The Holocaust justifies absolutely nothing,” she spat out (though I hadn’t mentioned the Holocaust). “The Jews are not entitled to anger or grief. Only the Palestinians are justified in their anger.” Her vaguely threatening last words were: “I hope you get what you deserve for what you’re saying.” I wondered how a call for mutual compassion could arouse such hate.
Both the nurse and the student were enraged by the idea of Jews as Holocaust victims. While the nurse’s hostility was a frontal assault, the student’s rage erupted in a pseudo-rational political argument, couched in an anti-Zionist “position.” I was struck, in both cases, by what Chesler calls the new “permissibility” for remarks of this kind. Increasingly, Jews in the popular imagination have jumped the divide, from post-Holocaust Victims to Jewish/Zionist Villains. And that jump has everything to do with Israel.
Vituperation: How We Talk About Israel, Palestine, and Anti-Semitism
Any discussion of how anti-Semitism masquerades as anti-Zionism is bound to be volatile. It’s hard for many Jews, much less gentiles, to define what exactly anti-Semitism is. Except for its most virulent forms e.g. Jew-hating by neo-Nazis, we may wonder if something is truly anti-Semitic, or if Jews are just defensive and paranoid. (A history of genocide will do that to you). What is the relationship between anti-Semitism and Middle East politics? What does it have to do with the establishment of the State of Israel? With the Intifada?
The tone of conversations about questions like these easily turns to a hateful war of words that resembles, on a verbal level, the violent clash of Jews and Arabs in Israel and Palestine. Many Leftists cultivate a studied blindness to anti-Semitism around the world and conclude it is largely a thing of the past. Others charge that anyone who raises the flag of anti-Semitism in relation to the Israel/Palestine conflict has the ulterior motive of “silencing” legitimate criticism of Israel. On the other hand, right-wing Jews often take the view that any criticism of Israel is by definition anti-Semitic. There’s very little neutral or calm ground here in which to have a reasonable discussion. Anyone who contemplates the tinderbox of the Middle East is likely to feel at some point a mixture of sorrow, anger, fear, despair, and confusion. We humans generally don’t do very well with feelings like these. We tend to become either avoidant and silent on the one hand, or desperate and dogmatic on the other.
As a card-carrying Leftist for the past forty years, I’ve seen repeatedly that Leftists are hardly exempt from these human frailties. Both Michael Lerner and Chesler address the striking fact that old and new Leftists have a history of minimizing and being silent about anti-Semitism, in contrast to loudly condemning racism directed at people of color. The charge of anti-Semitism is often treated like an insult rather than taken seriously as a political criticism, on its own merit. These lapses and silences, for people who are ostensibly champions of the oppressed, can only be explained by irrational bias or emotional blockage. Generally speaking, those who subscribe to rigid orthodoxies of the Left or Right are fond of reducing the confusing morass of violence in the world to simplistic dualistic allegiances: Victims to be Championed versus Villains to be Vilified.
Competing moral and political claims leave us in a state of confusion and anxiety that are dispelled by taking a “hard line.” Not surprisingly, most thinking on the subject of Israel, Palestine, and anti-Semitism is limited by pre-selected information and dominated by either/or dichotomies: either the Palestinians are anti-Semitic or Israelis are racist Zionist colonialists. Either anti-Semitism has nothing to do with the righteous acts of violence of the downtrodden Palestinian people or anti-Semitism is the sole reason for their discontent. Either Israel is the Promised Land of milk and honey, the only democratic government in the Middle East and therefore unassailable, or it is a Nazi-like apartheid state bent on racial genocide and therefore must be eliminated (or held to a utopian standard that pertains to no other nation on earth). This kind of thinking, conversing, demonstrating, and hollering doesn’t get us too far. I would venture to say that in the turbulent global realignments of the twenty-first century, adhering to rigid Left/Right “lines” is actually interfering with our ability to understand the political landscape. Understanding anti-Semitism today requires some open-minded critical thinking that doesn’t necessarily line up with any particular “orthodoxy” and doesn’t fall into the trap of either/or thinking. Chesler is eloquent in her plea for this kind of informed free-thinking, and she is to be commended for her contribution in this vein.
Having said all this, let me be clear that I don’t lay claim to neutral “objectivity” on this subject. I openly state my bias: As a daughter of Holocaust survivors born in a refugee camp, I am passionately concerned about the fate of the Jewish people. I identify with Palestinians languishing in refugee camps and, at the same time, I am angry about the rabid anti-Semitism on the streets of the West Bank and Gaza. I feel a profound sense of betrayal in relation to my Leftist brothers and sisters who obsessively condemn Israeli sins while consistently ignoring tyranny, misogyny, and anti-Semitism in the Muslim world; who excuse the murder and mutilation of Jews in Israel; who have recurrently failed to understand anti-Semitism, much less to raise their voices or rally against it. I am tired and saddened by all the polarizing accusations and pseudo-rational fact-mongering and would like to see something resembling a civil conversation on the subject of the new anti-Semitism.
In the midst of a subject bathed in much heat but little light, this essay has four goals: 1) to clarify what anti-Semitism is; 2) to make the case-with Chesler-that a particular style of anti-Zionism is increasingly the new face of anti-Semitism on the Left; 3) to argue that this anti-Zionism is part of a larger politics of hatred that corrupts the legitimate grievances of the Palestinian people; and 4) to shed some light on how Jews themselves are often unwitting accomplices in supporting such a politics.
Ten Easy Ways to be an Anti-Semite
Anti-Semitism is a hardy and resilient plant, able to thrive in all sorts of climates. When China opened its doors to Westerners, one of the first ideas it warmed to was that of Jews as an evil people. Korea and Japan have been fertile ground for the dissemination of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Anti-Semitism can easily become part of a particular ideology (like fascism) that seeks dominion. Have you heard the quick summary of Jewish history and tradition? They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat. Any Jew who has a passing familiarity with the Jewish holidays has a gut knowledge of anti-Semitism. Yet, despite its long history, anti-Semitism is not very well understood. The trauma of Nazi genocide, on the one hand, and the (seeming) absence of anti-Semitism in the United States, on the other, befuddle many into believing that Jew-hatred is largely a thing of the past-and that only Jewish “paranoia” keeps bringing it up. In fact, anti-Semitism is a deep, abiding irrational bigotry that has a life of its own in various forms of social organization and culture. At its root, it is an age-old form of scapegoating Jews for anything that scares or threatens a population-thus relieving national and ethnic leaders of their responsibility for injustice, and giving the populace a common Enemy to rally around (hence, “the socialism of fools”). It tends to come in “waves”-periods of calm followed by periods of heightened violence (when rulers are threatened or the ruled are distressed).
It’s not surprising that we’re currently on the upswing of a new wave. Given the end of days apocalyptic feel of the twenty-first century, we should expect anti-Semitism (and all kinds of racism and xenophobia) to be on the rise. In times of fear, anti-Semitism is a great crowd-pleaser, and this era of uncertainty, terrorism, re-alignments of power, economic decline and globalization, and unprecedented threats to the earth itself, is not likely to be the exception to this rule. Hence, since September 11, the myth of the “international Jewish conspiracy” is enjoying a spirited revival. In a recent article in the Sunday New York Times Magazine entitled “How to Talk About Israel,” Ian Buruma notes that this myth is increasingly and openly voiced in the halls of power not just in the Middle East but in Japan, Britain, France, and even in that bastion of Israel support, the United States. “American foreign policy and ancient prejudices,” says Buruma “are reinforcing each other in a vicious cycle.” The linkage of the Israeli Occupation and aggressive American “neo-colonialism” in the media and on the Left has taken on a distinct anti-Semitic flavor that fits very well with the rise of fanatic Islamism in places like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, etc.-where the United States and Israel are not “critiqued” for their policies but hated as the Infidel. Leftists, including Jews, who are fond of debating Israel’s right to exist, or who scapegoat Israel for Western imperialism should be aware that their efforts are grist for the anti-Semite’s mill.
An important aspect of anti-Semitism’s hardiness is the fact that those who fear and hate Jews know how to link their bigotry to despised ideologies. In communist countries, where capitalism was the Enemy, Jews were said to be the Leading Capitalists. In capitalist countries, where communism is the Enemy, Jews are smeared as leaders of the Communist Conspiracy. Today, among Leftists, the Enemy is global capitalism and imperialism; and once again, Jews in the “cabal” around Bush and company are seen as the motor force behind American “neo-colonialism” and are taking the rap for the W.A.S.P. elite. (As though Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld would not be warring in Iraq if it weren’t for those Bad Jews). Furthermore, Jews are fast becoming the identified Terrorists of the age-witness the scapegoating of Israel and Jews for September 11, which, in Islamo-fascist quarters, is being called an act of Zionist terrorism designed to turn the West against Islam. Of course many people who subscribe to this belief also praise Osama bin Laden as the mastermind behind the attacks. But then rational consistency is hardly the hallmark of anti-Semitism. The hallmark of anti-Semitism is bigotry and hatred. The ideological labels attributed to Jews-Communist, Capitalist, Imperialist, Terrorist, Zionist-are simply ways to paint Jews as the Enemy and thereby contribute to campaigns of hatred around the world that are essentially displacements of fears and legitimate grievances onto history’s most popular scapegoat. “The international Jewish conspiracy” lie is paralleled by the idea, popular in Leftist circles, that Jews hold inordinate power in social life. According to this view, Jews, comfortably ensconced in the United States, are a dominant rather than oppressed group; and therefore all talk of anti-Semitism is bogus. Some go further and say that the fabled “monied Jews” are a lobby of power-hungry evildoers who have highjacked American foreign policy on Israel, presumably to keep Israel a stronghold of racist apartheid oppression of Palestinians. What’s wrong with this picture? The focus on Jewish economic privilege in the United States conveniently ignores the fact that targeted attacks on synagogues and other Jewish institutions have been and continue to be planned by terrorist groups-and have been successfully executed in the United States as well as Europe and South America. Are we to ignore the threats against Israel, or against Jews worldwide, because American Jews are, for the most part, safe in their homes?
Are we to say that synagogues that hire security guards to check for weapons on the High Holidays are simply “paranoid” and “overreacting” to threats on Jewish life? While we may agree or disagree with the right-wing bent of mainstream Jewish organizational politics, we cannot deny the simple fact that Jews are still threatened as Jews, perhaps not very much in the United States (though the bombing of a Jewish school in Los Angeles should give us pause) but certainly in Israel and around the world. Must we still remind those who see Jews as a “dominant” group that the Jews in Germany were at the height of emancipated assimilation, having risen to positions of great prominence in the professions, business, and politics, when Hitler came to power and devised and executed the Final Solution? Most Germans in the 1930’s believed that Hitler was a funny little clown whose appeal would blow over. Many now put their faith in the belief that anti-Semitism will disappear if the State of Israel and the Jewish people perfect themselves; and that Islamo-fascist terrorism will go away if the U.S. stops being an international bully. Anyone who can still find a modicum of reassurance in such beliefs has not learned the lessons of history. While Jews may be safer in the United States today than they have been anywhere and at any point in history, a politics of hatred that targets Israel and Jews is always dangerous and should never be minimized. Anti-Semites who wish to become proficient in the art of the longest hatred can do so by following some or all of the following ten maneuvers:
1. In times of trouble, blame the Jews (or Israel).
2. Say that Jews are no longer victims of anti-Semitism because they are economically privileged (i.e. all Jews are rich and rich Jews are worse than rich gentiles).
3. Pander to racist stereotypes such as: Jews are arrogant, money-grubbing, power-hungry, self-interested, narrow-minded, clannish, cheap, showy, schemers and plotters who seek world dominion, and religious vampires who drink the blood of non-Jewish children, etc.
4. Remain silent about anti-Semitism even if you recognize it, or better still, react contemptuously when Jews bring it up.
5. Use ideology to mask Jew-blaming, i.e. point to Jews as the “leaders” (and true culprits) of whatever bad thing you hate that you think threatens you, e.g. capitalism, communism, imperialism, terrorism, Bushism, AIDS, you name it (Jews are currently being blamed for all of these).
6. Always judge Jews by a double standard, i.e. if Jews are not better than good, they are worse than bad, e.g. if Israel is racist, it doesn’t deserve to exist.
7. A particular variant of the last step, but worthy of its own enumeration: Jews in power are more blameworthy and vile than gentiles in power.
8. Excuse acts of violence against Jews on the basis of one ideology or another, i.e. they have it coming to them.
9. Hold Jews everywhere responsible for the policies of the Israeli government, i.e. if you’re Jewish, you’re personally responsible for Ariel Sharon.
10. And last but by no means least: blame Jews for anti-Semitism e.g. even the Holocaust is our fault. Or, better still, deny that anti-Semitism exists or ever did, e.g. there was no Holocaust, the Jews made it up so that they could come to Palestine and oppress Arabs while plotting to take over the world.
These ten ways to practice anti-Jewish bigotry have worked well historically; they work regardless of cultural diversity; and, in the new post-Holocaust, post-Hitler variants, they are working well today. Virtually all them are rampant in the Middle East.
The Demonization of Israel
Approaching the Israel/Palestine question, I’m reminded of the old story about three blind people touching an elephant. The guy with his hands on the trunk thinks it’s a snake. The guy with his hands on the leg says it’s a tree trunk. The guy touching the torso is sure it’s a wall. We all share the “blindness” of partiality yet speak as though the whole and only truth belongs to us. How many readers of The Nation also read The Jewish Week? How many readers of the official Palestinian Authority newspaper also read Ha’Aretz? One can find “facts” to support almost any position one takes about Israel and Palestine. The facts themselves are in dispute and most of us are not Middle East scholars. What we choose to believe and whose “line” we adhere to depends a great deal more on where our “gut” emotions lie than most people would care to admit. And those gut feelings can include a conscious or unconscious bias against Jews, as well as a conscious or unconscious bias against Arabs. The history of Jewish/Palestinian relations will always be a contested one, written as much out of our unstated, primitive passions as by our collection of favorite excised “facts.” Historical myths tend to be unchanging and unbending-they do not accommodate to uncomfortable contradictions. They maintain their integrity at the cost of disconcerting facts that might raise anxiety about whether we are the good guys or the bad guys-especially in areas where two moral imperatives co-exist.
The contested history of the Middle East is encapsulated by two fundamental mythic narratives. The Zionist narrative is that the great State of Israel was created by the blood, sweat, and tears of the Jewish people and came to birth after the genocide of the Holocaust, a phoenix arising from the ashes of Jewish history. Israel is the Promised Land-the flowering of the Jewish dream of Return for 2000 years; and its democracy is a shining light in the midst of a sea of theocratic, oligarchic, and non-democratic Muslim nations. The Palestinian narrative is that Jews were a foreign entity who created a colonial outpost in a territory to which they had no right; that they harassed, murdered, and displaced the indigenous population, and created the dismal horrors of fifty years of refugee camps for the natives. Jews now occupy a land that is the exclusive entitlement of those who lived there before the Jews arrived. They have humiliated and oppressed Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza for decades and seek permanent domination of Palestinians who want only justice and the right of return to their own land.
There is a grain of truth in both these stories, surrounded by falsehoods. As it is said, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing-and a partial history becomes a dangerous myth. Along with reducing the complexities of history into a simple hero and villain dichotomy, these myths are conspicuous for what they leave out. Dogmatic Zionists tell their story as though nobody lived in the land to which the Jews returned (“A land without a people for a people without a land”); and as though hundreds of thousands of Palestinians didn’t have to be displaced for the homeland to be Jewish. Dogmatic Palestinian nationalists and terrorists tell their story as though Jews did not have a continuous presence in the land of Israel; as though Jews stole rather than purchased the land from Arab landowners; as though Arab anti-Semitism never did and still doesn’t exist; as though the refugee camps had nothing to do with the fact that Palestinian leaders refused the state offered them by the UN in 1948, or the fact that the Arab nations preferred to let Palestinians simmer in their hatred of Jews for generation after generation rather than give them aid or welcome them into their borders.
The most obvious fact about the Israel/Palestine conflict is the one that both of these narratives leave out, namely that the history of this neck of the woods is a story of two competing, equally valid nationalisms for one tiny bit of turf. Anti-Semitic anti-Zionism is distinguished by its attempt to totally delegitimize Jewish nationalism while upholding a triumphalist nationalism for Palestinians. Israel has no “right to exist,” say ultra-Left anti-Zionists. From my perspective, this statement has a genocidal ring. Perhaps this is because I remember my first four years in the refugee camp, where ideological debates about Zionism were a luxury no Jew could afford. We were “Zionists” of necessity. Jewish quotas existed in every one of the few countries willing to receive us-except for Israel. Zionism had a primal definition: the will to live as a Jew in a nation that would open its doors to us and defend us from annihilation.
Among those who accept the right of Israel to exist, the battle between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel nationalists hinges on the Israeli Occupation and West Bank settlerism, on the one hand, and Palestinian terrorism, on the other. Palestinians who are subject to Israeli power are justifiably angry and entitled to resist and oppose domination. Decades of humiliation of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories have increasingly, and justifiably, drawn condemnation of Israeli policy. The failure of the American Jewish establishment to criticize Israeli abuses of power has led many to feel that Jews just don’t get it when they are not “victims” but “oppressors.” However, this Victim/Oppressor dualism tends to blind one to the reality of anti-Semitism on the part of the “Oppressed.” Anti-Occupation revolt is not the same thing as anti-Zionism; and anti-Zionism doesn’t have to be infected with anti-Semitism. But the Intifada has linked all of these, and that link is embodied in the suicide bomber.
In the course of the last three decades, and particularly in the last three years of the Intifada, the once-popular post-Holocaust narrative of Jews as Victims is being re-written. In a complicated twist on an old theme, Jews-represented by the State of Israel-are increasingly being seen as the world’s Villains. The Occupation and Israeli expansionism have fed into and bolstered a new version of the old myth of Jews as a perfidious race bent on world domination.
To understand this, we must have some knowledge of the history of Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism. Millions of Muslims today go to their local mosques and hear their preachers sermonize from the Holy Koran. What do they hear? That God Himself describes the “black inner selves” of the Jews. That the Jews are a race apart, an evil “Other” responsible for terrorism, Western moral degeneracy, and imperialist Empire. That Jews use the blood of non-Jewish babies for their infernal Jewish rites. That Israel is the instrument of Satan, a cancerous tumor in the Middle East, an Imperial threat to Moslems everywhere. That the Holocaust was a hoax perpetrated by the Jews in order to justify their will to dominate Muslims and rule the world. And they are called to act: the Jewish Infidel must be destroyed.
This mix of Nazi racial anti-Semitism, Islamo-fascist ideology, and Jew-hatred disguised as anti-imperialism and anti-Zionism is striking. The Nazi imagery has been added to Islamic stereotypes of Jews that have existed for hundreds of years. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem spent the war years in Berlin, where he visited Hitler and picked up some tips from the master. Since then, Nazi anti-Semitism has thoroughly penetrated the Arab and Muslim world-including the Palestinian refugee camps and the West Bank and Gaza. In Cairo one can enter any bookstore and find a full range of “respectable” anti-Semitic literature openly displayed and widely read, including so-called “revisionist” books of Holocaust denial, and sixty or more editions of the Protocols of the Elders if Zion. High-tech broadcasting-combining the aura of objective “information” with the stink of Jew-hatred-links drugs, arms, pornography, stock market scandals, and all manner of evil to the Zionist plot to rule the world. (For example, “investigative journalists” reported that Israel introduced AIDS to Egypt via Jewish prostitutes).
After Israel’s decisive victory in the Six-Day War, Islamic fundamentalism and the hatred of Israel, Zionism, and Jews intensified. Envy of the Jews for their military and economic prowess played no small part in this, since the mass of Muslims in Arab nations (as well as Palestinians who are impoverished not only as a result of the Occupation but because of their own corrupt leadership) live daily with poverty and powerlessness. The Palestinian cause has been corrupted by the potent anti-Semitism of Arab and Muslim cultures; and the terrorist wing of this cause-supported and, to some degree, funded by Arafat-is infested with it. So long as the Occupation continues, this form of anti-Semitism will be provoked, under the cover of legitimate revolt. But this doesn’t mean that Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism will disappear when the Occupation ends. Indoctrinated hatred dies hard.
In the West, the fear of demonic Jewish power was also heightened by the Six-Day War, following a long post-Holocaust period in which, for obvious reasons, the fear of Jews was dormant. The fact that Jews were able to outlive Hitler’s plan appealed to nations that had just been at war with Germany. Jewish victims evoked guilt and pity. The creation of the Jewish State, on a psychological level, was related to guilt that the world stood by and let it happen. Let the poor Jews have their state, we don’t want them anyway, was the logic of the United Nations. Hence for several decades after the Holocaust, Jews were treated to a grace period of an all time low in anti-Semitism in the West.
After 1967, the image of Israel flipped: from being the land of the Noble Victim to the land of the Arrogant Victor. The tables turned and Palestinians-who, up to this point, hadn’t been championed by anyone, including their own Arab -became the next Victim contest winners. By the rules of this game, there cannot be two National Victim groups-only one. Palestinians have become the cherished Victim group of the moment. (Anyone who doubts that this kind of “radical chic” exists might recall the Left’s love affair with the Black Panther Party and the willingness to overlook its violent and misogynist excesses). Holocaust denial-the extreme pole of Holocaust fatigue and Holocaust hostility-is a necessary ingredient of contemporary anti-Semitism. If Jews are to be as Oppressive Villains and not Meek Victims, their history of persecution has to be minimized, forgotten, or denied; Jewish desperation for a national haven from persecution in both European and Muslim nations has to be re-written. Stereotypically, Jews are supposed to be pasty-faced Yeshiva bochers, passive wimps, and effeminate men who pose no threat.
If they are macho (like the State of Israel), they are Really Bad – more bad than anyone else (steps 6 and 7 of the anti-Semite’s creed). The victimized Jew of the Holocaust was a “safe” Jew for the culture-hunted, murdered, disempowered, miraculously outliving the piles of cadavers in Nazi photos. But then this Jew went too far. This pathetic Jew has transmogrified into a demonic threat-the Israeli Jew, armed to the hilt and raining down missiles from the sky-the repository of the greatest evil, identified with imperialism, terrorism, Nazism, and world-wide conspiracy, the national Scapegoat in a post-September 11 world. The flip-flop from elevation to demonization is in full sway. The Islamist demonization of Jews as the Infidel is paralleled by the delegitimization of Israel by anti-Zionists.
The fact that anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jewish power are part of the demonization of Israel doesn’t mean that the Israeli Occupation is justified. It doesn’t excuse Israeli expansionism. It doesn’t mean that Israeli militarism is better than any other militarism in the world. It is not. But it is also no worse-which is to say it is terrible, and it must be opposed. But it must be fought as a mistaken and corrupting strategy in the long war between Jew and Arab nationalists in this part of the world-not as what the right wing demagogue David Duke calls “Jewish supremacism.” The occupying Jew is no more the all-purpose devil than the terrorist Palestinian is the all-virtuous victim.
Many today argue that Jews who were once victims have indeed become villains on the world stage, that Israel has brought the new anti-Semitism upon itself by being joined to American Imperial interests. That hatred of Israel is “justified.” Apart from the dangerous practice of conflating Jews with Israeli policy, a logical question that arises from this line of thinking is: if Arab hatred of Israel is “justified,” is then Jewish hatred of Arabs and Muslims for anti-Semitism “justified”? And if so, where will all this “justified” hatred get us?
I would argue that what we’re seeing in the Middle East today, on the extreme wings of the Israel/Palestinian conflict, is a politics of hatred, which I define as any politics that relies on racist stereotypes; that joins the twin fervors of ultra-nationalism and fundamentalist religion in its demonization of the Enemy; or that is dogmatically entrenched in the political dehumanization of an unredeemably Evil “Other.” When all of these features are joined together, the mixture is highly dangerous and inflammatory. This mix exists now in the Middle East, on both sides of the conflict. Racist attitudes towards Palestinians by the expansionist ultra-nationalist wing of the Israeli government and rampant anti-Semitism in Palestine have escalated the hatred on both sides.
The politics of hatred of Israel rests on the denial of the fact that the Jewish State, despite its mighty arsenal, has been the target of eliminationist Arabs since its birth. In the long war between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel is still-it has never stopped-fighting for its life. Leftists like to point to U.S. support for Israel’s seemingly unassailable military force as evidence of its status as the archetypal Oppressor Nation. But imagine where Israel would be if it didn’t get this support? Those who hold to the belief that Israel is invulnerable have obviously never spent the night in a sealed room, wearing a gas mask and trying to comfort a child while hoping that the SCUD missiles whizzing by are not tipped with chemical or biological poisons. In the uncertain and shifting geo-political alliances of this era, the military prowess of Israel in a Muslim world seething with Jew-hatred could easily be undone by a number of possible scenarios. One might consider what could happen if Iran’s Muslim fundamentalist government, currently being supplied with Russian nuclear technology, were to develop nuclear capability within strikingdistance of Israel. Or if an autonomous Palestinian state joined forces with its Arab neighbors, who were more than willing to supply the thousands of eager volunteer Jihadists needed to vanquish the Zionist Infidel. Any politics which dehumanizes, demonizes, and scapegoats Jews and Israel is apolitics of hatred. And regardless of its “reasons” and justifications, a politics ofhatred is always a lost cause.
The Self-Hating Jew
It’s hard to ignore the fact that many of the loudest Left-wing voices of one-sided condemnation of Jews and Israel are Jewish voices. Chesler explains how such attacks are often marked by an unconscious attempt to distance the “good”(politically-correct) Jew from the “bad” (politically incorrect) Jew, in order to achieve an illusory feeling of safety. While “self-hating Jew” can be used as an epithet, internalized oppression is still an important concept. Women, blacks, and Jews internalize the damaging social messages of misogyny, racism, and anti-Semitism. Jewish shame and self-hatred are largely unaddressed features of Jewish psychology. I grew up with this shame and it took me years to recover my sense of dignity as a human being from the traumatic imprint of genocidal assault that is my roots. As well as shame, fear that has mutated to anger directed at other Jews is a prominent element of internalized anti-Semitism. Virtually all of the ways that Jews try to survive and adapt in cultures that periodically erupt in Jew-hatred are marked by these features. Assimilationists declare their Jewishness null and void, thus trying to erase the problem. Often these are Leftists who keep a low Jewish profile, don’t speak up for themselves, downplay, avoid, or deny the existence of anti-Semitism, or blame other Jews for “provoking” it. Those with a strong or visible Jewish identity, on the other hand, can become Israel do-or-die ultra-nationalists who attack other Jews as “self-haters,” mistaking legitimate opposition to Israeli policy as betrayal and abandonment by one’s own family, so to speak. When a Jew feels radically endangered in the world, it’s a lot safer to attack other Jews than to confront anti-Semitism.
The trauma of traumas in Jewish history is the Holocaust, and it continues to work its indelible mark on the Jewish psyche. Psychological features of genocide trauma are operative not only in direct survivors and their descendants but in every Jew alive who knows that Hitler would have liked to snuff us all out. This trauma is triggered every time a suicide bomber explodes another self-propelled pogrom onto the streets of Jerusalem, Haifa, or Tel Aviv. Mutilated children, limbs flying out of buses, Israelis lynched while mobs of Palestinians rejoice and dance in the streets, children killed in front of their mothers in kibbutz bedrooms, dancers at a wedding, people at a seder blown to pieces, and on and on. How can Jews hear and read about such events and not be (re-)traumatized? Jews who are unaware of the impact of the Holocaust or annihilatory anti-Semitism on their own psyches often end up blaming Jews for provoking the suicide bomber, or calling friendly critics of Israel “worse than Nazis,” or allying themselves with the pro-Palestinian solidarity movement while ignoring the anti-Semitic overtones in this camp.
Shame can take many forms, including a rigid ideological dogmatism. That is, Jews passionately arguing against their own nationalism (and only their own nationalism), their own people, or even their people’s survival. Much of the agitated, over the top quality of debates about Israel and Palestine, from the Jewish side, is connected to this traumatic imprint. We yell at each other when our hearts are flooded with traumatic fear or grief. The fact that Michael Lerner, who has championed one of the most balanced pictures of the Israel/Palestine conflict, has been attacked by both Left and Right-wing Jews, is a sad testament to the reality of Jews who are caught up in a traumatized response to traumatic events. Internalized self-hatred, shame, denied fear, traumatic grief, and misplaced anger are features of Jewish psychology that anti-Semites can count on. Most Jews have some work to do in this area.
The Politics of Hatred
It is fashionable in certain political circles to justify and legitimate hatred as a rational response to oppression and injustice. The psychiatrist Willard Gaylin devotes his study, Hatred: the Psychological Descent into Violence, to dispelling this idea. He makes a critical distinction between hatred and justified anger or rage. A group can oppose injustice without resorting to hatred. As Gaylin defines it, hatred is more than an emotion; it is a form of delusional thinking that demonizes an Enemy. It is the sick glue that binds the hater to the object of his hatred. The desperation in the Palestinian camps does not explain or justify acts of terrorism committed by Palestinians, says Gaylin, because hatred is not a rational emotion, or a viable political program. Hatred is a social disease, and it is highly contagious: “I have heard many say, in defense of Palestinian hatred, that after generations of being kept in squalid refugee camps … feeling frustrated and humiliated by the exercise of Israeli power, Palestinians are “entitled” to their hatred. This is a sad misunderstanding of the nature of hatred. Hatred is not an entitlement like health care. It is a disease (that) may infect others, but it inevitably destroys the hater, diminishing his humanity and perverting the purpose and promise of life itself. No one is entitled to hatred any more than he is entitled to cancer.”
When hatred spreads in a population, acts of barbarism like suicide bombing are the consequence. And when such acts are socially legitimized and converted to a political program, the result is what Gaylin calls a “culture of hatred,” i.e. a group with a shared history in which the leadership, the educational institutions and the dominant religious forces indoctrinate the members of the community with the venom of hatred on a daily basis. Gaylin makes the case that, at the current time, Palestinian culture-regardless of just claims to the land occupied by Israel and righteous anger at displacement and dispossession-has become such a culture. I would add that peace-loving Palestinians are also victims of this culture. As one Palestinian mother, quoted in Chris Hedges’ War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, puts it: “The children are fed … hatred for the Jews from the day they are born…. All they hear is that we have to get rid of the Jewish enemy. The call to fight is pumped out over the radio and the television. The trucks go through the streets of the camp praising the new martyrs and calling for more.” Conscripting children to blow themselves up to kill the Jewish Infidel and live forever in Paradise, far from being a legitimate political strategy, is a horrific form of child abuse.
Since a distinguishing feature of a culture of hatred is the daily indoctrination of the entire population, that feature does not yet exist in Israel as a whole, says Gaylin. But it does, I believe, exist in some portion of the Jewish settlements on the West Bank. Certainly the long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has stoked the hatred on both sides, contributing to what Gaylin calls the “assault on morality” that war requires. On one side, a vibrant sub-culture of anti-Semitism infects the authentic nationalism of Palestinians, exacting a burden of revenge that is as destructive of their national aspirations as the suicide bomber is to himself. On the other side, Israeli Jews, caught up in a re-enactment of the trauma of a history of annihilation, become more and more corrupted by the fantasy of force as a solution to fear, and thus give more and more to a futile, ugly, and murderous Occupation, to fundamentalist nationalist settlerism, and to collective reprisals that resemble, in lesser form, aspects of their own history of persecution.
And so the dance of death continues until, as in a Shakespearean tragedy, there is no one left on the stage. This annihilatory destruction of life is exactly where hatred and the politics of hatred leads. While hatred may be a perennial human pathology, it doesn’t come naturally. It has to be taught. In War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, Chris Hedges argues that “ancient hatreds” don’t generally explode of their own accord. They need the drums of war to goad them on. These drums are beaten by leaders on both sides, who foment hatred to justify war. Even the seemingly most intransigent ethnic and religious conflicts (like that amongst the Croats, Serbs, and Muslims in the former Yugoslavia), are actually manufactured wars, fed by nationalist propaganda. Wars require lies and myths. The Zionist and Palestinian myths have promulgated years of increasing mistrust and hatred, not because Palestinians are inherently more anti-Semitic than any other people, nor because Jewish settlers are inherently more racist.
The war between Israel and Palestine has been goaded by leaders on both sides who are tragically short-sighted, or worse, corrupt and morally bankrupt. “Nationalist triumphalism,” as Chris Hedges refers to it, egged on by these leaders, is a plague that easily lends itself to the “collective psychosis” of war. Both Sharon and Arafat are war criminals who have cynically manipulated the intense nationalisms of their people into a long war that has accomplished nothing but to escalate the hatred, killing, and “psychosis” on both sides. “War gives a justification to what is often nothing more than gross human cruelty and stupidity,” says Hedges. “It allows us to believe we have achieved our place in human society because of a long chain of heroic endeavors, rather than accept the sad reality that we stumble along a dimly lit corridor of disasters.”
The psychosis of war thrives on the culture of victimhood, and both Jews and Palestinians have come by their cultures of victimhood honestly. It is this clash of two cultures of victimhood, on a psychological level, that keeps this long war going. Each side bent on proving that it has “no choice” but to defend itself by ever increasing rounds of barbarism on one side and military might on the other. “Once a group or a nation establishes that it alone suffers, then all other competing claims to injustice are cancelled out, ” says Hedges. “The nation or the group falls into a collective autism … and does not listen to those outside the inner circle. Communication is impossible.”
At this late date in the dance of death embraced by both Jew and Arab, calling either side “just” or “unjust” may be no more useful than saying that the Capulets and the Montagues were justified in their orgies of revenge. Justice and injustice exist on both sides. Peace, for the beleaguered victims of both nationalisms, has less to do with political correctness than it does with reconciliation. And reconciliation is, among other things, a spiritual undertaking. As peacemaker John Paul Lederach puts it, reconciliation is only possible when all parties can let go of a bitter past in order to bring about a human future for the generations to come.
On the more hopeful side, if corrupt leaders whip up the fires of racism, hatred, triumphalist nationalism, and war, such leaders are not invulnerable. They can be forced to step down-but only by their own people. There is yet hope that both Israelis and Palestinians will say “no” to the leaders on each side who are destroying their chances for peaceful co-existence. This will take considerable courage for peace-loving Israelis and Palestinians (who must defy the culture of hatred and who are labeled “collaborators” by their own terrorist organizations and subject to “street justice”-including murder). Here are some hopeful facts: 69 percent of Israelis say they would give up all or most of the settlements for an enforceable peace; and 71 percent of Palestinians say they want the violence to end. These numbers point to the fact that just as hatred is aroused under certain conditions and by certain leaders, it can die down and make way for something resembling a “live and let live” outlook. This kind of outlook would go a long way to putting out the fires of anti-Semitism and racism in this part of the world. Perhaps then future generations of Israelis and Palestinians will be raised not on fear and hatred but on mutual tolerance.
Prayers For Peace
Where do we go from here?
Those of us who envision a less dangerous and crazy world need to raise our voices in opposition to militarism and violence in all its forms as a solution to global fear and unsafety. Since anti-Semitism always diverts people’s attention from the true causes of violence and injustice, an active opposition to anti-Semitism is critical to the success of any movement for peace and justice-in Palestine or anywhere else. Such a movement must stand as squarely against the alarming rise of Islamo-fascist terrorism and Arab and Palestinian anti-Semitism, as it does against Western imperialism, globalization, and racism. Where are the enlightened progressive activists who will even utter the word “anti-Semitism” on their lists of political grievances? Those of us who do political work related to Israel and Palestine might note if we are as comfortable raising the issue of anti-Semitism as we are opposing Israeli policy. If not, why not? Are we frightened to “come out” as Jews? Do we blame other Jews for provoking hatred against us? Are gentiles afraid to be “tainted” by their identification with visibly “out” Jews? Is our politics corrupted by an anti-Semitic bias? Or by apathy to Jew-hatred?
As an activist for decades, Chesler ends her book with a chapter entitled “What We Must Do.” Her suggestions are clear and sound: 1) face the fact that Israel is under threat; 2) move beyond ideological reflexes and think beyond the boxes of Left/Right, pro-Israel/pro-Palestinian, etc.; 3) as Jews, learn to be more tolerant, “less rigid and rageful towards one another”; 4) be fair to Israel; 5) form Jewish-Christian alliances; 6) form alliances with Palestinians; 7) restore campus civility; 8) fight “the Big Lies” (the Jews killed Jesus, Jews control Wall St., Jews own the media); 9) honor the dreams of peace. Chesler’s wisdom in the ways of peace is one of her most valuable contributions to this anguishing subject: “Two competing rights can coexist,” she says, “when no one is wrong and no one is right. Perhaps we must learn to ‘sit with’ a problem, for as long as it takes, until progress is made in a nonviolent way. Instead of warriors with bombs and chemicals, the world needs warriors of peace with wise words, patience, and faith to outlast the guns of war and the sands of time.” Amen.
Hatred, terrorism, and war, in ever more frightening forms, are the plagues of the twenty-first century. It seems to me that if this era is asking anything of us, it is to understand hatred in all its forms and to find another way to conduct ourselves as a species. Lest we feel a bit burdened by the scope of this tikkun olam project, let me add: I believe that even small deeds can contribute toward creating a less hateful world.
I’m reminded of a conversation I had with my father many years ago. He told me that after the Holocaust, upon his return to Poland, he contemplated his future. Of his extended family of eleven siblings, parents, cousins, aunts, and uncles, only a brother and sister had survived. The pogrom in Kielce (forty Jews killed on a train) took place soon after his return, reminding him that the rage to annihilate the Jews was not over. “I had one thing on my mind,” he said, “to kill as many Germans as possible and then to join my brothers and sisters in the next world.” I was shocked. All of my life, I knew my father as a sweet and gentle man, the soul of kindness and compassion. I had no idea that he’d nursed a suicidal hatred before concluding that vengeance would not be a fitting memorial for the dead. It would not bring back his family or resurrect the lost Jewish world. It took him a while, he confided, but he renounced his hatred and decided to live as a Jew and to raise a family. This would be his victory, his defiance of Hitler’s message of hate.
Renouncing hatred, in all its forms, is the only thing that will save us-Israeli, Palestinian, Tutsi, Hutu, Croat, Serb, Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Kurd, man, woman, and child. Are Palestinians “justified” in nursing their rage at Occupation until it becomes a deadly hatred of Jews? Are Jews “justified” in turning their fear of annihilation and their anger at Arab terrorism into a blind and spiteful Occupation? Where will this get us? Will it bring back the dead on both sides? Will Arab mothers be able to lift their children in their arms in a free society rather than send them to their deaths in order to take down another Jew? Will Jewish mothers be able to put their children on a bus without fear that they will never see them again except, if they are lucky, at the morgue? Will hatred bring about two states in Israel and Palestine? Will it bring justice? Will it bring peace? Will it do anything at all except spill more innocent blood and poison the soul of the hater? To paraphrase a forgotten 1960’s anti-war song: When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?
Miriam Greenspan is a psychotherapist in private practice and author of A New Approach to Women and Therapy and the recently published Healing Through the Dark Emotions: the Wisdom of Grief, Fear, and Despair.